Issue 179, page 4

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From Silvio Graci:

Regarding the whole discussion about gourd - where do we get out of his/her gourd? Is this just a reference to the gourd being a metaphor for the head?

Indeed, gourd simply refers to the head in this sense.

RENDEZVOUS: I started thinking about the word affair, meaning "intimate relations outside of an established marriage", and whether that word started out from the "event, or party" meaning of affair (Does this word have an -e at the end?). I could be way off on this. When words take on this new understanding, as does the "secret meeting for lovers" meaning of rendezvous, can't we say this is indeed a new meaning for the word, or at least a widely accepted connotation of it? Another word - what about liaison? I went to check, and liaison and affair seem to have these extra meanings as alternate definitions, but rendezvous does not. Why do so many of us relate rendezvous to a secret meeting between lovers?

Rendezvous is indeed connected with secret lovers, but apparently not without context.  If the word on its own had the meaning "secret meeting of lovers", it would appear in most dictionaries with that meaning (in addition to the other meanings the word has).  It does not currently appear in "most" dictionaries with that meaning.  However, one reader did send us a link to an online dictionary that carries that meaning: (thanks to Wayne Resnick for that link).  Soon it may be found in "most" dictionaries.  For the time being, just to be perfectly clear in one's writing, one should probably qualify rendezvous if one intends it to mean "secret meeting of lovers" or "tryst".

Is there a relation between tantra and tantrum? Your back issues say that tantra means "weave" or "weft". I couldn't find anything for tantrum.

No, they are not related (or, at least, they are not known to be related).  We were alluding to the hypothetical Latin plural of tantrum (yes, we know this is not a Latin word). This is known in some circles as "trying to be funny".

The origin of tantrum is uncertain, though it first appears in the written record in the mid-18th century.

From Ian Rowlands:

While wondering about the insecurity of the avocado it occurred to me that it must feel left out as it is the only one which has any connection to a fruit in its name (pear). All the rest go incognito disguised as vegetables, which like the tomato and ackee, they are not. All this has made me hungry, I'm off to make a fruit salad.

From Wayne Resnick:

I was intrigued by your reference to the term "alligator pear" when referring to the avocado. It made some sense to me since the avocado is pear shaped and its skin does somewhat resemble that of an alligator. I decided to search for the term on the web and I found an explanation. One site claimed that the appellation comes from the fact that avocado trees are grown "in areas infested with alligators." Since I never believe anything I read on the Internet, I thought I would ask you for its origin.

Personally, I always thought that the word avocado comes from the Romanian word for lawyer, though I was never sure why.

Hee hee!  Presumably the Romanian word is similar to the Spanish for lawyer: abogado.  This derives from Spanish abogar "to plead", the sense here being "one who pleads [on another's behalf]".  Avocado, on the other hand, is a product of some folk etymology.  It does mean "advocate" (probably cognate with abogado), but it was chosen as an appellation for the fruit only because it sounded like the Aztec name for the fruit: ahuacatl.  A corruption of either the Spanish variant aguacate or of the actual Aztec word apparently produced alligator (pear).

By the way, the avocado, like the tomato and ackee, is both a fruit and a vegetable.

From Richard Bailey:

Let me begin by expressing my thanks for what has, in my brief acquaintance with it, been a both learned and witty forum on language.  I can't resist the urge to (I hope genially) pick a nit or two:

1. In your article on various fruits of the (ground-dwelling) vine, you refer to the taxonomic family Cucurbitacae. There a small typographic error: the name is Cucurbitaceae. It may help as a mnemonic device to note that families comprise species sharing a set of characteristics, so their names are generally derived from adjectival forms (usually first declension). (Since you mentioned 'tantra' later in the same edition, I hope you'll read this with the smile with which it was typed.)

2. Kudos to the "learned assum[er]" regarding belligerare, attracted to the first conjugation after fusion of bellum + gerere, as are many of its kin. Out of curiosity, why pick the masculine accusative singular when spelling the present participles? Is it the inclusion of the "t"? 

Thanks, Richard, you did pick your nits genially, and we appreciate that.  About 99% of the letters we receive are genial, even in offering corrections and criticism.  The remaining 1% are surprisingly testy and derogatory, going so far as to attack us personally.  People who write letters like that are 1) not schooled in the art of debate, 2) possessing of unsupportable opinions (people often turn to attacking their debate opponent instead of his position when they are unable to defend their own position), or 3) jealous.  We will therefore not print letters that fall into that 1% category.  We wish to engender polite and scholarly debate, not mudslinging wars.

From Charles Cruthirds:

Does the Greek melopepon relate to the Spanish pepino, meaning cucumber?

