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Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Jun 23, 2008
This week's theme
Whose what?

This week's words
deadman's hand
yeoman's service
bum's rush
devil's advocate
widow's walk

Picture of Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok who gave us "deadman's hand"

Readers respond
Selected comments
with Anu Garg

There's a traffic sign at the end of the street where I live. It reads:

Please drive carefully, for our childrens sake

It's an official sign of the Department of Transportation. I imagine there are thousands of these reflective blue signs around the state of Washington. These signs may not be necessary now. Children don't play outside anymore. There are more than enough Nintendos and Hanna Montanas and Facebooks these days to keep them busy. But that's not why I mentioned the sign.

We're missing something here. A little squiggly mark.

We may be missing an apostrophe here but, over all, the universe's apostrophe store stays in equilibrium. We don't put them where they belong, and we add them where they don't. Many a grocery store displays signs such as:

   Apple's $3 per pound

There's even a term for the gratuitous inclusion of these marks: greengrocer's apostrophe.

Sometimes we are not sure whether an apostrophe is needed, so we simply add one, as if considering pillars to support a roof. "Well, let's add one here; it may not be needed, but it's there if necessary, and in any case it's not hurting anything."

This week we feature terms that use apostrophes, terms that do need them. These selections answer: Whose What? And remember, it's not: Who's What?

deadman's hand

(DED-manz hand)

noun: In a game of poker, a hand containing two aces and two eights.

After Wild Bill Hickok, nickname of James Butler Hickok (1837-1876). Hickok was a legendary figure in the American Wild West who worked variously as an army scout, lawman, and professional gambler. He was shot dead while playing poker, holding a hand that had two aces and two eights.

"Other [coffins] have been customized for fishermen, golfers, truck drivers (complete with an air horn from an 18-wheeler), and gamblers' coffins, which featured the traditional deadman's hand of aces 'n' eights."
C. Richard Cotton; Artist Finds Creative Niche by Painting Caskets; Associated Press; Feb 14, 1997.

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountaintop it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make -- leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone -- we all dwell in a house of one room -- the world with the firmament for its roof -- and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track. -John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)

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