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AWADmail Issue 179

September 24, 2005

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages


From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore:
nytimes.com

Computer Learns Grammar by Crunching Sentences:
guardian.co.uk

Fake Words in Dictionaries:
newyorker.com


From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: nyms

Here are some selections from the reader mail of various examples of this week's nyms. Due to space limitations, it's not possible to include them all. Feel free to discuss them on the bulletin board.

Autonym:

I'm puzzled. Does one use a conundrum for safe lex?
-Mitchell Sollod (msollodATaol.com)

So is 'row' actually a hermaphronym? row (v. a boat), row (n. a line of articles), row (n. a quarrel).
-John Daly (john.dalyATul.ie)

Backronym:

I've often wondered at the acronyms some projects acquire, like the many NASA and NOAA satellites (e.g., CHIPS for Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer). The project names are so "cleverly" constructed to make a neat acronym that there must be a name for this type of labeling. If not, I propose a new word: awkronym.
-Bruce Grembowski (bruce.grembowskiATbankofamerica.com)

Surely one of the most commonly used backronyms in the US is ZIP, as in ZIP code, which putatively stands for Zone Improvement Plan. Sounds backronymic to me. :-)
-Mike Pope (mike.popeATmicrosoft.com)

Now, I had always thought ACRONYM was itself an acronym for the words "Alphabetically Consistent Representation of Neologically Yclept Magniloquence". Learnt that 20 years ago in IBM - the originator of the `TLA'!
-Martin Kelly (martkellukATyahoo.co.uk)

Ananym:

There's a great burger joint in Davis, California, that was named Murder Burger (tag line: "So good it's to die for"). Very popular for many years. On a recent trip to Davis, we saw that in Murder Burger's place was a burger joint with the same design but a new name: Redrum Burger. Turns out the name Murder Burger was a victim of current political correctness, deemed too violent and inappropriate a moniker.
-Carol Find (yellow3stripeATyahoo.com)

My nana is the ananym of ananym.
-Stan Clark (seclarkATiinet.net.au)

I didn't realize until today that the list of titles for jazz tunes is replete, especially in the bebop era, with ananyms. I knew they were there, but I didn't know what to call them. Horace Silver's Ecaroh and Sonny Rollins' Airegin come to mind first. There are many others.
-Ross Miller (boatmillerATsnet.net)

If only it was 'emanym' then it would be 'my name' backwards.
-Robin Pollard (robinpollardATonebox.com)

Hergé, the pen name of the Belgian comics writer Georges Remi, best known as the writer of "Tintin", is the French pronunciation of "R.G.", the author's initials in reverse order.
-Yigal Levin (leviny1ATmail.biu.ac.il)

I never knew there was a name for this, but as soon as I read today's word, it reminded me of Evian, which charges an arm and a leg for a bottle of water, is an ananym: EVIAN is NAIVE spelled backwards. Perfect!
-Alison (bialycatATaol.com)

In the first Harry Potter book, the name of the magic mirror is an ananym. It's called "the mirror of Erised" and it shows the "heart's desire".
-Anne Gruenefeld (anne.gruenefeldATewetel.net)

In the UK, there is Trebor, a sweets manufacturer set up by Robert Something; it's a surprise to young Roberts (certainly in the 70s and 80s) toying with their names to find it spells Trebor backwards. Is there a word for names that sound like ananyms? I nominate Alan Yentob (a UK BBC guy) to collect the award.
-Ben Waddington (falsedogATyahoo.com)

Ananym put me in mind of the fictional place of "Llareggub" in Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood". It's a lovely Welsh placename, as it starts with the double-L common at the start of Welsh towns. When asked where the name came from, Dylan Thomas suggested that the interviewer read it backwards. This story always makes me smile, as it puts me in mind of many Welsh towns (being Welsh myself) and the continuous complaints of the local children that "there is nothing to do around here".
-Rob Grice (rob.griceATuk.ibm.com)

Here is one that I think any of your other Scottish readers will agree is close to our hearts. It may happen elsewhere but it's particularly common in the central belt of Scotland for girls who have grandmothers named Agnes to be named Senga ("Agnes" being seen as somewhat old-fashioned and prim). Senga in turn has become a term used generally to describe female "neds" or "chavs".
"Ned", in turn, is a Scottish backronym - a stereotypical term used to describe usually working class young men who are unemployed, drink a lot, unable to form sentences, and wear bad clothes - a counterpart to the English term "chav". The backronym was famously formed by a Member of the Scottish Parliament in a speech where she claimed it stood for "non-educated delinquent" - her speech went on to say that the term should not be used as it is so derogatory, but that bit went largely unreported in the media).
-John Paul Liddle (enjolraskenobiATyahoo.com)

