Sunday, October 20, 2013

Inter-, Intra-



As a commissioner, I attended the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging last week. Among business items was an examination of the state formula used in Michigan to distribute federal money to be used for senior services in all 16 regions of the state.

The formula is called the Intrastate Funding Formula, but I heard several people refer to it as the Interstate Funding Formula. Since intra- is a prefix meaning within, and the formula is used only inside the State of Michigan, intrastate is correct, and interstate is wrong.

Inter- means between or among. Interstate commerce, for example, is the exchange of merchandise between states. There is an out-of-state aspect by necessity. On the other hand, intrastate commerce would be carried on within the boundaries of one state. An intranet exists with a single company and usually has limited access. The internet is an open network available to anyone anywhere in the world. Intramural sports are played by teams from the same school, but intermural sports find different schools competing against each other.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sandwich



Dan asked about the origin of the word sandwich. I can’t help it, but every time that I hear the word sandwich, I think of the old elementary school joke:

            Q. Why can’t you starve in the desert?
            A.  Because of the sand which is there.

Sorry about that. The standard story is that the sandwich was named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, England. One version says that he was an inveterate card player who was loath to leave the gaming table even when hungry. He would ask his servant to bring him some meat between two chunks of bread, a meal that would keep greasy fingers off the cards

Another version elevates his reputation above the status of a glassy-eyed gambler. He was actually a statesman who served in various capacities: Postmaster General, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for the Northern Department, British Ambassador to the Dutch Republic, and so on. The suggestion is that as a dedicated public servant, he often ate at his desk.

In his capacity as Lord of the Admiralty, Montagu approved funds for the expeditions of Captain James Cook. Cook returned the favor by naming the Sandwich Islands (Pacific) after him, as well as the South Sandwich Islands (Atlantic). In addition, he named two Montague Islands after him, one off the southeast coast of Australia, and the other in the Gulf of Alaska.

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Small –o



Anna asked why the suffix –o shows up in so many product names. She cited Jello, Beano, and Brillo as examples.

To be honest, I don’t know how many brand names use the –o- ending. Off the top of my head, I can add Oreo, Eggo, Zippo, and Crisco. I do know that one of the first products to use the terminal –o in its name was Oxo, a concentrated meat extract invented in Britain in1840. At first it was in liquid form; by 1910, a cube form had been introduced.

In some cases, the –o ends the word as a result of truncation. One example that occurs to me is the Mallo Cup, a candy treat that I loved as a child. It was a chocolate cup filled with a creamy marshmallow center. Quite obviously, the manufacturer shortened marshmallow to Mallo.

A special subcategory for truncation emerges when the terminal –o is preceded by the letter c. In this case, rather than being a product name, it signifies a company or corporation. Examples include Pepsico, Aramco, Masco, and Cisco.

In other cases, words may have been borrowed from the Italian or Spanish, for example, retaining the –o ending from the original -- or the use of –o may be simulation or imitation. Progresso Soup and the Chevy Silverado come to mind.

My Irish uncle used to refer to me as boyo, an example showing that the –o ending is sometimes used in a colloquial term of familiarity or whimsicality. It’s purely subjective, of course, but I think that Zippo, Brillo, Beano, and Wham-O are rather jaunty.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Slapstick



Lou asked about the phrase slapstick comedy.

It is a low form of comedy in which the humor is predominantly physical—people slipping on banana peels, getting doused with water, receiving a pie in the face, or unexpectedly getting slapped with a loud whack.

While we associate it with silent movie comedies, it goes back a couple of thousand years to classical plays in which clowns were beaten with sticks to the delight of the audience. The slapstick itself came into prominence when the character Harlequin began to use it in 16th century commedia dell'arte.

The slapstick was, quite literally, a stick used to slap a comic character. Consisting of two flat pieces of wood (laths) joined at one end, it made a very loud sound without actually hurting the actor.

                     [a musician with a slapstick appears ca.1:08]


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

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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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