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AWADmail Issue 555

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

Our sponsor's message:
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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Ancient Languages Reconstructed by Computer Program
BBC News

Bilingual Babies Know Their Grammar by Seven Months

from: Shamima Khan (Skhan6 worldbank.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pteridology

My daughter when she was in pre-school had to take in something for show and tell for each letter of the alphabet. Her teacher was tickled pink when for the letter P my then four-year-old took in her stuffed pterodactyl -- a good lesson in letters of the alphabet which might otherwise remain unsung!

Shamima Khan, Jakarta, Indonesia

From: Samuel Goldstein (libelle webbwerks.com)
Subject: Silent Letters

It's curious that the close cousins to the silent "pt" in "pteridology" drop their modesty in words like "lepidoptera" or "helicopter" just because they are not standing brazenly out in front of the word.

Samuel Goldstein, Los Angeles, California

Email of the Week (Brought to you by One Up! -- Skivers Delight.)

From: Joel (via Wordsmith Talk discussion forum)
Subject: Silent letters

When one of my sons moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, I helped him with a home project. We ran into the need for a tool we didn't have. Said John, "I'll just pick one up at Mart." "Don't you mean, "K-Mart"?" I asked. "No, Dad," he said. "In Knoxville, the K is silent."

Joel, Mountain View, California

From: Kathy Borst (kborst mcn.org)
Subject: Words with silent starting letters

Reminds me of the time I went to see the Body Worlds exhibit and looked high and low for that long muscle that goes from the spine to the groin and hip that we are always trying to stretch out in yoga. In vain! Never found one. "Kira," I later complained to my yoga teacher, "I looked high and low for that soaz muscle. They didn't have any on display." "How do you think you spell psoas, Kathy? Did you know about the silent p?"

Kathy Borst, Yorkville, California

From: Steve Kirkpatrick (stevekirkp comcast.net)
Subject: silent letters

Psilence is golden!

Steve Kirkpatrick, Olympia, Washington

From: Patrick Karl (pckarl mac.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pteridology

An interesting word etymologically in this category is ptarmigan. It's not a Greek word at all. The p was added in a moment of false erudition.

Patrick Karl, Atchison, Kansas

From: Andre Desnoyers (desnoyers msn.com)
Subject: Did you say "noise"?

I guess you know about this! Right? But, with all due respect, it won't keep us from loving India. Right?

That morning I woke up with the blues all around my bed and all over my room. With my soul full of big disturbing ear-splitting and nerve-wrecking anger. Some would say that anger could be a source of passion and inspiration, but it remained to be proven as I started my day. The genesis of my anger was noise. Not intentional noise, but noisy prayers and incantations! Inspiring prayers, enchanting songs, and beautiful music, but all turned into distorted and loud noise. Welcome to India! According to Hindu wisemen, three categories of people remain awake at night: the yogi (who enjoys bliss in meditation), the bhogi (who enjoys sensual pleasures), and the rogi (who suffers pain and misery). Well obviously I was a rogi, if not a rogue, since I was suffering pain in my ears, and felt miserable all over.

The prayers, and my anger, started at 3:30 am, when the loudspeakers from some temple started very broadly broadcasting an audio mixture of messages/prayers/songs/music/static/distortion/feedback, at maximum full-blasted volume. God! I never asked for that... Or maybe I did? By coming to an Indian holy town, I should have expected that kind of noise, a by-product of religious high-sect and ingenious low-tech.

Andre Desnoyers, Seattle, Washington

From: Eniko Varga (eniko_varga intuit.com)
Subject: Initial silent letters

Why can't you hear pterodactyls use the bathroom?

(wait for it...)

Because the P is silent.

Eniko Varga, Reno, Nevada

From: Mike Martin (mmarti5 clemson.edu)
Subject: Silent Letters

I will always remember a teacher helping us to learn all those physiology words with the silent P. He would remind us that the P is silent as in swimming.

Mike Martin, Columbia, South Carolina

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Initial silent letters

This week's theme reminded me of a trivial diversion I employ from time to time. When needing to spell out a word over the phone, I challenge the listener's spelling skills by ignoring the conventions of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (A: Alpha, B: Bravo, C: Charlie, etc.). Instead, I try to use words as many words as I can that begin with silent letters. For example, if faced with having to spell "pack", I might say "P as in psychiatry, A as in aisle, C as in Czar and E as in Euphrates." Of course, most of the time I am more concerned that my message get through and I put such childishness aside.

Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California

From: Lynn Mancini (mancini dtcc.edu)
Subject: Silent letters

You have chosen a fun theme this week. Are you familiar with the silent alphabet?

I'm guessing that Friday's word is phthalate. I'm curious to see whether I'm right.

Lynn Mancini, Newark, Delaware

From: Pam Kaatz (kaatz airmail.net)
Subject: Invisible Letters

Unlike silent letters, invisible letters are not in the word, but many people pronounce the word as if they were present. Many people waRsh their clothes. Almost everyone eats sherbeRt, not sherbet. (Some dictionaries give sherbert as also correct.) While wearing a tuxedo, many wear a cumberbund rather than cummerbund. The often silent GH becomes invisible and it replaced by the invisible F. cough, tough, rough, etc. Men suffer from prostRate rather than prostate problems. Others make sure the rope is tauNt on the pick-up truck. The British have their leff-tenants in the military, we have our colonel -- silent L replaced by invisible R.

Pam Kaatz, Denton, Texas

From: Jon Andersson (JDandersson ricardo.com)
Subject: Knacker

This can also refer to one of a 'gentleman's jewels'. I think the first use in this context was by James Joyce in Ulysses: "Eh, Harry, give him a kick in the knackers." Ouch!

