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AWADmail Issue 204

April 9, 2006

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


From: Rejean Levesque (kevelATvideotron.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--apparatchik

In Guest Wordsmith Mr. Gooden's intro, mention is made of "cinq sept" (not "cinque" & no hyphens) which can effectively mean an amorous rendez-vous between five and seven in the afternoon, but nowadays, in French, the expression is mostly used to designate a kind of informal party where cocktails and snacks are served. A "cinq sept" is held before the formal dinner hours (before going out to eat in restaurants) and is not necessarily exactly between five and seven o'clock.


From: Kathleen Wallace (wallacekATmadisonpublicschools.org)
Subject: au contraire

Don't forget, even more campy and fun is the rhyming pairing: au contraire, mon frere!


From: Robert Singleton (rmsing45ATearthlink.net)
Subject: Au contraire

I agree with the "slightly camp context" of au contraire, but Philip Gooden's "delivered with a flap of the wrist or a raised eyebrow" struck me as flatly stereotypical. I read it with a wince of pain, probably not intended by him, but hurtful nevertheless. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoy my A.Word.A.Day emails.


From: Stephen Jackson (jacksonATssrc.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--au contraire

In the write-up on "au contraire" it's suggested that "The value of au contraire, therefore, lies with the slightly camp context in which it's usually found. An earnest argument demands "on the contrary", but an opposing point of view, not meant too seriously and delivered with a flap of the wrist or a raised eyebrow, justifies au contraire."

But perhaps a slap of the wrist is also a possible intention? My favourite use of the phrase remains Samuel Beckett's two-word response to a French journalist who asked Beckett if he was English. Beckett, who famously wrote many of his works (such as waiting for Godot) in French before then self-translating them into English, was, of course, Irish. His spare reply of "au contraire" has been taken by some to imply that Beckett viewed Irishness as the cultural contrary of Englishness?


From: Matthew Shepherd (mdshepherdATxerces.org)
Subject: feng shui

I'm British and now live on the West Coast of the U.S. (Oregon). Like the guest wordsmith, I initially thought that feng shui was a somewhat pretentious thing and tended to dismiss it, but I know many people who believe in it deeply and use it to organize their offices, homes, gardens, and shops. Almost without exception they say it has improved their lives by things such as reducing work place stress, making their gardens more relaxing, or increasing sales. Personally, I don't follow feng shui principles but their support for it and apparent success makes me think that it is a valid practice. Since it is concept imported from China, it seems reasonable that we should also import its name. After all, what would be the direct translation into English, and would that be any less strange to the listener?

Also, one thing that I find intriguing is how even here in Oregon people generally refer to the Far East when in fact, since it is just across the Pacific, it is the Near West. I guess it is a historical hang over from the dominance of European nations in early exploration and map making. The Euro-centric, Mercator projection map is the standard view of the world and one which still influences the way we perceive it both in terms of how countries relate to each other geographically and the relative importance of different regions.


From: Onward Lam (onward_lamATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: Feng Shui

People in the east, particularly ethnic Chinese, takes feng shui (or Geomancy, if you're looking for a more anglicised word) very seriously.

Some aspects of it may sound downright superstitious, such as not having your front door, staircase, and upstairs bathroom lined up in a straight line so that your fortunes are not flushed right out of your house.

Some sounds strange but logical, like not living in the house that stares down the road at the T-junction. (Statistically there may be a higher probability of accidents involving your property.)

However, when you study the subject in more detail, or just sit down and think through some of the recommendations about how you should be organising, say your house/room/furniture, and try to remove the "superstition" factor, you will discover its wisdom. I find that many aspects of Feng Shui helps you to be at peace with your surroundings, and when you are in a calm and happy state of mind, naturally things will go better for you.


From: Priyaranjan Jha (priyaranjan.jhaATgenpact.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--feng shui

I am surprised at how the old cultures are so similar even in the terminology used to describe abstract phenomena.

In Maithili, my mother tongue, and also in Hindi, you will find the usage of "Hawa pani" to explain the intangible properties of a place. Grandparents would often say, "The Hawa Pani of this place is not conducive for setting up home" or "Go check out the Hawa Pani of the city before you decide to take up the job". And, guess what the literal meaning is? Hawa = Wind and Pani = Water! Just like Feng Shui. Maybe the Chinese travellers took away this reference, or maybe they left the reference behind.


From: Jennifer St.John (jennifer.stjohnATthefusiongroup.com)
Subject: Feng Shui

Your description makes this ancient study sound ephemeral and without substance. But there are many things in life that are of great substance and yet have no weight. Feng Shui is one of those.

I was a skeptic too. Then I tried it.

In my experience with a genuine Feng Shui Master, it has become clear to me that someone who studies for years, practices diligently, and opens themselves to the lessons of the centuries deserves the same respect we might reasonable offer to a Master of any Martial Art, the Tea Ceremony, Art, or Architecture. Feng Shui has had dramatic positive effects on the daily quality of life of all the people who live and work in our (Feng Shui optimized) spaces.

Don't knock it till you've tried it.


From: Kelley Hickey (krhickeyATzoomtown.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--feng shui

I have no gift for arranging furniture, or putting out knick-knacks without it all looking cluttered. I call my decorating style "dysfeng-shui".


From: Katherine Silkin (ksilkinATsciserv.org)
Subject: yin and yang

A quick note that your guest 'smith has made the most common mistake in thinking that yin and yang are mirrored in spelling with four letters apiece. Yin goes g-less.


From: Donald Cooper (dcooperateATyahoo.com)
Subject: Gestalt with the moon

I've used this word to describe a moment of recognition I had once, looking at the moon in a "crescent" phase. Looking at the moon (which I imagine makes me a "lunatic"), I suddenly perceived it not as a two-dimensional crescent but what it was -- a full sphere being lit from a direction that made it appear to my eye as a crescent.

I asked a friend who had studied psychology if this was, in fact, "gestalt". He said he didn't think so.

But now I realize it is an extremely apt example of "gestalt" -- the crescent shape is but a part of the spherical whole.

And that guy's not my friend anymore, anyway...


From: Larry Bart (akbashATsover.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gestalt

As a psychologist, the word gestalt feels so common to me that I have thought of it as a far more general word rather than a technical term. I don't think I would ever use a phrase like a "total gestalt switch". I think of a gestalt as a complete set of ideas that describe any event, fully fledged belief systems. This would be an integration of emotional, attitudinal, experiential, and theoretical concepts. So changing an individual's belief in the safety of milk might fit. On the other hand, it is such a small issue and gestalt seems to me to be reserved for far grander things. For instance I would describe the difference between a Darwinian world view and a Creationist world view as different gestalts.


From: Marsha Coleman (marsha1945ATsbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--papabile

I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it. -George Carlin


From: Cameron Simpkins (pacceoATpacc.pilbara.net)
Subject: Re: updating my address

I'm not unsubscribing. I'm just shifting jobs. In fact, I asked myself as I was happily inserting my new address, just how long has it been that we've maintained our secret relationship? I think I've enjoyed a little over a decade of our swift daily embrace of the English language. A moment's reflection of the spoken word, a sip of coffee, and then one dives back into the maelstrom of the fiscally-driven grind.

In all that time, I've changed jobs six times, moved house about the same number, undergone a divorce, and started a new family. One of the true constants in my life has been AWAD and its daily reinvigoration of English.

No, I love AWAD. Keep it coming for another decade.


A different language is a different vision of life. -Federico Fellini, film director and writer (1920-1993)

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