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AWADmail Issue 514

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

A Word Heard Often, Except at the Supreme Court
The New York Times

What's in a Town Name?
USA Today

India's Tribal People Fast Becoming Lost for Words
The Age

From: Anil Jagalur (anil.jagalur philips.com)
Subject: Mentor
Def: noun: A wise and trusted adviser or teacher. verb tr., intr.: To serve as an adviser or teacher.

Sometimes a mentor who is supposed to mentor his mentee may end up only tormenting the mentee and may rightly be called a tormentor!

Anil Jagalur, Bangalore, India

From: Anne Morris Hooke (amh muohio.edu)
Subject: Mentor

As an otherwise totally godless fan of A.Word.A.Day I have to say I would have liked to see a reference to Athena as the REAL adviser to Telemachus, acting through Mentor (link).

And perhaps you could have also noted another pet peeve of mine -- use of the dreadful term "mentee" instead of protégé(e). But I LOVE AWAD and especially your Thought for the Day.

Anne Morris Hooke, Oxford, Ohio

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

From: Jeff Vahlbusch (vahlbujb uwec.edu)
subject: Nestor
Def: A wise old man.

Our definitions of nestor need revising. In the Iliad, Nestor is arguably one of the greatest bores in Western literature, and one of the most dangerous. He sets himself up as a model for the young to emulate, and he does it at great length. His advice often leads characters into trouble: Homer seems perhaps to underline this when he sends "Evil Dream" disguised as Nestor to Agamemnon, and when he has Poseidon plot to wreck the palisade that the Achaeans build on Nestor's advice. At one point, Nestor disdains Diomedes's advice as the idiocy of the young, but Homer shows that Diomedes's plan was, in fact, best. Nestor is also clearly out of place on the battlefield: he gets into danger, is almost killed, and must be rescued by Diomedes when Odysseus declines to help.

Worst of all, Nestor uses his rhetorical skills to make the young yearn for battle. His is the terrible plan on which the whole tragedy of the Iliad turns. Nestor convinces Patroclus to persuade Achilles to let Patroclus don Achilles's armor and go out to fight in his stead. This leads to Patroclus's death and eventually unleashes an impious, crazed, mass-murdering Achilles on the Trojans.

In the Odyssey, Nestor is charming and civilized; perhaps here he deserves the epithet "wise". In the Iliad only his advice to Achilles in Book IX can be thus described.

While I'm at it, I suggest re-examining the word mentor, too. Odysseus left Mentor in some sort of charge when he left for Troy. At the beginning of the Odyssey, Ithaca is in chaos, the palace is overrun by suitors, and Homer makes clear that no one has called an assembly of the Ithacans in 20 years. (Finally, Telemachus does so.)

Jefford Vahlbusch, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

From: Rod Shepherd (shepherd shentel.net)
Subject: Nestor

In the Washington DC area a nestor is a slow driver purposely taking up a position in the left lane of a highway -- usually driving a few miles below the speed limit. Heard the term in the mid-1970s. Coined after one John Nestor.

Rod Shepherd, Mount Jackson, Virginia

From: Scott Swanson (harview montana.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--hector
Def: noun: A bully or a blusterer; verb tr., intr.: To bully or to bluster.

I was surprised not to hear mention of the phrase "When Hector was a pup" (or "Since Hector was a pup") which, since Hector was a pup, I have always heard used to refer to a time long ago.

Scott Swanson, Pendroy, Montana

From: Alan H. Schulman (alan.schulman helsinki.fi)
Subject: Re: Tartar
Def: 1. A fierce, uncontrollable person. 2. One who proves to be unexpectedly formidable. Usually used in the idiom "to catch a tartar". 3. A hard yellowish deposit that forms on the teeth. 4. A reddish deposit on the sides of wine casks.

The Tatars (Tartars) haven't disappeared. They are a minority in Finland, to which they came as part of the Czar's army during the years (1809-1917) when Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia. They came from Tatarstan, where they still live. Our son's nanny as an infant was a member of the Tatar community in Finland.

Prof. Alan H. Schulman, Helsinki, Finland

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Tartar

You've made me hungry for a steak tartare (or simply a tartar), one of the most revolting deliciously satisfying way to eat chopped raw meat mixed with onions, raw egg, capers and cognac, hmmmm!

Rudy Rosenberg Sr., Westbury, New York

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: satyr
Def: 1. A lecherous man; 2. A man who has satyriasis: excessive and uncontrollable sexual desire.; 3. Any of several butterflies of the family Satyridae, having eyelike spots.

So if I make fun of a dirty old man is that a satyrical comment?

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Hugh D. Hyatt (hugh.hyatt gmail.com)
subject: The Thurber quotation

Re: "Hundreds of hysterical persons must confuse these phenomena with messages from the beyond and take their glory to the bishop rather than the eye doctor." -James Thurber

I don't know whether to thank you or berate you. I spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what Thurber was referring to in the quotation below. I love the journey of discovering such things. I also had better things to do, I'm sure. In case you don't know and are interested, here's an explanatory paragraph from Wikipedia entry for James Thurber:

"Thurber had two brothers, William and Robert. Once, while playing a game of William Tell, his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow, and Thurber lost that eye. This injury would later cause him to be almost entirely blind. Unable in childhood to participate in sports and activities because of his injury, he developed a creative imagination, which he shared in his writings. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran suggests Thurber's imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered some level of visual loss."

Hugh D. Hyatt, Upper Holland, Pennsylvania

From: Bob Wilson (wilson math.wisc.edu)
Subject: mentoring and drumming

Slightly related to this week's theme: A few weeks ago I swapped email with my favorite classical music host (Carl Grapentine on WFMT) on the verb vs noun forms that go with instruments. Someone who plays the drums is a drummer, not a drummist, while someone who plays violin is a violinist, not a violiner. We explored examples ranging over all of the orchestra. There seemed to be a "rule": You use the "er" form if the instrument name can be itself used as a verb, e.g. to drum or to trumpet, but you use the "ist" form otherwise, e.g. piano by itself can be an adjective but so far as I know not a verb. (I suppose that ignores dropping pianos on people in cartoons...)

To the extent there is such a rule, what other but similar examples can we think of? And how do they come to be? Do they evolve in common usage? Or are they traces of linguistic constructions, such as conjugating verbs, in some language that fed into English but are not directly visible in today's English? And how would this work in other languages?

Bob Wilson, Oregon, Wisconsin

From: Sky Hilts (SkyHilts comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mentor

A pun from two different roots -- "I hear somebody's been makin' allegations 'bout me, an' I'm here to see the alligator!"

Schuyler Hilts, Tucson, Arizona

Language is an anonymous, collective, and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations. -Edward Sapir, anthropologist, linguist (1884-1939)

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