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AWADmail Issue 561

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

Sponsor's message: Happy Easter! As our way of saying thanks for not giving us up for Lent, we're extending to all AWADers, including this week's Email of the Week winner Kata Alvidrez (see below), our One Up! -- The Wicked/Smart Word Game Sale. A proven crowd-pleaser at $15; how about 2 for $25, including free shipping? Hurry -- our prices will also rise again on Sunday (at midnight).

From: George Cowgill (cowgill asu.edu)
Subject: psychological moment

The German meaning of "moment" might explain some otherwise baffling English terms, like "moment of inertia" and perhaps even "momentum". To be sure, it undermines otherwise interesting phrases, such as "Describe your most magnetic moments."

George Cowgill, Tempe, Arizona

From: Ueli Hepp (u.hepp bluewin.ch)
Subject: psychological moment

As you point out, the German word "über" contains a rather complex set of ideas, which may be rendered by a variety of English items (over, above, across, beyond, ...), each of which, unfortunately, only selects a limited number of the German's complex bunch of denotations and connotations. It seems no wonder, therefore, that the item has in the meantime entered English as a productive prefix in its untranslated form (except for the umlaut of the u).

Both the Oxford and the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionaries list it as "uber-" (termed "combining form/informal" or "adjective/humorous") and provide examples such as "uber-cool", "uberkids", "uber-consumption", or "über-model Giselle". And a quick search in COCA reveals over a hundred further samples, including "uberyang" and "uberyin", as well as, of course (?), "ubermensch", "uberman", and "uberwoman". An interesting case where the loan translation obviously did not suffice, and only opened the door for the item's unaltered direct importation ("tout court" ...).

As a fluent speaker and experienced translator with native command of both German and English, I would say that the English use of "uber-" satisfies the desire for a one-word lemma that wraps up into one ball the combination of "above and beyond" -- which is not a bad summary of the core meaning of German "über" (preposition) either, come to think of it.

Ueli Hepp, Wald, Switzerland

From: Marek Boym (marekboym walla.com)
Subject: Übermensch

Superman is not a good translation, because it has (or has acquired) a positive connotation. For the Germans, it meant "Superior man", and in plural "superior people". The belief that Germans were THE superior people led them to conquer a good part of Europe (all of Europe, and even the world, was planned) and to endeavour to exterminate "inferior races" -- Jews, Gypsies, Slavs... By the same token, Germanic peoples -- the Scandinavians, the Dutch -- were accorded preferential treatment, as they, too, were "ubermentschen", a part of the "herrenfolk", the master people.

Marek Boym, Raanana, Israel

From: Jann Rudkin (jann rudkinfamily.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--psychological moment

I have long been fascinated by the phenomenon of false cognates. I first noticed it on an English-speaking tour of Versailles. Our French guide kept referring to "the King's proper" this or "the King's proper" that. It was puzzling until I remembered from my schoolgirl French that "propre" means "own". Aha! "Proper" looks as though it is the same word as "propre" but is not.

Jann Rudkin, Los Gatos, California

From: Dr. Ulrike Müller-Kaspar (die textwerkstatt.at)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--running dog

In German archaeological jargon, running dog (laufender Hund) is the nickname for the wave band, an ornament used from Greek vase painting to Roman architecture. As far as I know, it is unclear how this ornament came to bear this name.

Dr. Ulrike Müller-Kaspar, Langenlois, Austria

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by One Up! -- Are you a word-class enjoyer of life?

From: Kata Alvidrez (Kalvidrez mohave.edu)
Subject: Running dogs

Back in 1977, when I joined the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, I knew nothing of the region except that it bordered both China and Russia. As I found my way around the city of Kabul using my rudimentary Farsi, I was always surprised when I was able to translate idioms and "get" the meaning behind the literal translations. While the Chinese had long since lost their standing in the country, their influence was clearly present in such terms as running dogs, a phrase used to describe the Russian soldiers who lurked about, wearing military uniforms but carrying no guns.

Sadly, the time would come about too quickly when the soldiers donned their pistols, the martial music began to play on the radio, and the government asked the US to take its volunteers back home. The running dogs had grown teeth then and it was no longer safe for civilians. Ah, but those days before the coup were sweet! Even in a country as simple as Afghanistan was in those early days could be rich in language and culture and history. I miss my Farsi teacher, Sonia, the most because she gave me literal translations without prejudice or insinuation, allowing me to make my own interpretations as my experience allowed. Those were the days, my friend.