In Umberto Ecco's "The Island of the day before", the protagonist remembers meeting a lady named Arthenice which actually stands for Catherine. It seems that it was very common to "hide" behind an ananym when attending a "salon" during the XVII th century. I still am working on mine though...
-Yoram Gilboa (gilboaATgmail.com)

In Canada, ADANAC was frequently used as the name for hotels, lodges, companies and other things which needed appellations at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, that is the 1890s and early 1900s. It's still used, though less frequently.
-Mike Peleschak (peleschakATsympatico.ca)

In Jan 2004 I was in New Zealand on a "Tour of Middle-earth" we visited the Mt. Sunday, which is the hill upon which Edoras was set. Far across the valley is Erewhon Station. Samuel Butler was the 1st owner. There isn't much in the area now. Back in 1850 or so, there would have been no one in that nowhere land.
-J. Finder (jfinderATnycap.rr.com)

In a sequel to Universal Pictures' _Dracula_ called _Son of Dracula_ (1943), the vampire played by Lon Chaney Jr. disguises himself as Count Alucard. The police reveal his true identity as if they had just cracked the Enigma Code.
-Matthew Sorrento (sorrentomAThotmail.com)

Stevie Wonder recorded "Alphie" under the pseudonym Eivets Rednow.
-Patrick DellArena (patrick.dellarenaATaig.com)

Anyone else remember SERUTAN, a health tonic advertised on the radio and TV in the '40s and '50s? Part of their spiel was "And SERUTAN is NATURE'S spelled backwards."
-Pat Street (patstreetATaol.com)

I've noticed that one person in Alabama had two towns named after him, Palmer and Remlap. Alabama also has the town named Trebor. I tell my children that Trebor was named for me.
-Robert Davenport (robert.davenportATnscorp.com)

For many years the Chicago cab company, Yellow Taxi, has had a strangle-hold on the city's cab market. Recently a group of Yellow Taxi drivers "revolted" and formed a new company - Wolley Cab Company! This makes me smile every time I see one of these white-colored taxis rambling down the street.
-Scott Zacher (scottzATnorthwestern.edu)

My favorite ananym is a local coffee company, Ronnoco coffee, founded by the O'Connor brothers in the early 1900's.
-Ann Book (annATadbook.net)

One of my favorite discoveries was the real identity of the songwriter, A. Nugetre, who takes credit for numerous R&B songs that likes of Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner made famous.
Mr. Nugetre, in fact, is none other than Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, son of a Turkish diplomat!
-Elif Selvili (selviliATaol.com)

Remember the old Captain and the Kids comic strip where they traveled to the planet "Munimula" and met a character named "Repap Nikpan?"
-Pastor Bob (pastorbobATbellsouth.net)

A great, albeit dated, ananym, nacerima, was mentioned to me countless times by my Dad. It's a quasi-academic (maybe fully academic), anthropological look at America. Dad's a history professor (now retired) and loved it. Here is Wikipedia's description.
-Jay Schrier (jay_schrierATskyepharma.com)

Here in Queensland, Australia, early settlers often used this technique in naming their land claims. A family originating in Antrim, Northern Ireland lived at "Mirtna Station". Guess the surname of the family who lived at Nosnillor.
-David W. Porter (pennywtAThttech.com.au)

Interesting that this word should come up today. Just last night I learned that the Oklahoma town named "Retrop" was so named because they originally called it "Porter" but there was already an Oklahoma town with that name, so they reversed it.
-Dee Richardson (deerATwestok.net)

Carnies (carnival workers) often identify themselves to outsiders by monikers that are both anonyms and charactonyms, e.g. "Robin Marx" (robbin' marks) or "Don E. Kerr" ("donniker" is Carnie slang for bathroom).
-Stuart Tarlowe (starloweATearthlink.net)

Charactonym:

Charles Dickens was a master of charactonyms, particularly in evidence in his comedies. The personalities/jobs of the characters are frequently expressed onomatopoetically. For example: The Hon. Mr. Crushton, "obsequious companion of Lord Mutanhed at Bath" (Pickwick); Thomas Gradgrind (Hard Times), who "blighted [his children's youth by his emphasis of the superiority of fact to imagination"; evangelical preacher The Revd. Melchisedech Howler; miserly moneylender Ralph Nickleby; locksmith's apprentice Simon Tappertit; and, of course, Ebeneezer Scrooge, the very sound of which more than adequately describes the pinched old miser's blighted outlook prior to his Christmas Eve change of heart.
-Michelle Geissbuhler (goathillATcolumbus.rr.com)

I think Willy Loman (in Death of a Salesman, a play by Arthur Miller) was my first introduction to a charactonym.
-Pat Hahn (pat.hahnATstate.mn.us)

