Saturday, May 28, 2011

Maya Have This Dance?


A cable program about underwater archeology in Central America used the word cenote [sen-OWE-tee]. It’s the name for a natural underground reservoir of water, such as occurs in the limestone of Yucatan.

The explorers found a pile of rubble in a flooded cavern, and upon closer examination, they found pottery and human bones that made them believe it was a sacrificial site. To me, the most interesting thing is that cenote came from a Mayan word, conot. Very few words in English came from that source, and most of them appear only in archeological contexts.

Aside from cenote, the Oxford English Dictionary lists four other Mayan words. Katun, for instance, was a period of twenty years, each with 360 days, in the calendar of the Mayan Indians. Tzolkin was the cycle of two hundred and sixty days constituting the sacred calendar of the Maya. Yucatec was the Mayan name for the inhabitants of Yucatan and their language. Pokolpok was a ball game played by the Mayans. Some have described it as something like basketball, but a heck of a lot rougher: the losing team was sometimes sacrificed.


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


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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.


Visit The Senior Corner at seniors.tcnet.org


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In a Jam


Fiona asked about the phrase in a jam, meaning in a predicament, a difficult situation.

It seems pretty straightforward. A jam is the condition of being so tightly squeezed together that movement is impeded. There are traffic jams, log jams, jammed gears in a machine, and so on. The figurative meaning was established in the early 1890s.

Jamming is also used to describe blocking the signal of a communications device so that it ceases to be useful. In addition, it refers to an extemporaneous style of music; jam sessions are a distinctive feature of jazz.

Other words with the same spelling, but little other connection, include a preserve made from whole fruit, an article of clothing for children, and the hereditary title of certain Eastern princes and noblemen.

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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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Assiduous, Sedulous, and Obdurate


The word assiduous came up during last Tuesday’s program. The word means “constant in application to the business at hand, persevering, sedulous, unwearyingly diligent.” It comes from the Latin assiduus. In turn, that came from the verb assidēre, to sit nearby. As for shades of meaning, assiduous attention to a matter may be temporarily intense, but it’s not necessarily permanent.
The OED definition above included the word sedulous. Sedulous means “diligent, active, constant in application to the matter in hand; assiduous, persistent.” It seems to have come from the Latin word sēdulo—sincerely and honestly. A sedulous person is persistent by habit; it is a constant state. A sedulous scholar, for instance, makes persistent study a life-long pursuit.
A connected word is obdurate: “hardened in wickedness, or persistently resistant to moral influence.” It comes from the Latin obdūrāre, "to be persistent, to endure, to harden the heart against God." While assiduous and sedulous have positive connotations, obdurate is definitely negative.

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, May 18, 2011

Cedilla


Jim in Northport wrote, “My wife was researching her family and came up with an ancestor’s name (Melancon) with a character in it that I can’t name. It is a ‘c’ with a tail hanging below it.

1. What is this character called?

2. How would the name be anglicized? Melancon or Melanson? Or either?”


The little hook under the ç is known as a cedilla. It is a diacritical mark, meaning that it indicates the sound value of the letter to which it is attached.

The cedilla shows up in façade, for instance, and when that word was brought into English from the French, the cedilla was dropped because most American keyboards don’t contain that symbol. However, the –c– is still pronounced as an –s–, so I suspect that the –c– in Melancon would be retained, but would be pronounced as an –s–.

A quick search on google shows that this is precisely the case. We find Charlie Melancon, a politician, the Melancon Funeral Home, Astros pitcher Mark Melancon, and Melancon Jewelers of Louisiana.

I do note, however, that the name was spelled Mellanson in the 17th century as an English name.

By the way, The Dictionary of American Family Names says that Melancon is a French nickname from a dialect word meaning melancholic.



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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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gerontology


The Traverse City Senior Expo is coming up this week, and I’ve been working on judging nominations for the 2011 Michigan Senior Citizen of the Year, so I’m not surprised that the word gerontology has been moving in and out of my consciousness.

