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AWADmail Issue 421

July 25, 2010

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

This week's Email of the Week is from Elinor Horne (see below), who'll receive the Uppityshirt of her choice, and there's a choice choice.


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

Physics major has a name for a really big number
Los Angeles Times

Sarah Palin invents 'refudiate':
The Guardian
(also see palinode)


From: Jim Babka (jim babkas.info)
Subject: Contumely - not an adverb!
Def: Contemptuous or insulting treatment arising from arrogance.

You have cleared up something that bothered me for 30 years. I remember that when I had to memorize that soliloquy in Hamlet, I thought, "Oh, this is one of these cases where Shakespeare dropped a word in order to maintain iambic pentameter." The edition I was reading (for AP English) had plenty of footnotes, but none that cleared up that particular meaning. I had gotten used to having to pick up many meanings from the context (otherwise, it would have taken me a month to read the whole play). So, I just assigned a meaning in my mind ("pridefully") and moved on. I was so sure that there was a verb missing (the one for which "contumely" was the adverb) that I never thought to even try to look up the word.

Occasionally, when remembering my hours spent memorizing, I would think about how that phrase seemed to not really make sense. However, I never got aggravated enough to go look anything up - I just chalked it up to archaic usage. Now it makes perfect sense, and suddenly the entire soliloquy has so much more meaning for me.

I think I'll go back and reread the entire play again. Thus, you have contributed to the advancement of literature in at least one person's mind. :-) My old English teacher (Br. Robert Ruhl) can assuredly rest in greater peace now.


From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--nebbish
Def: A pitifully timid or ineffectual person.

Although he does not quite fit the bill, is there anyone who comes to mind more than Woody Allen's characters?


From: Barbara Zimmerman (barbara.zimmerman hhsc.state.tx.us)
Subject: nebbish

My favorite definition of a nebbish: "When a nebbish leaves the room, it feels as though someone just walked in." (link)


From: Bhob Stewart (bhob2 earthlink.net)
Subject: Nebbish

"The Nebbishes" was a 1959-60 syndicated comic strip by playwright Herb Gardner. Earlier, Gardner's blob-like Nebbish characters were sculpted for funny figurines, and they had a key role in the rise of studio cards during the mid-1950s. His most famous, "Next week we've got to get organized", showing two slacker Nebbishes, began as a greeting card and then became a popular poster.


From: Kelly Gombert (kelly.d.gombert philips.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--nebbish

Growing up, we used this word in my house to refer to small inconsequential items. At Christmas time, a small inexpensive gift would be described as "Oh, that's nothing much, just a nebbish." We used this word to mean the same as a knickknack.


From: Ian Bratt (ian.bratt implats.co.za)
Subject: nebbish

The word nebbish reminded me of the word nebby which, in certain parts of England, particularly the NE, means nosy or impertinent. The derivation of this is from 'neb' meaning a beak (hence nose) which is a totally different root from nebbish.


From: Andrew MFC (andrewmfc aol.com)
Subject: Gloaming
Def: Twilight; dusk.

Cubs fans of a certain vintage will doubtless get all misty-eyed at the very mention of "gloaming." In a tight pennant race late in the 1938 season, against the backdrop of a darkening sky, the Cubs' player-manager Gabby Hartnett hit one of the most famous "walk-off" home runs in baseball history against the Pirates. It was forever immortalized in Cubs lore as the homer in the gloamin'.


From: Tom Priestly (tpriestl shaw.ca)
Subject: gloaming

Odd how one word will bring back memories that go far beyond its literal meaning. When I saw "gloaming" I at once thought of my childhood and music-hall comedian and singer Sir Harry Lauder (1870-1950), whose "signature" song, Roamin' in the Gloamin' (lyrics), was in the 1940s played frequently on British radio. He died when I was newly a teenager. I was surprised that an entertainer could, by dying, evoke such publicity, with a tribute even from Winston Churchill. I had not known that once he was the highest-paid performer in the world; the public funerals of such "stars", nowadays so overdone, was then a rarity.


