Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 491

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

We've decided to have some fashionable fun this holiday season and run a Dry (wit) T-Shirt Contest with Uppityshirts. The rules are simple: Show everyone how clever and smart you are by coming up with an original t-shirt slogan, using either a play on words, or a wry turn of phrase -- for example: 'Got Recalcitrance?' or 'Pretentious? Moi?'

Winner will have the idea become an actual t-shirt; the runner up will receive the brand-new Wordsmith t-shirt 'AWAD to the wise is sufficient.'

Email your entries to (AWADcontest@uppityshirts.com) no later than Friday. One entry per person. Please include your contact information.

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

What's in a Name? Ask Google
The New York Times
(Also see Words that are also names)

From Lolcat to Textspeak

From: Amy Guskin (muse fjordstone.com)
Subject: cacique
Def: A local political boss.

Wow, this is very weird: Lane Bryant, the plus-sized clothing company, started a plus-sized intimate apparel boutique some years ago, called...Cacique. Since the name doesn't relate *at all*, I'm going to assume they focus-grouped the name and were just going for something vaguely French sounding. I know I'm going to giggle every time I pass their stores now, thinking of someone like Mayor Daley behind the scenes, choosing the panties and approving signage.

Amy Guskin, Malvern, Pennsylvania

From: Tom Weir (twweir hotmail.com)
Subject: cacique

Cacique also refers to a Neotropical bird that is generally black and yellow, apparently so named because that color combination was also the colors worn by the Spanish officials.

Tom Weir, Bellevue, Washington

From: Bruce Grembowski (grembowski yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cacique

Cacique is a new word to me -- one of the reasons I love A.Word.A.Day. But words borrowed from the extinct Taino are not new; I recently read about some of the more popular ones in my world civilizations textbook. They are canoe, hammock, hurricane, barbecue, maize, and tobacco. Most of the Taino succumbed to smallpox imported from Europe; the rest were worked to death, and the Taino society had disappeared by the middle of the sixteenth century. All that survives are their words.

Bruce Grembowski

From: Tai AnaYuisa Pelli (taimar16 yahoo.com)
Subject: Taino extinct? I'm here!

Taino is alive and well, however, I do understand that it is convenient to continue spreading misinformation, because otherwise it could imply financial ramifications that scare some people. Better to say, we are dead. Now, if someone takes the time to dig in, they would realize they have been told romanticized stories about a lot of things!

Oma Bahari (with respect)
Seneko kakona! (Many blessings) all from the "extinct language"

Tai AnaYuisa Pelli

I wrote to you to clarify what you meant by "financial ramifications" but you didn't reply. A few other readers wrote to protest that Taino language isn't dead. One sent an example of a Taino language discussion group. Another said that she sometimes uses a few words of Taino in texting.

Language is something so personal, such an innate part of us, that any comment on it brings out impassioned replies.

A language is considered extinct when it has no speakers left who use it in their day-to-day lives. Discussing the language or using a few words of it here and there is fine, but that's not the mark of a living language. If you are not using it to talk about foul weather, to curse when you stub your toe, to discipline your unruly teenager, to make love, it's considered an extinct or dead language.

-Anu Garg

Email of the Week (Sponsored by One Up! - Get brained.)

From: Jim Burns (indybones shaw.ca)
Subject: Wampum
Def: 1. Beads made from shells, strung in strands, belts, etc. used for ceremonial purposes, jewelry, and money. 2. Money.

Wampum was a form of "cash" used among native peoples long ago in the prehistory of the northeastern US and eastern Canada. To retain its value, any proxy medium of trade, like gold or silver, required either some basis in rarity, or control of the supplies of the material, or in these days of paper and plastic money, must present difficulties for reproducing it. True wampum was made from a marine clam shell called a quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) that is found along the east coast of North America. This clam's muscle tissue is attached on a small circular area of the shell that is naturally deep purple. Wampum beads were made from this small purple portion which was the most valued because there was far less of it than of uncoloured shell, and couldn't be counterfeited easily. Then came the printing press!

