Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stool


Sometimes a word is worth examining simply because of the diverse meanings that it has picked up over the centuries. Such a word is stool.

Here’s a rundown on stool through the centuries.

  • A simple piece of wooden furniture designed for sitting [725]
  • A seat designed for a single individual, especially a king or bishop [897]
  • A low short bench or form upon which to rest the foot, to step or kneel [1250]
  • A seat for an offender [1308]
  • A frame upon which to work embroidery or tapestry [1385]
  • A commode or privy [1410]
  • A seat by a grave or tomb [1463]
  • A base or stand upon which a thing is set to raise it above the ground or general surface [1481]
  • A bench, counter, table, trestle [1519]
  • The stand of a beehive [1523]
  • Feces [1541]
  • The action of evacuating the bowels [1542]
  • A church pew [1570]
  • The stump of a tree which has been cut down [1577]
  • The scar left by a wound [1601]
  • The sill of a window [1663]
  • The ‘eye’ of an apple, pear or quince [1672]
  • A brick-molder's shed or workshop [1693]
  • The head or top of a mushroom [1744]
  • A decoy bird [1825]
  • A seat designed to be used by a clerk sitting at a high desk [1836]
  • A police informer [1906]

The last item reveals where “stool pigeon” came from. It was a pigeon fastened to a tree stump to act as a decoy to attract wild pigeons. It betrayed its own, albeit unwittingly.


SIDEBAR: If you live in the GT region and are over 50, get a team of 3 together for this year's Senior Spelling Bee. Practice rounds at TADL Wed. April 25 & Thurs. April 26 at noon. Main event Friday, May 4th, 1 p.m., at the Gilbert Lodge on Twin Lakes. Call the TC Senior Center for details at 231-922-4911.


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.


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Measure Once, Bake Twice


I sauntered into the kitchen one day last week and discovered that my wife was preparing a pie. She had already baked a pie shell, intending to make a chocolate truffle pie, but changed her mind after watching a cooking show on cable. Now it was to be a caramel apple pie. I asked if baking the shell twice was going to cause a problem, but she explained that it wouldn’t be in the oven that long.

The phrase twice-baked leapt into my mind, and that triggered the word biscuit, a question that had arisen on the show last year. Biscuit ultimately comes from two Latin words meaning (a dough product) baked twice. The instructions on the Pillsbury label call for a single turn in the oven, but it seems that the original biscuit was literally baked twice.

That, of course, led me to biscotto, an Italian word for a crisp biscuit. This treat is a long, thin, hard biscuit. It is usually served with a hot drink, into which it is dipped.

My wife then reminded me of ricotta. The word parts in ricotta mean “cooked again.” Ricotta uses the whey left over during cheese production. Cheese is heated during its production, and then the separated whey is heated again to produce ricotta.

Be still, my dicrotic pulse.


SIDEBAR: If you live in the GT region and are over 50, get a team of 3 together for this year's Senior Spelling Bee. Practice rounds at TADL Wed. April 25 & Thurs. April 26 at noon. Main event Friday, May 4th, 1 p.m., at the Gilbert Lodge on Twin Lakes. Call the TC Senior Center for details at 231-922-4911.


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.



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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Punctuation Injunction


Bob had an interesting question during last Tuesday’s show: where did punctuation names come from? Here’s a rundown on some of the standard punctuation marks.

  • apostrophe ( ’ )
    The sign used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters. [Gr. turning away
    or elision]
  • brackets ( [ ] )
    Marks used for enclosing a word or number of words, a portion of a mathematical formula, or the like, so as to separate it from the context. [L. projecting support
    ]
  • colon ( : )
    A punctuation mark that directs the reader’s attention to what follows in the same sentence. [Gr. a limb
    , a portion of a sentence]
  • comma ( , )
    A mark used to separate the smallest members of a sentence. [Gr. a small piece cut off
    ]
  • dash ( – )
    A mark used to signify a pause or break in a sentence. [Scand. to slap with an open hand
    ]
  • ellipsis ( ... )
    Marks indicating the omission of one or more words in a sentence. [Gr. a cut section
    , as a segment of a cone]
  • exclamation point ( ! )
    A sentence termination mark that signifies great emotion. [L. to cry out vehemently
    ]
  • hyphen ( - )
    A short dash used to connect compound words or to signify that a word will be completed on the next line. [Gr. together, as one]
  • parentheses ( ( ) )
    Marks used to enclose interrupting, but connected, comments [Gr. to put in beside
    ]
  • period ( . )
    The mark used to indicate the end of a declarative sentence. [Gr. a cycle, length of time, or rounded-off event
    ]
  • question mark ( ? )
    The mark used to signify the end of a sentence which is a direct question. [L. to ask or inquire
    ]
  • quotation marks ( “ ” )
    Marks used to enclose the exact words of another person. [L. to mark or reference
    ]
  • semicolon ( ; )
    A mark used to join two independent clauses that are intimately connected; it could be replaced by a period. [L. semi, half
    , + Gr. a limb, a portion of a sentence]


SIDEBAR: If you live in the GT region and are over 50, get a team of 3 together for this year's Senior Spelling Bee. Practice rounds at TADL Wed. April 25 & Thurs. April 26 at noon. Main event Friday, May 4th, 1 p.m., at the Gilbert Lodge on Twin Lakes. Call the TC Senior Center for details at 231-922-4911.


