Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Nov 25, 2018
This week’s theme
Words from music

This week’s words
concert pitch

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
Bookmark and Share Facebook Twitter Digg MySpace Bookmark and Share

AWADmail Issue 856

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

Sponsor’s Message: Are you looking for the perfect (blue)stocking stuffer? The Official Old’s Cool Education is excellentay for cramming all the illiterates and GED goons in your life’s stockings full of gee whiz, Shakespeare, poetry, soap-making, sports, anecdotes and quotes, Price’s Law, and diamonds and pearls of wisdom, with some spice and attic salt and comedic and Homeric asides sprinkled throughout. We’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Paul Castaldi (see below), as well as all discerning and literate AWADers a Buy two, get Three Special through midnight Monday. Gift (and hurry) up!

The Gift of Words

This holiday season, why not make a gift of words? Here are a few suggestions:

“A delightful, quirky collection.”
-The New York Times

A Word A Day: A Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English Another Word A Day: An All-new Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English
Find them in a bookstore in your country

“The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass email in cyberspace.”
-The New York Times

A.Word.A.Day | A.Word.A.Day Premium

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

Turning To AI To Save Endangered Languages

The Incredible Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
The Week

From: David Rogers (davidrogersbooks gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fiddlestick

As is explained in The Revival of Banned Dances: A Worldwide Study (p. 166), dancing and the instruments used to make dance music, including violins, have been banned by conservative forces in various cultures throughout history. Thus fiddlesticks would take on connotations of subversion, a prime characteristic for becoming a more-than-four-letter word.

David Rogers, Cave City, Kentucky

From: Karlyn DeSteno (karlyn.desteno gmail.com)
Subject: fiddlestick

Folks involved with traditional music of the US will know "fiddlesticks" has another meaning: a fiddle played simultaneously with a bow and two percussive sticks (by a second person), like so (video, 2 min.).

Karlyn DeSteno, San Francisco, California

Email of the Week brought to you by The Official Old's Cool Education -- Bone Up Now >

From: Paul L Castaldi (paulcast55 verizon.net)
Subject: Fiddlesticks!

I predict a surge of responses from fiddlers and violinists alike (I'm not one) that point out that, in these times, a well-made fiddlestick is hardly insignificant, or of "little value".

In 2015, a silver and ebony-mounted violin bow made by Francois Xavier Tourte was sold for a world-record auction price of US $288,960.

"Fiddlesticks", indeed!

Paul Castaldi, Havertown, Pennsylvania

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Fiddlesticks

The English pejorative fiddle for the violin occurs in many notable expressions, such as the one about Nero who fiddled while Rome burned (he didn't actually play the violin), or in Sholem Aleichem's (actually Solomon Naumovich Rabinovitch) play Tevye the Dairyman, where Tevye says "Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof." The famous violinist Itzhak Perlman actually often refers to himself as just a fiddler.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Don A Ehrlich (violadon mcn.org)
Subject: Fiddle

Someone recently asked me, since I am a professional viola player, if a fiddle is a different instrument from a violin; he thought a fiddle would be smaller. The answer I gave is that to us a fiddle is just a vernacular word for violin, or also in my case a viola. I have a friend who also uses the word gourd as a violin, thinking of people of prehistory who would put strings on a gourd to make an instrument.

Don A Ehrlich, California

From: Chip Taylor (via website comments)
Subject: fiddle

Reminds me of a humorous poem from my childhood (I have no idea of the author’s name):

A young theologian named Fiddle
Refused to accept his degree.
He said “It's bad enough being Fiddle
Without being Fiddle D.D.”

Chip Taylor

From: James D. Ertner (jde31459 gmail.com)
Subject: Fiddlesticks

Did you hear about the hotel of dubious character that is marketed towards the string section of orchestras? It’s called the Vile Inn ... and it’s for those who want to fiddle around.

Jim Ertner, Greensboro, North Carolina

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Upbeat

Upbeat occurs when the conductor raises his baton to draw the attention of musicians and audience alike that the fun (however lugubrious) is about to begin. At the following downbeat the orchestra commences to play, provided the conductor survives. Seventeenth-century French (originally Italian) composer/conductor Jean-Baptiste Lully gave such a strong downbeat with his staff that it pierced his foot and eventually he died of gangrene. (ref.)

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Robert Burns (piper robertburns.biz)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--upbeat

As a professional musician, I find the musical definition inadequate. Yes, it means an offbeat rather than the downbeat. But, it also means up tempo. (ref.)

Dictionaries claiming that there is only one downbeat in a measure are inept. Most of the Celtic music I play has 2, 3, or 4 downbeats per measure.

