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AWADmail Issue 98

August 27, 2003

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


From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Portmanteaux words and a few words on housekeeping

I'm back from a week long trip, junk email from Sobig virus has subsided, and finally I'm catching up on my mail. Before we move further, a few suggestions:

  • When you reply to an email from us, please do not include the original message. We already have it.
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Thank you!

Here is a selection of comments on the last three weeks' words. First, a few portmanteaux from last week:

Here in California, the latest portmanteau on the scene is Govenator (obviously Governor and Terminator) that graces a (beefy) t-shirt for sale on the latest E-mail spam.
-Tom Webber (trwebber2000ATcomcast.net)

In medicine, we sometimes encounter laboratory values that are spuriously high. Occasionally, someone will make the error of treating those falsely high numbers, creating what we call a "spuroneous" event, i.e. a mistake due to reliance on false information.
-Veronica Moriarty (vmoriartATsrhs.com)

The one I've heard this summer is "Bennifer", referring to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.
-David Kenney (vze42fr5ATverizon.net)

These types of word combinations are common in weather forecasting ("smog" = smoke + fog, "smaze" = smoke + haze, etc.). However, in the 1960s and 1970s, a TV weathercaster in the Detroit, Michigan area took this to new levels. He was Sonny Elliot, a flamboyant weatherman on WWJ-TV. He invented dozens of words to describe weather phenomena, such as "snizzle" (snow changing to drizzle) and "clumid" (cloudy and humid). I wish I could remember more of them! This was in the days before blue screens and computers, so he drew fronts, pressure systems and his special words on a large ch
alk board. -Joe Fishbein (joe.fishbeinATdot.state.mn.us)

While teasing the boss about his overhead light being out, my co-worker, from whom spoonerisms tend to erupt, told him she had put a "hinx" upon it. Obviously, she had confused jinx and hex. In her confusion she had created a perfect portmanteau word.
-James Fothergill (fthrgljfAThotmail.com)

One of my all-time favourites is "flustrated", a combination of "Frustrated" and "Flustered".
-George Murphy (gnmurphyATshaw.ca)

Just yesterday I fused two words while conversing with my cousin to find a word that we could use to describe both her and my mind. I came up with "intanity" a combination of intellect and insanity. Commonly found in criminal masterminds.
-Delia (darcgirl810ATaol.com)

I've long been fascinated with unintentionally blended words, some of which I've documented on my website Metaplasm, A Journal of Metaplastic Words. A few of my favorites are "tragesty", "tondreds" and "surrendipity".
-Tim Canny (tcanny1ATcomcast.net)

A friend of mine emailed me an article from the Common Dreams website penned by Brian Eno. In it I found this:

    "What occurs to me in reading their book is that the new American approach to social control is so much more sophisticated and pervasive that it really deserves a new name. It isn't just propaganda any more, it's 'prop-agenda '. It's not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it's the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone's talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false 'intelligence' and selected 'leaks'. (What else can the spat between the BBC and Alastair Campbell be but a prime example of this?)"
I immediately thought of this week's theme: portmanteaux.
-Tom Arvetis (arvetisATyahoo.com)

Learned another portmanteau last night, as I tried a new fruit at a friend's house: It looked like a peach or plum, but had a yellow-striped flesh with deep red streaks through it. Our hostess told us they were called 'pluots' (PLOO-auts): Apparently it is a hybrid between plums and apricots. Very tasty, they were, and it got me wondering as to just how many different hybrid fruits that there are.
-Melissa Langseth (melissa.langsethATmedtronic.com)

I've often thought that we should have the word "nibling" to describe, without gender, nieces and nephews. For example, one might ask "how many siblings do you have" but, if they want to ask the same about nieces and nephews one must ask "how many nieces and nephews do you have?" Very inefficient.
-Joe Igoe (joseph.igoeATciticorp.com)

