Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Jul 15, 2018
This week’s theme
Words relating to fruit

This week’s words
fig leaf
top banana

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
There’s a word for it

Like what you see here?
Send a gift subscription

Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share

AWADmail Issue 837

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

Sponsor’s Message: Summer is a verb, in our world-view: sailing, fishing, hiking, motorbiking, camping, Nantucketing, suntanning, and screaming for ice cream. In that ludic spirit, we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Ana Ross (see below), as well as all surfers, sun-worshipers, backpackers, and beach bums everywhere FREE SARDINES -- the best-selling travel version of our wicked/smart word game One Up! -- with any purchase of $26 or more, today only. FUN UP! YOUR SUMMER NOW.

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

Inside J.R.R. Tolkien’s Notebooks, a Glimpse of the Master Philologist at Work
The New York Times

Members of Parliament in India Speak in 22 Languages
The Times of India

How Many Words Do You Need to Speak a Language?

Britain, Time to Let Go of the “Anglosphere”
The New York Times

From: Cheryl M. English (cenglish blackcatpottery.com)
Subject: Tomato: fruit or veggie?

Fruits are seed-bearing structures; so, anything with seeds in it is a fruit. Vegetables are every other part of the plant, from the roots (think onions) and stems (celery) to the leaves (spinach) and flowers (cauliflower). So, technically, tomatoes are fruits and rhubarb is a vegetable.

Cheryl M. English, Detroit, Michigan

Here’s the scientific test: Anything that goes on top of a pizza is classified as a vegetable. Now, don’t tell me you put pineapple on your pizza ...
-Anu Garg

From: Rick Young (rick1502young gmail.com)
Subject: Re: Veggie or Fruit

You wrote: “Finally, the US Supreme Court has decreed that it’s a veggie. Is everything clear now?”

This reminds me of the Reagan administration directive allowing ketchup and other condiments to count as a vegetable. Could it be any clearer?

Rick Young, Austin, Minnesota

From: Howard Olivier (howard.olivier gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--apple-polish

You were at your rident best in the lighthearted micro-essay at the beginning of today’s offering. Thank you for the refreshing breeze of astonished and exhilarated following along as you ran through the woods like a carefree child on a summer’s day.

I appreciate you,

Howard Olivier, Boise, Idaho

From: Susan Heron (pashtsmom gmail.com)
Subject: fruit

A bygone name for a tomato was love apple.

Susan Heron, Tampa, Florida

From: Sally Stretch (sestretch mweb.co.za)
Subject: Tomatoes

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. -Miles Kington, journalist, musician, and humorist (1941-2008)

Sally Stretch, Durban, South Africa

From: Alexandra Kriz (marchhare pobox.com)
Subject: tomato

Recently, a friend of mine shared a handy Dungeons & Dragons-related reference guide to remembering and understanding a character’s statistics in terms of tomatoes:

Strength: you can crush a tomato in your hand
Dexterity: you can juggle a tomato
Constitution: you can survive eating a bad tomato
Intelligence: you know that a tomato is actually a fruit
Wisdom: you know not to put tomato in a fruit salad
Charisma: you can sell someone a fruit salad with tomato in it

Alexandra Kriz, Minneapolis, Minnesota

From: Nora Francis (narf shaw.ca)
Subject: Vegetables

Further to your focus on fruits and vegetables:

My 13-year-old granddaughter doesn’t like green vegetables. I phoned her.

Me: Everyone knows that yellow and blue make green, right?
She: Right!
Me: So if you eat blueberries and cantaloupe, you don’t have to eat green vegetables.

Emma liked that. Her mother (my daughter) did not.

Nora Francis, Vancouver, Canada

From: Paul Varotsis (paul varotsis.plus.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--apple-polish

You wrote: It’s the same language (Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs) that gave us chocolate (chocolatl) and avocado (ahuacatl, literally testicle).

We Greeks seem to be more modest than the Aztecs and named orchids for the shape of their roots after testicles. I always enjoy reminding elegant ladies who love these flowers.

Paul Varotsis, London, UK

From: Andrew DeBartolo (adcap2 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fig leaf

Trump would need the whole fig tree.

Andrew DeBartolo, Burlingame, California

Email of the Week -- Brought to you by One Up! -- Fun Up! your summer today.

