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AWADmail Issue 517

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

From: Luis Navarro-Alcaraz (luisnavarroalcaraz430 gmail.com)
Subject: copperplate
Def: A fine style of handwriting marked by flowing shapes and strokes of varying width.

We Spaniards have a name for this kind of writing: letra inglesa. When a child, at school we used pen and ink and tried to perfect our penmanship: we use letra inglesa, letra gótica (German way of writing: Gothic) and letra redondilla (round-shaped type).

Luis Navarro-Alcaraz, Alicante, Spain

From: Prunella Barlow (prunella shaw.ca)
Subject: Copperplate

I grew up when we were taught copperplate writing in school. The strokes were not just 'varying widths' -- the upstrokes were fine and light, and the downstrokes were heavier and therefore wider. This was not easy to achieve, but we had exercise books (called 'copy books') with special lines on them to give us the height and depth of the upstrokes and downstrokes, and we spent many hours doing 'writing practice' in my childhood.

Prunella Barlow, Vancouver, Canada

From: Joe Fleischman (jfleischman wbcm.com)
Subject: copperplate

Being a much better sailor than caligrapher, this word instead conjured thoughts of sailing vessels. Copperplate was affixed to the hulls of wooden vessels as early as the late 1750s to lessen the effects of marine growth and deterioration from worms. Immersed in water, copper produces a toxic film that deters these organisms.

While more expensive that other methods of sheathing, the use of copperplate allowed ships to stay at sea longer between cleanings and maintenance.

Ships' captains may well have made their log entries in copperplate hand while sailing on their copperplate hulls.

Joe Fleischman, Baltimore, Maryland

From: Michael Sitton (sittonmr potsdam.edu)
Subject: Tin god
Def: 1. A pompous, self-important person. 2. A person who regards himself or herself as infallible and tries to dictate standards of behavior or beliefs.

One of my favorite artistic uses of "tin god" occurs during a dramatic moment in Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony. The narrator, in disappointment and anger, quotes the Biblical promise of God to humankind after the Flood, then uses the expression:

"For lo, I do set my bow in the cloud ...
And I will look upon it, that I
May remember my everlasting covenant ..."
Your covenant! Your bargain with Man!
Tin God! Your bargain is tin!
It crumples in my hand!
And where is faith now -- Yours or mine?"

This is an especially powerful moment in a very moving work.

Michael Sitton, Potsdam, New York

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: Tin is superior

This progression, taught to me by my dad when I was a youngster, shows the superiority of tin.

I once had a wooden whistle, but it wooden whistle.
Next I got a lead whistle, but it wooden lead me whistle.
Then I got a steel whistle, but it steel wooden lead me whistle.
So I got a tin whistle. And now I tin whistle.

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: tin god

From a reference to tin as a base metal compared to precious metals; in other words, petty or worthless.

This is a good example of the wide misuse and misunderstanding of a word. Tin is a valuable metal, used extensively from antiquity onwards as a component of bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, which gave its name to the Bronze age. The tin of Cornwall was exported to Europe from Roman times. The next important use of tin was to form a protective layer on mild steel; steel treated in this manner is known as tinplate: the presence of the protective layer of tin makes tinplate resistant to the atmospheric corrosion to which untreated mild steel would be susceptible as well as to corrosion within tinplate cans used to preserve food. It is tinplate, or rather goods fabricated from it, that are said to be "cheap and worthless". "Tin roofs" (the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof comes to mind) were similarly inexpensive constructions made from tin plate, though latterly the term has referred to galvanized (ie, zinc-coated) mild steel. Tin foil used to be made of tin: now foil fabricated from aluminium has supplanted it, but is still popularly referred to as tin foil. It is the misfortune of tin to be associated with the products mentioned, of which it may not even be a component, and for its important inherent qualities to be largely forgotten.

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, Cornwall, UK

From: Marvant Duhon (mduhon bluemarble.net)
Subject: brass ring
Def: A prize or an opportunity for a prize, especially a prestigious one.

In my younger days, in Marine Corps training we would often climb a rope. You did not get credit for having reached the top unless you obviously touched the brass ring attaching it to the ceiling or apparatus. Since this was strenuous work, and since climbing a rope was the last station on both the Obstacle Course and the Confidence Course, it was not unusual to see someone nearly to the top, desperately reaching for the brass ring. This was a common part of our language, "reaching the brass ring".

