Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hamper



Francine asked about the word hamper. She wrote, “A hamper is where I throw my dirty laundry, but it’s also a verb I use to describe anything that blocks freedom of movement. How are they connected?”

Actually, they’re not connected at all except by the accident of spelling. This happens more often than people realize.

The noun hamper refers to a large basket, usually made of wicker. It came from an Old French word, hanapier, which was a case built to hold a hanap, a drinking vessel or wine glass. In some regions, a picnic basket is called a picnic hamper.

The verb to hamper means to restrain or hold back. A definitive origin is elusive, but it seems to have been first used in northern climes, such as regions near Iceland and Germany. In those languages, earlier forms of hamper meant to block or clog.

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

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

-PEL



Therese asked about words ending in the letter sequence –p-e-l-. The ones that are intimately connected track back to a Latin verb, pellĕre. It means to drive or thrust, an action verb.

Certain words, such as chapel and gospel, don’t come from the same Latin word even though they share the same letter sequence. The ones that do tend to be relatively short, and they all begin with an opening preposition.

  • compel: To constrain or force < com-, together + pellĕre, to drive >
  • dispel:   To drive away in different directions or in scattered order  <  dis-, in different directions + pellĕre, to drive >
  • expel: To drive or thrust out; to eject by force < ex-, out + pellĕre, to drive or thrust >
  • impel: To drive, force, or constrain (a person) to some action   < im-, in + pellĕre, to drive
  • propel: To drive or push forwards    < prō-, forward + pellĕre, to drive >
  • repel: To reject or thrust away   < re-, back + pellĕre, to drive >
Also connected is the now obsolete interpel, to interrupt (a person) in speaking < inter, between + pellĕre, to drive >

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

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pronoun Choice: Predicate Nominative



Shirley from Spider Lake asked about pronoun choice in a specific situation. Her example: He didn’t do it; it wasn’t he, OR He didn’t do it; it wasn’t him. In formal use, it should be he.

That particular slot is known as a predicate nominative. It occurs after some form of the verb to be. The verb to be has many forms: is, are. was. were, has been, had been, etc. That verb is the equivalent of the equal sign: My name is Mike could be rendered as My name = Mike.

Since it signals equation, the right side must use the same case as the left side; they must match. In this case, the left side is in the nominative case, so the right side must be in the nominative case.

When you’re using a noun, there’s no problem. I am a retired teacher doesn’t have an alternate spelling. The nominative case and the objective case are identical:
  • I was a teacher.      [noun as predicate nominative]
  • I like my teacher.   [noun as direct object]
Pronouns change their spelling when they go from subject to object:
  • It is I  [pronoun as predicate nominative]
  • They don’t like me.  [pronoun as direct object]
But a word of caution: formal use usually doesn’t show up in ordinary conversations. You will find the rule described above being ignored with impunity.
  • Who’s the clown taking up two parking spaces?            I am he.  [formal]
  • Who’s the clown taking up two parking spaces?             It’s me.  [informal or colloquial]

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

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Moxie




A caller asked about the word moxie. It’s a slang term meaning audacity, energy, high spirits, and rock-steady nerves.

Its source seems to be a trademarked name for a soft drink characterized as bitter with an undertone of sweetness. An 1890 quote seems to confirm this origin: “Young man, you've got nerve enough to start a Moxie factory.” [H. C. De Mille, Men & Women in America's Lost Plays]

The drink was originally developed by Doctor Augustin Thompson in 1876 as a patent medicine. Like so many other patent medicines, it was supposed to cure lethargy, nervousness, and insomnia. The good doctor claimed that its active ingredient was a rare South American plant discovered by his friend, one Lieutenant Moxie. You betcha.

It turned into a soft drink around 1885 when he added soda water to the mix. The drink is still manufactured, but seems to be limited to some Northeast states and to Florida. You’ll find their web site here: http://www.drinkmoxie.com/

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

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Blacklist



Crystal asked about the origin of the word blacklist. Ominous question: is she establishing one?

The color black often connotes negativity. I suspect that the association started in primitive times when nightfall signaled the period of danger, limitation, and fearful creatures going bump in the night. The contrast of day and night, light and dark, provided a powerful, easily understandable, and universal metaphor.

Besides designating something as evil, malignant, sinister, and deadly, black--as in blacklist--came to signify disgrace, undesirability, excommunication, and the imminent approach of sanctions or punishment. Similar images show up in black mark or black checkmark, black blot, and black spot. In financial circles, white data is countered by black data.

