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AWADmail Issue 670

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

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

Trying to Decode Dolphins’ Language
National Geographic

So How Do Dictionaries Define Marriage, Anyway?
The Web of Language

The World’s Languages, in Seven Maps and Charts
Washington Post

From: Jim Scarborough (jimes hiwaay.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--os

> And, of those hundred, maybe five are interesting.

Who are you and what have you done with Anu? Surely all hundred are superb material!

Jim Scarborough, Cary, North Carolina

From: Maria Netter (mttn bluewin.ch)
Subject: os

In the usage example “... Robbie Williams doesn’t narrow his os ...”, he surely doesn’t narrow his mouth or bone, but his Os, wouldn’t you say?

Maria Netter, Zurich, Switzerland

Now that you mention it, it does seem more likely the author of the article meant the plural of the sound o instead of today’s word os.
-Anu Garg

From: Bertil Magnusson (bertil.magnusson sp.se)
Subject: SV: A.Word.A.Day--os

The word os for mouth of a river was used in Swedish names for cities. Uppsala was earlier East arOS and today a city Västerås (West-arOS) you can still hear os in the name.

Bertil Magnusson, Borås, Sweden

From: Max Montel (maxmontel yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--os

One of my favorite Scrabble duoliterals! It always makes me think of my beloved 7th grade Latin teacher Mrs. Ellis, who, when frustrated with a student, would say either “shut up-us” or more often, “shut your os.”

Max Montel, Los Angeles, California

From: Dr. Friedrich Heberlein (sla019 ku.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--os

Eons ago in my German high school times we used to remember the semantic difference by the verse:

Os, oris ist der Mund / os, ossis frisst der Hund.
(os, oris is the mouth / os, ossis is eaten by the dog)

Fritz Heberlein, Eichstaett, Germany

From: Wayne Hathaway (wayne playaholic.com)
Subject: Duoliteral words

As any self-respecting Scrabble player would know, there are exactly 101 duoliteral words in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Learning the 101 is sort of a rite of passage for a beginning Scrabbler.

Wayne Hathaway, Southlake, Texas

From: Victoria Boisen (victoria.boisen gmail.com)
Subject: os

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus situated between the external os (external orifice) and internal os (internal orifice). The endocervical canal connects the interior of the vagina and the cavity of the body of uterus. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. The cervix is the name given to the cylindrical lower part of the uterus (cervix means “neck” in Latin). It is comprised of three parts: the ectocervix, with its “os”, or orifice -- the entrance or “mouth” of the cervix -- which opens into the vaginal canal) the internal os, which opens into the body of the uterus, and the endocervical canal -- which is the area between the two.

The vaginal canal leads from the external genitalia up to the cervix.

Dr. Victoria Boisen, Granada Hills, California

From: H Bendel Wilson (hbendelw gmail.com)
Subject: The Spencer quotation

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation. -Herbert Spencer, philosopher (Apr 27 1820-1903)

The quotation you gave us today is much beloved by members of Alcoholics Anonymous. That Alcoholics Anonymous text attributes it to Herbert Spencer, as you do. Investigators of misattributed quotations have determined that this quotation really belongs to William Paley, 18th C. Christian apologist. Spencer did coin the phrase, “Survival of the fittest”. (See here)

H Bendel Wilson, Nashville, Tennessee

From: Aaron Snyder (aaron.snyder indra.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--os : count on today’s quotation

The Spencer quotation reminds me of a more succinct one from Chien-chih Seng-ts’an, the Third Zen Patriarch (died 606 AD), in the poem “Xinxin Ming”: “Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

Aaron Snyder, Boulder, Colorado

Thank you both! We’re adding a link to this issue of AWADmail next to the quotation.
-Anu Garg

From: Hannah Kruse (c-kruse t-online.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aa

In German, this is baby talk for either “to defecate” or the result, poop. An infant in the process of toilet training would say something like “Mummy! Ah-ah!” or later, “Mummy, I need to ah-ah” :-)

Hannah Kruse, Gera, Germany

From: Alan Abbey (alan.abbey gmail.com)
Subject: AA loves aa

I just couldn’t let this word -- one of my favorites for a number of reasons -- go unremarked. First of all, of course, it uses my initials. Second, it’s one of the first “abnormal” Scrabble words I learned and have since taught to my wife and children, who now use it regularly despite their initial objections and scorn. Finally, while I have never been to Hawai’i, I became familiar with aa lava when I lived in Central Oregon, where aa is available in abundance, as well, and huge, train-sized tunnels have been carved out by volcanic action. Crushed aa lava is used to “salt” roads in winter to improve traction. Aa’s crystalline structure is excellent for icy conditions and doesn’t rot out vehicles as does rock salt.