Marvant Duhon, Bloomington, Indiana

From: Mike Knapp (michael.lawson.knapp gmail.com)
Subject: Brass ring

The carousel on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California has a brass ring dispenser of the type you describe. Riders attempt to grab a ring from the dispenser as the ride is in progress, but the fun doesn't end there. In order to win a free ride, they must be able to toss the ring from their position on the (still moving) ride through the mouth of a clown that is painted on the wall!

Mike Knapp, San Rafael, California

From: Claudine Voelcker (claudine.voelcker googlemail.com)
Subject: brass ring

In France, instead of a brass ring, they used to have a "pompon", a sort of cheerball attached to a ring with a clip. The ring in turn would be attached to a string that the carousel man would pull up and let down over the children's heads to entice them to catch it.

I remember that our carousel man would let the cheerball down into the faces of the more awkward or slow children to allow them to catch it. And of course, with the ball you got a free ride. Such bliss and pride!

So décrocher le pompon" means to hit the jackpot, or get the prize, the brass ring.

Claudine Voelcker, Munich, Germany

From: Jim Campbell (james.n.campbell gmail.com)
Subject: Brass ring

I think it interesting that the brass ring is a holdover from when the carousel was a device for training mounted men for combat. For lance training, they would try to spear rings hung just outside the circular path of their wooden horses.

Jim Campbell, Aloha, Oregon

From: Dave Campbell (museumofdave gmail.com)
Subject: Brass ring

The brass ring was generally threaded into a much larger batch of iron rings, the latter grabbed and tossed into a hamper or at a target; I was a regular rider of San Diego's Balboa Park Carousel, and during World War II, there were little sewn effigies of Axis Enemies at the side of the carousel -- Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo -- and we could fiendishly take aim from our horse -- the dolls on hinges would flop over if hit. It was always best to get the brass ring and a free ride, but taking it out on the Axis wasn't bad either -- talk about youthful conditioning!

Dave Campbell, Chico, California

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Brass ring

I'm reminded by today's word that in our quest for the brass ring, we sometimes make the mistake of ignoring the many steel ring delights in life. As a child, I only grabbed the brass ring once in all the times I rode the merry-go-round. Still it was quite joyous to catch one of the steel rings queued in the channel of the arm that inched the brass reward toward the outstretched fingers of those astride the perimeter horses. I never want to forget that not getting the brass ring in no way diminished the fun of tossing my "runner-up" prize at the open mouth of the clown painted on the far wall of the carrousel.

Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California

From: Craig Kurumada (kurumada humboldt.edu)
Subject: Iron curtain
Def: An impenetrable barrier to communication, marked by censorship, secrecy, and isolation.

While studying in Germany, I learned that the Churchill speech actually took the term as a direct translation of a Goebbels speech, describing the Third Reich as an Eisener Vorhang (iron curtain) against Communism. An iron curtain translates as "safety curtain" in British English and "fire curtain" in North American English.

Craig Kurumada, Arcata, California

From: Joe Presley (presley89 comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--silver lining
Def: A positive aspect in an otherwise gloomy situation.

Would the man who lends silver coins be the Loan Arranger?

Joe Presley, Warren, New Jersey

From: David Cantrell (david cantrell.org.uk)
Subject: metals

The word metal evokes different images based on who or where you are. To an investor it may be precious metals, to a music enthusiast it may mean heavy metal. Again, the term heavy metal has an entirely different meaning to a scientist.

And to an astronomer, things like oxygen and nitrogen are metals. "Metals" are all the elements produced in stars and supernovas, non-metals (hydrogen and helium) are those produced (mostly, in the case of helium) before the stars were formed.

David Cantrell, London, UK

From: Lori Kohler (kohlert2 gmail.com)
Subject: metallic metaphors

A few weeks ago, my son, who works as a welder for a sculptor, had a visitor walk into their workshop. This visitor asked, "What is that you are working on?" My son replied, giving him the motto of the school where he learned to weld, "It's all metal, baby!" The visitor stopped and just looked at him, and then at the sculpture in progress. "That's stainless steel," he replied. Judas Priest is metal!" Made my son's day...

Lori Kohler, Tallahassee, Florida

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

From: Monroe Thomas Clewis (mtc265 yahoo.com)
Subject: Golden words

A Tin God,
Behind an Iron Curtain,
A Copperplate inscription:
"Miss the Brass Ring,
But find the Silver Lining."

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Los Angeles, California

From: Judy Epstein (jepstein mail.com)
Subject: Silver lining, et al

Dare I say it -- this week's theme was the gold standard by which all other A.W.A.D. weeks can be judged! History, geography, philosophy -- you achieved it all.

Judy Epstein, Port Washington, New York

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. -Roland Barthes, literary critic and philosopher (1915-1980)

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