Tonight on the news, state Senator Stacey Campfield of Tennesee mixed his metaphors remarkably when he said, ‘We aren’t asking the kid to be a rocket surgeon, we are just asking . . . .” He failed to make the choice between rocket scientists and brain surgeons quickly enough. Senator Campfield was defending his bill to tie a family’s welfare payments to the grades its children make in school.
Oddvar Jakobsen pointed out (from the shores of Lake Tanganyika) a logical error in my interpretation of the word pilgrim this past Thanksgiving. In particular he wrote:
“It gives a non-English speaker some consolation to notice the occasional stumbles a word professor may experience. Or am I wrong in finding it funny that those of the pilgrims who did not survive the first winter in America, actually survived and multiplied and built a nation.”
He goes on to quote the offending passage from the Good Word as it was mailed out: “Only half the 102 original Pilgrims survived their first winter at Plymouth. The remainder, with strong support of local Native Americans, survived to multiply and, joined by many others over the succeeding years, spread across the continent to build a nation.”
He goes on to say, “What I mean to say is that, if a portion of a population survives, the word remainder would logically refer … to the portion that does NOT survive. That population that did not survive, has NOT multiplied, but nevertheless been joined by very many others who died in quite different circumstances, but they did most likely NOT build a nation.”
Point well taken. I confused remainder with “those remaining” which, of course, is not the meaning of the word. I have since corrected the error as a result of Mr. Jakobsen’s keen sense of logic.
By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
MOUNT CARMEL — A 5-year-old kindergartner who told classmates she was going to shoot them, and then herself, with her pink [Hello Kitty] bubble gun, was grilled for three hours by Mount Carmel school officials without her mother’s knowledge, then suspended, a family attorney said.
The girl was initially kicked out for 10 days in what the school categorized as a terroristic threat,” according to the kindergartner’s mother and confirmed by the family attorney. That suspension was reduced to two days and labeled as a “threat to harm others.”
You’ll have to read the entire article to believe it.
We received two responses to our Good Word tucker back in mid-December that fell between the cracks until now. Brian Peretti wrote, “Just an addition to the tucker post. My mother was from West Virginia, and she would use the phrase: “best bib and tucker”, as in, “We’re goin’ to church, so put on your best bib and tucker” (otherwise known as your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes).”
Well, Brian, both these expressions were prevalent in North Carolina when I was growing up and I’ll bet they are still in use today, at least among the older population. In fact, “bib and tucker” was used in England as early as 1747, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, so the use must have been wide-spread at one time. A bib is the front of a false shirt and a tucker was one you tucked into your pants. Originally referred to a lace front that women wore, but later on came to refer to the false-front shirts men wore as well.
Graham Thomas then wrote from South Africa:
“Regarding you comments today about tucker, I was born in South Africa of British heritage, and we often used the work tuck to refer to food and the shop supplying food at school was referred to as a tuck shop. So I think that the reference to it being uniquely used in Australia is a bit misleading. It does sounds that it could have originated in England with the two countries common heritage.”
It seems I underestimated the both the geographic and the semantic extent to which tucker is currently used. The word was printed in a London newspaper in 1858, so it must have been current was before that. However, as the citations in the Oxford English Dictionary make clear, it continued to be used only in Australia and New Zealand—and South Africa, as you write. It was never prevalent in the US or Canada nor England after the mid-19th century.
Part of Speech: Article, Conjunction
Pronunciation: dhê (before consonants: the dog), dhee (before vowels: the apple).
Meaning: 1. (Article) The definite article marks nouns referring to things the speaker expects the listener to be familiar with. “A dog” refers to any mutt, while “the dog” refers to one the listener sees or knows about from a previous conversation. 2. (Conjunction) Comparative conjunction: “The more the merrier.”
Notes: An interesting fact about the is that it is used differently in different dialects. Everyone says “in school” and “at work” without the, but the British also drop it from “in hospital”, “in future”, and elsewhere. If you watched the popular British television series All Creatures Great and Small, you probably noticed that in Yorkshire people also say things like, “I’ll go to kitchen and put kettle on.” Actually, there is a barely audible glottal stop where we expect the, the remnants of the final [t] in that.
In play: When an object is unique, the is usually required: “the sun”, “the moon”, and others. In German the equivalent of the is used before proper nouns under certain circumstances, e.g. der Hans “(the) Hans”, die Grete “(the) Grete”. Greek does the same. In Swedish, the definite is expressed by a suffix on nouns: en dag “a day”, dagen “the day”. Bulgarian does the same: student “student”, studentêt “the student”. That [t] at the end of the Bulgarian word is not coincidental; it comes from the same root as English that.
Word History: Relatively few languages in the world have definite (the) and indefinite (a) articles. English a is a reduction of Old English an “one” (compare German ein “one, a”) and the is a reduction of that (compare German das “that, the”). In French (le, la), Italian (il, lo, la), and Spanish (el, lo, la) all come from Latin ille “that”. The equivalent of a in all these languages also comes from the word for “one”. (Great gratitude today is due Paige Turner for not overlooking the fascinating world of the minuscule.)
Mike Lim sent in a question that might be of interest to a wider audience. Mike wrote:
“Why do licences and contracts use the phrase ‘terms and conditions’? The two words terms and conditions seem to be almost identical in meaning.”
