Quickly improves English pronunciation!

  Issue 127, page 4

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From Gene Wilkes:

Talking about the egg plant, you made mention of it being called aubergine, and gave reasons. You hinted at it being called melongene as well, but not quite, when you gave the Italian derivation melanzane from mala insana, "mad apple". Here in the Caribbean we mostly call it melongene, (pronounced "melonjen") and some of us (those of East Indian origin) call it baigan (pronounced "by gan"). Could that be from the Persian badenjan which you also mention? Here in Trinidad & Tobago we have a cosmopolitan population and our version of English is influenced by Spanish, French, Hindi Bojpuri, some West African and Amerindian dialects, as well as smatterings of Scottish, Irish, Dutch and recently North American influences.  Just thought I'd add something to the pot :-) I look forward to your great website each week. Keep it up !

The Hindi word(s) are baingan, brijal, and brinjal.  So you can see where the East Indian inhabitants of Trinidad & Tobago get their word.   Thanks for that information, Gene!

From Sabina Calhoun:

I am a huge fan, and I only just found your site today! I foresee a weekly addiction. About eggplant, I am not sure if this is a chicken and egg type of thing, but my German grandmother, who came from Luebeck in the far North, referred to fruit not as Auberginen, as it was called in Bavaria, but as Eierpflanzen, or "eggplant". So it might not just be an American term.

Very interesting.  We wonder how likely it might be that the German influenced the American English.

From Anthony Stevens:

You wrote that the 'other side of the coin is an error that occurs with would, as in "Would you hand me that pencil?" A question is being asked here, and a question mark is proper, though many people use only a period, even in business letters and other formal writing!' 

I would have understood this to be a question only in a rhetorical sense. Wouldn't it be more accurately described as an imperative statement ("hand me that pencil") which has been modified for the sake of 'face work', by the use of what Robin Lakoff called an 'indirect polite form'? 

After all, if you genuinely understood that sentence to be a question rather than a polite command, the only logical answer could be "Yes (or No), I will (not)" without having answered the substance of the communication. Oh, yes, of course - that's what pernickety old curmudgeons do for a sport, isn't it! Isn't it?

Keep up the wonderful site, won't you (and is that a question?)

From Brian Futch:

I've always had issues with the "would" question/statement as well. But, just as an FYI, I was in a court reporting training program for a while where we were succinctly and unequivocally instructed "would" takes a period- it's a command, not a question. This from teachers, reporters, even the national association.

A curmudgeons' work is never done, I suppose!

Well, Anthony, when someone says, "Would you do x?", if we are willing and able, we respond, "Sure!", otherwise we say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't." (A true curmudgeon would answer "Yes, I would" without carrying out the action.)

We were unable to get Fowler's expertise on that issue as he does not seem to address it.  However, the new Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, which contains copious usage notes, uses a question mark in the instances we describe.  We stand firm, and we disagree with the position of the national association of court reporters, et al, Brian.  Hey, if the President can screw up English, certainly a national association can make mistakes, as well.

From Dick Timberlake:

Did the ineffable Texan LBJ (former President Lyndon B. Johnson) pronounce "American Heritage" as "merkin haired itch"?

Either that, or "merkin hair tidge".  

Actually, he didn't really tend to drop syllables as much as his Texan successor, George "Dubya" Bush.  And, for those of you who've been asking about the "Dubya", it is the Texan pronunciation of the letter "W", which stands for Mr. Bush's middle name. (Which is...? (We're too busy to look it up!))

From LaVona Sherarts:

Thank you for making it easier for me to read you pages. Yah Yah, I am a Mac owner. Keep up the good work.

Glad to hear that the alternative Mac page works for you.  For other Mac users out there who are not aware of it, that page is at http://www.takeourword.com/indexmac.html.  If our regular home page causes you and your Mac problems, the special Mac page should work just fine.

From Jack Cook:

"A century earlier, merkin signified a... well... [ahem] an anatomical replica in which lonely men found consolation."

I am curious if you have also seen the term fifi in your research. In prisons, jails, and juvenile camps, the fifi is a... well...[ahem] merkin. These are most ingeniously constructed of available found materials and used to satisfy those primal urges. They are usually constructed of cotton socks and plastic wrap or rubber gloves. I have, however, seen more elaborate versions made of a wide variety of materials. 

When I first worked in the juvenile camps, an old hand once explained to me that the term fifi to describe such a device came to the United States with the returning troops from World War I (The Great War, to you). Apparently, French prostitutes often used assumed or professional names and one of the most popular names at the time was Fifi.  Trench warfare and "hunger, not of the belly kind, that's banished with bacon and beans" led to the creation of merkins in abundance. The term caught on in penal institutions and is used widely today. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the etymology, but I thought I would pass it on to you.

Actually, we haven't seen the term fifi used in that sense and didn't find it in the usual slang resources.  Great work, Jack!

From Emmanuel C. Brown:

[Regarding our discussion of "Ollie ollie oxen free" in Issue 87] Any chance that it was originally "All-y-All-y-Outs-in-Free"?

My great-grandmother corrected me when I was a little boy and she overheard us playing "Kick the Can". She said it means that all who are still out - not caught by the one who is "it" - are free to come in.

I am 87, almost 88. I was about 7 when she told me that, and she was about 87 at the time. So this is a personal history going back over 150 years.

While the evidence seems to indicate that "all the outs in free" is actually a more modern interpretation of ollie ollie oxen free, it is interesting to see that this reading is at least 150 years old.   Also, it's amazing for us to receive first-hand etymological information like this which reaches back so far.  Thanks for that information, Emmanuel!


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Last Updated 08/18/01 06:44 PM