Indeed, the pep- words are related.  While the Greek pepon means "gourd", it originally meant "ripe", deriving from the Indo-European root *pekw- "to ripen".

From Richard Noggin:

In last week's Curmudgeons' Corner:

It's a product of the trend among teachers and moms to correct "John and me are going to the store" to "John and I are going to the store". Now everyone thinks they must always use I!

Let us start using the form "John and I be going into town." This will solve the confusion as it works no matter how the subjects are specified.

I be going to town. John be going to town. John and I be going to town. We be going to town.

Oh wait, this is impossible! What was I considering? The usage as I describe it could never be accepted as correct, because it is common sense and few things in grammar and language are based on common sense. 

Seriously, when was the last real change in modern language and grammar? Were there any in the second half of the twentieth century?

It appears that only changes made centuries ago are referenced here. Are changes no longer permitted? 

O.K., we are going to explain once more and then place a link to this discussion in our FAQ.  Sez You... is intended as an entertaining column where the Curmudgeons, Barb Dwyer and Malcolm Tent, along with readers, vent their frustration over what they see as language abuses and misuses.  They are not claiming that language is static and never changes.  They are not trying to dictate what you must or mustn't say or write.  They are sharing what bothers them.  Most readers get a laugh or a "me too" feeling from the column.  They don't take it personally.

Do you think Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker, the unlikeliest "curmudgeons" in the field of linguistics, would write a book that contained the following sentence: "Him and me went to the store"?  They certainly would not, unless they were using it as an example to make a point. Even though they are as far from prescriptivisit as one can get, they still use "good" (standard, accepted, etc.) English.  The Curmudgeons wish to point out common English mistakes and have a little fun at the same time.

From Bruce Yanoshek:

I read the November 17th Curmudgeons' Corner and must comment on the newer twist on this common mistake. People now frequently use myself in place of me, and I think it is because they are so confused by when to use I and when me. A boss of mine once wrote that people should "contact Bruce or myself" with questions.

That sounds like a plausible explanation. Thanks, Bruce.

From Richard Hershberger:

It is I, your favorite gadfly. This is a quick note responding to your reply to your guestmudgeon in Issue 177, writing about "between you and I". 

You make the conventional assertion that this phenomenon is an example of hyper-correction: a response to half-understood corrections by teachers and moms. This usage long predates the teaching of English as a formal subject (though not the existence of moms). Shakespeare used it in The Merchant of Venice and it can be found in continuous use ever since. The rules of English usage were not formulated until many years after Shakespeare, so he could hardly have been responding to them. Whatever one's opinion of the usage, the hyper-correction explanation is inadequate.

A brief discussion of the subject can be found at For the paper-enabled, the more complete discussion can be found (as usual) in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

Thanks, Richard.  We wish to praise you publicly for the professional and academic tone of your missives.  Richard does write us fairly frequently regarding the Sez You... column, and he is always scholarly and always polite.  His technique is ideal for getting his point across AND convincing his opponents.

In this case, we agree with you completely that the usage is quite ancient.  However, we feel that its apparent recent increase may be due to hypercorrection.

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From Ken Berry:

I have just noticed in issue 176 your claim that "Sharks were also known as tiburons or tuberons, from French tiburon "shark"." The French word for shark is in fact requin and from what I can glean from the Larrousse dictionary, there was no usage of a word like tiburon in French. I have no argument with your suggestion that the Spanish or Portuguese may have borrowed the word from a Caribbean or other source. Unfortunately, the Spanish equivalent to the Oxford Dictionary - that of the Real Academia Española "Diccionario de la Lengua Española" - does not offer any suggestion as to the origin of the word. Interestingly, though, it does offer a secondary usage of the word, which is a person who aggressively acquires a sufficient number of shares in order to take over a company. It falls just a bit short of describing it as dishonest or a swindle.

The Portuguese word is "tubarão".

Actually, tiburon is recorded in French in Laurent Joubert's L'Histoire entiere des poissons (The Complete Story of Fish) of 1558.  The famous French lexicographer Maximilien-Paul-Émile Littré also recorded it.  It seems that English got it from the French, who may have gotten it from the Spanish and/or Portuguese.  The word eventually became obsolete in French, as it did in English.

From Charlotte Bonica:

Re: Julie Wallace's commentary on "I": Devolve does not mean "degenerate." It means "change hands" or "transfer."

It did not originally mean such but it does now, perhaps mostly by logical supposition (the presumed "opposite" of evolve). 

From Peggy Arebalo, 6th grade language arts teacher:

This is my first time to see your webzine. I love it. Thanks for such a great site!

Thanks for your kind words, Peggy!


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

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