Oh, your Spotlight essay brought back fond childhood memories of hours spent perusing the dictionary at my Memere & Grampy's house during my week-long summer "sleepover". Besides being attracted by the book's impressive heft and its glittering gold-edged pages, I also simply loved words and word-play (and still do - hence my devotion to your excellent, entertaining website!), following in the footsteps of my radio-journalist father, who was always ready with a quip or ditty. (My sister, Donna Richardson, has mentioned him in your pages before, as the author of "Oh, Rosemarie, you dingy-bat . . .").
From John Arlidge:
Our Shakespeare group came across the word
cockney in Twelfth Night, which, the Shorter OED indicated, was probably used in its "malformed egg" context. The dictionary also suggested that it was around Shakespeare's time that the word took on the sense of one born within earshot of London's Bow Bells but it did not tell us why this transformation took place. "No problems," said I. "It is sure to be on the TOWFI site. I shall report back..." ("For it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass." - Bill) But alas. Your Volume 4 goes over the above ground but fails to explain how those loud, irreverent inhabitants of the Old Dart earned their ancient sobriquet. Can you help?
Incidentally, the excellent site
www.shakespeare.com allows a global searches of what it calls the "First Web Folio Edition". Through it, I discovered by chance that although the word "vintage" was coined around 1450, the Bard, apparently, never used it. Now isn't that an amazing bit of trivia?
Around the time that the term Cockney
came to be used to apply to people born in the vicinity of Bow Bells, the City
of London was of a size that allowed Bow Bells to be heard throughout.
(Today, of course, the City of London is a small borough surrounded by the rest
of Greater London.) People who lived in the City back when Cockney
was first used to apply to them were considered by non-city dwellers to be
"pampered" or "spoiled" and were to be treated with
(metaphoric) deference, much as something as rare as a cock's egg would be.
From Liz Alewine:
If ever you are in the DFW area again, at Coit and Campbell there is a small
doughnut shop run by two utterly delightful Korean ladies (perhaps sisters?), Golden Star
Doughnuts - the
doughnuts there are lovely. Nicer than Krispy Kremes (not overly sweet), but rival Shipley's for sure.
[We get some great surnames here
at TOWFI - love yours, Liz!] Free advertising for the Golden Star
Doughnuts sisters! (Next time we're in Dallas we'll try to remember to
check them out!)
From Lange Winckler:
Robert McCloskey's marvelous book, "Homer Price," is a delightful excursion
into the magic of doughnuts. Granted, the book is not about doughnuts, but anyone who has read that splendid book (and I do not believe for one moment
that it a children's book!) will forever have a loving place for a machine that makes the puffed pastries.
Yummm ..... and by the way,
Winchell's on Glenoaks Road in Burbank, CA, is a candidate for the doughnut hall of
But since you asked, would you or TOWFI
readers care to comment on the variety of names for various kinds of doughnuts? My contribution: In California, and other areas including
Tampa, Florida, a coiled bun in which cinnamon flavoring is layered, then deep-fried as a doughnut and coated with glaze is known as a "cinnamon
roll." In Omaha, Nebraska, the same things is called a "fried cinnamon
Eeeew, we could be here for years
collecting various doughnut names from across the country (or English-speaking
world!). Long johns, fritters, cinnamon twists, crullers... the list is
From Chandra McCann:
Regarding Roger Whitehead's letter about the use of the word
actually, it seems to me that this usage is very likely related somehow to the French
actuellement. The words actuel and actuellement in French mean, respectively, present (or modern) and presently. So the question,
"Que faites-vous actuellement?" translates as "What are you presently doing?"
Webster's gives one definition of
actual as: "existing now; present; current" (although it has no equivalent definition for
actually). This seems to also show the connection with the French word.
Possible, but difficult to trace. We have
seen actually used as a "noise word" in other constructions,
as well, so we are inclined not to be as generous as you, Chandra!
I was wondering about the etymology of the word
actual. In French, the word actuellement means "currently" or
"recently". When someone asks a question like "What do you do, actually?" is it possible that some of this meaning could be implied? As far as other time limiting queries go, when someone poses somewhat wordy questions such as "So, what can I do for you now?" "Now, how are you today?" etc, I believe that it has something to do with clarity and humbleness.
In Japanese, there is a complex system of formality called keigo, in which certain expressions and speech patterns are used to soften the interaction and express humility or deference. English also uses similar techniques, although there is no standard instruction in said vocabulary. We are given a couple of phrases, "Please" and "Thank you," and sent along to be nice little children, but we are never truly educated in the nuances of politeness. These interjections and redundancies are perhaps attempts at filling the void where politeness is due.
