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AWADmail Issue 497

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

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

Queens Libraries Speak the Mother Tongue
The New York Times

Banish those amazingly ginormous words, please!
The Vancouver Sun

From: Michael Anderson (michael evanstongroup.com)
Subject: Numinous
Def: Supernatural, mysterious, or awe-inspiring.

The word brought back memories of college where I first encountered it in Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy. Though its referents have changed for me over the years, I still cherish the numinous which I encounter most often these days in music and, above all, in the magic of love which my wife of nearly forty years still bears for me. What wondrous love is this!

Michael Anderson, Evanston, Illinois

From: John Wickenden (wckndn hotmail.com)
Subject: Numen

As for numen (numinous) I went to a long-ago offshoot of Oxford U called Wantage Hall (later Reading University). The motto was "astra castra numen lumen" (the stars are my camp, the deity my light).

John Wickenden, Chiang Mai, Thailand

From: Dorothy S. Stewart (latinlogos att.net)
Subject: numinous

This word brought back fond memories of Sir Arthur Darby Nock with whom I studied Ovid's Fasti at Harvard. The ancient Romans were a very literal people, not much given to abstract thought. Numen really means god's nod; hence god's will, a divine fiat, so to speak. I once used the word in an article written for an English teachers' journal. The editor, not classically trained, obviously, changed it to luminous.

Dorothy S. Stewart, Cedar Park, Texas

From: Barb Barthelemy (barbbb89 comcast.net)
Subject: noosphere
Def: The sum of human knowledge, thought, and culture.

For many years, I've had a button stuck to the back seat of my car, showing through the rear window: BUILD THE NOOSPHERE. It's a quotation from Teilhard de Chardin that is dear to me. Once, eating lunch in my car parked in front of the library, a guy knocked on my window and asked was I a fan of Chardin? I'd forgotten the button and could only think of the artist -- my puzzled face then cleared. Ah, Teilhard! Wish I'd had a more intelligent discussion with this gentleman!

Barb Barthelemy, Normal, Illinois

From: Michael Anderson (docfilms aol.com)
Subject: noosphere

I would think it obligatory to mention Pierre Teilhard de Chardin when you mention noosphere. I believe it's his word. At least, he certainly boosted it. Thanks for all you do.

Michael Anderson, San Anselmo, California

The coinage of the term is not entirely clear. See here.
-Anu Garg

From: Gerry Hoffmann (gerbear cocreatives.biz)
Subject: noosphere

Today's word noosphere means all-we-know. They should have spelled it KNOWasphere. Or, since it means knowing everything there is to know, perhaps it should be spelled MyBoss!

Gerry Hoffmann, Kalamazoo, Michigan

From: John Felix (Jfelixb aol.com)
Subject: Nutate
Def: 1. To nod the head. 2. To oscillate while rotating (as an astronomical body). 3. To move in a curving or circular fashion (as a plant stem, leaf, etc.).

The Latin root of nutate is also the root of one of the Latin expressions on the back of the dollar bill and on the Great Seal of the United States, Annuit coeptis, translated as "He hath approved our undertakings", where the "He" is supposedly meant to be God. One wonders whose and which one.

John Felix, Jupiter, Florida

From: Christopher Provost (chris.provost gmail.com)
Subject: nutate

In biology, one often has to incubate samples while rocking for continuous mixing. There is a device called a nutator which does just this. It does indeed oscillate while rotating and looks like it's "nodding its head" so to speak.

Christopher Provost, Nashua, New Hampshire

From: Cynthia Allison (cmallison yahoo.com)
Subject: nutate

The subtle rocking (forward and back or flexion and extension) motion made by the sacroiliac joint, is called nutation and counter nutation.

Cynthia Allison, Boulder, Colorado

From: David Steiner (davidesteiner gmail.com)
Subject: Nutate

54 years ago I was teaching Air Force navigators about precession and nutation because the earth's wobbles change the position the stars used in celestial navigation. For several hundred years these motions were critical to sea navigation using the stars. Nutation was discovered in 1728 and occurs only with some planets, such as earth. Celestial navigation was eclipsed by GPS and has very quickly disappeared, although it is still a factor in space flight. There are still many websites and a hand-held system, StarPilot, for those still interested, Luddites, or those who anticipate terrorist attacks on the GPS.

