Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Shudder at the Thought

Shudder, shiver, and quiver intersect--nay, practically collide--at various places, though they are not totally interchangeable.

A shudder can be quite strong: “a convulsive tremor of the body occasioned by fear, repugnance, or chill” [OED]. On the other hand, it may be more mild: “a tremulous or vibratory movement; a quiver” [OED].

A quiver is a tremble (a slight, rapid movement) or, if applied to the human voice, a quaver.

A shiver is a quivering or a trembling, often occasioned by cold or by an emotional reaction.

I muse on this because I recently came across the word phrictopathic, composed of two Greek word parts: phriktos, producing a shudder, and pathos, a disease. Dorland’s American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 12th Edition, defines it as “causing a shudder: a term applied to a peculiar shuddering sensation caused by irritating a hysteric anesthetic area during recovery.”

The word part phricto- seems so eminently usable that I was surprised to find it nowhere except in this single word. Aren’t there any phrictophobes out there who hate the thought of a disruptive shudder and become positively phrictofugal, or any phrictomaniacs who love the exquisite feeling that a shudder sends through the body, much as the French cherish a frisson? Phrictophilia should send a thrilling wave of tremors through a crowd. Of course, if the shudders turned to uncontrollable spasms, the victims would experience phrictalgia and have to call in a phrictologist.

SIDEBAR: Letter from Ernest Jones to Sigmund Freud, June 6, 1909

SIDEBAR: The Brothers Grimm: The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder


Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gremial Gremlins



In Latin, gremium meant the lap or bosom, and that provided us with a strange, but useful, term.

Gremial refers to a tight membership. The word started in academic circles, where it referred to a resident member of a university. That was appropriate, since the university was the Alma Mater (fostering mother).

Later, it was extended to any society or corporation, where it referred to full members, as opposed to honorary members. It was also applied to any bosom-buddy, any intimate friend.

Finally, gremial came to mean an ecclesiastical garment, an apron placed on a bishop’s lap when he was seated. Its purpose was to keep his costly vestments from being stained.

SIDEBAR: Asociacion Gremial de Auto-Taxi de Madrid

Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shipping News




Q. I keep hearing the word nauseous (causing sickness) used as if it meant nauseated (feeling sick). That’s wrong, isn’t it? Tim/Old Mission Peninsula, MI

A. Your observation is correct. Both words come from the Greek word naus, meaning a ship, so the original nausea was caused by the action of waves.

These days, nauseated means “suffering from nausea,” while nauseous means “causing nausea.” That means that if you misuse the terms and say “I’m feeling nauseous,” a number of unkind people will agree with you.

But it’s strange how words get turned around. Originally (1613), nauseous meant “inclined to sickness or nausea.” In turn, nauseated originally meant “causing nausea” (1659). So the words have undergone a complete transformation, and the mistake that you point out is really a return to how things once were, however unwitting the restoration may be.

It’s another good illustration of how ephemeral word usage and grammar conventions actually are.

SIDEBAR: nausea


Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com


Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels: ,

Friday, May 18, 2007

Maven




MAVEN

During an interview on CNBC this week, the host referred to a guest as a “stock market maven.” Where did that word come from? [Barry, Topeka, Kansas]

Maven comes to us courtesy of the Yiddish meyvn (plural mevinim) an expert or connoisseur. That is a variation of the Hebrew mebin, a person with understanding, a teacher. The word is the participial form of hebin, to understand, to attend to, to teach.

The word was around in the 1950s, but it received wider notoriety because of an advertising campaign for Vita Herring, launched in the United States in 1964.The ads featured a character known as “The Beloved Herring Maven.”

Other names for experts or connoisseurs include enthusiast, aficionado, ace, adept, authority, genius, hotshot, master, pundit, sensation, star, virtuoso, whizkid, and wizard.

Media are also fond of the word guru. Guru is a Hindu term for a teacher or priest. In Sanskrit, the word meant weighty, grave, and dignified. Originally signifying the head of a religious sect, it was eventually secularized into an expert or teacher in more worldly arts.

SIDEBAR: Beloved Herring Maven returns

Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scab

<potato scab>



I found myself following a car this morning with countless bumper stickers plastered all over its trunk. They left no doubt that the owner of the car was a young, athletic person.

My eyes focused on one sticker in particular: Scab Skateboard. Aside from being a great in-your-face brand name for a skateboard, the word scab caught my eye, and I decided to pursue its origin when I got home.

Most of us think of it as the crusty protection that forms over a scrape or wound--nature’s own bandage. But the word started its career in 1250 as the name for a disease of the skin in which pustules or scales are formed. Take my word for it: the medical illustrations are disgusting.

It was also a disease in animals resembling mange, a condition characterized by itching, lesions, and loss of hair. [Mange comes from a word meaning to eat. In Latin, it was not unusual for the same word to mean both itching and eating, probably from the analogy that an itch gnaws away at your skin.] Not to be limited in its scope, the word scab was also applied to plant diseases. It caused scab-like roughness on vegetable surfaces, like the hapless potato pictured above.

The word was also used as an epithet referring to a scoundral or scurrilous person. And, of course, in labor history it was applied to someone who refused to join a strike or who took the place of a striking worker.

Around 1529, it took on theological dimensions, being used to describe a moral or spiritual disease. A great quote in this regard comes from one G. Herbert: “The itch of disputing is the scab of the church.” Amen to that, brother.

Scabies is an allied word, as are scabious, scabrate, scabridity, scabriusculous, scabrosity, scabrous, and the highly picturesque scabland, an elevated area of barren rocky land with little or no soil cover, deeply scarred by channels of ancient glacial streams.

Scabbard--a sheath that protects the blade of a sword or knife--is not connected.

