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AWADmail Issue 137September 26, 2004
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Aaron Emigh (aaronATemigh.org)
I've recently been made aware of a fine song with this theme, from the musical Avenue Q.
Since you brought up the topic of useful Hindi words: one of my favorite Hindi morphemes is the suffix "-wala", for which there is no adequate analogue in English. It can be used to mean any person or thing associated with the stem. So a taxi-wala is a taxi driver; a computer-wala is anyone who works with a computer, or any contextually clear computer-related object. It's a gloriously handy word that eludes succinct definition, and I regretted purging it from my vocabulary when I returned stateside from a year in India.
Sometimes it requires a foreign language to show you words that are "missing" from one's mother tongue.
From: Israel Pickholtz (israelpATpikholz.org)
It seems to me that language is moving away from specific terms rather than towards them. In Biblical Hebrew, father-in-law and mother-in-law is one pair of words for the husband's parents and another pair for the wife's parents. But rare is the Hebrew speaker today who even knows the difference, let alone uses it.
From: Tara Pillai (tspillaiATbechtel.com)
As ingenious as we Indians are, we have a popular term coined in English to differentiate between the two kinds of sisters-in-law.Your husband's sister is of course sis-in law but your husband's brother's wife is a co-sister (sounds like there is more bonding here)!
From: Robert Wilson (robwilsonitATyahoo.it)
About the way we refer to relatives (sister-in-law is, as you rightly say, vague).
In Italy, the situation is rather more complex: my "nipote" may be my brother's son, or my sister's; to this point, no problem. But he might also be my grandson, which creates confusion, especially in legal documents that I translate - who did they leave the millions to?
From: Patricia McGraw (patrmcgrawATaol.com)
I am an American living in Qatar, where I am teaching three daughters of a dear friend to quilt. They call me khalto(n), which means 'sister of my mother'. It is one of the sweetest things I have ever been called.
From: Norma Benesdra (normabenesdraATfibertel.com.ar)
In Spanish we have a wonderful prefix "con" (which in isolation means "with") which we add to relatives to mean we share them. For example: cuņado = my sister's husband or my husband's brother, but concuņado = my sister's husband's brother or my husband's brother-in-law which means we are connected through a married couple being both me and my "concuņado" respectively sister and brother of each member of the couple or, as in the case of my husband, I share with him his brother-in-law.
From: Donna Diehl (wheelerdiehlerATpon.net)
My favorite relationship word is French belle-soeur, literally "pretty sister". My brother's French wife always greets me with this endearing term.
From: Lisa Lapp (lisalappATaol.com)
Here are two Yiddish words for the in-law relationship that have survived among modern American Jews since there are no corresponding English words: machetuneste (mokh-e-TANE-e-steh), my daughter's or son's mother-in-law, and machetunim (mokh-eh-TU-nim), the members of one's spouse's extended family. A third word, machuten, meaning my daughter's or son's father-in-law, has no phonetic spelling given in Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, and I've never heard it used.
From: Mahijit Jhala (jhalawarAThotmail.com)
In India the relationship within the family needed easy identification between each person because of the joint family system where the entire family from grandparents through aunts, uncles and their wives lived in the same house. Each one needed to be identified within the family relationship by the children.
Oddly, there was no difference in the joint family between a real brother/sister and their cousin as they were all treated as children of the family and all were brother or sister. There being no word for 'cousin' in India!
From: Martha Ramos Mims (mpjcATnet1.net)
With a family as large as ours, five siblings on my side and seven on my husband's, the in-law appellation has been a challenge. I've started to call the spouses of my husband's siblings my "in-laws by marriage", seemingly redundant, but pretty accurate.
From: Jon Sebba (jsebba1AThotmail.com)
Relevant to the paucity of English to describe certain terms, we have a name for a child who has lost a parent -- orphan; 'widow' describes a woman whose husband has died, and widower for the male counterpart. But there is no term to describe a parent who has lost a child -- there are no words adequate for that pain.
From: Yosef Bar-On (jobaronATgalon.org.il)
Agitprop reminds me not only of comintern, (communist+international) but also of all the acronyms that had to be invented by the Israeli army (and probably by every other army too) to define all kinds of esoteric military occupations. Eventually there were so many that the army was forced to publish a small dictionary so that those who needed to know, could find out what all that gibberish really meant! My own job many years ago, if I can recall, was something like, ?AyinKatzinModiinChativatiKravi? !
From: Antoinette Constable (n21etATyahoo.com)
I was delighted with today's word. It reminded me of my great, grand mother who died at 104. She lived with my grand parents, and was fluent in at least four languages. I visited her often, She liked her afternoon tea "with a soupcon, a shadow, a hint of milk, and no more". A little person with high laced boots and dresses to her feet, she was full of nuances. Thanks for the memory.
From: David Redmann (dredmannATlemle.com)
I notice you have a French word and give alternate pronunciations, each stressing a different one of the two syllables. I think the problem is that English speakers erroneously try to impose stresses on French words' syllables when the French doesn't have them. The Brits are particularly bad about this, but American (and probably others) do it too. It's just an error, plain and simple. And native French speakers sometimes have the reverse problem--ever listen to one pronounce "basically"?
From: Gray Frierson Haertig (gfhAThaertig.com)
Schlimazel is an amphibrach! Reducing it to a dactyl sucks away all of its life.
Both the Schlemiel and Sclimazel are cursed with bad luck. However, the Schlemiel's bad luck is active and the Schlimazel's is passive.
From: George von Hilsheimer (drvonhATmindspring.com)
I know that genteel Gentiles tend to think of "shmuck", literally "a prick" as not merely vulgar but obscene. No shtetl dweller would know why!
So it is always the shmuck who spills the hot soup on the schlemiel, and it is the shlemozel who asks "did it hoit?" Of course it could also have been the shmendrik who asked the question; the shmendrik being dumb and the shlimozel merely luckless.
From: Ted Manning (tmanningATalleni.com)
Thank you for the word schlimazel! I read the definition and dim, long-inert brain synapses sparked alive. Where had I heard that word? In what context?
It wasn't until I read the accompanying word - schlemiel - that I realized its cultural significance in resolving a long-forgotten mystery from my childhood: TV's Laverne and Shirley theme song.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Ahhh... sweet inner peace. My inner 70s' child is once again experiencing Happy Days.
From: Alan Jones (atjATblueyonder.co.uk)
Pam Cerf presumably misheard " ... and thereto I plight thee my troth" as the form of vow at Princess Anne's wedding. This is the traditional form prescribed in the old Book of Common Prayer (revised in 1662 but much of it from earlier versions).
Pam "wonders if the meaning is understood by prospective marriage partners". If the partners are having a religious ceremony (only about a third of all weddings these days in England are "religious" in nature) they will - in the Church of England - have at least one preparatory meeting with the vicar, when every detail of the service will be explained and discussed. They will also probably decide to use a modern version of the service, where the wording is simpler: e.g. "In the presence of God I make this vow".
The living language is like a cow-path: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay. -E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)