Robert Burns, Bagpiper, Ocean Beach, California

From: Lucas Brown (lucascbrown gmail.com)
Subject: Re: upbeat

I guess you really do learn something new every day. As a professional musician and music professor I have never heard that called an upbeat. Your example is typically referred to as a pickup. Upbeat, if used at all, would typically describe the weak off-beat that comes after a downbeat, like the second eighth-note in a measure of 4/4.

Lucas Brown, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Dave Horsfall (dave horsfall.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orchestrate

I am reminded of the Benny Hill skit:

“I just had my cat set to music!”
“Set to music?”
“Yes, orchestrated!”

Dave Horsfall, North Gosford, Australia

From: Ana Ross (via website comments)
Subject: concert pitch

There was a study done five years ago that showed that people who have a tonal language like Mandarin or Vietnamese as their first language are much more likely to develop perfect pitch than students who have an atonal language. As much as 60 percent of native Mandarin speakers who start studying music at a young age develop perfect pitch. An interesting thing the author did while researching this was to record Mandarin speakers saying certain words, then rerecording those same speakers saying the same words a year later. When she played them back, the words were spoken at the exact pitch they were spoken the previous year.

Ana Ross, Honolulu, Hawaii

From: Christine Whittlesey (christine.whittlesey aon.at)
Subject: Concert pitch

Concert pitch varied from city to city in Europe, where the phenomenon originated. Each orchestra and ensemble had its own. Some had 440 Hertz, some had higher, and some a lot lower. And it changed from era to era. There was no central determination place, as there also wasn’t for exactly what time it was. (Making train schedules for cross-country trains in the US, for example, must have been hellish.) Many orchestras these days play at 443 Hz, which makes the wind instruments sound more brilliant, but puts a strain on the string instruments -- and on singers. There is a good deal of literature on this topic.

Christine Whittlesey, Gleisdorf, Austria

From: Terry Stone (cgs7952 bellsouth.net)
Subject: Concert Pitch

A variation on concert pitch may be found in an expression that, by my experience, is peculiar to the sparsely-populated regions of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve occasionally heard pitch used to mean “volume”, as in amplitude of sound. For example, out here we say that music amplified painfully and unnecessarily within in a small space (like one of our tiny rural bars) is being played at concert-hall pitch. It is not intended as a compliment.

Terry Stone, Goldendale, Washington

From: Duane Small (dsmall twcny.rr.com)
Subject: concert pitch

Interesting that your definition of concert pitch doesn’t mention the use that I and other classically trained musicians of my acquaintance most commonly make of the term. Many of us play transposing instruments, for which the same written pitch has different sounds. For example, a C played on a French horn gives a pitch that on an oboe (a non-transposing instrument) would be an F, and there are B-flat and A clarinets for which a C would be a B-flat or an A on an oboe. When we compare parts, for example to determine whether a note on one of the parts has been misprinted, we have to specify whether we’re talking about the note as written or “concert pitch”, the note as it would be written for a non-transposing instrument. Of course, we all have to have a common pitch reference for this to work, but I can’t remember hearing anyone use the term to refer to the standard itself.

Duane Small, Syracuse, New York

From: Barbara Schutz (bfsheeps gmail.com)
Subject: trombenik

I believe this word is misspelled. It should be: TRUMPbenik.

Barbara Schutz, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

From: Alice Moshan Kintisch (amkintisch verizon.net)
Subject: trombenik

My dear brother who was, shall we say, a bit wild as a teen, was called a trombenik by some, but he fooled us all and grew up to be a productive, responsible business person, thoughtful father and husband, and all-around-good guy. So some trombeniks do change their stripes...

Alice Moshan Kintisch, Upper Nyack, New York

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: trombenik and fiddlestick

Just as the Roman emperor Nero was alleged to have played his fiddle while Rome went up in flames, here I’ve depicted our own Emeticus Trumpus Minimus riding aloft upon a cloud of bilious, noxious gas, merrily fiddling away, completely oblivious to the fact that our planet is in the throes of mounting global warming. Trump and his blinkered, sycophantic minions continue to deny or completely ignore the science behind explaining the continuing steep rise in the ambient temperature of our suffering planet, in addition to the predicted dire consequences of continuing to promote a carbon-based, fossil-fuel dependent energy agenda.