Kata Alvidrez, Bullhead City, Arizona

From: Monroe Thomas Clewis (mtc265 yahoo.com)
Subject: running dog revisited

Living in Kunming, China, the provincial capital of Yunnan Province, my wife, son, and I see the contemptuous expression "running dog" in an entirely different light. We are often delighted by the sight of tiny, terrier-sized street dogs scrambling madly after their adoptive masters on motor scooters, up and down hills, through chaotic city traffic, as if tethered by an invisible leash of loyalty. Recently a member of this loyal breed of street urchins, "Little Sa", made headlines when she followed a peloton of cyclists over 1000 miles through the Tibetan Plateau. See news article here. Perhaps it is time to revisit the loan translation of running dog.

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Kunming, China

From: Jerry Alfred (jerry73 frontier.com)
Subject: potpourri

The Old Spaghetti Factory has a dish on their menu called potpourri. It consisted of a plate of pasta with each fourth of the plate having a different sauce. I usually order it, but I guess the only word from the three definitions that applies is "mixture".

Jerry Alfred, Bothell, Washington

From: Clover Batts (bellbatts yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--potpourri

Here in Jamaica we prepare a mixture of pickled/salted herring with seasonings especially scotch bonnet peppers. This is served mainly on plain crackers usually at cocktail parties or wherever alcoholic drinks are served. It is available commercially overseas also and is very popular. We call this Solomon Gundy and some people say the name is derived from a person. Now, of course, I do believe it is from the French salmagundi! Interesting.

Clover Batts, Jamaica

From: Dave Zobel (dzobel alumni.caltech.edu)
Subject: potpourri

Have you never found yourself fashioning, almost unthinkingly, a new word from familiar materials? One of my favorite verbal creations was born the day a close friend remarked that owing to a musty odor, she had had to have her entire hotel suite repotpourried.

Dave Zobel, Los Angeles, California

From: Joel Berg (jbergx cox.net)
Subject: blue blood

A widespread fable in New England was that those born in Boston have blue blood. I was born there and once teased my children that I had blue blood. As president of a local education association that sponsored a blood drive, I was first to have blood drawn. My three-year-old daughter, present with my wife, loudly exclaimed, "Mommy! Daddy's blood is RED!" Loud laughter was heard from the others in the room.

Joel Berg, Henderson, Nevada

From: Rod Hewitt (rodders vrod.co.uk)
Subject: blue blood

And I thought they had blue blood (or the appearance of) because they could afford to eat using silver cutlery, etc. See argyria.

Rod Hewitt, High Wycombe, UK

from: Liz Hoskinson (breeches aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blue blood

Actually, for blue blood, I'd read that aristocrats, because they were able to live indoors during the cold weather (and the 'peasants' would be out of doors working the farm or gathering firewood, etc.), would be oxygen-deprived because of the smoky conditions caused by the fireplaces throughout the castle.

Liz Hoskinson, Bronxville, New York

From: Nyal Williams (nyalwilliams comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blue blood

I heard long ago an explanation of the phrase blue-blood, saying that it started with the Hapsburgs. These people had some sort of inherited problem that caused their veins to show prominently and very blue. Maybe it was a kidney disease, because the extraordinary blueness indicated that wastes were not being removed properly. The person relating this found it amusing that blue-bloods had veins full of feces.

Nyal Williams, Muncie, Indiana

From: Lawrence N Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blue blood

The phrase occurs in Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe (1882):

Blue blood! blue blood!
Of what avail art thou
To serve us now?
Though dating from the Flood,
Blue blood! Ah, blue blood!

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
Subject: deus ex machina

In his book, Without Feathers, Woody Allen includes a one-act play called God. In this hilarious spoof of a Greek comedy. When one of the actors, Diabetes is sentenced by the King to die, he calls upon the god Zeus to save him. The actor playing Zeus is lowered down upon a wire to serve as the deus ex machina. Through a horrible technical malfunction, he is strangled by the wire. Only the comic genius of Woody Allen can conceive of a deus ex machina that can go so terribly wrong.

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: deus ex machina

In response to your observation that "Well, you can say they had rather mechanical plots." Indeed. Or you could say that they got to the rope-a-dope long before Muhammad Ali did.

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

Winner of a signed copy of the book A Word A Day for the month of Mar for sending gift subscriptions

From: Angus Robertson (angusr btinternet.com)
Subject: AWAD gift subscriptions

My daughter sent me a link to A.Word.A.Day. I've sent links to a number of people and each time it has been well received. Now it's a part of my daily diet!

Angus Robertson, London, UK

Words form the thread on which we string our experiences. -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

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