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AWADmail Issue 55

November 4, 2001

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

If you think writing is hard, try writing without vowels: globeandmail.com

From: Ken Lucke (kluckeATpacifier.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--debridement

On Mon, 29 Oct 2001, Wordsmith wrote:
Here is a pop-quiz: how many light-years does it take for an astronomer to change a light bulb? Answer, of course, is none. She knows a light-year is a unit of distance, not time.

Reminds me of the line from the very first Star Wars movie, where Han Solo is bragging on his ship with the line (if I recall correctly) "She's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs..."

Of course, any student of astronomy (and many others as well) could have corrected the writers on that less than stellarly researched line. A parsec is also a measurement of distance, not time.

From: Dixon Kenner (dkennerATfourfold.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--debridement

Ever since debate in the letters column of Scientific American in the 1970's, I have always been partial to "furlongs per fortnight" as a unit of measure for astronomy. Granted the number is so huge to be meaningless, but there is a certain poetic quality to it.

From: Jim Holway (jholway1ATstarpower.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--debridement

In hospital with laptop, saw "debridement" but erased too soon. Two hours later, nurse had me sign a release for a "debridement"! Never heard the word before this, then twice within two hours. In my case, the debridement is to reopen my new knee for cleaning out.

From: Martin Hogg (mhoggATsrv0.law.ed.ac.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--escheat

It is a word which used to crop up relatively frequently in Scots legal usage, although not so much these days. In particular, I was reminded of the old form of death warrant issued by Scots courts when a prisoner was sentenced to death. My father used to work at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh (the Supreme Criminal Court of Scotland), and came across an old death warrant at the back of one of the stationery cupboards. Such a warrant would have been signed by the judge after pronouncing sentence of death, something done whilst the judge wore his 'doomster' cap (a black cap). The terms of the death sentence, narrated on the warrant, included the penalty that the condemned prisoner's goods were forfeit and "escheat" to the Crown. Rather a sinister use of the word, but of interest nonetheless!

From: Debbie Harris (blackheartedwomanATexcite.co.uk)
Subject: Escheat etc

My mother lives in 'Escheatlands Farmhouse' - a house set in farmland belonging to an elderly alcoholic who had to sell the house in order to pay off debts. The house dates from the 1970s but is built on the site of a much older house (circa 1660) which was burnt down accidentally by said alcoholic. The provenance of the name is lost to us, but the meaning is still more than apt today.

From: Bud Johns (budjATmindspring.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--limpid

In Volume I (Being an Exotic Cookery Book) of Baker's "The Gentleman's Companion" (Volume II is "an Exotic Drinking Book" which is why I have them shelved near "The Ombibulous Mr. Mencken") there is a favorite sentence of mine about sauteing onions "until they are limpid as a maiden's eye and tender as her loving glance".

From: Adina (dinarkATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sexcentenary

How disappointing that it doesn't mean a century of sex!!! Another nice word along these lines is sexagesimal, analogous to decimal, but meaning a system of numbers based on 60, not 10. This was used by the ancient Sumerians who had some delightful king names in their King List, like Lugal (meaning King) Kigenish Duddud, prompting a fellow graduate student to write on the board one morning, Lugal Kigenish Duddud is Dead Dead.

From: Glenna Jo Christen (gjkatAThotmail.com)
Subject: Headlines

The message about the headline in an East Anglia newspaper that read: "Little Snoring Man Marries Seething Woman" reminded me of one from a small town newspaper in northern Minnesota. It read "Fertile Woman Dies in Climax" referring of course to two nearby towns with those names. I can't help but think how her neighbors in Embarrass must have felt though.

From: Andrew M.A. Cater (amacaterATblueyonder.co.uk)
Subject: English versions

As a Debian Linux developer the vexed question of "whose English" cropped up and created a furious debate. The North Americans were surprised at the strength of feeling expressed. Most Europeans went for British English as a standard, Canadians and Australians also chipped in against US English. There are more than 800 developers worldwide and the language on the lists is English - it is odd to see two German developers discussing arrangements to attend a conference in Germany in [British] English! As nothing compared to Paris vs. Quebec French and the flame-wars on the French language lists.

One Eastern European said effectively "British/American, I don't care if you will let me get away with bad, I'll be happy."

From: Karen Moses (aren.mosesATrcmp-grc.gc.ca)
Subject: Re: AWADmail issue 53

There was a series of articles in the local newspaper recently about how to be a true Canadian. One of the first statements made in an article about language was you must be Canadian if "tire centre" looked correct. To the British, the expression would be "tyre centre", while to the Americans, it would be "tire center". From that, it would seem that Canadians have taken what we want from both British and American English, and made it our own.

From: Mike Faraday (dmfaradayATaol.com)
Subject: word

Your comment about a Japanese translation reminds me of the story of the English Civil Servant who got his business cards translated by a Japanese with limited English. His title of "Permanent Secretary", quite a senior position in the British Civil Service, was translated into Japanese as "Perpetual typist".

From: Bob Leedom (rclATjagunet.com)
Subject: radio news headline

I was once listening to the car radio and lost my ability to hear for a minute or two while my brain struggled with this opening line to a news item:

"Opponents of a bill to prohibit cameras in the courtroom received another setback today."

Hm-m-m. Does that mean that cameras are more or less likely to show up in courtrooms?

A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who, instead of aiming a single stone at an object, takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

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