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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.

No damn synchronicity: Synonyms and antonyms

A synchronous sound

Ever had such a day where things start out great and then you’re confronted with the unexpected and things just unravel?

Such was my day. I arrived for a press function 20 minutes before the scheduled start time feeling very impressed with myself  – enjoying a  mini accolade that was short-lived.

Smoking gun: origins of the idiom

 

 

In the past few weeks, there has been much reference to ‘smoking gun’. And if you are South African you will know exactly what I am talking about. If not, I hope you will find the discussion interesting nonetheless.

Merriam Webster defines smoking gun as “something that serves as conclusive evidence or proof (as of a crime or scientific theory)

The Urban Dictionary offers: “it means the endpoint or last source of hard, solid evidence involved in a case or investigation and the British dictionary simple states: it is “information that proves who committed a crime”.

And, the Urban Dictionary,  using it in a sentence says: the tape recordings (substitute emails for the 21st century) provided prosecutors with the smoking gun they needed to prove he’d been involved in the conspiracy.

I love the expression smoking gun. Like other idioms, it has a magnificent visual quality. I can picture a pair of huge saloon doors swinging as the swashbuckling sheriff storms through in a torrid rage only to find the smoking gun and no human in sight. I can just about hear the signature tune of Bonanza as the image comes to mind.

But the idiom has less auspicious (or more, depending on how you see it) origins.

According to a forum on englishstackexchange.com: “The first instance that Google Books finds of ‘smoking gun’ in the sense of “irrefutable proof of guilt” appears in the context of the Watergate scandal of 1973–1974. The phrase “a smoking gun” or “the smoking gun” appears at least six times in Facts on File, Editorials on File, volume 5, part 2 (for the year 1974). And the earliest of these appears in an editorial from the [Cleveland, Ohio] Plain Dealer, (July 11, 1974).f”

English for students.com elaborates: “This phrase draws on the assumption, a staple of detective fiction, that the person found with a recently fired gun must be the guilty party.

“The use of the phrase in the late 20th century was particularly associated with the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s involving the US President Richard Nixon. When one of the Watergate tapes revealed Nixon’s wish to limit the FBI’s role in the investigation, Barber B. Conable famously commented: I guess we have found the smoking pistol, haven’t we?”

Many experts agree that the Nixon controversy was one of the earliest uses of ‘smoking gun’ but predating Google Books, other sources go as far back as the 18th century as a record of the idioms early usage.

In other research, I learnt that ‘smoking gun’ is considered more convincing as incontrovertable evidence than ‘blood on your hands’ because the former demonstrates recent usage, while the latter could occur by touching the victim after death, which is not as conclusive as the smoking gun.

I’m not sure I agree, (unless the smoking gun is in the perpetrator’s hands) but there you have it.
Comments welcome.

Five top reasons to hire an editor

You’ve given a massive amount of blood, sweat and tears to your work. Whether it’s your novel, biography, article or academic writing, it still needs that extra polish.

It looks fine to you, but your eyes have been over it for the umpteenth time. Even if there are mistakes, tiny as they may be, odds are you will not see them. That’s why you need an extra pair of eyes to look over your masterpiece.

Do horses eat loose fern? A statement on reporting standards

grazing

This week, I was subbing a story about horses that had been rescued from dire circumstances. If not for the language educated among us, the situation could have given rise to an inadvertent mondegreen (when a phrase is repeated incorrectly over time and eventually replaces the original phrase).

Through the eye of the needle: biblical idioms

The English language is so rich and diverse that one lifetime is just not enough to master all of it.

But I have discovered that as much as English owes many of its idioms to the writings of the great Shakespeare, the bible has made a significant contribution of its own.

I hasten to add at this point, that researching Shakespearean idiomatic origins is a whole lot easier than that of biblical references.

Sucking the hind tit : related idioms

Who says there’s no food here?

Last Sunday, our six-year-old female Staffordshire Bull Terrier gave birth to six beautiful and healthy puppies. One was distinctly smaller than his four black brothers and sister and I feared he would be left to feed off the ‘hind tit’.

Among animals that birth multiple young in a litter such as dogs and pigs there is fierce competition for the milk and with puppies, bashing each other around with paws and heads is a common site around feeding time.

Less is more in the writing discipline

Make your verbs work
Verbs must do the hard work in a sentence

I am reading a book in which the author has swamped the pages with an oversupply of adjectives.

Of course, this is just my opinion, but I find the need to qualify every verb and every noun in the sentence an overreach and, worst of all, a punishment to the text. And the reader.

Six ways to take the stress out of writing a book


For all the aspirant writers out there who want to get a book out of your system, start with an e-book. Here’s how:

Getting down to writing: Write that e-book. Just like that. It is almost that simple if you set your mind to it. I never had aspirations to write a book of any kind, but when I learnt of this one-week technique, I couldn’t help but put it to the test.

So, pardon the cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can. There are two critical requirements here.

How do you like them apples?

The apple: On first appearance, there’s nothing special about it at all.

It’s typically green or red on the outside with a crunchy white interior (if it’s a quality mid-season apple).

This seemingly common or garden apple has been installed with the most amazing qualities, least of all for its medicinal properties although ‘an apple a day, keeps the doctor away’ was embedded in my consciousness from a very early age. And it has remained the basis of my healthy eating plan throughout my life.