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AWADmail Issue 502

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

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: wastrel
Def: A good-for-nothing, wasteful person.

A useful word, concise and immediately self-explanatory, unlike its synonym, losel. The Latin word from which wastrel is derived also gave rise to the adjective "vastatrix", contained in the name of the vine louse Phylloxera vastatrix, the cause of the disease that devastated innumerable French vineyards in the 19th century and was responsible indirectly for giving the New World an entry into the international wine market: North American vines were immune to the disease.

Michael Tremberth, Cornwall, UK

From: James Danly (jcdanly aol.com)
Subject: Lummox
Def: A clumsy, stupid person.

Lummox is John Thomas's pet in Heinlein's The Star Beast. Smuggled to earth as a baby, Lummox still speaks with a lisp but is now big as a house. One of the more delightful aliens of my acquaintance.

James Danly, Nashville, Tennessee

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

This word always reminds me of the folk song Sweet Betsy from Pike! The concluding verse is:

This Pike County couple got married, of course,
But Ike became jealous, and obtained a divorce.
Betsy, well-satisfied, said with a shout,
"Goodbye, you big lummox, I'm glad you backed out!"

Petronella J.C. Elema, Groningen, The Netherlands

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

From: Georgia Morehouse (gmoreho mchsi.com)
Subject: lummox

Well, now, this word hit me where I live! My mother often called me a "clumsy lummox". Had I had as much sass in me then as I have now, I would have told her she was being redundant, but that probably would have earned me a thumping of some sort. It's funny how a single word can transport you to a whole other place!

Georgia Morehouse, Columbia, Missouri

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Dilettante
Def: noun: One who takes up an activity or interest in a superficial or casual way; adjective: Superficial; amateurish.

Time was, and not so long ago at that, when athletes were required to take an amateur oath before competing in the Olympic Games. Professionalism was frowned upon, the word evoking condescension, not to say condemnation.

While today 'amateur' designates one not making a living from his hobby (yet doing it with zest), dilettante has become a term of derision, especially when compared to the proficiency of the professional. In Monty Python's memorable vignette the pro pugilist Muhammad Ali, recently capped and gowned by the University of Oxford, delivers a roundhouse punch to the amateur boxer Lord Kenneth Clark, writer, historian, philosopher.

A well-aimed uppercut will ineluctably trump Civilization.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Frazer Dixon (fdixon fdixon.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dilettante

I'm a little concerned that you have been discussing my behavourial traits with my wife. All of the words so far this week have described my various qualities a little too well for my liking!

I hope that tomorrow's word is something along the lines of gregarious or perspicacious.

As always I'm enjoying the word of the day email every day, and my thanks for the daily break from work.

Frazer Dixon, Surrey, UK

From: Nora Francis (narf shaw.ca)
Subject: dilettante

As a 75-year-old dinosaur who still uses the middle of the last century as reference for social and business conventions, I offer the tale of my personal "business cards".

A few years ago I got fed up with the way "that generation" pass out their personal cards. It's a good idea but what I saw were all these insecure self-absorbed little bunnies using them to say "I'm Important and you are expected to remember that!"

So I had some printed for myself. Nice little conservative engraved numbers -- mailing address lower right, phone number lower left. In the centre, under my name, it says "Dilettante".

I keep forgetting that I have them but once in a long while I am moved to pull one out of my wallet. A couple of times I've had someone look at me blankly and ask "What's a dile-tent? A dilly-tant? What do you do?" whereupon I hope to remember to explain that "a dilettante is someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things and not much about anything." Like myself, they're getting a little worn looking after all that time in my wallet, not up to the spanking clean ones with gilt and colour The Important People use, and most of the time mine get left on the table with the gravy stain... but like many of these things in our brave new world I'm learning to view their function as being designed to give ME a smile, me me me me me, and to heck with anyone else.

Nora Francis, Vancouver, Canada

From: Margaret Love (Mllove2000 aol.com)
Subject: Roue
Def: A debauched man, especially an elderly man from a wealthy or aristocratic family.

Ah, this one I recognized from the song Sixteen Going on Seventeen from Sound of Music. I saw the movie when I was nine years old, bought the soundtrack album and promptly memorized every word of every song while re-enacting key scenes in the living room. I have always thought that "roue" was a synonym for "cad", but now I know that a roue is a creepy old man while a cad is a creepy young one!

Margaret Love, Greenville, South Carolina

From: Thomas Benzoni (benzonit pol.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dilettante

There is controversy about the Gandhi quotation. See here.

Tom Benzoni, Sioux city, Iowa

From: Hope Bucher (hopebucher gmail.com)
Subject: Charles Dickens's quotation about cheerfulness and contentment preserving youthful looks

On a trip to a National Park my brother handed the female guard his license and she noticed that he did not qualify for a Senior Pass. I quickly gave her my driver's license which showed that I was 69. The guard, in disbelief, said "You don't look 69, what do you do?" to which I replied, naively, "I am a scientist and an artist". "No", she demanded "What do you do to look the way you do? What are your secrets?" I answered "I have a happy marriage and I'm very content with my life." Now, thanks to AWAD, I have the affirmation of Charles Dickens to support my analysis: "Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks".

Hope Bucher, Naperville, Illinois

From: Chris McLeester (cmcleester gmail.com)
Subject: Quotation not from Samuel Johnson

See here.

Chris McLeester, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Margaret Teusch (maggimay inbox.com)
Subject: Poseur
Def: One who behaves in an affected manner to impress others.

Is 'poseur' what affected people say to impress others when they call them 'posers'?

Margaret Teusch, Provo, Utah

From: John Ayer (john_ayer comcast.net)
Subject: names of writers (Re AWADmail 500)

In reference to Samuel Butler and Samuel Butler, and the suggestion that no two writers should have the same name, Winston Churchill, grandson of the Duke of Marlborough, became a published author, and learned that an American novelist named Winston Churchill had become rich and famous (in America), and according to legend wrote to him and suggested that the other man should write under a different name, to avoid confusion. The American wrote back to agree that they should not both publish under the same name, and as he had been using the name three years longer (born in 1871 vs. 1874), the younger man should change. Thereafter the younger man signed his works as Winston S. Churchill (the American had only two names).

John Ayer, Norwich, Connecticut

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two. -Ronald Searle, artist (1920-2011)

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