Jim Burns, Winnipeg, Canada

From: Esther Friend (estherfriend copper.net)
Subject: wampum

In Wrentham, Massachusetts, there is a place known as Wampum Corner. It's at the confluence of three roads and according to local oral history, is the place where the local Indians met Indians from the interior to trade their shell beads for furs and arrowheads. A sort of early-day Wall Street?

Esther Friend, Lewes, Delaware

From: Marli Reinheimer (lughnie hotmail.com)
Subject: Wampum

Among the Indians of eastern Canada and US, the wampum has an ancient history. One of the most important belts of wampum was used to ratify a treaty between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and the new American colonies. It is called the Canandaigua Treaty belt, and dates back to 1794, when the treaty was made with the help of George Washington.

Marli Reinheimer, Reno, Nevada

From: Clyde Johnson (thealigner yahoo.com)
Subject: wampum

In my study of the American Indian I found it fascinating that wampum was also used as a record (history) of events in the life of the tribe by the pictograms that were woven into the wampum belt.

Clyde Johnson, Tacoma, Washington

From: Jamie Polichak (jpolicha umich.edu)
Subject: Re: Massachusett / Wampanoag is no longer extinct

Massachusett/Wampanoag is no longer extinct. It has been revived, with work beginning in 1993 by people of Wampanoag ancestry and the linguistics department at MIT. It is the subject of a PBS documentary We Still Live Here.

Jamie Polichak, Wampanoag Territory, Quincy, Massachusetts

From: Petronella J.C. Elema (elema055 planet.nl)
Subject: pharaoh
Def: 1. A title of an ancient Egyptian ruler. 2. A tyrant.

Pharaoh (or faro) was the name of a card game as well -- all the rage in the 18th and even 19th century, with whole fortunes being gambled away!

Petronella J.C. Elema, Groningen, The Netherlands

From: Robert W. Zoellner (rwz7001 humboldt.edu)
Subject: pharaoh

This reminded me of an interesting interaction I had while in an Italian supermarket. I was sent there by my wife to purchase some farro, which is Italian for the spelt grain. The pronunciation in Italian involves enunciating and "rolling" somewhat both "r" sounds: far-ro. However, when I asked the worker in the market for the grain, I pronounced the word as "faro", pronouncing it as "far-o", and said "Dove il faro?" which means "Where is the lighthouse?"

Robert W. Zoellner, Eureka, California

From: J. Murali Krishnan (murali97 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mantissa
Def: 1. An addition of little importance. 2. The decimal part of a logarithm or the positive fractional part of a number.

Mantissa in number theory is the positive fractional part. Some time back, it was used by computer engineers to signify the coefficient of a floating point number, and it was later called a "significand". Please see this: The mantissa or significand is an unsigned integer which is a part of each floating point number.

Now we also use the word to mean "addition of little importance" or "addition of little significance". I am wondering why the computer engineers picked up this word significand.

J. Murali Krishnan, Chennai, India

From: Susan Renick (susanrenick111 aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cacique

English only helps prevent communication breakdown owing to language barriers, enhances one's ability to work in an English-based world, encourages valuable bilingual skills, saves money, and does not prohibit anyone from keeping his own language.

Susan Renick

From: Mimi Heft (mimi peachpit.com)
Subject: English-only nonsense

I could not agree with you more about the ludicrousness of the English-only movement. (Don't even get me started on the immigration issue!)

An additional POV regarding our multicultural society, this from my sister-in-law, a public-school administrator: ever since Prop 187 (California's English-only initiative) passed, the failure and dropout rate of kids for whom English is a second language has skyrocketed. So many disenfranchised students -- and their families. Mind you, this is in Palo Alto -- one can only imagine how much worse it is in less affluent districts.

Language is such a powerful tool, both for uniting and dividing our people.

Mimi Heft, Berkeley, California

From: Eric Shackle (ericshackle bigpond.com)
Subject: wampum

You say that wampum is short for Massachusett wampompeag. Massachusetts (with an s), Cincinnati, Mississippi, and Tucson are all easy to say but hard to spell. Even their own citizens often misspell them. For more details, see here.

Eric Shackle, Sydney, Australia

Words are things; and a small drop of ink / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. -Lord Byron, (1788-1824)

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

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith