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AWADmail Issue 269

July 8, 2007

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


From: J.B. Meyer (jbrmeyer aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--deuteragonist

What a lovely way to say "second banana".


From: Andrew Knight (a.knight imperial.ac.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--breeches part

The expression usually used in opera for a breeches part is the Italian expression "travesti". These roles include Cherubino in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and Oktavian in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. The numerous male soprano roles in baroque opera are nowadays sung by women in travesti (or male countertenors and altos) since the supply of castrati has mercifully run dry.

The word "travesti", literally meaning cross-dressing, is closely related to our "travesty" and "transvestite", of course. Now there's a tale to tell!


From: Evan B. Hazard (eehazard paulbunyan.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--breeches part

I learned "breeches part" as the "trousers role". Favorites are Cherubino in "Marriage of Figaro" and Prince Orlofsky in "Fledermaus".

We also saw a silent trousers role, almost a cameo, in a BSU production of "Pirates of Penzance". (A very good performance, and true to the original, not the Broadway garbage that was so popular a couple of decades back.) As you know, half the male chorus are pirates and half (plus one of the leads) are policemen, London Bobby style. But, while singing "When a felon's not engaged in his employment" in Act 2, the pirates, grouped into a tight square, did a little dance. Here was this petite pirate in front of the square, and "he" was not singing. We quickly realized that the director had learned the boys couldn't dance, and had recruited a dancer whose steps they could follow. She did it very well.


From: Dean Whitlock (boatman deanwhitlock.com)
Subject: breeches part

In the early 1970s I worked one summer on the stage crew at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. That year, the company presented the world premiere (since its only performance in 1643) of a baroque opera by Cavalli named "L'Egisto". There was one male role for a woman (a contralto), which everyone called a "trouser role". There was also a female role played by a man (a tenor). I don't remember if that type of role had a special name, though I'm sure it must.

The opera was rife with gender-bending roles. There was Hermes, who was costumed and played as a hermaphrodite by a young woman, and L'Egisto, the lead romantic male, who was a counter-tenor: a man singing in a woman's range. (Counter-tenors are usually natural baritones who sing in a falsetto.)

It was quite a sumptuous production and the performers were wonderful in their varied roles, though L'Egisto in particular took some getting used to, at least for my modern ears. Overall, though, the opera is not particularly outstanding -- perhaps that's why it had been ignored for 300-plus years.


From: Dennis Vail (denvail sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Breeches Part

Let's be clear that in Shakespeare's own time there were no actresses, and female parts were normally played by boys. So Shakespeare's Cleopatra laments the prospect that the theater will "boy" her on stage -- a wonderful example of Shakespearean irony.


From: Joanne Fenton (fentonesq aim.com)
Subject: breeches

This word breeches is still commonplace in Appalachian speech and denotes pants, trousers, even overalls (pronounced "overhalls"), or whatever is covering the male extremities. Here's an old children's song sung in those parts:

Little man, little man
Who made your britches?
Papa cut 'em out
And Mama sewed the stitches.


From: Ron Allan (rallan bdblaw.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--greenroom

Among bicycle enthusiasts, "green rooms" are the bushes and trees that provide privacy as make-shift bathrooms for impromptu stops along bike trails and roadways.


From: Rod Mesa (roddio1 mac.com)
Subject: The Green Room

As a native long-time resident of Southern California, I'd always heard of The Green Room as a surfing term, being the inside of the curl of a wave. When one is riding a wave, to be tucked up in the curl, tube, or barrel of a breaking wave was to be "in the green room". I went online to look it up, but could only find this description on Wikipedia:

"The internal aspect or space of a breaking wave in surfing. The green room or barrel is inside the tube. A greenish-blue color illuminates within the tube, from the sunlight shining through the blue water."

I don't know about the blue water, but the space inside is definitely green.


From: Jan Larson (janlarson charter.net)
Subject: green room

I visited Buckingham Palace in 1994, and we went through the room where people waited before going in to have an audience with the queen. It was a very ornate room, as you might imagine, and it was definitely painted green; I don't remember if the furniture was upholstered in green, but I do remember thinking at the time that the use of this room must have been the origin of this phrase.


From: Doug Sturgess (dougsturgess yahoo.com)
Subject: Origin of Green Room

I've heard it's called the Green Room because this is where the artist was paid for their performance -- $$.


From: Eileen Bertie (nlper999 earthlink.net)
Subject: P&G Needs AWAD!

I couldn't control myself - I had to send the following to Procter & Gamble about their "Home Made Simple" newsletter:

    Whoever titled the article "Sunday Morning Soiree", should be spanked for inappropriate use of vocabulary. "Soiree" indicates evening, morning would be "matinee".
Obviously, there is a great need for services like AWAD (to which I have subscribed for over, well, long enough to have saved over 2600 email editions!

Thank you, Anu, for educating AND enlightening all these years!


The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is capable of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension. -Ezra Pound, poet (1885-1972)

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