SIDEBAR: Scabies fact sheet

Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Della Street




Someone mentioned strange street names during my last show, and Traverse City’s Psycho Path came up. I know that it shows up on many lists, but I have driven past it and it appears to be a private drive, not a public street, so I’m not sure that it qualifies as an actual street name. No doubt that it is clever, though.

There is also supposed to be a Buckshot Road in the area, but the nearest I find alphabetically in the phone book is Buttermilk. The ominous street name Buckshot would be comfortable in the company of Shades of Death Road (Warren County, New Jersey), Bucket of Blood Street (Holbrook, Arizona), and Breakneck Road (Green Pond, New Jersey).

Zzyzx Road may be found in Zzyzx, California, which received its name from a resident named Springer (no, not Jerry). Mr. Springer claimed to have found zzyzx as the last word in a dictionary, and that was good enough for him. I guess he figured that made his town the last word in villages. I find no evidence that the word ever existed, and since Springer served time for selling phony elixirs, his veracity is in doubt.

Buena, New Jersey, is home to Unexpected Road, and Divorce Court is found in a trailer park in Pittston, Pennsylvania. Neither is as disconcerting as Skunk’s Misery Road in Long Island, New York.

Our neighbors to the north weigh in with a few strange street names: Bastard Ward (Kingston, Ontario), Ragged Ass Road (Northwest Territory), and Lois Lane (Chilliwack, British Columbia). Not missing a beat, there are also Lois Lanes in Rocky Ford, Colorado, and Walnut Creek, California.

There are also a few intersections of note. Toronto is home to the intersection of Clinton and Gore. On the more salacious side, Chicago boasts the intersection of Hooker and Bliss, and New York City has the intersections of Seaman and Cumming, and Bangher and Leever.

And if you have occasion to browse at Winter Pianos in Oxfordshire, England, you’ll find the showroom on Crotch Crescent road.


Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pidgin English



Pat from Elk Rapids, Michigan, asks about Pidgin English.

A common misspelling today is Pigeon English, which would imply that its speakers, instead of relying on hand gestures, bob their heads vigorously. (To be fair, in the early days of its use, pidgin and pigeon were interchangeable.)

The word pidgin seems to have had its origin in the inability of 19th century Chinese to articulate the word business. It came out as bigeon or bidgin, and since it is a short step from B to P, it finally flattened out as pidgin.

A pidgin language develops when two groups who speak different languages try to communicate by adapting elements of each other’s language. Generally, the result is simple, almost childlike, with an emphasis on readily understandable vocabulary instead of sophisticated grammatical elements. A pidgin is a second language for all parties involved. Ironically, it developed most naturally when two groups engaged in trade. In other words, they were taking care of bidgness.

We come across Pidgin English in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. For example, at one point Crusoe asks Friday why, if his tribe was justifiably famous for its warriors, Friday had been captured. Friday explains, “They more many than my nation, in the place where me was; they take one, two, three, and me: my nation over-beat them in the yonder place, where me no was; there my nation take one, two, great thousand.”

And in 1782, in Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, our own Benjamin Franklin recorded this snippet of a more advanced Pidgin English: “Boccarorra [a form of buckra ‘white man’] make de Black Man workee, make de horse workee, make de Ox workee, make ebery thing workee; only de Hog. He, de Hog, no workee; he eat, he drink, he walk about, he go to sleep when he please, he libb like a gentleman.” J. L. Dillard, Black English, (Vintage Books 1973), p.89.

Finally, if a Pidgin language perdures and becomes a permanent fixture, it can evolve into Creole. At that point, after several generations of use, it becomes the primary language of a community.

SIDEBAR: Robinson Crusoe

SIDEBAR: Pidgin & Creole

Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/
or at Amazon.com

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels: ,

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spelling Bee



Traverse City’s 3rd Annual Senior Citizen Spelling Bee is now history. It is designed to be fun and to act as a stimulant for aging brains, but it also brings out a serious competitive streak in someone’s grandmother or grandfather.

We use a team approach, since many seniors haven’t made public presentations for years and might be intimidated by facing an audience alone. Teams of three decide among themselves what the proper spelling for a word is (using pencils and pads of paper), and then one of them recites the team’s choice.

Here are some of the words that were presented:

mileage, preferred, supercilious, garrulous,
questionnaire, recalcitrant, voluminous, innocuous,
sassafras, omitted, chauvinism, moccasin,
bisque, persistence, scissors, resuscitate,
delicatessen, privilege, clientele, saccharin,
eligible, vengeance, vacuous, usable,
hygiene, hemorrhoid, fluorescent, connoisseur,
plausible, aerosol, misspelled, demagogue,
wrangle, leisurely, sacrilegious, exhilarate,
believable, oscillation, quandary, bailiff.

As you can see, no softballs here.

One of the features that kicks in when the contest is down to the last two teams is validation. In other words, if Team A misspells a word, it then goes to Team B for correction. If Team B salvages the correct spelling, they still have to spell a new word correctly to validate the win. If Team B misspells their validating word, it goes back to Team A, and so on.

For the first time, this year’s contest turned into a ping-pong match at the end. Both teams had a terrible time with the word fuchsia. As it bounced back and forth between the last two teams, it acquired these misspellings: fuschia, fuscha, fuchia (twice!) and fuscia. Finally, Team 4 spelled it correctly and then had to spell diphtheria to validate the win. They did, and the trophy was theirs.

Senior spelling bees are a terrific asset to a community. If you’re interested in starting one in your community, go to seniors.tcnet.org to find a set of rules friendly to seniors and some practice sets. I'll be glad to help if I can.

SIDEBAR: National Spelling Bee Resources

Check out Mike's latest book here: http://arbutuspress.com/

Visit the Senior Corner at http://seniors.tcnet.org

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

Labels: ,

Dona Sheehan's prints