Saturday, January 28, 2012

Post This


Betty wrote, “I know that the word part –post- means after. How does that tie into the word postulate, a self-evident assumption or axiom that is used in geometry?”

There is no connection. With surprising frequency, word parts with no connection to each other accidentally wind up with identical spelling, the very same letter sequence, even though the meaning and the source are miles apart.

A classic example is the word part –ped-. It can mean foot (pedal), child (pediatrician), or soil (pedocal). Another example is the word part –in-. It can mean inside (instill), but it can also mean not (insane).

Back to –post-. Postulate comes from a Latin word that means a demand, a forceful request. Other words sharing that same root are expostulate, postulant, and postulative. The -post- that means later in time shows up in words such as post-game, postpartum, and postmortem. A slightly different shade of meaning, behind in position, shows up in postaxial, posterior, and postchoroid.

Post—the sturdy piece of timber—comes from another source entirely, and has no connection to the word parts above.


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

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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, January 25, 2012

Tintinnabulation


Charlie from Traverse City asked about the word tintinnabulation. At the core is the Latin verb tintinnare, to ring, clink, or jingle. If you say “tin-tin” aloud, you can hear that it is an approximation or imitation of a bell sound. That makes it onomatopoeia – the sound suggests the sense of the word. (Inescapably, I picture a belly dancer plying her finger cymbals.)


The OED points to the –bulation segment as a suffix of instrument. The Oxford English Dictionary also labels all variants of the word as pedantic. In other words, your average churchgoer isn’t going to remark that the bells are particularly tintinnabulent on any given Saturday or Sunday.


The word would probably have died out as being too arch or bookish had it not been for Edgar Allen Poe. In the late 1840s, he wrote a poem titled The Bells, and he found the word very useful in establishing the desired meter in stanza 1.

Hear the sledges with the bells -

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

In the icy air of night!

While the stars that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells -

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


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

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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, January 21, 2012

Clout the Lame Duck


Florence noticed a subhead in the January 20 Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Can lame-duck governor [Perry] reclaim clout at home?” Two words caught her attention: lame-duck and clout.

Lame duck is a metaphor. The image is of an injured duck that cannot keep up with the flock. It was first used metaphorically in the 18th century London Stock Exchange, where it stood for a broker who could not cover his debts. It turned into a political term in America in the mid-19th century. It designated a politician who lost the November election, but who – in those days – would serve until March. This allowed for all kinds of mischief since he was no longer accountable to the voters.

The abuses were so widespread that they inspired Congress to add the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1932; the States ratified it in 1933. This amendment shortened the time between election and installation. It also clarified Presidential succession in the event of death before inauguration.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that clout is “personal or private influence; power of effective action, weight (esp. in political contexts).”

Clout had a strange evolution. It came from an Old English word that meant a shred of cloth, a patch. It was a cousin of clod and clot, and their designation of a lump got thrown into the mix of clout. By 1400, it had come to mean a heavy blow, a cuff to the head. In pure speculation, perhaps that was because a blow could raise a lump. In 1950s America, it was used to mean political influence. I don’t know if he created the meaning, but Chicago columnist Mike Royko certainly made the word his trademark.


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, January 19, 2012

Pine


Dorothy read a blog in which the writer said that he was “pining for the way things used to be.” Her question was, “how did pining come to mean yearning?”

Originally, this pine (which has no connection to the tree) was related to pain. It represented the torment or torture inflicted by an angry God as punishment to sinners dwelling in purgatory or in hell. It descended from the Latin poena, pain.

To pine eventually came to mean to waste away, to endure emotional or physical suffering because of starvation, disease, or grief.

Later, it sidetracked into shrinking and curing meat or fish by exposing them to the elements.

Finally, in the 16th century, it came to mean to yearn, to languish with desire, to long eagerly. Shakespeare used it in Romeo and Juliet, when Friar Lawrence said,

"I married them; and their stol'n marriage-day

Was Tybalt's dooms-day, whose untimely death

Banish'd the new-made bridegroom from the city,

For whom, and not for Tybalt, Juliet pined."


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

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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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Friday, January 13, 2012

Balaclava


Rob from Traverse City asked about the word balaclava The balaclava is a head covering that leaves only parts of the face uncovered. It is commonly referred to as a ski mask.

Balaclava is a city on the southern Crimean coast in the Ukraine. The town manufactured the distinctive head covering, which the British army distributed to their troops during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Not only did balaclavas protect soldiers from the cold, but they also served as helmet liners.

Today, balaclavas are a staple of winter sports, and race car drivers wear a flame-resistant version as a safety feature throughout the year. Balaclavas also seem to be the headgear of choice for bank robbers.

The Battle of Balaclava (1854) was memorialized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his Charge of the Light Brigade.

Oddly enough, two other articles of clothing have connections to the Crimean War. The raglan, an overcoat with loose armholes, was named after Baron Raglan, a British general. The cardigan, a knitted wool sweater that buttons or zips at the front., was named after the Earl of Cardigan, a British commander.


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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Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Susan came across the phrase, “a puckish sense of humor” and wondered where it came from. These days, it means a mischievous sense of humor, something characteristic of a prankster.

You will also hear it expressed as “a devilish sense of humor” or as “a wicked sense of humor.” In all three cases, we see a radically diminished or softened meaning. The original devil and wicked were industrial-strength words signifying unspeakable evil.

Puck came to us from a nexus of Scandinavian languages, where it meant an evil spirit. There was nothing playful or mild about the word in those days. By the 16th century, it came to mean a playful goblin that haunted rural areas. It took on the name of Robin Goodfellow.

A hobgoblin named Puck appears in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.


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, January 07, 2012

Links


Thomas wrote to ask why certain golf courses are called links. The word link seems to have come from Old English, where it meant to slope. One of the features of a links course is sloping or undulating fairways.

This is the progression of the word link as presented in the Oxford English Dictionary:

§ Rising ground; a ridge or bank.

§ pl. (Sc.) Comparatively level or gently undulating sandy ground near the sea-shore, covered with turf, coarse grass, etc.

§ pl. The ground on which golf is played, often resembling that described above


Today, most people use links as a synonym for any golf course, but strictly speaking, a links course has the features of the original Scottish courses set on the west coast of the North Sea. They featured barren sandy soil, long bent grass and gorse, no trees, and nasty pot bunkers. What simulated links courses built inland lack is the raging wind and driving rain characteristic of the original.


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

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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, January 04, 2012

Encaustic


A caption on page D5 of the January 4, 2012, edition of the Wall Street Journal reads, “Part of an encaustic icon of Christ from between the sixth and seventh centuries.”

Encaustic comes from the Greek verb encauein (ἐγκαίειν), meaning “to burn in.” It refers to a method of painting that depends on firing the art piece. One ancient method used wax colors, then fixed them in place by means of fire.

In a wider sense, the word also applies to any process that relies on burning in the colors, such as enameling objects or painting pottery before firing. Bricks and tiles formed by using different colored clays also count.

Today, many abstract artists and mixed-media artists continue the tradition.


SIDEBAR: Getting Started in Encaustic Painting


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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