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AWADmail Issue 574

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

From: Sarah Slade (rjslade rjslade.com)
Subject: Cat video

The animal lover in me responded first, even though I'm not really a "cat-fan". Very cute. That feeling lasted about three seconds of the two minute+ video. The rest of the time was spent watching, not the cat, but the stream of water, and wondering how many litres were wasted, and if every cat owner were to be so recklessly wasteful with such a precious commodity, how much water would be wasted and could have been used by those that don't have access to such a luxury. I have just returned from a trip to Namibia where young Himba women carry 25 litre containers (25 kg = 55lb) on their heads, up a steep hill to their village. Shameful really to see such arrogant waste.

Sarah Slade, Monte Castello di Vibio, Italy

From: Rob Rushton (Enigma-I charter.net)
Subject: fishwife/alewife

Unlike fishwife, a woman who sells fish, nowadays an alewife is not a woman who sells ale. An alewife is a type of fish (or the last stop on the MBTA Red Line in Boston). A fishwife in Boston might well sell you an alewife.

Rob Rushton, Brookline, New Hampshire

From: Karthik D. (karthikeyan.d gmail.com)
Subject: fishwife

"It has not been determined who the winner might be in a swearing contest between a fishwife and a sailor."

Perhaps a sailor who is married to a fishwife or a fishwife who is married to a sailor (since he/she would probably have a richer vocabulary!), provided their opponent does not have a sailor/fishwife spouse, in which case the contest could be tied.

Karthik D., Bangalore, India

From: Liz Miller (dancewithliz gmail.com)
Subject: Words applied to women, men

Your entry on "fishwife" reminded me of an axe I have to grind with our linguistic culture: there seems to be a number of nouns and adjectives specifically applied to women that are automatically derogatory.

It's kind of like "shrew" and "wench". Do men get to be shrill? And could we have some male-parallel backhandedly positive adjectives like feisty, spunky, and plucky for that matter?

Liz Miller, Princeton, New Jersey

From: Tony Pivetta (apivetta aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fishwife

I visited a friend from Michigan State University in the summer of 1979 as he pursued graduate studies at the University of Sussex. He attended class and worked on his dissertation during the day, and I traveled to London to take in the sights. It was in the course of one of these excursions that I stumbled into Billingsgate Fish Market.

I'd long been a logophile, so you can only imagine my delight. When I met my buddy and his three graduate school classmates at the pub in Brighton that night, I had to tell them. I'd laid eyes on Billingsgate, the fish market that had given birth to a colorful 25-dollar word! All four of my hyperarticulate interlocutors -- the American and the three Brits -- stared at me blankly. "Billingsgate? What does that mean? It's a fish market?!"

Tony Pivetta, Royal Oak, Michigan

From: Mark D. Meadows (marktime ozarkmark.com)
Subject: Skunky

Skunky is also a technical term related to beer and brewing. Our son is an Indiana state certified beer judge. If beer is exposed to ultraviolet or visible light, it takes on an unpleasant taste and especially a skunk smell. Brown bottles protect beer, but clear and green do not. Heineken beer is notorious for being skunky almost all the time.

Mark D. Meadows, Cassville, Missouri

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: The loyal skunk

Our supposedly malodorous friend was a loyal (if short) subject of King Leonardo in Hanna and Barbera's 1960s' TV show titled Ruff and Reddy. He bore the euphemistic appellation Odie-o Cologne who would rush to the rescue of his lord in sticky (not to say stinking) situations. His theme song included the lines:

But Odie-o Cologne steps in to change the play,
That loyal skunk with skill and spunk comes through to save the day!

In one of the episodes, madly in love with a lady skunk, he wooed her with the words: "I am a streetcar, and have a great desire for you." If that's not skunky, I don't know what is.

Incidentally, Cologne was supposed to be pronounced colony, with the stress on the second syllable.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Gordon Rowe III (gordonroweiii yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--skunky

The Bring Out Your Dead article meaning is more a cannabis reference. Skunk #1 is a famous strain among cannabis smokers. When they describe the taste or smell of the plant as skunky, it is typically a good thing.

Gordon Rowe III, Landenberg, Pennsylvania

From: Win Robins (suewin netvision.net.il)
Subject: gossamer

The nicest use of "gossamer" that I know is in Cole Porter's Just One Of Those Things: "a trip to the moon on gossamer wings ..." (video, lyrics)

Win Robins, Beit Shemesh, Israel

From: Manuj Agarwal (checkmanuj gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gossamer

Heard the word in Seinfield Sitcom (video). Elaine wants to understand the meaning of a cartoon published in the New Yorker and goes to the extent of seeing the cartoon editor. He then explains to her that cartoons are like gossamer and one does not dissect a gossamer.

Glad to know what he actually meant.

Manuj Agarwal, New Delhi, India

From: Russell Marsh (rhmarsh ucdavis.edu)
Subject: gossamer

Gossamer takes me back to a favorite childhood memory. "Gossamer" was a huge red monster in tennis shoes first featured in the Looney Tunes cartoon Hair-Raising Hare. Bugs Bunny does Gossamer's nails while making beauty shop small talk. "I said to my girlfriend just the other day, 'Gee, I bet monsters are interesting,' I said. The places you must go and the things you must see... My stars!" Hysterical. Thanks for bringing back a fond memory.

Russell Marsh, Sacramento, California

From: Terry Victor (terry.victor btopenworld.com)
Subject: birdlime

I am currently engaged in the compilation of the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Rhyming Slangs, due for publication in 2014. The rhyming slang 'bird', for time spent in prison, is a classic item in that vocabulary: it derives from birdlime.

Terry Victor, Caerwent, UK

Email of the Week (Brought to you by One Up! -- Have yourself a s&y blast.)

From: Larry Alden (overlook nycap.rr.com)
Subject: birdlime

As a birder (someone who is not an ornithologist and who doesn't like the old fogey connotations associated with the term "bird watcher"), I found today's word to be very timely. I've just read an article (also see video) in the July issue of National Geographic magazine which reported on the widespread slaughter of birds in the countries bordering the Mediterranean. It was one of the saddest articles I have ever read. One picture showed a whitethroat, a small songbird, splayed out on a lime stick. I find the act of indiscriminately shooting, netting, or trapping of anything that has feathers to be barbaric.

Larry Alden, Altamont, New York

The strength of a language does not lie in rejecting what is foreign but in assimilating it. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet, dramatist, novelist, and philosopher (1749-1832)

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