Earmark

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Dr. Goodword
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Earmark

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Jun 16, 2021 11:28 pm

• earmark •


Pronunciation: ir-mahrk • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A notch or other mark on the ears of cattle as a sign of ownership, a stamp of ownership. 2. A budget item for a special purpose, most notably for a pork-barrel project that appeals to the constituents of a member of a congress or parliament. 3. An identifying feature, as 'a car with all the earmarks of a classic'.

Notes: Today's word is one that has drifted a pretty far piece away from its original meaning. Compound nouns seldom have derivational families and earmark is no exception. However, since this word may be used as a verb, both the past (earmarked) and present participles (earmarking) may be used as adjectives and earmarking may be used as a noun.

In Play: Since the original word's application is limited to cattle, few of us hear it anymore. However, the extended sense if often heard in sentenced like this: "The melody line running over a slow-walking bass line is an earmark of jazz styling." As often we hear it referring to budgetary items: "That year the budget contained 11,000 earmarks worth over $15 billion."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound noun made up of ear + mark. Ear, along with its cousins, German Ohr, Dutch oor, Danish and Norwegian øre, all descended from Proto-Indo-European ous- "ear" with rhoticism. Without rhoticism it arises in Russian ucho (plural uši), Greek aus, and Lithuanian ausis. Mark comes down from PIE merg- "boundary, border", which are often marked with signs. This this word came Dutch merk "mark, brand", German Marke "mark", Danish mærke "brand, mark", and Swedish mark. Latin margo "edge, border, margin" and Icelandic mark "mark" share the same PIE source. (We owe a thought of gratitude to Jeffrey Beard, who is working this month from his parents' home, for reminding me of today's exceptionally Good Word.)
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David Myer
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Re: Earmark

Postby David Myer » Thu Jun 17, 2021 8:12 am

Indeed, gratitude to Jeffrey. It is an interesting word.

But in relation to meaning 3. I say emphatically "Surely not!" At least if it is in use, it is surely only in error.

A car does not display the earmarks of a classic, does it? It displays the hallmarks of a classic. There is no sense of ownership or being marked to be set aside for a special purpose, both of which are essential to the first two meanings.

Or has American English lost the plot on this one, as it has with the important distinction between alternate and alternative?

I suppose a possibility is that I have got this completely wrong and missed something important along the way. (Such things have been known!)

But on a less confronting front, what do we call those little tags when we turn down the corner of a page in a book to mark our place for the next reading? Might they be earmarks? After all, a dog-eared book is certainly less than pristine.

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Re: Earmark

Postby David Myer » Mon Jun 21, 2021 6:35 am

Have I overdone my emphaticalness? It appears I have intimidated other voices on this. I meant only to provoke a response and I am perfectly willing to be educated. Does anyone have an opinion?

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Re: Earmark

Postby Slava » Mon Jun 21, 2021 7:04 am

I agree with you on earmarks/hallmarks. I admit that when I read the original sentence, I glossed over that point and simply accepted the meaning as given. Now that you point it out, it does grate.

As to dogears in books, I think they could be called vandalism or desecration.
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Re: Earmark

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Jun 21, 2021 11:38 am

Slava, I totally agree with your concept of desecration in a
'dogeared' book. Abhorrent.
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Re: Earmark

Postby Audiendus » Mon Jun 21, 2021 11:03 pm

But in relation to meaning 3. I say emphatically "Surely not!" At least if it is in use, it is surely only in error.
It's in the dictionaries:

http://thefreedictionary.com/earmark

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Re: Earmark

Postby David Myer » Mon Jun 21, 2021 11:46 pm

Thanks Audiendus. I feared as much. It suggests that from its origins as an identifier of cows, it has moved to be an identifier of anything, including an identifier of future success.

A quote from your freedictionary:
"An identifying feature or characteristic: a novel with all the earmarks of success."

I must say, I don't like it. Surely there is presumptive jump in logic when it is used in this way? The novel doesn't have earmarks of success. That would mean it is already a success and bears the signs of that success - gold stickers on the cover listing all the prizes it has won. I presume the writer is really saying "in my opinion, this one will become a best-seller." This is subjective. Earmarks are not really subjective.

I accept that something might be earmarked for success - tagged, let's say. My contention is that it doesn't yet carry the marks of that success. In short: an earmark is an identifier; and an identifier is different from an indicator. Am I splitting hairs?

But come to think of it, hallmarks are much the same, aren't they? Indeed, if the prizes have not yet been awarded, really all we should say is that it has what it takes to be a success. Its success is as yet "un"-marked.

But OK, I will retire from this discussion now. Just don't wait for me to use "earmarks of success" in my own speech and writing.

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Re: Earmark

Postby David Myer » Mon Jun 21, 2021 11:59 pm

And in response to those who object to dog-earing of books (and at the risk of exposing myself to vitriol and then a life in Coventry) you might enjoy this article with which I have some sympathy.

https://www.bustle.com/p/11-things-peop ... arks-75481

Having said that, I should add that a leather bound, first edition should not be bookmarked. But a read-once-and-take-to-the-op-shop book, well, where's the harm?


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