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  Issue 154, page 4

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From Vic Spivey:

Your Spotlight about "apples" mentions love-apple as a name for both the tomato and the fruit of the tree of knowledge mentioned in Genesis. Is there a connection?

Many old maps of the world placed the Garden of Eden in a remote part of Asia.  After all, who was going to check?  

Well, Christopher Columbus, for one.  He was so convinced that the New World was the really, really, old world that he took along translators of Hebrew and ancient Chaldean.  When they reached the mouth of the Orinoco, Chris and his crew believed that they had found one the four rivers which flow out of Eden.  At this point they seemed to have remembered the story of the angel with a fiery sword and they turned back lest they be smitten.

So, imagine yourself as a pious Christian in the 1500s.  You are offered a shiny red fruit which comes from the newly discovered lands near Eden.  It is extremely expensive but, like most new and expensive foods, it is rumored to be aphrodisiac. Well, what would you think?

From Linda Echols:

A few years ago I read an article in American Horticulturist magazine that when tomatoes first appeared in Europe, they were not considered edible. The reason for this was speculated to be that the tomato is in the same family (solanum) as the poisonous plant commonly called nightshade and apparently is similar in appearance. This may have something to do with the names you mentioned such as mad apple, etc.

It is true that tomatoes are members of the Solanaceae and that this accounts for some of the 19th century fear of eating the fruit.  The names mad apple and love apple date from long before the family resemblance was recognized, however.

For previous discussion of this subject see Issues 39 and 90.

From Roger Whitehead:

In your latest, you say: "As for Ramsbottom's derivation, it either means "valley of the rams" or "valley where wild garlic grows" (the Old English word for "ram" was similar to that for "wild garlic").  No one is completely sure which one it was."

The old (and modern) British name for wild garlic - Allium ursinum - is ramsons, which supports the latter explanation of Ramsbottom.  According to Geoffrey Grigson, in The Englishman's Flora, it applies there and in Ramsey ("ramson island").

Alternative "ram" names for the plant are ramps (Scotland), Rams (and in Danish, German, Norwegian and Swedish), ramslök (Sweden = ram's leek), ramsden, ramsey, ram's horns, rommy and roms. There are also versions and cognates in other languages, including Gaelic, German (24 variants) and Russian, but you get the idea!

Ramsons derives from the OE hramsa or hramse, of which the plural is hramsan. Ramsons is thus the plural of a plural. There are references to ramson (singular) in OED2 dating from 1000 CE and to rams (the plant) from 700 CE.  

Regards, Roger 
(whose great-great-grandparents include a Ramsden and a Ramsdale).

Ah, yes, we do love Grigson's book.  Thanks for that detailed discussion of English wild garlic!

From Carol Cool:

Hey, you didn't mention my favorite Lancaster County, Pa., "apple" term, which is road apples, courtesy of the horses pulling the Amish buggies. They even make chocolate treats that resemble road apples (along with flatter ones called "cow pies.")

Yes, that is a curious American euphemism for "horse dung in the road" that is not restricted to Pennsylvania.

By the way, we find the notion of chocolate road apples quite unappealing!  Eeeeeeew!

From Gavin Wraith:

You say "...called scouse, which is short for lobscouse. The latter is of unknown origin" on page4.html.  In Denmark you may often find skipperlabskovs on the menu in a restaurant or in a kro. I do not know whether that is any help. 

From Sion Arrowsmith:

You say (Sez You... 153) that the origin of lobscouse is unknown, but the Norwegian lapskaus and Swedish lapskjos would suggest a Scandanavian origin.

While in Liverpool lobscouse became scouse, just down the road in North Staffordshire it became lobby.

Yes, a Scandinavian source is likely, but beyond that the word's origin is still unknown.

From Carol:

Just to add to the general erudition regarding Scousers (being one, I think I qualify as a reasonable source) scouse (or lobscouse as you correctly named it) is a meat stew, and blind scouse is a vegetarian variation, not as a result of morality but of poverty!  Love the site, thanks.

Delightful, thank you!

 From Travis of the Columbia University Alumni:

I was happy to read the Curmudgeons' Corner entry on the use of alumni when alumnus/a would be more accurate. I was similarly confused when I saw a license plate holder with "Penn State Alumni," implying that the car was owned by two people, both of whom went to Penn State.

