Friday, February 29, 2008

Parvum Opus 267 ~ Nuancy


Number 267



Thanks to Jes M. for this:

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologisms, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
15. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.


I was thinking that there must be a lot of people who use the word "windfall" without knowing its literal meaning: fruit blown onto the ground, that is, something you don't have to work for. "Low-hanging fruit" is clearer but the meaning isn't quite the same, it doesn't have the sense of an unexpected gift. There are lots of idioms that grew out of experience and farm life and old technology that are unfamiliar to us now.

And how about this one: Since the UK is now giving welfare payouts to Muslims with more than one wife (though they haven't yet legalized polygamous marriages performed in-country), will one's "better half" change to better third, or fourth, or fifth, and so on. Thanx and a tip of the PO hat to Mark Steyn for that one. Steyn also called John Kerry a "nuancy boy". I do not believe, however, that he thinks Kerry is truly a nuanced thinker. I doubt if he thinks Kerry is homosexual either, as in British slang, "nancy boy". He probably meant Kerry isn't completely straightforward. One of the things I like about Steyn is the way he pronounces Obama and tacos: Obama rhymes with Alabama, and tacos sounds like tackos.

By the way, I have a French student who has an automatic antipathy to all religion, which he considers "old" and therefore useless and obsolete thinking (though he's attracted to old American Indian traditional life and customs). Since he's a chef, I've brought to class newspaper columns by The Amish Cook, Lovina Eicher, and explained who the Amish are, but he's kind of hostile about them. He objects to their withdrawal from modern life and compared them with radical Muslims. The Amish, of course, don't try to convert or kill people. But my student likes Lovina's name because it sounds like "love" so maybe he'll soften up toward the Amish, from Lovina's recipes and stories of Amish family life. The Amish were one of those groups who came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe.


From a TV bio: "On the screen, my father, Gary Cooper, was often a man of little words." Here's a situation where you really mustn't confuse little (for measurables) with few (for countables). Cooper was known as a taciturn character in movies but "little words" sounds like his words were, well, small, and also unimportant, rather than not very many.


From Mike Sykes:

I once had a boss whom I constantly itched to correct for "between you and I", you may recall that the bard himself once slipped up in The Merchant of Venice.

Yes, I think we discussed that in PO a couple of years back when the Al Pacino movie came out.

"Myself" is a difficult one; reflexive it may be, and while I tend to agree with you I've seen examples by plenty of people who might be expected to take care with their English use it where not strictly appropriate. Actually Fowler (as usual!) puts it about right, i.e. agrees with us.

... a variant possessive formation such as "the Smith children" (rather than "the Smiths'

Surely one always refers to children as, e.g., "the Marshall girls and the Sykes boys, ..." (not to mention The History Boys). My wife is one of the Cooke sisters, even though none of their names is now Cooke.
And we oldies remember the Marshall plan, and there are Rhodes scholarships. But no rules, surely, only practices, sometimes I suspect based on nothing more than euphony: consider the Victorian era vs the Roosevelt era.
Which calls to mind the various ways in which we form adjectives from names: Dickensian, Shavian, Pinteresque, Mancunian, Liverpudlian, Oxonian, Glaswegian, Florentine. While some others are impossible, e.g. Ashby-de-la-Zouch (about which there seems to be some difference of opinion between the Town Council and tourist boards on the one hand and both Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey on the other, as to whether or not it should be hyphenated, while Google Earth doesn't even capitalize the 'Z').

You can't top Liverpudlian. But however did Glaswegian come from Glasgow? Or does it?

(By the way, here's a pretty good discussion of adjective strings, the avoidance of, in Professional Writing Style.)


Go to Dilbert on 2/25/08 and 2/26 for a mini-mini-series about a guy being slapped with a suit. Literally. His own actual suit off his body.


You say diviss-ive, I say di-visive. Or at least some people say divissive, as from division; I say di-visive, as from divide. The sound clip on has di-visive (long i) but gives both pronunciations in the spelled-out pronunciation guide, as well as an alternative Z sound for the S, which would sound funny to me.

By the way, I saw a publication called "Alternatives for Seniors". I thought it meant there's an alternative to being a senior. But the only alternative is being dead. No, it was merely a compendium of various retirement facilities and services for old people. A list of things to choose from is not the same as alternatives. A complete list is an alternative to nothing at all. A menu is not a list of "alternatives" to something else. Think of "alternate" or "substitute" when you use "alternative", and then maybe you won't use it.

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