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AWADmail Issue 341

Jan 11, 2009

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


From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Top 10 Language Stories of 2008:
The Web of Language

Weirdest Story of the Year: "How Embarrbutting"
This is True (scroll down for the winning story)

Area Of Brain Key To Choosing Words Identified:
ScienceDaily


From: Dorothy Sinha (dorothy.sinha med.va.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--avenaceous
Def: Relating to or like oats

Many years ago, my father worked as a salesman for the Quaker Oats company in Akron, Ohio. He used to tell me about selling a natural preservative that was derived from the processing of rolled oats. I believe that it was called "avenax" or something like that. He said that other food producers sought it out because it was cheap, natural, and effective.


From: Shirley Fackelman (ednasaid cox.net)
Subject: Avenaceous

I'm wondering if it could be said that one is avenaceous, replacing the saying, "feeling one's oats", meaning feisty, playful, energized, or perhaps something more vulgar. According to a 16th century definition, "Sowing one's wild oats" was a saying for a young man to get his youthful urges out of his system, wild oats also being an offensive weed. Avenaceous covers a lot of ground!


From: Robert Richter (DrBobRic aol.com)
Subject: Arne Garborg

Your quotation of the day, with its series of juxtapositions, brought to mind an earlier, longer, and infinitely more powerful speech of the same sort. More than fifty years ago, I was privileged to see a reading of "Don Juan in Hell", with Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Agnes Moorehead, and Cedrick Hardwicke.

In it, the Don castigates the Devil after the latter complains that the Don was uncivil to his friends. He says (and I abridge greatly), "Pooh! Why should I be civil to them or to you?...They are not beautiful; they are only decorated...They are not religious; they are only pewrenters...they are not moral; they are only conventional...not public-spirited only patriotic; not determined, only obstinate (continuing on in a chilling crescendo of invective for almost a full page, he ends with); not just, only vindictive; not generous, only propitiatory; not disciplined, only cowed; and not truthful at all: liars every one of them, to the very backbone of their souls."

This example of Bernard Shaw's mastery of not only vocabulary but juxtaposition, voiced by the finest actors of the time, has resonated in my head ever since. It is one of the finest uses of language, in that it is equally powerful when read and heard.


From: Jennifer Hewitt (jenhewitt gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--span-new
Def: Brand-new

The phrase "spic-and-span" has always been related to cleaning in my mind. On the other hand, another phrase I like, "brand-spanking-new", must be derived from span-new.

I've always wondered how spanking related to newness. My best guess before today was that it had something to do with doctors spanking newborn babies!

The term "brand new" refers to a brand (a burning piece of wood), implying straight from the fire, i.e. newly made in a furnace. Then there is "brand spanking new". The word spanking here is as an intensifier, used in the adverbial sense of the word, meaning extremely or remarkably. There appears not to be a connection to the spanking of a newly born baby to get her breathing started.
-Anu Garg


From: Claire Foss (claire josensinipr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ecumenical

This word reminds me of an episode of the British sitcom 'Father Ted', about three priests living on a remote Irish island. One of the characters is Father Jack Hackett, a permanently drunk priest who gets by mainly by shouting profanities while inebriated.

One day, some important church figures come to visit, and Father Ted teaches Jack the phrase "That would be an ecumenical matter", which Jack uses throughout their visit (in response to practically every question put his way) with great success.


From: Robert Friedlander (robert_friedlander yahoo.com)
Subject: Mumbai

Just for the record, Mumbai is not the only place where you see elegant expensive places, defined in your paragraph as a Porsche showroom, situated alongside a humble one, such as a banana shop. When I lived in Córdoba, Mexico, I saw many instances of elegant mansions alongside small residences we would call shacks. As far as size of vehicle and right of way is concerned, try driving in Tel Aviv, or elsewhere in Israel.


From: David Metevia (djmetevia chartermi.net)
Subject: right of way

You wrote: "You have a higher chance of dying in a traffic accident than in a terrorist attack, especially if you are a pedestrian. A rule of thumb: the bigger the vehicle, the greater the right of way it has."

We refer to that as the right of weight.


From: Tom Wilson (tjw4 sonic.net)
Subject: Cellphones

I know what you mean about the ubiquity of cellphones. My wife Nancy and I were in Guatemala recently and observed the same phenomenon. We even saw little Mayan women walking along the highway to Chichicastenango, carrying humongous loads on their heads, chatting away, not with the women walking beside them, but on their cellphones.


From: Shirley Fackelman (ednasaid cox.net)
Subject: Dispatches from Mumbai (1, 2, 3)

I'm delighted with your exploits in Mumbai... I feel as though I'm there. I think you may have a book here, and I think you should be a travel writer! Thank you so much for a wonderful armchair experience.


Words are the small change of thought. -Jules Renard, writer (1864-1910)

This week's theme
Miscellaneous words

This week's words
liminal
avenaceous
span-new
etesian
ecumenical

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