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AWADmail Issue 449

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

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

Origins of Bunga Bunga
BBC News

In Defense of Strunk and White
Boston Globe

From: Frederic D. Grant, Jr. (grant grantboston.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gasconade
Def: Boastful talk.

I first encountered it in 1975, used sarcastically by my great-great-grandfather (Warren Delano II, FDR's grandfather) in an 1842 letter describing British war atrocities in China. I still recall coming upon the word while working through the original densely handwritten letter in the reading room of the Franklin Roosevelt Library, and having to seek out the dictionary, as I did not know the word "gasconade". The attitude evinced by WDII in this letter -- and in other correspondence -- foreshadows FDR's own wariness over British aims.

Well -- what has [Sir Henry] Pottinger done? He proceeded first to Amoy where an attack was made upon the forts; the Chinese would not and could not fight, but ran away as the English landed, leaving a hundred or more slain while the assailants lost not a man. Pottinger issued a proclamation giving the details of the glorious feats performed by the Br[itish] Forces and complimented the Chinese upon the gallant and determined defense they made -- adding "but had their resistance been a hundred times greater than it was, the result would have been the same -- as nothing could withstand the impetuous valour of H.M.'s forces of all arms -- "God save the Queen." This piece of gasconade delighted the British hereabouts most mightily and said they "What a splendid fellow is Sir Henry."
Delano Family Papers, Warren Delano II Correspondence, Folder 1840-1842, letter from Warren Delano to Franklin H. Delano dated Macao March 29, 1842.

Frederic D. Grant, Jr., Boston, Massachusetts

From: Mark Jernigan (j.m.jernigan nasa.gov)
Subject: Gasconade

Reminded me immediately of the Disney Beauty and the Beast antagonist, Gaston. If pop culture bends the language, maybe Gastonade might be the mot du jour.

Mark Jernigan, Houston, Texas

From: Townsend Walker (twalker aperimus.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--gasconade

Though the most famous son of Gascony, D'Artagnan, was very much a braggart, though he was generally quite capable of backing it up.

Townsend Walker, San Francisco, California

From: James Woodruff (james.woodruff worcesteracademy.org)
Subject: gasconade

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a series of stories about Brigadier Gerard, a boastful cavalry officer in Napoleon's army who came from Gascony.

James Woodruff, Washington, DC

From: Lynn Laniewski (lynn30k hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gasconade

I live in St. Louis, Missouri, a town with French origins and many French place names. Gasconade is the name of a prominent street in the south part of the city, and it is nice to know the origin of the name -- especially, now, when someone tells me they live there. What my brain will hear is that they live on the "street of extravagant boasting". I'll have to watch out for their claims!

Lynn Laniewski, St. Louis, Missouri

From: Kathryn Decker (kdecker ftc.gov)
Subject: milliner
Def: Someone who designs, makes, or sells women's hats.

I've just read the definition and origins of the word milliner. Given that the word refers to a maker of women's hats, the fact that a "man milliner" is a derogatory term referring to "someone who busies himself with trifling occupations" is downright sexist and obnoxious! Of course, a haberdasher is one who is busy pursuing more noble ventures! Argh!

Kathryn Decker, Seattle, Washington

From: Judy Epstein (jepstein mail.com)
Subject: Man Milliners

Interesting that a maker of women's hats should strike Mr. Southey, even in 1796, as so "injurious" to the world -- worse than a maker of armaments, a pirate, or a slave trader, for example. If only we had a world where people got exercised about whether ladies' hats would be pried from their cold, dead hands!

Judy Epstein, Port Washington, New York

Email of the Week - (Sponsored by One Up! - The Perfect Mind Game.)

From: Drew Edward Hunter (geodesica1960 aol.com)
Subject: A Word.A.Day--helot
Def: A serf or slave.

There appears to be an interesting version of this word used in the 1941 Frank Capra movie Meet John Doe. The film, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, is emotionally devastating and incredibly cynical, but ultimately uplifting morality tale involving the misuse of the power of the press, the fluid and fickle nature of human mob mentality, manufactured fake fame, backroom politics and, if you take the film in a broader scope, the subtext of the shallowness and infectious nature of religion. It's all quite a bunch of heavy thematic material from the director of everybody's favorite holiday movie, "It's A Wonderful Life"!

