Saturday, August 28, 2010

Nib


Mike from Cadillac asked about the origins of the word pen (< L. feather) and the word pencil (< L. little tail). The answer brought up the word nib—the split end of a pen used to apply the ink.

Nib probably came from a word that sounded much like neb. Clusters of northern European languages such as Frisian, Icelandic, Swedish, and Danish had similar words, all meaning the beak of a bird. This evolved into the concept of a point or a projection:

  • the tapered point of a pen
  • the bill of a bird or the proboscis of an insect
  • the short handles that project from the shaft of a scythe
  • the pole of an ox cart
  • a pointed extremity
  • a small projection on the underside of a roofing tile

A second branch of the same word focuses on the idea of lumps.

  • a small lump or knot in wool or raw silk
  • fragments of shelled cocoa or coffee beans; there are also licorice nibs
  • a speck of extraneous matter in a coat of paint or varnish

Nib is also slang for a person of superior social standing or wealth. I recall my mother using the word in a slyly mocking manner by referring to a pretentious person as “His Nibs.” That use of nib seems to have no connection (or at best, a tenuous connection) to what was discussed above. The OED relegates it to nib3.

SIDEBAR: Neil Cowley Trio plays His Nibs


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 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, August 25, 2010

Pitch



Charles Cage wrote, “I’m confused. You use a tuning fork to test pitch. But a pitch fork moves hay. A pitch pipe coordinates voices, but offers no help in keeping my birch bark canoe from leaking. The President gets the first pitch in baseball.”

You get the idea. Charles was focusing on pitch and its multiple meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary lists two nouns and two verbs.

Pitch1 comes from a Greek word meaning a tarry substance. It is used to designate

  • a substance used to caulk the seams of ships and to waterproof wood
  • a resin that exudes from some coniferous trees
  • asphalt or bitumen

Pitch2 includes

  • an inclination or slope
  • the angle of a mining stratum
  • the steepness of a roof
  • the slope of a flight of stairs
  • the downward angle of the slope of a plough
  • the inclination of the teeth of a saw
  • the angle between the relative wind direction and the plane
  • the forward plunge of a ship
  • theaction of pitching of a spacecraft around a lateral axis
  • the action of throwing a ball to a batter
  • in cricket, the point where the ball first strikes the ground after being bowled
  • a lofted approach shot in golf
  • a quantity of something thrown, such as hay
  • a proposed plan
  • patter or spiel designed to sell things or ideas
  • the highest or extreme point
  • the degree of highness or lowness of a sound
  • the density of typed or printed characters on a line
  • the distance between the successive convolutions of the thread of a screw

The verb uses of pitch mirror the nouns above.


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Abstemious or Temulent?



Kathy from Martinsburg, West Virginia, recently came across a word new to her. The word is abstemious, and it refers to temperate use of food and drink. It requires self-control, and later it was extended to habits and lifestyles that range beyond the table. It came from the Latin, where ab- signified “away from,” and temetum meant intoxicating liquor.

The only other word that I have found containing the same root is temulent, now rarely used. It meant drunken or intoxicated. 17th century variations were temulently, temulentness, temulentious, and temulentive.

Shifting beverages, a related word is vinolent, addicted to wine. Charles Wheelwright translated a line from Aristophanes as, “. . .the vinolent propensity of the Athenian females.” Happy hour in the agora, polloi!


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ewers & Mine



I was able to solve a domestic dispute this afternoon on Lew Gatch’s Everybody’s Planning Hour, heard on WMKV-fm, Cincinnati. I covered the subject in a blog about four years ago, but to some people it will be new.

John from Cincinnati thought that the folk saying was, “little pictures have big ears.” His wife held out for, “little pitchers have big ears.” I hope she wasn’t listening or that John knows how to eat crow.

Children used to be called “little pitchers” because their head and prominent ears looked like a container for liquids with projecting handles. [Remember Alfred E. Neuman?]

The standard saying was, "Little pitchers have big ears," meaning, "Watch outthe kid's listening! Be careful what you say!"

"Little pitchers have big/wide ears" showed up in early collections of proverbs, such as John Heywood’s Proverbs (1546) and Nathan Bailey’s Dictionary of Proverbs (1721).


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Squalor


The word squalor is interesting. It can refer to a physical condition, a mixture of misery and dirt, or to a moral condition, a mixture of ignorance and insensitivity. Its predecessor was the Latin verb squalere: to be rough, scaly, clotted, covered with filth or weeds, or cracked and parched.

Some book or film reviews have tossed around the word squalorology, the supposed science of studying squalor. The adjective squalid refers to something foul, repulsive, and loathsome. It has partners in the noun squalidity and the rare verb to squalidize.

Squall has four different meanings and origins, most of them obscure and not at all connected to squalor. It can be an abusive term for an insignificant person, a loud and shrill cry, a sudden storm, or a squishy or marshy piece of ground.

Neither is there a connection to squalus or squaloid, words based on a Latin word for shark.


SIDEBAR: Squalor Victoria


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wax & Wane


Doug asked about the pairing wax and wane. To grow and to shrink would be synonyms. Generally, the words are applied to the moon, but they have referred to people, qualities, eras, institutions, and nations.

Wax is descendant of a Greek word (αεχειν) that meant to increase. It shows up in

  • auxanography, a method of studying substances that promote or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms
  • auxanometer, an instrument for measuring growth in plants
  • auxesis, rhetorical amplification
  • auxetic, pertaining to auxesis or pertaining to a substance that stimulates plant growth
  • auxin, a growth hormone
  • auxochrome, a combination of substances that result in a dyestuff
  • auxospore, a spore formed by the excessive growth of an individual cell

That evolved into the Latin augere, also meaning to increase:

  • augend, the quantity to which an addend is added
  • augment, to make greater
  • august, to ripen

Wane, meaning to reduce in size, is indebted to a Frisian/Dutch/Norse cluster that meant to grow less.

SIDEBAR: Wax & Wane

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 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, August 07, 2010

By the Sea, By the Sea . . .


Terry wrote, “I always thought that the root –pelag- related to the sea, but I came across an article about Augustine of Hippo which said that one of his works was titled Against Two Letters of the Pelagians. He wasn’t anti-mariner, was he?”

Indeed, the letter combination –pelag- can refer to the sea. It appears in archipelago, bathypelagic, mesopelagic, pelagian, pelagic, and pelagosaur, all indebted to a Greek word meaning sea [πελαγοσ].

The problem is that the same letter combination accidentally occurs in words that come from other sources. For instance, pelage (a mammal's covering of fur, hair, or wool), comes from a French word meaning hair. And the Pelagians against whom Augustine railed were named after the theologian Pelagius.

Pelagius was a 5th century writer, probably a Briton, who expressed doubts about original sin, the usefulness of infant baptism, and the overpowering nature of grace, among other things. It is possible that his name came from the word for sea, born as he was on an island, but I have no definitive proof.

SIDEBAR: Pelagius


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Rink


Margaret asked about the word rink, as in roller rink or ice rink. The original rink (15th c.) was a space for jousting. It became a course for riding or running on. Then it became the bout, encounter, or race itself.

Eventually, it became a team in curling or in bowling. From there, it was an easy step to a portion of ice measured off and set aside for play. It was also the measured-off portion of a bowling green.

Now it has become a sheet of ice used for skating and for ice sports, and that lead once upon a time to the phrase rink rat, an ice-skating fanatic. The word rink has a connection to rank, a line of soldiers or people engaged in jousting.


SIDEBAR: Traverse City Roller Derby


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 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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org

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