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AWADmail Issue 524

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

Sponsor's message: This week's Email of the Week is from M Henri Day (see below), who will get a pretty cheap education as well as FREE (ONEUPMAN)SHIPPING on any of the many treasures of our Miltonic mind.

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: femme fatale
Def: An attractive and seductive woman, especially one who leads others into disaster.

The pronunciation of this phrase illustrates one of the characteristics of the process of adopting loan words into another language. It seems in this instance that, perhaps because of the difficulty that English speakers have with French nasal vowels, femme is pronounced as fem; however the English speaker seems to react to fatale by almost instinctively modifying the pronunciation of fatal to match the final -e. English gets the second half right, but it must be admitted that those familiar with French understandably find this phonic mish-mash just a bit crazy; it's the price they have to pay for natural development of language.

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, Cornwall, UK

From: Patrick Camilleri (pcamilleri mmp.com.mt)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--billet-doux
Def: A love letter.

Today's word takes me back 40 years to my 6th Form student days studying Pope's Rape of the Lock. That was when I first heard of billet-doux!

The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transform'd to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.

Patrick E. Camilleri, Ta Xbiex, Malta

From: Jerry Hirschfield (jerfield sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--billet-doux

I was born in France and speak French fluently. The correct pronunciation of billet doux is not bil-ay-DOO, but bi-yay doo. The double "L" in French, especially after an "i" is pronounced like a "Y" in most French words... like feuille (leaf), bouillon, maille (stitch), etc. Perhaps you could print a correction. If you're going to use French words, it would help to give the correct pronunciation.

Jerry Hirschfield, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Many readers sent emails in various states of indignation about the pronunciations of French words featured this week. Please note that the pronunciations we show are not French, rather the Anglicized version of the French words -- words that have been borrowed into English, hence their English pronunciations. It's important to understand this difference.

Travel often changes us and words are no exception. When they cross linguistic borders, their spellings, meanings, or pronunciations may change. For example, French entrée (starter) becomes "main course" when it lands on the shores of North American English*. Hindi jagannath gets an anglicized spelling of juggernaut in English. German strafe (SHTRA-fuh) is pronounced as (strayf) in Anglophonia.

If you insist that words mean the same as in their native language, be pronounced the same, or spelled the same, you risk making yourself unintelligible to those you are speaking to. Now, wouldn't that be risqué (using the original French meaning of the word)?
-Anu Garg

* No, we have not been corrupting the language here in the New World. The word acquired a sense of "made dish" in the UK before taking on the meaning "main course" here.

From: Ann Hoffner (a_hoffner yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pudeur

Interesting back-at-you on Western modesty or "pudeur". I once remarked to a Tongan man wearing jeans while I was in a swimsuit and coverup that it seemed odd, his fellow islanders covering themselves in pants and long skirts in the tropic heat. "Don't you people blame us," he said in a very irritated tone. "Your missionaries were the ones that made us put on these clothes in the first place and now you want us to stop? Don't you dare."

Ann Hoffner, Newark, New Jersey

Email of the Week brought to you by Oneupmanship -- Winning isn't everything. Just kidding!

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: deshabille
Def: 1. The state of being partly dressed. 2. A deliberately careless or casual manner.

Or, as the 16th century English poet, Robert Herrick, put it in A Sweet Disorder:

"A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:--"

and after providing several examples ends by proclaiming that they:

"Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part."

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: Molly Strode (strode hawaii.edu)
Subject: Thank you

You're my favorite daily email. Thank you -- very much. It's like having a short, interesting conversation each morning. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Molly Strode, Honolulu, Hawaii

Syllables govern the world. -John Selden, historian and politician (1584-1654)

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