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Jul 7, 2019
This week’s theme
Whose what?

This week’s words
cat’s pajamas
Zeno’s paradox
Godwin’s law
child’s play
Plato’s cave

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives

Next week’s theme
Words that aren’t what they appear to be

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AWADmail Issue 888

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

Sponsor’s Message: Are you looking for the perfect present for know-it-all dads and grads? The Official Old’s Cool Education is “The Holy Trinity of wit, knowledge, and fun and games”, and is chock-a-block full of gee-whiz, Shakespeare, history, soap-making, sports, anecdotes and quotes, Price’s Law, and diamonds and pearls of wisdom. We’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Tobias Robison (see below), as well as all the what-do-I-get-the-man-who-has-everything AWADers a “Buy Two, Get Three” special through midnight Monday. Gift problems solved >

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

So the Philistines Were Not That Philistine After All
The Guardian

Europe Heroically Defends Itself Against Veggie Burgers
The Economist

How Language Keeps Evolving for the Devil’s Lettuce
The New York Times

From: Gerry Visel (gcvisel gmail.com)
Subject: Whose What?

Anu! You can’t go over to the dark’s side!

Gerry Visel, Illinois

From: Glenn Glazer (gglazer ucla.edu)
Subject: Mothers’ Day

With respect to the apostrophe in Mothers Day, I’ve always been fond of this cartoon.

Glenn Glazer, Felton, California

From: Ana Ross (via website comments)
Subject: It’s / It is

I was in Moscow years ago and was asked about “it’s”. I said it was a contraction used because it was easier to say than “it is”. They asked me why it was so hard to say “it is”. I said “It’s not my rule.”

Ana Ross, Honolulu, Hawaii

From: Judy Fern (jfernrn aol.com)
Subject: Tomatoe’s

This couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. There is a restaurant in Margate, NJ, whose sign says Tomatoe’s. Each time I’m within range it makes my teeth clench and my neck hurt. I’ve often thought about sneaking there at night and erasing/covering the non-cool apostrophe. If that comes to fruition I’ll let you know.

Judy Fern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From: Sean Broderick (sean_c_broderick hotmail.com)
Subject: Bob the Angry Flower Apostrophe

This guy is one of my favorite modern folk heroes: Meet the “Grammar Vigilante” of Bristol.

Sean Broderick, Albuquerque, New Mexico

From: Peter Bergstrom (pwbergstrom gmail.com)
Subject: Apostrophes in place names

The US Board on Geographic Names started discouraging apostrophes in official US place names some years ago. I assume it was to make spelling more consistent, to make it easier to look up names. See page 35 here.

Peter Bergstrom, Saxtons River (not Saxton’s!), Vermont

From: Eric Miller (ericmiller1957 gmail.com)
Subject: Camels Hump

Your arguments against the apostrophe are completely cogent and convincing -- at least for possessives: I think they can still serve a real purpose for indicating an omitted letter, e.g. in contractions.

But even so, this can lead to a few awkward moments. Some years ago, the National Geological Survey stopped using apostrophes on any of their maps, with the result that the Vermont mountain Camel’s Hump is now labeled by them as Camels Hump, leading to much tittering by the locals.

Eric Miller, Norwich, Vermont

From: Jean Sward (sweetpotato8888 comcast.net)
Subject: apostrophes on a menu

I do love apostrophes and offer to give a quarter to my dining companion if she/he can find the error I’ve spotted in the menu!

Jean Sward, San Rafael, California

From: Don Wright (wright.don sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Apostrophe

Apropos of the mistaken use of the apostrophe in possessive pronouns, I was recently shocked -- nay, scandalized! -- to learn that a notorious and repeat offender against the maxim that “its, his, hers, ours, yours, and theirs don’t employ the apostrophe” is none other than the great English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I had been slowly but surely slogging my way through his complete poems in the Penguin Classics edition when I recently came upon the following phrase in line 40 of his poem with the ungainly title “A Letter to --- April 4, 1802. --- Sunday Evening”:

“In it’s [sic] own cloudless, starless Lake of Blue ---”

Thinking that the editors of the otherwise authoritative Penguin House had fallen down (possibly dead-drunk) on the job, I was all set to fire off an outraged letter to them. That is, until I came to line 110:

“And trance-like depth of it’s [sic] brief Happiness”

Lines 260, 261, 263, 286, and 305 likewise offended against all propriety.

