Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chopped Liver


A listener called in last Tuesday, but didn’t want to go on air with his question. It was about the origin of the phrase (usually uttered in frustration), “What am I, chopped liver?” This is the equivalent of “Why are you ignoring me or my opinion or contribution?” Used in a more positive sense, as a sign of approbation or admiration, it may be expressed as, “That ain’t chopped liver.”

Chopped liver as a side dish became popular in America at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in the Jewish community in New York City. It doesn’t seem to have taken on negative undertones until mid-twentieth century. One of the earliest instances that I can find in print (Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang) appears in 1954 on The Jimmy Durante Show, aired on CBS television: “Now that ain't chopped liver.” In fact, it seems to have become a cliché, an easy laugh, among Jewish comedians. It became a staple in the Borscht Belt.

Unlike some other show-biz phrases (“break a leg”), it doesn’t seem to have come from Yiddish. Here’s what I found in the column Ask the Rabbi on the web site Ohr Somayach, an outreach organization aimed at university-aged young men with little or no background in Judaic studies: “As far as I know, the origins of the phrase are not Yiddish; I believe the phrase was originally coined in America. Being that chopped liver was always considered a side dish and not a main course, the phrase is used to express hurt and amazement when a person feels he has been overlooked and treated just like a ‘side dish.’"

SIDEBAR: Chopped Liver Recipe by Ina Garten


NOTE: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.


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, April 27, 2011

Dots Over Letters i and j.

During a discussion with his grandchildren (Erin Sheehan, 5th grade, and Carter Sheehan, 4th grade), my brother Frank reports that this question came up: why are there dots over the lowercase i and j? The answer comes in steps.


In medieval Latin manuscripts, letters were jammed side by side, and sometimes in very early manuscripts, even the spaces between words were minimal. Many letters began with a long stroke sloping toward the right, so a reader would have to move slowly and carefully to decipher the letters and determine where a new letter began.


In Latin, the letter –i– had two values: it was a vowel with a long E sound (idem, filii, fides) and it was a consonant with a Y sound (iustitia, Iupiter, iam). Since it was the only letter formed with a single stroke, somewhere around the 11th century, scribes began to insert a diacritical mark (a dot) over the letter –i– to show that it was self-contained, not part of the adjoining stroke.


When the letter was snatched into English, it was still both a vowel or a consonant. But after 1600, the vowel was spelled as an –i–, and the consonant was spelled as the slightly changed –j–. Since they had started as one letter, the dot was also retained over the –j–.


SIDEBAR: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.


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, April 23, 2011

Square Meal


Les from Petoskey asked about the origin of “square meal.” Like many other phrases or expressions, fanciful explanations have sprung up over the centuries. Let’s get some of them out of the way before proceeding.

One explanation brings up rolling seas and seasoned sailors. This story claims that they ate from square wooden boards with built-up edges to keep food from slipping and sliding off the plate. When they were given a square meal, it filled the square board. Another story says that travelers always carried their squares with them in hopes that someone would bounteously heap the plate with viands. A third story refers to military academies and their treatment of plebes, who were required to sit at attention when eating and to move their arms at right angles only – thus tracing a square.

When you assess stories such as these, you can’t go by frequency. Phony stories have a tendency to go viral. Instead, you need to consult recognized experts. I’ve prepared a Rollyo search engine that excludes as many unreliable sources as possible. You’ll find it under LINKS in the column to the right. The url is http://www.rollyo.com/wordmall/ In this case, it brought up Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words and his trustworthy professional explanation.

A careful look at the Oxford English Dictionary shows how the meaning of square evolved. It started as something sturdily built, something with solid right angles that would hold their shape. A couple of hundred years later, it meant forthright and reliable. By mid-19th century, thanks to usage in American mining camps, square meal emerged: a solid, substantial, and filling meal.

Two explicit quotes are worth a look. First, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of 1865:

“A square meal is not, as may be supposed, a meal placed upon the table in the form of a solid cubic block, but a substantial repast of pork and beans, onions, cabbage, and other articles of sustenance.” Second, All Year Round of September 1868: “Roadside hotel keepers . calling the miners' attention to their ‘square meals’: by which is meant full meals.”

SIDEBAR: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.


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, April 16, 2011

Epigraphy


Margaret wrote to ask about a word used on the cable program The Naked Archeologist. The word was epigraphy. It is composed of two Greek elements: epi-, meaning on or upon, and –graphy, writing. Epigraphy is used to designate the study of inscriptions, whether they are on coins, pottery, buildings, tombs, statues, etc.

The –graphy word part is very useful. The Oxford English Dictionary reveals that it is used in over 600 words. It indicates an area of interest that has been studied, classified, and interpreted. Let’s look at a mere sampling.