Jon Andersson, Shoreham-by-Sea, UK

From: Gudrun Everett (zegjk aol.com)
Subject: Knacker

Knacker is German for "cracker" such as in Nussknacker (nutcracker). Also "alter Knacker" is a humorous, derogatory term commonly used to define a grumpy old man.

Gudrun Everett, Baltimore, Maryland

From: Stephen Lindsley (pubconsfl gmail.com)
Subject: knacker

I've also seen this word used as the equivalent of "bollocks" in the UK. The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang by Tony Thorne (1990) contains a secondary entry for knackers that cites a poem by John Cooper Clarke:

Your boyfriend burned his jacket
his ticket expired
his tyres are knackered
his knackers are tired.

Stephen Lindsley, St. Louis, Missouri

From: Rose Foley (rosefoley earthlink.net)
Subject: Knacker

My Irish husband (of four months!) has informed me that "knacker" has another, more sinister meaning. It's a highly derogatory term for Irish Travellers akin to the "N" word and should be avoided even in its more innocent usage. The meaning of many words used in American English (ride and cute, for example) can take on less-reputable lives of their own in British-Irish English, and vice versa.

Rose Foley, Greystones, Ireland

From: Derek Noonan (wordaday ntech.ie)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--knacker

1. In Rathkeale, Ireland, where I'm from, it is used in a pejorative sense to refer to a member of the travelling community.

2. In the context of the wider country it is used to refer to a person of lower social status who dresses in a specific way and acts in an anti-social manner. The closest English equivalent would be the word chav.

Derek Noonan, Limerick, Ireland

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: knacker

It is remarkable that your inclusion of the word knacker coincides with an occasionally large (possibly up to 100% of meat content), unusual and illegal (because not declared on the label) proportion of horse flesh in certain brands of burgers, lasagne, and related products currently available here in Europe. It's good to be ahead of the market!

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, Cornwall, UK

From: Bob Patetta (summitauc aol.com)
Subject: Re: knacker

Finally, I've found the word I've been looking for to best describe those who purchase a business for the purpose of breaking it up and selling off the assets. "Corporate raider" always sounded too heroic -- Indiana Jones with a Blackberry. "Knacker" conjures up a knave standing knee-deep at the abattoir.

Bob Patetta, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

From: Don Williams (don.williams park.edu)
Subject: Gnathic

As a biology professor when teaching zoology I would always give a lecture over the Agnatha or jawless fish, examples being the hagfish and the lamprey. The former is a disgusting little cartilaginous fish that enters dead or dying fish through any orifice then literally eats them from the inside out; the latter, using its circular mouth with rows of teeth, to suction-cup adhere to the side of a fish and extract nutrients by rasping and sucking. The freshwater lamprey almost decimated the Great Lakes fishing industry at one time.

Don Williams, Kansas City, Missouri

From: Bruce McGuffin (brucemcguffin gmail.com)
Subject: Gnathic

Years ago while reading The Ramayana (William Buck Translation), I was struck by a repeated conversation in which Hanuman (who it turns out was prognathic) would say "I'm not very smart", and whoever he was talking to would answer "You are smart, if only you would stop to think before acting." Each time I read that it reminded me of my son, who was seven then. Later that year I bought a statue of Hanuman on a trip to Cambodia. Now my son is grown and stops to think regularly, but every time I see the statue, I remember what he was like as a little boy.

Bruce McGuffin, Lexington, Massachusetts

From: Evan Hazard (eehazard paulbunyan.net)
Subject: Hanuman langurs

As you can imagine, any vertebrate biologist runs into the root gnathos often. But your mention of Hanuman langurs, Semnopithecus entellus, brings to mind a well-known primatologist/anthropologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Her doctoral thesis was a study of Hanuman langur social behavior near a school for the blind in NW India. She wrote a top-notch lay-level book about them, The Langurs of Abu (Harvard Univ. Press). I think you would enjoy it, though it has its grisly and occasionally heart-breaking moments, which brought her to tears at least once (despite some stereotypes, scientists do have working tear ducts).

Evan Hazard, Bemidji, Minnesota

From: Charles Milton Ling (cmling teleweb.at)
Subject: wraith

Covetous as I am, seeing this word reminded me of the family of Rolls-Royce automobiles bearing similar appellations: Silver Ghost, Phantom, Wraith, Silver Cloud, Silver Spirit, Silver Shadow (and variants thereof).

Charles Milton Ling, Vienna, Austria

From: Jeff Spruit (spruitj michigan.gov)
Subject: Chthonic

When I saw that word in AWAD, HP Lovecraft's short story Call of the Cthulhu came to mind. I had always wondered where and how he came up with that name. Now I know.

Jeff Spruit, Otsego, Michigan

From: Dr Janet E Hildebrand (jehildebrand aol.com)
Subject: Silent first consonant: German

Your A.Word.A.Day is ein Genuss: roughly translated, an enjoyment. Genuss in German means more than a superficial enjoyment! So thanks as always. Anyway, in German, one must pronounce the first letter in words such as Psychologie (p'sich-o-loh-gee, in which the ch is the same fricative as in "ich") and Knopf (button; k'nopf).

Dr Janet E Hildebrand, West Monroe, Louisiana

From: Scott Swanson (harview montana.com)
Subject: this week's words

Here are the counts of those initial combinations from the Linux "words" database:

pt: 181
kn: 468
gn: 145
wr: 461
chth: 4

I wondered about those latter 4: They are chthonian, chthonic, chthonophagia, and chthonophagy.

Scott Swanson, Pendroy, Montana

Cut these words and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive; they walk and run. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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