Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 545

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

Sponsor's Message: This week's Email of the Week winner is Bruce Flinn (see below), who will receive the awesomest Christmas gift ever created for double-domes and mind-game players: "One Up! -- The Wicked/Smart Word Game." If you've got a sec, check out all of our other cool, ingenious loot at Oneupmanship.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Lies! Murder! Lexicography!
The New York Times

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: septentrional
Def: Northern.

Gazing from my bedroom window at the snow covering the neighbouring athletic field (I'm at 5920'14.28"N, 18 1'13.01"E), I couldn't help thinking: "Septentrional indeed!"...

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: George Houghton (geohough iglou.com)
Subject: septentrional

This word reminded me of an online auction I participated in several years ago. The item in question was a Septentrionalis map -- essentially an early map of North America. Whether the item in question was an authentic Jodocus Hondius from 1630, I never learned. All I can say is that someone paid $2,501 for it. And I never fully understood the origin of the name until now.

George Houghton, Floyds Knobs, Indiana

Email of the Week (Sponsored by: ms. write -- what are you waiting for?)

From: Bruce Flinn (bruceflinn gmail.com)
Subject: Septentrional

As an old navigator, I enjoy studying ancient charts and atlases, and the words septentrional and meridional are familiar terms for North and South, respectively.

Septentrional, refers to the seven stars of what is known, in North America, as the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is also known as Ursa Major, Latin for Great Bear. The Greek word for bear is arktos (adjective: arktikos) from which we get Arctic. The opposite of arktikos would be anti-arktikos, or Antarctic.

The word meridian comes from Latin meridies -- the middle of the day. The middle of the day is determined by watching the sun rise from the east. When it reaches its highest point, just before it begins to set, that is midday or local noon. Most of the navigators and astronomers viewed this moment by looking south, since they were viewing the sun form the northern hemisphere.

Bruce Flinn, Herndon, Virginia

From: John M Corley (jmspcorley msn.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--septentrional

Northern Italy is referred to by the Italians as Italia Settentrionale.

John M Corley, Vancouver, Washington

From: Fran Robertson (kay_dog hotmail.com)
Subject: septentrional

In the explanation, the 'Great Bear constellation' is mentioned. Ursa Major is the Great Bear constellation, the Big Dipper (the seven stars) is not a constellation of itself, it is an asterism, which is a portion of a constellation, known by another name. For instance, the 'Milk Dipper' is an asterism in the constellation Sagittarius.

Fran Robertson, Harrison Township, Michigan

From: Sara Scurani (sara.scurani studio.unibo.it)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--decimate
Def: To destroy a large part of something.

On March 24, 1944, in retaliation for a partisan attack, the SS army killed 10 Italians for each of the German soldiers who had died on the previous day. Learning about the Ardeatine massacre was how I first heard the expression "to decimate"; it was only years later that I realised the true meaning of the word, and how perverse it was for it to have been reversed like that.

Sara Scurani, Bologna, Italy

From: Joe Presley (presley89 comcast.net)
Subject: Decimate

Much like decimate has become a wholesale slaughter rather than a tenth (though being one of each ten would feel wholesale), quantum leap started as the smallest measurable unit in physics, and now it means a dramatic change. Meal portions keep getting larger -- no wonder words also keep getting obese!

Joe Presley, Warren, New Jersey

From: Peter O'Malley (peter.omalley usdoj.gov)
Subject: decimate

This is a word that is almost always used incorrectly, even in reputable journals (if there are any left). It is most often used when the intent is to say something more like "devastate", "eviscerate", "annihilate", since everyone seems to have lost sight of the meaning of the root in the word for "ten".

Peter O'Malley, Mahwah, New Jersey

Many readers wrote to express their displeasure with the change in meaning of the word decimate, and for giving it my imprimatur. Some of these notes also included comments lamenting the decline of language. A few bemoaned the "destroying" of the language by young folks, and a desire to preserve the purity of language.

Language changes all the time (the only languages that do not are dead languages, such as Latin or Sanskrit). Words change meaning all the time. It's considered an etymological fallacy to believe that a word should mean the same in the year 2012 what it did 400 years ago.

Change is often uncomfortable. It's even understandable that there is a certain resistance to it. That said, while people rail against a change taking place now, but they are perfectly fine with any changes in the past. As an example, if we insisted that one must use words with their original meanings, we would use the word "nice" to imply "foolish" or "ignorant" as that's what the word meant in the beginning. That's just one example of thousands of words that have changed over time, some going so far as turning 180 degrees.

In fact, if we used the English language in its "pure", "unsullied" form (if there could be such a thing), we would be completely unintelligible to almost everyone except for a handful of Old English scholars.

People have been complaining about the decline of language for thousands of years, but language is going just fine, thank you very much. And young people are no more destroying the language today than we did when we were young.
-Anu Garg

From: Tim Juchter (juchtert earthlink.net)
Subject: Hebdomad / Hebdomadar
Def: 1. A group of seven. 2. A period of seven days; a week.

This word finally illuminated one I've wondered about for years: the administrative position at Scottish universities called the hebdomadar. Turns out that was originally a position held for seven days.

Tim Juchter, Columbus, Ohio

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--hebdomad

When I was a young boy in Belgium, I would devour weekly Hebdomadaires magazines, one named HEBDO, that appeared strangely enough on a weekly basis. It took until today for me to realize the power of seven and for that, I thank you.

Rudy Rosenberg Sr., Westbury, New York

From: James Sanders (james.sanders lloydstsb.co.uk)
Subject: Hebdomad

Oxford University was governed from 1854 to 2000 by Hebdomadal Council, so named because it met strictly only once a week.

James Sanders, London, UK

The raw material of possible poems and histories. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist and poet, on dictionary (1803-1882)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith