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Zeitgeist: how words originate

Zeitgeist is a lovely word to get your teeth into, literally and figuratively. And both syllables require a firm grit.  Derived from the German language, the word is surrounded by controversy and misuse.

Rats in the language

 

Rats! If you’ve ever had the problem of rats in your home, you may identify with strongly negative feelings about the small annoying creatures.

Thanks to my compulsive TV watching habits, I learnt that the collective noun for rats is mischief – a mischief of rats.

Collective nouns for animals, such as a congress of baboons are very interesting and often surprising – too many to mention here.

Thinking back to last year when the rats came to eat the dog food that was carelessly left around the home, their trails of mischief were abundant. From the holes in the packaging of the sturdy dog food bags, to little poo droppings all over the place, it was plain to see we had a rat problem.

We could hear them running in the roof, and saw a couple run across the lounge floor, but at such a speed, we could not catch them. We would shriek,  “there goes a rat” but be frozen to inaction as the rat scuttled to safety under the cupboard. And who wants to touch a rat with bare hands and no trapping device? (not that I would use one of those).

It wasn’t long before the rats were breeding faster than rabbits. We had to call the exterminator to get rid of the multiple mischiefs.

Other meanings

Rats are associated with dirt, disease and disgust, so when you refer to someone as a rat, you imply that they are not trustworthy.

To rat on someone means to give the game away, in other words, to tell the boss that your colleague is not at work because he is applying for another job, and not at the doctor with a near fatal tumor.

Rats in the language give expression to displeasure or distaste but their close cousin the mouse, has a much friendlier reputation. They are considered cute and considerate – as quiet as a mouse – and many a character has been animated to be a larger than life rodent. Perhaps we have Mickey Mouse to thank for that.

Any famous rats of Walt Disney fame? None that I know of, but thousands upon thousands used in medical experiments for the health of human kind.

Feedback welcome.

How big is your appetite for words?

Five word pairs to increase your word power

A deadly blutterance: How words are formed

Fartlek, among the funniest words in the English language

Christian has a whiff up his nose
Have these men done their fartlek?

Yesterday as I was cursing the spinning instructor for insisting I use muscles I didn’t know I had to save energy, I thought she had lost the plot.

Saving energy seemed the most unlikely outcome for all the effort it took to apply these untrained muscles to a cycling routine. Raised heart rate and an opportunity to confront my fitness or lack thereof were much more on track.

Nonetheless, I was enjoying myself and got to thinking about all the other sweaty pursuits I had participated in with greater or lesser skill.

At school, I played, netball, squash and hockey – even made the athletics team at age 13; at varsity I ventured into badminton and once or twice allowed my roommate to drag me out of bed for a jog around the block.

Post university, I was keen to learn modern dancing, something I had yearned for from a very young age. I loved dancing, first modern, cotemporary and later Latin and Ballroom with a skill rating of average in all instances.

Mid-career I bought a fitness franchise to supplement my income. The franchise provided members with a running or walking programme tailored to fitness levels.

I had to learn how to instruct the programme and all the terminology that went along with it.

It was the first time I came across the word fartlek. It sounded like a way to release flatulence on a long run, and then blaming the person behind you. I laughed as I visualised thousands of runners in an athletics heat trying to surge ahead to escape the foul air.

But fartlek is a programme that includes interval training. Alpha dictionary describes it as an athletic training regime. Fartlek is also listed as one of the funniest words in the English language, ranking in the top 50.  https://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/100_funniest_words.html

I am always delighted to find new words and explore their meanings, but I must admit that an athletics training manual was the last place I expected to find a word to add to my vocabulary.

 

Somnolent: Word use and origin

How to deal with your Grammar Gremlins

Of acronyms and shortened words: abbreviations explained

This week a client asked me, “Is it okay to write CEO?”

I was a bit taken aback because CEO is one of those ‘words’ that is better known by its shortened version than its elongated other – Chief Executive Officer.

Copy required for newspapers must maximise efficiency as space is premium and no editor will accommodate three words, when three letters will serve the same purpose adequately.

Some organisations and concepts have preferred usage in their abbreviated form than their full name or title such as Opec or Unesco, LED, HTML and radar.

You know exactly what they mean and how they apply, right? So why worry yourself by delving into the long form.

What is interesting however is how abbreviations are classed.  There are two main types: initialisms and acronyms.

Acronyms are shortenings of phrases that use, usually the first letter of each of the words, to make up a new word.

Some examples:

  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)
  • AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
    OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)
  • ASAP (as soon as possible)
  • Radar (radio detecting and ranging)
    Scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus)

In many style guides, it is recommended to write these contractions in word style, meaning to start with a capital letter and use lower case characters for the remaining.  Others prefer to use all capital letters, while some have preferences on a case by case basis.

Initialisms are abbreviations that take the initials of the word and each letter is pronounced separately such as FBI, DVD, BTW, IBM.

If a word is used in its shortened form such as Dr, Mrs, Prof, Wifi, biopic and takes neither the characteristics of an acronym nor an initialism, it is simply an abbreviation.

BTW (By the way) not all grammar sites and dictionaries agree; this is my view.

