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AWADmail Issue 99

Sep 2, 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: For readers in countries outside US

The A Word A Day Book is now available from bookstores in 14 countries. If you're a bookseller and would like to have your store added to the list, email us the URL of your web page for the book and we'll include it.


From: Patricia V Vitoria (pvitoriaATfibertel.com.ar)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--facinorous

The translation of this word in Spanish is "facineroso" and in Argentina it is widely used to describe a delinquent, a criminal, a no-good.


From: Carol Schanche (cschancheATncte.org)
Subject: Facinorous

Working in a very scholarly editorial environment, our band of editors enjoys the daily influx of interesting words. We often try to work them into our daily conversations--a real challenge on some days, especially with dasypygal! I became enamored of "facinorous" the other day, playfully using it to describe any number of colleagues and policies. Eager to include it in a story I'm writing, I determined the only way my character might stumble across this word was looking for another in the dictionary, so I looked to see what other words might appear near it, only to discover it's not in either my brand new Merriam-Webster's 11th or our Random House Unabridged. Now my goal is to reintroduce this wonderful word to the English language! Any suggestions?

    For the story, your character could look up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. You're doing just the right thing to popularize it - using it in writing, conversation, and so on. -Anu


From: Jeb Raitt (raittjbATssg.navy.mil)
Subject: Cuss words

I applaud the idea of expanding people's vocabularies, but there is a factor in the nature of cussing in this language. In order to have the desired effect, an expletive almost has to sound explosive or abrasive. And the presence of such words in English has some interesting side-effects.

When I was in Naval officer training, we had some Iranian midshipmen among us as exchange students. This was in 1973, while the Shah was still in power. They were an athletic bunch, their favorite sports being volleyball and soccer. One day I was watching them practice and noticed that while they were talking in Farsi, when one of them missed a pass or a shot he would use an English cuss word, most commonly "S--t!"

When I asked them why they did so, they told me that there are no one-word expletives in Farsi, that the only way to curse is to say something like "Your mother sleeps with camel drivers!" There used to be such curses in English, though they were a little tamer. I remember from my boyhood that some kids used to say "Your mother wears Army boots!" I never figured out what was supposed to be so insulting about that. My mother didn't wear Army boots as such, but she did wear hiking boots (from L.L.Bean), which didn't seem that different.

As a side note, another supposed Mid-Eastern curse is supposedly, "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits!" Eloquent but inaccurate. Camels, whatever other afflictions they may suffer, don't have fleas.


From: John Bernard (jberATarn.net)
Subject: Alternative curse words

I thoroughly approve this week's theme. As a child I had the privilege of knowing a lady who ran a cattle ranch on the Colorado-Nebraska border. She had married the rancher shortly after graduating from college studies of English, especially Shakespeare. She was widowed early in the marriage when her husband's horse stepped in a gopher hole at a gallop. No one, I was told, thought that a young widow with two very young children would be able to take charge of the cowboys, a rough talking, independent lot, who were necessary to the success of the ranch. She became legendary for expressing her occasional displeasure in rolling Shakespearean language, thouing the benighted varlets into complete intimidation. Thanks for reminding me again that there are powers in language of which we seldom even dream.


From: Fred Blumenthal (xd2fablATus.ibm.com)
Subject: Kaylene Armstrong's comment

I have no objection to the theme of this week's words. But I think the passion of the moment explains her students' lack of loquaciousness when they become angry. It will be particularly difficult, for instance, to conjure up "facinorous" the next time I'm cut off in traffic, and hence the hand gesture.


From: Heili Heitur-Dungay (hkhdAThotmail.com)
Subject: This week's words

Thank you for the word theme this week! It reminded me of my literature class the year when we read Romeo and Juliet. As we were steadily working our way through the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, we began to 'bite our thumb' at each other, as the characters themselves did to insult their rivals. We all got such a kick out of using the medieval insult, which no one else understood! Thanks yet again and I look forward to being able to use these intelligent insults when the occasion suits!


From: Richard W Davis (richard.w.davisATattws.com)
Subject: insults

Your theme this week reminded me of an insult trading session from the past. Bridge games among friends are always good forums for sophisticated insults. So when it turned out I was holding the un-finessable queen of trump, my opponent, a geologist, unleashed this gem... "You nascent coprolite!"


