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AWADmail Issue 18

October 29, 2000

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

From: Phil Fry (frypATdiamtech.com)
Subject: palindromes

Maybe a week late, but I thought you'd appreciate the tag line in the news story below:


Posted at October 25, 2000 09:19 AM Pacific
NEW YORK -- Akamai Technologies kicked off Internet World Wednesday with the unveiling of I.Am.Akamai, the content delivery provider's new customizable single-point-of-access portal ...."

From: Anna Lindsay (annaATjoy-full.freeserve.co.uk)
Subject: Re. Newton's quotation...

Thought this might interest you about Newton's quotation, "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

(From An Underground Education by Richard Zacks, p.37)

"Pundits use this quote as the ultimate expression of humility in genius, but what they miss (and almost everyone else does too) is that Newton wrote that line to a very, very, short man, a hunchbacked fellow scientist with whom he was having a bitter feud.

"Newton (1642-1727) was furious that Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was staking claim to many key discoveries in optics and calculus. (Hooke did in fact build the first reflecting telescope). [...]

"Newton wrote a long letter to Hooke on February 5, 1675, defending himself from charges of intellectual piracy, praising Hooke for trifles, and then Newton built to the famous `standing on the shoulders of giants' line. (Newton, by the way, adapted it from a line about pygmies in a then-famous book called Anatomy of Melancholy.)

"You might translate Newton's sentiments: `While I admit to building on the work of my scientific predecessors, I certainly didn't learn anything from a dwarf like you.'"

    Also noted by Mike Sloane (msloaneATatt.net). -Anu

From: Dan Gerrett (dangATnse.co.uk)
Subject: English (British) pronunciation et al.

I am fascinated by the English language in general, much the same as yourself. Our household here in London currently has an American visitor staying - an interesting situation in itself - which has highlighted the differences in our pronunciation of certain words and indeed total misunderstanding at times.

One of the differences that I have noted between British and Americans is that the British rarely have any problem knowing what an American is saying when using colloquial American terms (terms that are never used in Britain such as 'diaper' and 'sidewalk') but Americans seem completely flummoxed by our own words, for example 'rubbish' and 'peckish.'

On the one hand this could be construed as interesting - theories could be raised such as British people perhaps having a heightened sense of observance, quick-wittedness, or general intelligence - but they would be utterly unfounded.

There is only one reason why we (the British) understand these terms instantly, and this is because of the movies. American culture has so infiltrated the fibre of British life through films that we almost take American culture if not part of our own, then certainly an extension of it.

Okay, so there are notable 'British' films (inverted commas because funding for British films often originates in the US) that Americans may have seen - Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty, the James Bond films (although only 16% of Bond girls have been British) - but only a minute percentage of films seen by US audiences can be British in flavour - compared to the statistic that more than 90% of cinema-shown films seen by UK audiences are US written, produced, directed and starred.

The last point I'd like to make is about pronunciation - you currently provide an audio file of US English pronunciation for each of your words. I'm not for a minute suggesting that you also provide a British variant; however it may be interesting to note when a distinctly different pronunciation is used by British people - without having to get into the sticky mess of regional variations.

I presume you're trying to provide a global English service, and therefore you are disseminating your information in as general a way as possible. I guess I would just hate to see the nuances of our own language gobbled up into the American way.

    What was that about two countries separated by a common language? As someone who had to change his `SHED-yool' (to `SKE-jool') after coming to the US, I can understand your suggestion about noting variants. However, that may not be enough. I put terms in quotes while you use inverted commas, to take an example.

    I recall reading a survey some time back that a majority of British children now spell `color' instead of `colour'. On the other hand, there have been suggestions that in a few decades British English and American English will be mutually unintelligible. That sounds a bit far-fetched and it may not happen in decades, but remember at one time Europe and America were a single land mass. -Anu

From: Pratibha Ramanujam (pratibha.ramanujamATtatainfotech.com)
Subject: query

I would like to know what we call the relationship between two daughters-in-law. I have come across the term co-sister (in India) and would like to know if the term is the right one.

    The English language has many strong points but relational words is not one of them. It is certainly not well-equipped when it comes to relationships. The term sister-in-law is too vague to be of much utility without further explication. The terms co-sister and co-brother are fairly well established in the Indian subcontinent, though I have not seen its usage in other places. -Anu

From: Bobbe Anderson (beathumbATaol.com)
Subject: syzygy

Recently I was communicating with a person that responded to an online personal ad that I'd placed. Just in case you aren't aware of it, conversing with someone that you don't know at all is not an easy task for most people, me included. I know that I was grasping for a comment when I asked if he knew the word syzygy, which had been that day's word, since the person I was talking to had mentioned that he was interested in Astronomy. "Oh, you know about AWAD, don't you?" was his response. It was what warmed up the conversation and I thought that I'd let you know. I just wanted to let you know that I have enjoyed all of your efforts and have been meaning to tell you for a while. My anecdote made it easy not to forget!

Words, like eyeglasses, obscure everything they do not make clear. -Joseph Joubert, moralist and essayist (1754-1824)

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