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.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just Junk


Terry writes that she watched a rerun of NCIS the other night. In the episode (Borderland), Doctor Mallard, the medical examiner, tells Palmer (his assistant) that the word junk originally meant scraps of rope left over aboard a sailing vessel. A bit skeptical, Terry wants to know if there’s a scrap of truth in the assertion.

For once, a TV show was not guilty of folk etymology, a bogus explanation for the origin of a word. In its first appearance in print (1485), junk, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, meant “an old or inferior cable or rope.”

By 1842, it had come to mean “any discarded or waste material that can be put to some use,” and then, “second-hand or discarded articles of little or no use or value; rubbish.”

In our time, it has become a slang term for heroin. More famously, it showed up in a warning by airline passenger John Tyner in 2010 when he warned a TSA agent about to perform a groin search, “Don’t touch my junk!”


SIDEBAR: If you live in the GT region and are over 50, get a team of 3 together for this year's Senior Spelling Bee. Practice rounds at TADL Wed. April 25 & Thurs. April 26 at noon. Main event Friday, May 4th, 1 p.m., at the Gilbert Lodge on Twin Lakes. Call the TC Senior Center for details at 231-922-4911.


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. In northern Michigan, go to AM-580, WTCM.

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 17, 2012

Impecunious


Wes asked about the word impecunious. It means penniless or bereft of money. It came directly from a Latin word meaning money. Earlier, that same Latin word meant property or holdings in general, particularly farm animals.

Impecunious is matched by pecunious, wealthy or flush with money. Pecunious also has undertones of frugality, even miserliness. Peculation is a legal term meaning the embezzlement of public funds, and it also ultimately tracks back to livestock.

As an interesting sidebar, the English word money came from the Latin moneta. Moneta was the name of a Roman goddess in whose temple coins were minted.


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.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recline to Dine


Ruth from Traverse City called in to share two words that she came across, cubitus and decubitus.

Cubitus is a vein in an insect wing. In origin, it is indebted to the cubit, the part of the arm from the elbow downward. Decubitus was the manner or posture of lying on a bed. It came from a Latin word meaning to lie down.

Gary from Burt Lake called in a likely connection between the words. In ancient times, people reclined upon couches during a banquet, supporting themselves upon an elbow.

This is confirmed in a history book: “The prophet Amos is the first sacred writer to refer to the custom of "[stretching] themselves upon their couches" when eating (Amos 6:4). By the time of Jesus, the Roman custom of reclining on couches at supper (accumbendi) had been adopted in some Jewish circles. The Roman table and couches combined was called a triclinium. There were three couches which were located on the three sides of a square, the fourth side being left open, so that a servant could get on the inside to assist in serving the meal. The guest's position was to recline with the body's upper part resting on the left arm, and the head raised, and a cushion at the back, and the lower part of the body stretched out.” [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight ]

The Oxford English Dictionary had this example from J. Arbuthnot’s Tables of Ancient Coins, v. 134, 1727. “The Roman recumbent or (more properly) accumbent posture in eating was introduc'd after the first Punick War.”


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.


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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hot As Hell


Jessie Pascoe wrote to ask about one of her grandmother’s sayings, when hell freezes over.

The traditional view of hell posits that hell is infinitely hot; therefore, it can never freeze.

Actually, the idiom has a couple of forms.

  • Until or till hell freezes over means forever, as in, “I’ll be watching you until hell freezes over.”
  • When hell freezes over means never, as in, “I’ll vote for him when hell freezes over.”

No one seems to know who first uttered the saying. It seems to be American, and the Oxford English Dictionary gives this example from 1832:

“This week we received another paper returned from the same [post] office ‥.on the margin of which is written, ‘Stop this paper or send it to Syracuse, where [the subscriber now] lives.' I shall send it back until hell freezes over . . . .” [Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate, 4 Feb. 38/3]


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.


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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Ministerial Act


Scott wrote, “I received a letter from a public school official this last week addressing the signing of a labor contract with the following statement: ‘The act of signing the master agreement is merely a ministerial act.’ Can you explain the words MINISTERIAL ACT ?

New to me, so I can explain it only by going to legal sources. For instance, the legal dictionary Farlex has this: “ministerial act n. an act, particularly of a governmental employee, which is performed according to statutes, legal authority, established procedures or instructions from a superior, without exercising any individual judgment.”

So it involves an underling who is simply following established policies, not inventing them. He or she has no discretion in the matter. The Pennsylvania Legislator’s Municipal Deskbook, Third Edition, has this: “A ministerial act has been defined as one that a public officer is required to perform under a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of legal authority.”

In Pennsylvania, at least, a citizen can force a municipality to take action by obtaining a writ of mandamus. This is a “a writ issued by a superior court to compel a lower court or government officer to perform mandatory or purely ministerial duties correctly.”

Minister/ministerial comes from a Latin word that meant a household servant or official.


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.


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Sunday, March 04, 2012

There/Their/They’re


Nancy from Houghton Lake called to ask if there is an easy way to distinguish there, their, and they’re. Sort of.

The easiest one to extract is they’re. The apostrophe makes it a contraction. Other common contractions include I’m, she’s, that’s, who’s, where’s, and how’s. In all these examples, the apostrophe is there to signal that a letter has deliberately been left out. In the case of they’re, it’s the letter –a–. The full spelling would be they are. Contractions save space and insert a feeling of informality and relaxation. They never signal possession.

There contains the word here. They are linked as location words: here means in this (near) place, and there means in that (more distant) place.

Their, which means belonging to them, contains the word heir. Parents often leave an inheritance to their heir.


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.


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