Fiddlesticks Trombenik
IMHO, Trump more than qualifies as a bona fide “trombenik”, who never passes up an opportunity to blow his own horn, extolling a litany of self-superlatives, high virtues, and astounding achievements. More than once, his response to reporters’ query... “Do you see yourself as a racist?”, is a self-righteous, emphatic retort... “I’m probably the least racist person you’ll ever meet.” He claims to have attained the rarified mental acuity of a “stable genius”. Hmm... I wouldn’t dare to speculate on how an “unstable” genius might be defined? In this scenario, I’ve pictured blowhard Trump literally tooting his own “horn of plenty”... of hyperbole and blatant falsehoods.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

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

1. fiddlestick
2. upbeat
3. orchestrate
4. concert pitch
5. trombenik
= 1. blatherskite; cock
2. chipper
3. to score; direct
4. find attent
5. bum
-Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

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

The violin he tried to play,
And so he would practice each day.
“Will this help to get chicks?”
Said his friend, “Fiddlesticks.
Better switch to guitar,” he’d say.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

That this week’s limerick words relate to music
Made me feel upbeat and enthusiastic.
To call a violin bow a fiddlestick
Is a misnomer that makes me sick!
To enjoy “The food of love!” -- The strings do the trick!
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

“Dear Father, forgive them their fiddlesticks,”
Said Jesus, up high on the crucifix.
“This round they have won,
But a movement’s begun;
Hey, that’s life in the fast lane in politics.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Our country, each by-way and street,
brims with cause to be grateful, upbeat,
for, notwithstanding the dissenters,
we are all “One Percenters”
in a world where kids struggle to eat.
-Duncan C. Turner, Seattle, Washington (dturner badgleymullins.com)

Our president is full of deceit,
Not to mention conceit, he’s effete.
Discreet? I’d say naught.
Overeats? He thinks not,
But he’s upbeat re Stormy’s cute teat.
-Joe Budd Stevens, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (joebuddstevens gmail.com)

The game of bridge can be a treat.
Get a grand slam? That’s really a feat!
But give me a chance,
Or only a glance,
A One-No Trump bid would make me upbeat.
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

“They tell me, ‘Be humble and upbeat,’
But who wants to read such a dumb tweet?”
Says Donald, “My style
Has turned back the dial
To Spanky, Alfalfa, and Buckwheat.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

I believe you can orchestrate
A decent amount of your fate.
I’m too selfish, you see,
To be that unhappy.
It’s my thirst for bliss that I sate.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

It fell to my lot, my happy fate,
To direct the event and to orchestrate
Every minute detail involving props and people,
From cellar to steeple --
It’s the truth -- I do not exaggerate.
-Del de Souza, Mumbai, India (deldesouza hotmail.com)

We have a new Congress, let’s celebrate
and hope they’ ll be able to orchestrate
remedies for our ills,
pass some sensible bills
and from trumpness America liberate!
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

“A burglary down at the Watergate,”
Said Nixon, “I never would orchestrate.
If making the tapes
Their attention escapes,
Through impeachment proceedings I’ll roller skate.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The Godliness summit is at concert pitch.
The speaker on “Marriage-the Lifetime Hitch”,
distrait, shuffling his notes
errs; from a stag-night speech quotes
re: the Joys of Seven-Year Itch.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

Caterpillar observes, “Got an itch,
seem to feel at extreme concert pitch.
Been dreaming of things
like developing wings,
and saying goodbye to this niche!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

“Though the protests have reached concert pitch,
Confirmation’s assured,” declared Mitch.
“My cronies are bored
By Christine Blasey Ford;
For a beer, we and Bret have an itch.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

A trombenik we elected!
Just recently Trump reflected,
“I’m grateful for me;
I’m great as can be.”
Thanksgiving the man’s perfected.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Donald Trump, oh-so-crafty and slick,
Is much worse than was once Tricky Dick.
When addressing the Press,
They’re all under duress,
He’s a boastful and brash trombenik.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

When he boasts of his super brainpower,
The trombenik looks rather dour.
A gathering storm
Is now quite the norm
As his entourage shrinks by the hour.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

If you’re one of the world’s leading trombeniks,
It’s time that you went into politics.
As you bring back coal mining
Your star could be shining,
Until there’s a climate apocalypse.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Maybe you’ll find a few of these amusic

Putting clocks inside them to make fiddlestick is a viol hobby.

In a recent taste-test, 7upbeat Sprite.

When a whale becomes disoriented it’s our duty to set that orchestrate.

Watching the prisoner toss breath mints, the warden said, “Look at that concert pitch!”

The bridge player showed his hand and said, “I claim. If you lead another heart I’m trombenik.”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

We haven’t yet learned how to stay human when assembled in masses. -Lewis Thomas, physician and author (25 Nov 1913-1993)

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

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith