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AWADmail Issue 88

May 24, 2003

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: AWADmail, Wordsmith Chat are back

AWADmail is back after a hiatus. So is Wordsmith Chat. Our thirteenth online chat guest is Jesse Sheidlower, Principal North American Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, at the Oxford University Press. We'll be talking with him about 75 years of the OED.

Come ask questions and share your opinions. Join us on May 26, 2003 at 5 PM Pacific (GMT -7).

From: Jason Norwood-Young (jasonyATzanet.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zombie

As a South African, I'd like to commend you for your excellent choice for this week's AWAD.

I'd also like to point out that there's a new definition of zombie, which refers to a trojan or worm application on a host machine that sits quietly while connected to the Internet (usually through an IRC server). When the zombie master sends a command to the IRC server, all the trojans (or zombies) perform a certain action, like pinging a target server. This results in a denial of service attack.

Hamba kahle! (Zulu for Go Well - you would typically reply "Sala kahle" (stay well))

From: Markham Robinson (markATmasterplanner.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zombie

In the world of venture capital, a zombie is an investment that breaks even, but makes no profit, and hence has little prospect of yielding a return on investment. The creative venture capitalist will attempt to merge the zombie with or have it acquired by a firm with a putative need for its assets, manpower, or market position in order to give it some value, typically in return for stock of the merged or acquiring firm. All this is done, of course, in the hope of acquiring an investment that will yield a return on the initial investment or at least preserve capital.

One example of this is the acquisition of ANSA, developers of the Paradox database, by Borland. ANSA was the zombie. My wife and I worked as free-lance technical writers for ANSA.

Borland is a zombie too from all appearances. So the "brilliant" venture capitalist who funded Compaq did not repeat his success, an always difficult feat in this area.

From: James E. Hunter (jehunterATpantechengineering.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--juju

Anyone who as a small boy in the 30's went to every Tarzan movie - time and time again - vividly remembers the word. Whenever the evil ivory poachers (invariably Brits) would approach the dreaded Escarpment, their native bearers deserted en masse, muttering, "That juju, Bwana!"

From: Michael S. Schreiber (mschreiberATbigfoot.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--juju

Juju is also a form of music popular in African nations and gaining popularity in the west. It marries traditional tribal melodies and rhythms to modern rock and roll and jazz (much in the way reggae grew from the marriage of rock and roll to traditional Jamaican plantation slave songs.) The leading exponents of Juju today would have to be King Sunny Ade or Commander Ebenezer Obey. Juju performances can include large bands with a variety of native and modern drum sets (the "talking drum" is usually integral), complex and distinctive bass lines, and in the larger bands a female chorus, call and response chant and scintillating guitar lines. It should be distinguished from other similar and popular modern musical forms in Africa such as Jit and Jive and Mbqanqa (don't ask me to pronounce it).

From: William J. Kunz (jamiekunzATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--spoor

Your definition of "spoor" is exactly what my dictionary says, but most every hunter I know (I'm not a hunter myself), and every wrangler in the Rockies, when he says "spoor," means droppings, feces, turds. They talk about recognizing the difference between the spoor of elk, deer, mountain lions, bobcat, etc, and they clearly mean droppings. I just spoke to a friend who's spent a lot of time in Alaska and asked him what spoor means to him. "Shit," he said right off, and then added, "Well, it can also mean tracks, like cat tracks." Next time there's a dictionary update, could you let them know?

From: Sharon Smith (mainelyneuropsychATearthlink.net)
Subject: mumbo jumbo & Vachel Lindsay

There's an abominable poem by Vachel Lindsay that a lot of us baby boomers were exposed to in the 1960s. I heard its rhythms pounding in my head when I saw today's AWAD!

From: Linda Davies Rupert (davieswiseATclara.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zombie

I love Word.A.Day. It is quite brilliant and fascinating, the quotes thought provoking. As a novelist, I am by trade, as well as inclination, fascinated by words. However, I must take issue with your comment on colonialism. Please do not lump it together with slavery. The latter was an unmitigated evil. Colonialism, was not. I think if you check the statistics, you will see that, for example, food production was much higher under colonial rule than it is now in much of Africa. So the country itself, was not 'ravaged.' Secondly, the numbers of Africans killing each other post colonialism - viz-Rwanda- is far greater than anything that happened under colonial rule. It is intellectually lazy to condemn colonialism outright, a knee-jerk reaction governed more by political correctness than historical accuracy. Please don't fall into that trap. On another point, I think Egypt has a far greater claim to be seen as a cradle of civilisation, with its ancient universities, and stunning Pharoic architecture, than Africa.