The meaning of term has probably taken on the meaning of condition because of its association with condition in this phrase. The original meaning of term was “limit in time or space, or limits on conditions”. Contracts by definition set limits on applicability of its conditions in terms of time and jurisdiction (space).
The term term (I had to do it) is confusing because is also refers to any specialized definition(s) of a word, e.g. “scientific terms”, “legal terms”, etc. This definition is also applicable in the phrase “terms and conditions”, and this sort of ambiguity often causes speakers to lose control of the meaning of a word in a given context. This allows the word to pick up the meaning of another word commonly associated with it. The fact that legal terminology is so alien to most speakers only exacerbates the tendency.
So these two terms have discrete meanings which have merged by association with one another—guilt by association?
I recently had an interesting (to me) e-mail conversation with Lew Jury, a frequent contributor to the Good Word series. I’ll categorized it as “language and culture”; that seems to be a large enough category.
TO: Dr. Beard
FROM: Lew Jury
Subject: A smile created
Dear Dr. Beard,
Today’s is dedicated to one of my childhood heroes, actor George ‘Gabby’ Hayes [1885-1969]. who often found himself “plumb tuckered out” from supporting the leading man in the 190 mostly western movies he played in.
I smiled broadly when I read the last line in today’s Good Word for I, too, spent many hours watching Gabby in the little Budd movie theater in Lykens, PA.
TO: Lew Jury
FROM: Dr. Beard
Subject: Re: A smile created
He always played a fetching character—at least in the later movies that I watched. I watched him at the Broadway theater in Fayetteville, NC. You are not alone. This is the second email I’ve received so far today from Gabby Hayes fans and I’m just beginning to open my e-mail.
TO: Dr. Beard
FROM: Lew Jury
Subject: Re: A smile created
My early cultural education occurred in movie theaters where for 10 cents I could be in Africa with Tarzan or Arizona with Randolph Scott or sail the Pacific in the Bounty. I’d go to the movies whenever I had an extra dime.
My history with Gabby goes back to the late 40′s and I do believe I saw every movie he ever made. I remember him mostly with Roy Rogers. I also remember when Hopalong Cassidy movies hit TV in the early 50′s and Gabby was his sidekick.
Another great old guy from the past was Walter Brennan, although he always played character parts, unlike Gabby who essentially only played Gabby.
TO: Lew Jury
FROM: Dr. Beard
Subject: Re: A smile created
It only cost 9 cents in Fayetteville. Only one western was shown at the Broadway, but they also showed a comedy, a cartoon, and an adventure serial (to keep you coming back).
My daddy would give me 25 cents every Friday and, if I made 100 in spelling, I didn’t have to bring home any change. If I didn’t bring home a spelling paper with 100 on it, I had to bring him 15 cents in change. That’s what spurred my interest in words: cowboy movies.
I only had to bring him change once: I misspelled “Fayetteville”, pronounced at that time down there, Fedville.
We now have quite a few lame ducks walking about Washington. I thought that a peculiar phrase, worth tracking down. So here is what I found.
First, referring to Congress as a whole as a “lame duck congress” was a misuse of the word, since those congressmen who were reelected are not lame ducks. So, this expression has taken on a slightly different meaning: a congress controlled by a party that loses control at the end of the year. This year neither house is a lame duck in this sense.
Recently this word’s meaning has expanded even more to the congress after elections but before the new congress is sworn in, whether its ducks are lame or not.
The term probably originates out on the high seas where it originally referred to a disabled ship or a ship damaged on the sea. The term duck makes more sense in this context.
If this is correct, then the term migrated from naval slang to financial slang, referring to a bankrupt investor or an investor in default of his debt at the exchange. At the stock exchange there are bulls, bears, and lame ducks, people who can not raise the liquidity to invest in any market. The carry-over sense is a financially wounded person who can’t keep up with the people who have their ducks in a row.
From the stock market the word then migrated to politics, where it is mostly used today. It is available outside politics, though, in reference to any thing or person who is disabled in any way. The American Heritage Dictionary says that it may refer to “an ineffective person; a weakling”.
President Obama has introduced a new word into the political debate: romnesia. Romnesia is a good word, politically loaded in just the right way. It is better than the Repuslican near synonym, flip-flop, because flip-flop existed previous to the Bush – Kerry faceoff and when we hear this word we see a pair of plastic sandals. The runner-up comes from the last presidential campaign, Sarah Palin’s lamestream media, a blend of lame-brained and mainstream media.
Romnesia edges out lamestream media by a hair since it is a properly constructed single-word blend of Romny and amnesia. It really isn’t a strict synonym of flip-flop or even etch-a-sketch. Because of its implication of loss of memory, it has a jocular implication that Romney can’t keep up with where he stands on a particular issue from appearance to appearance.
All these words are all nonce words, of course, used for political purposes over the course of presidential campaigns. There is little chance that they will remain in the language after the election. (Flip-flop is the exception since it was in the language already.)
Tom Schomer writes:
“Is there a preferred spelling for the word blond(e), and why does it have two
possible correct spellings?”
It was borrowed from French and, like fiancé versus fiancée, one originally referred to men (blond) and the other, to women (blonde). That distinction was pointless and since has been appropriately lost. Spell it blond.