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AWADmail Issue 445

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Border Collie Takes Record for Biggest Vocabulary
New Scientist

A Dose by Any Other Name Would Not Sell as Sweet
British Medical Journal

From: Joyce Weingarten (jabw57 aol.com)
Subject: words about trees

Love your words about trees this week. This is the Jewish month of Shevat in which we celebrate the holiday of Tu b'Shevat which is a celebration of trees.

From: David Ferrier (ferrierd shaw.ca)
Subject: dendroid

Def: Resembling, branching like, or shaped like a tree. For 40 years I have been using the term 'dendrite' to refer to one end of a neuron without knowing anything else about the word. Now I know!

Email of the Week (Happy New Year, brought to you by Smart Pills.)

From: Pat Street (patstreet aol.com)
Subject: Ligneous
Def: Having the texture or appearance of wood.

There's a humor magazine for scientists called The Journal of Irreproducible Results. Back in the '70s, one of the featured papers was titled something like "A Sleep Laboratory Comparison of Sleep Quality in Ligneous and Non-Ligneous Subjects", in which the researchers hooked up EEG leads to human subjects and to a large log to record their sleep patterns and determine whether people actually "sleep like a log".

From: Frank Reed (freed acsalaska.net)
Subject: Lignite

Doesn't Lignite come immediately to mind? It certainly did to mine. I learned early in life that lignite seemed lighter than bituminous in a #6 scoop shovel.
Frank Reed, 98

From: Ezra Wegbreit (ezra.wegbreit gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ligneous

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.
-Ben Hecht, screenwriter, playwright, novelist, director, and producer (1894-1964)

If reading newspapers is like the second hand of a clock, then reading Twitter must be akin to telling time using the millisecond count on a digital stopwatch!

From: Frances Wade (franwade gcom.net.au)
Subject: Primrose path
Def: 1. An easy life, especially devoted to sensual pleasure. 2. A path of least resistance, especially one that ends in disaster.

I think the easy path is called the primrose path because the primrose is thornless, unlike the real rose, which is thorny. There is probably a cultural assumption in this expression as well, that the 'real' rose with its thorny path yields a superior reward (the primrose is of the primulaceae family, unlike the rose, which is one of the rosaceae).

From: David Smith (davidlsmith iname.com)
Subject: Primrose

I should have thought "primrose" was picked by Shakespeare (in one of his randy moods), for the double entendre: Prima rosa and a prim (and proper) Rose -- the object of a libertine pastor's dalliance.

From: Stu Tarlowe (STarlowe earthlink.net)
Subject: primrose path

Apparently this term is also rendered as "primrose lane"; at least it was in the 1959 hit song by that name, written by George Callender and Wayne Shanklin, and recorded by Jerry Wallace, that I remember from my teens. The lyrics, however, didn't include the element of "leading to disaster".

Primrose Lane
Life's a holiday on Primrose Lane
Just a holiday on Primrose Lane
With you ...

From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: Primrose path

In the quotation from Hamlet, it seems clear that "primrose" indicates that the path is pleasant and appealing, to contrast with the "steep and thorny way". That doesn't mean it is the utmost extreme of ease; it need not be "the easiest path" of all. It is only compared with one other path.

"Least resistance" is not implied in this contrast, which is not a matter of resistance at all.

That particular primrose path would (according to Christianity, not that I believe it) lead to disaster, and the text clearly means to refer to that; but not through the word "primrose". The aspect which makes it "primrose" is only that it is pleasant.

From: Brenda Seabrooke (seabrooke verizon.net)
Subject: sylvan
Def: adjective: Related to the woods; wooded. noun: One who inhabits or frequents the woods.

The US narrowly missed having a state called Sylvania. That was William Penn's pick for his colony. He was prevailed upon to name it for himself so he compromised with Pennsylvania which still has many sylvan areas.

From: Sophia Fisher (sophiahorses gmail.com)
Subject: sylvan

I am 13, and have been subscribed to A.Word.A.Day for about a year. I remember a time in fifth grade when my class was studying the American Revolution. My teacher was talking about William Penn, a Quaker at the time, and mentioned that the state of Pennsylvania is named after him. She challenged us to find out what the "sylvania" meant (though only one student actually looked it up). He found out that sylvania derived from sylvan, as Pennsylvania was densely wooded at the time.

