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AWADmail Issue 451

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

How 'OK' Took Over the World
BBC News

Use Value
The New Criterion

From: Ingrid Andersen (i.andersen vodamail.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fell
Def: adjective: 1. Fierce; cruel; lethal. 2. In the idiom, in one fell swoop (all at once, as if by a blow). verb tr.: 1. To knock down, strike, or cut down. 2. To sew a seam by folding one rough edge under the other, flat, on the wrong side, as in jeans. noun: 1. The amount of timber cut. 2. In sewing, a felled seam. noun: A stretch of open country in the highlands. noun: The skin or hide of an animal. Ah - thank you. The sinister meaning of the word "fell" was new to me. I now have a richer understanding of that childhood rhyme:

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The reason why, I cannot tell.
But this I know, and know full well:
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

Ingrid Andersen, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

From: Susan Kroll (goatfarm olypen.com)
Subject: fell

There's another meaning for "fell" that perhaps only a weaver would be familiar with: when a cloth is being woven on a loom, the fell of the cloth or the fell line is that point where the cloth is being made. Up to the fell line is the woven cloth, the next pass of the weft incorporating it into the cloth moves the fell line up one thread, and so on.

Susan Kroll, Sequim, Washington

From: Steven Crane (stauros yahoo.com)
Subject: re: fell

This word appears with two meanings in Clemence Housman's The Were-wolf. White Fell says her name is derived from the fur robe she wears, but in her wolfish form she is fell indeed.

Steven Crane, Louisville, Kentucky

From: Jane Meyerding (mjane u.washington.edu)
Subject: Fell

Re: the "skin or hide of an animal" meaning of the polysemantic word "fell" and specifically re: the usage example:
"Felt bearing pads are made from non-tanned fell."
A.S.G. Bruggeling and G.F. Huyghe

My father's brother died of anthrax contracted from the non-tanned fell straps of a knapsack he bought in Mexico. This would have been in the mid 1930s, I believe. The animal in question had died of anthrax. When Uncle Gus loaded up the pack and headed out into the landscape, the straps of the pack wore through the skin on his shoulders, with fatal effect.

Jane Meyerding, Seattle, Washington

From: Josh Shein (jshein saltshein.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fell

I'm not sure if the same applies in the US, but in Australia the expression "in one fell swoop" seems to have morphed into "in one foul swoop". I've given up trying to point out the error.

Josh Shein, Sydney, Australia

It's not just in Australia. As the word fell in the sense of fierce or cruel has fallen out of use, people try to make sense of the idiom with other words, words that are familiar to them. You may see one foul swoop or one fowl swoop. These reinterpreted words are also known as eggcorns.
-Anu Garg

From: Peter Lawless (nostampsrequired hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fell

The expression "one fell swoop" is also a description used for centuries in falconry. It describes the act of a falcon catching prey in only one swoop of a fell -- a plateau or piece of open highland country (as you have described) -- such a falcon would be highly-prized and any chicks bred from that bird would fetch a premium price.

Peter Lawless, Western Australia

From: Cynthia Burrell (cynburrell hotmail.com)
Subject: Pip - minor ailment

Now I know what my father meant when he said "You give me the pip!"

Cynthia Burrell, Mussoorie, India

From: Meredyth Mackay (meredyth.mackay deewr.gov.au)
Subject: Pip
Def: 1. The small seed of a fruit, such as an apple or an orange. 2. Something or someone wonderful. 3. One of the dots or symbols on a die, playing card, or domino. 4. Any of the diamond-shaped segments on the surface of a pineapple. 5. An insignia on the shoulder indicating an officer's rank. 6. A disease of birds marked by mucus in the mouth. 7. Any minor, nonspecific ailment in a person. 8. The smallest change in the exchange rate for a given currency pair. Most major currencies (except yen) are priced to the fourth decimal place, so a pip is 1/100 of one percent (.0001). verb tr.: 1. To defeat, especially by a narrow margin or at the last moment. 2. To hit with a gunshot. 3. To blackball. 4. To peep or chirp. 5. To break through the shell of an egg when hatching.

The second count on the radio to announce the hour is also known as the pips.

There is a website with details of the BBC Pips.

Meredyth Mackay, Canberra, Australia

From: Roger Trent (rtrent dhs.ca.gov)
Subject: Parity
Def: 1. Equality in amount, status, etc. 2. The condition of having given birth. 3. The number of children born by a woman.

Demographers, biologists, and medical clinicians classify women according to their number of live births, with zero being nulliparous, a first birth primiparous, and more than one multiparious. The accent is on the second syllable. Lovely, fascinating words, but they have their place and don't travel well. At a dinner party imagine calling a new mom a primipara. That goes over about as well as asking if she enjoyed her gravidity, during her confinement. Alas, lexical precision is no guarantee of popularity.

Roger Trent, Sacramento, California

From: ericharris76 (Via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: Parity

Supposedly a true story.

Seymour Cray -- chief designer of the Control Data Corporation CDC 6600 and most related computers of that family -- had for years resisted adding error-detecting parity bits to data values on his computers, saying "Parity is for farmers."

