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AWADmail Issue 543

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: The gift of words

This holiday season, why not make a gift of words? Here are a few suggestions.


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From: Jacqueline Van Den Driest (jacqdr gmail.com)
Subject: Serendipity
Def: The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by chance. Also, an instance of such a discovery.

I once came across the following explanation of serendipity: Serendipity is looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer's daughter instead.

Jacqueline Van Den Driest, Jerusalem, Israel

From: Craig Salvay (wordsmith craig.salvay.com)
Subject: serendipity

Serendipity brings to mind the aphorism:

"May you find contentment in achieving what you seek, and wonder in receiving what you do not expect."

Craig Salvay, Prairie Village, Kansas

From: Al Waitz (riplips usa.net)
Subject: serendipity

Years ago, the image of French women was one of beauty, sexiness, etc. Serendipity was defined then as when you marry a French woman and find out that she can cook.

Al Waitz, Phoenix, Arizona

From: Ira Salom (ira.salom mssm.edu)
Subject: Serendipity

I was asked in a medical school admissions interview why I had applied to as many schools as I had.

My reply was that there were likely more straight-A applicants than open spots. I went on to say that, if the committee took the files of the top 40% of applicants, tossed them down a stairwell, and accepted those students whose files made it to the bottom step, those students would probably work out just fine and graduate as fine doctors. For that reason, I figured, it was a matter of serendipity who was accepted by any particular school, leading me to apply to more schools to increase my odds of acceptance.

The interviewer -- who turned out to be the chair of the admissions committee -- asked me if I knew the origin of the word serendipity. I said I didn't but noted that as a senior student I'd been able to break out of the grip of required pre-medical science courses to take courses like one on English Etymology.

We spent most of the rest of the interview talking about etymology.

I got the acceptance letter two days later.

You can say my acceptance was serendipitous.

Ira Salom, New York, New York

From: Raghu Kalluor (ib fourrts.com)
Subject: Mithridatism

Ancient Indian documented texts mention a practice of nurturing vish kanya (poison girl) by ingesting small quantities of poison from a young age and such vish kanyas were used to assassinate enemy kings.

Raghu Kalluor, Chennai, India

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

From: Jonathan Cohen (cohen004 umn.edu)
Subject: Mithridatism
Def: The developing of immunity to a poison by gradually increasing doses of it.

This is central to the plot of one of the Lord Peter mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. The murderer builds up tolerance to arsenic and then eats an arsenic-laced omelet, I believe, along with the victim who dies while he is OK.

She used sophisticated science in another one The Documents in the Case, involving a mycologist who supposedly died after eating a poisonous mushroom which the guy would supposedly know not to do.

Jonathan Cohen, Prior Lake, Minnesota

From: Ann Bietsch (adbietsch comcast.net)
Subject: mithridatism

In The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts (secretly the princess's true love, Wesley) has taken small doses of "iocane poison" for years to build up an immunity. This mithridatism saves him in a battle of wits with the Sicilian. Because of his far-thinking action, Wesley is able to survive the poisoned wine and free the princess. This is an excellent modern application of an ancient concept.

Ann Bietsch, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

From: David Martin (dcdave2u verizon.net)
Subject: mithridatism

The word reminds me of A.E. Housman's great philosophical poem, "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff", that ends, "Mithridates, he died old."

David Martin, Washington, DC

From: Nancy Hurley (nan39 bellsouth.net)
Subject: Elysian
Def: Blissful; delightful.

A housing development is being built near me called "Elysian Fields" and folks are just dying to get in.

Nancy Hurley, Memphis, Tennessee

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

Elysium figures in the movie Gladiator when Maximus addresses his troops, foreshadowing his own demise and dreamy excursion through the Elysian Fields into the welcoming arms of his wife and son:
"If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!"

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Los Angeles, California

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Icarian
Def: Of or relating to an over-ambitious attempt that ends in ruin.

The most notable illustration of the fall of Icarus is probably the painting by Brueghel Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, while its most poignant exegesis is the poem by Auden, "Musée des Beaux Arts".

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

The great men in literature have usually tried to bring the written word into harmony with the spoken, instead of encouraging an exclusive language to write in. -John Erskine, novelist, poet, and essayist (1879-1951)

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