Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lug

Dave Gill wrote: “While driving out to Benzonia this morning I passed the Cherry Growers facility and noticed the stacks of containers used for transporting cherries. I know that they are called 'lugs'. My question is about the origin of the word lug and its usage as a noun, verb or prefix. For example…The orchard produced 100 lugs of cherries. Or, We had to lug the containers up the hill. Or, Our luggage was lost by the airline. Is there a connection between these three usages? Now I must go tighten the lug nuts on my car!”

Interesting question. As it turns out, the lug used to haul cherries and the luggage that we take on trips are connected. They came from an Old Swedish word that meant to move something slowly and heavily, to drag it along. Long before that, the original lug meant to pull a person’s hair. So Hamlet's "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room" also fits with this group.

The lug that shows up in lug nut or lug wrench doesn’t seem to be directly connected. Instead, it comes from a word that meant a projecting part. Originally, it came from a Scandinavian word that meant the ear flap of a cap, or the ear itself.

In the 1930s, lug also meant a lout, a sponger, a bozo, and a lowlife.

Finally, I can’t resist passing along a lug nut story. It appeared in the Kitsap (Washington) Sun on November 10, 2007.

Kitsap Man Hurts Himself Trying to Loosen Lug Nut -- With a Shotgun

A 66-year-old man shot himself in both his legs Saturday afternoon while trying to loosen a stubborn lug nut with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Kitsap County sheriff's deputies were called to the residence on the xxxxx block of SE Olympiad Drive at 2:57 p.m. after the shooting was reported to 911 emergency dispatchers, said Deputy Scott Wilson, a sheriff's office spokesman.

"Nobody else was there and he wasn't intoxicated," Wilson said.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue medics treated the man at the scene. He was taken to Tacoma General Hospital. Wilson said his injuries were "severe but not life-threatening."
Deputies at the scene reported the man blasted "double-ought" buckshot at the wheel from "arm's length," Wilson said.

The deputies described the man's legs as "peppered" from his feet to his mid-abdomen with pellets, pieces of the wheel and other debris. Some injuries went as far up as his chin.
The man had been repairing the Lincoln Continental for two weeks, and had removed all the lug nuts on the right rear wheel except for one.

"He's bound and determined to get that lug nut off," Wilson said, who did not know how long the man had been trying to free the lug nut.

The deputies did not take a statement from the man beyond what they were able to gather while he was being treated by medics.

"I don't think he was in any condition to say anything," Wilson said. "The pain was so severe, and the shock."

SIDEBAR: How to change a flat tire



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Monday, July 28, 2008

Serf's Up!

David Denby’s review of WALL-E (The New Yorker, July 21, 2008) contains this description: “. . . squadrons of square-shouldered helots who try to squash the slightest sign of free will.” Let’s hear it for sibilance.

Helos was a town in Laconia. Some of its inhabitants were bound in a permanent condition of serfdom. They were suspended between outright slavery and free citizenship. They were permanently inferior, and they were called helots.

Plutarch referred to an odd practice. On certain occasions, helots were compelled to get drunk in public. The idea was that this would instill repugnance towards drunkenness in Spartan youths. I don’t know about the success of the maneuver. Today, given the Krazy Kollegians on Kegs videos, I suspect that it might backfire.

In 19th century biology, helotism was “a form of symbiosis in which one organism makes use of another as if it were a slave, by causing it to function to its own advantage; used esp. of the relationship of the fungus and alga in a lichen by those who regard it as neither mutualism nor parasitism.” [Oxford English Dictionary]


SIDEBAR: helots


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lick


Someone asked about the phrase “a lick and a promise” during last Tuesday’s show. It signifies a superficial cleaning on the literal level, and inadequate attention to some issue on the metaphorical level. Think of a dog or a cat doing a quick lick of its fur and then springing up to do something else.

There ensued a brief discussion of the wide range of meanings involved in the word lick, and that sent me to the dictionary. Lick may refer to

• an act of licking
• a slight and hasty wash
• a casual amount of work
• a dab of paint
• a spot to which animals resort to lick the salt or salt earth found there
• a horse ailment
• a smart blow.
• an opportunity
• a speedy spurt in racing
• a plan or idea
• a short solo or phrase, usually improvised and often interpolated into a piece of written music
• criticism or condemnation

SIDEBAR: Lick Observatory



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Monday, July 21, 2008

Choke



It was good to see Greg Norman do so well in the British Open – until Sunday, at any rate. The TV commentators couldn’t stay away from the word choke in reference to Greg’s earlier career. They have permanently saddled him with the name The Choker.

In sports, to choke is to feel such anxiety and internal pressure that the game you are playing suffers. Nerves take over and performance slips to an almost amateur level.

The origin of the verb to choke is obscure, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that it is associated with cheek, just as throttle is related to throat.

At any rate, there are a few words that conceal the idea of choking in their gullets.

• angina, anxious > L. angere, to choke.
• pnicogen (element in the periodic table), pnigophobia (fear of choking) > Gr. pnigein, to choke
• prefocation (obs.) > L. praefocatio choking [L. faux = throat]

SIDEBAR: how to avoid choking


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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oxbow


Lucille from Traverse City asked about the term oxbow. She found it in Oxbow Lake, Kalkaska County, Michigan.

Variant forms of ox, the word referring to the large ruminant animal, are found early on in Old Frisian, Old Dutch, Old Saxon, Old Icelandic, Old Swedish, Danish, Gothic, and so on. It’s a testimony to the importance of the animal in agricultural use in northern climes.

