Issue 192, page 4

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From Martin:

I thought you'd like this little quiz (with answers supplied at the end to avoid frustration).,5961,943552,00.html

A hoot!  Thanks!

From Todd Augsberger:

"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch"? You should have run the paragraph through your spelling checker. Did you perhaps mean "Aoccdrnig to a rseeracehr"?

And, yes, it's incorrect all 'cross the 'net.

Unless the intended word was reschearch, you are correct!  Good eye! 

From Andrew Charles:

I don't know about the importance of the first and last letters, but the general premise is correct. People do learn to identify words from the general shape rather than the exact placement or form of the letters. The phenomenon helps explain why the spelling of words can become disconnected from the pronunciation and is also linked to at least one form of dyslexia and the way people learn language.

Most people learn to read an alphabetic system by mapping certain sounds to set symbols and applying that map to words they are unfamiliar with (the actual sounds we learn how to say, read and even hear depends on our culture). We learn that D O G sounds like dog and identify each letter with a distinct sound, so that we can apply that map to other letter groups such as odd or god. It takes a lot of work to always read every word that way and we quickly learn to identify a word by its general form, much as people do with an ideographic system, and take shortcuts with words we don't recognize, using the letters as hints rather than reading each one. You increase the chances of misreading a word, but it's a lot faster. Reading is made even faster by "pre-caching" words you can see but have not yet "read" or interpreted the meaning of, so that you can "recall" and read them without taking a good look, although you get even more errors that way. Most people do it without realizing, although they may get odd feelings of deja vu without knowing why (quite appropriate as it means "already seen").

Some people though have trouble connecting letters or distinct syllabic groups with the related sounds, and only learn to identify words as a whole. The letters themselves don't mean anything so they may not recognize if a word is spelled incorrectly, and have trouble both reading and writing words they haven't previously learnt. While this mapping process doesn't come automatically to them they can still be taught what sounds each letter symbolizes, although the deprecation of "phonics" left many without the necessary support. 

Very interesting.

From Sheryl Martin:

In your last Words to the Wise you stated "That origin would make augur similar to auspices". I recall learning once that an augur was a kind of priest in ancient Rome. Before any important occasion he would perform a sacrifice (sheep, goat, etc), and "read" the entrails to see how the gods felt about it. This was referred to as "taking the auspices", and if the gods were favorable, it was an "auspicious" occasion.  I don't know if it's true, but it would make sense if the words are related. 

Indeed.  The augur (etymologically "he who speaks of birds") would predict future events by "reading" the flight or song of birds.  That action was also known as auspice (etymologically "observation of birds").  It later came to include other divinations, such as reading entrails.

From Roger Whitehead:

You mentioned Nether Wallop in the last issue. Mike might already know this - it's one of three Wallops, all in northern Hampshire. There are also Middle Wallop and Over Wallop. They are arranged more or less north-westerly, NW being the southernmost and OW at the top. No doubt one of your other readers will give you some background on the origin of Wallop.

If you ever want to see what's where in Britain, try this free service - It has rivals but is my favourite.

Mike is familiar with all three Wallops and is a fan of British pyramids, of which there is a splendid example in St Andrews churchyard, Nether W.

From Brad Daniels:

My parents sent me this link to an article about custom showers:

The article ends with this paragraph:

[The shower’s designer] is quick to remind me that the word spa is an acronym for the Latin phrase sanus per aquam, which means "health through water." I would like to put my four years of high school Latin to use (finally) and proclaim that TAG should be an acronym for tandem aquae gaudeamus: "At last, let us rejoice in water."

The thing that makes this claim more plausible is that we’ve all seen at least a couple of famous cases of Latin acronyms (SPQR, INRI), which makes more plausible the idea that an ancient Roman spa owner might have decided to save on engraving fees by just putting SPA above his door. The few sources I’ve been able to check imply the word dates back only to 1610, though, being named after the Belgian town of Spa.

This of course leads to the question, what did the ancient Romans call spas? I know ancient Roman spas tend to be called baths in England, but that brings up the question of where that name comes from. I know there’s a British town of “Bath”, famous for its Roman Baths, but it’s not clear whether the town was named after the baths, or the word bath derived from the name of the town. I see that the Old English bath is similar to the Old High German bad, but it’s unclear to me how significant that is.

Spa does indeed come from the name of "curative" mineral springs in the province of Liège in Belgium.  It came to be used to refer to any medicinal spring by the early 17th century.  Latin for "bath" is balneum.  The town of Bath in England was known in Latin as Aqua Sulis, after the temple to Sulis Minerva there. (Sulis was probably an indigenous British spring-goddess who was assimilated to Minerva.)

Bath was bæth in Old English, and had cognates in other Germanic languages.  The etymological sense is one of "heat", suggesting that baths have always been warm or hot.  The town was named for its baths (hot springs), not the other way around.

By the way, SPQR and INRI aren't true acronyms, at least not that we've heard: they aren't pronounced as words.

From Frances Weightman:

Oh, thank the stars, you're back!  I don't know if it's my computer that went wrong, but you were off-the-air last time I looked- and what's more, it can't have been a dream, your DOMAIN WAS FOR SALE! Oh, thank goodness it isn't true...

No, it's not true.  We use GoDaddy for our domain registration and were all set to have the registration automatically renewed but for some reason it wasn't automatic and nobody told us - we found out from Mike's brother (thanks, Gray!) via telephone!  Of course, when the domain went down, our e-mail went down, as well.  Thanks for the kind words, Frances!

From Chris:

About this weeks Laughing Stock: I thought that it was interesting that the only word that I stumbled on was pcale.  I wonder if its because pl should go together and make one sound, or if it's because pcale resembles another word...  No idea, just thought it was weird.

The former suggestion sounds the most plausible!


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

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Last Updated 01/08/06 02:06 PM