Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Curb


The word curb comes to us through French from the Latin curvus, bent or crooked. Consequently, many of the meanings that evolved for this word involve the idea of encircling, bordering, arching, or confining. Let’s look at some of them.

• a chain or strap passing under the lower jaw of a horse, then fastened to a bit in order to control the animal.

• anything that restrains or holds in check.

• a hard swelling on the hock of a horse’s leg.

• a curve or an arc.

• a template to mark out curved work.

• an enclosing framework.

• a frame around the top of a well that supports the cover.

• an opening in a floor or roof to support a trapdoor or a skylight.

• a cylindrical ring around the edge of a circular structure.

• a ring forming the base on which the brickwork of a shaft or well is built.

• a raised margin around a garden bed.

• stone or cement protection for the outer rim of a sidewalk that separates it from the roadway.


Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Crib


I forget the context or the point that was being made, but for some reason the word crib came up recently. There was immediate recognition that the word has many meanings, but it wasn’t until I looked in the Oxford English Dictionary that I discovered how wide-ranging its meanings have been over the centuries.

It probably came from a Germanic word that meant a basket, and that may have been a descendant of the Latin corbis, a basket. Cratch and crèche are related. Originally, it was a rack that held fodder for horses and cattle in a stable, and as the manger (F. to eat), it has become a key symbol in the Christmas story.

Here are some other meanings attached to the word.

• The stall of an ox.
• A small habitation, cabin, hovel; a narrow room; fig. a confined space.
• A dwelling-house, shop, public-house, etc. [thieve’s slang]
• A lock-up; a jail.
• A saloon, ‘low dive’, or brothel.
• A small rectangular bed for a child, with barred or latticed sides.
• By transference, a child or baby.
• A close-fisted person, one who keeps a tight hold of what he has.
• A wickerwork basket, pannier, or the like.
• The bin used in hop-picking.
• A crate or measure of glass.
• An apparatus like a hay-rack in which the salt is placed to drain after boiling.
• A wickerwork contrivance for catching salmon.
• A framework of bars or spars for strengthening, support, etc.
• In mining, a framework of timber, etc., lining a shaft, to prevent the earth from caving in, or water from trickling through.
• A rectangular frame of logs or beams strongly fastened together and secured under water to form a pier, dam, etc.; sometimes including the superstructure raised upon it.
• A small raft of boards or staves to be floated down a small stream, a number of which are made up into a large raft.
• A bin or place with sparred or slatted sides for storing Indian corn.
• The set of cards made up of two (or one) thrown out from each player's hand, and given to the dealer, in the game of cribbage.
• The act of ‘cribbing’; a petty theft.
• Something ‘cribbed’ or taken without acknowledgement, as a passage from an author; a plagiarism.
• A translation of a classic or other work in a foreign language, for the illegitimate use of students.
• A complaint or grumbling.



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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Starboard & Port


Tom from Bellaire asked about the origin of starboard to indicate the right side of a vessel and port to indicate the left side of a vessel.

Starboard had nothing to do with stars; it did not refer to nighttime navigation, for instance. Instead, it came from an Old English word (stéor ) that meant a steering paddle, the forerunner of our rudder. Since most people are righthanded, the paddle was usually installed over the right side or board of the ship as you faced forward. It was also moved as far as possible to the back end of the boat for the sake of leverage, thus making the back of the boat the stern, or steering place.

Port originally was called baecborde (backboard). That was because it would have been behind the steersman as he plied the steering paddle over the right side. When the boat docked, it was necessary that the left side of the vessel face land, or the port. The right side had to be kept unobstructed for the sake of the steering mechanism.

The left side came to be called larboard. That probably evolved from loading board, since there was a cargo gate on that side for supplies to be brought on board. But since larboard could be confused with starboard when shouted out during tight or frantic maneuvers, the British Navy replaced it with port in 1844.

SIDEBAR: Sailing rules and instructions

Link
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Blind, Deaf, & Hawed


Bob from East Jordan asked about a saying that his father used to apply to him and his siblings: “You boys are blind, deaf, and haud.” Bob wasn’t sure about the spelling of the last word, but it sounded like hawed.

I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to see what I could find. I discovered haw-2, which showed up around the year 1000. It meant a thing of no value. That seemed like a possibility.

There was also the word haught, showing up in 1430. It was related to haughty, and meant high in one’s own estimation, a case of pride going before the fall. While it didn’t violate the original context, it just didn’t seem likely.

Then there was hauch, a medical word that appeared around 1513. It referred to a panting sound, a hitch in respiration as the result of exertion, which didn’t seem to fit at all. In addition, the pronunciation didn’t match.

The idea of pronunciation caught my attention. What if Bob’s father had pronounced the word in a clipped fashion or his sons had misheard it? That released a memory blip; I realized that I had heard the phrase before, but with a difference. The last word was actually halt, and from 700 onwards, it meant lame, crippled, and limping.

I had encountered it in biblical accounts, so I sought out the word using a concordance. Here are a few instances from the King James Version.

Mark 9:
45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Luke 14:
16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

John 5:
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

The word seems to have gone out of fashion somewhere in the mid 19th century, but the KJV kept it alive for many people.


SIDEBAR: "The Adventure of the Lame and the Halt" from Leslie's Monthly



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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Don’t Mention It


Doug from Traverse City commented on the illogical “don’t mention it” as a response to something that has already been mentioned. It joins statements such as, “my bicycle was just stolen, but I really don’t want to talk about it.”

