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AWADmail Issue 94

July 13, 2003

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

From: Ira Hammerman (iraATmailaps.org)
Subject: RADAR -- coming and going (Re: Rx)

RADAR, in addition to being an abbreviation, is also a palindrome, the same in both directions, just like a radar signal that goes out from the radar antenna, hits the target and then returns to the radar antenna. In Hebrew, the word for radar: "MACAM" is also a similar abbreviation and also is a palindrome (both in Hebrew characters and in transliteration in Latin characters).

From: Paul Anderson (paul.anderson2ATbaesystems.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Rx

To anyone involved in communications Rx is shorthand for 'Receive' (and similarly Tx shorthand for 'Transmit') which perhaps highlights the very difficulty with acronyms, that they mean different things to different people. Is there perhaps a case where a common acronym has contradictory meanings to two sets of people?

From: Stuart Tarlowe (starloweATearthlink.net)
Subject: More on Rx etc.

"dx" may mean "diagnosis" in medical lingo, but in radio jargon "Dx" has always stood for "long distance"; this may have been the reference that the folks who named "D-X" Brand Motor Oil had in mind.

From: Bob Singleton (rmsing45ATearthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Rx

While reading today's, Rx, I recall once reading somewhere that this symbol in its usual form, with an extended length on the diagonal downstroke, crossed by another diagonal to form an x below the R, makes reference to the Egyptian wedjat eye, the "healthy" eye, a symbol of healing. When looking at graphic representations of the wedjat amulet, one can see how it might have been reduced to the Rx in its usual form. A wedjat eye can be seen at nga.gov.

From: Melissa Silva (lissasilvaAThotmail.com)
Subject: Rx for medical lingo

You wrote as follows---
'Doctors and pharmacists ('chemists' for those of you in British Commonwealth countries) use a code language and if you were curious to know what your prescription means, check out this decoder'.

I wanted to point out that nurses use these abbreviations all the time, also. I think it is interesting that you mention traditionally male based professions and not a traditionally female based profession in your reference. I am not politically correctly nit picking...there are ways that nurses are often ignored in certain references, and as a loud mouthed nurse, I like to be vocal about this. 'Ask the Expert' medical advice on television or radio is always a doctor. Nurses offer a different perspective, which is usually not solicited. I am very intrigued by the language and abbreviations used in medicine. It is often a device to save time. I write more than fifteen notes a shift, so these abbreviations are necessary to communicate to others observations about patient issues. Medical lingo can also be used as a screen to side step issues that are emotionally complex. I have been in rooms where a dying patient is being discussed in abbreviations and lingo regarding their test results, and one would think we were discussing the results of a baseball game, not the depth and complexity of a human being dying. Knowing this lingo often allows one to be designated as a member of the medical community, rather than an 'outsider', or non medical person. There is also a kind of humor used in medicine to ease an incredibly difficult task. I knew a nurse who had worked in an ICU (intensive care unit). She worked the night shift from 11pm till 7am. She used to say, 'keep 'em alive till 7:05', as a way to express the need to keep her patients from dying during her shift. Not many folks know that if medical providers share a particularly perplexing or difficult patient, you can walk into your shift days later and ask, 'How's our friend?', and everyone will know exactly which patient you are referring to.

From: Steve Spencer (sspencerATkued.org)
Subject: blank-x abbreviations

It's interesting to see how the medical profession uses a letter plus X to abbreviate. The same thing occurs in the live local news business. When I worked as a producer in a couple of commercial TV network affiliates here in Salt Lake, they used WX for the Weather, TX for Traffic, SX for Sports, and so on.

When I switched to radio, I had to learn more jargon: reporters often say AX and TRAX (for actualities, like recorded sound bites, and tracks, like the narration of the reporter). Of course, the press and Beltway insiders are notorious for other abbreviations which are also fun to say: POTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS (see below for what they stand for, a little puzzle!).

