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AWADmail Issue 511

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

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

Fanfare for the Comma Man
The New York Times

Email of the Week -- (Brought to you by One Up! -- the best lagniappe ever!)

From: Debbie Stultz (stultzda yahoo.com)
Subject: Doldrums
Def: 1. A state or period of stagnation or slump; 2. A region of the ocean near the equator marked by calms and light variable winds.

For me, the Doldrums will always be associated with Norton Juster's fantastic book, The Phantom Tollbooth. The Doldrums are where Milo ends up after just driving along not thinking. This website has a map of the lands beyond the tollbooth, with the Doldrums appearing in the lower left, with S-shaped and spiral roads, designed for getting nowhere.

The book defines the Doldrums as "where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes."

Of course, in keeping with the wonderful wordplay of the book, Milo encounters the Lethargarians.

I still read this book upon occasion, even though I am in my mid-forties because sometimes you just have to detour to the doldrums to remind yourself why you don't want to be there. I still have my copy from when I was nine.

Debbie Stultz, Washington, DC

From: Eric Thomas (eric.thomas state.mn.us)
Subject: Doldrums

In a selfish attempt at intentionally getting stranded during the Y2K scare, my family went sailing in the Caribbean for New Year's. We were praying for the meltdown of technology (so the rental office would lose our identity) and for some doldrums to keep us from getting back to port!

Eric Thomas, Mankato, Minnesota

From: Sonya Cashdan (SHCashdan aol.com)
Subject: "The band played on"

The phrase "and the band played on" comes from a song written in 1895, well before the Titanic disaster. The song is known by either the quoted phrase or by its first line, "Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde." Although we certainly do use the phrase to refer to the Titanic, we use it because it was already well-known, from the popularity of the song, by the time the Titanic sank.

Today, the song is better known as the title of Randy Shiltz's eponymous 1987 non-fiction book, and the resulting movie, both of which accurately and heart-breakingly depict decades of ignoring the AIDS epidemic.

Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California

Many readers wrote about the 1895 song. That's why I didn't say the phrase originated with the Titanic, rather "The disaster has also cemented many idioms in the language" but it could have been clearer.
-Anu Garg

From: Linda Owens (lindafowens netzero.net)
Subject: doldrums

Your reference to the Titanic put me in mind of the old song: "Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde, and the Band Played On...." Also, it's a reference to Playing For Time, a memoir by a French woman who was a member of a band that played in a Nazi concentration camp as the workers marched in and out for the day. I believe her guilt for escaping harsh duty was assuaged by feeling she gave courage to those less fortunate. There is something also to be said for the bravery of the band members on the ship who tried to make the inevitable less unpleasant for the doomed. We don't seem to call that courage these days, but at the time that was the epitome of courage.

Linda Owens, Exeter, Rhode Island

From: Susan Saunders (susansaunders2008 btinternet.com)
Subject: Scupper
Def: noun: An opening for draining water, as on the side of a ship. verb tr.: 1. To prevent from succeeding. 2. To overwhelm, disable, or destroy.

My first encounter with this word was as a small child, listening to my father singing sea shanties. The first suggestion in the song about what we do with the drunken sailor, is 'Put him in the scuppers with the hosepipe on him.' I dimly imagined my father (who seldom drank) taking part in the hosing operations. Actually he was in the Fleet Air Arm during the war, landing bombers on aircraft carriers, with not a scupper in sight.

Susan Saunders, Teddington, UK

From: Richard J. Barbalace (rjbarbal mit.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--scupper

Here is an interesting post on the difference, or lack thereof, between scupper and scuttle.

Perhaps one can conclude that people are scuppered and ships are scuttled? But either way, neither is a pleasant demise.

Richard J. Barbalace, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

From: Rick Fisher (ickypfb aol.com)
Subject: scupper

One of my favorite grapes is a very winey variety known as the scuppernong that I know is grown in the Virginia area. It has quite a few pits which are usually spit out.

Rick Fisher, Ft Lauderdale, Florida

From: Stephanie Watts (trumpetrocks hotmail.com)
Subject: scupper

I have no idea where in the world My Dear Mother learned the words to her version of, "What do you do with a drunken sailor?" but one of the answering verses said, "Tie him to the scupper til she's yardarm under!"

Stephanie Watts, Houston, Texas

From: Paddy Hernon (paddy tallship.ca)
Subject: Scuttlebutt
Def: 1. Rumor, gossip. 2. A drinking fountain or a cask of drinking water on a ship.

One of my companies is Scuttlebutt Marine Services. Here's its logo.

Paddy Hernon, Captain of the tallship Blarney Pilgrim, Victoria, BC, Canada

From: Michael Sharman (jmsharman btinternet.com)
Subject: bonanza
Def: 1. A source of sudden wealth or profits. 2. A very large amount. 3. A rich mine or pocket of ore.

Goethe wrote two poems on the subject of a Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) The two are not synonymous: a calm (and therefore windless) sea was a cause for alarm in the days of sail, as they could be stuck in the doldrums. Hence there was joy when the mists cleared and a fresh breeze filled the sails. Beethoven was inspired by these two poems to write an orchestral piece called Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (video). Mendelssohn was likewise inspired by Beethoven to do the same (video). I find neither work inspired or inspiring, but that may just be my taste. The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge, however, is a different thing altogether.

Michael Sharman, Ilkley, UK

A word in a dictionary is very much like a car in a mammoth motorshow -- full of potential, but temporarily inactive. -Anthony Burgess, author (1917-1993)

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