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AWADmail Issue 586

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 3

Third in a series of travel reports from my trip to Japan last month. (see parts 1, 2, 4)

Japan, the land of high-tech toilets, where a toilet seat has more electronics than some small countries. Here are some random observations from my trip.

  • I had the image of the folding hand fan as something that little old ladies carried as a fashion accessory. Turns out it's something practical. I noticed everyone, taxi drivers, office workers, and students, fanning themselves with folding fans. It's an essential accessory for anyone, man or woman, during the hot muggy month of August.

  • There's a vending machine at each street corner. No, let me be more precise. There are multiple vending machines on each street corner, selling dozens of hot & cold drinks, including tea, coffee, beer, and even Coke and Pepsi. If you don't find what you are looking for, chances are it'll be in the vending machine a few feet down. (photo)

  • Even though it's hard to find roadside trash bins, it's even harder to find litter. Japanese put their trash in their pockets or purses to be deposited later into a trash bin.

  • Sometimes the best way to protect high-tech equipment is low-tech. In Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, I saw giant TV cameras being protected by tatami mats. (photo)

  • Space is at a premium. Cars are often double stacked, and so are bicycles. (photo)

  • I believe it's a law in Japan that every public sign has to accompany a cartoon. (photo)

  • Every little patch of land is put to good use. On a street corner in Kyoto I saw a public car park with just two parking spaces. A barrier rises after you park a car. After you return and you've fed the right number of coins to the electronic toll man, the barrier goes down and you drive out and are on your way. (photo)

  • Nintendo started as a playing card manufacturer, in Kyoto. If your child is being especially naughty this year and asking for a Nintendo for Christmas, give him a pack of playing cards. (photo)

  • Tokyo Metropolitan Police has its own mascot. In fact, police in each of the 47 prefectures in Japan have their own cartoon mascots. (photos)

  • Japan is expensive, but food can be especially expensive. (photo, that's $126 for a pair of mangoes)

  • Also, portion sizes are small. (photo, one slice each of a cucumber, a carrot, and daikon, cut into four quadrants)

  • While serving sizes are small, cigarettes are huge. (photo)

  • In Tokyo there are giant electronics stores (nine floors) with salespeople hawking the latest in high-tech like in a fish market.

  • It's rare to find an overweight Japanese person. (photo: It's hard to prove a negative.)

  • The former capital, Kyoto (literally, "capital city") and modern capital Tokyo (literally, "eastern capital") are anagrams of each other.

  • In stores, there are usually small video screens or audio players next to products, pitching the virtues of the products in mini-infomercials.

  • Learning English is a big business in Japan. You'll find learners' editions of The Economist and other magazines with hard words explained.

  • Restaurants display samples of their dishes made with plastic food. But don't let the word 'plastic' make you think these are soul-less creations. They can be truly artful. (photos: 1, 2, 3. food porn in plastic!)

  • In the Hiroshima Peace Museum, I saw a man with a tattoo in binary code on his leg. (photo, Decoding it has been left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • Basebaru (baseball) is big in Japan (though not as big as sumo wrestling). Their eyes lit up upon learning that I live in Seattle and they'd talk about Ichiro Suzuki.

  • In Japan, a subway station is more than just a place to catch a train. There are stores, restaurants, and much more. Some subway stations have dozens of exits.

  • I saw tree limbs supported by stakes, no matter how old or withered the tree or the limb. If that's a metaphor for taking care of one's old and disadvantaged, I don't know. (photo)
More Japan travel reports: parts 1, 2, 4

Email of the Week

From: Art Barnes (artbarnes64 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tragus

How's your tragus today? That was a puzzling greeting many years ago when I was in the US Air Force during a time when sideburns were all the rage in the men's fashion world. (I'll let you guess which decade!) I remember that AF Regulation 35-10 specified that sideburns could not extend beyond below the tragus, which sent many airmen scurrying for their Webster's or Funk & Wagnalls. It became a reminder of the time to get a haircut if a friend were to ask, "How's your tragus?"

Art Barnes, Fort Loramie, Ohio

From: Sam Robinson (sam thewoolstore.co.nz)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tragus

I suspect that there are quite a number of middle-aged men around New Zealand who'd instantly recognise this word. Back in the 1960s, when students thought sideburns were fashionable and teachers were fixated with a short back and sides approach, our headmaster decreed that no facial hair was allowed below the bottom of the tragus.

Sam Robinson, Wellington, New Zealand

From: Kishore Rao (kishoremrao hotmail.com)
Subject: Tragus

Sorry to bite your ear on this, but our friend tragus also has an opposite number called antitragus, which also resides on the ear pinna.

Kishore Rao, Bangalore, India

From: Eric Rubin (erubin mindspring.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chimera

Today's New York Times has an article that discusses chimerism, where cells with different genomes are found in the same person. (They're all human cells, usually from offspring, siblings or tissue donors.)

