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AWADmail Issue 551

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

The Pun Conundrum
BBC News

Scrabble: What's a Z Really Worth?

In Gun Debate, Even Language Can Be Loaded
The New York Times

Email of the Week (Courtesy One Up! -- The Perfect Cure for Cabin-Fever)

From: Evan Hazard (eehazard paulbunyan.net)
Subject: sang-froid
Def: Calmness, especially under stress.

Decades ago there was a book, Fractured French, illustrated by a well-known New Yorker cartoonist. One cartoon pictured a Brit walking a beach in his swimming trunks, a handkerchief to his nose. The French, "Voici l'anglais avec son sang froid habituel" was translated "Here comes that Englishman with his usual bloody cold."

Another cartoon pictured a hefty, smiling older woman. "Tant pis, tant mieux" translated "Auntie feels better now that she's made a telephone call."

Evan Hazard, Bemidji, Minnesota

From: Jim Piper (jamesapiper satx.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sang-froid

Perhaps this humorous play on the word will help enlighten some.

An American is visiting in France for several weeks. As his stay nears an end, he is sitting around with three of his new-found French friends, just generally shooting the breeze.

The subject turns to language, and the American says, "Guys, I do have one question left. I keep hearing this expression, 'sang-froid'. What does it mean? I know that it literally means, 'cold blood', but what does it *mean*?" The first Frenchman replies, "Ah, zat is easy. Say zat a man walks into his bedroom, finds his wife in bed wiz his best friend. If he can turn around and walk out wizout their knowing he was evair zere, *zat* is sang-froid!"

The second Frenchman interjected, "You have eet all wrong! If, in zis circumstance, zee gentleman can calmly stand zere, and say, 'Please don't mind me; continue', zen *zat* is sang-froid!"

"Non, non, non!" burst out the third. "If ze gentleman bursts een on his wife and his best friend, stands there saying, 'Please continue', and his friend *CAN* continue, *zat* is sang-froid!".

Jim Piper, San Antonio, Texas

From: Buddy Gill (e-rgill2 juno.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--seminal
Def: 1. Highly original and proving influential on later work. 2. Of or relating to semen or seed.

On the radio some time ago one of the early and influential books on the subject of women's liberation was described as a "seminal work". This may be a correct use of the term, but it somehow doesn't seem appropriate.

Buddy Gill, Black Mountain, North Carolina

From: James K. Brengle (JKBrengle duanemorris.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--seminal

The word seminal may be in disfavor in some federal courts. Here is a quotation from a published legal opinion by a federal court judge in Texas, along with its accompanying footnote. It's cute:

McWilliams v. Texaco, Inc., 781 F. 2d 514, 519 n.11 (5th Cir. 1986):

"The ovular (footnote 11) case in this Circuit on punitive damages is Holmes v. J. Ray McDermott Co., 734 F. 2d 1110 (5th Cir. 1984)."

Footnote 11: In this day and time of strict gender neutrality, it seems only fair -- in the interest of equality, not of deference -- to use a word other than the war-weary, worn-out "seminal". See United States v. LeMaire, 712 F. 2d 944, 946 n.1 (5th Cir. 1983), quoting Medovoi v. American Sav. & Loan, 89 Cal. App. 3d 244, 152 Cal. Rptr. 572, 583 n.1 (1979).

James K. Brengle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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

Love this week's selection of words and the memories they evoke, particularly two: the joy of FINALLY (as an English professor) getting to teach about humors, a subject which had fascinated me since high school; and a long-ago college class. We read Germinal in French -- but before we read it, our teacher suggested, almost as a throwaway remark, that Zola might have been an early feminist. As we stared blankly, she calmly defined both "seminal", with which we were familiar, and "germinal", with which we were most emphatically NOT familiar. She smiled; began the lesson ... and it took me a decade to realize her perspicuity.

Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California

From: Steve Kirkpatrick (stevekirkp comcast.net)
Subject: salivate
Def: 1. To show great relish in anticipation of something desirable. 2. To produce saliva.

This brings up an old joke:

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell? I'm salivating to find out!

I saw that among the graffiti in a stairwell in the Psychology Dept at Stanford, circa 1972.

Steve Kirkpatrick, DDS, Olympia, Washington

From: Brian Kalshoven (brian bbca.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--melancholy
Def: noun: A pensive, gloomy, depressed state; adjective: Having or causing a sad mood.

You've probably been bombarded with this image since posting this word, but in case not, here's a pun/picture.

Brian Kalshoven, Musina, South Africa

From: Hope Bucher (hopebucher gmail.com)
Subject: Melancholy

According to scholars, there was an epidemic of melancholia sweeping through England in the late 16th century which is reflected in Shakespeare's Hamlet and also appears in the following from As You Like It:

"I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation, nor the musician's, which is fantastical, nor the courtier's, which is proud, nor the soldier's, which is ambitious, nor the lawyer's, which is politic, nor the lady's, which is nice, nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness."

Hope Bucher, Naperville, Illinois

From: Don Stevens (donzost pacbell.net)
Subject: melancholy

My favorite, and dated, example of melancholy comes from Walden. Thoreau noted, "Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts 'All aboard!' when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over -- and it will be called, and will be, 'A melancholy accident'."

My variorum edition footnote explains about "melancholy accident", "A typical newspaper headline in Thoreau's time" (for apparently a horrible event). Sometimes when I experience a minor mishap, I can't help but describe it to uncomprehending others as "a melancholy accident". It's inaccurate in today's usage but often irresistible.

Don Stevens, San Francisco, California

From: Simon (simon newcastle.edu.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--melancholy

I sometimes show people a photograph of myself that I arranged to have taken a few years ago. "What am I doing?", I ask them.

Looking somewhat sad, in one hand I'm holding a plate with some watermelon and a cauliflower on it, while with the other hand I'm stroking them.

Of course the answer is: I'm feeling melon-cauli.

Simon, Ourimbah, Australia

Here is where people, / One frequently finds, / Lower their voices / And raise their minds. -Richard Armour, author, on libraries (1906-1989)

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