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AWADmail Issue 496

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

Happy New Year!

From: Tom Priestly (tpriestl shaw.ca)
Subject: mickle
Def: noun: A large amount. adjective: Great, large. adverb: Much.

The old village of Micklethwaite, now a suburb of the English city of Bradford, Yorkshire has its origin as mickle + thwaite, "small + section of forest cleared for tilling". One could add: many old villages now make up one huge urban sprawl, or "many a mickle makes a muckle" (many small things add up to a big thing).

Tom Priestly, Edmonton, Canada

From: Chris Papa (doxite verizon.net)
Subject: mickle

In Act 2 of Ruddigore, a wonderful but seldom performed Gilbert & Sullivan opera, an elderly lady whose young lover had died is reunited with his ghost and the two sing a touching duet, which includes the following:

When she found that he was fickle,
Was that great oak tree,
She was in a pretty pickle,
As she well might be -
But his gallantries were mickle,
For Death followed with his sickle,
And her tears began to trickle
For her great oak tree!
Sing hey,
Let the tears fall free
For the pretty little flower and the great oak tree!

Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey

From: Genevieve Beenen (silverwolf5 mac.com)
Subject: mickle/muckle

How can you say that "Many a mickle makes a muckle" is meaningless?

Many a (supposedly) great person makes a mess, is how I interpret that -- and it's dead-on.

Genevieve Beenen, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

From: Wendy Stevens (stewendy gmail.com)
Subject: Mickle

My husband the pack rat passed away recently, and it was fitting that on the very day that we started to cull his belongings, the word of the day was mickle. My son and I decided to call the task we were doing "sifting the mickle".

Wendy Stevens, Brooklin, Ontario, Canada

From: Allen Foster (allen foster-brague.net)
Subject: mickle

I learned this word from a medieval Christmas carol, Lullay My Liking:

There was mickle melody at that childes birth.
Though the songsters were hevenly, they made a mickle mirth.

Never quite had the confidence about its specific meaning to use it conversationally, thanks for clearing up an age-old mystery!

Allen Foster, San Francisco, California

Email of the Week (Courtesy The Incorrigibles -- Ha'ppity New Year!)

From: Cleve Callison (cleve thecallisongroup.com)
Subject: Inwit
Def: 1. Conscience. 2. Reason, intellect. 3. Courage.

Thank you for the reference to Agenbite of Inwit. When I was a grad student at Wisconsin working on 10th century Anglo-Saxon sermons, I was aware of the work but (now it can be told) never read it. The title is one of those phrases, thanks to Joyce, that stays burned in your brain. And who among us hasn't experienced remorse of conscience?

The work is valuable to scholars because it is precisely dated to Canterbury in 1340, and preserves features of Kentish dialect not otherwise found. The translator's fondness for rendering Latin terms literally into English is kind of endearing: 'remorse' is literally 'again-bite'; 'conscience' is 'inwit'; 'amen' is 'zuo by hit', or 'so be it.'

Happy New Year to you and all readers of AWAD. Zuo by hit.

Cleve Callison, Cincinnati, Ohio

From: John McQuillan (jonmac64 iprimus.com.au)
Subject: reechy
Def: verb tr.: To pay the penalty for. verb intr.: To suffer, to endure.

In my native Scotland, a common greeting (wishing others well) is: "Lang may yer lum reek" i.e. Long may your chimney smoke. The implication being -- Long may you have fuel for your fire/stove. A corollary: The slang name for our capital city Edinburgh was "Auld Reeky" last century.

John McQuillan, Lynwood, Australia

From: Dave Marks (dmarks gate.net)
Subject: reechy

Surprised you didn't mention that it is also the source of reek and Reykjavik (smoky bay).

Dave Marks, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

From: Jane Saral (jane.saral gmail.com)
Subject: reechy

The word "reechy" turns up earlier than 1660 in Hamlet, when Hamlet tells his mother not to be seduced again by the murderous Claudius:

Not this by no means that I bid you do:
Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed,
Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses
Or paddling in your neck with his damned fingers,
Make you to ravel all this matter out,
That I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft. (Act 3, scene 4)

The play was probably first performed around 1600. The first printing in 1603, "the bad quarto", was followed by the "good quarto" in 1604-5, which was the basis for the First Folio (1623). I have a facsimile of the First Folio, and "reechie" appears in it.

Jane Saral, Atlanta, Georgia

Thanks for catching the error. The word is even older (before 1475, according to the Oxford English Dictionary). We've updated the entry for the word on our website now.
-Anu Garg

From: Anthony G Morris (anton agmdigital.com)
subject: Mazard
Def: Face, head, or skull.

Pleased I was indeed to read your usage quotation of the skull in Hamlet. It was indeed the mazard of no less than Polish composer/pianist André Tchaikovsky (born Robert Andrzej Krauthammer) who bequeathed his bonce to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

When a student in London, I remember listening to him play at a concert, not thinking at that time that he might turn up in a different guise on stage later on.

Anthony G Morris, Vienna, Austria

From: Alexander A. (northsixthstreet gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mazard

"It's not clear how we got from the bowl to the head, perhaps from the shape of the bowl."

Maybe it's the other way around. See: Bloodthirsty Brits First to Drink from Ancient Skulls.

Alexander Aledo, New York, New York

From: John Ayer (john_ayer comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mazard

This may be related to my pagan Teutonic forebears' habit of turning their defeated foes' skulls into drinking vessels. This is described repeatedly in their pre-Christian literature. Probably they drank with more gusto out of such a vessel. The tradition really hung on; when America entered World War One and my grandfather's cousin went off to join the army, my grandfather adjured him to bring back the Kaiser's skull to be turned into -- guess what?

John Ayer, Norwich, Connecticut

From: Latha Warrier (lathawarrier gmail.com)
Subject: mazard

This word reminded me of Lord Byron's "Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull". He sets very good grounds for why one might have got from the head to the bowl. See skull cup.

Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull, 1808

Start not -- nor deem my spirit fled:
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.

Latha Warrier, India

From: Dick Oswald (ddoswald verizon.net)
Subject: mazard

"It's not clear how we got from the bowl to the head, perhaps from the shape of the bowl."

We weren't the only ones to make this analogy: compare Italian testa and French tête from the Latin testa, a pot, jug etc. (originally a piece of burnt clay). In a surprising reversal, this slang term replaced the proper word for head, caput, in its literal sense, leaving its modern developments, capo and chef, only figurative senses.

Some of your older readers will remember Archie's friend Jughead in the comic books.

Dick Oswald, Ridgewood, New Jersey

From: Royce Morrison (royce.morrison comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mazard

There was a traditional use of bowl inverted on head, to guide a poor man's pageboy haircut.

Royce Morrison, Seattle, Washington

From: Vaughn Hathaway (pastorvonh bellsouth.net) Subject: mazard

Might there be a connection between heads and bowls via the Lollards, and ante-Protestant group? They were sometimes called roundheads because bowls were used to cut the hair of males.

Vaughn Hathaway, Charlotte, North Carolina

Men ever had, and ever will have leave, / To coin new words well suited to the age, / Words are like leaves, some wither every year, / And every year a younger race succeeds. -Horace, poet and satirist (65-8 BCE)

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