Alan Abbey, Israel

From: Peter Wing (lekabwop gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--aa

Aloha nui loa,
As a student and supporter of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) for many years, it’s always nice to see Hawaiian words appearing in Mainland and other countries’ press. However, it’s also a consternation when our beautiful, poetic words are not appreciated in their proper form or depth of meaning. We have so many visitors to our home of Maui, and few go beyond learning the compulsory “Aloha” and “Mahalo”. Besides adding vocabulary for tourists, I also like to point out notions such as the word “Mahalo” not meaning “Thank You” (some infer it must mean “garbage”, as it’s written on most garbage cans), precisely, as there really isn’t such a concept in ancient Hawaiian thought (it has more a sense of “respect”). I won’t even get started on “Aloha”, as I intend to spend the rest of my life vigorously trying to deeply understand its meaning.

Your A.Word.A.Day today was written as “aa”, which hit a nerve. In ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, pronunciation is simple (and, as a dyslexic, it’s the only language I can actually spell in), and we have only thirteen letters. One of these letters is the okina (ʻ), a diacritical mark used to denote a glottal stop. A further punctuation is the kahako, which is a macron denoting a doubled vowel sound. Though the okina and kahako were not always used in written Hawaiian, meanings were understood through context. Spoken Hawaiian reflected the inclusion of both. In old Hawaiʻi, you would not like to make a slip of the tongue by omission of an okina or kahako, and instead of referring to the chief’s daughter as, say, “the morning star that glistens on the dew”, call her “a doughy-lipped sea cucumber”. This is aptly demonstrated with a much used word in our business names/bumper stickers/place names: ʻāina. With both the okina and kahako, it means “land”, or, “that which feeds”. It is a powerful word that connotes great respect. However, without the kahako, “ʻaina” means “food”, or a meal. Without the okina, “aina” means se.xual intercourse. We have all too many names here that suffer from omission, such as the “Aloha Aina Farm”. I wonder just what they do on the “Se.x-Loving Farm”.

But back to “aa”. There is no Hawaiian word “aa”. Most people assume that the lava type, other than pahoehoe, is aʻa, but aʻa actually means “small root, vein, artery.../womb, offspring”. As a verb it means “to send greetings ... joyous hospitality”. Throw in another okina, and ʻaʻa has multiple meanings: as a verb, “to brave, dare, challenge, defy ... to act wickedly or presumptuously”, to “belt, girdle, waist; to gird, tie on”, and as a noun a “bag, pocket, caul, envelope for a foetus, scrip ... fiber from coconut husk ... skin covering eyeballs”, or the same as ʻā, a bo.oby bird. Time for a kahako: ʻaʻā means to “burn, blaze, glow; fire ...”. Now we’re getting somewhere. ʻaʻā is the lava type (“lava” can also be luaʻi pele, ʻōahi, or ʻalā)! And if you capitalize it, it is the star Sirius. Don’t forget, it’s also the young stage of the damselfish. Staying on this roll, let’s raise it one kahako, and ʻāʻā means “dumbness, inability to speak intelligibly” (like when I try to remember too many words from A.Word.A.Day) ... to stutter and stammer”, a “dwarf” or “a short-legged dog”.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is a beautiful, poetic language that has not only given me expression in the mele (songs) I write, but a very different and soul-satisfying way to look at the world.

Me ke aloha pumehana,*

Peter Wing, Maui, Hawaii
*This does not mean “a doughy-lipped sea cucumber”

Thanks for the exposition. We’ve fixed the spelling of the Hawaiian word in the etymology section on the website now. Note that in English the word goes as ‘aa’. When English feasts on the smorgasbord of languages, it has difficulty digesting diacritics (for example, the original Swedish word is smörg^aring;sbord).
-Anu Garg

From: Yan Christensen (Briar9 btinternet.com)
Subject: aa

Until mid-20th century aa was a single letter in Danish; now written as å, it has become the last letter of the alphabet. It is a single letter word meaning small river.

