Issue 169, page 4

Search Home FAQ Links Site map Book Store


New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...

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 Notlob".

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.

Great site.

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 tactic?

Indeed!  By the way, we actually saw the local newspaper (San Jose Mercury News) use tack correctly instead of tact  - good job, Merc!

From Catherine Meredyk:

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.

Ack indeed! (That one's NOT in the OED at all!)

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 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 cantrices?

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 <> , 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.]

From Qaz:

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.

Nyuk nyuk!

From Richard Hershberger:

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 us know.


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

Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike:
Copyright 1995-
2002 TIERE
Last Updated 09/08/02 09:00 PM