A bow is something bent or fashioned so as to form part of the circumference of a circle or other curve; it’s a bend, or a bent line.

An oxbow was a bow-shaped piece of wood forming a collar for a yoked ox, with the upper ends fastened to the yoke.

In 18th century America, it was used to designate a pronounced meander or horseshoe-shaped loop in a river. It was also applied to a lake formed from an oxbow in a river when it silted up and became an enclosed body of water -- a lake.

Using the Google test, I found 1,120,000 returns for “Oxbow River” and 247,000 hits for “Oxbow Lake.”

The Oxford English Dictionary remarks that ox is the only word in general English use which retains the original plural ending -en (the reflex of Old English -an) of the weak declension.

SIDEBAR: The Oxbow Incident


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Monday, July 14, 2008

Jet Set



Jet black does not refer to dark clouds of smoke billowing from airplane engines. As it turns out, jet has a rich variety of meanings.

The jet in jet black refers to a hard compact black form of coal capable of receiving a brilliant polish. In the Middle Ages, it was considered a cure for fevers and for other illnesses. You had to burn it to make it work. It is now used to make toys, buttons, and personal ornaments, and it has the property of attracting light bodies when electrified by rubbing. As a color word, it also applies to marble.

As 18th century slang, jet designated either a lawyer or a clergyman, probably in reference to the black robes that they wore professionally.

The word seems to have started as a Greek word, gagate--a black stone--then passed through Old French and into Old English. Gagate is not a misspelling of agate, by the way.

Another form of the word came from a French term meaning to throw or cast. One of its uses is to describe water spurting from a small orifice. It is also the jet embedded in jet stream, and it accounts for the jet in jet engine.

Another form of jet seems to have come from the Latin jactare, to brag or boast, and it was used to describe a strutting, ostentatious walk.

SIDEBAR: jet


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fussbudget


A listener asked about the word fussbudget. She speculated that it might refer to a person fussing over a budget, endlessly trying to balance a checkbook, for instance.

Fuss refers to bustling and needless concern about something essentially trivial. The Oxford English Dictionary thinks that the origin was the imitation of the sound of sputtering.

Budget in the sense of a systematic financial plan is one of the latest in a string of meanings that derive from the French bougette, a little leather bag. I wrote about this in my January 24, 2007, blog titled Balancing the Budget.

But an even earlier meaning assigned to the word budget was “a collection of things.” It referred to the varied contents that might be found in a purse or a travel pouch. So if you picture someone fussing around in a purse or leather bag and pawing among keys, coins, antacid rolls, lipstick, and whatever else, you see the probable origin of fussbudget.


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Monday, July 07, 2008

Lambent


Lambent was the word that showed up on my vocabulary quiz last Tuesday. It refers to a flame that plays lightly over a surface without scorching it. There is light, but no damaging heat. By extension, it can mean radiant or teasing.

Metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw used it to good effect:

When love of us called him to see
If we’d vouchsafe his company,
He left his father’s court, and came
Lightly as a lambent flame,
Leaping upon the hills, to be
The humble King of you and me.

The word comes to us from the Latin lambere, to lick. Here are some other words that contain a lick and a promise.

• abligurition: prodigal expense on meat and drink [L. lingere, to lick]
• catillate: to lick dishes [L. catillus, plate]
• cunnilingus: oral stimulation of the vulva [L. lingere, to lick]
• eclegme: form of medicine of a semifluid consistence, which is licked off the spoon [Gr. ekleixein, to lick out]
• electuary: A medicinal paste, consisting of a powder or other ingredient mixed with honey, preserve, or syrup of some kind [Gr. ekleixein, to lick out]
• lamprey: an eel [The OED tentatively assigns it to the Latin lambere, to lick, and petra, stone, because the creature attaches itself to rocks by means of a sucker]
• lecher: a debauched person [Fr. lêcher, to lick]
• ligurition: glutinous devouring [L. ligurire, to lick up]
• lingible: meant to be licked

SIDEBAR: anatomy of the tongue


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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Cherry



It’s Cherry Festival time again in Traverse City, and what started as a modest tribute to the cherry industry decades ago has burgeoned into a fullscale festival. The community is anxious to learn what a shrinking dollar and intolerably high gas prices will do to tourism. At any rate, the idea of cherry is buried deep within some words like a fruit pit.

amarine, bitter or sour, derives from the morello cherry (L. amarina)
cerasin is the insoluble portion of the gum which exudes from the cherry and other trees (L. cerasus, cherry tree).
cerise is the name of a light, bright cherry-red color.
cornel is the English name for cornouille, the Cornelian Cherry or Long Cherry.
cornelian is a variety of chalcedony, a semi-transparent quartz, of a deep dull red, flesh, or reddish white color.
goynire is an obsolete word for a small kind of cherry (OF guinier)
kirshwasser is an alcoholic spirit distilled in Germany and Switzerland from a fermented liquor obtained by crushing wild cherries (Ger. kirsche, cherry + wasser, water).
marasca is a small black Dalmatian cherry grown for the distilling of maraschino (L. amarus, bitter?).
merise is a small bitter black cherry (blend of amer, bitter, and cerise, cherry).
visney is a liqueur of the nature of cherry brandy (Pers. wishneh, cherry).


SIDEBAR: 2008 National Cherry Festival


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