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AWADmail Issue 518

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

Spelling Out the End
The New York Times

San Diego Eighth-Grader Wins Scripps National Spelling Bee

From: Dan Lafreniere (daniel.lafreniere mcgill.ca)
Subject: Flaneur
Def: An idler or loafer; a man about town.

In Québec, where I live, a flâneur is a loiterer. I have seen posted signs warning Pas de flânage (No Loitering), a fineable offence in some municipalities. I have no idea if other Francophone countries use the same sense of this word.

Dan Lafreniere, Quebec, Canada

From: Tim Johnson (tjohnson0610 gmail.com)
Subject: Flaneur

Author Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan, Antifragile) would disagree with your categorizing the word "flaneur" as an insult. He considers it a philosophical way of living and thinking with a freedom that would make envious those who battle bureaucracy and drudgery daily. Taleb classifies a flaneur as "antifragile", which is something that improves when it receives shocks and is therefore better than something that is robust or fragile. Here is the prologue to the forthcoming Antifragile.

Tim Johnson, Evergreen Park, Illinois

From: Colleen Weisz (colleenweisz aol.com)
Subject: Prima Donna
Def: A self-important and temperamental person.

What comes to my mind is the wonderful Phantom of the Opera song (video) about the arrogant Carlotta.

Colleen Weisz, Solon, Ohio

From: Sheri Pradel (pradel.family xtra.co.nz)
Subject: Prima Madonna

Reminds me of the secondary school teacher who once asked her class of approximately 12-13 year olds to write an essay on "The best compliment my parents have ever gave me". One girl wrote that it was when her father called her a "little pre-Madonna"!

Sheri Pradel, Auckland, New Zealand

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

From: Susan Niederhoff (susanacat juno.com)
Subject: Cunctator
Def: One who hesitates; a procrastinator or delayer.

The Roman consul and dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus was given the epithet 'Cunctator' for his tactics in the Second Punic War. Instead of directly attacking the invading Hannibal and risking large casualties, the Romans pursued a war of attrition. They sent out small groups to attack Carthaginian foraging parties but otherwise remained out of the direct path of the invaders. This wore down Hannibal's army and prevented Roman allies from changing sides; this method is now known to us as the Fabian strategy.

Despite the military effectiveness, Fabius's method was politically unpopular. 'Cunctator' was added to his name as an insult, and the method was rapidly abandoned when his term as dictator ended.

Susan Niederhoff, Aurora, Colorado

From: Norman Samish (ncsamish ptera.net)
Subject: Cunctator

After reading your definition of cunctator, I asked my wife, "I just found out the meaning of cunctator. What do you think it means?" She thought about it briefly, then said, "The wife of a dictator?"

Norman Samish, Spokane, Washington

From: Stu Tarlowe (STarlowe earthlink.net)
Subject: Verbal battles

"Here's another option. Imagine a world where a slight called for a verbal duel. The two parties get together and hurl the choicest adjectives at each other. Spectators cheer them on. And in the end the two shake hands and, having vented, go home."

What you describe sounds like the way conflict is dealt with in Inuit (Eskimo) culture. Since they live in such a harsh and danger-fraught environment (and often depend on one another for life-saving help) they cannot afford to risk injury by physically fighting one another.

So, instead of fighting, when an Eskimo has a "beef" with a neighbor, he and his friends gather in front of the neighbor's house and sing insulting songs!

Stu Tarlowe, Rosedale, Kansas

From: David Perry Davis, Esq. (dpd dpdlaw.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--flagitious

Your hypothetical scenario -- where "duels" are settled verbally -- is a reality in urban culture; called rap battles. Not exercises in high vocabulary, but the theory is the same... words instead of violence. (video)

David Perry Davis, Princeton, New Jersey

From: Richard Bruno (richardgbruno gmail.com)
Subject: Insults and dueling...

Your comments made me think of Edmond Rostand's marvelous play Cyrano de Bergerac, and the great scene in Act 1, where Cyrano upbraids a young viscomte for the pedestrian nature of his insult to Cyrano and his nose. He then provides a litany of all the more robust ways the young man might have insulted Cyrano -- and then of course, duels with and kills the viscomte. Rapier wit, literally and figuratively!

Richard Bruno, New York, New York

From: Ron Greenman (rongreenman gmail.com)
Subject: Dueling Words

A careful study of the epithets hurled willy-nilly by Captain Haddock in Tintin comics would serve a duelist well in this context.

Ron Greenman, Tacoma, Washington

From: Susan Bernard Webb (sbwdesign gmail.com)
Subject: Insults

I'm sure you will get more than one referral to this addictively scurrilous Shakespearean Insulter. (Thou loggerheaded hasty-witted malt-worm!)

Susan Webb, Citrus Heights, California

From: Jenka Guevara (guevaraj gmail.com)
Subject: idea

This week, insults, reminded me of when we were young and were not allowed bad words, my mother would say Khachaturian or Shostakovich, names of classical music composers to denote her anger. We would understand but no bad word!

Jenka Guevara, Mexico City, Mexico

From: Sonya Cashdan (SHCashdan aol.com)
Subject: war of the words

What fun! Actually, there IS a sort of ritualized vocabulary vendetta in common use these days, especially on those threads which comment upon news stories. Participants call it Pun-Fu, and the name is self-descriptive. Pun-Fu masters often DO defuse the vehemence which enters into bloggers' responses, allowing a genuine interchange of ideas whilst avoiding mere cauldron-stirring.

My favorite example from the last few days occurred on Yahoo, when a blogger responding to the article reporting that George Wills had called Donald Trump a "bloviating ignoramus" observed that Wills had better watch himself, because there might be "Hell toupee". As the rest of us wiped spittle from our computer screens, comments immediately segued from nasty to funny, with such additions as "Hair hair!" and "Hair today; gone tomorrow." We still got it said, but in a MUCH funnier fashion.

Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California

From: Ed Greer (egreer comcast.net)
Subject: Insults

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we did something we called "Carrboro fighting" (Carrboro was the town on the other side of the railroad tracks). You faced your opponent placing your right shoulder against his right shoulder, and walked around in circles yelling insults at each other. The loser was the person who either ran out of insults or repeated himself.

Ed Greer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Nunn Winship (nwinship warden.wednet.edu)
Subject: cursing

For many years whenever I hear youngsters swearing, using the same few bits of profanity, I recommend that they watch "The Brothers O'Toole" with John Astin. In it, Astin cusses out his brother for malingering instead of helping him rob the local bank. He goes on for a minute or so, scolding the man without using a single instance of profanity. Creative cursing has unfortunately become a vanishing art, it seems.

Nunn Winship, Warden, Washington

From: Dennis Lynch (dlynch1 nyc.rr.com)
Subject: Verbal Duels

Back in '98 I witnessed just such a verbal duel on Usenet. I took the liberty of preserving it in print. It is not for the faint of heart in places. Even my dictionary (Random House Unabridged, 1967) does not have all the words; but many can be deduced from their roots.

"You have shown yourself to be an apogenous, bovaristic, coprolalial, dasypygal, excerebrose, facinorous, gnathonic, hircine, ithyphallic, jumentous, kyphotic, labrose, mephitic, napiform, oligophrenial, papuliferous, quisquilian, rebarbative, saponaceous, thersitical, unguinous, ventripotent, wlatsome, xylocephalous, yirning zoophyte."

Dennis Lynch, Queens Village, New York

Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within. -Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet (1809-1892)

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