And if you are not confused enough, there’s also a word form called a backronym. Another time perhaps?

Words and Phrases: Of Mondegreens and Mishearings

No damn synchronicity: Synonyms and antonyms

 

Take the log out of your eye and other idioms

I was recently at an Editing for Inclusivity workshop which aimed to address racial, gender and all other kinds of stereotyping that fills our communication to an embarrassing extent.

 

This applies in both written and verbal exchanges, only easier to forget and forgive when stated verbally.

 

In an effort to make workshop attendants better editors, in one exercise, we scrutinised a blog ‘The pot calling the kettle black’

In the racially charged environment, such that South Africa presents, it was considered extremely bad taste.   The essence of the blog, was the current president accusing the former president of something he failed to address, the author stating that the current president had done no better.

Suffice to say, use of the word ‘black’ stirred racial angst and the blog drew more than its fair share of flak. Some even said all idioms referencing colour should be dropped from the English language.

I would not like to see that happen. But what I can suggest is that writers avoid the use of insensitive idioms that could offend certain groups, and opt for others that mean the same thing. The English language has a vast array of idioms and finding an alternative cannot be that difficult.

She (the blogger) could have gone with “Take the log out of your eye before you look to take the speck out of mine.”

This has seen many incarnations with the ‘log’ being substituted with beam, etc

Here are some:

  • English Standard Version

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

  • Berean Study Bible

You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

  • Berean Literal Bible

Hypocrite! First cast out the beam from your eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter from the eye of your brother.

  • King James Bible

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

More

 

This idiom means that people are quick to see faults in others that they fail to see in themselves.

Isn’t this a human failing many of us are guilty of? And yet the blogger was trying to say the president is a hypocrite for failing to see the error of his own ways, while quick to point out the failings of the former man at the helm.

When all else fails, drop the idiom and use the phrase as you intend it to be understood. Better safe than sorry.

How to keep your powder dry in the 21st century. Idioms from the military

Do horses eat loose fern? A statement on reporting standards

Why is the world your oyster?

 

 

 

Top 10 gender/ age appropriate words of 2017

 

 

Have you noticed how your language changes to fit trends that begin to invade your life?
Twitterati is a word in use since the advent of Twitter, Google is a frequently practised verb since the search engine came to dominate our lives.

And since men have shown a fondness for women’s wear and women have demonstrated their liking for some things once thought to be the domain of men, this too has given rise to new words.

Do you remember when grunge first came into the language? That was in 1987 when Mark Arm of Green River and Mudhoney first uses the word. It was originally used to describe a dirty sounding rock music genre “raucous guitar sound and lazy vocal delivery”, and later came to mean dirt, grime. It also described a sloppy style of dress, representative of band members’ attitude towards clothing and appearance.

The list below is the top 10 gender/appropriate list that is most in use today
1. Bromance (n): A close but non-sexual relationship between two men.
2. Grrrl (n): A young woman regarded as independent and strong or aggressive, especially in her attitude to men or in her sexuality (A blend of “Grrrr” and “Girl.”)
3. Guyliner (n): Eyeliner that is worn by men.
4. Jeggings (n): Tight-fitting stretch trousers for women, styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans.
5. Mankini (n): A brief one-piece bathing garment for men, with a T-back.
6. Mini-Me (n): A person closely resembling a smaller or younger version of another.
7. Muffin Top (n): A roll of fat visible above the top of a pair of women’s tight-fitting low-waisted trousers.
8. Screenager (n): A person in their teens or twenties who has an aptitude for computers and the Internet.
9. Muggle (n): A person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.
10. Noob (n): A person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity, especially computing or the use of the Internet.

New Words List March 2017

For more words, editing, professional writing blogging and other needs, visit www.awordor2.org/services

How calendar days differ from others

I have always wondered about the difference between a calendar day and just a regular day. The same applies to a calendar month.

What I learnt is that a calendar day must feature on the calendar. That may sound silly. Let me explain.

A work of sedulous magnificence

Deliciously sedulous : increase your word power

A work of sedulous magnificence
Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco, a fine sedulous work

 

I am catching up with the past, voraciously reading through the pages of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice with a copyright date of 1979. A literary marvel, the author provides delightful entertainment from the first page to the last.

How to keep your powder dry in the 21st century. Idioms from the military

Keeping one’s options open, is an overused phrase in today’s demanding lifestyle. But its non-committal tone, sounds like its primary use would be by people suffering from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.

 

I was staggered then, when my husband referred to his military training while discussing our travel plans. He said, “I’m trying to work out how to keep my powder dry.” I gave him that ‘lost the plot’ look as I’m the literary part of this coupling and he, the practical.  But when he explained its origin to gun powder I had to sit up and take note.

Hence, Wikipedia enlightens: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry. … “Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is a maxim attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but which first appeared in 1834 in the poem “Oliver’s Advice” by William Blacker with the words “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!”

The Phrase Finder says the idiom means to be prepared and save your resources until they are needed.

