Tuesday, June 28, 2011

500th Airing of Words to the Wise








The 500th airing of Words to the Wise, my weekly radio program on WTCM-AM, Traverse City, Michigan, will broadcast live at the Open Space in Traverse City during the National Cherry Festival.

The date is Tuesday, July 5, 2011, and it will air on AM-580 at the usual time -- 9:00 to 10:00 am, EST. If you are within driving distance of Traverse City, come to the Open Space to join the live audience.

Anywhere else in the world, you may listen to live streaming audio at wtcmradio.com, or you can catch the podcast at a later date and time at the same address.


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Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Blog Was Written By Me


Ken wrote that he is constantly annoyed by his computer’s grammar checker because it scolds him every time that he uses the passive voice in a verb. What’s the big deal, he asks.

The active voice of a verb shows that the subject is doing something: Carrie swats flies. The action moves from left to right in the sentence, a standard occurrence in English. An active voice verb is preferred because it is direct, vigorous, and less wordy.

In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon: The flies were swatted by Carrie. The action bounces from right to left, as it were, and the construction seems murky, evasive, and clunky. Politicians love the passive voice because it allows the weasels to direct attention away from themselves: Mistakes were made is less accusatory and damning than I goofed up.

Compare these examples to see why the active voice is usually better:

  • (A) My dog loves rawhide. (P) Rawhide is loved by my dog.
  • (A) Cars need gasoline. (P) Gasoline is needed by cars.
  • (A) I hate spinach. (P) Spinach is hated by me.

However, the passive voice is not always inferior. Sometimes we need to emphasize the object instead of the subject, and sometimes we don’t even know who the subject is.

  • The synagogue has been vandalized three times this year.
  • In the last few years, smart phones have been purchased at a phenomenal rate.
  • My new bicycle was stolen yesterday.

We could use the vague someone as subject in two of the sentences above, but that wears thin after a while. As for your grammar checker, Ken, I’d turn it off. I keep my spell checker on to catch typos, but even that isn’t perfectly programmed.


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



Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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, June 22, 2011

Louche


Barbara from Bay View called in to inquire about a word she encountered while reading a book. The word was louche, and it means dubious, shifty, or disreputable. Sometimes it expresses a secret admiration for the decadence of the underworld.

Its origin is rather delightful. It came into English from a French word that meant squinting. In turn, the French word came from the Latin lusca, one-eyed. It represents the facial squinch that some people exhibit when they encounter something that they disapprove of.

A few examples will illustrate its use.

Catherine Hiller, 17 Morton Street: “Contrary to the louche reputation she cultivated, especially with her sisters, Perri did not go after every man she wanted. She had her standards.”

Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Crime Without Murder: “A prosperous macquereau sipping Vichy water in a Paris nightclub represents an unmistakably louche appearance . . .”

Henry James, The Golden Bowl: “Mayn’t it have all the air for them of a really equivocal, sinister bargain between us—something quite unholy and louche?”

Punch, volume 298: “And the doorways are increasingly being filled by even more disreputable types—drunks, beggars, freeloading hacks. So much for the council’s cleanup campaign. There are certain louche habitués of Soho who swear that the sleaze is all part of the charm.”

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Later in the show, Derrick from Elk Rapids called in to say that louche is a term used in mixing absinthe. A web site titled Absinthe Fever explains it this way: “The absinthe ritual of La Louche is a process of adding iced water to absinthe, which dilutes the drink and slowly transforms its colour from the original emerald green to a lighter, opalescent shade of milky green. More often than not, the water is poured over a lump of sugar placed on a perforated spoon that rests on the top of the glass.”

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

Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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, June 18, 2011

A River Runs Through It


Terry came across a reference to fluvial deposits, and asked about the origin of the word fluvial. It refers to a river and comes to us from the Latin fluvius, river. It doesn’t seem to be used all that much these days, having been supplanted in that phrase by alluvial (L. alluvium, washed against).

Other words indebted to the Latin fluvius include

  • fluviated: marshy or overflowed by a river
  • fluviatic: growing or living in streams
  • fluviatile: formed or produced by the action of rivers
  • fluviose: flowing
  • multifluvian: entered by many rivers


The Latin amnis also means river, and it led to the obsolete terms

  • amnicolist: one who dwells near a river
  • amnigenous: born or bred in, of, or near a river.
  • interamnian: lying between or enclosed by rivers


Then there’s the Greek potamos, river. It shows up in

  • hippopotamus: the African “river-horse”
  • Mesopotamia: the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
  • potamian: a freshwater turtle
  • potamic: relating to rivers
  • potamography: the geographical description of rivers
  • potamology: the branch of science that deals in rivers
  • potamometer: an instrument for measuring the force of a river current
  • potamophilous: river-loving
  • potamoplankton: plankton found in rivers and streams
  • tychopotamic: occurring occasionally in or near rivers