From: Ana Ross (via website comments)
Subject: fig leaf

The epitome of a fig leaf was the 1973 treaty signed with Vietnam to allow Kissinger to pretend he’d gotten something more than the the treaty Diem rejected in ‘69 on Nixon’s promise that he’d get a better deal when Nixon became President despite the two treaties being virtually identical. This fig leaf cost a million Vietnamese and twenty thousand US soldiers their lives and got Kissinger the Nobel prize, which his Vietnamese counterpart refused on the grounds that a peace prize was inappropriate when there was still no peace.

It has recently come to light that Kissinger and Nixon signed the treaty knowing the North wouldn’t abide by its terms, leaving Nixon an excuse to attack Vietnam after the election which, doubtless, he would have but for Watergate.

Ana Ross, Honolulu, Hawaii

From: Patrick Lashbrook (pLashbrook msn.com)
Subject: fig leaf

I’ve always found it odd that those two initial humans made clothing from fig leaves. Anyone who has experience with fig trees knows that the milky sap from the leaves can quite easily irritate the skin. I can only assume that the King James translator, while possibly having eaten the fig fruits, had no experience with the tree itself.

Patrick Lashbrook, Johnson City, Tennessee

From: Sam Long (gunputty comcast.net)
Subject: fig leaf

Here is a fun fact from Wikipedia s.v. Geneva Bible:

One interesting variation of the Geneva Bible is the so-called “Breeches Bible”, the first of which appeared in 1579. In the Breeches Bible, Genesis Chapter III Verse 7 reads: “Then the eies of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.” In the King James Version of 1611, “breeches” was changed to “aprons”.

The Geneva Bible was the predecessor of the Authorized or King James Version.

Sam Long, Springfield, Illinois

From: Russell Marsh (rhmarsh ucdavis.edu)
Subject: fig leaf

I have a Mission fig tree on my property. The first time I harvested the figs, I discovered I was quite allergic to the leaves and the sap. Horrible rash. I now have to cover myself completely and wear gloves to get to the delicious fruit. I can’t imagine wearing these leaves as a covering for my nether region!

Russell Marsh, Sacramento, California

From: Duncan Hawthorne (hawthorneduncan gmail.com)
Subject: Grapevine

This word immediately makes those of us of a certain age start humming the Marvin Gaye classic: “I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer would you be mine” a beautiful song of jealousy and impending loss written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, after the latter kept hearing the expression while walking along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

The phrase is associated with black slaves during the Civil War, who used “the grape-vine telegraph” to keep up to date with news about the abolition movement, Lincoln’s presidency campaign, and the Civil War. Allan Metcalf and David K. Barnhart cite an earlier use of the expression than you have in their book America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America, where they state that it was used in “a printed report in 1852”.

Take a listen here.

Duncan Hawthorne, Barcelona, Spain

From: William Pease (wpease sdsu.edu)
Subject: Grapevine

To long-time Californians “the Grapevine” is the steep grade driving up from Los Angeles County north to the Tejon Pass. Before I-5 went through it was an arduous venture with emergency water stations along the way. Nowadays it is not so challenging. As a child I thought the name came from the curvy old highway. It is actually named after Grapevine Canyon, an area of wild grapes.

William J. Pease, San Diego, California

From: Steve Kahn (jgguy earthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--grapevine

The glass insulators used for the telegraph wires in its early days were clear glass with some lumps on them where the wires ran through. After being exposed to the suns rays for a period of time the glass started to turn purple-ish and looked like a bunch of grapes on the vine -- hence “grapevine”.

Steve Kahn, Banning, California

From: Raymond Muschialli (rtm optusnet.com.au)
Subject: grapevine

The Grapevine is also a sequence of steps used in tap, jazz, ballroom, and general dance. It is a variation of a pas de bouree behind, in front, etc. Or under-over-under, or over-under-under sequence, over-over-under, and under-under-over and other variations.

Raymond Muschialli, Ormond, Australia

From: Diana Bouchard (dianab aei.ca)
Subject: Grapevine

Another origin I have heard for this word is that, in times past, many houses had grapevines over their back fences. News would pass from one neighbor to another over the back fence, “through the grapevine”.

Diana Bouchard, Montreal, Canada

From: Carolyn C Martin (carokei msn.com)
Subject: top banana

I have a modest knowledge of the history of burlesque theater and therefore it was a surprise to me to see here that although the term “top banana” was well known in burlesque circles from at least the 1920s, the earliest documented use of the term, per AWAD, did not occur until 1953.

