Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bovine Bull


Kelly from Alanson called in to ask about the phrase “a fink of cows.” He defined it as a group of 12 or more cows. The Oxford English Dictionary lists two separate nouns: an Afrikaans finch and a pejorative term for a police informant.

An internet search revealed that the phrase a flink of cows shows up on numerous web sites, all of them writing about animal collective nouns—names for animal groups. The thing about collective names is that they are invariably useless. Aside from words such as herd, flock, and school, they are not used in professional situations. You won’t hear zookeepers speak of a skulk of foxes, a glint of goldfish, or a scurry of squirrels. The mere existence of “a blessing of unicorns” should serve as a giant reality check.

The majority of such lists are filled with imaginative, poetic, and punning constructs. They may be cute and sometimes clever, but they have no basis in reality. That doesn’t stop people from collecting them, of course. The classic example is James Lipton’s Exultation of Larks.

The OED does list the verb flink, but it has nothing to do with cows. Instead, it is defined as “to behave in a cowardly manner.” Come to think of it, there is a cow in coward.


SIDEBAR: Animal Collective


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


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Area of Rescue Assistance


David wrote, “This sign is at the top of a stairway in one of our local schools. It has a wheelchair symbol and these words - Area of Rescue Assistance. No one can tell me what it means. What do you think it means?”

At first, I had to guess on this one. I figured that it might designate the visible spot to which wheelchair-bound persons are supposed to go during an emergency. From there, someone will see them and run up to rescue them by wheeling them down the stairs.

Then I went online to see if I could confirm this. The Concord, North Carolina, Fire Department's web site informs us that "Modern code-making organizations along with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) have mandated that areas in a building be constructed for physically disabled persons to enter and await fire department assistance during fire and emergency conditions. This area is known as an Area of Rescue Assistance."

That sounded as if the ADA wording had to be used, so I went straight to the Americans with Disability Act and found the following:

“III-7.5135 Areas of rescue assistance (ADAAG §4.1.3(9)). Areas of rescue assistance (safe areas in which to await help in an emergency) are generally required on each floor, other than the ground floor, of a multistory building. An accessible egress route or an area of rescue assistance is required for each exit required by the local fire code. Specific requirements are provided for such features as location, size, stairway width, and two-way communications. Areas of rescue assistance are not required in buildings with supervised automatic sprinkler systems, nor are they required in alterations.”

This often happens with legislation. Not only are certain procedures or actions mandated, but so are their names or titles. There’s little wiggle room.

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


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quagmire


Greg, Ray, and Sandy, who comprise the Thompsonville (MI) Word Etymology & Drinking Club, discussed words that they are sick of hearing at their last session, and somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, quagmire won.

Literally, a quagmire is a quaking bog. Figuratively, it is something that entraps someone, a situation from which it is difficult to extricate oneself—a vivid comparison to quicksand. For instance, a headline in The Hindu proclaimed, “Libya may become another military quagmire for the West.” And the website gigaom had this header: “AT&T, T-Mobile Merger: A Regulatory Quagmire?”

The -quag- segment is a bit of a mystery. It may be related to a word that meant soft or flabby, later applied exclusively to a piece of ground covered by vegetation that gives way when walked upon—in other words, a bog.

The -mire- segment is more traceable. It goes back to an early Scandinavian word that meant an area of swampy ground, a bog. So the joining of the two segments is actually industrial-strength redundancy: a swampy bog = a boggy swamp = quagmire.


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


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Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Force, Enforced


Jim from Northport asked about two versions of the same sign that appear here and there in Leelanau County: “Load Limits Enforced” and “Load Limits in Force.” He found the first version understandable and the second one puzzling. It may be that he thought the second version was a misspelling of the first.

Both are correct. Enforced is a participial form meaning “given legal force.” It signifies that there is a law compelling a truck driver not to exceed a given weight.

“In force” is a prepositional phrase. As it relates to law, it means operative or binding—in other words, load limits are in effect. It took on that meaning towards the end of the 15th century.

In both cases, what started out as a military term meaning to make a fort even stronger turned into a legal constraint. I have no idea why two versions of the same notice might be needed. At a guess, it was the whim of two different road commissioners.


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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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

-scape


Tina asked about the combining form –scape, as in landscape. The original use, in fact, was the word landscape; other words are engaged in back-formation. It came from a Dutch word and was first introduced by artists. The –scape segment means a condition that can be viewed. The land- segment signifies natural inland scenery.

Some of the –scape words are elegant; others are almost humorous.

