Quickly improves English pronunciation!

  Issue 119, page 4

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Sez You...
From Samuel Cameron:

Gild the lily: this goes back before Shakespeare... and refers to putting gold on church architecture... it used to be gild the rose but this flower was "discovered" to have the wrong type of symbolism and thus was replaced by the more virtuous lily on the church decoration

Unfortunately, while this story sounds interesting, there are no examples of the phrase gild the lily in the written record prior to Shakespeare, who actually wrote "to gild refined gold, to paint the lily; to throw perfume on the violet...".  We don't have record of "gild the lily" until the 1920s.

From Gregory Key:

Thank you for pointing out that you was originally plural only [Issue 117]. This is also a strong argument for the use of they/them/their with a singular sense ("If anyone knows, would they please tell me?"). I feel it is my pedantic obligation, however, to point out that the sort of 17th century pedant who would have objected to the singular use of you would have been unlikely to say "I tell ye." Ye was the nominative form of the pronoun; what we need in this sentence is the object form, you (dative in this case, although you also doubled as an accusative). There is some confusion about this because thou, which looks like you, was nominative, thee being accusative and dative. It's difficult to keep straight, but, as the translators of the King James Bible put it, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Our 17th century pedants would also have frowned on young upstarts who uttered sentences such as, "You shall know the truth..."

Very interesting!

From Keith Redo:

In reading through your history of the word f*ck I was reminded again (this is often a topic of discussion, believe it or not, the etymology of this word, I mean) of a story told to me by a professor of mine in college a few years back. As an English major I studied the history of The English language and learned of the vowel shifts and consonant shifts along the way which brought us to Modern English. Well, the discussion of the word f*ck was a popular one and the professor suggested that maybe the word (after outright refuting the "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" and "Fornication Under the Consent of the King" theories) f*ck simply derived from the word pug, meaning "fight", as in pugilist, and suggested the word had little to do with fornication, but more to do with violence and anger. He suggested the word simply shifted consonants along the way to form fug then eventually the g shifted to the harsher sounding ck sound for added harshness when spoken quickly. Is there any merit to this argument?

Unfortunately, there are no extant forms of f*ck with a p or a g.  The word turns up in its current form in the early Middle English period.  However, some etymologists do connect it with pugilism and pugnacious, because what are thought to be Germanic relative words have an original meaning of "to hit" or "to strike".  While there is an obscure verb pug meaning "to punch" there is no record of it before 1800.  The Indo-European root would be, interestingly, *peuk- "to prick".

From Bruce Yanoshek:

I need my fix!!!

Don't bother to respond to this. I know you are busy doing something important, which is delaying today's issue even more, and answering e-mail would just take more of your time. Just letting you know how important TOWFI is to me.

That was very thoughtful of you.  We received it while Melanie was recuperating from the awful virus that we mentioned in our newsletter a few weeks ago, and while we were still in the midst of unpacking from a trying move to a new house.  Anyhow, we're convinced that your letter, along with those from other supportive readers, sped Melanie on to a full recovery and gave us the energy we needed to get unpacked enough to find our etymology library and finally get a new issue published.  Thanks to you and all of our readers who wrote to wish us well during that difficult time!

From Dan Ward:

Just thought I'd pass this on regarding the whole nine yards.

In my office, we had a debate as to the origin of this phrase. Common thoughts were the concrete answer as well as the ammunition answer. After much review, it was determined that the actual meaning of the phrase the whole nine yards refers to the fact that nine yards of fabric were used in 19th century England to make a three piece suit. This saying has been used in film prior to the advent of concrete as well as WWII.

Thought you'd like to know.

Unfortunately, all that we learned from your letter is that your office is of the opinion that the whole nine yards refers to nine yards of fabric used to make three piece suits in 19th century England.  You've presented us with no proof.  Pure opinion does not an accurate etymology make.  

Moreover, this expression is uniquely American and is quite unknown in Britain.  Also, nine yards is an awful lot of cloth.  How many additional pairs of pants went with this amazing suit?

We'll revisit this one soon (right now there is a very old discussion of the phrase in our Archives).

From Ignatius Lam:

I use to download the whole page, and read them when I have time, and I enjoy reading your magazine. But I found that from 110 issue onwards, I cannot download it, why? Is it your new policy that they will not be allowed to download?

Not at all.  Our back issues are all still available.  Instead of linking to one document containing all five columns of each issue (Spotlight, Words to the Wise, Curmudgeons' Corner, Sez You..., and Laughing Stock), we now link to five separate pages.  The links are now on the right side of each back issue box - see below:

Issue 117

Spotlight Compost
Words to the Wise peter out, Buffalo/Ozarks, imp, sooterkin/zooterkins, lorry
Curmudgeons' Corner Where have all the female words gone?
Letters to the Editors Monday in Japanese, crocs of saffron, I'll give you 40 does for that saddle, Colombian gestures, two cents for a stadia rod, Spanish linguist to the rescue, going to the circus with Kate, more cat skinning
Laughing Stock Don't call, it'll be gone by now

The underlined words on the right are all linked to the applicable page.  You can even click on the example above to test it.  You might remember that in issues before 110, the "Issue X" in the upper left of the box (in this case "Issue 117") was the hyperlink.

From Peter Macinnis:

Surely a juggernaut is an empty vessel? Or am I getting mixed up with the Marie Celeste?

(That from Issue 118.)  That one only works if you're non-rhotic (that is, you don't pronounce your r's before consonants), such as native speakers from much of Great Britain, New Zealand, and your home, Peter, Australia.  Made Mike (the non-rhotic one of us) laugh!

However, as professional smart-alecks, we must point out that "The Marie Celeste" was the title of a short story by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.  The actual vessel on which the story was based was the Mary Celeste.  We can't help wondering which one made the most noise.

From Shawn Gamaldi:

In Issue 118, Words to the Wise, I noticed your discussion of the barrel of a gun. So noted not only because it was a "tube" as you say, but due to its construction, because producing a gun barrel was done by welding strips together (hot metal hammered, as opposed to a torch style welding) and reinforcing the barrel with hoops of metal. Only later did gunsmiths produce machined and rifled barrels. - that's my two cent's worth. Thanks!

Thanks for that information, Shawn.  It was worth every penny!  (Or is that both pennies?)


Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike: melmike@takeourword.com
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Last Updated 08/18/01 06:56 PM