Saturday, July 31, 2010

Terpsichore


Sandi wrote that she was listening to some old Frank Sinatra albums the other night, and she heard a word in one of the lyrics that stumped her. It showed up in the song Come Dance With Me: “What an evening for some terpsichore.”

Terpsichore was one of the nine Greek muses, and her venue was dance. Her name came from two Greek words — τέρπω (delight) and χoρός (dance). In time, the word came to mean the art of the dance.

Terpsichore is properly pronounced turp-sick-uh-ree, so when I found a sound clip of the song online, I was surprised to hear Frank pronouncing it as turp-si-core. It certainly looks like that’s the way it would sound, but its Greek origin militates against that. I don’t know if Sinatra was at fault or if the songwriters (Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn) were.

In context, we have “Come dance with me, come dance with me, what an evening for some Terpsichore.” My take is that “some Terpsichore” was meant to rhyme with “come dance with me.” However, if Van Heusen and Cahn thought that turp-si-core was correct, then they may have rhymed it with “what an evening for.”

Can any student of music clarify this?

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


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buck


Barbara asked about the origin of buck tooth, and also pointed out that buck is a versatile word. That it is.

Buck tooth comes from buck, once upon a time either a male deer or a he-goat. Someone evidently saw a resemblance between the large projecting tooth found in these animals and in some humans.

Aside from the animal, there are at least a dozen more instances of the noun buck in the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • a dandy or fop
  • a short vaulting-horse in a gym
  • a shortened version of buckwheat
  • a vat in which to steep clothes in lye
  • a large basket used to catch eels
  • the carcass of an animal
  • the body of a cart; it had a buckboard
  • a T-shaped end to a plough beam used to steer the draft animals
  • a framework for resting pieces of wood while they are being cut
  • a dollar (possibly from the fact that deerskin was once a trading item)
  • an inanimate object signifying the identity of the current dealer in a poker game (possibly from the fact that the object was often a knife with a deer-horn handle); hence the terms to pass the buck or the buck stops here.
  • boastful talk

  • Buckaroo has nothing to do with deer; it is a corruption of vaquero (herdsman or cattle-driver).
  • The Buckeyes were named after the horse-chestnut tree, evidently common in Ohio, and the tree was named after the supposed resemblance of its seed pod to a stag’s eye.
  • Sawbuck became the slang term for a $10 bill because the ends of a buck (the framework for cutting wood) were X-shaped, and X was the Roman numeral for 10.
  • Buckle isn’t connected at all. It comes from the Latin bucca (cheek). The original buckle was found on the cheek strap of a helmet.

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


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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 a collection of podcasts. Go to wtcmradio.com and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.


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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Put Down That Beretta and Put On This Biretta, Baretta


Mike from Cadillac called in with a comment about the word that sounds like brrr-ett-ah, namely that it seems to have three meanings: a gun, a TV character, and an ecclesiastical headpiece.

The T.V. show Baretta ran from 1975 to 1978, and it starred Robert Blake as Tony Baretta, the son of poor Italian immigrants. He was portrayed as an unconventional policeman with the uncanny ability to infiltrate gangs. I have little doubt that the name was meant to evoke images of expensive, well-made guns, even though the spelling is different.

The Beretta Holding Group is the weapons manufacturer. It is named after its 16th century founder, Bartolomeo Beretta. Because of the quality of his work, he became a major supplier to the Venetian arsenal. Fifteen generations of Berettas have kept the company and its reputation intact.

The biretta was a ceremonial square cap worn by clergymen. It may have been copied from the medieval academic hat, which evolved into today’s mortar board hat. The word came from a Late Latin word meaning a cap. The biretta is worn principally by diocesan deacons and priests. Some birettas have a tuft on top. Roughly speaking, there are three identifying color schemes: deacons and priests wear a black biretta, bishops a purple biretta, and cardinals a scarlet biretta.

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


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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 a collection of podcasts. Go to wtcmradio.com and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You are What You Eat


Randy came across a comment about most teenagers having voracious appetites, and the word voracious caught his eye. It comes from the Latin vorare, to devour or to swallow. It means eating with greediness. Figuratively, it means insatiably eager in some desire or pursuit.

The word devour shares the same root. So does the now rare vorago, an abyss, gulf, or chasm that swallows people and things, the equally obsolete voration, a devouring, and devoration, the action of consuming.

While not sharing the same root, the word ravenous shares the same basic meaning. It started as the act of a predator seizing food, then came to mean exhibiting voracity or gluttony.


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


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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Invest in a Fest


David asked about the combining form –fest, which is ubiquitous in my part of the world as a hook to catch tourists. It denotes a festival or special occasion.

Local offerings include the Cherryfest and Filmfest (Traverse City, MI), the Cedar Polkafest, the Leland Winefest, the Mesick Mushroomfest, the Empire, Glen Arbor, Kalkaska, and Pentwater Winterfests, the Suttons Bay Jazzfest, and countless others.

