Friday, September 08, 2017

Nitwit


 Corky from Atlanta, Michigan, asked about the word nitwit. It’s a great little insult –dismissive, but stopping short of outright contempt.

It means a stupid, silly, or intellectually deficient person. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a 1914 citation from the Los Angeles Times (06/05/1914) as its first written instance: “After her trip to Virginia, Miss Helen Morton was quoted as saying that Chicago men were ‘nit wits’.” The quotation marks around nit wits indicates that the word was still relatively new in 1914. In time, when a term is used often enough and long enough, the quotation marks disappear.

The OED points to nit, meaning the egg of a louse or other parasitic insect, as the source. Shakespeare later used the word nit to designate an insignificant, inconsequential, or contemptible person. So, an evolution from insect to bug brain.

But there is an alternate explanation. Merriam-Webster, along with several other dictionaries, thinks that the nit portion probably came from the German dialectical nit, meaning not. So, not having an ounce of intelligence.

An allied word takes us back to lice again. Nitpicking – petty criticism or fault-finding on a trivial level – summons up images of someone removing tiny lice eggs from a scalp.



Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.comand clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Saturday, August 19, 2017

Blind Pig


Pat from Elk Rapids asked about the establishment known as a blind pig. It was known as a blind tiger in the south, and it was also referred to as a hole in the wall elsewhere.

The whole thing was a ruse to sell alcohol illegally. There actually was no animal involved, maimed or not. The fiction was that the customer was paying to see an exotic animal and was given a complimentary drink while viewing it. The adjective blind was probably used because law enforcement officers often turned a blind eye to the enterprise – for a consideration.

A reference to blind pig may be found in 1857. It appeared on page 182 of the May 23 issue of Spirit of Times:

“I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and over the hole, in big writin’, ‘Blind Tiger 10c a Sight.’ Says I to the feller inside, ‘here’s your ten cents. Walk out your wildcat.’ I’ll be dodbusted if he didn’t shove out a glass of whiskey. You see, that blind tiger was an arrangement to evade the law, which won’t let them sell liquor there except by the gallon.”

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Friday, August 11, 2017

-lude and –clude





Karl asked if the words ludicrous and interlude are based on the same root. The short answer: in spite of the spelling-challenged rapper, yes. Both came from the Latin verb ludere, to play. The concept of play lies beneath the surface of a number of common words, at least in their original meaning. For instance, we have

·      allude  (to make a playful reference to something)
·      collude  (to play against someone)
·      delude  (to play on someone’s hope)
·      elude  (to playfully evade)
·      interlude  (a presentation between the acts of a play)
·      prelude  (the warmup to a play or to a musical piece)

A warning, however. If you see –lude immediately preceded by a –c– (-clude) you are dealing with another source entirely. That source is the Latin verb claudere, to close. Common examples are

·      conclude  (to close an action)
·      exclude  (to shut out)
·      occlude  (to obstruct)
·      preclude  (to block a course of action)
·      seclude  (to shut up in isolation)

I came across an intriguing word while researching this topic. The word is hastilude – spear play in a tournament – but I don’t see the point.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.
http://wtcmradio.com/words-to-the-wise/





Sunday, July 23, 2017

Misinformation & Disinformation


Ben from Traverse City asked about the difference between disinformation and misinformation. Let’s start with the base word information. Information is knowledge communicated about some particular fact, subject, or event.

According to the Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd ed., there are about 33 negative prefixes – variations on the concept of  “not.”  Some of them simply signify the absence of something; they are not judgmental. Some of them are pejorative or point to blame.

The prefix dis- carries more than a whiff of blame. It can signify that something was deliberately withheld or manipulated. The word disinformation falls within that realm. It signifies the dissemination of deliberately false information, something practiced by many governments and all spy agencies.

The prefix mis- is neutral in its connotation. It signifies that something is factually incorrect, but not because information was manipulated.  Misinformation is inaccurate, but it is not an attempt to deceive. People of goodwill will scramble to correct their mistake when it is discovered. Dissemblers will continue to lie with a straight face to protect their disinformation.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






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