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AWADmail Issue 507

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

Adventures of a Teenage Polyglot
The New York Times

An Indigenous Language With Unique Staying Power
The New York Times

Watch Your Language! (In China, They Really Do)
International Herald Tribune

From: Ian Gordon (awad ipgordon.me.uk)
Subject: Preantepenultimate
Def: Fourth from the last.

I was delighted to read today's entry about the word "preantepenultimate".

I have wondered, on and off, whether such a word existed ever since I listened to the song "Have Some Madeira M'Dear" by Flanders and Swann, which contains the lines

"Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
With her antepenultimate breath".

Ian Gordon, Surrey, UK

From: Pamela Welch (pamelaiwelch gmail.com)
Subject: preantepenultimate

Now here's a word I use every time I travel! Several years ago I was looking for a word to describe the endless "final" calls targeting wayward airplane passengers. Now, rather than bemoan yet another "final" call, I ask myself whether the announcement will be the preantepenultimate, antepenultimate, penultimate, or ultimate. After these it's time to get up and watch the passenger' sluggage being unloaded.

Pamela Welch, Montreal, Canada

From: Tony Adams (pamandtony bigpond.com)
Subject: preantepenultimate

"Fourth from the last"

Try again!
ultimate - last
penultimate - one from the last
antepenultimate - two from the last
preantepenultimate - three from the last.

Of course, this could be the standard English/American problem of whether you start counting from zero or one. The obvious example of that is in numbering the floors in a building. English call the bottom one the ground floor (floor zero) while Americans call it the first floor (floor one).

Tony Adams, Hobart, Australia

From: Francis Gibbons (francisgibbons520 gmail.com)
Subject: preantepenultimate

preantepenultimate - 18 letters.
Fourth from the last - 17 letters.

I can't imagine there are too many words where it would be quicker (and easier to spell) the definition rather than the word.

Congratulations on the anniversary and thanks for A.Word.A.Day.

Francis Gibbons, Baltimore, Maryland

From: Marc Williams (msw60223 gmail.com)
Subject: gedankenexperiment
Def: A thought experiment: an experiment carried out in imagination only.

My favorite gedankenexperiment is Schroedinger's cat demonstrating quantum indeterminacy. Also the author Neil Gaiman asserts that said cat is clearly dead as no one has taken the time to feed it.

Marc Williams, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

From: Jenn Kurtz (jenniyoungkurtz yahoo.com)
Subject: Gedankenexperiment

Russell Stannard wrote a wonderful series about Uncle Albert -- the first is The Time and Space of Uncle Albert -- all about quantum physics and relativity. Gedanken is the name he uses for the niece -- she completes the experiments that Uncle Albert produces in his "thought bubble". My ten-year-old saw the word of the day and had a word epiphany! He understands the niece's name on a whole new level now. Thank you!

Jenn Kurtz, Summerville, South Carolina

From: David Fogg (dmfogg amnet.co.cr)
Subject: Gedankenexperiment

In Germany, they also say/write "Gedankenversuch", where "versuch" means attempt, try -- or, of course, experiment.

David Fogg, San Jose, Costa Rica

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by One Up! 122% faster than Scrabble, 2.38 times harder.

From: Hope Bucher (hopebucher gmail.com)
Subject: Gedankenexperiment

Arranging ideas in new combinations and looking at them from different perspectives is, according to Einstein, an "essential feature in productive thought". Einstein, Faraday, Galton, and many others have reported that they solved scientific problems in visual images and only afterwards translated their thoughts into words and mathematical formulas.

Being both a scientist and, in later life, an artist, I recognized long ago that the creative process is the same in both fields. It involves "Illumination" -- the moment of intuitive breakthrough; the end result of a Gedankenexperiment. Nevertheless, in spite of the similarities in creative problem-solving, my physicist husband has said that he "understood me much better when I was a scientist"!

Hope Bucher, Naperville, Illinois

From: Quin Publius (quintus.publius gmail.com)
Subject: Reductio ad absurdum
Def: Demonstration of the falsity of a premise by showing an absurdity to which it would logically lead.

The definition could include "often ending with 'just like Hitler'."

A reductio from the Wikipedia article on Christianity and alcohol:

"Martin Luther employs a reductio ad absurdum to counter the idea that abuse should be met with disuse: '[W]e must not ... reject [or] condemn anything because it is abused ... [W]ine and women bring many a man to misery and make a fool of him (Ecclus. 19:2; 31:30); so [we would need to] kill all the women and pour out all the wine.'"

Quin Publius, Sebring, Florida

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: princesse lointaine
Def: An ideal but unattainable woman.

I was struck by the similarity between Edmond Rostand's Princesse Lointaine and the character Dulcinea, that Miguel de Cervantes created in Don Quixote about 300 years earlier. Rostand's character falls in love with the countess without having ever seen her and Cervantes's Don Quixote only had glimpses of Dolcinea. Do you think that the capacity for humans to idealize another person is the very effect our politicians are hoping to capitalize upon with their slick phrases and soundbites?

Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California

From: Mike Wagner (wagstr6 bellsouth.net)
Subject: princesse lointaine

Do two nines make an 18-letter word? Oh, ... I feel sooo violated.

Reminds me of an old army experience. Our sergeant was giving orders and found one of the troops talking out of the side of his mouth to the guy next to him. The sergeant gruffly said, "Yablonski ... I have one word for you. Shut up!"

Mike Wagner, Miami, Florida

From: Alan Bennett (alanthetraveller gmail.com)
Subject: Anniversary

Happy octodecennary, Wordsmith, and thanks indefinitely for this daily (and weekly) ray of sunshine to illuminate my spirit.

Alan Bennett, Thenon, France

From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
Subject: Octodecennary

Happy Chai Anniversary. In the Hebrew Alphabet, each letter is given a numerical value. The Chet and Yud letters together add up to 18, a very fortunate number. It is certainly easier to wish you a Happy Chai Anniversary than a Happy Octodecennary one.

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. -Owen Barfield, author (1898-1997)

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