So a blacklist is “a list of the names of people, groups, etc., who have incurred suspicion, censure, or displeasure, and are typically therefore subject to a ban or other punishment.” [OED] An early appearance was in 1624 in Bishop J. Hall’s True Peace-maker: “Ye secret oppressors,..ye kind drunkards, and who euer come within this blacke list of wickednesse.”

A variation was black book, as we see in this example found in N. Amhurst’s Terræ-filius (ed. 2) 115:   “The black book is a register of the university, kept by the proctor, in which he records any person who affronts him, or the university; and no person, who is so recorded, can proceed to his degree.” [1726]

And then, of course, there is the vulgar shit list.


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Sunday, July 07, 2013

ADVISOR or ADVISER?



Today’s Traverse City Record-Eagle (07/07/13) contained two interesting variations. An article on page 1-D had this headline: Board of advisers helps. An article on page 2-D includes a signoff that identifies columnist Fred Goldenberg as a Certified Senior Advisor. So, which spelling is correct?

Generally, most sources see the two spellings as interchangeable. This includes the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, the Columbia Guide to Standard English, and the Cambridge Guide to English Usage.

But puzzling contradictions spring up in various places. Some sources claim that adviser is the American preference, while advisor is British; other sources claim just the opposite. Some say that newspapers tend to use adviser, and federal agencies tend to use advisor.

The Washington State University web site says, “Adviser and advisor are equally fine spellings. There is no distinction between them.” In contrast, Purdue University’s Marketing Communications Editorial Style Guide says we must use advisor.

According to the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), financial adviser is a general term or job title used by investment professionals and does not denote any specific designation. The same agency describes the main groups of investment professionals who are entitled to use the term financial advisor to be brokers, investment advisers, accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and financial planners. (Say, didn’t we just see the words used interchangeably?)

Today, in an attempt to uncover tangible evidence, I turned to Google. Here’s what I found:
  • Google U.S.   advisor: 820,000,000 hits;    adviser: 67,700,000 hits.
  • Google U.K.   advisor: 839,000,000  hits;   adviser: 69,300,000 hits.    
So in actual use, advisor far outweighs adviser in both countries. This is just speculation, but I think the choice may be influenced by the preferred spelling advisory. Advisery is not a sanctioned spelling.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hindi




While tracking down some etymologies, I came across a number of common words that entered English from Hindi. They seem a bit more exotic than words derived from Latin and Greek, so I’ve assembled a representative list.

  • bangle: originally a colored glass ring worn on the wrist by women.
  • basmati [fragrant]: a variety of Indian rice, characteristically light and fragrant when cooked.
  • bindi: a decorative mark or jewel usually worn in the middle of the forehead by married women.
  • bloke:  slang for fellow or man.
  • camphor:  a crystalline substance having a bitter aromatic taste and a strong characteristic smell.
  • cheetah [speckled]:  a hunting leopard.
  • chintz: a name for the painted or stained calicoes imported from India.
  • chop [impression]:  a seal or the impression of a seal.
  • chutney: a strong hot relish or condiment.
  • coolie: in India [later in China] a hired laborer.
  • cot [hammock]:  a light bedstead.
  • cowrie: the porcelain-like shell of a small gastropod.
  • cushy [pleasant]:  an easy or comfortable job.
  • dinghy:  a small boat.
  • dungaree: a kind of coarse Indian calico.
  • ganja:  a narcotic made from Indian hemp.
  • ghee:  butter made from the milk of a cow or buffalo.
  • gunny: a coarse material used chiefly in making sacks.
  • guru: a Hindu spiritual teacher or head of a religious sect.
  • juggernaut [lord of the world]:  a title of Krishna, whose statue was carted annually on an enormous wheeled vehicle, under whose wheels devotees hurled themselves.
  • jungle [desert, wasteland]:  ultimately, land overgrown with impenetrable vegetation.
  • lilac [bluish]:  a shrub with fragrant blossoms.
  • loot [spoils]:  goods taken from an enemy in time of war.
  • mung:  a plant of the bean family.
  • punch: a drink made from a mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients.
  • sari: a long wrapping garment of cloth or silk worn by Hindu women.
  • shampoo:  to wash and scrub the scalp with a cleansing agent.
  • swami [master, lord]: a title for a Hindu religious teacher.
  • thug [swindler]:  professional robber and murderer in India.
  • toddy:  sap from a palm tree fermented to produce an intoxicating liquor.
  • veranda [balcony]:  a portico extending across the front and sides of a building to offer protection from sun or rain.
  • yoga [union]:  a system of ascetic practice.

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

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Grateful


Dona Sheehan's prints