Issue 170, page 4

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New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...

From Sheila Doles:

Really appreciate the info on the word nee. Would have placed the accent as you did, but I don't have the font capability in my email.

I can see you guys becoming an extremely valuable resource - a responsive one [:-)]   Thanks again!

We would have hoped we were already a valuable resource and not merely one for the future! <wink wink>

From Dick Timberlake:

Anybody with a bit of education in linguistics knows that language constantly changes. "Language is conventional, not logical" was a favorite expression of a professor of mine. The rules of correct "grammar" many of us learned in school are really rules of usage that somebody made up.

But just because language changes doesn't mean we have to like what the changes are. There are many neologisms that just make me cringe, even though they may just be typical linguistic evolution. Curmudgeons' Corner is fun, and a good way to let off steam about the things we love to hate. We don't need an anti-curmudgeon page - that's what the rest of your site is.

Thanks, Dick!

From David Greenstein:

In case you do start this feature, I can contribute one felicitous use of language from a student essay I received years ago in Tanzania. He wrote, "if any small animal sees a lion, it immediately nimbles away." 

Nimble is indeed a verb (to move nimbly), but it is now considered rare. Bravo to your student, however!  Was it a logical formation in his mind or was he familiar with the "rare" word, we wonder.

From Erica Beth Hruby:

I am in full support of an Aunty Curmudgeon column! In fact, I would love to contribute. As a working editor with a degree in Linguistics, I find myself having to defend my speech on a daily basis. My motto is: spoken language and written language have different rules. For instance, I frequently say "Me and so-and-so went out last night," but I would never let that error past my red Editor's pen!

Excellent point, but we do try to stick with errors in print/writing in Curmudgeons' Corner (a few pronunciation complaints do get through, however).

From Gordon Barlow:

Y-e-e-s, maybe [this regarding our discussion of the derivation of Britain, provided in our weekly companion e-mail newsletter]. Boreas meant "the north wind" in Greek, according to the Oxford Etymological Dictionary, from which I would posit bor as a root connoting "northern".  -itan and similar suffixes are common place-indicators, usually referring to regions - from Ruritania to Mauritania. (-itan is probably made up of two suffixes -it as in -ite, and -an/en either the ancient plural-indicator or the adjectival suffix.)

So it is arguable that Britain/Britannia began as Boritan/Boritania, meaning simply "up north", or "the people up north".

The problem with this derivation is that the name Britain supposedly derives from a word that the Britons used to refer to themselves.  It isn't likely that they would call themselves "people of the north" -- that's what people to their south would call them.  Most peoples' names for themselves as a group are something akin to "the people".

From Nastia Senenko:

you have a wonderful site. it is impressive in its approach and content. 

i have read in a book in russian translation (can't think of an appropriate translation of the author's name and book's title - "history of britons" (?)) that the people that first inhabited the british island got their name from their leader - someone Brut, the direct grandson of the last trojan tsar (who safely fled from the greeks after the end of the infamous war.) if you could give an intelligent (as, with your resourcefulness, they always are) comment on this, i would greatly appreciate it.  thank you in advance for taking this request into consideration. i am looking forward to your updates - they are delightful.

We think the book you have in mind is The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This medieval work is a wonderful source of old legends, but 11th century etymologies are rarely to be trusted. Legend has it that Rome was founded by Aeneas, a fugitive from Troy. Geoffrey's claim that the British kings descended from Trojan royalty was simply an attempt to place Britain on a par with Rome.

From Erica Beth Hruby:

You mention in this week's Spotlight on plate words that

The Greek platus ("broad, flat") reminds us that place is also related, along with French place, Spanish plaza, Portuguese praça, and Italian piazza

You don't mention this connection in your discussion on pizza (Issue 146, WTTW), but could they be related?

That is certainly a valid question, but pizza and piazza do not appear to be related. One delightful word that we forgot to mention as deriving from platus is, of course, platypus "flat foot".

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From Georg Trimborn:

That Q/A sent by Qaz reminded me of:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To show the armadillo that it was possible.

More nyuk nyuk (but doesn't that joke only work in Texas? ha!).

From John Hindsill:

I think that the suite ="soot" pronunciation is not so much a "Southern" affectation as it is one peculiar to the furniture industry. Furniture merchants and wholesale representatives go back in my family more than 70 years in the Los Angeles area, and they always used the suit pronunciation. My great uncle used to say that a suite (eet) was where you placed your suite (oot). However, the "sweet" pronunciation has become more prevalent in recent years (although not by my relatives who are all at the big furniture store in the sky.)

On the other hand, most of the best furniture manufacturers used to be based in the South; maybe their localism of "suit" followed the goods. 

Very interesting!


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

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Last Updated 09/29/02 10:05 PM