Quickly improves English pronunciation!

  Issue 112, page 4

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From R.J. Corby:

I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for a priceless website. I love this. I'm a recent college grad working in public relations, but my graduation did not satisfy my quench for learning.  As a former English major, I have a profound love of the language, so this site is right up my alley.

Oh, and I found your site by conducting a search on Google.  I was looking for the etymology of "boilerplate" and I was delivered to your site.  Now, I look like a genius in the eyes of one of my former professors for getting her the answer, so nice going.  

Keep up the good work!

We are pleased that you found what you were looking for at this site.  We hope you'll be back! 

From Dennis Foley:

As you know, the Japanese language contains no "el" sound.  In "Purple", the Japanese secret code which American intelligence cracked in 1940, messages were entered on standard electric typewriters with the English alphabet. The word they used for the location of the Pearl Harbor naval base was "Honoruru." 


From Mike Steede:

I liked the Engrish version of "fright operations department".  Working as an inbound coordinator for the Hyundai Merchant Marine ships calling Vancouver, I found it quite hilarious that the terminology for a "Late Diversion" (European/N. American term) of inland cargo destination or to a different discharge port 3 days or less prior to discharge is routinely referred to in the Far East as a "Freight Devastation" !

At first I thought this was a one-off. But it was repeated every time and by different ops people in different ports!  Go figure.... 

Another one was a local freight forwarder who would call me up and demand to know where the "packages" was.  No kidding, it was about 3 years of this happening just about every 4-6 weeks when it finally twigged as I was driving home one night that she wasn't asking about her "packages" or containers. She wanted to know when the NYK vessel the California Pegasus was due in... not "packages" - the "Pegasus"!

We shouldn't laugh.  [Teehee!]

From Ika Gorelik:

To the subject of Lucifer: The verse from Isaiah 14:12 in Hebrew refers to Heilel Ben Shakhar (the kh is pronounced like in "khan"). Ben Shakhar means literally "son of dawn". Heilel is probably derived from the verb HLL which means "to praise". A common Hebrew noun halel means "praise".  According to the much esteemed dictionary of Hebrew by Even-Shoshan, the term I is found only in this single verse, and the phrase Heilel Ben Shakhar is usually interpreted as reference to Venus, the morning star. So, as you see, the Hebrew original does not mention "light" or "sound" at all.

Interestingly enough, the morning star in Hebrew has another, more widespread name, which can be literally translated as "the dawn gazelle" (Ayelet HaShakhar). This lovely name appears in many poems and writings (including contemporary) and also is the name of a kibbutz (a settlement) in the north of Israel.

Thanks for your erudite explanation, Ika.

Could it be that Heilel Ben Shakhar was an oblique reference to the Babylonian goddess known variously as Innanna, Ishtar, Astarte and Ashtaroth who was associated with the "morning star"?

From Steve Parkes:

Reading your piece on git (TOWFI 111) prompts me to write once more.  In my mis-spent youth (in the English Midlands), the word was always pronounced "get". It was Alf Garnett (Johnny Speight's wonderful/awful bigoted opinionated cockney, played by Warren Mitchell, and reincarnated in the US as Archie Bunker) who popularised the "git" pronunciation with his catch-phrase "randy Scouse git!" in the sixties.  

In passing, the randy Scouse git was Alf's son-in-law, played by actor Anthony Booth, who is the father of Cherie, wife of our Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Blair, of course, is neither a Scouse (Liverpudlian) nor a git.  I can't possibly comment on any other attributes he may or may not possess, but as a recent father, I'll leave readers to draw their own conclusion!

Yes, you are probably correct in suggesting that the UK television program Till Death Do Us Part (on which the US's All in the Family was based) had some influence on the pronunciation of get as git.  However, that pronunciation was not unknown before the television program, so it is difficult to measure its influence.

From Brad Daniels:

I just came across this verse, quoted in an article on laziness on Fortune's web site. I thought you might be amused:

Ann Owed Two the Spelling Checker

Eye have a spelling checker
It came with my Pea Sea
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh
My checker tolled me sew.

-Web doggerel, author unknown 

Thanks, Brad!

From Mary E. Cygan:

I recently became aware of your website and I noticed the discussion of gender v. sex in issue 31. Have you updated your discussion since then? Many social scientists use sex to refer to differences between men and women which are biological in origin and gender to refer to differences which are culturally constructed. This is actually quite a useful distinction to make. Division of labor, conventions of dress or differences in legal rights are not differences determined by physical facts of maleness or femaleness and jobs, dress and rights for women and men differ from culture to culture. I suspect that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was aware of this growing body of theoretical literature. The notion that she avoided a certain word due to a lithp [sic] sounds an awful lot like an "urban legend." Has anyone asked her? 

Sure, it's a useful distinction to make but that's not the issue. An HR department which issues a form asking employees to enter their "gender" is not asking for a culturally constructed difference. They mean plain old biological "sex" and should say so. Their use of "gender" when they mean "sex" is simply euphemism. 

