Friday, February 28, 2014

Double the Pain


“Double pane windows” gets 8,660,000 results on Google. Surprisingly, the incorrect “double pain windows” gets 2,130,000 hits, a demonstration that trying to spell a word based on its sound alone is risky business.

Pane is an interesting word. It came from the Latin pannus, a piece of cloth—the part of a garment that hangs down. To some, that evoked images of a wall or the side of a building. The OED allows us to track the progress of the word in English through the years.

·      A section of a wall or fence.
·      A side of a quadrangle, cloister, court, or town.
·      The flat surface of an object having several sides.
·      An area of land.
·      A patch of ground in a garden.
·      The skirt of a gown.
·      A bedspread.
·      Strips of cloth joined side by side to make a single garment.
·      Slashes in a garment to reveal a decorative lining.
·      A portion of a window formed by a single piece of glass held in place by a frame.
·      In computing, one of the areas into which a window is divided while using an application.
·      Each of the segments of a checkered pattern.
·      A section of a paneled door.
·      A subdivision of a sheet of stamps.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gross



Roberto asked about the word gross, trying to piece together how 144 pencils (or other items) and repellant corpulence connect.

All senses of the word track back to the Latin grossus, thick, bulky, stout. Once upon a time, a gross was a medieval coin. Its value varied from country to country. In England, it was eventually called a groat.

Used as a noun, a gross is twelve dozen of any item. The first instance in the OED dates to 1411. As an adjective, gross has meant massive, big-bodied, unwholesomely fat, palpable, flagrant, total (gross vs. net), dense, composed of material, solid, coarse, stupid, rough and ready, and indelicate.

The same thread runs through what a movie grosses, the Scarlet Grosbeak, a concerto grosso, the gross national product, and grossing someone out.


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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jailhouse Rock


A couple of listeners asked about slang terms for a jail or jail cell. The select list below shows the year in which the word entered English with that particular meaning. The source is the Oxford English Dictionary.

·      bastille [1561], from the name of the prison-fortress built in Paris in the 14th century.
·      big house, in Britain [1851], a workhouse; in America [1905], a prison.
·      bridewell [1552], from St. Bride’s Well, a holy well in London, the site of a lodging converted to a hospital converted to a house of correction
·      brig [1852], from a place of detention on board a ship (the brigantine).
·      bullpen [1809], named after an enclosure for cattle.
·      calaboose [1797], Louisiana French Creole calabouse, from the Spanish calabozo, dungeon.
·      can [1912], by analogy to the tin vessel in which food is sealed up.
·      cell [1701], originally a small room in a monastery.
·      clink [1530], the name of a prison in Southwark, probably taken from the verb to clink, to fasten securely.
·      cooler [1872], from the container used to cool things down.
·      dungeon [1325], a deep, dark vault. The word is connected to dominion, the right to control.
·      hoosegow [1911], from the Mexican juzgado, a tribunal.
·      joint [1953], probably from the earlier meaning [1821], a place of illegal activity.
·      jug [1815], a shortened version of stone jug [1796], a nickname for Newgate Prison.
·      lockup [1839], a room for the temporary detention of offenders.
·      poky [1828], originally a small, cramped, confined room.
·      slammer [1952], from the resounding noise when a heavy prison door is slammed shut.
·      stir [1851], origin unknown, although some sources argue in favor of a Romany word that meant prison.
·      stockade [1865], originally a defensive barrier of stakes; later, a military prison.

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

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scratch


The word scratch came up several times during today’s show,the result of the observation that it abounds in multiple meanings. The word seems to have come from similar words in Old Scandinavian and Germanic dialects.

As a verb, it has gone through a succession of meanings since the 15th century.

·      to wound with claws of fingernails in a superficial manner
·      to use claws or fingernails as an offensive weapon
·      to fight without doing serious injury
·      to relieve itching
·      to make only slight progress (‘that market has barely been scratched”)
·      to lightly furrow soil for cultivation
·      to make light incisions on a surface
·      to remove earth with claws or fingernails
·      to struggle to make money
·      to get through with difficulty
·      to depart in haste
·      to produce with difficulty
·      to struggle fiercely to obtain
·      to remove a name from a list or a horse from a race
·      to refuse an invitation
·      to move a pen over paper with a slight noise
·      to scribble or write carelessly
·      to forge checks or banknotes
·      to make a penalty-incurring stroke, as in billiards
·      to cancel a project

As a noun, many of the actions described above are transformed into names. So there’s a tearing of the skin, a shallow incision, a mark, a sketch, a trivial fight, a shot that incurs a penalty, and so on. But there’s also a disease of horses, slang for paper money, a position with no advantage or favorable odds, and a hiss heard when a record is played. It’s also a name for the devil (Old Scratch), probably because he was often pictured with claws.

As an adjective, it may be used to describe an impromptu selection of teammates for a game, a hastily-assembled work crew, a vote that does not reflect the actual will of a constituency or deliberative body, or a golfer with a handicap of 0 or below.

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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