Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I've Done Finished


Kate from Petoskey called in a distinction that tends to divide families and friends. It’s the notion that done and finished cannot be interchangeable. The admonishing cliché is, “A roast is done; people are finished.”

This falls in the same prescriptivist bin as “never end a sentence with a preposition” and “never split an infinitive.”  People become passionate about these things, but without logical justification.

All it takes to perpetuate such language myths is one writer or one book making stern and apodictic pronouncements. In the case of done vs. finished, Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage points to MacCracken & Sandison’s 1917 Manual of Good English.

It reminds me of John Dryden and his 18th century cohorts, who were embarrassed by the “corrupt” English of their day and capriciously invented new rules and spellings to clean it up.     But even Dryden had no problem with done used to express finished: “Now the Chime of Poetry is done.” [tr. Virgil Pastorals ix]


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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Marvelous Varves



A post on Facebook by WTCM’s Bill Froelich had a link to an article which contends that, based on archeological earthquake studies, the date of the Crucifixion was April 3, 33 A.D.

The article contains this sentence: “Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36.” The word varves caught my eye.

The Oxford English Dictionary expands on the definition: “Varve: a pair of thin layers of clay and silt of contrasting colour and texture which represent the deposit of a single year (summer and winter) in still water at some time in the past (usually in a lake formed by a retreating ice-sheet); they have been used to establish a chronology of the late glacial and post-glacial period.”

Varve comes from the Swedish word varv, a layer or turn. While the OED’s first citation dates from 1887, it seems that the word received professional endorsement and promulgation in the year 1912 in an article by G. De Geer in Compt. Rend. XI Session Congrès Géol. Internat.  There he wrote, “The Swedish word varv, (old spelling: hvarf), means as well a circle as a periodical iteration of layers. An international term for the last sense being wanted, it seems suitable to use the transcription varve, pl. -s, in English and French.”






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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Please Vote!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thana-Topics



An old classmate and I were reminiscing the other night about our school days, and one of the memories revived was how often we were expected to memorize lines of poetry in those days. To my amusement, my friend stood and theatrically recited the last verse of William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis by heart:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Thanatopsis was formed from two Greek words – thanatos (θάνατος) death, and opsis (ὄψις), sight or view. It signifies a meditation on death. In modern times, the thanato- combining form is rarely used, but it was responsible for some interesting words over the years.

  • thanatognomonic: indicative or characteristic of death.
  • thanatography: an account of a person's death.
  • thanatomantic: of or pertaining to divination concerning death.
  • thanatophilia: an undue fascination with death.
  • thanatophobia: morbid fear of death.
  • thanatophoric: death-bringing
  
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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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Signatures Under the Weather





Kelly Croff wrote, "I think you answered this before, but where did the term 'under the weather' come from? Also, I heard someone say that an autographed item was 'hand signed'. Is the any other way to sign things???

In centuries past, before people knew about germs and viruses, it was widely believed that bad weather directly caused illness. So people who were sick and blamed it on the weather would say that they were “under the weather,” meaning under the baleful influence of the weather.

Automated signing machines do a brisk business with politicians, businesses, organizations, and other activities that require hundreds or thousands of signatures daily. The machines cost a few thousand dollars, and most of them these days require a flash memory card or a smart card to store signatures, which provides a degree of security to the signer. Without the card, an unauthorized person cannot use the signature.


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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Are Getting Sleepy . . .





Claire came across the word somnambulant and figured out from context that it refers to sleepwalking. Both halves of the word are indebted to Latin: somnus means sleep, and ambulare means to walk.

The word part -somn- is also found in insomnia and somnolent, and in the obsolete words levisomnous (light-sleeping or easily awakened), semisomnous (half asleep), and somniculous (inducing sleep).

The -ambul- sequence shows up in words such as ambulance, ambulation, ambulatory, circumambulate, funambulation (tightrope-walking), noctambulate (to wander by night), perambulate (to stroll), and the nonce-word vicambulate (to wander about in the streets).



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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.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Numinous




Larry from Traverse City reported that he recently encountered a word that he had to look up. The word was numinous, and it is defined as “revealing or indicating the presence of a divinity.” He noted that it came from the noun numen, a divinity, god, or local spirit.

Larry’s question was not about the meaning, however; it was about the spelling. Why does the letter –e– in the noun form (numen) change to the letter –i– in the adjective form (numinous)? The same thing happens with lumen/luminous, nomen/nominal, and abdomen/abdominal, among others.

When you memorize Latin nouns, you memorize two forms: the nominative case (used as subject spelling, for instance), and the genitive case (used for possession). The Latin forms for the words used above would be numen/numinis, lumen/luminis, nomen/nominis and abdomen/abdominis. In all those cases, the second spelling (genitive case) is a slight expansion of the first, and involves a vowel change.

The reason for the vowel change is ease of pronunciation. Quite simply, certain sounds are easier to articulate than others. Since all of these examples pertain to Latin words, I turned to an old friend and classmate, Gregory Carnevale, who taught Latin for many years. He sent me this gracious answer:

“In Latin there are instances where there's a vowel change to facilitate pronunciation. This is a perfect case. All of these nouns have the genitive -inis, even though there's an E in the nominative. Take nomen, for example.  The genitive is nominis. Thus the stems of all the words you give derive from the genitive. Hence the change from E to I.  If we were to try to say nomenis, or numenis, or abdomenis, the syllable with the E (which is a long A sound) is harder to say than if  we pronounce the I (which is a long E sound). Try it out -- it's a jaw thing. The E is a jaw, the I is a labial. That is true for all the examples given. The Romans were very efficient in all things, language included.”


