Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Parvum Opus 356: Fraught

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere



I was simultaneously gladdened and saddened to learn about an English cat named Casper who used to ride the bus in Devon until he was struck by a car. His owner had “re-homed” him from a rescue centre. I haven’t seen the word “re-homed” before. Now we hope he is re-homed in an even better place. Maybe Casper has been repurposed too. He was a fine cat.

Unfraught Me

Heard somewhere: “We have a fraught relationship…” I thought for sure that “fraught” means “laden” and without a qualifier shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone adjective. But does show one example from WordNet similar to the one I quoted. It’s true that even when the word is qualified, it’s generally with something negative, as fraught with danger, fraught with tension, etc., so maybe it can stand alone as an adjective. But I still wouldn’t use “fraught” by itself without a following prepositional phrase, certainly not in conversation and probably not in more formal writing either. “Are you fraught? I’m fraught.”

The word is obviously related to “freight” but the root surprisingly means something like “merit” or “deserve”, which meaning has been completely lost now.

Hard to Read

In the January 20 cartoon, Agnes fakes her homework in an uber-literate style. The text is:

Teacher: Agnes, this composition is unreadable.

Agnes: I did it in the manner of Saint Hildegard of Bingen. I used “lingua ignota,” which is an unknown language, and “litterae ignotae,” an alternative alphabet.

Later, Agnes to Principal: I don’t know why she sent me here…the look on her face was hard to read.

Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century saint, invented an alternative alphabet and language and wrote music too, which of course you can hear on YouTube.

Spelling Mistake

Supposedly the underwear bomber slipped through security because his name was misspelled on one list of security threats. If so, this is only one of the security misses that let Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab fly. It does, however, show that spelling may be more, not less, important than it used to be. You usually have to be exact in finding data in a computer database, if not on the Web.

When humans check lists, they are capable of spotting spelling mistakes or alternatives, such as Abdul Mutallab, Abdulmutallab, Abdoul Moutallab, etc. but machines have both lesser and greater capabilities. Some search engines will give you alternative spellings (e.g. Google, “Did you mean: abdul mutallab ?”).

The airlines must not be using Soundex with their computerized manifests. Soundex is “a phonetic algorithm for indexing names by sound, as pronounced in English. The goal is for homophones to be encoded to the same representation so that they can be matched despite minor differences in spelling.” Example: While Douglas is a family name, for instance, one of my forebears spelled it Douglass, and there are several other spellings. Soundex is used in genealogy searches for family names, since the spelling of names changes. If you do a search on Rootsweb for Duglass using the Soundex converter, you get DESAULLES | DOUGLAS | DOUGLASS | DUCLOS (why Desaulles?). But a search for Abdul or Abdoul turns up nothing, though we know there are various phonetic spellings of that non-English name.

I did not know that

The word “apocalyptic” comes from the Greek “calypsos” meaning revelation. “Revelation” is comes from Latin, meaning the same thing. I always assumed that apocalypse had something to do with the end of the world, but it’s more like a cataclysmic event that reveals something, or the truth about something. It’s more about unveiling than destroying.

(Note: Fred says I wrote about this before in PO, but I don’t remember. It’s nice to learn something new even if it’s something I used to know.)

Mike the Sykes

Mike Sykes wrote:

On arriving in the VIth Form (11th Grade?), I acquired access to a library where by happy chance I found Poets at Play, an anthology by Cyril Alington, D.D., Dean of Durham, published by Methuen, London, 1942. I still have a copy, found for me by my wife years later. It contains many gems, including the following:

What, still alive at twenty-two,

A clean upstanding chap like you?

Why, if your throat is hard to slit,

Slit your girl's and swing for it!

Like enough you won't be glad

When they come to hang you, lad,

But bacon's not the only thing

That's cured by hanging from a string.

When the blotting pad of night

Sucks the latest drop of light,

Lads whose job is still to do

Shall whet their knives and think of you.

(parody of A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman)


'Twas Danzig, and the Swastikoves

Did heil and hittle in the reich

All Nazi were the lindengroves

And the neuraths julestreich. …

'Beware the Grabberwock, my son,

The plans that spawn, the plots that hatch!

Beware the Jewjew Bird, and shun

The fuhrious Bundesnatch!'

He took his aryan horde in hand

Long time the Gestapo He taught

Then rested he by the Baltic Sea

And stood awhile in thought.

And as a Polish oath they swore,

The Grabberwoch, with lies aflame

Came goering down the corridor

And goebbelled as it came.

Ein, zwei! ein, zwei! one in the eye

For Polska folk, alas, alack.

He left them dead and as their head

He came meinkampfing back.

'And hast thou ta'en thy lebensraum?

Come to my arms, my rhenish boy!

Oh grabjous day! Sieg heil, be gay!'

He strengthened through his Joy.

'Twas Danzig, and the swastikoves

Did heil and hittle in the reich,

All nazi were the lindengroves

And the neuraths julestreich.

Michael Barsley

(I just happen to have those two available to copy & paste.)

I love the Shropshire Lad parody as well as The Shropshire Lad itself. A. E. Houseman made an amusing case for capital punishment.

Poets at Play seems to be unavailable now, unfortunately.

Finally Mike wrote regarding anacrostics (also called crostics):

Such puzzles seem to be unknown in the UK, but then I've never been much of a puzzle solver. Unlike my second cousin, who won The Times crossword (sample attached) competition so consistently that he refrained from entering in alternate years, to give others a chance.

(Sample was not attached, Mike. Send it again.) The English seem to be good at tricky puzzles so I’m surprised they don’t have this type.

Reading Test

One of the items I listed last week drew a comment from a reader (not a PO reader) who thought I was slamming the priest I quoted who made a little jest about ecology. I followed up with an explanatory comment of my own. I’d like to know if any PO readers read this bit the same way commenter Dan did? This is the one: Is fuel wasted on human survival? You all know my style, of course, but if you read carefully, did I miss my mark?

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Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2010. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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