At the local TV station, we also used even more arcane ones like FOLO, for follow-up, VOSOT for Voice Over, Sound on Tape, (a sound bite with intro and "outro" read by the anchor), ENG for Electronic News Gathering (a live shot, or "remote") and so on.

PS Here's one more: VPOTUS. Still don't know? It's President, First Lady, Supreme Court, or Vice President, Of The United States.

From: Walter M. Boehm (wmboehmATinternet49.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--snafu

As a WW II veteran, today's word "SNAFU" brought back memories, good bad and funny. During my time in the military, The word was so completely appropriate so very many times that we often speculated on how incredibly screwed up the enemy must be, since we seemed to be winning.

By the way, let's not forget the final stage of confused disarray: FUBAR - "F**ked up beyond all recognition".

From: Bill Hammel (bhammelATgraham.main.nc.us)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--snafu

This comes in a package of related acronyms where one can hardly be mentioned without the others.

tarfu = things are really fu
fubar = fu beyond all recognition

These seem to have originated from the US Navy, along with many others, one of which happens to come easily to mind. It remained as an expression,


intending to mean an intolerable constellation of things gone wrong. All recent news should provide a plethora of examples.

One might also notice that from these also comes the temporary file name 'foo', used under UNIX when MS Windows hadn't yet been pilfered from the MIT X windows system. The spelling was changed to protect the guilty? Few people naming such a file have any idea.

A dear friend once wrote to me rather upset at someone saying "F*** You" to her, and asked rather indignantly, "what the hell does that *mean*?"

I responded with a long dissertation on various false derivations, especially the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" story (cute, but wrong), and a more reaonable derivation through German (or Old AS) and the goddess Frigga, (Fricka), to the German verb (ficken) and the sometimes equivalence of the i and umlauted u - now, drop the umlaut. Funny is the recidivism of "freekin" when someone wants to use but not actually say the word.

The essay meandered through how few languages have this particular locution, but how it goes into Mexican Spanish with all the glorious expressive possibilities intact - derived from a verb "chingar" which actually means to get drunk.

I ended with a discussion of "power words" and how they are stripped of their meaning by usage and only retain an emotional content. She was amused, and left off being upset. I, having initially intended to amuse and dispell upsetment, found myself becoming very serious toward the end simply because the entire subject, precipitated by an innocuous question, turned out to be far more interesting and broad than I had ever dreamed it would be.

I'm sure an entire book could be written of this one (often overworked) power word with a decided, if somewhat brutish, function - but isn't it's very brutishness the point?

Ain't language grand? :-)

From: Tim White (timwhiteATrockisland.com)
Subject: Re: snafu

I had once thought "snafu" of West African origin. My Snafu was in Liberia in the late 70s. I lived in Charlesville, near Harbel, Smell-No-Taste and Snafu Dock.

Harbel was the headquarters town created to serve Harvey Firestone's rubber plantation. The concession was secured between the world wars from a bankrupt and corrupt Liberian government. The terms were favorable--one million acres leased for 99 yrs at I believe 8 cents per acre per year--and the rainforest was converted into the largest rubber plantation in the world. Mr. Firestone named Harbel for himself and his wife Isabel.

Smell-No-Taste was a Liberian working-class shantytown descended from the US military barracks that had housed American soldiers building Roberts Field airstrip during WWII. (Recent news photos feature a meeting there between current Liberian President Charles Taylor and Nigerian President Obasanjo.) Liberians were never allowed into the US servicemen's mess hall, but curious and perhaps hungry locals would hang around outside--hence the name.

Snafu Dock was a miniature pier, all alone on the estuary of the Junk River, built by the same US soldiers for unloading lighters shuttling from offshore supply ships during the airfield construction. The soldiers' nickname for the dock had stuck, and my Liberian friends (and I, initially), were unaware of its acronymic origin. Liberians themselves certainly played around with the concept, though: the US-built JFK Hospital took only the most serious cases and was known as "Just For Killing".

