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AWADmail Issue 76

April 15, 2002

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Missing etymologies

Many of you have suggested missing origins of terms featured during the past week. Unfortunately, tracking down colloquial phrases is exceedingly difficult, and lexicographers often have difficulty in deciding which of several possibilities is correct. See "chewing the fat" further down.

From: Dr. Sheldon Hendler (shendlerATsan.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--red herring

Another meaning of red herring that I hadn't heard of until I entered the Wall Street world, refers to the preliminary IPO (initial public offering) registration statement. That's quite ironic considering all that we are learning about Wall Street. The Red Herring is the preliminary registration statement describing the issue and prospectus of the company that must be filed with the SEC (Security Exchange Commission). The Red Herring is sometimes updated several times before it becomes the final prospectus. The reason that it is called the Red Herring is because it contains a statement in red and sort of in the shape of a herring that the company is not attempting to sell its shares before the registration is approved by the SEC. I wonder if Enron took that seriously.

Sheldon S. Hendler, Ph.D., M.D.
Clinical Professor, University of California; Chairman, Vyrex Corporation

From: Sean W. Tobin (swtobinATlehman.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--red herring

I work in the financial markets (institutional bond trading) and send out market commentary daily, attaching a trivia question to the end of each to keep things interesting. Used the "red herring" definition as my trivia question today. Thought it amusing that my industry thinks it merely means "preliminary prospectus" when the real derivation is "something used to mislead".

From: Philip Purser (annphil.purserATbtinternet.com)
Subject: Re: red herrings

The critic Kenneth Tynan (1927-80), when reviewing a feeble murder play, noted that at one point a leading suspect was identified as being colour-blind. No further mention was made of this, however, and Tynan ruled that it should be regarded as a green herring.

From: Maria Victoria Go (maria_victoria.goATroche.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--banana republic

Care for a "cross-cultural, cross-lingual or bilingual pun? Here goes an English/Filipino one:

"The trouble with banana republics is that they're always "sagging"! ('saguing' pronounced 'sag-ging' is the Tagalog/Filipino word for banana).

From: Andrew Knight (a.knightATic.ac.uk)
Subject: Banana Republic

Your definition of Banana Republic was missing one important element essential to the meaning on this side of the Atlantic at least. The definition in my Collins dictionary (my caps) is:

A small country, esp. in Central America, that is politically unstable AND HAS ITS ECONOMY DOMINATED BY FOREIGN INTEREST, usually dependent on one export, such as bananas.

If we are talking about Central America, there is not much doubt about where the foreign interest comes from! At a time when the United States is wondering why so much of the rest of the world hates it, the great defender of freedom would do well to re-examine how much freedom its policies have brought to the rest of the world, particularly its near neighbours. Unbowdlerising its definitions of relevant vocabulary would make a good start.

From: Rick Okie (okierickATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--flavor of the month

It's my understanding that this term originated at Baskin-Robbins "31 Flavors" Ice Cream Parlors on the West Coast, where each month a different ice cream flavor would be featured. The plan became a showcase for gimmicky new efforts like "Baseball Nut" and "Bubble Gum," some of which (like Cookies'n'Cream) stuck around and became staples. But if they had 31 Flavors, why didn't they go with "Flavor of the Day" on a monthly rotating basis? Hmmmm.

From: Annelies Allain (anneliesATtm.net.my)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--flavor of the month

Here is a more current usage of the expression :"Flavor of the month" Flavor of the month is used by hospitals who receive so many free donations of infant formula that they have to make some order in the unordered deliveries. By decreeing "flavor of the month" they only allow one company a month to "give" free supplies and then tell new mothers that's the brand to feed her baby. Of course there should be no donation of supplies at all, says WHO, because such samples undermine breastfeeding by far superior to any "flavor".

From: David Steiner (david.steinerATcolorado.edu)
Subject: Shooting the rat (Re: chew the fat)

Many years ago when I was in undergraduate school I worked as a waiter at the Aspen Lodge near Estes Park, Colorado. The owner and chef was Joe Droesser, who spoke with a heavy German accent. For the first few days the other waiters and I were mystified by Joe yelling at us, "Stop shooting the rat!" There were mice, but no rats, and we certainly wouldn't shoot them. We finally figured out that what he was saying was "Stop chewing the rag!" He liked discipline in his kitchen.

David E. Steiner, Ph.D., Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.)

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Chewing the fat about chewing the fat

Here are a few theories about the origin of Chew the Fat. The one that seems most promising suggests it's a rhyming slang.

On a tour of the duplicated Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Victoria, British Columbia, the guide said that Elizabethan farmers kept a haunch of smoked pork hanging by their kitchen hearths. On rainy or snowy winter days when no fieldwork could be done, the family and visitors would sit around the hearth talking, and slice off slivers of pork to "chew the fat".
-John Hoskins (cbtr63ATaol.com)

Great to have a truly British colloquialism today. Your definition alludes to the origin of chew the fat from chat. The two simply rhyme! This bizarre use of English, probably done to confuse tourists and people from "the provinces", originates in inner-city London, where the Cockneys are quite prolific wordsmiths.
-Rob Tanner (rob.tannerATwarwick.ac.uk)

My mother, who gave birth to me in the far Canadian North, suggested that the etymology of this phrase was to do with the preparation of caribou hide. Native women used to chew the scraped and smoked hides to increase the flexibility of the garments made therefrom. Since it would take hours to soften an entire hide, this became a social pastime involving several women in their "spare" moments.
-Hugh Baker (drhughATidirect.com)

If I'm not mistaken, it comes from Native American history, where the elders would chew the gristly parts of an animal to glean all the pieces of fat.
-Brian Smith (brasmith2471AThotmail.com)

It is my recollection that "chew the fat" is supposed to come from the Eskimo custom of chewing whale blubber (fat) much as Americans chew gum, and of course carrying on idle conversation while doing so.
-Dean Kennedy DnbvkennedyATcs.com

In Ireland we call an informal chat 'chewing the cud' thus mimicking the actions of our large population of bovine and ovine herbivores who spend their days reprocessing harvested grass in a most relaxed manner. -Kevin McLoughlin (kevinmATonline.ru) Your definition of 'chewing the fat' is missing the essential ingredient (at least in England) that the exercise is pointless and a waste of time since fat doesn't need chewing! -R. Fordham (fordhamATjrc.nl)

Homicide and verbicide -- that is, violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning, which is its life -- are alike forbidden. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet, novelist, essayist, and physician (1809-1894)

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