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AWADmail Issue 98August 27, 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)
I'm back from a week long trip, junk email from Sobig virus has subsided, and finally I'm catching up on my mail. Before we move further, a few suggestions:
Here is a selection of comments on the last three weeks' words. First, a few portmanteaux from last week:
Here in California, the latest portmanteau on the scene is Govenator
(obviously Governor and Terminator) that graces a (beefy) t-shirt for
sale on the latest E-mail spam.
In medicine, we sometimes encounter laboratory values that are spuriously
high. Occasionally, someone will make the error of treating those falsely
high numbers, creating what we call a "spuroneous" event, i.e. a mistake
due to reliance on false information.
The one I've heard this summer is "Bennifer", referring to Ben Affleck and
These types of word combinations are common in weather forecasting
("smog" = smoke + fog, "smaze" = smoke + haze, etc.). However, in the
1960s and 1970s, a TV weathercaster in the Detroit, Michigan area took
this to new levels. He was Sonny Elliot, a flamboyant weatherman on
WWJ-TV. He invented dozens of words to describe weather phenomena, such
as "snizzle" (snow changing to drizzle) and "clumid" (cloudy and humid). I
wish I could remember more of them! This was in the days before blue
screens and computers, so he drew fronts, pressure systems and his special
words on a large ch
While teasing the boss about his overhead light being out, my co-worker,
from whom spoonerisms tend to erupt, told him she had put a "hinx" upon it.
Obviously, she had confused jinx and hex. In her confusion she had created
a perfect portmanteau word.
One of my all-time favourites is "flustrated", a combination of "Frustrated"
Just yesterday I fused two words while conversing with my cousin to find
a word that we could use to describe both her and my mind. I came up with
"intanity" a combination of intellect and insanity. Commonly found in
I've long been fascinated with unintentionally blended words, some of which
I've documented on my website Metaplasm, A Journal of Metaplastic Words.
A few of my favorites are "tragesty",
"tondreds" and "surrendipity".
A friend of mine emailed me an article from the Common Dreams website penned by Brian Eno. In it I found this:
-Tom Arvetis (arvetisATyahoo.com)
Learned another portmanteau last night, as I tried a new fruit at a friend's
house: It looked like a peach or plum, but had a yellow-striped flesh with
deep red streaks through it. Our hostess told us they were called 'pluots'
(PLOO-auts): Apparently it is a hybrid between plums and apricots. Very
tasty, they were, and it got me wondering as to just how many different
hybrid fruits that there are.
I've often thought that we should have the word "nibling" to describe,
without gender, nieces and nephews. For example, one might ask "how many
siblings do you have" but, if they want to ask the same about nieces and
nephews one must ask "how many nieces and nephews do you have?"
Interesting choice for this week's theme. One in particular that I remember is
one that, thankfully, never caught on in our language. Several years ago, the
fast food chain Jack-in-the-Box started selling a side order of both French
fries and onion rings, together in the same package. They dubbed this culinary
combination "Frings". The idea did not catch on, and "Frings" went the way of
McDonald's' Arch Deluxe. Thankfully so!
A word friends and I coined: grismal: refers to weather, gray and dismal
It is indeed a living language.
In the world of baseball, there's a fairly well known (among baseball fans)
term that is the combination of two much more common words:"slurve". It's a
specialty pitch, with the word a hybrid of "slider" and "curve," two much
more commonly talked about pitches.
From: J H Jacobson (jhjdocATbellatlantic.net)
The madeleine was made the most famous cookie in the world by Marcel Proust. Its fragrance evoked the remembrance that allowed him to write his 3000 page book. Not to have mentioned him, is akin to leaving Einstein out of the Theory of Relativity.
From: Gianfranco Unali (gianfranco.unaliATunilever.com)
I very much enjoyed today's Word. In a cyclical way, the second definition of Madeleine reminded me of when I first came across the concept of having a distant memory evoked by smell or taste. Like many others I first read the famous passage by Proust at school and have been fascinated by the concept (and by madeleines dipped in tea) ever since. It is inevitable then, that your mention of madeleines immediately transported me back to those school days when I discovered them. A Madeleine of a Madeleine!
From: Nick.Thorp (nick.thorpATstatcan.ca)
In French, there is the expression 'C'est la madeleine de Proust'! This translates into English as 'It brings back a flood of memories.'
From: Aparna Raghunath (ithemeATrediffmail.com)
'Little Women' Read by Girls but Remembered by Women;
This quotation reminded me how each time I read Little Women, I identified myself with a different Little Woman. It always inspires wonder in me to think how the same book read at different stages of one's life, seems like a different book altogether, because one's perspective has changed with time. As a school girl, I was all for Jo, being something of a tomboy myself; when I first discovered romance, I was identifying myself with Meg and her devotion to John; and then when I read Good Wives for the first time after I got married, I was empathising with Meg's matrimonial ups and downs, and more recently, when I have a little girl myself, I was more sympathetic to Meg's feeling of "being put on the shelf". In the distant future, I might well be relating to Marmee :-)
From: Nicholas Kruse (nkruseATsas.upenn.edu)
Ah! So that's what those are called. But you left out my personal favorite: "I see," said the blind man to his deaf brother.