Its origin is from the allusion to gunpowder which soldiers had to keep dry to be ready to fight when required. This advice reputedly originated with Oliver Cromwell during his campaign in Ireland. In Ballads of Ireland, 1856, Edward Hayes wrote:

“There is a well-authenticated anecdote of Cromwell. On a certain occasion, when his troops were about crossing a river to attack the enemy, he concluded an address, couched in the usual fanatic terms in use among them, with these words – ‘put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry’.”

19th century citations of the phrase invariably give the full version – trust in God and keep your powder dry. This emphasises that ‘keep your powder dry’ was seen only as an additional insurance. This is made clear in a piece from The Times Literary Supplement, 1908:

“In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/217500.html

Finedictionary.com says it means ‘to remain cautious and ready for a possible emergency.’

The dictionary has a list of examples of its use in literature but does not provide dates in all instances.

  • We’ll crouch against the wall, Ned, and keep our rifles, powder and ourselves as dry as possible.” The Texan Star” by Joseph A. Altsheler
  • Keep your powder dry, and trust in Providence, is the motto of the wise. “The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow” by Jerome K. Jerome
  • So long as the enemy sticks to the wood all we can do is to wait and keep our powder dry.” In the Field (1914-1915)” by Marcel Dupont. http://www.finedictionary.com/Keep%20the%20powder%20dry.html

Now I’m glad I have a military reference for the next time I have to be indecisive and weigh up my options before making a commitment.

Can you meet me at Wednesday at 3pm? “Well, I’m keeping my powder dry and I can only confirm on Wednesday morning,” I’ll say.

Keeping one’s options open, is an overused phrase in today’s demanding lifestyle. But its non-committal tone, sounds like its primary use would be by people suffering from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.

I was staggered then, when my husband referred to his military training while discussing our travel plans. He said, “I’m trying to work out how to keep my powder dry.” I gave him that ‘lost the plot’ look as I’m the literary part of this coupling and he, the practical.  But when he explained its origin to gun powder I had to sit up and take note.

Hence, Wikipedia enlightens: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry. … “Trust in God and keep your powder dry” is a maxim attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but which first appeared in 1834 in the poem “Oliver’s Advice” by William Blacker with the words “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!”

The Phrase Finder says the idiom means to be prepared and save your resources until they are needed.

Its origin is from the allusion to gunpowder which soldiers had to keep dry to be ready to fight when required. This advice reputedly originated with Oliver Cromwell during his campaign in Ireland. In Ballads of Ireland, 1856, Edward Hayes wrote:

“There is a well-authenticated anecdote of Cromwell. On a certain occasion, when his troops were about crossing a river to attack the enemy, he concluded an address, couched in the usual fanatic terms in use among them, with these words – ‘put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry’.”

19th century citations of the phrase invariably give the full version – trust in God and keep your powder dry. This emphasises that ‘keep your powder dry’ was seen only as an additional insurance. This is made clear in a piece from The Times Literary Supplement, 1908:

“In thus keeping his powder dry the bishop acted most wisely, though he himself ascribes the happy result entirely to observance of the other half of Cromwell’s maxim.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/217500.html

Finedictionary.com says it means ‘to remain cautious and ready for a possible emergency.’

The dictionary has a list of examples of its use in literature but does not provide dates in all instances.

  • We’ll crouch against the wall, Ned, and keep our rifles, powder and ourselves as dry as possible.” The Texan Star” by Joseph A. Altsheler
  • Keep your powder dry, and trust in Providence, is the motto of the wise. “The Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow” by Jerome K. Jerome

Now I’m glad I have a military reference for the next time I have to be indecisive and weigh up my options before making a commitment.

Can you meet me at Wednesday at 3pm? “Well, I’m keeping my powder dry and I can only confirm on Wednesday morning,” I’ll say.

Somnolent: Word use and origin

Last night when I got home after a long day’s work I felt particularly somnolent. This was hardly surprising as  I woke up at 4.30am fought with myself to get back to sleep without success, and started work at 10am.

I then proceeded with nine hours of intensive sub-editing at what is arguable the world’s most condemned newspaper, and in South Africa particularly.

 

sleep time

During the inordinate nine hours, I attempted to distract myself with internet research and delved into the origins of somnolent, which means sleepy.

Dictionary.com cites its origins as the late 14th century from the Old French somnolence derived from the Latin somnolentia “sleepiness” from somnolentus, from somnus “sleep (from PIE root, swep  “to sleep”. A related word is somnolency.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=somnolence

Yourdictionary.com gives us:

Adjective (comparative more somnolent, superlative most somnolent)

  1. Drowsy or sleepy.
  2. (dated) Causing literal or figurative sleepiness;soporific.

 

Soporific is also an interesting word which I discovered at university and it was apt to describe the nature of my tutorials on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gawain/).  I could never understand why we were made to suffer this belaboured text as part of our first year English syllabus.

Yourdictionary.com dates the first usage of somnolent to 1615, but concurs with the other details that Dictionary.com provides for regional areas, confirming “swep” from Indo-Europe.

Read more at http://www.yourdictionary.com/somnolent#WzfHQqyI7L16MfaY.99

Somnolence is not state in which to conduct a day’s worth of subbing but  when the copy makes me yawn, due to its total lack of inspiration,   I really can’t blame myself.