It’s been around for awhile as a rhetorical device, and it even has a name: paralepsis. It brings up what the speaker claims to be avoiding. It draws attention to a point by seeming to pass over it.


"The music, the service at the feast,
The noble gifts for the great and small,
The rich adornment of Theseus's palace . . .
All these things I do not mention now."
(Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," The Canterbury Tales)



Mark Antony: But here’s a parchment with the seal of Cæsar; 108
I found it in his closet, ’tis his will.
Let but the commons hear this testament—
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read—
And they would go and kiss dead Cæsar’s wounds, 112
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy 116
Unto their issue.
Fourth Cit. We’ll hear the will: read it, Mark Antony.
Citizens. The will, the will! we will hear Cæsar’s will.
Ant. Have patience, gentle friends; I must not read it: 120
It is not meet you know how Cæsar lov’d you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, hearing the will of Cæsar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad. 124
’Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For if you should, O! what would come of it.
(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, III, ii)



“We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare.”
(Melville, Moby Dick, "Breakfast")


SIDEBAR: Silva Rhetoricae


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Saturday, July 11, 2009

All Aboard!


Mike from Cadillac asked whether aboard or on board is preferable. Today there seems to be no practical difference. On board originally meant alongside, as did aboard; it was a position next to the wooden side of a sailing vessel. Ultimately, both took on the meaning “on or within a ship,” then were applied to other forms of transportation (train, bus, airplane, etc.).

During the same program, Jim from Traverse City asked how bed and board might be connected. Bed stood for lodging and board stood for meals, namely, the plank table upon which meals were served. In both cases — the ship and the table — pieces of wood were involved. Over time, the meaning of board was extended to other uses, as the following list indicates.

• a piece of wood;
• a thin plank;
• a flat slab used for various purposes (ironing board, cutting board, surfboard);
• the stage of a theater (to trod the boards);
• a tablet for notices (bulletin board, blackboard);
• a game frame (chessboard, board games);
• the pasteboard cover of a book;
• a table;
• a council table & the company who meet there (board of directors, school board);
• the stock exchange (big board);
• a shield; a coast (seaboard);
• a ship’s side (fall overboard);
• a flat piece of rigid material containing controls, switches, etc. (control board);
• a printed circuit (motherboard).

SIDEBAR: Make your own lumber with a chainsaw mill


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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Worry Can Kill You


Rick from Interlochen called in an ordinary word that has undergone extraordinary changes in meaning over the centuries. The word is worry, and it comes to us from the Indo-European, where it originally meant to strangle, throttle, or kill. Thanks to the OED, here’s a summary of its progression.

• To kill (a person or animal) by compressing the throat; to strangle. [725]
• To choke with a mouthful of food [1300]
• To devour greedily. [1520]
• To suffocate a person with smoke. [1755]
• To seize by the throat with the teeth and tear or lacerate; to kill or injure by biting and shaking. [1380]
• To bite at or upon an object. [1567]
• To kiss or hug vehemently. [1611]
• To utter (one's words) with the teeth nearly closed, as if biting or champing them. [1905]
• To pull or tear at (an object) with the teeth. [1882]
• To swallow greedily. [1300]
• To harass by rough or severe treatment, by repeated aggression or attack; to assail with hostile or menacing speech. [1553]
• To irritate (an animal) by a repetition of feigned attacks, etc. [1807]
• To afflict with physical fatigue or distress. [1828]
• To vex, distress, or persecute by inconsiderate or importunate behaviour; to plague or pester with reiterated demands, requests, or the like. [1671]
• To cause distress of mind to; to afflict with mental trouble or agitation; to make anxious and ill at ease. [1822]
• To give way to anxiety or mental disquietude. [1860]
• To advance or progress by a harassing or dogged effort; to force or work one's way through. [1699]
• To get through (a business, piece of work) by persistent effort or struggle [1871]

In combination, a person who worried excessively was called worry guts or worry wart.


SIDEBAR: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living


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Sunday, July 05, 2009

I Was Born on a Pirate Ship


The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pirate as “a person who plunders or robs from ships, especially at sea; a person who commits or practices piracy.” Proximately, the English word came from a French word designating a “thief of the sea.” Remotely, it came from the Greek πειραν -- to attempt, to attack, or to assault.

In the late 17th century, buccaneer was a term given to West-Indian pirates. Prior to that, it was applied to the French hunters of Santo Domingo, who cooked wild oxen and boars on a barbecue (boucan). Throw some shrimp on the barbie, Bluebeard.

Sanctioned pirates were known as privateers. A collection of private individuals, they manned armed vessels holding a government commission that authorized them to seize merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation.

Freebooter started life as the Dutch word for privateer, but in time it came to mean a pirate -- an unauthorized thief. Booter was related to booty, meaning collective plunder or spoils. In turn, plunder was a German or Dutch term referring to household goods seized and carried off.

A pirate was sometimes called a swashbuckler, a swaggering ruffian. To swash was to beat one’s sword against something, and a buckler was a small round shield.

A strange turnaround occurred with the word filibuster. In the 16th century, a filibuster was a freebooter, especially one who plied his trade by pillaging the Spanish colonies in the West Indies. By the late 1800s, a filibuster was someone who practiced obstruction in a legislative assembly, or the act itself.


SIDEBAR: The History Channel


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Friday, July 03, 2009

4th of July

Dona Sheehan's prints