From: Kathi Kovacic (kdklive2ATearthlink.net)
And don't forget Vandyke brown. We use it in the theater to help create realistic wood finishes on cheap pine. I think artists use it too. I assume it is named for a color Vandyke used or created.
From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Two friends and I have quite a little AWAD chat group going. In response to the word Van Dyke, one of them lightheartedly asked the other two of us, "Is there a name for a word like this, where the first letter looks like what the word means?"
I suggested "icononym." The three of us, together with another friend and my +10-year-old daughter, have been coming up with more of them ever since:
From: Mika Smith (msmithATbrookespublishing.com)
And any die-hard fan of hospital TV shows such as ER knows that there's another definition for foley--a "Foley catheter," or in TV-doc lingo, a "Foley." According to Stedman's Medical Dictionary, it's a urethral catheter named after an American urologist, Frederic E.B. Foley (1891-1966). Notice the strange coincidence that he was born in the same year as Jack Donovan Foley and died one year before him! (Perhaps they were twins? I can't tell from the info in the medical dictionary.)
From: Timothy Miller (tkmiller000AThotmail.com)
I generally appreciate the quotes at the bottom most of all, and the one for "desultory"...
From: Chuck Altvater (greenmanATrocketmail.com)
As a soldier in the US Army, I was fascinated to learn about cheval-de-frise. I found it interesting that the article about them talked about them exclusively in the 18th century context. I think it would surprise many people to learn that cheval-de-frise are still employed today. Here is a photo of several cheval-de-frise as they are employed here in South Korea. This particular picture was taken in the vicinity of the Pan Mun Jom, in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
From: Joop Breemer (joop.breemerATzonnet.nl)
As a Dutchman (though not from the province of Friesland) I think that the French name for this obstacle finds its origin in the stereotypical contempt or dislike of foreign countries and people, in this case of the Dutch in general and the Frisians specificly, and not in the fact that the Frisians had no cavalry (the black Frisian horses are well-known by horse-breeders) and that Frisians actually used these obstacles in battle: the last clash with France was in Napoleontic times; barbed wire had not been invented then!
We Dutch call these obstacles "Spanish Horsemen"; during 80 years we were at war with Spain to gain our independence, and, man, did they have cavalry!
We have an expression: "met de Franse slag" = "doing things the French way" = "to scamp one's work", especially in housekeeping. For "feather-duster" we use the French word "plumeau"; the tool does not actually remove the dust but just displaces it to other furniture, so it fits in with our stereotypical image of French housekeeping. French cuisine is something else, mmmm!
From: Ulli Koenig (ulli.koenigATrwe.com)
It's really interesting how things are called in different languages. In German Language the cheval-de-frise is called "Spanischer Reiter" (Spanish cavalier/equastrian or riding Spaniard) and is said to be invented by Spanish troops in the 16th-century war in the Netherlands. But as the Frise people are (nowadays) either Dutch or German it is possible, that the origin (the dutch fight for freedom) is the same.
BTW, cheval-de-frise in Latin: ericius (hedgehog) - so much for the invention in the 16th century.
From: Ray Butler (ray.butlerATnuigalway.ie)
Actually, cheval-de-frise is one of those special words which is of relatively recent origin (medieval French), but which appears to be the only word we have to describe a man-made entity which is much older than that. The second example you gave of its usage (Denise Fainberg; On Foot In Inishmore; The New York Times; Aug 1, 1999) describes the "acres of chevaux-de-frise" surrounding the amazing cliff-edge iron-age fort at Dun Aengus (Aran Islands, Ireland). Constructed sometime between 900 B.C. to 800 A.D., we will never know what word its builders used for their defenses of limestone spikes. Here is an excellent picture of them. Here is a schematic of how they fit with the other defense deployments. For more history on why it is described as the "the most magnificent barbaric monument now extant in Europe" see this and this.
From: Stephen Phillips (stephen_l_phillipsATtalk21.com)
Hobson was Cambridge based and has left behind also a non-verbal monument, in the form of "Hobson's Conduit", a canalised roadside stream that runs through Cambridge; watering horses, keeping the dust down, and taking away waste.
From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Recalling one of your long ago words, I wonder if Hobson ever had a horse named Jobson? Hobson's Jobson would surely be a choice mount -- a veritable juggernaut.
From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Your selection of Beetstings as a misleading word prompted me to search the Internet for further details. I found that beestings are a popular food in Germany and Australia, and are recommended as a drink by a U.S. institute. See the September edition of my e-book,
To know another language is to have a second soul. -Charlemagne, King of the Franks (742-814)