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AWADmail Issue 142November 8, 2004
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Charles Hruska (chruskaATearthlink.net)
In some ways Neanderthal is both a toponym and eponym. Joachim Neander (1650-1680) was a German hymn writer, whose last name was Neuman (Newman), and who used a Greek form (Nea Ander) of his last name for publications. His home town was named in his honor Neander Thal, that is New Man's Valley, a combination of both Greek and German.
From: Joseph Mcnicholas (joseph_mcnicholasATredlands.edu)
"Neander" means "new man". Very ironic for a word that signifies "old Man" to us, no?
From: Rudy Rosenberg, Sr. (rrosenbergsrATaccuratechemical.com)
A couple of years ago, we stayed in a hotel in Mettmann, near the German city of Düsseldorf. Mettmann is situated smack in the middle of the Valley of the Neander (Neanderthal) where the remains of the original Neanderthal man were discovered.
Although Neanderthal is long extinct, wandering around the area gave me the creepy feeling that I was walking among actual descendants of Neanderthal Man. The inhabitants were neither boorish nor uncouth but some showed distinct physical traits of Neanderthal.
From: Paton J. Lewis (pjlATsymbolcraft.com)
Here is a recent article from Science Daily, which seems to call for a revision of the definition of "Neanderthal". Apparently Neanderthal were not our ancestors, after all.
From: Samuel Leroy Waltz III (samwaltzATudel.Edu)
As you mentioned, the Neander is a river in Western Germany. "Thal" is old German for valley. As anyone from Hollywood knows, theta is not a naturally occurring sound in German (You will rue ziss day, Dr. Jones!); Germans have since changed their spelling rules (twice!) to reflect this, and now call use the words Neandertal (the Neander valley) and Neandertaler (Neanderthal man). Sam Waltz in Vienna, Austria.
From: Yigal Levin (leviny1ATmail.biu.ac.il)
The definition of "Neanderthal" as "boorish, uncivilized, unenlightened or uncouth" is, of course, based on our own conception of the "primitive caveman". The depiction of the Corinthians as "licentious" and "luxurious", is based on Paul's description of the city in the New Testament. Both, of course, reflect our own prejudices more than they do any historical reality. Another such title is "Philistine", also meaning "boorish, uncivilized, unenlightened or uncouth", and also based on a one sided biblical view.
From: Robert Moniot (moniotATfordham.edu)
Pope Paul VI often wore the traditional kind, a hair shirt. This fact came to light when he was attacked by a knife-wielding would-be assassin in the Philippines in 1970. Possibly the hair shirt turned the knife and saved his life.
From: Dan Bent (danbentATfairmediation.com)
The story of the origin of the toponym, zabernism, reminded me of a story about the Hawaiian King Kamehameha in a similar circumstance. Fortunately for the commoners of Hawaii, the result was more positive than the cobbler's fate with the German military officer.
From: Wallace F. Workmaster (wfworkATadelphia.net)
Zabern -- or Saverne to the French -- is a town in Alsace on the Rhine-Marne Canal at a pass over the Vosges Mountains, northwest of Strasbourg. Because of its strategic location, an Imperial German Army garrison was stationed there prior to World War I.
Unfortunately, the claim that a German officer or a subaltern killed a cobbler in the town simply for smiling at him simply is World War I era propaganda, despite the fact it is repeated in a number of supposedly reputable sources.
Nonetheless, the Zabern Affair was an important event in the internal politics of Imperial Germany. Public use of a derogatory term, Wackes [screwball], three times to indicate a native of Alsace during a drill in 1913 caused civil unrest and stirred Labor, Socialist, and Catholic Center parties in the Reichstag who were opposed to militarism to pass a meaningless vote of censure. The matter was handled by Emperor Wilhelm II and his government in a way that condemned use of the word, but left the intemperate lieutenant unpunished and satisfied parties on the political right; hence, use of the term "zabernism" to represent "misuse of military power, aggression, bullying."
From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Aaaahhh! That fourth meaning (luxurious). A lifelong mystery solved. I remember the many years long ago that Ricardo Montalban was a pitchman for Chrysler automobiles, and would tout their "fine corinthian leather" on TV commercials. I never had any idea what that was. Then one night he appeared on "The Tonight Show". Johnny Carson asked him, "What does that MEAN, anyway, 'corinthian' leather?" I held my breath. But Montalban replied in his elegant accent, "I have no idea. It means absolutely nothing." The emperor had no clothes. Or mere cloth ones, anyway.
From: Catherine Schaus (catherine.schausATsympatico.ca)
The word would also seem to have a further layer of meaning as typified in the all-too-many Regency novels I have read. In these, the word refers to that man of the upper crust who is the master of many skills (boxing, duelling, four-in-hand driving, etc.) and is an acknowledged leader of society in manners, fashion and sport.
I first came across this is I remember in the Georgette Heyer novel of the same name. At the time, I was still puzzled by the many slang terms of that day and age. Why were gentlemen always "disguised"? I pondered, not realizing that this was a euphemism for being intoxicated. These instances have always reinforced my belief that much of our word knowledge comes from context.
From: Steve Wright (sew1ATcomcast.net)
In today's AWAD you wrote "No matter where we stand on earth, we can all enjoy an equally wondrous view of the stars."
Ah, would it were so!
Unfortunately, anthropogenic light pollution ensures that most of the inhabited earth has only a pitifully poor view of the stars. Generations of children are growing up without experiencing the awe-inspiring views that were commonplace in our less 'enlightened' past.
Some efforts are being made to rectify the pollution of our celestial environment by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)