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AWADmail Issue 513

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

Immersion in a Foreign Language Rewires Your Brain -- Especially When You Take Time Off

Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously
The New York Times

Visualizing English Word Origins
Ideas Illustrated

From: Joseph Mat Schech (schechj dir6.nichd.nih.gov)
Subject: Foible
Def: 1. A minor weakness or an idiosyncrasy in someone's character. 2. The weaker, upper part of a sword blade.

A similar sounding word that can also be viewed as a weakness: FOIA-ble or FOIA-able, sometimes used as a verb as in "I've been FOIAed!" It's an acronym used as a noun that has been pressed into service as a verb. FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act, allowing US citizens to obtain any information and/or documents produced with taxpayer funding. It's a wonderful idea in a democracy; any citizen can investigate what the government is up to. Unfortunately there are unintended consequences. Various groups and individuals use the FOIA to harvest tidbits they can spin to advance their political agendas. But that's a price I'm willing to pay if it increases transparency of our government.

Joseph Mat Schech, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Gerald Pragier (gerry e-medcom.com)
Subject: forte
Def: 1. A strong point: something in which a person excels. 2. The stronger, lower part of a sword blade. 3 Loud.

The word forte, usually in the form of a proper noun and capitalised, is widely-used in pharmaceutical drug names to differentiate between two dosage strengths -- regular and forte. In my experience, it is pronounced as two syllables (fohr-tay) although I have heard British pharmacists (of an older generation) pronounce it as (fort).

Gerald Pragier, Petach Tikva, Israel

From: Rodger Lewis (rzlewis comcast.net)
Subject: Pronunciation of forte

While I appreciate your noting the difference in meaning of the pronunciation of the word forte, I was disappointed that you, who do so much to increase our communication skills and broaden our appreciation of language subtleties should be willing to allow the careless pronunciation of forte to go unchallenged, when the meanings are quite different. The acceptance of ignorance, however common, is not necessarily a virtue.

Rodger Lewis, Crawfordville, Florida

Language rarely bends with fiats. The pronunciation of the word forte as (FOHR-tay) has become so common that asking people to pronounce it as (fort) is akin to asking them to spell puny as puisne or petty as petit as they are spelled in French where they came from.
-Anu Garg

Email of the Week -- (Brought to you by One Up! -- If you're not one-up, you're one-down.)

From: Claudine Voelcker (claudine.voelcker googlemail.com)
Subject: Elan
Def: A combination of energy, enthusiasm, and style.

An élan, in French, is also a moose, an elk. And once élancés, élans are hard to stop.

Claudine Voelcker, Munich, Germany

From: Charles Koppelman (koppelm well.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--elan

When I was taking fencing in college, the top fencers would shout "elan!" as they made an attack.

Charles Koppelman, Berkeley, California

From: Richard Oldcorn (oldcorn bigpond.net.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--riposte
Def: 1. A quick, clever reply. 2. In fencing, a quick return thrust.

Out of interest in modern fencing, whilst it may be desirable that the riposte be quick, it is done at whatever speed the riposting fencer thinks is the most appropriate.

Richard Oldcorn, Sydney, Australia

From: Bruce McGuffin (mcguffin ll.mit.edu)
Subject: Riposte

If there's one thing I've learned as a recreational fencer, it's that when using epees (which can only score with the tip, but allow an attack at any time), a riposte is usually a good idea, but when using sabres (which can score with the edge, but only one fencer has the right to attack at any time), a riposte is a bad idea unless it follows my parry, because a parry is the only action likely to precede a riposte that leaves me with the right of way (the right to attack).

In short, a pointed riposte is usually a good idea, but a sharp-edged riposte is not.

Bruce McGuffin, Lexington, Massachusetts

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Touché
Def: 1. Used as an acknowledgment of a valid or clever point made by another. 2. In fencing, an acknowledgment of a hit by an opponent.

The word instantly invoked the renowned James Thurber cartoon depicting one sword-wielding gentleman beheading a second duelist with a single stroke as he declares "Touché!" Since it was first published in the New Yorker in 1932, there have been some who have nitpicked that it is the person touchéd is who acknowledges the hit. But to me the way it was created enhances the humor of the outlandish aggression.

Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California

From: Elizabeth Murdoch (emurdoch safecity.com.au)
Subject: Touché

Ah, how this word brings

back memories! When I was seven or eight I talked incessantly. My father was driving one night, and I was in the back of the car, still talking incessantly! Ten minutes into the journey my father chided me for talking so much and proceeded to tell me at length why it was dangerous to talk to a driver. This led to a story about his riding on trains as a boy, and how the sign "Do not speak to the driver" had been vandalised to read "Do not pea to the river"! Sullen, I sat in the back and just watched out the window in silence. I found solace in watching a most beautiful, full, golden moon rising over the ocean! It was a wonder to behold! Not long after, my father pointed out the moon, to which I replied, "I've already seen it." "Well, why didn't you tell me?" he asked. My reply? "I didn't want to 'pea to the river'." "Touché! Touché!" he laughed.

Elizabeth Murdoch, Oberon, Australia

From: Dr. Alexis Melteff (aapm52 yahoo.com)
Subject: touché

When I was on the college fencing team, our coach liked puns as much as I did. During practice, disussing a questionable point, he would often ask, "Touche or not touche, that is the question."

Dr. Alexis Melteff, Santa Rosa, California

From: Laird Ellis (sleiii aol.com)
Subject: Week's theme

"At one time, learning how to wield a sword was an essential part of a classical education for a man. Thankfully we have come a long way from those days when every problem had to be solved by picking up a weapon."

Read the news much? Local, national, global? The world is exponentially more lethal in scale and degree than in any era of sword fighting.

Laird Ellis, Deerfield, Massachusetts

While it may appear otherwise, what with Florida's stand-your-ground law, ongoing wars and revolutions, violence has declined and this may be the most peaceful time in history. Please see Steven Pinker's recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
-Anu Garg

By words the mind is winged. -Aristophanes, dramatist (c. 448-385 BCE)

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