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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Dec 01, 2005 11:53 pm

• orphan •

Pronunciation: or-fên • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A child or young animal whose parents are dead. 2. Anything that is alone in its class or unconnected to similar objects, as a product that is an orphan. 3. The first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. (The last line of a paragraph carried over to the top of the next page is a widow.)

Notes: Today's word may be used freely as an adjective as well as a noun: an orphan product, an orphan technology. It may also be used as a verb, meaning "to make an orphan", as to be orphaned early in childhood. We haven't quite decided what to call the status of orphans: orphanhood, orphandom, and orphancy have all been used as late as the 1990s. The place where orphans are cared for is, of course, an orphanage.

In Play: Verdelle Woods, who suggested today's fascinating word, wondered why this term is used only for children: if both your parents pass away when you are 60, could you not be a 60-year-old orphan? In all its meanings, today's word implies a lack of support or nurturing, which limits its reference to the helpless: "Abel Lamb keeps a pet zoo in his back yard for the orphan animals he finds." However, it can refer to a merely isolated object: "I don't like to take the last piece of anything at the table but I never leave an orphan deviled egg behind."

Word History: Today's Good Word came from Greek orphanos "orphaned", based on the PIE root *orbh- "to change allegiance or status". The vowel and the [r] underwent metathesis (switched places) in the Slavic languages. So, in Czech we find robot from Czech robota "drudgery", taken from Old Church Slavonic rabota "slavery" from rabê "slave". Russian rabota now means "work". In German there was no metathesis but the suffix -heit was added to give Arbeit "work".
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Brazilian dude
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Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Dec 02, 2005 7:06 am

I've always wondered what you call someone who has lost only one parent, like me.

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Postby Spiff » Fri Dec 02, 2005 9:20 am

"Half an orphan"?

In Dutch you're called "een halve wees".
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Andrew Dalby
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Postby Andrew Dalby » Fri Dec 02, 2005 9:27 am

You surely know, O unfortunate BD, that Oscar Wilde has answered your question.

Lady Bracknell: To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune ... to lose both seems like carelessness.

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M. Henri Day
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Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 04, 2005 12:23 pm

This term has a rather specific meaning in pharmocology, as seen from this quotation from an EMEA (European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products) press release of 21 March 2002 :

Orphan medicines are those intended for rare and serious or life-threatening diseases affecting less than 5 in 10,000 persons in the European Union or medicines that are unlikely to be developed under normal market procedures.

(Translation of the clause following the second «or» : «medicines intended for treating diseases which generally speaking only strike poor people in the so-called Third World who wouldn't be able to pay enough to make their development worthwhile for pharmaceutical companies in the developed world».)

So can it go....


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