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AWADmail Issue 643

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

Sponsor's message: It's Officially Huge. This week's Email of the Week winner, Ollie Haffenden (see below) -- as well as all AWADers worldwide -- can now make their own terrific fun word-nerd party for nothing. Introducing our best-selling One Up! -- The Wicked/Smart Word Game as a free PDF download, absolutely gratis. Hurree y'up.

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

Using 'Literally' Metaphorically is Literally Spreading Like Wildfire
The Guardian

Boys with Autism Demonstrate Surprising Strength in Grammar Processing
Georgetown University

Presidential Pronouns and Narcissism
Language Log

From: Mairi Kidd (mairi kiddpanoscha.com)
Subject: mullion

In architecture school we were taught that a mullion is structural, i.e. a post placed between two windows, and that a muntin is the wood or metal that divides panes of glass within a window or door.

Mairi Kidd, Portland, Oregon

From: Andrea Jaber (andrea.jaber hccs.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mullion

To err is human, but irritating, when I hear "accompnyist" (accompanist), reelator (realtor), "jewlery" (jewelry), and "axe" (ask). An occasional slip of the tongue is forgiven, but flat-out mispronunciation, well... Perhaps "metathesis" means "meantosaythis"?

Dr. Andrea H. Jaber, Missouri City, Texas

From: Warren Prince (chipprince mac.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mullion

Oh, wow. You struck a chord with your very first sentence this week: I am working (as pianist) on a Broadway show tour (whose name I prudently will not mention), and at one point the cast is supposed to sing the words "the cavalry's coming." For some reason the majority of them have said and sung 'Calvary' instead of 'cavalry', even after gentle corrections.

I think there's something about the order of the consonants that makes 'Calvary' easier to sing. Or maybe it's because those of us with church backgrounds have sung it many times more than 'cavalry', and it just trips off the tongue more easily. Anyway, switching to the correct pronunciation. and making it a habit has been a work in progress!

Chip Prince, New York, New York

From: Martin Wheeler (mwheeler martinwheeler.co.uk)
Subject: sprattle

As a native of Cumberland (now Cumbria), I first came across the local form of this word in 1950, at the age of nine, when my schoolteacher described our unsophisticated, schoolboyish, self-taught style of swimming as: "The Cumbrian spraddle". (As opposed to the breaststroke; backstroke, butterfly, etc.) The term has forever stuck in my mind.

Martin Wheeler, Somerset, UK

From: Valerie W. Stephenson (valeries1 comcast.net)
Subject: Sprattle

What a wonderful word. I cannot add to the definition but by life's experiences. I sprattled raising five kids, three steps, two bios, all at different schools. Every morning was a "scramble" AND "a struggle". I was also a long term teacher (sounds like a prison sentence), but somehow we sprattled on.

Cooking! Talk about a sprattle. I won't repeat the sprattling disasters of serving seven, all on different schedules.

Professionally, the sprattling continued. Trying to "ground" from 100 to 600 handbell ringers is an immense but rewarding challenge. Talk about scrambled!

I once sprattled a horse named Penny Dime who was older than dirt; I was 13. He tossed me off into a sprattled pond of mess. If you wish to look up sprattle legged for birds, that was me.

And now, it's time for some "sprattled" eggs!

Valerie W. Stephenson, Jacksonville, Florida

From: Eddie Hardy (eddie_hardy gastropods.com)
Subject: brummagem

A brummie friend gave me this response: I think it's the other way round, i.e. Birmingham is a dialect alteration of Brummagem that eventually superseded the original name. Note that nowadays the common adjective associated with Birmingham is Brummie (obviously from Brummagem) not Birmie!

Eddie Hardy, Birmingham, UK

From: Stephen Jarvis (stephenjarvis hotmail.com)
Subject: Brummagem

The most famous use of brummagem occurs in Dickens's Pickwick Papers, when Mr Jingle describes counterfeit coins as 'brummagem buttons', however, I have actually written a novel, Death and Mr Pickwick, about the origins and afterlife of Pickwick, which is out next year, and Jingle's usage was one I specifically wanted to revive, as the word has a charm and history which the more usually encountered 'Brummie' simply does not possess.

Stephen Jarvis, Maidenhead, UK

From: Michael Poole (michaelpoole paradise.net.nz)
Subject: Re: Brummagem

A message for all our American friends: there's no "h" sound in Birmingham, not in the original one anyway. Like many English place names, Birmingham follows the 10-pint rule: take on board ten Imperial pints of best English bitter then try saying the name, and you'll get it about right.

Michael Poole, Paraparaumu, New Zealand

Email of the Week (Courtesy One Up! -- Playing mind games is wicked fun!)

From: Ollie Haffenden (oliver.haffenden rd.bbc.co.uk)
Subject: Girn

I'm sure I'll be one of hundreds of northern Englanders who draw your attention to the wonderful and bizarre phenomenon of gurning: the competitive pulling of grotesque faces. The OED believes "gurn" to be cognate with "girn" (and "grin"), though other sources are not so sure.

The classic gurn involves pulling the lower lip high up over the nose, as seen here. As Wikipedia notes, the absence of teeth makes it possible to gurn more easily and impressively. I'd always been led to believe that the activity was associated with glassblowers, whose mouths were somehow distorted by years of carrying out their craft, but I haven't so far found any reference to this connection.

Oliver Haffenden, Wandsworth, UK

From: Alma Lee (almalee1000 gmail.com)
Subject: girn

This is a word used often in Scotland (even today), especially about children (bairns). My granny used to say to me "Stop your girning, lassie" if I was whining about something I didn't get that I wanted! I have never heard an English person use it.

Alma Lee, Vancouver, Canada (born in Edinburgh, Scotland)

From: Betty Nelson (tennnels gmail.com)
Subject: sound reversal

Notice how many of the words this week reverse the sound of the letter r? That's a common linguistic phenomenon; witness "iron", in which we've kept the older spelling while changing the sound.

Betty Nelson, Hendersonville, Tennessee

From: Helen Ross (h.e.ross stir.ac.uk)
Subject: Metathesis

As a small child I used to say spicketts instead of biscuits. When my mother tried to correct me I replied "But I can't say biscuits, I can only say spicketts."

Helen Ross, Stirling, Scotland

From: Russell Lott (russellwlott comcast.net)
Subject: metathesis

I immediately thought of Brett Favre, former American football player, and local Hattiesburg and South Mississippi hero. I've long been bothered by the family's, and the media's, pronunciation of the last name as FARve. But it's not the only French surname common in this area, nor the only one commonly mispronounced. It's good to know there's a word to explain this linguistic phenomenon.

Russell Lott, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing. -Claude Levi-Strauss, anthropologist (1908-2009)

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