There are many general uses, including funfest, gabfest, geekfest, greenfest, lovefest, talkfest, Mayfest, Oktoberfest, rockfest, songfest, and thinkfest.

All of these go back to a Latin word signifying a religious anniversary meant to be celebrated joyfully. I wonder if there were Festal Virgins in the old days. They’d be called Party Girls in our time.

SIDEBAR: northern Michigan fests


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


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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 a collection of podcasts. Go to wtcmradio.com and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Varsity


Sam asked about the word varsity, a word invariably connected with schools. There are varsity sweaters, varsity cheerleading squads, varsity teams, varsity bookstores, and varsity grills and drive-ins, the most famous of which is located in Atlanta. There is even a varsity font that looks like the letters sewn on a varsity sweater or jacket.

In the late 17th century, the word was spelled versity, which makes it an obvious abbreviation of university. Early on, university referred to an entire number. Later, it was any community regarded collectively. By mid-19th century, the abbreviated spelling had become varsity.


SIDEBAR: Varsity Toast


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


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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.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Matter of Spatter


Fern heard a weather forecaster speaking about a possible spattering of raindrops and wondered about the origin of spatter.

It is connected to Flemish, Dutch, and Germanic words meaning to burst out or to spurt. The verb has gone through a number of meanings. Originally, it meant to disperse in fragments. Tennyson used it this way in Harold, A Drama:

  • “O God, that I were in some wide, waste field
    With nothing but my battle-axe and him
    To spatter his brains!”

Eventually, it came to mean to send drops of fluid flying through the air, thereby staining surfaces. In his Romance of Natural History, Phillip Gosse wrote,

  • “Huge drops of warm rain, like blood-drops, are spattering the stones.”

That developed into the figurative sense of denigration or detraction—staining someone’s reputation, as it were:

  • “As an advocate, he must praise the man whom, a year before, he had spattered with ignominy.” [James Froude: Caesar, A Sketch]

Spatter is connected to spats, a protective covering made of cloth or leather worn over the upper shoe and the ankle.

  • James, Charles, A new and enlarged military dictionary [1802]: “Spatts, a small sort of spatter~dashes, that reach only a little above the ancle, called also half gaiters.”

SIDEBAR: Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Tutorial


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


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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Something in the Air


The idea of substances or exhalations that fill the air and interfere to varying degrees with visibility came up on Tuesday’s program. Some of the terms are so close that they are practically synonyms. Physicists or meteorologists will be able to fill in the gaps.

  • cloud: a visible cluster of tiny water and/or ice particles in the atmosphere considerably above the surface of the earth. [Old Teutonic, a mass formed by agglomeration]
  • fog: a cloud based at the earth's surface consisting of tiny water droplets or, under very cold conditions, ice crystals or ice fog. It is generally found in calm or low wind conditions. [Welsh, thick dry grass]
  • fume: volatile solid particles formed by condensation from the gaseous state. They may have a strong smell and are sometimes dangerous to inhale. [Latin, smoke]
  • haze: fine dust or other particles dispersed through the atmosphere which reduce visibility. Haze is distinguished from fog by its bluish or yellowish tinge. [Perhaps Old English, gray]
  • mist: microscopic water droplets suspended in the air which produce a thin gray veil over the landscape. It limits visibility to a lesser extent than fog. [Greek, cloud or mist]
  • smog: pollution formed by the interaction of pollutants and sunlight, usually restricting visibility, and occasionally hazardous to health. It is normally found in urban areas. [Blend of smoke and fog]
  • smoke: a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material burns. [Old English, smoke]
  • steam: the gas phase of water. It is visible, and often white in color. [Old English, an exhalation]
  • vapor: a fluid that fills a space like a gas at a temperature lower than its critical temperature. This means that the vapor can be condensed to a liquid or to a solid by increasing its pressure without reducing the temperature. [Latin, steam]

Sidebar: Weather Glossary


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


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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.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Let’s Debate About Rebates


Frank asked about a possible connection between rebate and debate.

The –bate element in some few words comes from a violent French verb meaning to knock to the ground, to conquer, to beat back, to crush, or to demolish.

In most cases, the meaning softened over the centuries to something like reduce, counterbalance, deflect, or make less intense.

Rebate once meant to drive an enemy back. By the 15th century, it included the meaning to allow a sum of money as a deduction on the full price – in other words, a refund. Debate once referred to military encounters. Eventually, it meant to engage in disputation or argument.

Another word that uses the same word part is abate. It started with the common meaning to beat down. Then it passed through to do away with, to render null and void, to depress, to reduce in size or value, to lessen in force, and to calm.

SIDEBAR: rebates


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


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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 a collection of podcasts. Go to wtcmradio.com and click on Podcasts. Scroll down The Ron Jolly Show to find the Words to the Wise audio button.


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