From: Pauline G. (anavrin aol.com)
Subject: Gloaming

Just wanted to say that "gloaming" is my favorite word! It invokes such a magical time of day. A time between light and dark, day and night. I look forward to the gloaming every day.


From: Steve Lichtenstein (stlicht aol.com)
Subject: beggar
Def: 1. To exhaust the resources or ability; to defy. 2. To impoverish.

Used to great effect in Chapter 8 of Great Expectations:

"What do you play, boy?" asked Estella of myself, with the greatest disdain.
"Nothing but beggar my neighbour, miss."
"Beggar him", said Miss Havisham to Estella. So we sat down to cards...
..I played the game to an end with Estella, and she beggared me.


From: Susan Frank (sfrank2 cfl.rr.com)
Subject: verbing a noun

The hostess at a Denny's informed us, "The waitress will be with you in a minute. She's beveraging the other table." A friend informed us that his boat developed a leak and they were "bucketing the boat".


From: Mike Yeaman (mikeyeaman waitrose.com)
Subject: Verbs as Nouns

It happens the other way round as well - nouns getting used as verbs. I regularly hear, "Can you evidence that?" And more recently, "I'll inbox you."


From: MC Swaminathan (mcswaminathan gmail.com)
Subject: Word a Day-Verbs turning nouns

One verb recently being used as a noun especially by cricket commentators is the total asked to be made to win -- it is being called "a big/small ask".


From: Murray Frank (mwfrank17 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

Before a medical procedure recently, the doctor approached "to consent me".


From: Ormonde Lewis (olewis7 comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

Each week in church we are are requested "to silence" our cell phones.


From: Chandrakant Thanawalla (thanaw32 verizon.net)
Subject: verbs used as nouns

For the last few years, I have heard TV reporters say, 'take a listen' when they would like us to hear what a person said. As you said, it is annoying.


From: Guy Emerich (gemerich farr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

Speaking of things that bother me about nouns as verbs and verbs as nouns how about this? Baseball announcers now talking about "plating" a run. How about driving in a run, or knocking in a run. Home plate has now become a verb! Baseball heresy!!


From: Paul Edwards (paule cathicolla.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

Wonderful! It makes me think of possibly my favourite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.


Email of the Week - (Courtesy One Up! - Are you wicked, smart?)

From: Elinor Horne (elinor.horne valley.net)
Subject: Current bulletin board

In point of fact, it is the rules of English syntax that determine the part of speech. Nobody knew about this better than Shakespeare: "He out-Herods Herod..." "I'll unhair thy head..." etc. Use a verb like a verb and lo, it is a verb. Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) knew this too: "Verbing weirds language." The name for the phenomenon is "anthimeria", from the Greek: "One part for another." How about the common expression "He's the go-to guy"? The list I keep of these usages as I hear them grows daily. Alan Simpson: "They potatoed [Dan Quayle] into eternity." Wife being pressed by husband for an answer: "Don't yes-no me!" And on, and on, and on...


From: Jeffrey Haddow (haddow aol.com)
Subject: Nouns from Verbs

Another irritating trend is adjectives from nouns. The one I find especially egregious is "impactful". Not only does it grate on the ear and all the other senses, but it has gone viral in the corporate world, especially in sales speeches.


From: Donna Lazarus (donnalazarus4 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

I'm a NYC public high school Spanish teacher, but my first language is English. My department chairperson sends us announcements periodically to expect a "visitation". I think Archangel Gabriel or the Pope is going to visit my classroom! She is new on the job and foolishly mimicking the bureaucratic language of NYC Dept. of Ed. Chancellor Klein who is a corporate fellow with no special feel or knowledge of English usage. But "visitation" just cracks me up (what is wrong with "visit", or the truth, "observation"?).


From: Karl Siewert (ksiewer tulsalibrary.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumely

Have you seen this cogent explanation of why "login" is not a verb? LoginIsNotaVerb.com


A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
The living language is like a cow-path: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay. -E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)
This week's theme
Words that look like one part of speech but are another

This week's words
contumely
panegyric
nebbish
gloaming
beggar

Next week's theme
Words that aren't what they appear to be

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