  • airscape: a view or photograph taken from the air
  • cityscape: city scenery
  • cloudscape: a scene composed of clouds
  • cowscape : a painting of a rural scene which includes cows [my personal favorite]
  • dreamscape: a dream-like picture or a dream-world
  • hardscape: the man-made features of landscape architecture, such as paths, structures, walls, etc.
  • icescape: a picture of ice scenery
  • inscape: Gerard Manley Hopkins' word for the uniqueness of an observed object, scene, event, etc.
  • junglescape: a painting whose subject or background is a jungle
  • lovescape: view, depiction, or evocation of love
  • lunarscape: a picture or view of the moon's surface
  • manscape: a scene or environment characterized by human activity
  • mediascape: communications media as a collective whole
  • mindscape: mental landscape or inner vision.
  • moodscape: a depiction or evocation of complex moods or feelings
  • mountainscape: a picturesque view of a mountainous area
  • mudscape: a landscape composed largely or entirely of mud
  • nightscape: an artistic representation of a scene at night
  • noonscape: a description of a landscape at noon
  • offscape: the distant part of a view or prospect--the background
  • outscape: the outward appearance of a region
  • playscape: a children's play area incorporating existing landscape features
  • poemscape: a poem or text that portrays a landscape
  • prisonscape: a view or picture dominated by a prison or prisons
  • riverscape: a picturesque view or prospect of a river
  • roadscape: a picture or other artistic interpretation of a road
  • rockscape: a stretch or tract of rocky land
  • roofscape: a scene or panorama of roofs
  • seascape: a picture of the sea, a sea-piece; sea-pieces collectively....
  • skyscape: in painting, etc., a representation of part of the sky
  • slumscape: slum scenery
  • snowscape: a snow scene
  • soundscape: a musical composition consisting of a texture of sounds
  • spacescape: a view or prospect of outer space
  • starscape: a view or prospect of a sky filled with stars
  • streetscape: a view or prospect provided by a city street or streets....
  • tablescape: a decorative arrangement of ornaments or other objects on a tabletop
  • townscape: a picture or view of a town
  • treescape: a landscape or scene consisting of or abounding in trees
  • waterscape: a picture or a piece of scenery consisting of water
  • wirescape: scenery or a landscape dominated by overhead wires and pylons
  • xeriscape: landscape that minimizes the need for irrigation


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


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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Plug



The idea of plugging a product—repeatedly promoting it, sometimes shamelessly—came up on the show last Tuesday. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it has gone through many meanings.
The verb started as a Dutch word meaning “to fasten with a plug,” and that sense of stopping something up with a plug is how it entered the English language. Next, it meant to drive a wedge into a wall to help secure a nail or screw.
That was followed by cutting a cylindrical core from a watermelon, for example, to test its ripeness. The idea of sealing an oil well or other shaft was the next step in the evolution of the word plug.
Then came a cluster-flurry of diverse meanings:
  • to stick or jam, as a golf ball that plugs in soggy ground
  • to make an electrical connection
  • to insert data into a formula or a computing device
  • to shoot someone
  • to punch someone
In the middle of the 19th century, we get closer to the idea of promotion with this meaning: “to persevere doggedly; to plod.” Within 30 or so years, to plug away at a task worked its way into “to promote or to recommend,” then to “to give free publicity to.”
I don’t quite understand the jump from a stopper/wedge/plug to steady work, but perhaps that’s because I’m thinking of my granddaughters right now, who live near Tokyo. That was one hell of an earthquake.

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

Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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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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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Affect/Effect


Once again, someone has asked me to distinguish affect and effect. The meanings and differences are inextricably bound to their parts of speech. Many people never analyze parts of speech as adults, but it’s worth it in this case.

Both affect and effect can be either a noun or a verb, so there are four definitions all told.

AFFECT:

  • Noun: feeling or emotion (used primarily in the field of psychology). The patient’s face showed no affect at all; he was impossible to read.
  • Verb: to have an influence on (substitute the word change as a test). Rheumatic fever can affect the heart.

EFFECT:

  • Noun: Something produced, brought about by a cause (substitute the word “result” or “outcome” to check).
    The incident had a deleterious effect on our relationship.
  • Verb: to bring into existence or to produce (substitute the word “create” to check). Specific genes effect specific bodily characteristics.


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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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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, March 05, 2011

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!


In my Cincinnati version of Words to the Wise last week on WMKV-fm, someone asked about the word rumble, as in “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

The Oxford English Dictionary reveals that a similar word shows up in many allied languages: Dutch, German, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. In all cases, the word in its many forms is credited to onomatopoeia. This means that the word is spelled in imitation of a sound—in this case, a rumbling sound.

The first meaning given for the noun [1405] is “a low, continuous, murmuring, grumbling, or growling sound, as that of thunder, distant cannon, heavy vehicles, etc.” From the very start, a parallel figurative meaning arose: any uproar, commotion, or tumult. By 1946, it had evolved into American slang for a street fight between rival gangs. A classic example is presented in West Side Story.


In the centuries between, a number of other meanings developed for rumble.

  • A severe blow [1434].
  • The hind part of a carriage that contains seating accommodations or is used to carry luggage [1808]. In cars, it was called a rumble seat.
  • A rotating box or cask in which iron articles are shaken and cleaned by friction [1843].
  • Criminal slang for an alarm or tip-off [1911].
  • In sound reproduction, low-frequency noise originating as mechanical vibration in a turntable [1949].
  • Colloquially, a rumor [1961].

In the 1960s, many towns and municipalities began to install rumble strips, tiny ridges on a road that produce a whining sound when a car passes over them. They signal a crossroad ahead or some other approaching hazard.

SIDEBAR: Michael Buffer


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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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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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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gung-ho


Gung-ho is an abbreviated form of a longer Chinese phrase. The gung segment means work, and ho means together.

Japan invaded China in WWII, cutting off many of its industrial centers in urban areas in the eastern part of the country. This signaled the beginning of the downfall of the Chinese Nationalists (led by Chiang Kai-shek), who had previously focused on the cities and ignored the countryside. Chinese communists and private interests turned to small rural industrial operations called “industrial (work) cooperatives.”

This name was adopted by U.S. Marine forces under General E. Carlson. He headed the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, a guerilla unit operating in the Pacific. According to the New York Times Magazine of November 8, 1942, “Borrowing an idea from China, Carlson frequently has what he calls ‘kung-hou’ meetings. ‥. Problems are threshed out and orders explained.” Consequently, his men began to call themselves the Gung Ho Brigade.

Ultimately, the phrase came to signify someone eager, zealous, enthusiastic, and dedicated to his or her endeavor.


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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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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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