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AWADmail Issue 536

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

Language Use Is Simpler Than Previously Thought, Study Suggests

Scottish Man Dies, Taking Town's Dialect With Him
ABC News

From: Pat Street (patstreet aol.com)
Subject: aesculapian
Def: adjective: Relating to medicine; noun: A doctor.

Years ago I was ghost-writing a medical journal article for a physician. He gave me some rather flowery notes he had dictated to his secretary, and I was amused to see that she had typed "the symbol of medicine, the staff of S.Q. Lapius".

Pat Street, Orlando, Florida

From: Jim Ball (jbball1 yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: Aesculapian or Esculapian

I live in Rome, from where the story of the snake around the staff of Aesculapius comes. There was a great plague in Rome, so the people sent to Greece, where all the best doctors were in ancient times. When the ship carrying the doctors reached the island on the Tiber (Isola di Tevere) where ships docked for Rome then, a snake was seen to jump off the ship -- and from that time the plague stopped. It was tough on the Greek doctors, but the snake got the credit and ever since has adorned the staff of Aesculapius!

Jim Ball, Rome, Italy

From: Robert Reeves (reeves-robert att.net)
Subject: Aesculapian

The Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus), a widespread species in Europe, is thought to be the inspiration for the snake coiled around the Rod of Aesculapius.

Robert Reeves, Texas

From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Aesculapius/Asclepius

Condemned to die by the state (for impiety and "corrupting the youth"), Socrates was forced to drink poison. As he lay dying, he said to one of his followers, "Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt."

These words can be open to a number of interpretations, but their most basic meaning is that Socrates saw his death as a cure for life's ills, so he needed his followers to make a sacrifice to the god of healing. Since Socrates wasn't known for his religious observances (hence the charge of "impiety"), his invoking of a god may have given his final words welcoming death a double irony.

Robert Payne, Los Angeles, California

From: Dr G. Nadarajan (kshemaraja gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aesculapian

As a surgeon I have seen a lot of surgical instruments by a company called Aesculap.

Dr G. Nadarajan, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

From: Richard Snyder MD (rns22 cornell.edu)
Subject: Aesculapian

I would submit that the staff is not wrapped by a snake, but depicts a wooden twig or pole used to capture and slowly extract the Guinea worm, aka Dracunculus medinensis.

It is a major parasitic scourge in Africa, but once was also found around the Mediterranean, before water hygiene interrupted transmission by humans who no longer ingest the water fleas (copepods) that are the vector. Very debilitating to the victims, especially when the female migrates to lay eggs, usually emerging around the ankle and prolapsing a "loop" after a skin blister breaks, where the uterus can send forth the eggs into shallow water.

The worms have a very long migratory path under the skin. They can be up to a meter in length. The technique is still used as a treatment today in many villages. Simple filtering of drinking water through a fine mesh screen is a very cheap and efficacious way to help eradicate transmission. I believe the UN/WHO has a program to support this.

Richard Snyder, MD, Los Angeles, California

From: Linda Parkes (brokendrum 29ah.co.za)
Subject: protean
Def: 1. Assuming many forms: variable; 2. Able to handle many different things, as roles in a play. Versatile.

Also the root for the species of flower indigenous to South Africa, and the national flower of the country, the protea, known for many forms and variants. Now, too, the name given to the national cricket squad, which may also be said to have many forms and roles.

Linda Parkes, Centurion, South Africa

From: David Rubin (lalaw21752 hotmail.com)
Subject: terpsichorean
Def: adjective: Of or relating to dancing; noun: A dancer.

New Orleans is, of course, world famous for its food, music, and culture. In one of the oldest sections of the City there are streets named after all nine Muses: Terpsichore, Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Erato, Polymnia, and Urania. Laissez le bon temps rouler.

David Rubin, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: terpsichorean

Brings back Monty Python's Flying Circus with John Cleese in the Cheese Shop declaring that the music being played did not bother him since "I delight in every manifestation of the terpsichorean muse." This is then followed, after considerable frustration in not finding any cheese available for purchase (of course), by "Shut the bloody bouzouki off!" To which the shopkeeper responds, "Told ya."

