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AWADmail Issue 599A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net
Someone needs to come up with an Architect Statement Generator, similar to:
The notion that a descant is a specifically ornamental melodic line adds extra poignancy to Richard III's soliloquy in Act I Sc I, where he says he is reluctant to loiter in public "Unless to spy my shadow in the sun. And descant on mine own deformity."
Murray Stone, Westerose, Canada
From: David W. Fischer (dw-mefischer sbcglobal.net)
American players of recorders (the musical instruments) soon discover "descant" as an adjective, as in descant recorder, which is British English for our soprano recorder. Similarly, our alto recorder is a "treble" in British English. Despite the difference in terminology, the instruments have similar uses; descant recorder usually gets the melody.
David W. Fischer, Kalamazoo, Michigan
From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Can't pass the word by without mentioning Toronto's exalted literary magazine of the same name and Karen Mulholland, its once and future editor, award-winning on both counts. In addition to publishing lo these many years and acting as a launch pad for several distinguished talents who have attained worldwide fame, Descant is also noted for evenings of wine and cheese, along with free-flowing conversation.
Now whether this title is intended as a verb or a noun, that is for the reader to discern. The plural of verbum (L. fourth declension, if memory serves) is verba, hence the dictum: Verba volant, scripta manent. Spoken words fly away but the written ones stay. Spend the holidays reading them, and support your local library.
Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada
From: Dr. Alexis Melteff (aapm52 yahoo.com)
In Russian Orthodox liturgical music, descant is used for the women's top voices, elsewhere called alto. One member of our church choir inquired about the origin of the word, whereupon another member, inveterate punster, explained, "Probably some diva looked at her arrangement and said, 'Is this my part? Descant be right.'"
Dr. Alexis Melteff, Santa Rosa, California
From: Shane K. Bernard (shane.bernard tabasco.com)
I thought you might want to know that the illustrative example you gave ("Habit then while it hebetate ...") does not come from Gordon M. Burghardt, The Genesis of Animal Play (2005), but from Xavier Bichat, Physiological Researches on Life and Death (1815). Apparently you used Google Books to find your quotation, and therein lies the problem: Google accidentally incorporated scanned pages from Bichat in Burghardt's book. But if you go to Amazon.com, where you also can search inside Burghardt's book, you'll find that the word "hebetate" does not actually appear anywhere in his work about animal play. The archaic tone of the quotation in question tipped me off that something was not right: Why would a modern author writing a book about animal play use such a sentence?
Shane K. Bernard, New Iberia, Louisiana
Thanks for taking the time to send the correction. We've fixed it on the website now.
From: Joel Mabus (joel.mabus pobox.com)
Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on its annual TV outing the other day, I noticed something in the credits for the first time after all these years. All the names of the cartoon animators came under the heading "graphic blandishment". After a little snooping on the Internet, I found that the term was one producer and director Bill Melendez used throughout his career as a pioneering animator. It sounded quaint, but rather odd to my mind's ear, given the current use of "graphic" to mean explicitly sexual or violent in terms of entertainment.
Joel Mabus, Kalamazoo, Michigan
From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Following up on the late Edward Abbey's comments on protozoa and Spinoza, Eugene V. Debs made the same point in his speech to the District Court when being sentenced for sedition for his opposition to the United States' entry into World War I:
"Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Henry Willis, Los Angeles, California
From: Paula Yardley Griffin (paulasrq gmail.com)
Loved this week's words, Anu. Several of these were words about which I knew little or was misinterpreting them. I will use blandish correctly now, and will use colligate often. It's a goodie. Thanks for the selection.
Paula Yardley Griffin, Sarasota, Florida
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:A word is dead / When it is said, / Some say. / I say it just / Begins to live / That day. -Emily Dickinson, poet (1830-1886)