The examples for charactonyms from one of my favourite book series - The Asterix Books. Almost all the character names in the books are charactonyms:
* Asterix - asterisk, the star of the books
* Obelix - obelisk, the huge obelisk shaped best friend
* Getafix - Get-A-Fix, the druid who has a cure for everything
* Vitalstatistix - Vital-Statistics, the chief of the village
* Cacofonix - Cacophony, the village bard who cannot actually sing, a precursor to modern rock vocalists ;)
* Unhygenix - Unhygienic, the fish-monger whose fish is always rotten
* Geriatrix - Geriatric, the oldest inhabitant of the village
* Impedimenta - Impediment, the wife of the village chief :p
* Panacea - Cure for all diseases, the most beautiful girl in the village, like they say, beauty is the cure for all ills :)
-Abhijeet Gaiha (abhijeet.gaihaATgmail.com)

Aptronym:

I work in a library and we have a librarian named Linda Book; also another one whose name before marriage was Irene Reed. When she got married, she became Irene Reed-Wright. This is absolutely true.
-Nancy Laskowski (nancyandashATucwphilly.rr.com)

We used to have an engineer working in our Calibration department, by the name of Ken Measures.
-Brian Pemberton (brian.pembertonATuk.thalesgroup.com)

About 20 years ago, I had my wisdom teeth extracted by a dentist, Dr. Small, who incidentally was about 5' tall. He practiced with two other dentists, which I discovered when I arrived for my appointment and saw the sign on their door listing their names: Small, Pickens and Fear.
-David Steinhoff (welderATic.net)

One of the lawyers we work with is named John Rule.
-Lee Morin (missmorinATbellsouth.net)

Reminds me of fond memories I have of two friends I worked with in the seafood business many years ago: Cheryl Sturgeon and Tony Pollock.
-Marlene Redden (marleneATnfraweb.org)

My first encounter with a dental specialist in San Francisco when I needed a root-canalled tooth extracted was with a Dr. Pullman. I thought it was a joke as he introduced himself.
But my favorite along these lines is a lifelong salesman I know whose last name really is Mothersell. He is the nicest guy in the world so the name doesn't actually fit him, just a negative stereotype of his profession.
-Richard Politowski (richpolitowskiATearthlink.net)

When I was in junior high school, I had several charactonymic teachers. Mrs. Law taught math, Mrs. Stout taught cooking/home etc., and Mr. Echo taught band.
-Patrick Madden (maddenATbyu.edu)

Here in Utah, we have the Sweet Candy Company, founded by Leon Sweet.
-Lyle D. Gunderson (lyleATmac.com)

The editor of Audubon Minnesota News until recently: Ken Finch.
President of the National Audubon Society: John Flicker.
Ornithologically and orthographically,
-Chris Dodge (dodgeATutne.com)

My name is Charles Plant. My wife is a botanist at the University of B.C. Botanical Gardens. One of her cohorts is named Long. When they built a large new greenhouse, they named it the Long Plant House. My best friend when I was young was named John Greenhouse.
-Charles Plant (cplantATdowco.com)

A former girlfriend of mine went to high school with a boy named Matt Burns, who just happened to be on the varsity wrestling team. I kid you not. There is also a psychologist in town named Dan Niles, or D. Niles for short.
-Patrick Murray (murrayphATmsn.com)

In college a friend of mine in the geology department had the name Clay Hunter.
-Joel Mabus (joel.mabusATpobox.com)

As a librarian I long collected book titles by people with related surnames. I don't mean the obvious ones such as Metalwork; an introductory historical survey by Donald N. Smith. or any one of numerous books on geology by someone named Stone. Nor the very well known ones such as The Imperial Animal by Lionel Tiger & Robin Fox. The ones I treasured were such as these:
Death in Early America by Margaret M. Coffin
The Correctional Agencies of Tasmania by Mary Daunton-Fear
The Structure of Atonal Music by Allen Forte
How to Preserve Animal and Other Specimens in Clear Plastic by Cleo E. Harden or the fact that Ray L. Birdwhistell is a leading expert in non-verbal communication. And there were some which one had to wonder at: The Art of Editing by Floyd K. Baskette and Jack Z. Sissors. Are those pseudonyms or did someone introduce these two at a party and say: "You guys have got to get together and write a book about editing!"
-Hugh Malcolm (hugh.malcolmATcanberra.edu.au)

We have a librarian at Roche's Scientific library whose full name is a wonderful Nabokovian play on words: Marian Koob!
-Vicky-Evic Go (reginacoelisATgmail.com)


From: Geoff Lewis (glewisATumich.edu)
Subject: words about words

In the spirit of this week's theme, I'd like to offer a word about words that my brother and I came up with while discussing a little family history. The word ironym describes the situation when a person's name is at ironic odds with their actions. An example might be a stepmother named Hope who sells a family business out from under her eager and willing stepson. Or a divorcee's (previously) married surname of Truelove. It's funnier if you actually know the people involved, I'm sure, but it might still bring a smile.


In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker. -Plutarch, biographer and philosopher (circa 46-120)

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