Interesting choice for this week's theme. One in particular that I remember is one that, thankfully, never caught on in our language. Several years ago, the fast food chain Jack-in-the-Box started selling a side order of both French fries and onion rings, together in the same package. They dubbed this culinary combination "Frings". The idea did not catch on, and "Frings" went the way of McDonald's' Arch Deluxe. Thankfully so!
-Dale Roberts (drobertsATcasarino.com)

A word friends and I coined: grismal: refers to weather, gray and dismal It is indeed a living language.
-B. Comshaw (bcomshawATneo.rr.com)

In the world of baseball, there's a fairly well known (among baseball fans) term that is the combination of two much more common words:"slurve". It's a specialty pitch, with the word a hybrid of "slider" and "curve," two much more commonly talked about pitches.
-Michael Aronow (yankee6161ATyahoo.com)


From: J H Jacobson (jhjdocATbellatlantic.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--madeleine

The madeleine was made the most famous cookie in the world by Marcel Proust. Its fragrance evoked the remembrance that allowed him to write his 3000 page book. Not to have mentioned him, is akin to leaving Einstein out of the Theory of Relativity.

    Thanks for pointing this out. I should have mentioned it. -Anu


From: Gianfranco Unali (gianfranco.unaliATunilever.com)
Subject: Cyclic Madeleines

I very much enjoyed today's Word. In a cyclical way, the second definition of Madeleine reminded me of when I first came across the concept of having a distant memory evoked by smell or taste. Like many others I first read the famous passage by Proust at school and have been fascinated by the concept (and by madeleines dipped in tea) ever since. It is inevitable then, that your mention of madeleines immediately transported me back to those school days when I discovered them. A Madeleine of a Madeleine!


From: Nick.Thorp (nick.thorpATstatcan.ca)
Subject: madeleine

In French, there is the expression 'C'est la madeleine de Proust'! This translates into English as 'It brings back a flood of memories.'


From: Aparna Raghunath (ithemeATrediffmail.com)
Subject: madeleine

'Little Women' Read by Girls but Remembered by Women;

This quotation reminded me how each time I read Little Women, I identified myself with a different Little Woman. It always inspires wonder in me to think how the same book read at different stages of one's life, seems like a different book altogether, because one's perspective has changed with time. As a school girl, I was all for Jo, being something of a tomboy myself; when I first discovered romance, I was identifying myself with Meg and her devotion to John; and then when I read Good Wives for the first time after I got married, I was empathising with Meg's matrimonial ups and downs, and more recently, when I have a little girl myself, I was more sympathetic to Meg's feeling of "being put on the shelf". In the distant future, I might well be relating to Marmee :-)


From: Nicholas Kruse (nkruseATsas.upenn.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--wellerism

Ah! So that's what those are called. But you left out my personal favorite: "I see," said the blind man to his deaf brother.


From: Kathi Kovacic (kdklive2ATearthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Vandyke

And don't forget Vandyke brown. We use it in the theater to help create realistic wood finishes on cheap pine. I think artists use it too. I assume it is named for a color Vandyke used or created.


From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Subject: Re: VanDyke

Two friends and I have quite a little AWAD chat group going. In response to the word Van Dyke, one of them lightheartedly asked the other two of us, "Is there a name for a word like this, where the first letter looks like what the word means?"

I suggested "icononym." The three of us, together with another friend and my +10-year-old daughter, have been coming up with more of them ever since:

Mountains
Wavy
Slippery
Valley
Curved
Obese
Pot
house (with chimney)
Arrowhead
Trellis
Snake
Zigzag
Pregnant


From: Mika Smith (msmithATbrookespublishing.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--foley

And any die-hard fan of hospital TV shows such as ER knows that there's another definition for foley--a "Foley catheter," or in TV-doc lingo, a "Foley." According to Stedman's Medical Dictionary, it's a urethral catheter named after an American urologist, Frederic E.B. Foley (1891-1966). Notice the strange coincidence that he was born in the same year as Jack Donovan Foley and died one year before him! (Perhaps they were twins? I can't tell from the info in the medical dictionary.)


