Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dog & Pony Show



Chris from Petoskey asked about the phrase, dog and pony show. In our day, it has taken a pejorative turn. It implies that a presentation is merely showy, without depth. It is a spectacle meant purely to impress the unaware. It is often applied to political and military briefings, to sales presentations, and to desperate press conferences following a scandal.

Originally, however, it was a literal title. If a town couldn’t attract a full-scale circus (a highly sought-after 19th century form of entertainment) because the population was too small or too poor, there was an alternative: a scaled down form of entertainment involving ponies and dogs. Such shows were enthusiastically received by their audiences. Something was much better than nothing when you lived in the boonies.

The small scale of the operation and the fact that it was deemed not good enough to be a real circus led to the negative connotation.

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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other 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.




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Learn This By Heart




Paul from Boyne City asked why we say that we learned something by heart rather than by head, which is where the brain actually resides.  

The ancient Greeks believed that the heart was the most critical and central bodily organ, so they mistakenly assigned thought and rational functions to the heart. Aristotle, for instance, thought that the five senses fed directly into the heart. The brain and the lungs existed only to cool the blood to keep the heart from overheating.

This cardiocentric view probably came to the Greeks from the Egyptians. They also named the heart as the seat of thought. In their mummification process, the brain was destroyed, but the heart was preserved. After death, the heart was examined by Anubis and other deities in a crucial ceremony called The Weighing of the Heart. The heart was placed on one tray of a balancing scale, and the feather of the Goddess Ma’at on the other. If the weight of the heart matched the weight of her feather, it was on to the afterlife. If the brain weighed more than the feather, the monster Ammit—a combination crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus—chewed it to pieces.


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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Railroaded




John from Suttons Bay asked about the word railroaded.  To railroad is to force someone in a particular direction, to coerce him or her into a hasty action or decision that may not be in his or her best interest. I have seen two explanations, both of them plausible. First, railroad tracks do not allow choice of direction; you are forced to go where they lead. Second, some19th century railroad barons were notorious for forcing landowners to sell by using any and all means.

I find it interesting that even though passenger trains have had their day, certain expressions from an earlier era are still in use today. A quick trek through memory dredged these up.

  • bells and whistles
  • blow your stack
  • busy as Grand Central station
  • derail a plan
  • end of the line
  • full head of steam
  • gravy train
  • jump the track
  • keep chugging along
  • keep on track (but could also be a dirt  path)
  • light at the end of the tunnel
  • on the wrong track (but could also be a dirt path)
  • one track mind (but could also be a dirt path)
  • that train has left the station
  • third rail issue
  • ticket to nowhere
  • train of thought
  • train wreck
  • wrong side of the tracks

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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.




Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Concept of Conceptualization




“Please kindly elaborate on the etymology of ‘concept’ and ‘conceptualization’. Thanks a million.”   Zahra

At the core of both words is the past participle of the Latin concipere, to conceive. The past participle form is conceptum, something conceived.

One conceives in the physical sense when she gets pregnant. One conceives in the intellectual sense when he or she forms an idea.

As for conceptualization, it starts with the verb suffix –ize, then gets transformed into a noun when the suffix –tion is added. That suffix signifies a state or condition of being.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition
 
Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.






Saturday, August 17, 2013

Show Me the Way to Go Home




Bob from Glen Arbor asked about saloons, bars, taverns, and pubs. These days—in America, at least—the words are usually interchangeable.
 
  • Saloon came from French, Spanish, and Portuguese words that meant a hall. It is place where alcoholic beverages are bought and consumed.
  • Bar came from the  Latin barra, a barrier. Essentially a long piece of material used as a support, it was a short step to the name of a counter on which drink was served.
  • Tavern developed from the Latin taberna, a shed constructed of boards, then a stall or shop.
  • Pub is a shortened version of public house. Public came from a Latin word that meant “adult men.”
Originally, a pub was open to the general public, as opposed to a members-only establishment. A saloon was a second bar in a pub offering more comfort and services than the pub bar. Early taverns served wine only and were not open to the general public, whereas a bar served every type of alcoholic beverage to anyone who walked in.

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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.




Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Skiing With Two I’s




Marlene wrote, “My daughter-in-law phoned me this morning (after your show with Ron Jolly) about the word skiing.  She was teaching her children (my adorable grandchildren) spelling at the time.  They are home schooled. Why does skiing have 2 i's ?  I told her you would know.”

The first - i - in skiing is there simply because it is part of the verb to ski. The second - i - is there because it is part of the suffix -ing. The suffix -ing indicates that the core word was a verb: I was skiing when I broke my arm.

But an -ing verb can be used in two other combinations:
(1) If it is used as a verbal noun, it is called a gerund;
     Skiing requires stamina and coordination.

(2) If it is used as a verbal adjective, it is called a participle:
     My skiing instructor once competed in the Olympics.

As far as spelling goes, two rules are germane in this case:

(a) when you add a suffix beginning with a vowel to a base word ending in a vowel that is pronounced, all letters are retained:
     ski + -ing = skiing             moo + -ing = mooing          see + -ing = seeing

(b) but when you add a suffix beginning with a vowel to a base word ending in a vowel that is silent, drop the silent vowel before adding -ing.
     sue + -ing = suing            love + -ing = loving             make + -ing = making

Spelling rules can be difficult and inconsistent, mainly because so many words have come into English from foreign languages where the sounds and spelling systems are different.

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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.




Saturday, August 03, 2013

Potshot




Dan from Lake Charlevoix asked about the word potshot. We tend to use it in a figurative
sense: a verbal attack or criticism, especially one which is opportunistic and perhaps not deserved.

But it started with literal meanings based on physical actions. Here are some varieties over the years.
  • a shot fired from a cannon.
  • a shot made at an animal or bird with the aim of killing it purely for food (for the cooking pot), without regard for the rules and conventions of sport.
  • a shot aimed at a person who happens to be within easy reach.
  • a random attempt.
  • a speculative or opportunistic shot at goal by an individual player.

Potshot is related to “cheap shot” and “shooting fish in a barrel.”


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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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.





Thursday, August 01, 2013

Cling




Penny asked about the word cling. It’s an Old English word that owes its existence to similar words found in East Frisian, Danish, Swedish, and allied languages. The sense of “sticking together” was a common element.

At first, the word described liquids that had frozen or congealed. Then it was applied to the shriveling of animal or human tissue. The idea of adherence and attachment soon followed, with a strong image of arms wrapping around something. It also applied to a garment, especially when wet. Cleaving to an idea or a practice was another offshoot.

Cousins to cling include clench and clink. To clench is to bend back the pointed end of a nail after driving it through a board in order to fix it securely. The associated meaning of clink is to rivet or fasten.

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

Nook edition

Check out Mike's other books here:
 Amazon.com

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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