From: Victoria Reed (vreed mfa.org)
Subject: Sylvan

Back in the 1980s, my sister played with Sylvanian Families, toy animal families -- bears, foxes, rabbits, etc. -- that lived, needless to say, in the woods. (I suppose "Sylvan Families" would have been more accurate, but doesn't have the same ring to it.) Years later, we were disappointed to learn that the same toy was being marketed as Calico Critters, a name nowhere near as descriptive.

From: Janette Calder (dgcalder shaw.ca)
Subject: Re: sylvan

I learned something today. I have lived on Sylvan Avenue for 40 years and am always correcting the spelling. Now I realise the Latin is silva and according to you sylvan and silvan are both correct. Now I know.

From: Nott Van Heyningen (nottvh telkomsa.net)
Subject: Wormwood
Def: 1. A plant of the genus Artemisia, used in making absinthe and medicines. 2. Something that brings bitterness or grief.

When Juliet's wet-nurse attempted to wean Juliet from the breast, she applied "wormwood to her dug" (see Romeo and Juliet).

From: Tricia Mac (pmacmunn gmail.com)
Subject: wormwood

The teacher from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is aptly named Miss Wormwood as Calvin begrudgingly attends to his studies. My son and third grade students are huge fans of young Calvin and I'm sure will enjoy this bit of etymology.

From: Mike Wagner (WagsTR6 bellsouth.net)
Subject: Wormwood

As I recall, The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, were sent by a junior devil to a senior devil named Wormwood. The triumph of morality was the upshot of that book.

From: Chris Slopek (christopher.a.slopek store.lowes.com)
Subject: Wormwood

It is quite interesting to note that the reason behind Impressionist Painter Van Gogh's eccentric behavior was his love affair with absinthe which is made with wormwood. The little green fairy, surely left her mark. On him and through his work on us.

From: Frank Letcher (fslmd sbcglobal.net)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--wormwood

It is of interest that the Russian word for wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris) is Chernobyl, the name of the town in Ukraine near the river Pripyat where the infamous atomic energy plant explosion occurred in 1986.

From: Ralf Czerny (ralf_c_2001 yahoo.com)
Subject: Wormwood

The word "wormwood" reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson: Cliff Klingenhagen.

From: Andrew Lundin (galundin yahoo.com)
Subject: Wormwood

Several years ago I actually made some "absinthe" (which, in the absence of several other herbs, I can only properly label as a "tincture of Artemisia absinthium"). It tastes incredibly horrible! In the quantities I was able to consume, I noticed only threshold effects of its psychoactive compounds, which I can't necessarily attribute to the herb itself, as opposed to the Everclear in which it was tinctured, or perhaps a placebo effect.

I found some interesting notes on the possible etymology of wormwood here. Vermouth is derived from the same origins.

From: Tom Priestly (tpriestl shaw.ca)
Subject: wormwood

What an interesting substance! 500 years ago it was used to protect clothing and animals from fleas and mites -- "A medecyne for an hawke that hath mites. Take the Juce of wormewode and put it ther thay be and thei shall dye", The Book of St. Albans, 1486; later it was a useful medicine for humans; Thomas Tusser wrote, in 1590, "Where chamber is sweeped, and wormwood is strowne, No flea for his life dare abide to be knowne," and Dr. John Pechey wrote in 1694: "It strengthens the Stomach and Liver, excites Appetite, opens Obstructions, and cures Diseases that are occasion'd by them; as, the Jaundice, Dropsie, and the like." And apparently the wormwood used in absinthe not only made the drink cloudy and green, and very bitter, but contained a hallucinogen. And I thought it was just something used to flavour vermouth...

From: David T Stark (dave nf2g.com)
Subject: wormwood

Wormwood appears in the Bible, at Revelation 8:10, 11. This use would be much older than the cited date of 1400. Revelation was written around the year 96.

My guess is you're reading a later translation, not the original Greek. Also, remember, we list the date of the word's first documented use in English. For more, see this.
-Anu Garg

From: Cheryl B Frech (cfrech uco.edu)
Subject: International year of ...

Since you are featuring botanical words for the international year of forests, I wanted to point out that 2011 is also the International Year of Chemistry. Here is a link for more information.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. -Nelson Mandela, activist, South African president, Nobel laureate (b. 1918)

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