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AWADmail Issue 200

March 11, 2006

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


From: Nat Mushkin (mikenovemberATearthlink.net)
Subject: Re: schadenfreude

There's the story, lately, of the language maven preaching to his class about the uniqueness of the word, "shadenfreude", and how our deficient English has no way of expressing this idea. One student rises and challenges the professor, claiming that we certainly do: "Reality TV!"


From: Frank Brown (frank.brownATworldspan.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--clerisy

When I was in high school it was part of the language syllabus that part of your language teaching would include chemistry and physics in whatever language you were taking. I was taking German. I discovered that when dealing with a piece of laboratory equipment, the German word for the piece of equipment translated as the description of the item turned into one word. So for one experiment a thin strip of copper foil was submerged in acid and in the diagram it was labeled something like "thinstripofcopperfoil" only in German. This made for some very long captions on the diagrams.

I thought it was funny that a language would do that.


From: William Garabrant (williamATgarabrant.de)
Subject: German sesquipedalians

Hello from Kulmbach, Oberfranken (Upper Franconia, in northern Bavaria, near the Czech border, where it's STILL snowing).

First a hearty thank you for the AWAD newsletter. I've been a fan for about six years already.

I'm a New Yorker who for the past ten years has been living in Germany. It's taken me a long time to come to grips with the German language and especially with the "zusammengesetztewörter" (together-set-words), or "Sesquipedalians" as you call them. Actually, it's more like sesquipedalians without spaces or punctuation. The most fascinating aspect of these linguistic gems isn't that they exist at all but rather their dynamic character. Germans routinely create new words on the fly, it's a built-in feature of the language and, in my theory, one of the basic ingredients in the creative, philosophical German character. There could never have been a Goethe without the German language for him to twist around and have fun with. German allows us to put any number of seemingly and heretofore unrelated objects into something new and, sometimes, profound, sometimes humorous, sometimes both, but always interesting. We can do the same in English, of course, but then we have to watch our punctuation and we water down the effect with superfluous little words (prepositions, etc.).

Auf Wiederschreiben!


From: Janet Machol (janet.macholATnoaa.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zeitgeber

According to this recent research from Harvard, the internal clock actually has a period very close to 24 hours.


From: Vizor-Herrera (avizorATcwpanama.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zeitgeber

Just think of the moon and how it controls the tides every 25 hours - we're evolved fish after all!


From: Peter Scandrett (peter.scandrettATunitedgroupltd.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zeitgeber

Regarding the 25 hour circadian rhythm, I have noticed that I can fly west from Sydney to London and, after arriving at 6:30am London time, I can then work all day, reasonably bright and chirpy. But the lights go out early in the evening. It's like having had a very late night. However, after the return trip home, it takes me two weeks to recover. I don't know why. Maybe it's the 25 hour rhythm. Do others find travelling west easier to handle than travelling east?


From: Luke Solomon (s21154491ATtuks.co.za)
Subject: Zeitgeber

Zeitgeber is a word that I use often, as a Master's student whose thesis is on discovering circadian rhythms in gene expression. My nickname in the lab is 'Chronoboy', although I prefer 'Captain Kirk-adian'.


From: Dr. Ulrike Müller-Kaspar (dieATtextwerkstatt.at)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gegenschein

I had not known the scientific meaning of Gegenschein before, thank you! Johann Wolfgang Goethe used the word Gegenschein in the description of his birth horoscope in the sense of "opposition": "Nur der Mond, der soeben voll ward, übte die Kraft seines Gegenscheins umso mehr, als zugleich seine Planetenstunde eingetreten war. Er widersetzte sich daher meiner Geburt" the full moon being in opposition to the sun delayed Goethe's birth until this aspect was over. (in the very beginning of Dichtung und Wahrheit).


From: Art Haykin (theartATwebtv.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--weltschmerz

Today's word, weltschmerz, seems in keeping with the Simon quotation about our information overload. We are relentlessly battered with it, and it can leave us in confusion and pain.

Remember that scene in "Moscow on the Hudson", where the newly defected Russian (played by Robin Williams) was walking down the aisle of a typical American supermarket for the first time? He became overwhelmed by the sheer number of different coffees alone and he became dizzy and disoriented, and they had to call an ambulance. My guess is that about 95% of the data that is perpetrated upon us daily is utterly useless, redundant, often false, and needlessly alarming.


From: William Garabrant (williamATgarabrant.de)
Subject: German word - Geisterfahrer

A German friend once asked me for the English word for "Geisterfahrer", a commonly used compound noun. I told him I didn't know of any, but if necessary, I would call it, "A person driving on the wrong side of the road." He insisted that there must be an English word for it and got out the Langenscheidt's (a translation dictionary). Sure enough, the translation for "Geisterfahrer" was, "A person driving on the wrong side of the road". Literally, it means, "Ghost Driver".

Even though Germans will insist that you have to be completely stupid to do so, the highway system here makes it physically easy to drive up the exit ramps. It's common to hear warnings of Geisterfahrer during the traffic reports on the radio. Danke!


Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. -William Strunk and E.B. White, authors of The Elements of Style

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