Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 452

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

Voters Decide Toyota Prii is Now Official Plural for Prius
USA Today

Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins
The New York Times

From: Lynn Goodman (lrcgoodman gmail.com)
Subject: Stele
Def: 1. An upright stone or pillar, having an inscription or a sculptured surface, serving as a monument. Also called stela. 2. The central core of the stem or root of a vascular plant.

I first happened across this unfamiliar word on our week's trip to China in 2008. We were visiting the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the English translation of a particular exhibit at the Temple used that word. It wasn't hard to see exactly what was meant by it. We found many of China's monuments and historic sites had stele (plural to me, just like 'many moose') that provided explanations of what we were seeing. Life is such an educational journey!

Lynn Goodman, Hampton, New Hampshire

From: Ken Masters (kmasters ithealthed.com)
Subject: Stelae

Surely one of the largest groups of stelae in the world must be the Berlin Holocaust Memorial It has 2,711 of them, spread over an area of some 19,000 square metres.

Ken Masters, Neumarkt Am Wallesee, Austria

From: Perri Klass (perri.klass nyu.edu)
Subject: What an honor! (Re: fomes)
Def: Any inanimate object, such as a book, money, carpet, etc. that can transmit germs from one person to another.

It was a thrill to see my sentence used as an example -- I am proud to have used the plural correctly, but somewhat stricken to realize that I (and many colleagues) have been mispronouncing this word for years. As a pediatrician and a devoted AWAD fan, I would like to say that good handwashing is important, and so is good syntax!

Perri Klass, New York, New York

From: Don Williams (don.williams park.edu)
Subject: Fomites

This word reminded me of the years I taught health both at the high school level and more recently at the university level. When considering communicable diseases we always addressed the 3Fs of transmission: Food, Feces, and Fomites! Most students understood infectious transmission via spoiled or infected food and, of course, through feces via sewage contaminated/polluted water or improper sanitation and lack of personal hygiene, but I always had to explain Fomites as being door knobs, unwashed plates, glasses, and utensils, etc. that can carry viral/bacterial particles and transmit them to unsuspecting recipients.

Don Williams, University Professor of Biology, Kansas City, Missouri

From: Francis Gibbons (francisgibbons520 gmail.com)
Subject: Eidos & Manchester City Football Club
Def: The formal sum of a culture, its intellectual character, ideas, etc.

Today's word reminded me of when Manchester City, my favorite football club, were sponsored by the digital entertainment company, Eidos. This was from 1999 to 2002, I believe.

Unfortunately for us supporters, City was anything but the formal sum or the intellectual character of football during those years. Actually, they were pretty much the exact opposite of that.

Francis Gibbons, Baltimore, Maryland

From: Sean Duggan (sean.duggan gmail.com)
Subject: Lacuna
Def: An empty space, gap, missing part, an opening.

Interesting. I never realized that lacuna referred to all kinds of gaps. I had always seen it exclusively referring to a hole in the text, such as a missing chapter or a smudge on a manuscript which has eliminated some of the words. :) I seem to remember being introduced to the word via the Xanth books which featured a character by that name who could erase the words of a text at will, and who was also at risk of becoming a lost footnote in history owing to an entirely uneventful life.

Sean Duggan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

From: Kiko Denzer (potlatch cmug.com)
Subject: miasma
Def: 1. Noxious emissions: smoke, vapors, etc., especially those from decaying organic matter. 2. An oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere.

Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map tells a gripping and inspiring story about how Dr. John Snow (and a few allies) conquered cholera in London, in the 1800s, by proving that water spread the disease, not miasma. More about it here.

Kiko Denzer, Blodgett, Oregon

From: Jayadev U.K (ukjayadev gmail.com)
Subject: plural of mongoose

Talking of plurals, it reminds me of the story of a little boy who wanted to buy a couple of the animal called a mongoose. He did not know whether to say two mongooses or two mongeese. So he asked the shopkeeper to pack one mongoose and while at it, pack another one.

U.K. Jayadev, Bengaluru, India

From: Pete Saussy (bujinin netzero.com)
Subject: octopusses?

Ever since I took Classical Greek 101 (and got a D) I thought the plural should be OCTOPOI following hoi polloi. Just sounded better.