But Coleridge didn’t just form the possessive “its” with apostrophe! Line 297 evinced this horror:

“Our’s [sic] is her Wedding Garment, our’s [sic] her Shroud ---”

Fainting dead away, I nonetheless remain yours truly,

Donald Wright, San Jose, California

From: David Hatton (dhatton42 hotmail.com)
Subject: Bees Class Trip to Wildwood

Bees Class Trip to Wildwood. That was the headline on my daughter’s school newsletter and it made me think: why did they “trip” there, rather than go by minibus, or even walk in a calm manner? The apostrophe would have turned the verb “trip” into a noun, helping it to make sense.

David Hatton, Canterbury, UK

From: Michael O’Hara (mohara unomaha.edu)
Subject: Why the apostrophe is on the decline

Computer databases programed by non-apostrophe named folks already have initiated your suggested kill campaign.

Michael J O’Hara, Omaha, Nebraska

From: Les Jacobson (lesterjake comcast.net)
Subject: Kits

As a copy editor I take apostrophes seriously, and I sometimes think the apostrophe is going the way of upper and lower case, at least as far as email and texts are concerned. (And as they go, one might say, so goes the language.) The rule of apostrophes as possessives can be especially troubling with respect to our sports teams. Our Evanston (Illinois) high school mascot is the Wildkits. Is it “The Kits’ baseball team” or “The Kits baseball team”? (We never say ‘Kits.) We currently go with the latter, as we don’t think the school “owns” the team, but it’s (it is) a question we revisit every time we revise our style manual. Unfortunately the AP Style Manual’s very lengthy discussion of this topic is not totally clear on this point, so we reserve the right to change our mind.

Les Jacobson, Evanston, Illinois

From: Thomas Long (thomaslong_2000 yahoo.com)
Subject: Apostrophe

About 40 years ago, I became a genuine “card-carrying member” of something called the Society for the Protection of the Apostrophe. Our motto: “It’s time we see its proper use.”

Thomas Long, Bangkok, Thailand

From: Andrew Knight (andrew.norwood.knight gmail.com)
Subject: Dangers of apostrophe removal

Amused and delighted by your surprising and paradoxical comments about the apostrophe! So the greengrocers(‘) plurals might be justified after all! However, in calling for its complete abolition, I was amused to see you write: “I can dream, can’t I?” Remove the apostrophe from that, and you are questioning whether you are talking hypocritically and sanctimoniously! Of course we all know very well that you can’t cant.

Many thanks for your ever stimulating and amusing daily communication.

Andrew Knight, London, UK

From: Rodney Mazinter (mavrod iafrica.com)
Subject: Save the apostrophe!

Save the apostrophe! Otherwise how do you distinguish meaning in: “My cousin Jack’s off his high horse” from “My cousin jacks off his high horse.”

Rodney Mazinter, Camps Bay, South Africa

From: Jerry Delamater (comjhd hofstra.edu)
Subject: apostrophe

I knew this would elicit wonderful comments, and I have not been disappointed. (I’ll be laughing about Rodney’s all day and beyond.) I do think, however, that I may be on Anu’s side in this argument. Having taught for more than 50 years, I have seen so many misuses of the apostrophe that I have finally given up and come to the conclusion that our language could survive without it.

Jerry Delamater, New Haven, Connecticut

Email of the Week Old’s Cool = Old School + Wit - Life’s ludic and lovely lessons upside the head.>

From: Tobias Robison (tobyr21 gmail.com)
Subject: Why apostrophe is unnecessary

Another argument against the apostrophe is that it is hardly ever necessary to clarify meaning. That’s why it is so easy to tell when it’s added incorrectly or is missing. Try to construct a sentence in which the apostrophe can be present or not, changing the meaning of the words. I’ve created a relatively rare example below:

We serve no wine before it’s time.
We serve no wine before its time.

Toby Robison, Princeton, New Jersey

From: Ruth M. Siegel (ruthmsiegel gmail.com)
Subject: More Apostrophe Trouble

Are you familiar with the incredibly popular regional grocery chain Wegmans? Here’s their FAQ about why there is no apostrophe in Wegmans.

