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AWADmail Issue 552

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

From: Nancy Paddock (jep hutchtel.net)
Subject: Casanova
Def: A man notorious for his many love affairs; a seducer.

Fascinating that a word that appears to derive from casa (house) and nova (new) could be so transformed by one man's life choices.

Nancy Paddock, Litchfield, Minnesota

From: Richard Bailey (hms-rose comcast.net)
Subject: Casanova

You will no doubt have seen this 2011 NY Times story of the $9.6 million sale of Casanova manuscripts to the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Richard Bailey, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

From: Laura Bell (Lbell sacog.org)
Subject: Xanthippe
Def: A nagging, ill-tempered woman.

Re: your question of which came first, the shrew or the philosopher? Well, it is possible that a shrewish wife may make a man into a philosopher. But it is fairly certain that a philosopher will make his wife shrewish. It is especially difficult to maintain a pleasant temperament when one's spouse is too busy "thinking" to fix the sink, mow the lawn, tend to the kids, earn a living, or the many other things that must be tended to in daily life... Somebody has to do it, and when that falls all on one person, the result won't be a sweeter disposition on said person. Just sayin'.

Laura Bell, Roseville, California

From: Elliott Urdang (penrhyn854 aol.com)
Subject: What Xanthippe dumped on Socrates

Water is a euphemism [Xanthippe pouring water over Socrates. He's supposed to have replied: After thunder comes rain]. She was supposed to have emptied a chamber pot on Socrates's head.

Elliott Urdang, Providence, Rhode Island

From: Larry Hamilton (lc03hamilton gmail.com)
Subject: xanthippe

This reminded me of my second grade teacher. Every week we would have ten new words for a spelling test. One week one of the words was xanthippe. My father, a lawyer, asked me what it meant and I replied, "A woman who scolds a lot." He immediately picked up a dictionary and looked it up and was surprised that I was correct. He told the story for years about the day his second grader knew not only how to spell, but also what xanthippe meant.

Larry Hamilton, Parkersburg, West Virginia

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

From: Carlos Cueto (ccuetor941 hotmail.com)
Subject: Shrapnel
Def: Fragments of an exploded bomb, shell, mine, etc.

In reality who invented the exploding bomb with bits of metal inside was Leonardo Da Vinci (1, 2) , however his invention did not catch on at the time. If it had, we would be calling it Leonardo or DaVinci instead of Shrapnel!

Carlos Cueto, Lima, Peru

From: David Conroy (conroyda eircom.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shrapnel

It is also worth noting that the word shrapnel has entered the everyday language in peacetime, referring to the smallest of loose change, particularly in a derogatory way, e.g. "I had to wait at the checkout while the old dear in front of me counted out her shrapnel."

David Conroy, Dublin, Ireland

From: Jennie O'Brien-Lutton (jennieobl bigpond.com)
Subject: Shrapnel

In Australia we also use the word shrapnel to mean coin or loose change as in "Have you got any shrapnel for the parking machine?"

Jennie O'Brien-Lutton, Brisbane, Australia

From: Matt McKee (matt mckeephotography.com)
Subject: Sweet Shrapnel!

I opened my email today and almost choked on my oatmeal. I had no idea that Shrapnel was an actual person!

When I am spinning tales for my kids, I often will create a name for an inventor of something, like John "Needles" Taylor, inventor of the side-by-side, twin-barrel sewing machine.

Henry Shrapnel certainly sounds like a character from one of these "historic lessons".

It's all the more ironic because I have been working on an art series called Sweet Shrapnel for a little over a year, now. It's based on my apprehensions of man and technology and features a grenade fuse.

I think I need to frame today's word of the day email!

Matthew McKee, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Claudine Voelcker (claudine.voelcker googlemail.com)
Subject: Shrapnel

Interestingly, in colloquial Alsatian, shrapnel is synonymous with Xanthippe. And Hagel -- meaning "hail" (of the meteorological type) in German -- seems to know something about hails of shrapnel.

Claudine Voelcker, Munich, Germany

From: Alex Novak (agn2 psu.edu)
Subject: Beyoncé endures public shrapnel

Henry Shrapnel and another British eponym (Sir William Congreve) are also both referenced in The Star Spangled Banner, lip-synched so convincingly at Monday's presidential inauguration.

Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would eventually become the US national anthem while held captive and awake aboard a British ship, watching the spectacular moonlit bombardment of the fort during the Battle of Baltimore of the War of 1812.

Shrapnel and Congreve are responsible for the now infamous description "... and the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." The red glare was provided by Congreve rockets, designed by Sir William Congreve in 1804 but whose inaccuracy and tendency to explode prematurely led them to be discontinued by the 1850s. Meanwhile the bursting shells (and scattering hellfire) were the handiwork of Henry Shrapnel and were so effective that they remained in use through the Vietnam War.

Alex Novak, author of Tawdry Knickers (and Other Unfortunate Ways to Be Remembered), Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

From: Craig Good (good pixar.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shrapnel

Carl Sagan's quotation about apple pie as addressed by dinosaurs.

Craig Good, San Francisco, California

From: Mark DeVoto (mdevoto granite.tufts.edu)
Subject: Don Juan
Def: An obsessive womanizer.

When I was a graduate student, one of my colleagues was grading a term paper written in his class (on the history of opera) about Mozart's Don Giovanni. He read the first sentence and no further, and marked the paper F. The first sentence was: "Don Giovanni was a real Don Juan."

Mark DeVoto, Medford, Massachusetts

From: Richard S. Russell (richardsrussell tds.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Don Juan

I unhappily note that 60% of this week's eponyms are misogynistic. "Xanthippe" is an insult, and "Casanova" and "Don Juan" treat women as conquerable s_x objects, their conquerors much to be admired -- or at a minimum considered as delightful rascals. How about a week's worth of words that say nice things about women -- or at a minimum recognize them as independent, sentient human beings?

Richard S. Russell, Madison, Wisconsin

From: Mark Firmani (mdfirmani gmail.com)
Subject: Thanks!

I've been a subscriber for a few years, and I really love what you do. I just wrote and received an A grade for my English undergraduate thesis, and one of the comments from my professor was:

"It's only the second time, I think, that I have run across a correct use of the word decorticates. Used aptly as well."

Decorticate was a word I noted from your newsletter. When there appeared an opportunity within the paper to use it, I did not hesitate. Thanks for both reminding me of and teaching me all these great words!

Mark Firmani, Hollis, New Hampshire

High is our calling, Friend! -- Creative Art / (Whether the instrument of words she use, Or pencil pregnant with ethereal hues,) / Demands the service of a mind and heart. -William Wordsworth, poet (1770-1850)

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