David Steiner, Thornton, Colorado

From: William Warrender (wwarrender cogeco.ca)
Subject: nutate

A nutating disk, or wobble plate is used in fluid flow meters. Each nutation causes a measured quantity of fluid to exit the meter. If you place your ear on or near your domestic water meter, you should hear the disk wobbling around its central ball.

Bill Warrender, Burlington, Ontario, Canada

Email of the Week (Brought to you by The Official Uppity Handbook - A Man-Up Manual for Smart Alecks)

From: Fred Morris (fred fredmorris.com)
Subject: newspeak
Def: Deliberately ambiguous or euphemistic language used for propaganda.

The most chilling example of newspeak that I have encountered in recent years is "extraordinary rendition". When I first heard it, the phrase carried so little emotion or meaning for me that I almost overlooked it. I'm sure that's what the people who coined the term had hoped. It revolts me that any government -- let alone my government -- would do these repugnant things and then hide it under the gloss of a meaningless name to escape notice or censure.

Fred Morris, San Marino, California

From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Subject: Newspeak and Papier Deutsch

Before the Bush Administration gave us the phrase "enhanced interrogation" another administration used "collateral damage" to refer to the killing of civilians -- who had, by some process of word magic, lost their identity as humans to become merely "damage", like a broken window or a fallen tree. The Nazis did the same thing on a far more barbaric scale with terms such as die Endlösung, which turned mass murder into a bloodless impersonal noun.

This is not just another example of the bureaucratic degradation of language, although that is certainly part of it. As Orwell said in his great essay on politics and the English language:

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.... Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

Or if you want to go back further, then we can quote the words that Tacitus put in the mouth of the Celtic chieftain Galgacus:

"To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace."

Henry Willis, Los Angeles, California

From: Michael S Oakes (mondaycrusade1013 yahoo.com)
Subject: pneumatic
Def: 1. Of or relating to air, wind, or gases. 2. Spiritual. 3. Buxom, zaftig.

We used to say, "She's got nice lungs." Now I think I know where that phrase came from.

Michael Oakes, Roselle, New Jersey

From: Bill Merrick (merrick charter.net)
Subject: Pneumatic

"Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss."
T.S. Eliot; Whispers of Immortality; 1920.

Alas, T.S. was not an engineer or he'd have said, "hydraulic".

Bill Merrick, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pneumatic

In French, the early automobile tires, especially the inner tubes were known as pneumatics from which the shorter pneu is derived. Michelin's Bibendum is a prime example of buxom.

Also, France had a long standing pneumatic mail system for sending pneumatics throughout its territory with lightning speed. Large enterprises and department stores had internal pneumatic systems.

Charles Trenet sang of sending pneumatics to a new flame: On envoi des pneumatics a fleur bleue.

Rudy Rosenberg Sr., Westbury, New York

From: Elizabeth Stokes (estokes astate.edu)
Subject: pneumatic

My first thought was pneumatic tubes. I have a vivid memory of being at a JC Penney store as a child and watching the pneumatic tube system. The system was "exposed". You could watch from the main floor and see the tube go to the office, housed on an open balcony. Cashiers put papers in the tube and sent to office; receipts (for charge cards) were sent back to the cashier. Pneumatic tubes have also had wide use in hospitals. Pneumatic tubes are in use at many banks. You can choose to pull up to a window or use a self-service pneumatic tube to do banking business!

Elizabeth Stokes, Jonesboro, Arkansas

From: Marc Chelemer (mchelemer att.com)
Subject: Pneumatic / Newspeak

The definition "buxom, zaftig" and the quotation from T.S. Eliot, combined with yesterday's word "newspeak" from George Orwell's 1984, put me in mind of another anti-utopian novel which has a racy use of the word pneumatic. In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, one of the nubile female characters, in discussing her promiscuity, says that she's very pneumatic, creating all manner of lascivious images in the mind's eye of this, and no doubt many other male readers.

Marc Chelemer, Tenafly, New Jersey

From: Michael Tremberth (michaelt4two googlemail.com)
Subject: pneusiobiognosis

Pneumatic is a bit too zaftig for me, so could I suggest the related word "pneusiobiognosis", which is the medical examination post mortem of a child to determine if he or she ever breathed, ie, was stillborn or died after delivery. Here "bio" has the meaning of biography.

Michael Tremberth, Cornwall, UK

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. -Nelson Mandela, activist, South African president, Nobel laureate (b. 1918)

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