However, Phil Silvers’ Broadway show, Top Banana, opened on November 1,1951. Per Wikipedia, Brooks Atkinson’s review of the show appeared the next day in The New York Times and the day after that a review was published in Life Magazine. Both reviews included mention of the expression as having originated in burlesque, and in the Life review as specifically meaning the top comic. So at least 1951, not 1953.

Moreover, a little more time on Google resulted in the link that attests to “top banana” appearing first in the Fort Meyers News-Press on Jan 31, 1947 and then again in that same year in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Dec 28. Interestingly, the (nameless) fellow responsible for that site also expresses surprise that the term was not in print earlier. By 1947, “top (or “first”) banana”, “second banana”, even “third banana” had been designations familiar to anyone involved with burlesque for a good 20 years.

Carolyn C Martin, Litchfield, Connecticut

From: Paul G Ross (paul.g.ross.gszh statefarm.com)
Subject: top banana

I was thinking I had heard “second” banana far more than “top”. A little “ngramming” and sure enough, when I was growing up, “second” was on its way to its current near double usage of “top”.

The trials and tribulations of English as a living language never fail to amaze.

Paul Ross, Pembroke Pines, Florida

From: Denis Toll (denis.toll outlook.com)
Subject: top banana

The current top banana is the Cavendish, which accounts for 47% of the world’s production and nearly all of the export market. The worry is that because all of these banana plants are cloned, not grown from seed, they are genetically identical and the wrong mutation of a virus could wipe out every one of these plants in the world. So enjoy them while you still can.

I think something like this happened to European grapevines in the late 19th century.

Denis Toll, Aberdeen, UK

From: Susan Collins Hayes (susanhayes1011 gmail.com)
Subject: plummy

My favorite poem is very plummy...

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Susan Collins Hayes, Cohasset, Massachusetts

From: Richard Platt (rnplatt optimum.net)
Subject: plummy

We sometimes refer to a plummy-voiced person as having a stained glass voice.

Richard Platt, Milford, Connecticut

From: Denis Hart (denisbhart msn.com)
Subject: veggie

FYI, I fail to understand people’s (including your) use of the word “veggies” as a substitute for “vegetables”. They’re not cute; you don’t tickle them, trying to elicit a chuckle. They’re nutrient-dense plants (well, most of them are). Calling them “veggies” strikes me as an infantilization; they deserve better. I see no reason to use a word other than “vegetables”.

Denis Hart, Ann Arbor, Michigan

You’re right. We don’t tickle veggies. But we do use them to tickle. According to the USDA, it’s the best way to absorb nutrients from the nutrient-dense veggies. Also, while we are on this topic, it’s important to point out that the USDA has not yet approved their personification.
-Anu Garg

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: tomato and apple-polish

“The subject is roses... oops!... I meant... “tomatoes”. Following up on Anu Garg’s intro to this week’s fruit-related words, I’ve envisioned a farmer’s drawling pronunciation of the word “tomato”, with a stodgy Brit’s version, that might be viewed by some as a tad prissy or highfalutin in tone. Those familiar with the George and Ira Gershwin circa 1937 song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, performed by the famed song-and-dance duo of Astaire and Rogers in the film, “Shall We Dance?”, will recognize the echoing of their back-and-forth banter in my illustrated scenario.

tomato apple-polish
As vociferously as VP Mike Pence, Sycophant-in-Waiting, attempts to ingratiate himself to boss Trump, no amount of apple-polishing can satiate The Donald’s need for constant ego-stroking and demonstrations of complete loyalty from his administration’s minions.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. apple-polish
2. fig leaf
3. grapevine
4. top banana
5. plummy
= 1. uplift
2. a flap over my “appeal”
3. phone
4. big man
5. pleasing
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)
1. apple-polish
2. fig leaf
3. grapevine
4. top banana
5. plummy
= 1. stoop
2. flapping veil
3. gab
4. alpha male (funny ape)
5. prime
-Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

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

Wise teacher, aware of his ploy,
just smiles, and confides to the boy,
“I, too, apple-polished
when young.” He’s astonished,
embarrassed, ashamed -- and annoyed.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

To win when you must apple-polish,
Pick those who have brains rather smallish.
Use compliments too,
But don’t overdo.
And it helps if you’re dressed up très dollish.
-Anna C Johnston, Coarsegold, California (ajohnston13 gmail.com)

