Sunday, February 28, 2010

Glebe & Clod

Bouncing around in a shuttle bus during my recent foray to Washington, D.C., I noticed a street named Glebe Road. A decades-old memory, perhaps from a Middle English Literature course, told me that a glebe was a clod of dirt. What an odd name for a street, I thought. Dirt Road -- inhabited by clodhoppers?

Quick and dirty research (I’m still on the road, away from my resources) reveals that glebe land was once property distributed to a parish or to an Anglican rector for him to rent out to cover expenses. Perhaps Glebe Road in the D.C. area has an ecclesiastical history.

My rat’s-nest of a mind then wondered about the link between clod and clot. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, clod now refers to a lump of earth or clay forming a solid mass, but its original meaning (14th century) was concerned with coagulating blood. In time, the words branched off, so that now we speak of a clot of blood, but a clod of earth.

At the core is a root that means a rounded ball. It also shows up in clew, a coiled ball (as in a clew of yarn), in the obsolete cloud (a mass of earth or clay), and in cleat, which originally was a wedged mass or clump.

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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
Arbutus Press
or at Amazon.com


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. There is now an archive of podcasts. Look under The Ron Jolly Show.

Write to Mike with comments or questions:
wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

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


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By The Great Horn Spoon

Gene from Central Lake asked where this mild oath came from. I can find no definitive answer. The Dictionary of American Regional English declares its origin unknown, which isn’t a promising start.

There’s little question that a horn spoon was a spoon made from cattle horn. The mystery is how a piece of tableware became the basis of an oath. The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins seems to be alone in thinking that it referred to spoons made from the horns of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Big equals great, and the Morrises opt for a frontier origin.

There have also been suggestions that horned spoon developed as a distortion of horned moon, which would be a crescent-shaped moon, but that’s simply more guesswork.

Many instances occur in nautical references, which led James Landau of the American Dialect Society to speculate that it was a reference to celestial navigation, which found the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper very useful in determining location and direction. The North Star sits at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. A dipper, of course, is a ladle —an oversized spoon. This one takes us away from puzzling place settings and would explain where the great came from.

If you sup with the Devil, you'd better have a long spoon.


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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
Arbutus Press
or at Amazon.com


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. There is now an archive of podcasts. Look under The Ron Jolly Show.


Write to Mike with comments or questions:
wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

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



Labels:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hence Why ≠ That’s Why

Paul from Mancelona, Michigan, called in to decry a phrase that he heard. It is the coupling of hence and why as if it meant that’s why: “It was raining; hence why I got wet.” I don’t think that I have encountered that use before. It screams redundancy, as in the reason why.

Hence is used in a couple of ways. First, it can mean away from this place or away from this time: “Get thee hence,” or “We’ll meet again two weeks hence.” More relevant to the example above, it can mean therefore or as a result. So we could say “It was raining, which is why I got wet,” or “It was raining; hence, I got wet.” But I certainly wouldn’t combine hence and why.

The only legitimate pairing that I can think of would place them physically side by side, separated by a comma, but not married in meaning. “I hunger for justice. Hence, why the entire Madoff family isn’t in jail [Subj.] / is a mystery to me [Pred].”

In that example, hence is an adverb meaning therefore; it signals the beginning of a conclusion based on the prior statement. In the unit why the entire Madoff family isn’t in jail, the word why is a conjunction identifying the start of a dependent clause that acts, in its entirety, as the subject of the second is.

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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:

Arbutus Press

or at Amazon.com


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. There is now an archive of podcasts. Look under The Ron Jolly Show.


Write to Mike with comments or questions:
wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

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

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The –COR- of the Matter

A caller during last Tuesday’s show asked about the word excoriate. These days, it is used metaphorically to mean to upbraid or to revile; the word tongue-lashing is a natural companion. Originally, to excoriate was to pull the skin or the hide off a body.

I mentioned that the –COR– letter sequence in excoriate came from a Latin word meaning a hide, but I didn’t explicitly tie it to its full source, corium. That prompted Dr. Steve to write from Traverse City that in his college Latin class, he was taught that cor meant heart, not hide.

The good doctor is correct: cor/cordis does mean heart in Latin, and it illustrates one of the few limitations involved in using word parts to decipher meaning. Sometimes identical letter sequences come from widely different sources. Such is the case with –COR–. Let’s examine a sampling of words with that sequence and track their sources.

  • Accordion, the musical instrument, comes from an Italian verb (accordare) that means to attune an instrument, to play in unison.
  • Acoria, an insatiable hunger, comes from a Greek word (koros) that means satiety.
  • Coracoid is a process of bone beak-like in shape. It comes from a Greek word (koraks) that means a raven.
  • Coral, the hard substance found in underwater reefs, comes from a Greek word (korallion) that named red coral.
  • Corbicula, a part of the hind leg of a bee adapted for carrying pollen, comes from a Latin word (corbis) meaning basket.
  • Cordotomy, an operation that severs nerves in the spinal cord to relieve pain, comes from a Greek word (korde) that means gut, the string of a musical instrument.
  • Coreoplasty, plastic surgery performed to correct a defect in the pupil of the eye, comes from a Greek word (kore) that means pupil.
  • Coreopsis, a flower whose seed is bug-shaped, comes from a Greek word (koris) that means a bug.
  • Cormogeny, a branch of science that deals with the germ-history of races or social aggregates, comes from a Greek word (kormos) that means the trunk of a tree.
  • Cornucopia, the horn of plenty, comes from a Latin word (cornu) that means horn.
  • Corona, a small circle of light appearing around the sun or the moon, comes from a Latin word (corona) that means crown.
  • Corpse, a dead body, comes from a Latin word (corpus) that means body.
  • Corrugated, wrinkled or furnished with ridges or furrows, comes from a Latin verb (corrugare) that means to wrinkle.
  • Coruscate, to give off flashes of light, comes from a Latin verb (coruscare) that means to sparkle or gleam.
  • Incorrigible, not correctable, comes from a Latin verb (corrigere) that means to correct.

So reliance on word parts alone won’t always divulge meaning. You may have to add context and a good unabridged dictionary.

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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
Arbutus Press
or at Amazon.com


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. There is now an archive of podcasts. Look under The Ron Jolly Show.

Write to Mike with comments or questions:
wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

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

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Insulation

Rodney (Butte, Montana) wrote that he’s been seeing TV programs tracking some of the stimulus money to house retrofitting. In particular, many companies have been hiring and training workers to insulate older houses, particularly for senior citizens. Not only is it a matter of comfort and health in the winter, it’s also a proven money saver. Rodney’s specific question was, where does the word insulation come from?

It’s based on the Latin word insula, which means island. In its original meaning, insulation was the act of surrounding a piece of land with water, thus turning it into an island. From there, it gravitated towards the state or condition of being cut off or standing alone.

In the 18th century, thanks to experiments with electricity, it was applied to electrical non-conduction and the materials that provided that protection. By the late 19th century, it was being used to describe construction materials that blocked sound, heat, and cold. In effect, insulation was designed to cut off your dwelling space from outside elements.

Since living on an island is an isolating experience, insularity came to mean narrowness of mind and constriction of feeling, especially when it comes to appreciating the ideas and customs of outsiders.

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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
Arbutus Press
or at Amazon.com


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. There is now an archive of podcasts. Look under The Ron Jolly Show.


Write to Mike with comments or questions:

wordmallATaol.com
(substitute @ for AT above)

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

Labels: ,

Dona Sheehan's prints