From: Timothy Miller (tkmiller000AThotmail.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--desultory

I generally appreciate the quotes at the bottom most of all, and the one for "desultory"...

    I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone. -Bjarne Stroustrup, computer science professor, designer of C++ programming language (1950- )
... reminded of the joke with the genie granting one wish to the guy who opened the bottle. The punch line went something like "Pooph! He was four inches tall".


From: Chuck Altvater (greenmanATrocketmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cheval-de-frise

As a soldier in the US Army, I was fascinated to learn about cheval-de-frise. I found it interesting that the article about them talked about them exclusively in the 18th century context. I think it would surprise many people to learn that cheval-de-frise are still employed today. Here is a photo of several cheval-de-frise as they are employed here in South Korea. This particular picture was taken in the vicinity of the Pan Mun Jom, in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.


From: Joop Breemer (joop.breemerATzonnet.nl)
Subject: cheval-de-frise

As a Dutchman (though not from the province of Friesland) I think that the French name for this obstacle finds its origin in the stereotypical contempt or dislike of foreign countries and people, in this case of the Dutch in general and the Frisians specificly, and not in the fact that the Frisians had no cavalry (the black Frisian horses are well-known by horse-breeders) and that Frisians actually used these obstacles in battle: the last clash with France was in Napoleontic times; barbed wire had not been invented then!

We Dutch call these obstacles "Spanish Horsemen"; during 80 years we were at war with Spain to gain our independence, and, man, did they have cavalry!

We have an expression: "met de Franse slag" = "doing things the French way" = "to scamp one's work", especially in housekeeping. For "feather-duster" we use the French word "plumeau"; the tool does not actually remove the dust but just displaces it to other furniture, so it fits in with our stereotypical image of French housekeeping. French cuisine is something else, mmmm!


From: Ulli Koenig (ulli.koenigATrwe.com)
Subject: cheval-de-frise

It's really interesting how things are called in different languages. In German Language the cheval-de-frise is called "Spanischer Reiter" (Spanish cavalier/equastrian or riding Spaniard) and is said to be invented by Spanish troops in the 16th-century war in the Netherlands. But as the Frise people are (nowadays) either Dutch or German it is possible, that the origin (the dutch fight for freedom) is the same.

BTW, cheval-de-frise in Latin: ericius (hedgehog) - so much for the invention in the 16th century.


From: Ray Butler (ray.butlerATnuigalway.ie)
Subject: Re: cheval-de-frise

Actually, cheval-de-frise is one of those special words which is of relatively recent origin (medieval French), but which appears to be the only word we have to describe a man-made entity which is much older than that. The second example you gave of its usage (Denise Fainberg; On Foot In Inishmore; The New York Times; Aug 1, 1999) describes the "acres of chevaux-de-frise" surrounding the amazing cliff-edge iron-age fort at Dun Aengus (Aran Islands, Ireland). Constructed sometime between 900 B.C. to 800 A.D., we will never know what word its builders used for their defenses of limestone spikes. Here is an excellent picture of them. Here is a schematic of how they fit with the other defense deployments. For more history on why it is described as the "the most magnificent barbaric monument now extant in Europe" see this and this.


From: Stephen Phillips (stephen_l_phillipsATtalk21.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson's choice

Hobson was Cambridge based and has left behind also a non-verbal monument, in the form of "Hobson's Conduit", a canalised roadside stream that runs through Cambridge; watering horses, keeping the dust down, and taking away waste.


From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson's choice

Recalling one of your long ago words, I wonder if Hobson ever had a horse named Jobson? Hobson's Jobson would surely be a choice mount -- a veritable juggernaut.


From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--beestings

Your selection of Beetstings as a misleading word prompted me to search the Internet for further details. I found that beestings are a popular food in Germany and Australia, and are recommended as a drink by a U.S. institute. See the September edition of my e-book,


To know another language is to have a second soul. -Charlemagne, King of the Franks (742-814)

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