Later he changed his mind, adding SECDED bits (single error correction, double error detection) to memory words in the newer machines. When asked about this change, he quipped that "More farmers have computers now".

Now farmers -- like nearly everyone else -- have computers.

From: Stephen Ross (SRoss unb.ca)
Subject: Parity

It is a nice coincidence, as I sit here at my computer (I'm visiting a research lab in Japan), to find that today's word is parity. The coincidence is that I am busy programming the "parity" of quantum states in a certain type of molecule!

In physics, parity specifies how a quantity changes if all three spatial dimensions are reversed. If the quantity is unchanged we say it has "+" parity, if the quantity changes sign we say it has "-" parity.

As an example, velocity has negative parity. Imagine that you are heading in a specific direction at velocity v. Now suppose that somebody decides to relabel the directions so that they all point in the opposite direction. Your velocity relative to the new direction would now be -v.

The parity of quantum systems was thought to be a conserved quantity in nature - i.e. something that did not change. Then, in the mid 1950s, Lee and Yang convinced Chien-Shiung Wu to do an experiment to test this. She did and found parity can be violated. This means that the laws of physics in a "mirrored" version of our universe would not be identical to what we have in our universe. I find this rather spooky!

Lee and Yang won the Nobel prize for their theoretical work on this. Wu did not share the Nobel prize but she set a number of milestones and is still honoured by physicists.

Stephen Ross, Professor of Physics, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada

From: Caroline Gavin (clgavin gwi.net)
Subject: Seadog
Def: 1. A veteran sailor. 2. A harbor seal. 3. A pirate or privateer. 4. A faint rainbow-like formation seen in foggy conditions. Also called mistbow, fogbow, and white rainbow.

In Portland, Maine the local minor league baseball team is named the Portland Sea Dogs. Their mascot is a harbor seal with a baseball bat in its mouth.

Caroline Gavin, Portland, Maine

Email of the Week - (Brought to you by Smart Pills - The Perfect Cure for Stupidity.)

From: Phil Jans (phil.jans co.chelan.wa.us)
Subject: Fluke

Fluke Corporation has grown from a local Pacific Northwest company to a global leader in the manufacture of precision testing instruments. When I was a boy, my dad gleefully suggested a slogan he thought they should adopt: "If it Works, It's a Fluke."

Phil Jans, Chelan, Washington

From: Barbara Ledger (bledger sympatico.ca)
Subject: Fluke

Here in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, there's a trucking firm with a sense of humour, called Fluke Transportation. When sailing down the highway, you'll often see their trucks, with the message emblazoned on the side: "If it's on time. .. it's a Fluke."

Barbara Ledger, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

From: Bill Thieleman (thieleman.w ghc.org)
Subject: fluke or flounder

Fluke brought me back to my boyhood days of boating on Long Island. Even though my father didn't believe that fish oil and teak decks mix well, he showed me the difference between fluke and flounder.

They are both flatfish or teleosts but a fluke's right eye rotates to the fish's left side, its mouth is bigger and full of teeth, and it swims right side down. A flounder's left eye migrates over to its right side (flounder, philander, roving eye), it has a smaller mouth with no visible teeth and it swims left side down.

We frequently had fish on Fridays. They said the secret was to avoid overcooking these fish. My secret is not to cook them at all....ecch!

Bill Thieleman, Seattle, Washington

From: Christine Magnan (july65 gmail.com)
Subject: Another example of fluke

Another example of fluke: fluke ukulele

Christine Magnan, Westwood, Massachusetts

From: Michael Graubart (michael.graubart btinternet.com)
Subject: Fluke

There is a further, quite different, meaning of 'fluke': something accidental or coincidental, as in 'It was a pure fluke that I met so-and-so in the street today' or 'By a fluke the ball bounced off the goal-post and went in'. Or is that only a British idiom?

Michael Graubart, London, UK

Going by the number of emails we've received, many readers didn't scroll down to see the other definitions. It's all there.
-Anu Garg

From: Goldie Freeman (goldie.freeman comcast.net)
Subject: Re: fluke

I volunteer at the New England Aquarium and have been asked the difference between fluke and flounder flatfish. Searching brought the answer that the flounder is a right-side up fish and the fluke is a left-side up swimmer. Flukes have larger mouths full of teeth.

The biology of a symmetrical fish becoming flat always amazes the visitors (and me).

One article referenced Darwin's writing on flatfish in evolutionary terms, complete with a wonderful photo of a Picasso fish.

Goldie Freeman, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Michael Strange (michael.strange fmr.com)
Subject: This Week's Theme - Polysemantic Words

This week's theme reminded me and my friend Brady about a dictionary game that we like to play. It began one evening when we were hanging out and I was flipping through an old, gigantic, 100 lb dictionary that I bought for college years ago. I happened upon the word bay, and, impressed by the number and variety of entries it had, I asked Brady if he could name them all. Being the extremely cool guys that we are, we now play this game quite often (with words other than bay, of course). Thanks for validating us!

Michael Strange, Brooklyn, New York

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., jurist (1841-1935)

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