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AWADmail Issue 97

August 3, 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: Book update

A low-cost reprint of my book is now available in the Indian sub-continent (ISBN: 8126503955). If you live there, you can find it in your local bookshop or online.

Readers in US and other countries may find the regular edition (ISBN: 0471230324) in their local stores or online. Here is a list of some of the stores in many countries that are carrying the book.

From: Kyle Ambrose (kambroseATmali.maf.net)
Subject: Horse Words (Re: desultory)

In the Bambara language of West Africa a bicycle is called "negeso" (pronunciation neh-geh-soh). It is a compound of "nege" (iron/metal) and "so" (horse). It makes good sense, doesn't it?

Kyle Ambrose, Bamako, Mali

From: Vicky Tarulis (be_well_vickyATyahoo.com)
Subject: Horseplay

In honor of Seabiscuit, I see you're horsing around this week. I hope people don't nag you or become neigh-sayers, and just go along for the ride. I am sure the week will gallop by and will reach the finish line before we know it!

From: Benjamin Avant (lvboaATaol.com)
Subject: Equitant - a cheval

I am a roulette dealer in Las Vegas. While we use English almost exclusively to conduct the game in this country, occasionally some of our international players will request bets in French, which is more common outside the US. A "split" is a bet that lies on the line between two numbers and wins if either number comes in. In French, this bet is called "a cheval". Of course, cheval is French for horse and I assume "a cheval" means on horseback, or straddling, sort of like the chip straddling the line between two numbers. Must be the French equivalent of today's word!

From: Fiona Ellem (athroes1ATbigpond.com)
Subject: Horses for courses

When I read the word for today (desultory), and the horse theme, I immediately thought of my father. When the conversation turned to language, as it frequently did in our house, my dad would say, "Aussie English is the only language in the world where you can call a dark horse a fair cow, and be perfectly understood!" (For those who are totally confused, a fair cow means that something is uncooperative, difficult to manage or just plain aggravating)

From: George Gopen (ggopenATduke.edu)
Subject: A whole lot of "horse"

Glad to see you horsing around this week. In the poetry + music courses I teach at Duke, I make an extended argument that words and notes actually go about "meaning" in very similar ways. The first protestation I hear is that notes have no specific meanings by themselves, but words you can look up in a dictionary. My response is that when you look up those words, you find TOO MANY meanings; and the process we use for selecting amongst those meanings at any given moment is quite similar to the way we make "sense" of notes -- by relying on context and expectation. (My two books on language and expectation will be coming out in January from Longman Publishers.)

In order to offer an overwhelming example of the "too many meanings" point, I have long used the word "horse." Go to the OED, I tell my students, and look up "horse" and all the immediately following words that include or vary "horse." You will find they fill 30.5 columns (more than ten pages) of the OED. (That is true of my copy, which I bought in the 1970's. They may have added yet more in the subsequent revisions.) I estimate that each column averages about 110 lines of print, and each line averages about 10 words per line. That means it takes 30.5 x 110 x 10 words for the OED to define "horse." That totals 33,550 words -- which in normal, double-spaced pages is equivalent to 134 pages of typescript -- the equivalent of a healthy-sized monograph.

So much for "horse" statistics.

From: Richard Oswald (roswald00ATcomcast.net)
Subject: tattersall

I wonder if there's a family reunion of the Tattersalls and the Chiaroscuros. Maybe the social gap is too large.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: tattersall

Tattersall can be hyphenated as tatters-all, which makes it a hyp-hen. By misplacing hyphens, computers have divided many other words, including pronoun-cement, the-rapist and bed-raggled, with ludicrous results. For more examples, please read "Sad death of the hyp-hen that caused mans-laughter" in the August edition of my e-book.

From: Margot Jacqz (jacqzATrga-joblink.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--hors de combat

And of course hors de concours: a term used frequently in dressage and combined training competition when horses and/or riders are schooling or regaining form. They ride the test or course and are judged, but are not in the ranks for ribbons, season points, or prizes, for example. It may be used in other sports, but that's where I learned it. SO, you made the horse connection in spite of yourself.

From: Tim Sloat (tims701ATcox.net)
Subject: Hors de combat

Actually, the most common misconception has less to do with horses than with camp followers of the female persuasion.

From: Gordon C. Menzies (menziesgATaol.com)
Subject: Re: Hors de Combat

Combat horse never entered my mind, however another phrase did...

Many years ago Woody Woodbury, a comedian, did a sketch called "La Vie en Rose" with "new" translations for French phrases. "Hors de combat" was rendered as "the girls are fighting again". Jean d'Arc (jean dark) became "the light in the bathroom is out and carte blanche became "they are bringing Blanche home in a wagon".

From: William S. Haubrich, MD (willhaubATaol.com)
Subject: Horse-related word

Another horse-related word is hippocampus, an anatomical term for a curved gyrus in the olfactory cortex of the brain. The term combines the Greek hippos, "horse", and kampos, "sea monster". Its shape suggests that of a seahorse. Anatomy also yields a horse-related phrase: cauda equina, Latin for "the tail of a horse", and apt description of the array of sacral and coccygeal nerve tracts emanating from the tapered end of the spinal cord. Is this neigh-saying?

From: George Grimsrud (ggrimATinteraccess.com)
Subject: The hot-and-cold lambent metaphor

    "What started sometime in 1999 like a lambent flame snowballed into a big political conflagration and consequently entered a new chapter last Thursday with the decision of a faction of the party to decamp to the Alliance for Democracy (AD)."
    Tokunbo Adedoja; Plateau PDP: The Battle Enters a New Chapter; This Day (Lagos, Nigeria); May 27, 2002.
This example for "lambent" contains one of the classic mixed metaphors. It reminded me of an old New Yorker item in the '60s that cited an item in the student newspaper at Moorhead State College in Minnesota about an incident that had "snowballed into a red-hot issue."

Words are like money ... it is the stamp of custom alone that gives them circulation or value. -William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)

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