It comes from the Greek γεροντ-, γέρων, meaning old man, and it’s the scientific study of old age and the aging process. A gerontologist is the medical practitioner, and he or she engages in gerontological studies.

There are other words that share the same root.

  • Gerontocracy is a system of government headed by the elderly. Gerontocrat and gerontocratic are connected forms. A rare form is gerontarchical.
  • Gerontic is a seldom-used adjective meaning pertaining to old age or senile.
  • Gerontogeous once pertained to plants, designating those that came from the Old World.
  • Gerontomorphic designates anatomical specialization most fully represented in the mature male of a species.
  • A cluster of words refers to strong psychosexual feelings for older people. A gerontophil desires sexual relations with old people. That person has gerontophilia or gerontophilism and engages in gerontophilic thoughts.


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, May 11, 2011

Fraction


Tom from Traverse City called in to make an observation about a word used in an ad running on WTCM. The ad speaks of a sales price that is “only a fraction of what our competitors charge.” Tom’s point was twofold: (1) a fraction doesn’t have to be a small amount—think 99/100th of the solar system, for instance; and (2) a fraction should be definitive, not just a vague synonym for small.

In math, that would be accurate. There, a fraction is an expression for a definite portion of a unit or magnitude of whatever size. But the word did not start as a math term. It derives from the Latin frangere, to break into pieces. The past participle is fractus.

In the 16th century, this was the word to describe breaking the Eucharistic host into pieces during the liturgy. During that period, it was also used as a synonym for refraction of light and for smashing anything material.

It was also used as a surgical term for a bone fracture. Then it branched into figurative use as discord or dissension, a breach of the peace. The arithmetical use of fraction to signify a number less than a whole first appears in print in Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe.

Eventually, it showed up in fields as disparate as surveying, chemistry, and Communist Party organization in the 1920s.


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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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Overweening


We held the annual Senior Citizen Spelling Bee in Traverse City yesterday, and the words (blindly chosen from a container) ranged from guile, eighth, and feral, to irascible, meretricious, and kohlrabi.

One of the interesting words was overweening, defined as, “Of a person, etc.: having unreasonably high expectations or an excessively high opinion of oneself; excessively self-confident; arrogant, presumptuous, self-opinionated.” [OED]

The team that drew the word misspelled it as overweaning, influenced by the word wean—to accustom a child or young animal to the loss of its mother’s milk. Figuratively, wean means to separate a person from some pursuit or enjoyment.

Meanings for the obsolete ween include opinion, belief, expectation, supposition, and doubt. As a very rare adjective, ween meant beautiful. As a verb, the word meant to expect or surmise, and it once commonly showed up as the parenthetical “I ween,” as in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Nor turnd I weene Adam from his fair Spouse.”

SIDEBAR: Words actually used in the 2011 Senior Spelling Bee


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, May 04, 2011

Washer


Gary asked why we call those spacers washers. The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions for washer: (1) one who washes, and (2) a perforated disk designed to reduce friction and wobble, ensure tightness, or reduce leakage. The OED also gives it an “origin unknown” label.

Many different materials are used to make washers. They can be steel, rubber, or plastic. Sometimes metal washers are plated, meaning that they are coated with zinc, nickel, brass, or some other substance. A Chinese company lists these metal washers: flat washers, spring lock washers, internal teeth lock washers, external teeth lock washers, wave spring washers, countersunk external teeth washers, washers with a ball face, and washers with a cone face. Who knew?

The fact that washers are sometimes coated makes me wonder if one specific sense of “to wash” is responsible for the name. That sense is, “to overlay with a thin coat or deposit of metal.” Perhaps early washers took their name from the coating process. Let me emphasize that this is speculation on my part; I have no citation to give.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that “washer is generally considered an agent noun of wash (v.), but the sense connection is difficult, and the noun may derive instead from the ancestor of the French vis ‘screw, vise’.”

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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