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  Issue 161, page 4

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New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...

From Tony Shapley:

Since I am a Cockney I was interested to see how the name originated (Sez You 159). Now can you take it one stage further and come up with the origin of The Old Dart. Congratulations on an informative and entertaining 'zine'.

Ah, yes, Old Dart.  Most natives of Old Dart probably aren't familiar with the term, because it's an Australian and New Zealand name for "Britain" and especially "England".  No one is exactly sure where the term came from, but Michael Quinion (see our Links page) suggests that dart in this sense is a corruption of dirt, so that Old Dart means "old land" or "mother land" or something along those lines.  It first turns up in the written record in 1892 in Australia.

From Brian Forte:

You wrote:

unique is what is known as an absolute, and absolutes cannot (well, should not!) be qualified.

Of course unique can be qualified. Something that is 'almost unique' is not quite singular but very close to it.  Uniqueness is a binary state (something either is or is not unique) but 'almost unique' serves well as a step along the verbal way from ubiquitous to singular.  If we start at ubiquitous and head along through common, unusual and rare, I don't think its unreasonable for some things to be 'almost unique' (just on the far side of 'vanishingly rare' perhaps) before becoming specifically and identifiably singular.

What should not and, strictly speaking, can not be done is to *intensify* the word. 'Very unique' and 'particularly unique' and other such constructions are the lazy and thoughtless constructions you and Ken Fetti (and I) quite rightly object to.

You are correct, and thank you for that clarification.  We have more than once come across the phrase almost infinite.  Now how would you explain that one away?

From Steve Folkers:

Regarding Spotlight on quarters (TOWFI Issue 160), the original meaning of quarantine being a period of forty days really caught my attention! Might I suggest a connection with the Christian liturgical season of Lent, also a period of forty days? I believe this number is derived from Jesus' fasting in the wilderness for a period of forty days, symbolic of the forty years the Israelites spent in the wilderness with Moses. 

Could the forty-day period of isolation to prevent the spread of disease be related in some way to the forty-day Lenten season of self-denial? Just a guess, but the parallel is intriguing!

Thanks so much for such an excellent Website!

Jesus' period in the desert was known in Medieval Latin as the quarantena. The only connection to the period of medical isolation, as far as we can tell, is that they both lasted forty days.

From Barry Lord:

Please allow this addenda to your column, a higher strata of learning and a stimuli to flex my bicep on the confusion of singular and plural.

In a graffiti we might expect an errata. But, education is no longer a reliable criteria. The phenomena has infected English like a bacteria through an unguarded stomata.

Thatís all. I must save this to a storage media.

Thank you, Barry. Or should we say "thou".

From Joseph Byrd:

Growing up in a Southern family, I recall the frequent use of the word dreckly, which meant "in a while," or "when I get around to it." For example, "I'm going to the store dreckly; do you need anything?" It wasn't until I grew up that I realized that the word was a corruption of directly, which means "immediately." I always assumed this was reflective of a Southern nonchalance, or refusal to be hurried. 

Another fine example of how "now" words tend to soften with time and become "soon" words.  Melanie heard and used directly (pronounced in North Texas as "direckly") in the "in a while" sense, as well.

From Alan Nelson:

Your nameless guestmudgeon who complained about get off, get out, etc., might also check on his use of to no end. If he says "It aggravates me to no end", he appears to mean that his aggravation does no good (that is, to no purpose). What he should be saying is that it aggravates him no end - i.e., without an end to the aggravation.  Thus the common confusion between the phrases gives me a mudgeon (yes, not a word) of my own.

Excellent point. Thank you, Alan.

From Jim Schuler:

I'm glad to see that you did your part to put the nail in the coffin of the theory that woman is in some odd (and often allegedly derogatory) way a derivative of man meaning "male". I thought I'd point out that not only was wifman(n) used for "a woman", but males too were called by a similar word, wermann. The wer part of this word (seen today in werewolf) was directly related through proto-Indo-European (*wirus) to the Latin vir ("male person"), which most of us have seen as part of the compound word triumvirate.

Man, was that fun!

Also related is virile. See our discussion of wer- here.

From Chandra:

The erroneous spelling of a lot as one word is a well-known eyesore to curmudgeons all around the (English-speaking) world. Knowing this, I was dismayed, if not entirely surprised, to read the following in a student's essay: "This way, we understand it alittle more." Alas, I am appalled to say I have since seen the same construction pop up in other contexts.

