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Archive for October, 2013

Marshaling the Skills to Spell ‘Martial’

Monday, October 28th, 2013

A long-standing friend of Dr. Goodword, David McWethy, dashed off this note to me about a week ago under the subject: “Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Martial Matt Dillon”. He was clearly over-excited, but with good reason. Let me let him explain it to you.

“I was whiling away this past weekend, musing on thoughts of my tranquil hours while a DVD of my personal favorite genre was playing in the background, when the video below whizzed past before it fully registered in both hemispheres of my brain.”

Martial Law“‘I can’t believe I saw my eyes’, as my grandmother would say. So I spent several minutes rewinding/playing, rewinding/playing until the video below—right there in front of God and everybody else—was frozen for the benefit of posterity” (see picture).

“It takes some doing to render me speechless, but this one managed in a walk. Just to make sure that it was not I who was pathetically out of step, I checked my favorite dictionary, to be rewarded with ‘The word you’re searching for is not listed’. Even the authority of great unwashed Wikipedia hadn’t a hint of marshal except to mention en passant that:”

‘This article is about a title. For other meanings, see Marshal (disambiguation). For the rank of Field Marshal, see Field Marshal. This article has multiple issues….This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards.., [concluding with the dispositive] (not related to court martial).’

“I’ve come to two conclusions: The lesser of the two being that since martial has apparently not been used as a Good Word, the timing of the tie-in to the egregious use above could hardly be better. My second epiphany is the conclusion that history may judge sites such as alphaDictionary, to a great or lesser extent, as civilization’s front-line defense to the—like, ya know, OMG!—onslaught of the illiterate hordes, who could not create a written or spoken sentence in the English language. (Just in case you ever have moments of doubt whether your efforts are really worth it).”

I [Dr. G] would just note two things. The unread sod who created this poster used only one L, which indicates to me he understood the difference between the name Marshall and the title of the law enforcement officer, marshal. Since martial law is a state in which the military tries to maintain law and order, and since marshals would otherwise maintain law and order, we can see how his mistake is possible. About 2 million occurrences of this mistake are on the Web today.

When is ‘different’ treated differently?

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Joan Gambill noticed a rather odd use of an adjective in my characterization of pruinose the other day. Here is how she put it:

“In yesterday’s word email about pruinose, under Notes at the end of the paragraph, it seems as though it should be differently, not different. I do enjoy your words.”

In most dialects of English both different and differently are allowed after verbs depending on what you mean. The suffix -ly on differently associates the adjective different with the verb, so that to tell you differently would mean “to tell you in a way different from the normal way of telling”, e.g. whispering, or in a letter. To tell you different implies “to tell you that the thing we are talking about is different”.

It is difficult to find situations in which both the adjective and adverb are applicable but they do pop up from time to time: She worked furiously (to finish on time) vs. She worked furious (at the way the boss treated her). In the former sentence, furiously modifies the verb; in the latter sentence, furious refers to she. As you see here, when the adjective is used, we usually supply a subordinate clause to clarify.

Without the subordinate clause, the result is often humorous: “Mary ate her salad undressed.” Here the joke arises from the ambiguity of which thing is undressed: the salad or Mary?

New Games at alphaDictionary

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

I have added two new games about idioms and adages to the growing supply of word games on alphaDictionary. The first consists in matching idioms and adages with an prose description comprising arcane vocabulary, e.g. neophyte serendipity = beginner’s luck: http://www.alphadictionary.com/fun/idiom_match.html

The other new game–my favorite–is matching idioms and adages with a picture of their literal meaning. For example, a picture of people climbing walls = climbing the walls. It may be found at http://www.alphadictionary.com/fun/idioms_adages.html.

Have fun.

A Small Menu

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

I received this interesting note from Jean Perry this morning:

“I recently read in Barbara Ehrenrich’s book Dancing in the Streets, about public festivals, that menu peuple meant ‘simple people’. I couldn’t find the connection between menu as in ‘list’ and menu as in ‘simple’. Can you help me with this?”

This is a Middle French usage that came over when English borrowed the word. French menu then meant “unimportant” or “small”, because menu came to Old French from classical Latin minutus “minúte”. The earliest written evidence in Middle French was les menus = le menu peuple “the small, unimportant people”, plural of la gent menude “the small, unimportant person”. The usage of menu in this sense is now considered archaic.

Forvo

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Forvo is a website which encourages its visitors to pronounce words. It has pronunciations of words in a large number of languages.