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AWADmail Issue 589

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

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: Life beyond the porridge bowl (Re: furfuraceous)

The industrial solvent and chemical feedstock furfural is derived from bran and similar materials by distillation; in 1922 the Quaker Oats Co. began its production on a large scale in order to valorise a processing waste. When furfural was discovered in the 19th century it was given a name that reflected the raw material from which it was produced. If discovered nowadays chemists would have given it the systematic name furan-2-carbaldehyde, which, however, would do nothing to conceal its origins since furan is a derivative of furfural. One of the flakier examples of chemical nomenclature.

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, UK

From: David Smith (dsmith nmsu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--furfuraceous

The word "furfuraceous", made me think about a similar cross-cultural pun and insult that I discovered in the 1970s when I was managing a trading post on the Navajo reservation. There was a teenage Navajo boy in the vicinity who seriously neglected his personal hygiene to the extent that he was quite furfuraceous.

The Navajo language has a term similar to furfuraceous, "chizii". And Navajos love to apply nicknames to everybody, so the furfuraceous boy got the Navajo nickname "Ch'izii" from his schoolmates, which is a pun on the Navajo word for firewood, "ch'iz". The semantic difference between "Ch'izii" and "chizii" is signalled by a glottal stop consonant in the word for firewood, represented by the apostrophe (') as I spell it here. So his Navajo nickname translated roughly to Firewoody. All the kids and most of the people in the community called him Woody in English.

He was not fond of either sobriquet.

David Smith, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico

From: Angela M. Rosati (angelamarie5 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pediculous

I knew immediately what pediculous meant; when I was a little girl, with long hair, I was frequently pediculous. My little Italian mother used to drench my hair with kerosene. It's a wonder I didn't go up in flames. But, it did kill those little suckers!

Angela M. Rosati, Port Orchard, Washington

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

Even the most cursory search of the Internet will show that white teeth are not the strongest, as they can be acquired only by the use of cosmetic techniques, which weaken the teeth if enamel has to be removed. The natural colour of a tooth is conferred by the constituent dentine, which is light yellow in colour. In any case the apparent whiteness is a result of the contrast between the colour of the teeth and the colour of the skin, which varies according to one's genes. However, we all set out to achieve what we like or what pleases others. Xanthodonts do not deserve their bad press.

Michael Tremberth, St Erth, UK

Email of the Week -- (Brought to you by One Up! -- Hello, doubledomes!)

From: James Eng (jameseng hotmail.com)
Subject: xanthodontous

It's interesting to read these "insult" words in that several of them take a condition that is natural and turn it into something to potentially be ashamed of. Xanthodontous? Having yellow teeth? "Eeewww... look at that guy's yellow teeth!" But having yellowed teeth is a pretty natural state and does NOT denote a lack of oral hygiene. So, once again, our society sends the message that we're all supposed to strive to be something that we're not. That's why we have "whitening strips" and cosmetic whitening of teeth with harsh chemicals and expensive price tags. Reminds me of the Rolling Stones song where Jagger sings, "A man comes on the radio... telling more and more... useless information..." Yellowed teeth? Humph. Can we move on to a real problem instead?

James Eng, Plainsboro, New Jersey

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--xanthodontous

"Imagine"... perhaps one of the late, great John Lennon's most profound and hopeful tunes (video). Probably regarded by many Lennon aficionados as his signature poetic message set to music; loved and heard by millions across this vast planet.

John and wife Yoko were such eloquent, committed, proactive crusaders for world peace. Hard to believe he was senselessly murdered so young, in his 40th year. We can only speculate on, and 'imagine' what John's continuing contributions to world order and better understanding between nations would have been, had he lived a long life. Perchance to dream?

Yet we can, thankfully, still "Imagine all the people, living life in peace", despite the challenges of a planet seemingly run amok. Call me a cock-eyed optimist.

I apologize for the 'detour' from our word of the day.

True Confession: As one with somewhat yellowed teeth (too much daily coffee consumption), I can obviously relate to this word, i.e., xanthodontous. Having worked as an animation artist for several decades here in Hollywood, my xanthodontous smile didn't appear to be a job-hiring deal breaker; but perhaps if I had been an in-front-of-the-camera 'performer', I'd likely have had to go the veneers, capped teeth route.... pretty much a de rigueur move for aspiring on-camera talent.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Scott Lloyd (scott.lloyd.da tds.net)
Subject: Pilgarlic is no insult

You hairheads can revel in your inferiority all you want. The cleanest hair in the world still is filthy. Having hair is just wearing a house for bacteria and parasites -- and it serves no purpose.

We pilgarlics pity your hirsute imperfection.

Scott Lloyd, Centre, Alabama

From: Katrina Johnston (katrina.johnston gamma.co.uk)
Subject: Pediculous and fustilugs

This week's words have been great. In particular, pediculous reminded me of the "Two Doctors" episode of Fawlty Towers, when "paediatrician" is mistaken for being a podiatrist: "Well children have feet, don't they?" In a similar manner, "Well, lice have feet, don't they?"

Fustilugs amused me because a friend and I interpreted the word to mean "dirty ears". We are both Scottish. "Lugs" means ears, and "fusty" means dirty.

Apart from that, fat people have ears, don't they?

Katrina Johnston, Andover, UK

From: David Fogg (dmfogg me.com)
Subject: limericks

The Roman co-founder named Romulus
Had hair that was pretty ridiculous:
With head lice it teemed;
This was not esteemed --
His friends called him Homo pediculus.

A coed, though very curvaceous
And charming and socially gracious,
Could not get a date
'Cause college guys hate
When gals are so darn furfuraceous.

"Why is it that people don't want us?
This question continues to haunt us."
The warthogs bemoan
Their being alone.
"Or maybe we're too xanthodontous?"

David Fogg, San Jose, Costa Rica

From: Steve Swift (steve.j.swift gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fustilugs

I collect insults to use in the error-message processing of my computer programs. So, if users fail to enter their names, for example, the error message might read "Enter your name, you fustilugs!". The exact insult is chosen at random, to increase the variability of the abuse. For some reason this seems to annoy users less than the simpler version; many users burst into laughter when my programs insult them. See my website for some examples.

Steve Swift, Alton, UK

Winner of monthly drawing for a signed copy of the book A Word A Day for sending gift subscriptions

From: Coral K Sheridan (coralsh northwestern.edu)
Subject: AWAD gift subscriptions

I've received nothing but positive feedback for introducing AWAD to others. Thank you, Anu Appleseed, for sharing your passion and knowledge!

Coral K Sheridan, Orange, California

Standard English is a convenient abstraction, like the average man. -George Leslie Brook, English professor, author (1910-1987)

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