From: Lisa (cunninglinguistATearthlink.net)
Subject: Re: This week's theme: words to describe your opponents

It reminded me of episode in my own life when having an extensive vocabulary proved particularly satisfying, if not very nice. I once worked with a fellow who was so insufferably self-absorbed that practically no one could stand him. I dubbed him "the three Vs" after three words I thought described him exactly. One evening when he was being particularly annoying, I told him in a matter-of-fact tone that he was one of the most vapid and vacuous individuals I had ever known. Everyone around us paused in expectation. He paused briefly while considering my comment and then, smiling widely and swelling with pride, thanked me.

While it certainly wasn't "the high road", it was a deliciously liberating moment.

The third "V", by the way, was vain.


From: Earl G Wilbert (earlspearl2ATjuno.com)
Subject: How about...

How about: You illegitimate male progeny of a female canine!


From: Uma Raghavan (uma_raghavanATyahoo.com)
Subject: Vituperative Captain Haddock

This week's theme of "vituperation" immediately brought one name to mind - Captain Haddock, of "The Adventures of Tintin" fame.

Herge, the ingenious creator of Tintin was very inventive with the Captain's curses. Here is a pretty good list of those "vituperative" Haddockisms, compiled by Tintin fans.


From: Stephen Westheimer (swestheimerATcomcast.net)
Subject: Literary insults

One of my favorites is meretricious, sometimes mistakenly understood to be a compliment.


From: Patricia Locklin (patricia.a.locklinATmaine.gov)
Subject: Different types of insults

When I was at college, I found a wall board with this on it:
"You are cordially invited to the theological center for eternal punishment."
I know it's not just one word, but it does the job.


From: Keith Cook (keith.cookATverizoneireless.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--facinorous

There are several Shakespeare insult generators available online, such as:
pangloss.com, webweaving.org, petelevin.com (my favorite is this one that lets you mix and match your own nouns and adjectives)


From: Daniel Miller (danielmiller62ATpost.harvard.edu)
Subject: Insults galore!

From Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado:

"...It will not do
I'm sorry for you
You very imperfect ablutioner!"

The Chinese developed the art of flowery, even seemingly-complimentary insults to a high degree. Many sparkling examples can be found in "The Wallet of Kai Lung" and other Kai Lung stories, by Ernest Bramah, published a hundred years ago!


From: Tim Haggerty (timhaggATinreach.com)
Subject: What about fricatives?

Improving one's vocabulary is all fine and well, but as Freud once said, "The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization." There is a psycho/physical release when we swear. Listen to all the K's, S's, F's; blowing instead of throwing. Swear words tend toward the monosyllabic or an up/down rhythm. Today's, facinorous (fuh-SIN-uhr-uhs), is too long and that "uhr-uhs" at the end is self-defeating. Verbal language is different than written, but swear words are verbal and their replacements need to have the same kick.


From: Richard Schottler (schottleATus.ibm.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dasypygal

A hairy derri, eh?!? Two of the three spams that made it through to my work account today were for hair restoration products! Aieeee....


From: Ruth Ann Harnisch (ruthannATthehf.com)
Subject: Portmanteau inventions

How about "Thrillionaire"? When I first put "thrill" and "millionaire" together, it was because I was thrilled to be a millionaire. Then the definition evolved when I experienced the thrill of giving a single million-dollar gift to one nonprofit (More Than Money - because my life is about more than money). Eventually, I let the word become more inclusive to describe anyone who knows the thrill of giving. That can be a gift of money, time, skills (they're "Skillionaires"), ideas, other assets (some people have been thrilled to give a kidney, or a house, or your "A Word A Day" subscription or book), or legacy gifts (I call them "Willionaires"). When I told Linda Ballew, development director of another nonprofit, about the concepts of Thrillionaires, Skillionaires, and Willionaires, she wrote me that she had encountered a number of "illionaires," people with money who never seem to be happy with what they have. (The current vernacular, "They be illin'," expands her intention beyond a mere bad attitude to downright craziness.)


From: Raymond Cobb (rcobbATharris.com)
Subject: Another iconym?

I enjoyed Steve Benko's iconyms. Does the following qualify to be added to the list?

Bosomy (think overhead shot)


We should have a great many fewer disputes in the world if words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas, and not for things themselves. -John Locke, philosopher (1632-1704)

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