Here an intriguing line from the article: "It's pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera."

Eric Rubin, Bedford, Virginia

From: Wendy Northway (wendy.northway btconnect.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chimera

Quite recently there was a report of a chimera dog -- a Labrador which was half golden and half black labrador.

Wendy Northway, Winsford, UK

From: Allen Foster (allen foster-brague.net)
Subject: Chimera

In William Finn's Musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee", one contestant is given the word CHIMERICAL. The definition given is "unreal, magical, visionary, wildly fanciful, highly unrealistic" which leads her to a beautiful song that is an inner dialogue between herself and her parents, in which they all love one another. It is called "The I Love You Song" (lyrics, recording) and it is heartbreaking.

Allen Foster, San Francisco, California

From: Tom Holloway (tom.holloway housing.wa.gov.au)
Subject: chimera

This brought back memories of the time my wife and I ascended Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris a few years ago. Looking out on Paris my wife noticed the decorations that surrounded us and commented "Look at those fantastic gargoyles." Within earshot was a staff member who kindly corrected her by advising that some of these were gargoyles, but the rest were chimera. Gargoyles channel water off the building; chimera are purely decorative.

Tom Holloway, Perth, Australia

From: Maria Grazia Capitani (m.capitani ocme.it)
Subject: Chimera

"Chimera" compares in one of my favourite phrases "Lynch's new film is an enigma wrapped in a mystery concealed in a conundrum ensconced in a chimera." (By Joe Queenan. source). Very apt description a Lynch film!

Maria Grazia Capitani, Parma, Italy

From: Jim Tang (mauijt aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aegis

One of the US Navy's more inspired classifications goes to warships designed to provide anti-missile protection, specifically Aegis cruisers and destroyers. (For a utilitarian counter, consider Israel's Iron Dome system.) There's some comfort in knowing that the people involved in these ultra-modern projects still read Greek mythology.

Jim Tang, Kula, Hawaii

From: Debbie Evans (debbie.evans xtra.co.nz)
Subject: Chevron

You said in your AWAD about the word chevron that "The goat connection is not clear."

As soon as I read the meaning of the word -- A pattern in the shape of a V, I immediately pictured the shape of a goat's horns which make a V. (photos)

Debbie Evans, Wellington, New Zealand

From: Alistair Anderson (aanderson belco.bc.ca)
Subject: chevron

Goats have cloven hooves, which, when splayed, make a chevron. (photos)

Alistair Anderson, Bella Coola, Canada

From: Linda Stone (fulkerstone ameritech.net)
Subject: chevron and goat

I am wondering if the inverted V was associated with the goatee of the billy (male) goat ... hence the old world connection? (photos)

Linda Stone, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

From: Patty Wagner (bluehills2 aol.com)
Subject: Chevron

The chevron relationship to goats was interesting since the Alpine goats we had were all marked with a V on the back of the skull to the neck when looking at them from the rear. Looking from front to back from above that would be a chevron.

Patty Wagner, Arroyo Grande, California

From: Kenneth Brodey (kbrodey alice.it)
Subject: Chevron

Thanks for the great week of goat words. You really got ours -- in a nice way of course. With regard to chevron, the etymology says it refers to rafters and that the connection with goats is unclear. Could it not be that the shape refers to the hoof prints? They look pretty similar to me. (photos)

Kenneth Brodey, Lombardia, Italy

From: Rob Adams (robadams shaw.ca)
Subject: Re: Chevron

I wonder, if the association of the word chevron has to do with the shape created when two goats butt their heads together. (photos)

As they charge each other, they raise their front feet off the ground, their bodies forming an inverted chevron, at the moment of impact.

Rob Adams, Parksville, Canada

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: chevron

When I saw that remark to the effect that "the goat connection is not clear", An image of goats on a slanting thatched roof of a house in the countryside came immediately to mind. Can't help wondering if someone else saw the same image a thousand or so years ago. (photos)

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: Tom Priestly (tpriestl shaw.ca)
Subject: chevron

"Origin unclear." Hmmm. Amateur etymologists who have visited the town of Coombs, on Vancouver Island in BC, must be sharpening their pencils -- for this is where tourists flock to the "Goats on the Roof" general store, which actually has goats browsing on its roof. A perfect chance for a spurious explanation!

Tom Priestly, Edmonton, Canada

From: Molly Kalifut (molly.kalifut mdcourts.gov)
Subject: Chevron

I've decided the goat connection to the word chevron is "cheesy". Could it be that a chevron's V shape looks like a wedge of (goat) cheese -- chevre?

Molly Kalifut, Annapolis, Maryland

From: Bruce Gray (findbruce sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Chevron

My understanding is that chevron is akin to chevre, the goat cheese. And it refers to the crook in the goat's leg.