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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Off With Her Head!





A caller asked why the word used for decapitation is beheaded instead of deheaded. This brings up the complicated issue of negative prefixes.

There are many negative prefixes from which to choose; I have a section on them in my Word Parts Dictionary. The ones that actually get chosen are often sheer accidents of history. In other words, we don’t have a rigid and predictable set of rules to determine the choice when we negate something. While there are a few trends (for instance, un- tends to mean never or not and mis- tends to mean badly), we need to use a dictionary to determine whether a logically possible negative prefix actually made it into a word and survived.

Beheaded came from an Old English word and first appeared in a document around the year 1,000. Unexpectedly, the word unheaded coexisted from the 1400s to the 1700s, influenced by a Dutch word meaning to remove the head. The word dehead is occasionally used as a synonym for deadhead, a term used by gardeners to describe the removal of dead or spent flowers to encourage more flowering or to improve the general appearance of the plant. [Sorry, Jerry.]

A few examples will illustrate how tricky the process is. If someone is unarmed, she never had a weapon on her person; if she is disarmed, she had one on her person, but it was taken away. If a device is unused, it’s probably still in its original packaging; if it is disused, it is no longer in use, but it could always be misused.

Unpolitical, apolitical, and nonpolitical pretty much cover the same territory. If you are uninterested, you simply don’t care; if you are disinterested, you are impartial and free from selfish motive. To be unfrocked is to be defrocked. An unregulated activity is not subject to rules, which also makes it nonregulated; if it is deregulated, the rules have been lifted, but if it is misregulated, the rules have been improperly applied.

Unbegotten means not generated, and misbegotten means ill-conceived. Nontrained help is untrained, which may be slightly safer than a mistrained person, but it takes a locomotive to detrain.

And on and on it goes.


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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.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

8th Annual Senior Citizen Spelling Bee, Traverse City, Michigan






The 8th Annual Senior Citizen Spelling Bee was held on Friday, May 4, 2012. It is an activity of the Grand Traverse County Senior Center in Traverse City, Michigan. As usual, the generosity of Comfort Keepers made it possible.

To make it senior-friendly, it is a team event. Ideally, each team has three members, and they are able to write the word called for them, then consult and vote on an answer. One team member recites the chosen answer.

This year was a fiercely competitive contest among nine teams. The 3rd place team comprised Liz Bannister, Donna Hornberger, and Martha Vreeland. 2nd place went to Kay Serratelli and Ann Kalant. The winning team members were Trudy Carpenter, Pam Grath, and Marilyn Zimmerman.

The words are drawn blind from a container to avoid even the appearance of favoritism. Here are the words pulled this year in order of appearance:

gerbil, judicious, etiquette, invincible, nihilism, incessant, manacle, gnarl, fugue, collateral, lapidary, heifer, gourmet, crustacean, parallel, calendar, providence, fascinating, canine, message, borough, fastidious, formidable, herbivore, carnivore, gregarious, prosaic, ostentatious, prodigal, magnanimous, subterfuge, patina, necessary, dissect, conjecture, imperative, benevolent, abdicate, mercurial, canary, simile, affinity, condolences, bellicose, electoral, delirious, crescent, indignant, omission, corporal, participant, transect, obsequious, precipice, scarcity, susceptible, colloquy, cerebral, candidate, benefactor, bugle, reptilian, foliate, nasal, librarian, primal, cognition, aquatic, unified, incredulous, contiguous, campaign, prosecute, flagellatory, fulgurant, reclosable, autochthonous, echidna, diarrhea, vichyssoise, zeitgeist, espresso, verisimilitude, fulsome, tocology, diptych, apteryx, imbroglio, accolade, ennui, pneumonia, insistence, bivouac, noticeable, sleazy.

Our rules state that when the contest is down to the last two teams, the rules change slightly. If a team spells a word correctly, that team must validate the win by spelling one more word. Team 5 misspelled rescission. Team 9 spelled it correctly, then validated the win with eucrasia.


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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.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Troglodyte



Roger from Sault Ste Marie heard a politician issue a disclaimer: “I’m no troglodyte.” Aware that this is a cut above normal political discourse, Roger asked for some discussion.

A troglodyte, in its original use, was a cave dweller, someone who lived underground. It comes from the Greek, where the troglo- portion meant hole (τρώγλη), and the –dyte  segment meant to go into (δύειν).

The implication is that a troglodyte, living underground and never seeing the light, is secluded, out of touch, and woefully unaware of life as it is lived on the surface.

Other words using the troglo- combining form include

  • troglobion: an animal living entirely in the dark parts of caves.
  • troglophile: a cave-dwelling animal that does not live entirely in the dark.
  • trogloxene: an animal that spends occasional short periods in dark caves.
Troglodytidae is a bird family that includes wrens and mocking-birds.


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition
http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-3564-7
Check out Mike's program-based books here:
 Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/Michael-J.-Sheehan/e/B000APNZ02/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_


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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