Dear, oh dear, oh dear!

P.S. I don't know if you were being serious when you asked how many ways that caption [in last week's Laughing Stock] could be read, but I had fun working out these six:

Police right to strike faces debate

1) The police's legal right to strike is facing a debate
2) There is a debate regarding the police's legal right to strike faces
3) There is a debate regarding whether the police were morally right to strike faces
4) The police are morally right in striking the debate on faces
5) The police have a legal right to strike the debate on faces
6) The police are turned to the right in order to strike the debate on faces (? OK- that's stretching it a bit.)

Melanie read these out loud to Mike and he exploded in laughter!

From drtaher:

I just started a subscription to TOWFI 's weekly newsletter.

I am an Indian, who did his entire grad and post-grad studies in the Queen's English, albeit, the text-books of Medicine mostly came from the U.S. of A.  Regardless, I am here to tell you of the terrible confusion that exists among English -speaking Indians: they frequently confuse its with it's all the time.  The same confusion is increasingly seen in leading newspapers like the Times of India.

Another confusion I have often seen is tenure vs. tenor in advertisements of Banks that offer loans to customers.  Even ads. from Foreign banks like Citibank and ANZ have committed these faux-pas` in recent times.  

And finally, I recently saw an ad. for a leading tyre-manufacturing company called MRF, which said: 'Our tires(sic) are value for money!' I invite your comments in all the above examples.

Welcome to TOWFI!  As for its versus it's, we've lamented that common error here before.  For any speakers of English as a second language out there (and any native English speakers who just don't know), it's is a contraction of "it is", while its is the possessive (albeit irregular) form of it.

Tenure versus tenor is only one example of similar words and homophones being confused, and not only by non-native speakers.  Jive and jibeweather and whether, the list goes on.

Regarding the tire advertisement, it is first simply a terrible ad.  The tire versus tyre spelling is, however, the American version and the British version, respectively.

From Dan Tilque:

In Issue 159 (23 May 2002), you say that cotton was unknown in the New World until introduced from Asia. That's incorrect. As the page below points out, cotton is unique among cultivated crops in that it was domesticated in both the Old and New Worlds. in the section titled "History"

Thank you, Dan. It's erudition like yours that keeps us honest!

From Alec Frank:

[Alec got this e-mail and passed it on to us.]

I just got an email that's going around the web (starting with your email address), attributing a list of "Jewish Haikus" to someone named Lisa on the Take Our Word For It website, issue 159, page 5.  If I'm not mistaken, Lisa "forgot" to list the real  source of these haikus... Haikus for Jews; For You, A Little Wisdom, by David M. Bader. It's a very funny book, published by Harmony Books, and available on

Actually, Lisa did not claim authorship when she passed these haikus on to us.  She was simply passing them on as the excellent work of an anonymous poet.  Now the poet is anonymous no longer!

The book in question is now available in our book store.

D.C. Scarpelli also wrote to make us aware of the source of the haikus.  Thanks to all of you!

From Roy S.

Is this use of quarters not derived from court rather than the Latin "one-fourth"?  Strictly a guess on my part, but it seems so very logical.

Well, Roy, we answered your question in the piece that prompted the question, but we'll answer it again here.  No.

(By the way, logic seldom has anything to do with etymology.)

From Bill Hunt:

Perhaps the Curmudgeon is unaware that "aggravate" does not mean "annoy". 

It does, however, mean "exasperate" (and has done since at least 1611).

From Elliott Robinson:

Have you considered bastinado in your research into the origins and derivations of lambaste My informal recollection of bastinado is that the victim is secured face down with the legs bent to a right angle at the knee and likewise secured. The soles of the bare feet are then flogged/beaten with a cane or some other instrument of torture.

It's the only mental image I have that curdles me waim more than "sliding down the razor blade of life"! 

Your recollection is pretty accurate but bastinado  is not related to lambasteBastinado is from the same root as the French word b‚ton, "stick" and is a distorted form of the Spanish bastonada, "beating with a stick".

We assume that by waim you mean "belly" or "abdomen".  If so, we think that you should know that this dialect version of womb is usually spelled wame.


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

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2002 TIERE
Last Updated 09/12/02 04:19 PM