Sunday, June 30, 2013

Spite




Cameron wrote, “What if I feel spite in spite of coming off a respite?” You can sense a question in there struggling to get out.

Spite is a shortened form of despite. It came from a Latin word meaning to look down upon. So spite originally was a display of contempt, scorn, and disdain. It evolved into petty hatred with the intention to irritate, annoy, or thwart.

Respite comes from a Latin word that meant adjournment. It describes a delay, an extension of time, or a postponement. It is related to another Latin word that meant visual attention. The phrase “in spite of” fundamentally means in defiance or contempt in the face of.

So in all cases, the eyes have it.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crony Capitalism



 Wendy from Lake Leelanau called in to comment on the phrase crony capitalism. It refers to practices that subvert the free market and legal constraints, relying instead on favoritism, payoffs, and a good-old-boy network. Wendy’s point was that the word cronyism by itself would cover the practice, since it represents a perversion of legitimate capitalism.

She then asked about the origin of the word crony. There are two words that share the crone/crony spelling. Crone, from the Dutch, started out meaning an old ewe. Then it came to mean a cantankerous, withered old woman. It has nothing to do with cronyism and everything to do with witch stereotyping.

Crony was 17th century college slang for an intimate friend or associate. By the 19th century, in America, cronyism had come to mean the appointment of friends to government posts even if they weren’t particularly qualified. There’s the predecessor of crony capitalism.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rarin' To Go




Doug from Traverse City asked about the phrase raring to go, which often drops the terminal –g– in conversation. It means eager, on edge with anticipation, keen to begin a task or assignment.

It is a variation of rearing, a word used to describe towering promontories, but also used of a horse rising up on its hind legs. Since the 15th century, rearing has referred to a steed so excited that it is ready to fling itself forward and take off at full speed.

A few examples:
  • Hurd spoke up. “Lauren has already had some contact with Jimmy,” he said.
    “Yes, I have,” Lauren said, “and he’s raring to go.” [Hothouse Orchid
    , by Stuart Woods]
  • “I must have assumed he was raring to go, that I had my work cut out just to hold him off. Because whenever I saw him, I’d always get something in quick, then rush off before he could say anything back.” [ Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro]
  • “You’ll understand some day, Chileda. When it happens to you. You’ll get all riled up and raring to go and something will happen to keep you here because this is where you’re supposed to be. It’s where you belong.” [To Come and Go Like Magic, by Katie Pickard Fawcett]
  • “He’s finished his book and appears to be raring to go on our project. He’s going to want to interview you, and Hayley, among others. That’s not going to be a problem, is it?
    “No, I’m raring, too.  [Black Rose
    , by Nora Roberts]
  • “Let me just say this about spring training: When you’re a player and have been inactive all winter, you’re raring to go. You can’t wait to get on the field, to go in and see what changes have been made, who’s been added to the club.”  [Idols of the Spring: Baseball Interviews About Preseason Training, by Dan Zachofsky]

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

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Is Inadmissible Unacceptable?



Sometimes a word strikes us as slightly out of focus, a bit fuzzy and inappropriate. I encountered such a word yesterday while watching CNN. Wesley Clark was being interviewed, and the topic was Syria crossing President Obama’s red line, thus finally triggering direct aid to the rebels. The General said, “Using chemical weapons is totally inadmissible.”

Perhaps it’s just my dialect, but I found his use of “inadmissible” mildly jarring. I associate inadmissible with trials and courts of law. Evidence may be inadmissible because it was obtained without a warrant, and testimony may be inadmissible because it is based on hearsay. But in my neighborhood, using WMD’s is unacceptable, not inadmissible.

When defining inadmissible, most online dictionaries make a reference to court, evidence, or testimony, thereby confirming my assessment. I found only one that gave a secondary definition: “not to be allowed or tolerated.” I found it on the Oxford Dictionaries site.

Our brethren to the north have their own take on the word inadmissible. Some people are not allowed to enter Canada. They are known as “inadmissible” under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). You might not be admitted for any of the following reasons: security considerations, human or international rights violations, criminality, contagious diseases, financial reasons, misrepresentation, or having an inadmissible family member.

I did find one other site that used inadmissible as a synonym for unacceptable—The Voice of Russia site. It contained this quote: "We are extremely concerned with media reports [about the capture of sarin gas by Turkish forces]. Russia believes that the use of any chemical weapons is absolutely inadmissible,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich is quoted by a Russian TV channel as saying on Thursday.

So, whether it’s actually off base or just foreign to my ear, the word inadmissible is out there at least occasionally as a synonym for unacceptable.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wad



As a Michigan Commissioner of Services to the Aging, it was my privilege, on behalf of the Commission, to designate the Village of Bellaire as a Community for a Lifetime (i.e., elder-friendly). In explaining the significance of the award, Dan Dozema, field representative of the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, referred to the “wads of paper” that were required to complete the required survey.

A wad originally meant a bundle of hay, straw, or vegetables made at the time of reaping. It expanded to mean a heap or a sheath of any vegetative matter. From there, it turned into a small bundle of a soft, flexible material for use as a plug or a pad. In America, it was used to describe something rolled up tightly, as a roll of bank notes. To blow your wad (the non-obscene version) meant to lose all your money, probably at gambling.

A wad was also material composed of matted fibers of silk, raw cotton, and so on. A plug or tampon of cloth, felt, or cardboard was used to hold powder and shot in place when loading a gun. This led to “shooting one’s wad”—firing a gun—which then expanded to mean doing everything possible, giving one’s all.

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Imminently Eminent






Tim from Old Mission Peninsula commented that imminent and eminent seem to be increasingly confused, even on national newscasts. While they do sound alike when said aloud, there is a real distinction.

Imminent means that something is about to happen. An event is impending, looming, just around the corner.  For some reason—probably its Latin progenitor—negative things are more likely to be called imminent than positive happenings. Storms, invasions, and market crashes are imminent. Birthdays, weddings, and awards are approaching. The Latin source was imminere, to project or overhang in a threatening way, like a rock slide waiting to happen.
           
Eminent came from the Latin eminere, to project. It is a close cousin, but in this case, prominence and height were emphasized, not danger. Exalted, dignified, distinguished, and noteworthy would be synonyms.

We may add immanent to the mix. It means indwelling or inherent, and it is rooted in the Latin immanere, to dwell or remain within. Its antonym would be transcendent, mirroring the matching pair internal and external.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

One week left to vote!

The Top 100 Language Lovers 2013 competition hosted by the bab.la language portal and the Lexiophiles language blog is under way, and my blog WORDMALL has been nominated.

The voting period extends from May 22nd to June 9th, and I would appreciate your vote. Entries are arranged alphabetically, so look for this blog towards the end of the list.

http://en.bab.la/news/top-100-language-professional-blogs-2013-voting



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

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Check out Mike's program-based books here:
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Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.




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