Showing posts from October, 2005

A.W.A.D. - There Is A Word For It (10.2005)

There is a Word for it.

With the largest vocabulary of any language, in English we have a word to describe almost everything. And when we can't find one, we're happy to borrow from another language (from German: schadenfreude, pleasure at others' misfortune), or just make one up (petrichor, the pleasant smell of rain after a dry spell).
Having said that, let's not gloat over how many words we have. English's poverty shows in many places, for example, when it comes to words to describe relations. How useful is it to introduce the woman with you as your sister-in-law when the term could mean any number of things?
This week we visit a few terms that make one say, "I didn't know there was a word for it!" We start with:
(ak-SIZ-muhs) noun
Feigning disinterest in something while actually desiring it.

[From Greek akkismos (coyness or affectation).]

If you've ever uttered something resembling any of these expressions, you've practiced the fine art of…

A.W.A.D. - Words About Words

Imagine you've just started your great epic novel and one of the keys on your keyboard is broken. It would be trivial to manage without a Q, X, or Z, but writing without a single E -- ah, that'd be some challenge. If it sounds undoable, consider that whole books have been written without an E, the most used letter in the English language. Without an E, one has to give up some of the most common pronouns such as he, she, we, me, and so on. What's more, even the article "the" is barred.
Coming back to books written without Es (I'm sure writing them is not something everyone can do with ease), Ernest Vincent Wright's 1939 novel Gadsby is written without the second vowel. One of the best known E-less works is Georges Perec's lipogrammatic French novel, La Disparition (The Disappearance). Its plot is full of wordplay, puzzles, and other word-fun.
For example, a character is missing eggs, or is unable to remember his name because it needs E in the spelling. T…

A.W.A.D. - Eponyms (10.2007) (Words Coined After Peoples Names)

The US currency notes are printed in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing plants in Washington, DC and Fort Worth, Texas. I visited the Washington DC money factory a few years back and have to say the place feels a bit surreal. You can see sheets of currency notes rolling through by the millions, as if they were the daily newspaper to be read and discarded. Workers move the giant stacks of uncut sheets with forklifts.
No matter how the economy is going, this is one place that always makes money. It's perhaps fitting that it's Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), an inventor and printer, whose picture is printed on the highest denomination currency note in the US.
The name derives from Benjamin Franklin, US statesman, whose portrait adorns the bill.

(BEN-juh-min) noun
Benjamin is a nickname for the US one-hundred-dollar bill.

(maks-WEL-i-an) adjective
Of or relating to shady business practices, financial tricks, misuse of public funds, etc.

In the US we had Ken Lay and fr…

The Connecticut Renaissance Faire

This weekend was spent at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire and it was great!

The weekend for me started on Friday at 11:00 - I had had breakfast with LeRoy, stopped at the bank and got on Route 287 at about 11:02. I took Route 287 North through New Jersey to New York and 287 East, over the Tappan Zee Bridge, which I love and then onto 684. I was on 684 for 25 miles: in New York for most of it, through a corner of Connecticut for about two minutes and then back in New York. I was then on Route 84 East for the bulk of the journey – five miles or so in New York and then all Connecticut for the rest. I got off at Exit 70 onto CT-198, then CT-171, then finally to CT-169, all country roads with many fieldstone walls and houses with a huge distance between them – not like New Jersey at all. Even Sussex County is not that rural! It was all so gorgeous – woods and open fields and blue sky and horses grazing – it was stunning. There is rural and there is wow. This was all wow. I loved it. I wis…

A.W.A.D. - Combining Forms

It's a good thing we don't have to go with the literal meaning of words or we'd be exercising in the nude in the gymnasia. The word gymnasium derives from the combining form gymno-, meaning nude or bare. Other words similarly formed are gymoplast (protoplasm without surrounding wall) and gynosophy (a form of philosophy practiced by those refusing to wear clothes).
What are combining forms? You can think of them as the Legos of language. As their name indicates, a combining form is a linguistic atom that occurs only in combination with some other form.
This week we'll see words formed using these combining forms: auto- (self), tricho- (hair), chiro- (hand), algo- (pain), and lepto- (thin). We start with:
(au-TOT-uh-mee) noun
Autotomy is nature's gift to some animals to help them escape when under attack or injured. A lizard being chased will drop its tail and slip away. The detached tail continues to wriggle, distracting the predator, while its former owner flee…