Bruce Gray, Los Angeles, California

From: Audrey Shabbas (audreyshabbas gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chevron

Geese don't actually fly in a "chevron" pattern. One side of the V is always longer than the other. Do you know why one side is longer than the other? There are more geese on that side!

Audrey Shabbas, Belize

From: Beth Morrison (elmorrison verizon.net)
Subject: Chevron

The ancient sign for the goat, Capricorn was always a V -- a stylized rendering of the goat's horns as they rise from the forehead. How like the French to invent a military symbol that also reflects the bellicose reputation of its namesake!

Beth Morrison, Todd, North Carolina

From: Stephen Veenker (Sveenker aol.com)
Subject: chevron

In Panama and other Latin American countries, public transport is mostly small buses, which are called chivas because they dart about and jump precipitously. As do goats.

Stephen Veenker, Holden Beach, North Carolina

From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
Subject: Chagal

This week's final word derived from goats, chagal, brought to mind one of my favorite artists, Marc Chagall. Chagall, born in Belarus, Russia in 1887, has been touted as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century". An early "Modernist", he was a prolific creator of art in many mediums. He is best known for his fine art prints, book illustrations, and stained glass pieces. These exquisite windows have adorned cathedrals, the UN building and the Hadassah Hospital in Israel. Many of his earlier works were based on Eastern European Jewish folk culture, and would occasionally feature goats (photos). I raise a chagal to toast Chagall!

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

From: Kishore Rao (kishoremrao hotmail.com)
Subject: Chagal

This one reminded me of Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din, the regimental 'bhisti' who carries water in "a goatskin water-bag" to the soldiers on the front.

Kishore Rao, Bangalore, India

From: Antonio Christopher Dittmann (dittmann.antonio comcast.net)
Subject: Goats

By the way, aren't goats wonderful? Ray and I had two for a week to help clear a large swath of our property that had become completely impenetrable because of Siberian Blackberry -- the scourge of the Pac NW! When the lady came to take them back, we had fallen so in love with them that we momentarily considered chaining ourselves to her truck and chanting, "Heck no! They don't go!" They even wore little, woolen caps that had been specially crocheted for them.

It doesn't get much better than that. We miss them.

Antonio Christopher Dittmann, Vashon, Washington

From: Mike Deutsch (mike.deutsch dmv.ny.gov)
Subject: Goats as Lawn Mowers

Pocono Raceway in Long Pond Pennsylvania is the first and only solar-powered NASCAR-sanctioned race track. A large solar field was installed a few years ago across the road from the Raceway, and the energy collected by the panels replaces that used by the track during the season.

Since the panels are delicate, conventional lawn mowers can't be used to control the level of grass around the array. Therefore, the Raceway employs a small herd of sheep to accomplish this important task.

Mike Deutsch, Albany, New York

From: Sharon Christian Aderman (JAderman aol.com)
Subject: Goats

When we lived in Guatemala where our yard dipped down into a canyon we needed more than a gardener with a machete. My husband gave me a baby goat with a big red bow for Christmas. We named him Raul and he grew into a power mower. I even taught him how to dance. I would call him to the window and give him a piece of candy, twirling it around his head while he twirled. He ate the candy, paper wrapper, and all and went back to work.

Sharon Christian Aderman, Damariscotta, Maine

From: Rob Barendse (rabarendse gmail.com)
Subject: Goats as lawn mowers

I kept several goats years ago and would attempt to bring them to lush, grassy pastures. They would sniff the grass a moment or two, and then make directly for the nearest trees and shrubs they could find where they would make quick work of the bark, twigs, and leaves.

I used them for tree removal once I reasoned that (my) "goats will be goats", and this talent for destruction could be useful. For mowing grass I found sheep far more effective and even efficient. But maybe my goats were just genetically inclined to a woody diet. They were Swiss Alpines, a nation known for its high altitude and treeless mountain meadows.

Rob Barendse, Granville, New York

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

Goat originally meant she-goat and there was a separate word, bucca, which got confused with the word for a male deer, which is why we use he-goat in distinction. Marlowe in Edward II alluded to goats: "My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns, shall with their goat-feet dance the *antic hay*" -- then Aldous Huxley picked up the latter term, which became the title of one of his early novels. Hay is not dried cut grass but a dance -- e.g., Shepherd's Hey, an Irish folk melody arranged by Percy Grainger.

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, Cornwall, UK

From: Jesse Lansner (jlansner gmail.com)
Subject: Goat Week

I had just finished reading this email when I saw a tweet alerting me that today is the start of Goat Week on the Modern Farmer website I can't wait to see what other sites might be celebrating goats this week!

Jesse Lansner, New York, New York

In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. -Owen Barfield, author (1898-1997)

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