Yes, "How are you
today?" is an excellent example of what we call a noise word: today
in that sense is completely unnecessary, but it is inserted for politeness or
the like. That's exactly what we think actually is, in this
From William M.
Hi -- love your webzine!
One of the items in Issue 158's "Laughing Stock" was familiar to me. I recall reading the "defective/detective ... force/farce" quote a
number of years ago. I'm pretty sure it is a composed joke rather than an actual pair of typographical errors.
To check that out, I Googled for the key words and found 716 references, nearly all of which were to some version of this story.
The name of the "defective/detective" and that of the newspaper in which the item purportedly appeared varied pretty widely. I only
surveyed a small portion of the hits and found "Arnold Dogbody," "Mr. Smith," "Oscar Hoffnagle," "Fred Holme," "Mr.
Smithers," "Duane Fletchall," "John Jones," "Officer Keynes," "Sean O'Reilly,"
and "Michael Moriarty" (in addition to "Fred Nicolme," as you reported). The newspaper to which the mistake was attributed was
often not very specific ("a small-town newspaper" or "a newspaper in New Zealand"), but the ones specifically cited included "Canton
Repository," "Ely Standard," "Bradworthy News," and the "Embassy of Heaven Midnight Rider" newsletter (as well as "The
Derby Abbey Community News"). One of the sites referred to the 1972 book
The Reader's Digest Treasury of American Humor.
I suppose it's possible that this error might actually have been made
somewhere with the details and attribution becoming blurred as it was repeated over and over from fallible memory, but actually
tracking down its origin is probably hopeless and certainly beyond the effort I can put into researching it. I think it's pretty clearly in
the "urban legend" category now. (That doesn't make it less funny!
From Brad Daniels:
I would be interested in an accurate definition of the anatomical
"chode". I believe it's a variant form of "chodo"/"choda"/"choder", which definitely
refers to some aspect of the male anatomy, though I'm not certain exactly
which. I've heard the word spoken where the general context was clear, but
never seen it written. The Matt Stone/Trey Parker film "Orgazmo" features a
porn super-hero whose sidekick is named "Choda Boy". Choda Boy's costume
includes a hat crowned by a large rubber phallus, apparently intended to be
emblematic of his name. It may be one of those terms, though, that doesn't
really have an exact definition, but whose general meaning is understood
from context. (I can't think of any other examples of such words at the
moment, but I know I've run into a number of ill-defined newly-coined slang
terms over the years.)
"Queef" is a bit less ambiguous, having been explicitly defined in at least
one movie (either "Chasing Amy" or "Clerks", I believe). I suspect you know
what it means.
If we can find some sound
etymological information on these sexual slang terms, we will include them
in our Sexual Slang page. The consensus seems
to be that a synonym for this meaning of chode is
"perineum" (choad is what we discussed last issue, a
different word). As for queef, we could define it here and
attempt to sound clinical, but we'd fail miserably and offend too many
readers, so we'll wait and see if we can get enough information on its
origin to include it in the sexual slang page.
to all who wrote regarding these words!
From Joseph Ruckman:
I have recently discovered your page, and find it delightful! However, I
take exception to your "Etymology of Some
Obscenities." Foul language (at least foul English language) comes in basically three forms: cursing,
swearing (oaths) and obscenities. Damn is not in fact an obscenity, but a
curse. Curses are words or expressions which call down some form of punishment (usually divine) upon the offending person or object. "To Hell
with it" is another example.
The other two words you mention on that page (which I will not repeat here)
are obscenities. Obscenities usually relate to some form of body part or
function, or some act considered extremely gross. I should note that the
all-too-common "F- you" is an interesting combination of a curse using an
Finally, there is swearing (the noun for which is an oath), which I don't
hear much these days, save for the routine of taking office or taking the
stand in a trial. I do hear the occasional use of the expression "I swear
to God," or even more rarely, "by God," but not much these days - they've
been supplanted by cursing and obscenities. Anyway, swearing is a strong
affirmation invoking a higher power (usually God), but it could also be something along the lines of "by Heaven" or even the charming oaths used by
the fictional pirate Long John Silver, "by the powers," or "by thunder."
You are entirely
correct. We simply included all potentially offensive words (that
weren't necessarily sexual slang) on that page. We'll change the
heading to something like "Obscenities, curses, etc."
Thanks for the nudge!
PREVIOUS | NEXT
read last week's issue to see what all of
these people are talking about!