From: Dana Turner & Alonzo King (mzliberteeATearthlink.net)
Subject: words of African origin

There are many words in English usage that take their derivation from languages native to the peoples of the continent of Africa. As you pointed out on Monday, Africa is the most linguistically-diverse continent on the planet. Your failure to present words of truly African derivation is a very poor effort at linguistic scholarship and far beneath AWAD's usual standards of excellence.

Your etymological investigation of these so-called African words seems to be colored by, and prismed through an European ethnocentricity. Africans, African cultures and African languages have been measured solely in relationship to Western Europe for six long centuries too many. Even the word, "Africa" is what Europeans named the continent, not a word that peoples who have lived there for hundreds of thousands of years use to refer to their homeland.

Africa and its population will never be recognized as intellectual and cultural equals of all the other inhabitants of this planet until their lives are no longer viewed from a Euro-centric perspective.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andrew.pressburgerATprimus.ca)
Subject: Words that have changed meaning with time

The following misadventure is faintly reminiscent of Monty Python's memorable sketch concerning a falsified Hungarian phrase book.

When, armed with an English dictionary some fifty years old already at the time, I first arrived at these shores nearly fifty years ago, I was attempting to contact a family acquaintance whose address I possessed, but whose phone number I did not know. My knowledge of English being "somewhat unorthodox" (in the words of that unforgettable scamp of Hungarian origin, George Mikes, noted author of "How To Be An Alien," "How To Scrape Skies," and other kindred fables), before contacting the operator I searched for the most elegant synonym for 'speak.' Thinking that the "less travelled path" would suit my purpose best (though I should have known it "wanted wear"), I requested intercourse with the above-mentioned party. Without missing a beat, the operator asked "Shall I connect you to her now, sir?". Some years later, one of my English professors revealed that in the era of the notorious (another word whose meaning has changed) G.T. ("genteel tradition"), the period in which my dictionary must have originated, the word conversation had the connotation which we apply to intercourse today, as in the (legalistic) phrase 'having carnal conversation' with someone.

Turn about is fair play, I suppose.

From: John P. Barbuto, MD (seedsinthewindATaol.com)
Subject: Is there a word?

I have a question which might be right up your alley. Is there a word for the following concept? Imagine: there is going to be a horse race; you are to bet on the race; you will be paid the same regardless of which horse wins; here will be four horses; one horse has won 90% of the races it has been in; the other three horses have won only 10% of the races they have been in. Which horse do you bet on? Obviously, the only rational bet is to bet on the "90%" horse. And, this is "the right" bet.

However, after the race is run, then one of the "10%" horses actually wins. So, after the race is done your bet is now "the wrong" bet.

Your bet has gone from being "the right" (correct) bet to being "the wrong" (incorrect) bet based on the passage of time and the accumulation of data unknowable at the time of the original bet.

What word represents this concept? I am not aware of one. In my opinion we do not (at least in America) have the philosophical sophistication to have accepted that doing "the right" thing today may turn out to be "the wrong" thing tomorrow.

This is a highly relevant issue. I am a doctor. In medical care it is routine for lawyers to assert that physicians made "the wrong" choice after they are presented with the final outcome of the patient's illness (diagnosis and course). However, at the time the physician makes his/her choice this outcome data is not known or knowable. If our society does not have a concept for this transition then our society cannot adequately process this dilemma.

So, do you know of such a word? If not, can you use your best etymological skills to suggest one? If so, I'll use it and give you credit. You could also publish it to your readership as a word you propose for this issue.

Extra credit: do other languages/cultures have such a word?

From: Kateri Paul (kateri_paulATpost.harvard.edu)
Subject: a slice of pie...

I have to tell you how delighted I was to receive the question "What to you get if you subscribe to AWAD at Wordsmith.org" yesterday when playing the new 20th anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit--and I got a pie for it! :) I've been on the list for about...um...5 years now? and enjoy it thoroughly.

From: Sherry Gottlieb (writerATwordservices.com)
Subject: gaaak!

I needed to tell this to someone who'd care:
I was watching television last night when I caught this text in a commercial: "...for student's only."
Usually when I see such mangling of the proper way to form a plural, I sigh and wonder how they could be so stupid as to not proofread something so visible. Then I saw that the advertiser was the [Ventura County, California] "County Schools Federal Credit Union"! That the error was made by an organization affiliated with education sent me over the edge. So, this morning, I telephoned the man in charge of Marketing for that credit union and explained the egregious error.

His response: "We're not teachers. This is a business."

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: African words

Your week of African words delighted Barry Downs, webmaster of The World's First Multi-National e-Book, who lives near the diamond fields at Kimberley, in the middle of South Africa. The permanent link to AWAD on his home page www.bdb.co.za suddenly acquired local relevance. The May issue of the e-book includes stories about a lion, explorers and shaggy dogs.

I have studied it often, but I never could discover the plot. -Mark Twain, author and humorist, on dictionary (1835-1910)

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