Finally, we have the Latin riparius (riverbank) and its cousin rivulus (little river). They are responsible for

  • riparian: related to the banks of a river
  • ripary: a river or stream
  • rivage: a coast, shore, or riverbank
  • rivulet: a small river or stream


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


Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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, June 15, 2011

Pure Michigan

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deviled Eggs


Carol from Port of Old Mission asked what deviled eggs have to do with the Devil. On air, having taken a quick look at the online Oxford English Dictionary, I hazarded a guess that it might be connected to the verb to devil, meaning tearing rags to pieces by means of a machine called a devil. That could reflect chopping and mincing the ingredients. There actually was such a device, but that explanation was way off target.

Another definition in the OED is more germane. Devil also meant to grill with hot condiments. An example from the 1801 Oracle in The Spirit of Public Journals (IV. 253) reads, “At half past two [I] ate a devil'd kidney.”

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, devil as a cooking term first appeared in the early 19th century. Before refrigeration became common, one method of preserving food involved using hot spices. Deviling referred to foods made hot by mustard, cayenne peppers, or vinegar. The connection between extreme heat and the Devil and the fires of hell is obvious.

In our day, the first thing that comes to mind when you say deviled eggs is a very large jar of mayonnaise. However, the earliest American recipes for deviled eggs did not use mayonnaise. An 1882 cookbook named Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, calls for hard boiled eggs, unsalted butter, white vinegar, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, black pepper, sugar, and watercress.


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:
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, June 08, 2011

Palliative


Joe from Traverse City asked about the word palliative, as in palliative care. It came into English from the French, which, in turn, descended from a Latin word. It refers to treatment that deliberately deals only with symptoms, rather than attempt to effect a cure. Often, the point is to relieve pain at the inevitable end of life when a person is suffering from incurable cancer, an inoperable tumor, or some other terminal malady. It is a temporary and superficial solution, but eminently effective in improving the quality of life.

It is the adjective form of the verb to palliate. The Latin form of that verb meant to cloak or to conceal. It went through several modifications in English:

  • to mitigate physical or mental suffering.
  • to cover with or as with a cloak; to clothe; to shelter.
  • to hide, conceal, or disguise.
  • to mitigate or make excuses for an offense or fault.
  • to moderate or tone down an action or statement.
  • to compromise.
  • to placate or mollify.

While all of these are indebted to the Latin word pallium, a cloak, the shades of meaning are interesting to observe.


SIDEBAR: Get Palliative Care


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:
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, June 04, 2011

Good Optics/Bad Optics


Rita wrote: “Recently, I have been bumping into a strange use of the word optics on news broadcasts. It showed up when Americans were filmed dancing in the streets after they heard of the death of Osama bin Laden. One commentator remarked that he didn’t like the optics. Another use came up on Memorial Day, when a panoramic sweep of thousands of American flags in Arlington National Cemetery prompted another commentator to describe the scene as ‘powerful optics’. What’s going on?”

Jargon is going on. Optics originally referred to the branch of physics that deals with the properties and phenomena of light, thus being inextricably bound to sight. It is now being used as a political buzzword for public perception, whether constituents view an action as acceptable or unacceptable. Appearance trumps analysis.

Ben Zimmer, who now does the On Language column for the New York Times, thinks that it was originally a Canadian term indebted to the French optique, which means perception or point of view, in addition to the science of optics.

In a column that Zimmer wrote on March 7, 2010, he cited a Wall Street Journal article from May 31, 1978, that contained a quote by Robert Strauss (who served under President Jimmy Carter). Hinting that business leaders who went along with the administration’s anti-inflation program might be invited to the White House, he said, ''It would be a nice optical step.''

In a laugh-provoking prochronism, an article in The Review of Politics [72: 385-408, 2010] bears the title, Easily, At a Glance: Aristotle's Political Optics.


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:
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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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Of Sight, Smell, Needles, and Dog


I used the word perspicacious in the quiz at the end of yesterday’s program. It was multiple choice: perspicacious—(a) sweaty (b) restricted (c) dimwitted (d) astute.

The answer is (d) astute. Perspicacity, the noun form of the word, came from a Latin word meaning having keen or penetrating sight. It quickly moved from a strictly physical sense to a mental sense. Perspicuous occasionally means the same thing, but it is often reserved for the meaning “clearly expressed or lucid.”

Mental acuity also refers to sharpness of intellect. It came from a Latin word meaning a needle.

Sagacious (noun form sagacity) came from a Latin word that referred to the acute sense of smell possessed by animals, especially hounds. It morphed into acuteness of mental discernment.

At first, pellucid referred to a transparent substance that allowed the passage of light. Eventually, it was used to describe a person with mentally clear perception.


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:
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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