After consideration, however, I discovered a new explanation. Instead of thinking of "Penn State Alumni" as a label, I think of it as an advertisement. That is, it is trying to say, "I support Penn State Alumni". Using the singular would make about as much sense as a t-shirt that says "New York Yankee".

Yes, several people wrote to suggest this.  All right, we're going to start looking for a bumper sticker or  license plate frame that says "I'm a John Doe University Alumni".  No explanation will make that correct!  The first reader to send us a good, untouched picture of such might just get picked for Laughing Stock and win a gift certificate to! 

From Larry Trask, University of Sussex:

The attempt to introduce classical plurals into English is a failure.  Only a handful of English-speakers ever master pairs like phenomenon / phenomena and bacterium / bacteria. Most speakers never get the hang of these unnatural forms, and, if they conclude anything at all, they most often conclude that the shorter form is the singular: hence "a new bacteria", "this criteria", and of course "an alumni". Even when the shorter form really is the singular, the plural form may be far more frequent in use, and this may be the only form known to many speakers, who therefore wind up writing "an algae" and the like. Frequency probably plays a part in "an alumni", since "alumni" is much more frequent than "alumnus".

Once upon a time, high-school students were drilled in these mysterious plurals, but that seldom happens today, and anyway there are not so many high-school teachers who fully understand these forms themselves. 

But here in the States, the alumni references almost always pertain to universities, and the authorities at universities should know better.

From Larry Blim:

Last week's "Sez You" has this exchange:

>From Richard Regan: 

Isn't a berliner a pastry? Making JFK's remark an unintended joke?

Indeed! We knew most of our erudite readers would understand why we chose that particular image (of John F. Kennedy's speech notes in Issue 152's Spotlight), and so we did not offer an explanation. Yes, that part of JFK's speech did translate as something like "I am a jelly doughnut"! 

This would make an amusing joke for the "cognoscenti" if it were true, but sadly for them, it's not.'s Urban Legends guide David Emory and a professional German linguist agree that there was no translational gaff on JFK's part and that he spoke semantically correct and unambiguous German in that famous quote.

You guys really ought to check these things out a bit more thoroughly before you post them. If it sounds too good to be true...

Just take a look at JFK's hand-written notes! Someone who is fluent in semantically correct and unambiguous German would not need to write "Ish bin ein bareleener".

The only proof we need that the German phrase does indeed mean "I am a jelly doughnut" is that we were told so by our friend Horst.  Now, Horst is from the Black Forest and has a pretty unsophisticated sense of humor but the idea of the "leader of the free world" announcing solemnly that he was a kind of pastry was pretty damned funny to him and his family and friends.

On top of that, the article you quote admits that the phrase means "I am a jelly doughnut".

We're afraid that the author of the article could not possibly know what every German thought or how every German interpreted Kennedy's words.  We invite our native German-speaking readers to comment on this issue.  And you, young man, should go to your room for trying to be such a smarty pants! 

From Julio Comello:

Just responding to an article about irony, and how no one knows what it means anymore (Issue 118, page 3).  This is also a pet peeve of mine: I've audited a number of high school English classes, and when the teacher asks "What is irony?" invariably some teenaged girl stands up and quotes from the Alanis Morissette song "It's like rain on your wedding day."

What is most annoying about this is that in many cultures, this is completely false. In my native Italian, there is a saying "Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata" which translates to "wet bride, fortunate bride" - rain on your wedding day is a symbol of good fortune.

Kudos on your website!

Fascinating!  Thanks, Julio.

From Erica Hruby:

You mention in last week's column that

Consider, for instance, the branch which took it from Arabic badinjan, through Portuguese bringella, back to India to become the Anglo-Indian brinjalle. As brinjal this word is still used in India. 

Brinjal is also used in South Africa to refer to the eggplant. It took me a while to figure this one out on restaurant menus when I visited.

From Hanna Szoke:

Oddly enough, the Hebrew is not at all related to the Arabic badinjan ... instead, it is hatsil (het-tsadik-lamed) or more usually, the plural hatsilim. Who knows?

It looks like we've almost run the gamut on eggplant words.  Thanks everyone!


Or read last week's issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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Last Updated 06/22/02 05:31 PM