Why is there no apostrophe in Wegmans?
It’s been missing in action since 1931, when the company incorporated and we simplified the logo. Believe it or not, adding an apostrophe to the sign on the front of each of our stores would cost more than a half million dollars! Not to mention changing the logo on all our products, bags, etc. Just think of it as the plural Wegmans, as in the many generations of Wegman family members that have built the company! Check here for more information on Wegmans history.

Ruth M. Siegel, Hershey, Pennsylvania

From: Joan Apthorp (joan.apthorp gmail.com)
Subject: apostrophes in German

The German language also struggles with apostrophes; Bastian Sick, author of “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod” and other books, makes this hilariously clear.

Joan Apthorp, Brisbane, Australia

From: Mary Knatterud, PhD (knatt001 umn.edu)
Subject: possessives in Norwegian

Some languages, such as Norwegian, do NOT use an apostrophe in possessives: the s alone does just fine. For example, the wonderful 2016 film (an Academy Award nominee) about royal resistance to the Nazis is called Kongens nei in norsk, literally “The King’s No” (translated, for some weird reason, into English as The King’s Choice).

Mange tusen takk,

Mary E. Knatterud, PhD, Minneapolis, Minnesota

From: Suzanne Marlowe (amanuensis47 att.net)
Subject: Apostrophe

Your comments on the “apostrophe” reminded me of the following obituary from Los Angeles Times, Sep 5, 2009:

Keith Waterhouse, 1929-2009, founded the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe. He is the author of Billy Liar and in 1960 also helped create the television show That Was the Week that Was. When he turned 80 earlier this year, Waterhouse told The Independent newspaper that he didn’t fear death. “There’s always tomorrow,” he said. “At least there has been so far.” Waterhouse was a playwright, novelist, television producer, and raconteur.

Thank you, Anu, for your Words. And yes, I do read the obituaries every day and often find gems like this one. Given the fact that I share a September 1929 birthdate with Mr Waterhouse I guess I feel it’s rather my duty.

Suzanne Marlowe, Burbank, California

From: Hannah C (purplepenfox gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Zeno’s paradox

“Amélie”, the musical, mentions Zeno’s paradox quite a few times as a metaphor for the title character’s fear of close relationships.

The song “Halfway” touches on this the most. In “Halfway (reprise)”, the paradox is “solved” when she finally meets her love. He simply says “I can meet you there halfway.” Idk if that’s consistent with the mathematical concept, but, oh well.

Hannah C, Honolulu, Hawaii

From: Eric F Plumlee (ericfplumlee hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Zeno’s paradox

My favorite example of Zeno’s paradox is when I’m driving from the country to the city. I start on the autobahn as fast as I care to go. But the closer I get, the more they reduce the speed limit until I have to park and walk the rest of the way.

Eric Plumlee, Niederlenz, Switzerland

From: Jan Zita Grover (jzgrover gmail.com)
Subject: Child’s play

The definition of child’s play, “Something trivial; a task easily accomplished”, is particularly revealing in its valuation of children. Child’s play is being institutionally disparaged and eradicated in preschool and kindergartens under the crush of adult insistence that school become a form of war game, not a form of explore game. For children, play is serious work: it is anything but trivial and easy. It’s how they learn how the world works. And sadly, most of them learn that the world does not value them unless they produce to adult standards.

Jan Grover, St. Paul, Minnesota

From: Marie-Jeanne Mailloux (marie-jeanne alliance-francaise.ca)
Subject: Child’s play

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (4 Jul 1804-1864)

I love today’s usage of the word child’s play and the Thought for Today. Both are thought-provoking. I found myself reflecting even before reading the latter, that while still youngish and unattached, I worked for a Moroccan, Muslim family in Toronto to earn enough money to live in France for a year. They were so hard-working and created a very successful business. They subsequently hosted me in Morocco. The word immigrant never entered my mind. Grateful and appreciative were more applicable. I learned so much from them. They have returned to Morocco and I lost touch with them, but they will always remain in my very high esteem.

Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Canada

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Plato’s cave

In the sentence on the expression’s etymology, I would rephrase the statement to say that people imprisoned in the cave assume the shadows to be true reality, thus deceiving themselves into believing that what they see is the only reality that exists. Their fetters prevent them from turning and observing the entrance to the cave, beyond which the rays of the sun illuminate the actual world.

In other words, most people confuse the shadow world with the real world. Only philosophers (i.e., lovers of wisdom) are capable of undeceiving themselves. Therefore the ideal state should be governed by philosophers. But not before they have lived among the common people for approx. fifteen years in order to learn how to ameliorate their existential conditions.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Cat’s pajamas and Plato’s cave

Inspired by our phrase “cat’s pajamas”, I’ve conflated two Broadway hit musicals from disparate eras, namely, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s CATS, and the earlier staged play The Pajama Game, debuting in May 1954. Here, I’ve come up with a possible catchy poster design for what, IMHO, could be a must-see Great White Way theatrical extravaganza titled “The Cat’s Pajamas”. In a nutshell, the basic plot-line of the “Pajama Game” revolves around the grievances and on-the-job travails of irate pajama factory workers who are demanding a mere 7.5-cent pay hike, which management outright rejects. Further conflict and romance ensue. The musical CATS is centered on a tribe of motley cos-playing cats called the Jellicles and that auspicious night when they collectively make the so-called “Jellicle choice”, deciding which cat will ascend to the “Heaviside Layer”, and return to a new life. Hmm... good luck on my trying to blend those two disparate narratives. Most of us are familiar with the fun adage, “It’s like trying to herd a bunch of feral cats.” Just sayin’. Ha!

Cat's pajamas Plato's cave
Playing off this week’s phrase “Plato’s cave”, I’ve pictured Trump raising up a lettered, cutout prop, projecting the shadow of his beloved, go-to pro-Republican/pro-Trump mouthpiece... FOXNews (FAUXNews?) A captive audience of Trump true believers, in the guise of a passel of shackled, blindly-following sheep, accept this projected image on the cave wall as their reality... the only reality they’ve ever really known. Hmm... are smoke-and-mirrors next in Trump’s repertoire of mass deception?

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. cat’s pajamas
2. Zeno’s paradox
3. Godwin’s law
4. child’s play
5. Plato’s cave
= 1. top class
2. a goal jinx
3. “Nazi!” appalls crowd
4. easy
5. vast shadowed camp
     1. cat’s pajamas
2. Zeno’s paradox
3. Godwin’s law
4. child’s play
5. Plato’s cave
= 1. jewel
2. oddity; catch
3. apropos vocal ad Nazism
4. snap
5. gasps LAX; saw LA
-Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com) -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Limericks

When Trump was elected the boss,
We collectively suffered a loss.
We all miss the Obamas,
The real cat’s pyjamas;
Next year, let’s give Donald the toss!
-Susie Pearson Ottawa, Canada (susiepearson2001 yahoo.com)

“Brand new on the market, this lot,”
says the agent, “is really red-hot.
Its neat panorama’s
indeed cat’s pajamas!”
Sighs client, “More cash than I’ve got!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

For a saying that ought to endure,
I would pick “cat’s pajamas”, for sure.
It’s as cute as can be
And appealing to me
With its timeless and charming allure.
-Lois Mowat, Orinda, California (lmowat1810 gmail.com)

Apostrophes, quote marks, and commas
I think are the real cat’s pajamas!
Let’s punctuate well,
So readers can tell
Who’s speaking and know what’s yo mama’s.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

My boyfriend’s the true cat’s pajamas;
He gives me no worries or dramas.
Kings and presidents vie
For a piece of his pie
As a drug lord who runs the Bahamas.
-Janice Power, Cleveland, Ohio (jpmarlin456 gmail.com)

Our apostrophes, Anu, and commas,
We must keep, for they’re true cats’ pajamas.
The idea’s not just mine;
It’s espoused in a shrine
In Tibet that’s the great Dalai Lama’s.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Says student, “Well, look at the way
night seems to catch up with the day.
So doesn’t the equinox
prove Zeno’s paradox
wrong? “Yep, the kid gets an A!
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

