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More “Tucker”

January 19th, 2013

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.

The

January 15th, 2013

Part of Speech: Article, Conjunction

Pronunciation: dhê (before consonants: the dog), dhee (before vowels: the apple).
Hear it!

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.)

Terms and Conditions

January 13th, 2013

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?

Language and Cowboy Movies

December 11th, 2012

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

Lew,

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.

—RB


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

Lew,

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.

—RB

The Lame Ducks of Washington

November 8th, 2012

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”.

Romnesia in the Lamestream Media

October 22nd, 2012

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.)

Do Blonds or Blondes Have More Fun?

October 10th, 2012

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.

Malapropisms Again

October 9th, 2012

Seth Twiggs writes: “We who teach find malapropisms often in student writing, of course. One should not take such occurrences for granite.”

My reply: I hope you didn’t think we have the same a devil-make-hair attitude about them that students have. Far from it.

The Origin of ‘Aryan’

October 6th, 2012

Lena Åseth raises an interesting question I’ll bet many of the readers of this blog would be interested in. It has to do with the first word in the name of a racist organization called “The Aryan Brotherhood”.

“I need your expertise on the word aryan. Where does this word come from, and is it still in use? I know that it was used during the Nazi-war, under Hitler, but it’s a bit older than that, right?”

—Lena Åseth, Oslo, Norway

Although the word is still around, it is now used only in its racist sense. It comes from the Sanskrit word arya “noble, of a good, high-ranking family”. The word originally referred to the Proto-Indo-Europeans, but the inherent elitism of the word’s etymology led to its demise as a technical term.

The word was then picked up by the Nazis, who thought the Indo-Europeans must have been a race of exclusively white people (excluding Jews, of course). They attached this word to that mythical race. The elitism of the word’s etymology aligned itself quite nicely with the new meaning.

Most intellectuals now use Indo-European, while police departments and laymen use the more nearly descriptive term Caucasian, in referring to the original sense of Aryan. The Indo-Europeans, of course, did not originate in the Caucasus, but in an area now occupied by eastern Poland, Ukraine, and southern Russia. So, even this term is misleading.

Fun: Lookalikes

September 26th, 2012

Julie Dunn surprised us with this note today:

Andrew Shaffer“Your Andrew Shaffer looks a lot like the new guy, Nicholas David, on Ceelo’s team on The Voice (see picture on the left). Nicholas DavidI was searching for online dictionaries to show my classes for a reliable sources lesson when I saw the picture of Andrew on your About Us page.”

Is it just the beard? Whatever. If you must look like someone, better to look like someone famous (I always say).