Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pardon My French




Daniel from Traverse City asked about the use of, “Forgive/Pardon my French.” Today, it is usually uttered to soften the use of profanity by transparently and facetiously pretending that it is a foreign utterance. 

Why French? Well, ever since 1066 and the Norman Invasion, the British have harbored enmity toward the French, and this has been displayed in various idioms, many of them formulated in the 19th century as the result of revulsion to the Napoleonic Wars waged by the French. Thus, we have

·      French leave: an unauthorized absence or departure
·      French letter: a condom
·      French novel: pornography
·      French pox: syphilis

In retaliation, the French would refer to English flight, an English cap, the English vice, and the English malady.

It is possible that the original use of the phrase was a type of apology for actually using a French word or phrase in English conversation. We find an example in The Twelve Nights, by Baron Karl von Miltie, 1831:

“Bless me, how fat you are grown! — absolutely as round as a ball: — you will soon be as embonpoint (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major.”


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Thursday, December 12, 2013

So Long!


Steve from Cadillac, Michigan, asked why we say “so long” when we are leaving someone’s presence.  He also asked if there might be a connection to shalom.

So long is said in parting from someone. It is probably a shortened version of something like “God be with ye (goodbye) so long as we are apart.” One of the first uses found in print is in Walt Whitman’s Leaves off Grass, the 1860 edition.

“An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays about me – So Long!”

In 1923, Whitman’s friend William Sloane Kennedy wrote that Whitman had written to him with the following explanation:

“A salutation of departure, greatly used among sailors, sports, and prostitutes – the sense of it is ‘Till we meet again,’ – conveying an inference that somehow they will doubtless so meet, sooner or later.”

It probably came to English from German, where so lange was used. The Hebrew shalom, which can mean both hello and goodbye, is connected. Norwegian has så lenge, and Swedish has så länge.

SIDEBAR:  Sound of Music


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.





Friday, December 06, 2013

Cat's Meow



Don asked about the phrase the cat’s meow. It was 1920’s slang for something worthy of admiration. It was allied to the cat’s whiskers and the cat’s pajamas. For some reason, it became a fad during the Jazz Age to use fanciful animal images to express approval.


Other products of the fad included
·      ant’s pants
·      bullfrog’s beard
·      butterfly’s boots
·      canary’s tusks
·      caterpillar’s kimono
·      clam’s garter
·      cuckoo’s chin
·      duck’s nuts
·      duck’s quack
·      eel’s ankle
·      elephant’s adenoids
·      elephant’s instep
·      elephant’s manicure
·      gnat’s elbows
·      kipper’s knickers
·      leopard’s spots
·      monkey’s eyebrows
·      oyster’s earrings
·      pig’s wings
·      sardine’s whiskers
·      snake’s hips
·      tadpole’s teddies
·      tiger’s stripes
·      turtle’s neck

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

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Check out Mike's other books here:
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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Nonwords



Bill from Merit, Michigan, called during Tuesday’s show to highlight one of his pet peeves: the use of irregardless when one means regardless. While it shows up in speech and is even discussed in some dictionariesit is definitely nonstandard. Using it in writing deservedly brands the user as careless at best, ignorant at worst.

There are a few similar instances:

Preventative instead of preventive.   A book by Murli Desai bears the title, A Rights-Based Preventative Approach for Psychosocial Well-being in Childhood

Analyzation instead of analysis.  The table of contents in the Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics, Volume 7, consistently used the word analyzation.

·      Orientated instead of oriented. S. Jacob wrote Human Anatomy: A Clinically-Orientated Approach.

·      Annoyment instead of annoyance.  “He had noticed that an uneasiness from one source of annoyment or resentment could easily transfer itself to a lesser one, so that putting that thing right did not always remove the feeling of being annoyed that it seemed to cause.” This is found in Robert Fielding’s Other People Other Words.

·      Conversate instead of converse. While an obvious back formation from conversation, it simply wasn’t needed; converse came into English in 1340.

·      Botheration instead of bother. Russ Hoover’s Demand Healing: The Advanced Study of Mood and Ego Remission uses it constantly, as in, “Obviously, we are all aware of things that are not okay and for which we experience no level of botheration.”

·      Unthaw instead of thaw.  In 1978, Harry Brody wrote, When the Bells Unthaw.


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

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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.




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