Our Sponsors

Technical Translation
Website TranslationClip Art
 

Archive for April, 2011

Hems and Mayhem

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Pronunciation: may-hem • Hear it! • Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. (Law) Intentionally maiming a person in order to disable and render them defenseless. 2. Wanton destruction. 3. Havoc, riotous chaos, total disorder.

Notes: Today’s Good Word is a rarity, indeed: an English word pronounced exactly as it is spelled! (Don’t listen to the US dictionaries; always pronounce the [h] in the middle. That’s what it is there for.) Mayhem is a lexical orphan without any related words, though our British cousins have used it as a verb in the past.

In Play: In peacetime, mayhem is, unfortunately, often associated with sporting events: “When the Dinglethwarp Turtledoves defeated the Swollingham Drubbers in the final seconds of the game, mayhem broke out among the fans.” We do hear this word often used hyperbolically, though: “Were I to suggest the company reduce its lunch break from an hour to a half hour, I’m afraid that mayhem might break out on the plant floor.”

Word History: Old French mahaigne “injury, mutilation” becamemahain then mahaim in Anglo-Norman, the French spoken in England after the Norman Conquest (1066). The Normans (so called because they originated in Normandy, France) picked up the word from a nearby Celtic language, Breton, where the word for “maim, mutilate” was mac’hagnañ. English borrowed the Anglo-Norman variantmahaim and developed it in two directions. In one instance the inconvenient H in the middle was dropped, leaving only maim. The other direction retained the H but only after folk etymology converted it into two recognizable English words, may and hem. The new “compound” survived despite its sounding more like the decision of a seamstress than an act of destruction. (In order to avoid any mayhem among our dear subscribers, let us now thank Dr. L. B. Tague for suggesting today’s riot of a Good Word.)

Don’t be Camp at Camp

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

My treatment of the adjective camp obviously caught Doug Schulek-Miller off guard. I thought his reaction worth sharing:

My children go to camp in the summer (and there is nothing homosexual  or kitsch about them!)

  • I made a camp in the forest when we stayed outdoors.
  • I camped on my neighbour’s doorstep so that I wouldn’t miss him.

I am confused, as I understand you will likely get a lot of other responses like this despite noting that you are talking an adjectival sense.

Apoplectically yours,
Doug

The same word reminded Harry Murphy how folks down East in Maine use the noun camp a bit different from the way it is used farther south:

Your recent description of “camp” as an adjective neglected “camp” as a noun.  As an expatriate from Maine, I prefer to think of “camp” as a noun.

In his “Maine Lingo”, John Gould defines “camp” this way:  “CAMP:  The general word in Maine for a wilderness dwelling, no matter how elegant.  It can be a one-room log cabin or the sumptuous retreat of land-owning executives.  Not always, but in many instances Mainers will use ‘camp’ for a building others would call a cottage.  ‘Going to camp’ does not mean tenting out in Maine, but moving to the cottage on the lake or in the  woods for the season, or for a vacation.”

‘Going camp’ to me means dressing tacky, so Maineiacs should be careful not to drop the “to” in ‘Going to camp’ when talking to out-of-staters.

I didn’t include all the other meanings of camp in my treatment because I wanted all my readers to finish reading it in a day.

Crucify

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

kru-sə-fai • Hear it!Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To execute someone by nailing them to a post with a crossbar to the arms. 2. To punish or berate someone viciously, brutally.

Notes: Unfortunately, this word is so useful it has begotten a large family of words referring to torture and torment. Someone who crucifies in either of the two senses above is a crucifier and the act of crucifying is crucifixion. If excruciating pain represents the extreme in torture, that is because excruciate is based on the same sense of crucifixion. Today Christians throughout the world commemorate the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified, a day now called “Good Friday” in English.

In Play: Aside from Eastertide, we use this word today only in the figurative sense as a hyperbole: “Dad is going to crucify you when he finds out you bent his Bentley!” In fact, we probably overuse it: “Gladys Friday was crucified by the boss in front of the whole office when she arrived at the meeting late.”

Word History: Happy Easter!Proto-Indo-Europeanroot behind crux turns up in many modern Indo-European languages. English crook and crutch share the same origin. Of course, we borrowed crux itself from Latin to refer to the central point of an issue. This sense of crux goes back to a reference to a crossroads at which a decision must be made. The adjective crucial “decisive” reflects this same sense. The F in the Latin verb figere came from an older PIE word dhig- “to fix, set”, which seems to have come to English as dig. The semantic road between these two words is too long to travel in this Good Word entry.

You will Rue the Taste of Rue

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
RUE: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To regret, to feel sorry about. 2. To repent, to be penitent or do penitence for (now rare).

Notes: The adjective to today’s Good Word is rueful “penitent, regretful”, which comes with an adverb, ruefully, and a noun ruefullness. These forms bear witness to this word’s being an authentic English noun and not a borrowed one. Despite the fact that anyone nibbling the highly bitter semitoxic rue plant, the noun rue is unrelated to today’s verb.

In Play: Today’s Good Word delivers the same punch as regret but in a smaller, more sophisticated package: “Will Doolittle came to rue forgetting the street where his French girlfriend lived—Rue LaRue in Paris.” Ruefulness often stalks the workplace: “After five years with no raise or promotion, Clarence Sales began to rue the day he came to work for Hiram Cheep.”

Word History: Today’s Good Word, as mentioned above, is a genuine English word. It comes from Old English hreowan “make sorry, grieve”. The origin of that word is open to question, but the initial H on the Old English word suggests it comes from a Proto-Indo-European word beginning on KR. Russian has a word krushit’ “to shatter, crush” that may come from the same source. It clearly thrived among the Germanic languages, for German Reue “repentance” and Dutch rouwen “to mourn” are clearly cousins. The rue plant got its name from Latin ruta “rue”, which in turn came from Greek rhyte, at which point the historical trail comes to an abrupt halt.

Passover and Easter

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Pesach is the Hebrew word for Passover, a Jewish holiday beginning on the 14th of Nisan at sundown and continuing for eight days, from April 18 to April 26 in 2011 by the Gregorian Calendar. It commemorates the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.

Star of DavidThe highlight of the celebration of Pesach is the Seder, a special supper held on the first night or the first two nights of Pesach. All of the food has meaning: only unleavened matzo (flat bread) is eaten and green vegetables are dipped in a vinegar or salty water to symbolize the suffering of the Jews crossing the desert. Children recite passages and answer questions to show that they have learned the significance of Pesach that they will pass on to their children.

The Haggadah is the story of the Exodus from Egypt which everyone at the Seder table reads. The story of the Exodus is told four ways, each emphasizing a different aspect of the Exodus and its importance for the Jewish people. According to the synoptic gospels, the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Last Supper that Jesus attended was a traditional Seder. The Book of John places it the day before the Seder, on the day of the slaughter of the sacrificial lamb.

Pesach is Hebrew pesaH “Passover” from the verb pasaH “to pass over”. Pasch “Passover, Easter” is the Aramaic variant of the same Semitic root. Jesus presumably spoke Aramaic, so this word became the origin of the word for Easter in most European languages: French Pâques, Spanish Pascua, Portuguese Páscoa, Italian Pasqua, Swedish Påsk, and Russian Paskha. This is perhaps the closest linguistic link between Judaism and Christianity. Those of us here at The Lexiteria and alphaDictionary hope the homes of all our Jewish friends are filled with peace and love during this Pesach season. Easter is just around the corner.