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Fazeela Mollick (fmollick gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bacchanal
Def: 1. A wild and drunken celebration. 2. A drunken reveler.

We speak English in Trinidad, an island in the West Indies that I call home but in our dialect, the word bacchanal has come to mean a public row, a scandal, quarreling, or a big party. When a political scandal occurs, we call it bacchanal; if two neighbours are at it hammer and tongs, we say "look bacchanal", and Carnival is our "bacchanal time". :)

Fazeela Mollick, Tunapuna, Trinidad

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: Morphean
Def: 1. Sleep-inducing. 2. Of or related to sleep or drowsiness.

And those Morphean dreams are notoriously protean and may well involve both terpsichorean and bacchanalian elements. And depending upon how they were induced, they might also require the intervention of an Aesculapian.

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: Sonya Cashdan (SHCashdan aol.com)
Subject: Mythology

I LOVE this week's theme, and must underline its relevance. Half a century ago, when I was in the 7th grade, my reading teacher immersed her 11- and 12-year-olds in a superb six-week unit on mythology, including, of course, the contributions of Greek and Roman mythologies to English terminology.

On her list of challenging projects was an in-depth study of brand names, product names, inventions, and process names derived from myth. To compile our lists, we wordlovers dived willingly into magazines and newspapers; we read billboards; we took notes about TV commercials [tiny screens; B/W], and we soaked up the fattest dictionaries and thesauri available to us.

Now for the relevance part: the terms I learned in that unit not only helped me six years later to ace my college entrance exams, but they also helped me all the way through to my PhD in English, as familiar terms acquired layers of meaning and/or led to understanding of unfamiliar terms.

But the most significant relevance (don't ya love that rhetoric?) had already occurred in the midst of the unit, in the midst of a class. Ms Deardorff had just taught us about another mythological character. As she was speaking, I connected the name to several words which I already knew; and I broke out in physical shivers of delight at having made the connection FOR MYSELF. Exactly at that moment, I knew that I wanted to spend my life making others FEEL that same delight in knowledge. My 35+ years in the classroom derived directly from one unit in mythology -- and I had the unique privilege of watching decades of students "catch" the contagion of learning begun in me when I was 11 and studying the gods.

Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California

Email of the Week -- (Brought to you by Oneupmanship -- Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a real loser.)

From: Anna Christina Ribeiro (annachristina.ribeiro gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aesculapian

I receive your email daily with great pleasure, but I never write back. Today, given your description of this week's theme, I had to reply, to share with you something I wrote just a few days ago.

Not If, But When

It must be the prayers. The endless
Give me a good husband, grant me
A healthy child, save the crops.
Day after day, year after year.
The listening alone is enough
To wear out a god's ears,
To empty clear a divine supply
Of man, baby, and rye.
How many audiences did Isis take?
Did not Minerva tire of the goats?
Surely human food didn't ever do--
Blue blood never did grace
The peasant's table for stew.
One day they tire, it can only be,
Rev up the mortals to clamor Next!
And to the fields they go, be with their peeps.
Let the newcomers give ear to plead,
Who in their turn must retire too,
Like your mom or dad, like me or you.
No use now praying to Amun or Zeus.
And the beady rosary that today
Slips under your fingers' sweat
Is even now sure bound
For display, at the Met.

Anna Christina Ribeiro, Lubbock, Texas

From: Robert St John (saint781 gmail.com)
Subject: Small World

In 1966 we had a foreign exchange student from South Africa spend a year with us. She is now a cancer specialist and a grandmother in SA. I contacted a woman who had written a comment to A Word a Day from South Africa, and it just happened that she knew our former student who had treated her father for cancer! You are making a small world smaller. Thanks.

Robert St John, Lake Oswego, Oregon

A lexicographer's business is solely to collect, arrange, and define the words that usage presents to his hands. He has no right to proscribe words; he is to present them as they are. -Noah Webster, lexicographer (1758-1843)

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