Yan Christensen, Berkhamsted, UK

From: Paula John (johnpaulag verizon.net)
Subject: Nu

Back in the days before Windows, when a prompt was required to enter the operating system, mine was the only Yiddish-speaking PC in our office. When I booted up and it was ready for me to use, my screen read “Nu?”

Paula John, Sarasota, Florida

From: Moriah Hart (moriahart hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--nu

It has the same/similar meaning in Russian. Nu, Da = well, yes.

Moriah hart, Santa Rosa, California

From: Ellen Peel (epeel sfsu.edu)
Subject: Nu

A palindrome involving “nu”:

Unremarkable was I, ere I saw Elba Kramer, nu?

More amusing but less meaningful than the one about Napoleon on which it’s based:

Able was I, ere I saw Elba.

Ellen Peel, San Francisco, California

From: Sam Long (gunputty comcast.net)
Subject: nu

And, of course, there’s the story of the absent-minded physicist, who, when asked by a colleague, “What’s new?”, replied “C over lambda.” You see, for waves of electromagnetic radiation like light (or even for sound waves), the wavelength, whose symbol is the Greek letter nu, equals the speed of the wave, whose symbol is c, over its wavelength, whose symbol is the Greek letter lambda. (He could equally have said “E/h”, where E is the energy of the wave divided by Planck’s constant h.) So much for physics-geek humor.

Sam Long, Springfield, Illinois

From: Saba Ira (sabaira4 gmail.com)
Subject: nu

The meaning of “nu” depends on the number of repetitions:

“nu” = “Well”, “So”, What’s up”
“nu nu” =”Get on with it already”
“nu nu nu” = “Shame on you!”
“nu nu, nu nu”=” You did real bad, kid”

Saba Ira, Rehovot, Israel

Email of the Week (Brought to you by ONEUPMANSHIP -- All of life’s valuable lessons in a big, black box.)

From: Sophie Hamilton (via online comments)
Subject: id

My psychology professor was born in Belgium, educated in academic English but not idiomatic American English. After immigrating to the US she was baffled and then amused by the sign on the convenience store register, “BE PREPARED TO SHOW YOUR ID.”

Sophie Hamilton, St. Petersburg, Florida

From: Marc Segan (marc segan.com)
Subject: Duoliterals

There’s a brilliant song by the songwriter John Forster called “If it be so” (3.5 min.) -- consisting entirely of duoliterals. It’s clever and rousing.

Marc Segan, New York, New York

From: Martin Sindelar (msindelar ets.org)
Subject: One-letter Words!

It would be interesting to survey Wordsmith readers about one-letter words (real words) in their respective mother tongues. Czech for instance, has more than a week’s worth of those, e.g., A = and, I = also, K = towards, V = in, U = by, S = with, O = about, Z = from.

Martin Sindelar, Princeton, New Jersey

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Limericks

On learning she’d cooked with her chard
ancient os that she’d found in her yard
(we normally see ‘em
inside a museum)
archaeologists treated her hard.

-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Mauna Loa may start to spew aa
Please don’t as Pompeiians say “haha”
This isn’t a joke
Put you and your folk

In the car and go drive away fa-a.

-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Bacchus had drunk so much booze
That he mixed up the deltas and mus
The alphas and betas
The gammas and thetas
And that is the end of the nus.

-Bob Thompson, New Plymouth, New Zealand (bobtee xtra.co.nz)

When Sigmund was just a small kid,
He thought up the concept of id,
When his mother would blame,
He would offer this claim,
“It’s not me. It’s what my id did.”

-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

When speaking Olde English, you see,
Always refer to you, ye.
It will drive people mad,
If you want to be bad,
Just throw in some thous and a thee.

-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Ye wizard of id had to pause.
This shrink was startled because
He had tripped on aa,
Broke a bone, cried “Aha!
Nu, I must see a wizard of os!”

-Steve Kirkpatrick, DDS, Olympia, Washington (stevekirkp comcast.net)

Joe’s oval-shaped os uttered “Mama”,
When he stubbed his toe on the aa.
His wife answered, “Nu,
Ye took off ye shoe
‘Cuz yer id told ya to, I say Ha-ha!”

-Laurence McGilvery, La Jolla, California (laurence mcgilvery.com)

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries. -Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (1596-1650)

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