From: David Rea (davidATcodeasart.com)
Subject: Darwinian Poetry Project

I've been working on a project, purely for my own (and hopefully others') amusement, called the Darwinian Poetry Project. In a nutshell, the idea is to see if a form of natural selection applied by a large group of readers can cause interesting poetry to 'evolve'.

I've tested it for a while with a group of 50 or so friends, but it really needs thousands (tens of thousands?) of people participating for any kind of meaningful evolution to take place.

From: Robert J. Skinner (memphisbobAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--telic

"Telicom" is the journal of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry. It is an ultra high-IQ organization.

From: Rene Shinavar (reneshinavarATexcellus.com)
Subject: saltant

Your word 'saltant' immediately reminded me of 'saltation' which, among its other uses, describes the process by which sand grains move in dunes and snowflakes move in drifts. Thanks for triggering a decades-old memory from science classes!

From: Paul A. Peeples (papcncATjuno.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--saltant

Classical musicians will be familiar with the music of a lively Italian dance, the saltarello, a notable example being the fourth (or "Saltarello") movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony No. 4.

From: Paul Baumgartel (pbaumgarAToptonline.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--saltant

This reminds me of a wonderful Italian dish called saltimbocca, which means "leaps into the mouth".

From: Carolyn Nelson (carolyn.nelsonATmckesson.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--conurbation

When a college buddy of mine moved to Los Angeles after school, he used to refer to it as "many suburbs in search of a city."

From: Bob Rouse (brouseATnetuitive.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--conurbation

When I read today's word (conurbation), I saw the perfect description of Atlanta. While the map shows different "city" names in the 10 counties around the city, at street level all you see is one endless succession of multi-lane roads, strip malls, and housing subdivisions. Bleah...

From: Fred McGunagle (fmcgooATadelphia.net)
Subject: conurbation

Conurbation sounds academic. I prefer the liquid trochees of megalopolis.

From: Mary Kate (kubiac2ATaol.com)
Subject: Trade-last

I was so excited to see the word "trade-last" in today's word-a-day. My dear sweet grandmother Retta Brooks was the only person I've ever heard use that expression. With a twinkle in her eye, she would say, "I have a trade-last for you." And she meant it! She would give you a compliment, and expect one in return. She was the most fun grandmother. Thanks for reminding me of a very sweet memory.

From: Edward Bynum (ebynumATclemson.edu)
Subject: Trade-Last vs. Last-Go Trade

When I first read today's word, I had no clue what it meant, but when I started reading the definition, I realized that it was just another word for something with which I am very familiar. Since I was fairly young (I'm only 21 now), my mom has been participating in a (hated) tradition called "last-go trades". She seems to love this game, since all of her friends know me, and apparently compliment me frequently ... my friends, however, seldom know her, so she builds up lists of compliments people have supposedly made about me (I am confident that she makes half of them up). In any case, I thought I'd make this little tribute to my mom after discovering that the game I thought she made up was now known the world over.

From: Glenn Nelson (glennATnelson.name)
Subject: About Tardigrades

A tardigrade is so much more interesting than the dictionary definition implies. Please see the fascinating introduction at the "tardigrade appreciation headquarters" http://www.q7.com/~vvv/tardigrade/ And visit some of the links for more information about this tough critter that can survive just about anything!

From: John Granath (jongranathATaol.com)
Subject: tardigrade

I had a high school teacher -- in the 1940's, that assigned my weekly theme papers two grades. I wanted to excel -- to please my parents, but, I felt so separated from my peers who mostly got C's and some B's; that I would turn my paper in the day after it was due and teacher would put what she called the "tardigrade" above a line and the "earnedgrade" beneath it. Only the tardigrade was reported. My "A's" were reported as "B's" and "B's as "C's". I suppose "being tardy" has the same roots. Since the 1940's, "dumbing down" seems to have reached new meanings.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. -Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1889-1951)

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