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AWADmail Issue 596

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

Sponsor's message:
Introducing ONEUPMANSHIP -- a beautifully-designed grown-up board game that's not only wicked, cutthroat fun, it's also a witty and irreverent lifestyle accessory/wry political statement -- which the lucky Email of the Week winner Fred Ritter (see below) will get hot off the press. We're also offering a 10% "Insider Deal" Discount to unapologetic Capitalists everywhere -- just use coupon code "onepercentandproud". TODAY ONLY.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: The gift of words

This holiday season, why not make a gift of words? Here are a few suggestions.


"A delightful, quirky collection."
-The New York Times

A Word A Day: A Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English Another Word A Day: An All-new Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English
Buy them at your nearest bookstore


"The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass email in cyberspace."
-The New York Times

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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

American Regional English Dictionary Going Online
Seattle PI

In Defense of a Loaded Word
The New York Times
Also see this.

From: Dave Zobel (dzobel alumni.caltech.edu)
Subject: Entropy and the curate's egg

Just as it's impossible to "eat around the nasty bits" of a rotten egg, some see "curate's egg" as not simply a metaphor for mediocrity, but for something that becomes totally worthless the moment even the smallest part of it goes bad.

For this let us thank the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states (according to a chemistry professor of my acquaintance) that if you add a teaspoon of wine to a barrel of manure you get a barrel of manure, but if you add a teaspoon of manure to a barrel of wine you get ... a barrel of manure.

Dave Zobel, Los Angeles, California

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--curate's egg

As a retired professional cartoonist, having worked for most of the major Hollywood animation studios over a span of almost thirty years, including Disney TV Animation for a long stretch, you could say for a goodly portion of my mostly fun tenure in the animation biz, I literally DID HAVE a 'Mickey Mouse career'. (Ha!)

I actually was one (of a handful) of the key background scenario/title-card design/layout team on Disney TV's popular series, Mouse Works back in the late '90s; and part of the creative crew for the direct-to-video feature film, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas (early 2000s release).

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Abha Jain (abhaj cadence.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--curate's egg

I have been fond of this term, ever since I came across it for the first time, in fact, through an AWADmail 285 in Dec 2007. In the corresponding weekly compendium, there was a reference from Dorothy L. Sayers's book Busman's Honeymoon. Peter Wimsey tells the vicar about his wedding night where he and his bride ended up with a dead body: "Parts of it were excellent." That comment made me pick up my first Sayers, and eventually made me a big fan. Busman's honeymoon is also a twist on the phrase busman's holiday.

Abha Jain, Noida, India

Email of the Week (The bored game monopoly is ended -- ONEUPMANSHIP HAS ARRIVED!)

From: Fred Ritter (fredritter comcast.net)
Subject: curate's egg

Thank you for introducing me to the term curate's egg. In only two words I have finally found an apt description of our beloved Detroit Lions now in their 56th year of rebuilding.

Fred Ritter, Clarkston, Michigan

From: Janel Christensen (janelchristensen57 gmail.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--gerrymander

When I saw this word, I immediately thought of this wonderful video that explains gerrymandering by CGP Grey. He has a whole series of Politics in the Animal Kingdom, and it is wonderful.

Janel Christensen, Layton, Utah

From: Derek Noonan (wordaday ntech.ie)
Subject: Gerrymander

In Ireland the word tullymander is used to describe a failed attempt at gerrymandering. The word is a portmanteau of the surname of the responsible minister James Tully with your word of the day gerrymander.

This redrawing of constituencies was intended to secure the re-election of Tully's party, but instead backfired disastrously resulting in a landslide victory for their main opponents.

Derek Noonan, Limerick, Ireland

From: John Tittmann (jtittmann alriti.com)
Subject: gerrymander

It is interesting to note that here in Massachusetts people believe that Elbrige Gerry pronounced his last name with a hard G, not the soft J-sounding G that we now customarily pronounce Gerrymander with. I've learned from you, Anu, that custom trumps origin -- so soft G it is!

John Tittmann, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: gerrymander

I noticed that the caption under the illustration titled "The Original Gerrymander" lists the cartoonist as unknown. I thought it was created by Elkanah Tisdale. Both the Encyclopedia Britannia and the Teaching American History site attribute the piece to Tisdale.

Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California

Elkanah Tisdale may very well be the illustrator, however, it's not entirely confirmed. Gilbert Stuart is another contender for the title (see the American Heritage Dictionary). The closest I have been able to reach for the source is the 1892 book the History of the Gerrymander by John Ward Dean. It says:
"Messrs. Batchelder, Loring, and Dunlap agree in assigning to Elkanah Tisdale the drawing of the monster. Messrs. Buckingham and Streeter assign it to Gilbert Stuart; but Major Benjamin Russell, who, according to Buckingham's statement, gave it its name, told Dr. Palmer that Tisdale was the designer."
Notice all the he-told-it-to-so-and-so-who-told-it-to ...
-Anu Garg

From: Alex Novak (agn2 psu.edu)
Subject: 199 years of infamy

Coincidentally, last Saturday (Nov 23) was the 199th anniversary of Elbridge Gerry's death. As it turned out, the stinging portmanteau of "gerrymander" did little to ruin his political career. The year after his namesake was coined, Gerry was chosen to be the fifth vice president of the United States, under James Madison. He served for a year and a half before dying of heart failure in 1814. Find out more at tawdryknickers.com!

Alex Novak, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

From: Robert Voitier (mrv1948 gmail.com)
Subject: Bias on your part (Re: McCarthyism)

In 2009 the Texas State Board of Education revised their high school history class curricula to suggest that the results of the Venona Project show Senator Joseph McCarthy to have been justified in his zeal in exposing those whom he believed to be Soviet spies or communist sympathizers.

Robert Voitier, Lafayette, Louisiana

Ah, the Texas State Board of Education! The same folks who never let facts get in the way of ideology. The same folks who are still trying to sabotage science textbooks by inserting creationism into them. For a peek into their minds, watch this brief interview with Don McLeroy who served as the chairman of the Board (video). About Venona Project exonerating McCarthy, see this.
-Anu Garg

From: Sofia Garcia (sgmartos hotmail.com)
Subject: Rube Goldberg

The equivalent term in Spain is El Profesor Franz de Copenhague a cartoon character of TBO, in a section called the great inventions of TBO.

Sofia Garcia, Sevilla, Spain

From: Derek Noonan (wordaday ntech.ie)
Subject: Rube Goldberg

To my mind the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine would have to be the one put together for the 2003 Honda Accord ad campaign.

Worried that it's all CGI? Snopes says it's legit and that it took in excess of 600 takes.

Derek Noonan, Limerick, Ireland

From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Rube Goldberg

A Swiss movie, Der Lauf Der Dinge, presents a real-life series of Rube Goldberg machines. It is a tour de force, a fascinating movie with no characters real or imaginary.

Dr Richard Stallman, President, Free Software Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Dan Miller (dandrsm gmail.com)
Subject: barrage balloons and Low cartoons (Re: blimp)

I've always thought the word Blimp preceded the cartoon character, that indeed the character's name was a back-derivation from the name of that other, literal, gasbag. Military barrage balloons, with no internal structure and hence "limps" came in two shapes: the round ones, A-limps, and the cigar-shaped ones we see more often, B-limps, quickly shortened to Blimps. Is this then just a story and totally apocryphal?

Dan Miller, Worcester, Massachusetts

It's quite possible that the cartoonist David Low chose the name of his character, the pompous Colonel Blimp, after the hot-air balloon. However, we do not have any evidence to claim that. The A-limp and B-limp makes for a great story but there's no evidence to support it either.
-Anu Garg

From: Debby Rockwood (prockwood columbus.rr.com)
Subject: Cartoons

Coincidentally, the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum just had its grand opening on Nov 15, 2013. Billy Ireland was the nationally-known cartoonist for the Columbus Dispatch from 1898 until 1935. For anyone interested in cartoons and their history, this museum is worth a trip to Columbus.

Debby Rockwood, Lancaster, Ohio

Words are a mirror of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is expanding fastest in a given period, we can form a fairly accurate impression of the chief preoccupations of society at that time and the points at which the boundaries of human endeavour are being advanced. -John Ayto, lexicographer (b. 1949)

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