From Ben Synnock:
Just read Mark Lindsay's
contribution to the Curmudgeon's Corner regarding Palindromes from a few weeks ago. It
occurred to me that Monty Python's Dead Parrot Sketch is to blame for this one : "the palindrome of Bolton would be
You may be interested to know that St. George is also the patron saint of Lubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. I would recommend a visit if you are ever in that part of the world - great architecture, including an impressive dragon bridge.
While Monty Python may not
actually be to blame for the misuse of the word palindrome, they
certainly give evidence that the misuse is nothing very new!
From Rashid Yaman:
Just thought I'd mention, you said this week, "There's also Singapore (Sanskrit singha-pur-, "city of the lion" )." You're right about Singapore coming from the Sanskrit, but it was probably named by Malay speakers rather than Thai speakers. The story goes that a Sumatran prince thought he saw a lion there once. Strangely people believed him!
Keep up the good work.
Sorry that we seemed to be suggesting that Singapore
comes from Thai. We were simply mentioning it as an example of the -pur
ending in placenames. Thanks for the clarification!
From Jeremy Engel:
Regarding Jack Cook's guestmudgeon article in
Issue 168: could the
National Review Online's use of tact instead of tack be influenced by the word
Indeed! By the way, we
actually saw the local newspaper (San Jose Mercury News) use tack
correctly instead of tact - good job, Merc!
From Dan Schechner:
Years ago in a business meeting, I heard a marketing director solicit suggestions for a program that would
incent the employees of his bank. My dictionary presents incentive as an adjective and a noun, but the use of this awkward pseudo-verb appears to have no justification. As a lover of language, I was incensed.
I hear the pseudo-verb incent around me with alarming frequency. For example, a colleague in sales talking about taking a different position within the company said: "I've been thinking about taking that position, but it's my understanding that they are not incented in the same way as I am now."
Ack indeed! (That one's NOT
in the OED at all!)
From Steve Whitelaw:
Re Dan Schechner's use of Kleenices: I think that nifty neologism was coined
by Shelley Berman in the late 1950s or early 1960s, on his album "Inside Shelley Berman". He also suggested that the plural of
stewardess should be stewardi.
Yes, we would be silly to think that no one else
had come up with Kleenices until recently.
From Gordon Brown:
Dan Schechner comments about the mistaken singular form
vertice in Sez You in Issue 168. From a different source language,
tamales is often the victim of mistaken singularization. Spanish speakers know that the singular is
tamal, but most English speakers don't. True, dictionaries of English seem to accept
tamale, but its origin in English is from a mistaken back-formation.
Dan also reports his delight in forming Kleenices from Kleenex. I have also amused myself with that, and worse: when reminding myself to pick up several prescriptions, I pluralize Rx as Rces. I might keep going if you don't stop me. I like to refer to a female cantor in a church as a cantrix (though who knows -- that might once have been in currency), and if several such ladies are leading the music in a service, wouldn't they be
Good one with tamales.
Spanish nouns that end in a consonant are pluralized with -es, not -s.
We love hearing about
readers' pedantries; they rival our own!
From Paul Pferdner:
This joke (last
week's Laughing Stock) is so old it has whiskers, as evidenced by its extremely dated
stereotype of gay men.
You have perhaps heard of the Canadian beer commercial that denounces
stereotypes of Canadians. We have a similar commercial here in California
decrying stereotypes of Californians. Perhaps it would be enlightening for
the big wide world to see a piece with faces of real gay men who don't swish
or use words like trazy-poo(!)
This is too tired to be offensive, but it is disappointing.
Otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln, just love your site.
Thanks for the
wake-up call, Paul.
From Gary L. Bertrand:
I think the development of bad in place of
good or cool is a bit more substantial than a meaning changing over time. I
first remember hearing bad in the sense of "cool" used to describe
clothes in the early 60's in New Orleans - a "bad hat" being the earliest
usage I remember. Growing up in the South, our "good" clothes were usually
our "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes, which made them doubly "good". Later,
we also had "good" clothes for Saturday nights which may have been as fine
as those for Sunday, but certainly not as "good". It's fairly easy to see
how these could be called "bad" clothes. The major emphasis arose from the
fancy clothes worn by those profiting from the "bad" enterprises of gambling, prostitution, and drugs. "Zoot Suits", which were certainly
fine but the target of anti-Mexican rioting in Los Angeles in 1943 <http://www.losangelesalmanac.com/topics/History/hi07t.htm> , are an early
example of "bad" clothes though I never heard them called that.
You are correct, bad coming to mean "good" is
complicated, and we oversimplified it. Thanks for keeping us honest!
From Harry Coleman:
A long, long time ago my Scots mother, with bated breath, told me of the Laird at his feasting table loudly demanding
"Who called the piper a bastard?"
and a wee voice from the hall muttered,
"Who called the bastard a piper?"
An old one but a good one!
From Roger Whitehead:
You say: "Indeed, disconcertion is in the OED... but the word hasn't appeared
in print since 1881."
I think you misunderstand the basis upon which the OED's illustrative
quotations are selected. Only in the case of obsolete words does the quotation
contain the last known instance of its use. "Disconcertion" is not marked as
obsolete, therefore the 1881 quotation is the *earliest* known use of it in
that sense. This principle holds true for all current word-sense combinations.
There is also the general point that, even if it were the latest quotation
known to the OED's compilers, this is not the same as saying the word hasn't
appeared in print anywhere since 1881. They're good but they're not all-knowing!
We were, indeed, entirely too hasty in our response re disconcertion.
We misread the OED entry for the word and apparently confused it with disconfident,
which we were using in an illustrative sense. Disconfident is
obsolete. The OED does not label disconcertion obsolete, and
so the last quotation using the word, from 1881, is not the last time the
word was used in print; it is simply the last quotation using the word in that
particular sense that was listed in the first edition of the OED. [Thanks
also to Richard Hershberger for pointing out the error of our ways.]
I was surprised to learn that Melanie had a degree in weather forecasting.
In the course of her education, I was wondering if she had ever heard this:
Question: What is the true function of weather forecasters?
Answer: They are there to make the economic forecasters look good.
Some time ago a letter you published suggested that
you include an anti-curmudgeon page. I think that you should. Your site does a superb job of showing its
readers word histories, using research and a healthy skepticism. Unfortunately, the curmudgeons'
page works to undo this. In the spirit of putting my keyboard where my mouth is, I
would be happy to contribute to this project.
We really started Curmudgeons' Corner as a
bit of fun, but if you, readers, would like to see an Anti-Curmudgeons'
Corner (maybe we'd call its host Aunty Curmudgeon), let
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read last week's issue to see what all
of these people are talking about!