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AWADmail Issue 585

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: Dispatches from Japan - Part 2

Second in a series of travel reports from my trip to Japan last month. (see parts 1, 3, 4)

Paper lanterns on the Motoyasu River, Hiroshima
Paper lanterns on the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima. Remains of a bombed-out dome are in the background.
Last month, on Aug 6, as I sat under a pavilion that protected people from oppressive heat, it was hard to imagine that that place was much much hotter exactly 68 years ago. I was in Hiroshima, the place that has the dubious distinction of being the first city to experience an atomic bomb.

Every year, the day is observed with a Peace Memorial Ceremony. At 8:15 am, the time when the bomb was dropped, a peace bell is rung. There's a large gathering and addresses by the Prime Minister of Japan, the Mayor of Hiroshima, and atomic bomb survivors among others. The theme remains the same: peace.

Every time a country conducts an atomic weapon test, the mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter of protest.

After the ceremony I walked around the park. There are many memorials, but the most touching is of a 12 year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki. She was about a mile from the hypocenter when the bomb dropped and her exposure to the radiation resulted in leukemia. While in hospital, she heard the Japanese legend that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes gets a wish. She started folding cranes, she folded more than a thousand cranes, but she still died. In her memory, schoolchildren around the world still send countless strings of paper cranes to Hiroshima. (There's a statue of Sadako here in Seattle as well.)

I went inside the Peace Museum and attended a presentation by a hibakusha (survivor of an atomic blast) relate her experience. During the hour-long talk, I tried to detect any trace of bitterness, but without success.

Later in the day, I visited Hiroshima Castle. On the castle grounds I met a man, now retired, who volunteered as a guide. He showed me a eucalyptus tree that was scorched by the nuclear blast but is now thriving. Before taking leave, I asked the man what he thought of Americans considering the US turned their city into a cemetery. He told me, "Hate war, not hate people."

More Japan travel reports: parts 1, 3, 4

From: Heather Richards (hrichards flotec.com)
Subject: Re: Factotum

As an administrative assistant who works for a rude and abusive manager, I really wish I had never heard that word. I think it is even more insulting that "clerk".

Heather Richards, Biddeford, Maine

From: Hiller B. Zobel (honzobe aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--factotum

Probably the most celebrated factotum in literature: Figaro, the Barber of Seville, who, in Rossini's opera of the same name introduces himself with the aria Largo al Factotum (Make Way for the Factotum). Figaro, a bourgeois barber, is constantly the "go-to guy" for an upper-class clientele too stupid to solve their daily problems, and hence obliged to seek Figaro's clever assistance.

Pierre Beaumarchais, author of the (1775) play on which the opera is based, did indeed have that view of the French nobility. When, during the American Revolution, France wanted to supply the Americans with covert aid, Beaumarchais set up an elaborate scheme, using a fictitious corporation, to funnel military supplies to the colonists.

Hiller B. Zobel, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Alan Shuchat (ahs613 gmail.com)
Subject: factotum

"Largo al factotum" is Figaro's famous aria in The Barber of Seville, "Make way for the factotum". He lists all the things he does in the city, including making wigs, applying leeches, and carrying messages, in addition to giving haircuts and shaves.

Alan Shuchat, Newton, Massachusetts

From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: factotum

In 1592, the English poet and playwright Robert Greene had a posthumous pamphlet published titled Greene's Groatsworth of Wit which contained a thinly veiled dig at William Shakespeare. Angered that Shakespeare, a mere actor and country bumpkin, had challenged the university wits, the usual playwrights of the Elizabethan stage, at their craft, Greene derisively called the unnamed Shakespeare "an absolute Johannes Factotum" (Johnny Do-It-All) for encroaching on Greene's literary profession. Although laughable in retrospect, given Shakespeare's present standing in world literature, Greene's obloquy is historically important because it is the oldest surviving evidence of Shakespeare the playwright.

Robert Payne, Los Angeles, California

From: Mort Sheinman (mortone aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--factotum

Who you calling a factotum? In last night's season premiere of Boardwalk Empire the HBO series about gangsters and prohibition during the Roaring Twenties, one Alphonse Capone -- a man clearly suffering from anger management issues -- is highly offended when a Chicago reporter misspells his surname and refers to him as a "factotum" of Mafia boss Johnny Torrio. At first, Alphonse isn't sure what "factotum" means, but ever a diligent researcher, he soon finds out. (One wonders whether a Webster's was part of the Capone home library, but no mind.) Accompanied by a large associate, Capone visits the reporter and not only expresses his unhappiness with the misspelling of his name, but displays his literacy chops by precisely defining "factotum". It was a proud moment for all wordsmiths.

Mort Sheinman, New York, New York

From: Donald Scott (donscott943 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--factotum

My first real job, at Scottish Imports, Ltd, in San Francisco -- a store right out of a John Ford 1940s film about Britain -- was "shipping/receiving clerk and general factotum". That was in 1963.

Donald Scott, Arroyo Grande, California

Email of the Week

From: Donn Neal (donnneal gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--interlocutor

For many Americans "of an age", this word is fraught with association: the "Interlocutor" was the person (usually a man) who served as emcee and participant in the American institution called the minstrel show, with a rich history that was, in the opinion of many, tarnished by its racial overtones during the declining years of overt racism in the United States. It was common for white persons, including children, to use blackface, outlandish costumes, and skits to satirize -- or worse -- those with black skins, all with a broad and often racy (a nicely ironic term) humor. This space is too short for a full history of the minstrel show, but its use of this unusual term is worthy of notice.

Donn Neal, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
Subject: What to Call People at Work

Your week's theme, What to Call People at Work, brought back memories of my first job out of college. Forty years ago, my Uncle Milton hired me as a receptionist at his Manhattan law firm. Each week he would bestow on me a new word that I had to look up, and then use correctly in a sentence. In this regard, he was a visionary, anticipating the phenomenon that has become AWAD. My favorite word from this effort to elevate my vocabulary was another office worker, amanuensis or secretary. I know Uncle Milton would be smiling down from heaven when I say proudly that I was the factotum to his fugleman!

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

Words strain, / Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, / Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, / Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, / Will not stay still. -T.S. Eliot, poet (1888-1965)

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