  • agrostography: the description of grasses.
  • brachygraphy: the art or practice of writing with abbreviations or with abbreviated characters.
  • cynography: a writing or treatise on dogs.
  • ethnography: the description of the morals and characteristics of man.
  • glossography: the writing of glosses or commentaries; the compiling of glossaries.
  • hagiography: the writing of the lives of saints; saints' lives as a branch of literature or legend.
  • icthyography: a description or treatise on fish.
  • loimography: the descriptive science treating of pestilential diseases.
  • museography: the systematic description of the contents of museums.
  • nomography: a treatise on law.
  • ophiography: a treatise on snakes; the scientific description of snakes.
  • paremiography: the writing or collecting of proverbs; also, : a collection or book of proverbs.
  • rhypography: the painting of distasteful or sordid subjects. Also, writing about distasteful or sordid subjects.
  • selenography: a description of the moon's surface.
  • thaumatography: a writing concerning the wonders of nature.
  • uranography: a description of heaven.
  • webliography: a list of electronic works or documents, esp. those relating to a particular topic or referred to in a scholarly work.
  • zoopraxography: the study of animal locomotion.


SIDEBAR: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.

http://mastersinprojectmanagement.com/word-nerds-rejoice-top-25-blogs-for-editing-geeks/


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, April 13, 2011

Bicker & Dicker


Elizabeth from Suttons Bay asked this question: “The Wall Street Journal had this as a headline—‘Dickering on Budget Goes Down To the Wire.’ Shouldn’t that be bickering?”

Depending on the author’s intended nuance, either one would fit. To bicker is defined as “to skirmish, exchange blows; to fight.” Used figuratively, it means “to dispute, quarrel, or wrangle.” Both political parties certainly did fight to the last hour.

To dicker is defined by the OED as, “to trade by barter or exchange; to bargain in a petty way, to haggle.” The first example of dickering cited is from 1802: Port Folio (Philadelphia) ii. 268: “Dickering signifies all that honest conversation, preliminary to the sale of a horse, where the parties very laudably strive in a sort of gladiatorial combat of lying, cheating, and overreaching.”

So, if the writer simply meant a fight, bickering would be the word of choice. If the art of the deal was being emphasized, dickering would fit. Dickering has undertones of pettiness and chicanery, and it’s quite possible that the headline writer was showing some barely-concealed contempt.


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, April 09, 2011

Shall & Will


Jennifer asked about the distinction between shall and will. In my grammar school days, we were taught the traditional distinction, but in contemporary America it is seldom honored. For all I know, it’s no longer taught.

The traditional rule is this:

(1) To signal simple futurity, use shall in the first person (I/we) and will in the second and third person (you/he/she/it/they).

  • I shall read this when I have time.
  • You will want to read this.
  • She will want to read this

(2) To signal determination or obligation, use will in the first person and shall in the second and third person.

  • I will get the job done no matter what it takes.
  • You shall get the job done or be fired.
  • He shall get the job done or be fired.

Even during its heyday (the 18th century), it was not uniformly applied. It was the product of our old friends, the hypercorrectionists. They probably used the model of Old English, where willan meant “to be about to,” and sculan meant “to be obliged to.” But Old English gave way to Middle English around the 12th century.

Today, you might encounter it in polite requests (“shall we go?”) or in legal documents (“the tenant shall be responsible for electrical and telephone bills”). Otherwise, shall is an endangered species.


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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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Anxiously Eager


Keith from East Jordan called in one of his pet peeves: anxious and eager being used as synonyms. He pointed out that they should be more scrupulously distinguished.

Anxious comes from a Latin verb that means to be in distress, almost to the point of choking up. By its nature, it originally indicated concern, anxiety, and dread. Thus, say some commentators, you might be anxious about receiving the results of a medical exam searching for cancer, but you would not be anxious about what you will receive as a Christmas present; you would be eager to know that.

Today, eager seems to be a more positive word than anxious, in spite of the fact that it started life meaning biting, sharp, or severe. It indicates keen anticipation, impatient longing, and avid expectation.

However, there is a historical fact that needs to be taken into account. As early as 1743, anxious was already being used as a synonym for eager. Robert Blair wrote of “The gentle Heart Anxious to please.” So the blurred lines are not new. They came into existence over 250 years ago, and writers have been using the two interchangeably ever since. In the light of such continuous usage, it is difficult for me to assign rigid meanings dogmatically.

SIDEBAR: High Anxiety


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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Friday, April 01, 2011

Triage in Intensive Care


From A History of the American Civil War, volume 2, by Karl Mendax.

On Civil War battlefields, field surgeons would group the wounded in threes. Because there weren't enough supplies to go around, they would pick the one soldier most likely to survive. This is why this medical selection is called triage. Tri- means three.

The lucky soldier would be carried into the medical field tent for treatment, while the unlucky two would be humanely placed under a shade tree and left to die. Over the years, this "in tents" care degenerated into “intensive care.”


Posted April 1, 2011

April Fool!


Dona Sheehan's prints