Pete Saussy, Pawleys Island, South Carolina

Email of the Week - (Sponsored by One Up! - Steal This Word Game.)

From: Ralph Jacobson (rjacobso calpoly.edu)
Subject: plurals

In my 1st computer programming course we were to write a program to make plurals, with exceptions for such common words as mouse/mice, woman/women, etc. But we had to include special rules for such words as radius to radii octopus to octopi, etc. I wrote what I thought was a great program, which immediately wrote the plural of bus as "bi".

Oh well, I didn't do much programming after that.

Ralph Jacobson, San Luis Obispo, California

From: Dr Rick Rickards (docrick petalk.com)
Subject: Plurals

Here's a good one for you! The word is penis. The plural is penes but very few people use it correctly. As a veterinarian I see a lot of animals that only have half penes [to be more precise they have two!]. They are called hemipenes. This phenomenon is very normally found among the snakes and lizards, etc. These organs sometimes get injured and need to be treated.

Dr Rick Rickards, Cleveland, Ohio

From: Madelaine Kirke (madelainekirke hotmail.com)
Subject: Unusual Plurals

My father was studying at the Royal Military College of Science not long after WWII. One physics lecturer had left his group to complete pendulum experiments. When he returned he asked "Gentlemen, have you finished your experiments on pendula?" One student replied, "Yes, and we are sitting on our ba doing our sa."

Madelaine Kirke, Highworth, UK

From: Victor Lund (vlund mahoney-law.com)
Subject: odd plurals

On the topic of odd plurals, one I have never seen in print, or heard, is the proper plural of Tyrannosaurus rex, i.e., Tyrannosauri reges. If we're going to give the singular in Latin, I suppose we should do the same for the plural. If you could find two or more female Tyrannosaurs, they would be Tyrannosaurae reginae.

Victor Lund, Minneapolis, Minnesota

From: Bob Nyden (frumentyinc comcast.net)
Subject: Adopted plurals, not: Euro

When the European Union adopted the Euro as its currency, the plural was defined in the legislation as euro so that the various EU languages would not bend it to varied pluralization rules. Yet in the United States, either through ignorance or arrogance, we say euros. Even the New York Times uses euros, so I guess it's a lost cause.

Bob Nyden, Palo Alto, California

While our leaders show both ignorance and arrogance from time to time (for example, while ordering our soldiers to far-flung places with little justification), I'm not sure the charge is justified in general. The use of the plural form euros is widespread, and not just in the US The issue of what to use as the plural has a longer answer. For a good discussion of this, see here.
-Anu Garg

From: Petronella J.C. Elema (elema055 planet.nl)
Subject: plurality

In the Netherlands, we use the word museum -- as do many other languages. However, an English friend was much amused by the fact that we still commonly use the original Roman plural of the word: musea! How civilized (he said).

Petronella J.C. Elema, The Netherlands

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: RE: Thought for the day: 2-24-11

When Napoleon asked the Pope to have him crowned emperor, the Pope questioned him: I thought you did not believe in God?

"I don't," replied Napoleon, "but I believe in religion."

Rudy Rosenberg Sr., Westbury, New York

From: Thomas Gille (Musetomg gmail.com)
Subject: Old Words

Over three years ago I wrote to thank you for the joy you bring to me every day.

At the time my life was in sad disarray, and I had given up reading AWAD, and was ready to delete all the past words.

Then I realized their value in my life, kept them all and started reading again.

I still have a large number of past words to catch up on, but I have discovered a wonderful use for them.

Life continues to be a struggle (I live in Wisconsin and my wife is a teacher; followers of national news will understand what that means these days), but when I feel overwhelmed, I pull out an "Old Word" from my supply.

Added to the daily word I'm now keeping up with, this extra treat is usually enough to pull me back into the sunlight. (Lately, I've needed to read an entire week's worth to get there.)

Not exactly the "happy pill" some people wish for, but it helps me tremendously. I heartily recommend it to everyone; save your "Old Words" for a rainy day.

Thank you again for the joy you bring me.

Thomas Gille, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

PS: Thank you also to all the wonderful people who wrote with words of encouragement during my trying times three years ago. It meant (and helped me) a great deal.

It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. -Robert Southey, poet (1774-1843)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith