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AWADmail Issue 761A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
Sponsor’s Message: What does old school mean to you? “You’re welcome” instead of “No problem”? How about: saddle shoes. White handkerchiefs, and white gloves. A hand-written note. Hitchhiking. Let us know -- we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Henry Willis (see below), as well as all you traditionistas out there the chance to tell us what you miss most about the world we are losing or have already lost. You may even win some of our authentic ludic loot, to boot. The Old’s Cool Contest ends at midnight tonight. ENTER NOW.
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Mark Poore (mark.poore sce.com)
Your anti-Trump tirade is infantile and most tiresome. Give it a rest, already. It’s time to put on your big boy pants and grow up. Nobody cares that you are feeling disaffected. You have been served notice, make it stop. If this is not feasible, then feel free to return to the country of your origin. I will gladly come over and help you prepare for the move back.
Mark Poore, Santa Ana, California
What is infantile is standing in front of a wall that commemorates people who gave their lives for this country and bragging about how smart you are and how big your inauguration crowds were and then later claiming that the staffers gave you a standing ovation even though you never let them sit.[See updates: AWADmail 762 & AWADmail 763]
I’m an American. This is my country. It’s not for you to decide where I live and what I say.
The America I know and cherish has freedom of speech. Is your vision of America a place in which everyone agrees with the president? There are places where everyone does, willingly (in a robot shop) or not (North Korea).
You have your man in the most powerful office in this country, perhaps in the whole world. Why do you feel threatened by what some obscure Wordsmith says in his corner of the Net? It’s good to remember that more than half Americans in this country have a different opinion, even though not all may be vocal about it. Some of your neighbors, even some of your family members likely have a different opinion. Is this how it’s supposed to work: every time we have a president of a different party, half of the country has to leave?
What makes America great is not the size of its army or how tall a wall it makes on its border. Rather, it’s a place that welcomes people irrespective of color, religion, or beliefs, that it appreciates people for their talents, that it opens its doors to people who leave everything behind and come here and contribute to make it even greater. People who think a little differently.
Something to think about.
At any rate, I wish you well. May you find peace and understanding.
From: Martha Pedersen (marthapedersen gmail.com)
I don’t know where you’re finding these recent thoughts for the day but they are a balm to my soul. Keep them coming.
Your work overall is a balm to my soul, actually. It promotes intelligent, nuanced conversation, and thought. Thank you.
Martha Pedersen, Santa Barbara, California
From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Subject: Secret handshakes
Following up on your suggestion that English has been designed to be exceptionally difficult for non-native speakers to learn, this would not be the only such case of intentional misdirection. During WW2 Stalin ordered authorities in the areas near the German lines to change the street signs and print deliberately mistaken maps so that the Nazis would get lost if they relied on either. Old habits die hard: the Soviets continued to reprint these inaccurate maps for decades after the defeat of Hitler, serving mostly to confuse Soviet citizens. (reference)
And then there is Irish orthography, in which “bh” and “mh” might sound like a “v” or “w” to English-speakers, “ch” sounds like an “x” except when it doesn’t, and so forth. (And that’s not even touching on all the ways that vowels can collide with consonants and with each other.) I always thought that this was, like Stalin’s maps, a trap to confound invaders, specifically the English. And, like those maps, the orthography remains in use today, just as confusing as ever for anyone trying to learn the language.
Henry M. Willis, Los Angeles, California
From: Richard Schmitz (davey59w msn.com)
In common parlance caretaker refers to one who takes care of property -- the house, the yard, etc.; a caregiver gives care to the body -- a nurse, a therapist, etc.
Richard Schmitz, Tucson, Arizona
From: Charles Aylworth (caylworth gmail.com)
Eugene, Oregon, has a legal courier company named “The Peripatetic Quotidian”. They figured lawyers would know what it meant. Secret Code.
Charles Aylworth, Salem, Oregon
From: Ron Conescu (RonConescu gmail.com)
As I learned it, modern French uses the word quotidian, spelled almost like that (as quotidien). It means exactly what you wrote above -- mundane, ordinary, daily. It is, in fact, the normal, generic word to describe normal, generic activities -- it’s how you talk about going shopping for groceries, or checking the mail, or other stuff you do on a regular basis that stands out mostly for its normalcy. It’s not as unusual a word as it is in English.
Ironically, that makes it the quotidian French word for saying “quotidian”.
Ron Conescu, Mountain View, California
From: Evelyn Flam (evflam aol.com)
Back in the 1960s when I was involved with the League of Women Voters and we were trying to clean up the Hudson River in New York State by having communities build sewer treatment plants and stop dumping waste into the river. We termed it “the effluence of our affluence”.
Evelyn Flam, Clearwater, Florida
From: Srinivas Shastri (shastrix gmail.com)
Aeon carried a wonderful article on the same topic.
Srinivas Shastri, Bangalore, India
From: Gary Muldoon (gmuldoon muldoongetz.com)
In the TV series How I Married Your Mother, a man is telling a woman that they aren’t right for each other. Trying to explain it, he fumbles and finally says, “It’s ineffable.” She responds, “I’m not F-able?” (video, 3 sec.)
Gary Muldoon, Rochester, New York
From: Becky Manning (emanning wisc.edu)
And of course Neil Gaiman’s and the late great Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Good Omens plot turns on the word. Armageddon is averted because whether it was actually intended in God’s Great Plan “[which] can only be a tiny part of the overall ineffability” sends both Beelzebub and Metatron, Voice of God, back for further instructions.
Becky Manning, Madison, Wisconsin
From: Simon Warwicker (simon.warwicker virginmedia.com)
But according to the quotation below, ineffable does have an antonym!
“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” -Douglas Adams
This is probably one of the few times you will manage to get a crude word through the censors!
Simon Warwicker, London, UK
From: Joyce Whitesell (mustangjkw hotmail.com)
Today’s word (ineffable) reminded me of an old joke, where grade school children were each given a word to look up and report on in class. The next day, one child reported that he wanted a different word, because the dictionary said the word he had been assigned “cannot be explained or accounted for”. His word was “inexplicable”.
Joyce K. Whitesell, Dunnellon, Florida
From: Richard Alexander (alexander triton.net)
My first exposure to the word -- and still, decades later, was the example that first came to mind -- was the conclusion of T.S. Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats”:
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Whether Eliot intended this as an allusion to the “ineffable name of God”, well, we’ll leave that for a later exegesis.
Richard Alexander, Grand Rapids, Michigan
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Curiously, Freud, in his ground-breaking 1899 tome, The Interpretation of Dreams, associates a patient’s dream imagery of effluent (more precisely... excrement), with a subconscious desire for gold. Or might we take the liberty to rephrase that... a subconscious desire for filthy lucre?
I can imagine a much rosier, loving scenario between Victor Hugo’s grossly malformed Quasimodo and his equally freakish mother than the actual sad, early narrative painted in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where as a young child the eponymous character of the 1831 novel is rejected by his own flesh-and-blood... unloved, cast into a most cruel and judgmental world, and yet in the end, redeemed.
Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California
From: James Hutchinson (james hutch.org.uk)
Writing about the Berlin Wall, Carl Jung commented that “The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites -- day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil... Life is a battleground.”
James Hutchinson, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
An inbox of effluvia quotidian
When drawing the Greenwich Meridian
There was a monk named Gideon,
The sun is my basic quotidian.
A death warrant on women he’s signed
Common to English-language nations
It’s well-known fact and an adage
It’s bewildering and highly deplorable
From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
If you speak in Uganda, quotidian Amin crowd will gather.
Ja, I remember Die Messerschmitts! Effluvium in ze war.
Where was “effable” when Anu’s theme was “Words that sound dirty but aren’t”?
I will visage you more after my cataracts are removed.
“Lynx”, “jinx”, and “anxious” are inexorable words.
Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma
From: Bruce Flitcroft (bflitcroft allianttech.com)
I have been reading your site since 1999 and almost daily since 2003. In 2005, I introduced your site to my three children. My daughter, nine years old then, took a fancy to it. She is graduating college this year. She speaks seven languages, three fluently, is an excellent poet, and a self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazi”. Her love is linguistics. She reads your site daily. This has provided a theme and something in common to talk about on our calls. Like an influential family member or an athletics coach, your staff has contributed positively to the raising of my daughter by bestowing to her so many words and thoughts to pursue her passion. Your website is to me a selfless and relatively unbiased contribution to so many people. Although the impact may normally be nominal, sometimes it’s not. Thank You.
Bruce Flitcroft, Morristown, New Jersey
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:My country is the world, and my religion is to do good. -Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer (29 Jan 1737-1809)