In "Meet John Doe", character actor Walter Brennan plays Gary Cooper's hobo sidekick. When Gary is suddenly propelled from nothingness to the most popular man in the United States, Walter Brennan warns him against becoming -- as he pronounces it -- a "hee' lot". As Walter explains in a wonderfully scripted and performed sequence, he is happy being just a nobody and a hobo. Because -- once a person gets a little money, the person becomes a slave to the money and all the responsibilities, headaches, problems, and misery money can bring with it. You then will become -- a "heelot"! (video clip)

Drew Edward Hunter, Jacksonville, Florida

From: Kenneth Pantling (KiPng aol.com)
Subject: Today's Quotation

"Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself."
-James Anthony Froude, author and editor (1818-1894)

Mr. Froude either:
a) Never owned a cat
b) Never saw Orcas tormenting sea lions before they kill and eat them.

Kenneth Pantling, Norfolk, UK

From: Nyal Williams (nyalwilliams comcast.net)
Subject: spartan
Def: Lacking in comforts; marked by self-discipline or self-restraint.

There is a town in South Carolina named Spartanburg. Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when asceticism and toughness were admired and practiced.

Nyal Williams, Muncie, Indiana

From: Katherine Silkin (katherine.silkin gmail.com)
Subject: verdigris
Def: A bluish-green patina formed on copper, brass, and bronze when exposed to air or water for a long time.

The stunning green color that accumulates over time on copper and bronze comes from air and water -- I know those are key contributing factors. When I studied sculpture, and we cast in bronze, I recall asking my professor if I could create a green patina like the Statue of Liberty's. He smiled, and said I surely could, if I had some chemical combination I cannot now recall -- and then he said the easiest thing to use for that distinctive color was, and I quote, "a big bucket of horse piss". One lesson I have never forgotten, even with trying.

Katherine Silkin, Washington, DC

From: Claire Niland (clairen socratech.com)
Subject: verdigris

Funny, I always see the patina as a green-blue-grey blend, and assumed the last syllable in "verdigris" -- gris translates to grey in French -- suggested as much.

Claire Niland, Bellingham, Washington

Over its history, people have been connecting this word with the color gray. It has been recorded in various forms, including verdegreys and verdigrease. These folk etymologies, alterations of a word under mistaken assumptions, are not unusual, but it's clear that the word is derived from Greece. The Old French form verte grez is an alteration of vert de Grece (green of Greece), which itself is from Latin viride grecum. For more, see folk etymologies.
-Anu Garg

From: Owen Mahoney (omahoney1 cogeco.ca)
Subject: Samuelson (Re: AWADmail 448)

Maya Bar Hillel pointed us to an article by Robert Samuelson which he claims to have written using only one-syllable words until the final word "syllable". I am sorry to burst Mr. Samuelson's bubble, but if you go to p. two of his article, the very top line reads:

"Can we bring the dead rule back to life by what it tells us about the mean growth rate?"

The shame is that he could have used "of" to substitute for "about".

Owen Mahoney, Dundas, Canada

From: Paul Lyman (plyman uwm.edu)
Subject: monosyllabic?

For some reason, Samuelson used the word "again" near the end of that treatise, and he clearly did not need to! Thus, he failed at his aim, but I cannot understand why he did that!

Paul Lyman, Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Shorewood, Wisconsin

From: Peter Jennings (peterj benlo.com)
Subject: Place names with no repeated letters

Al Reynolds (in AWADmail 448) wondered if any of your readers know of any place names with more than 13 letters where none appears more than once.

Well, there goes an hour of my life. I just couldn't resist mining the geonames.org data for the answer to that question.

The following long isogrammic names showed up:

If you include non-repeating hyphens, spaces, etc. in the count:
16 SPRINGBOK FLACHE (a plain in Namibia)
16 WILDSBACHER KOPF (a mountain in Germany)

15 letter isogrammic place names with no punctuation:

I've posted the list of all isogrammic places with more than 13 letters here along with Google Maps links to all of them.

Peter Jennings, California

This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.
(answer to last week's puzzler: inkstand)

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