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  Issue 165, page 4

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From Steve Folkers:

The use of the spoonerism "one swell foop" reminded me of the story related by Dave Allen on his TV show. According to him, the Oxford warden's famous quote came out as, "Let us glaze our asses to the queer old dean," whereas he meant to say, "Let us raise our glasses to the dear old queen." One wonders whether the source you quote in your etymological glossary ("Let us drink...") is the original or whether earlier generations edited Spooner's comment in order to make it more acceptable to the general readership? 

Thanks again and always for such an excellent site!

Frankly, most of the spoonerisms attributed to Rev. W. A. Spooner (1844-1930) were probably embellished or even invented by his students.  At least that's what some authorities say.

From Sparky Gregory:

In Issue 164 guest curmudgeon David Goodall writes:

Perhaps the perpetrators of this form of abusage should be lined up and quite literally shot?

Careful! That punishment might also be meted out to one who perpetrates this form of abuse.

Well, we probably shouldn't shoot him for that.  How about just a friendly nudge?  Abusage is an obsolete word (meaning that it was used at one time, namely the 16th and 17th centuries) but it was given new life by Eric Partridge in Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English back in 1942.  

From Tim Epstein:

I offer some feedback on the use of the word literally. Until I was approximately 30 years old, my understanding of the definition of literally was as an emphasis of the word almost. It came as quite a shock to discover that the formal definition is closer to actually. Following this realisation, I surveyed several of my friends and colleagues on their understanding of the definition of this word. The majority of them concurred with my original understanding of almost. For example, I would often hear the expression that was literally a close shave, to emphasise the fact that someone had escaped from peril; not that they had nicks on their chin! 

As language is dynamic, and judgment of a valid definition of a word is based on its common usage, I would argue that my understanding and usage of the word literally should be formally accepted as at least a derivate definition, and certainly not criticised as incorrect usage. This would quite literally be an acceptance of my  argument.

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage says that literally has meant "that the accompanying word or phrase must be taken in the literal sense" since the 16th century.  However, as is often the case with words denoting degree, it has been weakened over the centuries so that, by the 19th century, it was being used to convey "that some conventional or hypothetical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense" (this from the OED of 1903).  Fowler advises that we "'stop, look and think' before using the word in any manner short of its exact sense." 

From John Arlidge:

Thought you may be interested in our newsletter, this edition of which shows how Australian bureaucrats are doing their bit to screw up the English language.

Sadly amusing!  Thanks, John.

Do you enjoy reading Take Our Word For It?  Give us a small token of your appreciation and help keep the site running by making a donation.  It's easy, and you can pay via credit card.  To donate, just click the button.

From Roger Whitehead:

Yet another fascinating issue. Well done.

This week you say: 'The literal Spanish meaning of aficionado is amateur...' Given the shift in meaning of amateur, it might be worth pointing out that you were using it in its original sense, not as meaning unprofessional.

"David Goodall quite literally detests the abuse of quite literally." Quite right, too. The British TV coverage of the recent Tour de France had one of the commentators insisting at intervals that "The peloton* literally exploded." Quelle horreur!

*As you probably know, peloton is, among other things, the French equivalent to a small group or platoon (and is cognate with "Pelota", the Basque ball game). The pack in the Tour de France can be over a hundred strong on occasions - some platoon.

I know this mainly because one of our set books in school was Poilu Peloton, the adventures of an accident-prone foot soldier in 1920s? France. Poilu is French slang for a common soldier and means "hairy" or "unshaven". No chocolate soldier, this one!

In the U.S. amateur does still mean "not professional" (versus "unprofessional").

Peloton is also cognate with Spanish pelota "ball".  Apparently the sense is one of a "ball" of people (who may or may not be having a ball).

Thanks for the kind words.

From Ian Rowlands:

I am still enjoying your great site. Also a word of advice to Pat Salsbury, next time he jams a truck under a bridge he shouldn't call for help, just "unswell" the tyres and back out.

Actually, the writer of that piece (last week's Laughing Stock) was comedian Bill Engvall.  We've given him proper credit in the column.  Thanks to the readers who made us aware of the source of that material.  That is one problem with funny stuff that we receive from readers: often the source has been lost (if it was ever included).

From Michael Cline:

In regards to flat tires, when someone walks up as I'm changing tires and says" have a flat?", I always, I rotate my tires every 2000 miles no matter where I am!!!"

Good answer!

From Dr. Taher Kagalwala:

I wouldn't have mailed you but for the fact that threw up Cashion (a town in USA ), kishion (hardness or soreness ) and just shion , but the last one doesn't end in -shion, so we can exclude that!  BTW, keep up the effort.  I joined three months ago, and love you both for this !

[Dr. Kagalwala is referring to a quiz we included in last week's e-mail newsletter.]  We are glad you are enjoying the newsletter and the webzine!

From Roger Whitehead:

There are three words (at least) in English that *contain the letter sequence -shion

I've cheated, since I have the CD of OED2:
- cushion (and variants)
- fashion (and variants)
- parishioner (and variants)
- hushion - a footless stocking.

Leaving out aberrant spellings (e.g. punshion for puncheon), that seems to be the lot!

And Roger excerpted the quiz for our convenience.  Thanks, Roger.  The words we were looking for, in addition to cushion, were fashion and parishioner.

From Janice Pizzolorusso:

The Bessie Smith song is, "Gimme a Pig Foot and a Bottle of Beer."  Thanks for a great magazine.

Thanks for the correct title! [This refers to a letter in last week's Sez You...]

From Dave Barkley:

I really enjoyed you web site. (I love word studies.) I "stumbled" across it while searching for information on Computer history.

I traced a link on your 05/16/02 Issue 156 page about doughnuts to  Krispy Kreme (THE VERY BEST DOUGHNUTS BY FAR - Hot of course) and noted a trivia note from their site that gave the history of the word doughnut as follows:

Doughnuts trace their history to Dutch "fried cakes" which were brought to America by early Dutch settlers. The cakes had nuts embedded in their centers, and early Americans combined "dough" and "nut" to make the word "doughnut".

Don't know who the expert is in the etymology department but they are certainly the experts on making doughnuts.

Just passing the word along... happy eating!

We would need something more than Krispy Kreme's word to accept that explanation.  But we need nothing to accept their doughnuts - they are the best we've had in a very long time!  (Again, Shipley's in Houston, Texas, still makes the very best.)  We would certainly not turn down a Krispy Kreme gift certificate if anyone wanted to "help" TOWFI in some way...hehehe.  


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

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Last Updated 08/09/02 11:01 PM