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  Issue 160, page 4

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From Bruce Yanoshek:

In this week's excellent issue, Joseph Ruckman nicely explains curses, oaths and obscenities, and says, "Finally, there is swearing (the noun for which is an oath), which I don't hear much these days." I submit that the ubiquitous and to many people offensive Oh my God is a slightly modified oath, in which case I'm sure he hears it very much these days.

From Christopher Wilson:

First of all, I think your website is top notch.

I have an observation concerning your description of 'dosh' (issue 91).  When I was at school in Glasgow - admittedly only 25 years ago - we used the expression "cally dosh" to mean money. Which might be a spoonerism (I dont know the technical term) on "dolly cash" or "dollar cash".  I don't know if "cally dosh" has a history outside of my school in the 1970s.

It would be interesting to spotlight English money terms. For example : tanner, farthing, shilling, guinea, two bob, penny, lolly, bread (bread and honey = money?) dough, pony (I've never known how much that was)

Interesting suggestion regarding dosh, but it dates back several decades before the 1970s.  As for slang money terms, that's a good idea for a future Spotlight! Thanks for the suggestion and your kind words.

From Oded Dagan:

In response to the question of the use of the word "actually", Chandra McCann writes: the question "Que faites-vous actuellment?" translates as "What are you presently doing?"  I would like to quote a passage from a book that may not be a typical source of quotes in your site: "The Intriguers" by Donald Hamilton, one of a series of books about the secret agent Matt Helm:

"Lorna said: And presently does not mean the same thing as at present, Miss Borden; and your father is very sensitive about this distinction."
"But everybody says-"
"Not everybody," I corrected her. "Not Mac. The office girls would catch hell if he heard them telling somebody that he is presently in conference, meaning right now. Presently, to him, means in a little while, as it meant to everybody until a relatively few years ago, when ignorant people started fancying up the language regardless of meaning. The correct, old-fashioned usage is, "At present, Mr. Mac is in conference, but he will see you presently."

What do you think?

Presently has two accepted meanings: "at the present time" (the chief meaning in the U.S. and Scotland) and "in a little while; soon" in England and most other English-speaking populations.

From KenFetti:

These two uses disturb me -

irregardless instead of regardless - and

most unique - one cannot compare unique - it is unique.

LOVE your site.

Those are common errors that we can never identify too often.  Irregardless is indeed not an accepted word, and unique is what is known as an absolute, and absolutes cannot (well, should not!) be qualified.

From Ron Parker:

There are too many prepositions: Paint it out, print it out, close it up, stop it up, close it down, lift it up (as opposed to lifting it down?), write it up (or down).  There are many, many more.

Yes, we pointed that one out in an article entitled "Enfeebled Verbs".  Interestingly, however, each of those examples has a slightly different meaning than the phrase sans the preposition (e.g., paint it out suggests painting over some existing image or graffiti, while paint it has a much simpler, direct meaning.  Print it out refers to printing something from a printer rather than block lettering it by hand).

From Pete Nicholls:

First off, great site! A wonderful resource - I'm a writer and am annoyed I've only just found your site after writing a book that deals with historical issues. I've known that there are plenty of books out there on word origins, but I never thought about looking for a site that covers them. So, thanks! You are providing a very valuable service.

However, while doing research for the novel I'm working on right now, I stumbled across something about the origin of the word "America". It was in one of the following books:

The Hiram Key
The Second Messiah
both by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas (both available at Amazon)

I'm sorry I can't remember which book, but I read them both so close together that a lot of their facts mush together. They're both about the origins of Freemasonry, but deal with a lot more than just that. The books fall into what some call the "Alternative History" genre. But I'll get to my point. Part of what they talk about was the fall of the Templar Knights, some of whom, according to historical records, when they were dissolved by the Pope in the early 1300s, left for a land that existed under a star the French called "La Merica". The Templars were based in France.

Now, I know that just because words are similar, that doesn't mean that they're actually related. But according to these authors who quote historical evidence, the French were aware of a star with that name that hung in the sky to the west.

I apologize for going on about this. It's easy to write this off as more "alternative history" bunk, conjured up by the overactive imaginations of amateur historians, but it seems a more logical origin for the word then the common "Amerigo Vespucci" explanation (wouldn't the continent be named "Vespuccia" then?). Just my opinion, of course. Anyway, sorry to take up so much of your time. I was just curious if you were aware of this possible explanation and had any opinion on it. 

First, simply because French Masons were booted out of France and purportedly went seeking a land under a star called La Merica, and just because there actually was a star called La Merica, does not a sound etymology make.  The first person to use the name America in writing was cartographer Martin Waldseemuller in 1507.  Perhaps there is a secret Masonic document out there somewhere that proves a Masonic connection, but until we find it, Herr Waldeseemüller and Signore Vespucci get the credit.

There is a Spanish mountain called La Merica, and the word appears in other placenames, as well.

Thanks for your good words about the site!

From Mike:

I was taught "x is different from y" in English class years ago. Many times today I read or hear "different than" or worse "different then". Seems "than" requires a "more" or "less" quantifier, and "then" is just ignorance. What say ye?

Our favorite usage expert, H.W. Fowler (and the editors who have updated his work since his death), says: "The commonly expressed view that different should only be followed by from and never by to or than is not supportable in the face of past and present evidence or of logic..."  However, we can say that using then in this case is simply inexcusable if anything other than a typo.


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

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Last Updated 06/20/02 07:58 PM