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AWADmail Issue 348

Mar 1, 2009

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

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

'Oldest English Words' Identified
BBC News

Damp Squid: The Top 10 Misquoted Phrases in Britain
The Daily Telegraph

The "I"s Have It
The New York Times

Cornish Language Extinct, Says UN
BBC News

The Slow Death of Handwriting
BBC News

The Value of Handwaving
The Economist

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--contumacious
Def: Stubborn, insubordinate

In Hamlet's famous soliloquy (Act 3, Scene 1), Shakespeare uses the words contumely and insolence synonymously. Among "the whips and scorns of time" Hamlet complains of "the proud man's contumely" as well as of "the insolence of office".

According to the OED, the first phrase also appears as "poor man's contumely" clearly not suggesting that the poor man is the agent of insolence so much as the recipient of it.

From: Cristian Georgescu (cristianbujor yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--lachrymose
Def: 1. Tearful. 2. Relating to or inducing tears.

The words "lacrima/lacrimă", and derivatives, exist in the Romance languages.

One of the enduring Italian oldies is "Una lacrima sul viso" (by Bobby Solo).

In Romania "Făt-Frumos din lacrimă" [that's loosely 'the beautiful son out of a tear'] is a classical fairy tale by the national poet Mihai Eminescu... So, in Romanian it would be "lacrimogen" - as in "gaze lacrimogene" (tear gas), but also used ironically in "povestire/scena lacrimogena" (tears inducing story/scene, in a movie, for example).

From: Yvonne Sprauel (ysprauel free.fr)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--peripatetic
Def: 1. An itinerant 2. A follower of Aristotle.

In French, une péripatéticienne is a gently ironic word referring to these ladies who pace up the pavements, chatting up men for a moment of intimate -- and remunerated -- pleasure.

From: Diana Nemeth (diana.nemeth pimco.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--obstreperous
Def: Noisy or unruly.

I come from a family of avid linguaphiles, mostly inspired by our mother, who had a vast and colorful vocabulary. One of her favorite words was obstreperous and seeing it as today's word reminded me of an incident when my son was a toddler. We were grocery shopping and he was getting impatient sitting in the cart. I told him he'd have to wait, and don't be obstreperous. A woman shopping in the same aisle gave me a condescending look and said, "Oh, like he knows what that word means." I replied "He may not now, but if I don't use it he never will." She didn't have an answer to that.

From: Ann Andrusyszyn (aandrusyszyn barrie.ca)
Subject: obstreperous

Thanks Anu - you brought back memories of my dearly loved Dad with today's word ... it was one of his favourites. As a child I thought it was always preceded by "bl**dy" though, as my Dad's usual pronouncement was "Don't be so bl**dy obstreperous!"

Growing up in the north of England we also often heard the word "stroppy", as in "don't be so stroppy" -- often referring to children behaving cheekily by talking back, refusing to do something, or being seen as being difficult. I often wondered if stroppy was lifted from obstreperous, thinking it was like a junior version of it -- maybe because stroppy usually referred to children.

The word stroppy is believed to be a shortening of obstreperous, though lexicographers are not entirely sure.
-Anu Garg

From: John Sahr (jdsahr speakeasy.net)
Subject: contumacious

Your opening remark reminds me of Steve Martin's lovely joke, when he persuades his audience to take the Non-Comformist's Oath ...

"I promise to be different!"

"I promise to be unique!"

"I promise not to repeat things that other people say."

From: Jonathan Harms (harmsjb slu.edu)
Subject: Robert Anton Wilson quotation

Only the madman is absolutely sure. -Robert Anton Wilson, novelist (1932-2007)

Shouldn't that be "Only the madman is absolutely sure -- I think"? :-)

From: Mary Collins (gmacoll innova.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--coeval
Def: adj. Having the same age or duration. noun: A contemporary.

I got a chuckle from today's word usage combined with the Thought for today, which seemed to answer it!

"Who was more important: Lincoln or Darwin?"

"Only the madman is absolutely sure."

Words strain, / Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, / Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, / Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, / Will not stay still. -T.S. Eliot, poet (1888-1965)

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