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AWADmail Issue 656

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

Who said you can’t buy the American Dream? And for a song? We’re offering our motorcycle-loving subscribers, and this week’s Email of the Week winner, Richard H. Davis (see below), first dibs on Indian Summer, a terrific seat-of-the-pants documentary we filmed 20 years ago that’s just been released as a digitally-remastered DVD. Save 10% with the exclusive AWAD coupon code “nocowboys”.

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

Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?
The New Yorker

A Reader Calls Out the Columnist on His Sloppy Use of ‘Deaf’ and ‘Blind’ to Mean Negative Behavior
The Toronto Star

What We Lose When Languages Die and How We Can Save Them?
PBS (video, 1:49 hrs)

State of the Union: Presidential Pronouns
Language Log

Merriam-Webster: The Definition of a Dictionary
The Slate

From: Timothy Westergren (timwestergrenspain gmail.com) (via website comments)
Subject: ultracrepidarian

While Apelle’s advice to the shoemaker did not spawn a compound word in Spanish, the idea did migrate as a saying (refrán): Zapatero, ¡a tus zapatos! (Shoemaker, stick to your shoes!)

While the wonderful myriad of axioms in Castilian Spanish is falling into disuse, this one experienced a resurgence during the government of Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero (2004-2011). Those critical of his policies or his pontifications on issues outside his expertise (law) would cite this saying, “Zapatero, ¡a tus zapatos!”

Timothy Westergren, Madrid, Spain

From: Alain Gottcheiner (agot ulb.ac.be)
Subject: Ultracrepidarian

The anecdote about Apelles is very educational, and there is no reason to doubt its authenticity, and the word is splendid, but I feel we miss something : the original words.

Alain Gottcheiner, Brussels, Belgium

The original Greek, unfortunately is lost to history. The words are in Latin because the story was told by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder. We’ve amended the entry to clarify this now. Also see the next message.
-Anu Garg

Email of the Week (Courtesy Indian Summer -- The Original American Motorcycle Movie.)

From: Richard H. Davis (rdavis hotchkiss.org)
Subject: ultracrepidarian

I thought I’d expand on your note about ultracrepidarian, though you probably know it very well. I thought it strange that the Greek Apelles would respond to a cobbler in Latin, so I went searching for the story. Pliny the Elder records the story (writing in Latin, of course) in his Natural History XXXV, 85. Pliny records the statement indirectly (ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret). The original spoken in Latin would have been something like “Let a cobbler not judge beyond the sandal” (ne supra crepidam sutor iudicet). In Greek, something like: μὴ κρίνῃ ὁ σκυτεὺς ἔξω τοῦ ὑποδήματος.

Richard H. Davis, Lakeville, Connecticut

From: Marvant Duhon (mduhon bluemarble.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ultracrepidarian

Although I am being ultracrepidarian, perhaps the origin of this word lies in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The good shoemaker is central to the explanation that each craftsman depends on providing desired goods to other craftsmen, so that all get enough of what they need. And more to the point, Aristotle mentions that a shoemaker who is master of his craft may mistakenly think he has something useful to say about how the state is governed. He should drop such ultracrepidarian pretensions and leave governing to those trained in Aristotle’s philosophy.

The story of the Greek painter Apelles (4th Century BCE, who painted a portrait of Aristotle’s pupil Alexander the Great) is by Pliny the Elder, and is in support of Pliny’s position that natural creatures should be depicted with scientific accuracy not diminished by artistic flourishes.

Marvant Duhon, Bloomington, Indiana

From: Michael McGettigan (mcget aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ultracrepidarian

In the bicycle business, a customer is sometimes accompanied by a friend or spouse who keeps declaring opinions about bikes (often dubious or just counterfactual). We refer to them as shmexperts.

Michael McGettigan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Peirce Hammond (Peirceiii yahoo.com)
Subject: Ultracrepidarian

Those of us who are liberally educated view expressing opinions beyond our areas of expertise either as our right and duty or as an oxymoron. The more so if we attended one of those small liberal arts colleges in New England.

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Uli Dernbach-Steffl (Udernbach conet.de)
Subject: Mythomane

In Germany we also use the name of Baron Muenchausen who has told many fantastic stories e.g. how he has dragged himself and his horse out of a swamp by pulling on his own bunch of hair and clutching the horse between his thighs. He must have been the archetype of a mythomane. Thanks for your inspiring words every day! [Also the source of the eponym Munchausen syndrome]

Uli Dernbach-Steffl, Bonn, Germany

From: Dennis Major (dmajordude msn.com) (via website comments)
Subject: libertine

What instantly came to mind was the (initially) hoax book which made it to the New York Times Best Sellers List: I, Libertine Jean Shepherd was the instigator for this ruse in the mid-fifties.

Dennis Major, Colorado Springs, Colorado

From: Sonja Langsjoen (sonjalang frontiernet.net) (via website comments)
Subject: libertine

I first knew it from The Music Man. I cannot hear ‘libertine’ without finishing it as ‘Libertine Men and Scarlet Women’, when the Music Man tried to equate the new pool hall with evil. Here you go, from ‘You Got Trouble’:

“One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground!”

Sonja Langsjoen, Apple Valley, Minnesota

From: Perry Kurtz (pkurtz twcny.rr.com)
Subject: Homunculus

The homunculus is familiar to those learning the anatomy of the brain’s cerebral cortex and mapping which portions are responsible for sensory and motor signals associated with body parts. The sensory homunculus is particularly bizarre because it has huge hands and fingers as well as very large mouth and lips, reflecting the rich nerve supply to these body parts and their exquisite sensitivity. Thanks for the stimulating posts!

Perry Kurtz, Chazy, New York

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

If you want to be more adult,
Just learn to upgrade your insult,
To whom its intended,
Will not get offended,
Unless its meaning you consult.

Yes, know-it-alls, I’d like to shun,
Sure, opinions they’ve got,
But they really know squat,
Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

When Pinocchio told a lie,
His nose grew. He couldn’t deny.
This famous MYTHOMANE,
From wood became humane,
Now a politician, oh my!

Eugene a less known LIBERTINE,
Wanted to be a s~x machine.
Unlike hero, Don Juan,
Had a smaller baton,
Or so said Maxine and Marlene.

Singer’s Midgets, famous because,
Played Munchkins in Wizard of Oz.
Behavior scandalous,
Caused mayhem, and did break some laws.

He hadn’t a clue, I knew Gus,
was known to be quite vacuous,
Every thing that he said,
Showed no thought in his head,
So friends all called him a doofus.

Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York

From: Steve Benko (stevebenko1 gmail.com)
Subject: Words of the Week in Limericks

A young lass intended on marryin’
An ultra-big-time-crepidarian
He’d been of the view
That her menses were due
And now ‘twas his babe she was carryin’

In Rome lived a suave mythomane
Rich contessas he’d oft entertain
He’d whisper “Ciao bella”,
Like a good honest fella,
When their looks were entirely plain

While out hiking, an old libertine
Made eyes at a Girl Scout in green
“I’ll not be ensnared,”
She proclaimed, “Be prepared”,
And she walloped him with her canteen

If your thugs waterboard a homunculus,
Shouting “Talk! And then maybe we’ll dunk you less!”
His kin large and strong
May decide you’ve done wrong
So take heed of how nasty his uncle is.

Isaac Newton, inventor of calculus
Had a mind that was rather miraculous
While under a tree
He conceived gravity
After that, all his colleagues seemed vacuous.

Steve Benko, New York, New York

You live a new life for every new language you speak. -Czech proverb

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