Ms. Ginsburg is an educated woman and may well have come into contact with the usage you suggest.  This should not have influenced her choice of vocabulary, though.  After all, she used to represent  women who were being harassed because they were biologically female.  As far as I know, she never represented a female impersonator who had been harassed for a "culturally constructed difference".

As for the lisp, we heard this explanation on NPR when Ms. Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court.  One of her former colleagues was being interviewed.

From Peter Wise:

I came across your etymological site while scanning Yahoo for the origin of panorama. On it, Jill Dybka claims that Bill Bryson (whose books I adore) identifies Norman Bel Geddes (whose architecture I equally adore!) as the initiator in 1939 of the -rama craze (Futurama etc).  However, I have just read Balzac's Father (PÍre) Goriot, written more than 100 years earlier, in 1834.  In pages 74 and 75 of the Penguin Classics edition of the book, Balzac, that acute observer of Parisian whims and foibles really goes to town on the (then) topical, "frivolous, meaningless and silly" habit which swept through Paris at that time, and which appeared to have started with the exciting experience of the Diorama.  He quotes the use of healthorama, and also a debate which his boarding house guests had about whether extreme cold should be referred to as chillyrama or chillyorama.  A great sight of a tureen of soup was referred to as a souparama.  I should emphasize that this is in the English translation - no doubt the French original is similarly frivolous.  In France, there is now an expansive chain of furniture shops called Conforama and a DIY chain called Castorama - and so the frivolity of -rama continues......

Very interesting.  What we really must do is see the original French version of Balzac's work to determine what words he was using (we were unable to find a French version before publication time).  Penguin Classics' translations are known for not being very accurate (Mike worked for Penguin as a younger lad).  However, if the French words are similar to their English counterparts, we still cannot give credit to Balzac for starting the -rama craze in English, only French.

From Jonathan Kurz:

While your history of the word scab is good, it only brings us to a certain point in history. It is there where you drop the ball.  SCAB is an acronym for "Still Collecting All Benefits". It is only a coincidence that it also means "despicable person."


For some, the word Scab is perceived as offensive, but it may have actually started as an acronym. Reportedly, during the early part of this century, managements would keep a list of workers who crossed the picket lines. The title of the list was, "Still Collecting All Benefits."  Regardless of its genesis, its now a part of the English language and in the dictionary. The common acceptance of the word to describe strike-breakers in the modern vernacular was demonstrated in management's very own American Way magazine crossword puzzle of March, 1995, in which the clue for "77 down" was, "Striker's anathema." The answer was, of course... Scab.  

Just thought you would like to know since it appears you stopped your research at one source.

Another cocky reader trying to one up us!  Hmmmph!  "Dropped the ball"?  "Stopped [our] research", eh?  Pshaw!

The word scab used to refer to strike-breakers is quite a bit older than "the early part of this century", the period given by the article you cite.  The article also claims that "Still Collecting All Benefits" was a term used by management.  There are several reasons why this does not make sense to us:

  • We cannot find a single example of, or reference to, benefits meaning "wages", only constructions such as sickness benefit and maternity benefit.
  • Scab is a term of condemnation used only by strikers or their sympathizers, hence the "Striker's anathema" of your crossword.  Scab is common parlance so, of course, managers know the word.
  • Since the 16th century, scab has been a term of abuse for a filthy, despicable person. Do  you really expect us to believe that a manager might say, "The strikers might have had their way if it were not for those splendid scabs."?
  • Very, very few English words come from acronyms.  How often must we repeat this?  (We think we know, now, how some elementary and high school teachers feel, not to mention our parents.)

We have found several examples of scab used to mean "strike breaker" from as far back as the 18th century.  How about these:

To the Public. Whereas the Master Cordwainers have gloried, that there has been a Demur amongst the Menís and Womenís Men;Ė we have the Pleasure to inform them, that Matters are amicably settled... The Conflict would not been [sic] so sharp had not there been so many dirty Scabs; no Doubt but timely Notice will be taken of them.

- Bonner & Middletonís Bristol Journal. 5 July, 1777.

and :

What is a scab? He is to his trade what a traitor is to his country... He first sells the journeymen, and is himself afterwards sold in his turn by the masters, till at last he is despised by both and deserted by all.

- from a pamphlet of 1792 (quoted in A. Aspinall, Early English Trade Unions, 1949) 

and, finally, one from the U.S. :

I concluded at that time I would turn a scab, unknown to them, and I would continue my work and not let them know of it.

- The Trial of Boot & Shoemakers 
(Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers, U.S.), 1806 .

When we say "Take Our Word For It" we mean it.  But you trusted a site bereft of etymological expertise (or even basic knowledge) over us.  Shame on you!


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Last Updated 02/13/01 11:25 AM