Gridlock in Manhattan for blocks
Is a case of Zeno’s paradox.
Take your keys, leave your car;
But before you get far
You will wear out your shoes and your socks.
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

Said the doctor, “Think out of the box,
And you’ll surely defeat Zeno’s paradox.
A hundred ten pounds
Isn’t far out of bounds;
We’ll defang the sweet tooth by detox.”
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

The paradox Zeno explained
Is one that leaves dieters pained.
The goals that they set
Are never quite met;
The weight that they lose is regained.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

When young Zeno went out on a date,
The poor girl had to wait, and she’d wait.
Zeno’s own paradox,
Caused in bed stumbling blocks,
And so Zeno would always come late.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

I find that I face Zeno’s paradox
With laundry when matching a pair of socks.
I must often backtrack
From a blue with a black,
For at finding “just right”, I’m no Goldilocks.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Ad hominem always will work
When you want to call someone a jerk.
Godwin’s law is the way
To argue today
(Though a lawsuit for slander might lurk.)
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

Some debates can get snarly and raw
When they’re acting out old Godwin’s law.
Yes, the talk will get bitter
With the reference to Hitler,
It’s a glaring political flaw.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

The more that this matter’s discussed,
Along will come Nazis, I trust.
“It’s a law,” Godwin said,
“In an Internet thread,
The mention of Hitler’s a must.”
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Social media users may choose
To employ Godwin’s Law as a ruse.
“You’re a Nazi like Hitler,”
They post on their Twitter,
But that line of logic will lose.
-Tim Titus, Columbia, Maryland (patapscohistory gmail.com)

When Donald starts flapping his jaw,
It proves without doubt Godwin’s law.
For my mind wants to splash
A familiar mustache
Just above the old hobgoblin’s maw.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Writing limericks, folks, isn’t child’s play,
But alas, we keep doing it anyway.
Although it’s a crime
To be wasting our time,
It’s a fun way to start off each new day!
-Mariana G. Warner, Asheville, North Carolina (marianaw6002 gmail.com)

Today, coming out can be child’s play,
But things were quite different in Wilde’s day.
For back then was a ban
On his loving a man,
And poor Oscar was jailed, being styled gay.
-Vara Devaney, Damascus, Maryland (varadevaney att.net)

He thought he would have his own way,
and could change everything in a day;
that things all would go fine
while he played the back nine,
but, surprise! The job’s not child’s play!
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Writing limericks I have to say,
Is not easy, not all child’s play.
Getting meter and rhyme,
Sure can take a long time,
But we do it for A.Word.A.Day.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Said Hillary, “Winning is child’s play,”
But along came that shocking, reviled day.
“Pennsylvania? Wisconsin?
I needed a johnson,”
She sobbed, and ran off to her hideaway.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Instructing his students with zeal,
Plato taught them what’s false and what’s real.
With his talk of the cave
He directed the brave
To emerge to the sun, a Big Deal!
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

If Fox is your source for the news,
You’re likely to hold certain views.
But if you are brave,
You’ll leave Plato’s Cave,
That place where reality skews.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

In his dreams, Donald’s clever and brave -
not a foolish poltroon or a knave.
A knight errant sans peur,
not Lieutenant Bonespur,
but it’s real life, it’s not Plato’s cave.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

The First Daughter, afloat on cloud nine,
Interjected herself out of line.
But her lifeline has frayed,
For her comments displayed
Plato’s cave as her personal shrine.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

St. Peter’s, the papal enclave,
Is the gravesite of many a knave.
If you think every pope
Was as clean as your soap,
You’ve been living inside Plato’s cave.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Haikudn’t do these justice

Making puns can be
Quite difficult but when the
AWADs are two... help!

It’s hard enough to find homonyms for some of Anu Garg’s SINGLE words. This week’s doubles had ME possessed!

In the father-son hockey game it hurt to have Katz’ pa jam us into the boards.

Ask any female hospital administrator: Zeno’s paradox salary and he’ll likely go elsewhere.

Yumm! I praise Godwin’s law is made by shredding cabbage.

I didn’t care for Lee Child’s play about Jack Reacher.

Our classical music station has some John Cage recordings. That one time they Plato’s cave me a headache.

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics. -Erma Bombeck, author (1927-1996)

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