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AWADmail Issue 621

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

Sponsor's message: It's Officially Huge. This week's Email of the Week winner, Joel Mabus (see below) -- as well as all AWADers worldwide -- can now make their own terrific fun word-nerd party for nothing. Introducing our best-selling One Up! -- The Wicked/Smart Word Game as a free PDF download, absolutely gratis. Hurree y'up.

From: Gary Muldoon (gmuldoon muldoongetz.com)
Subject: ophelian

In the play, this Shakespearean character goes mad and drowns herself. The character's name was revivified, as it were, in a 1994 book by Dr. Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia, an important and thoughtful book about adolescent girls in modern society.

Gary Muldoon, Fairport, New York

From: Dave Williams (williams.1343 osu.edu)
Subject: ophelian

Regarding Ophelia's death, there is considerable controversy (in the play and in the larger world) over whether it was in fact suicide, or an accident. The priest who conducts her funeral thinks it's suicide, and curtails the rites accordingly. On the other side is painter John William Waterhouse, who shows Ophelia in the water, unaware that her heavy, wet Elizabethan dress is about to drag her under.

As for me, I'm inclined to lean toward believing it was an accident, although there are strong arguments on both sides.

Dave Williams, Newark, Ohio

From: Carol Cunningham (cacrider wildblue.net)
Subject: Ophelian

Although the funeral rites are "maimed", Gertrude's account of Ophelia's death emphasizes that she did not kill herself wilfully. Gertrude notes the willow over the brook, and says that

"There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook...
... but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."

Her mad innocence is unclear to the priest and gravediggers.

Carol Cunningham, Tehachapi, California

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Ophelian

According to various interpretations, Ophelia's "madness" was rooted in causes other than her father's death, as had been presumed by her brother and others in the court of Denmark. There is plenty of innuendo in the lay (song) she sings as she is lying in the brook (please note the difference between lie v. intr. and lay v. trans. or as the past tense of lie) to indicate that there was a lot more to it than a simple reading would disclose. The ambiguities in Shakespeare are never too deeply concealed not to be apparent to the discerning mind.

Like Lorraine Hansberry, though (as correctly identified in the "thought for the day"), Shakespeare, too, was a playwright who not only wrote but wrought (i.e. put together and staged) plays, many of them in a quasi-improvisatory manner, whose texts were ultimately preserved from memory by his fellow actors after the bard's death. (See the so-called Quarto and Folio versions.) I am sure Anu's usage in the introduction, referring to him as a playwrite, was intended as a deliberate play on words.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: Hamlet

On seeing Pedro Américo's painting, I couldn't help thinking that he was attempting to summarise the whole play in one fell swoop -- Hamlet, the Ghost, Ophelia's grave, and Yorick's skull, all in one image!

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

Email of the Week (Brought to you by One Up! -- with our compliments.)

From: Joel Mabus (joel.mabus pobox.com)
Subject: hamlet

As today's word, hamlet, can mean both "village" and "an indecisive person", it leads me to observe:

It takes a Hamlet to raise a question.

Joel Mabus, Kalamazoo, Michigan

From: F.J. Bergmann (demiurge fibitz.com)
Subject: hamlet

The Vampire of the Village, one of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown detective stories, turns upon the dual meanings of Hamlet and hamlet.

F.J. Bergmann, Madison, Wisconsin

From: Laura Burns (laurab12 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: hamlet

The play Hamlet is Gamlet in Russian. In Vladimir Nabakov's Ada, the narrator speaks of going through "Gamlet, a half-Russian village".

Laura Burns, Galveston, Texas

From: Rose-Marie Ullman (rosmari operamail.com)
Subject: hamlet

Your issue on "hamlet" evoked my childhood. I grew up in Switzerland and one of the early songs I sang is Quand je pense a mon village, with the refrain "La-haut, c'est mon hameau." To my knowledge, in French, "hameau" is still a currently used word for "village".

Rose-Marie Ullman, San Francisco, California

From: Dovshe Spunt (d.adriane.spunt gmail.com)
Subject: In defense of Hamlet...

I think Hamlet's reputation as "indecisive" is perhaps unfair -- if you look at the text you'll find that his father died two months before the action of the play. The death of a parent at any age is severely traumatic so I would say, rather than indecisive, Hamlet is in a severe state of shock. Getting visited by his father's ghost probably didn't help.

Dovshe Spunt, Brighton, Massachusetts

From: Lawrence N Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--hamlet

Many years ago, I wrote to the National Geographic Magazine to complain about a picture caption, "Children walking to church in the nearby hamlet of ____." I pointed out that a hamlet is defined as a community too small to have a church. They wrote back and said they thought the definition had been broadened in more recent years. Of course, I was following English terminology, where a community is a city only if it has a cathedral. Wells qualifies only on that count. A church in Cambridge was designated a co-cathedral to Ely so that Cambridge could be a city.

Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon

From: Bruce McGuffin (brucemcguffin gmail.com)
Subject: Bardolphian

Imagine how much more fun a certain over-played Christmas song would be if it were about Rudolph the Bardolphian Reindeer.

Bruce McGuffin, Lexington, Massachusetts

From: Dave Horsfall (dave horsfall.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bardolphian

I've always referred to it as "rudolfian", after the reindeer.

There's even a joke about a communist weather forecaster; the punch-line ends with: "Because Rudolph, the Red, knows rain, dear."

Dave Horsfall, Gosford, Australia

From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Polonius

The widespread quoting of Polonius's sayings, as well as other sage-sounding lines from Shakespeare, as aphorisms obscures the possibility that the Bard himself might not have regarded such apothegms as words of wisdom.

Polonius says, "This above all: to thine own self be true", after he has just advised his son not to be true to himself. And he says, "Brevity is the soul of wit", at the end of a long, discursive tangent. In other words, Shakespeare's plays often put such "maxims" in an ironic context, and this suggests that the playwright himself did not regard them as wise sayings.

Robert Payne, Los Angeles, California

From: Gil Ewing (gewing1 earthlink.net)
Subject: Clothes make the man

With regard to Shakespeare's "For the apparel oft proclaims the man" simplifying/sharpening into "Clothes make the man" does not the latter quotation go back at least as far as Marcus Fabius Quintilian, who wrote "Vestis virum reddit"?

Gil Ewing, Fair Oaks, California

From: Irving N. Webster-Berlin (awadreviewsongs gmail.com)
Subject: Song based on this week's words

Here are this week's AWAD Review Songs (words and recordings) for your listening and viewing pleasure.

Irving N. Webster-Berlin, Sacramento, California

First, there is nothing unique about English's "openness" to words from other languages. Second, there is no logical conception of "proper" grammar as distinct from "bad" grammar that people lapse into out of ignorance or laziness. -John McWhorter, linguist, author, and commentator (b. 1965)

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