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AWADmail Issue 486

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

Hollywood Dishonors the Bard
The New York Times
[Also see Oxfordian]

Talk Like Yoda? We May Have Originally

From: Cliff Gilbert (cliffg pcug.org.au)
Subject: Euthanize
Def: To end life for humane reasons, such as to avoid pain from an incurable condition.

In Australia and perhaps in the UK the more common usage is a different back-formation, "euthanase".

In fact the ill-fated humpback whale which gave rise to the AP citation for "euthanize" also gave rise to several news items in Australia using "euthanase", such as this ABC report.

Cliff Gilbert, Canberra, Australia

Email of the Week (Brought to you by One Up! -- Are you wicked/smart?)

From: Varun Narasimhachar (varun.achar gmail.com)
Subject: Back-formation

I've never encountered a back-formation more delightful than Ogden Nash's "glimp":

A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.

Varun Narasimhachar, Waterloo, Canada

From: George Cowgill (cowgill asu.edu)
Subject: George Polya

It's nice to see a quotation from George Polya. He was a brilliant mathematician, but also a wonderful teacher, and I enjoyed a course on complex variables that he taught at Stanford around 1950.

George Cowgill, Tempe, Arizona

From: Jeff King (jkingeca gmail.com)
Subject: Admix
Def: To mix or blend.

There is also a noun form of admix that is used in the construction trades to refer to various additives used to modify the characteristics, such as setting time of concrete.

Jeff King, Portland, Oregon

From: David Danzig (david danzig.com)
Subject: back-formations and retronyms

This week's theme, back-formations, made me think of one of my favorite linguistic concepts: retronyms. A retronym is a word that renames an existing object in order to distinguish it from a newer version of the object that has since come into being.

Some examples of retronyms are 2-D movie, analog clock, black-and-white television, brick-and-mortar store, conventional oven, face-to-face meeting, handwritten, landline, live performance, manual typewriter, pre-war architecture, rotary telephone, silent film, snail-mail, and vinyl record.

A more thorough (but by no means complete) list of examples is available in Wikipedia.

David Danzig, New York, New York

From: Alfred Jonas (fredjonasmd hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--darkle
Def: To make or become dark, indistinct, or gloomy.

I'm a psychiatrist. It frankly drives me nuts that people in or near my business invent verbs like "suicide" (to commit suicide) and "obsess" (to have obsessive thoughts). I have a cousin who talks about "incenting" (creating incentives to encourage) preferred behavior. All back-formations.

Fred Jonas, Miami, Florida

From: Jackie (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: darkle

Isn't this just the most -- well, romantic word? It just fires the imagination! Maybe because it sounds old-fashioned, I don't know. But you can picture it as everything from delightful to threatening.

Jackie, Louisville, Kentucky

From: Olly
Subject: Re: darkle

Sounds like something out of a fantasy/sci-fi novel. An anti sparkle.

Olly, Auckland, New Zealand

From: Hope Bucher (hopebucher gmail.com)
Subject: Intuit
Def: To know or sense immediately without the use of reasoning.

Psychologists think that the human brain has the Bayesian capacity to draw strong inferences from sparse data. My husband an analytical, logical physicist, accuses me of "Bayesian-leaps" when, from very little data, I generate a hypothesis using something as untenable as feminine intuition. Bayesian Statistics. Thomas Bayes (1702-1761)

Hope Bucher, Naperville, Illinois

From: Andi Montador (andi.montador iris.co.uk)
Subject: Back-formation gone mad

In Britain we often refer to vacuum cleaners as 'hoovers' (after the manufacturer William Henry Hoover) and to vacuuming as 'hoovering'. I once knew a man who argued that if the device was a hoover then the action should properly be called 'hooving'. It never caught on.

Andi Montador, North Yorkshire, UK

From: Karim Durzi (kdurzi hotmail.com)
Subject: Back formations

A favourite back formation of mine is the verb to ablute. I am sure many others must have hit upon this back formation when announcing, jocularly, that they are going to wash their hands before a meal or some such thing.

Karim Durzi, Toronto, Canada

Language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, critic, and philosopher (1772-1834)

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