When your career isn’t going anywhere
and promotions are increasingly rare,
a little apple-polish
could well accomplish
a leapfrog to the room upstairs.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Wakefield, Massachusetts (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Let’s apple-polish Putin, says the Boss,
Whose insults promulgate the loss
Of long-time allies.
He severs ties,
And happily nails friends to a cross.
-Judy Distler, Teaneck, New Jersey (jam1026 aol.com)

When it’s praise that I want, I’m not snobbish,”
Smiled Trump, “And as Veep, you astonish.”
“I practiced on Jesus,”
Pence answered, “He frees us
From sin, but we must apple-polish.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

“Here’s an apple”, said Eve. “Take a bite.
Dear Adam, the taste will delight.”
But alas, God had eyes
The pair left Paradise
In fig leaves, and neither fit right.
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

There were just two people in Eden.
Was a fig leaf necessary then?
The apple was the sin.
Neither thought to begin
Distinguishing the women from men.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

A coarse and dastardly vandal
Completely surrounded by scandal,
He whined and he sniveled
‘Cause his fig leaf had shriveled.
The truth was too hard to handle.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

Said Adam to Eve, “I feel naked!”
“Parts of our bodies should be sacred.
I will use a fig leaf
To make a G-string or brief,
Because my sensibilities are waked!
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

The first couple, or so goes belief,
lost their innocence, hence the fig leaf.
But might not Eve and Adam
prefer, if they had ‘em,
blossoms painted by Georgia O’Keeffe?
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

After eating the apple, “Good grief!”
Said the couple, “We need a fig leaf!”
Though still scantily clad,
They felt chic and quite glad
At the latest new fashion motif.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (janicepower25 gmail.com)

“No, my flowers don’t need a fig leaf,”
To her critics said Georgia O’Keeffe.
“Yes, it’s clear as a crystal;
A stamen and pistil
Are sexy. It’s natural. Good grief!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

I love the sound of the word grapevine.
It’s smooth and it’s fresh like a pink wine,
Makes a limerick majestic,
Precisely poetic,
But now I can’t think of a last line.
-Joe Budd Stevens, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

I’ve heard through the Weight Watchers grapevine
That ice cream is bad for your waistline.
So instead, I drink beer
Till the Tigers get here
And say, “Look! He’s a future Al Kaline!”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Who’s the guy that lies each day?
Who’s mean to children, hates emigrés?
Who’s not so wise?
It’s no surprise:
It’s the top banana of the USA.
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

Some patiently wait for mañana
When he will not be top banana,
But sadly that day
Seems quite far away,
So he stays in the white cabana.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

With Fulgencio gone from Havana,
and Fidel as the new top banana,
there was hope, there was joy.
People thought -- if not hoy
things are bound to be better Manana.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

“It’s grand that I’ll be top banana!”
Said Charles one day to Diana.
“I smell a scintilla
Of Eau de Camilla,”
She answered, “down by the cabana.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Some think that Trump is a dummy,
Whose comments often are scummy.
We can’t understand
How this lout could land
His job prestigious and plummy.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Donald Trump thinks he’s chummy and plummy,
Wears his neckties a foot ‘neath his tummy.
We are sick of the sass
From this ass who’s so crass.
He’s not only a dummy, he’s scummy.
-Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma (pgraham1946 cox.net)

The young English girl, she was so plummy,
With her suitors who thought she was yummy.
When she walked down the street,
Men collapsed at her feet,
Until she was called home by her mummy.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

“Though I scream at our allies, ‘You’re scummy!’”
Said Donald, “We’re really quite chummy.
I tell Angie what fun
We had beating the Hun
And Theresa her knockers are plummy.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

While some week’s words are quite pallid,
This week’s inspire a ballad.
Apples, grapes, figs, plummy,
Bananas are yummy,
In tasty bowl of fruit salad.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Anu fructus humorists this week

A new apple polish ship with the next iPhone upgrade.

Using the computer command ipconfig leafs many people frustrated.

“I’m out of peach jam. Is grapevine with you?”

Count Vronsky felt that you can’t top an Anna.

When the carpenter got the wall plummy broke for lunch.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: Denis Smith (ddjsmith6 gmail.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day

Last week, I wrote an article about AWAD and Wordsmith that I thought you might enjoy. Please keep up the wonderful work that keeps minds rejuvenated!

Denis Smith, Columbus, Ohio

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. -Iris Murdoch, writer (15 Jul 1919-1999)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith