Thursday, November 12, 2009
I expect this happens in many languages, but I only know English well enough to notice: words in English that sound similar often have similar meanings.
It is not safe, however, to assume that two similar sounding words share a common meaning. For example, ‘pimple’ and ‘dimple’ sound a lot alike, but if you tried to guess the meaning of the first from your knowledge of the second, you’d most likely lead yourself astray.
So, Cormac McCarthy writes: “Clamberin over those old caved and rimpled plates you could see well enough how things had gone in that place,…” And I hesitate over the unfamiliar ‘rimpled.’
Since it sounds a lot like ‘rumpled,’ you might guess it means the same thing – wrinkled, crinkled, crumpled or creased. Puckered and rippled.
And in this case, you would be correct!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
For those who know the card game euchre, the expression euchred or euchred out is part of the game. For the rest of us, it may be less familiar but it's no less useful. If you euchred out your competitors, you outwitted them. You're no gormless creature. In fact, you're splendid and perspicacious.
Tomorrow I think I'll have a new wrinkle for you; don't forget to be here.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Shirley Hazzard uses the word ‘gravid’ and Cormac McCarthy speaks of someone as ‘scurvid.’ The similar endings, ‘vid’ caught my eye. There are really only a couple dozen or so words in the English language ending in ‘vid’; avid and livid, David and vivid come to mind. Scurvid does not.
But a little investigation cued me to this: the ‘v’ in ‘gravid’ comes for the base word, ‘grave.’ I came to surmise the ‘v’ in ‘scurvid’ comes from a base word shared with ‘scurf’ and ‘scurvy.’ It’s the suffix ‘id’ that gives the words their commonality.
For Hazzard’s ‘gravid,’ you can actually check most any dictionary – the American Heritage on the shelf or any good on-line dictionary will tell you it means ‘pregnant or heavy with ripe eggs.’ I like my Dover sole gravid; how ‘bout you? The root is the same as the root for ‘grave’ – meaning ‘heavy, serious’ and so on. The pronunciation reminds us of 'gravity.'
McCarthy’s ‘scurvid’ is another matter altogether. I challenge you to find that in any printed dictionary. If you check on-line, you’ll likely be referred back to the McCarthy work Blood Meridian, my source for the word.
So what gives here? Did McCarthy make the word up? And if he did, can we tell what he meant? Can we use the word ourselves?
Yes, yes and yes again.
The suffix ‘id’ is used to form adjectives, very much the way the suffix ‘y’ forms adjectives in English. Thus, for example, ‘mess,' a noun, becomes the adjective, messy.
But, according my 1970 printing of the Oxford English Dictionary, except for a few technical uses, the suffix 'id' "is not a living formative in Eng." In other words, speakers of English no longer form new words by using the ending 'id.'
We might say someone forgot to tell McCarthy, but frankly it would be more accurate to say the OED didn't anticipate the arrival of Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy takes the root from 'scurvy,' substitutes one suffix for another and produces a new variation with the same meaning. So, only a scurvid cad -- a worthless, contemptible man -- would leave a gravid mate to fend for herself.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Several months ago in a post concerning chain letters, I remarked that, barring copyright issues, I would share an article here that had been forwarded to me in an email chain letter.
I did a little digging, located the source and even attempted to contact the author. Although I got no response from the author Helen Schwimmer herself, I feel somehow incomplete not having done what I said I'd do. Because in fact I am pretty sure I know how to address any copyright issues that might exist. Specifically, I'm just going to refer you to the original published piece, after I tell you a tiny bit about it.
This is a story of human survival and more -- of the determination of human beings to make dreams come true and to thrive despite the horrors that life experience can bring. It is a moving reminder of the best and the worst of life.
So, today I recommend The Wedding Gown That Made History.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Words often move from specific, technical uses into our more everyday usage. For example, in the 70s, the word 'venue' moved from its source in the realm of law to our general language. The word 'dispositive' is currently traveling the same path.
Similarly, 'bruit' comes to us from medicine, where it refers to a loud, abnormal sound in the chest that alerts an examining physician to a circulatory problem.
Thus, 'to bruit' means to announce or report intrusively or vigorously, to spread the news. And a 'bruit' is a rumor, a noisy din or a loud, intrusive announcement.
So, when a celebrity appears on the red carpet and all the young folks start madly texting, their tweets bruit the arrival.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
The great things about hanging around with little kids -- aside from the joy of the kids themselves -- is doing things you never think to do otherwise. Like spending a morning at SeaWorld, watching the Ocra Whale show, throwing fish to seals and feeding the world's most colorful birds. I love the birds that collect at my home feeders, but for eye delight, they cannot quite match this!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Excuse me while I take a brief break from the vocabulary building. I am on family weekend in San Antonio; among other things, we are exploring the American Girl Doll phenomenon.
When I first started hearing about American Girl Dolls, I thought this was something that had been around forever that I’d just missed somehow. But when I decided to figure out how I’d been so out of touch, the truth became simple: this line of amazing dolls came into existence in 1986, when my young boy child was already 6 years old. By the time the momentum built, I was mostly involved with mothers raising boys; dolls weren’t high on our list of concerns. I would hear a bit about these dolls and their tea parties and hospitals and such from time to time, but that didn’t pull my focus..
Fast forward to grandchildren. Suddenly little girls and the interests of little girls matter again.
The little girl in my life wanted American Girl Dolls for her November birthday. Her granddad and I couldn’t have been more willing to do the honors – or more happy sappy. So, here’s American Girl Doll Ruthie at dinner with us this evening. I’m just delighted to have little girls in my life again!.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
If you are following my word-rich blogging, I judge you decidedly perspicacious.
And if you feel you sort of know what I mean, you are probably right. Like me, you probably recognize that you’ve heard or seen that word before and that it means something good.
But maybe – also like the former ‘me’— you don’t know quite what the good thing is.
So the new ‘me’ is here to tell you.
Actually, perspicacity is the perfect antidote to yesterday’s ‘gormlessness.’ If you are perspicacious, you are highly discerning, perceptive, clear-sighted.
(And, of course, being so, you will continue to watch for future Tiddlywinks installments.)
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The words you know and use come from your interests, your activities and your general engagement in living. You pick up new words from the media, from the places you go and from your friends. It is possible to be very intelligent with a limited vocabulary – but it doesn’t happen much. In fact, a limited vocabulary restricts your ability to communicate, to understand and possibly even to think effectively.
Of course if you use a lot of words the people around you don’t know, you could be talking to no one but yourself.
On the other hand, that might just be a virtue if you are frustrated by a witless, brainless companion! Rather than call the dolt ‘stupid,’ you can resort to ‘gormless,’ satisfy your impulse to express yourself without losing a friend. Maybe. Assuming the person is, in fact, as dull witted as you believe.
You may find variations for ‘gormless’ like ‘gaumless’ and ‘gawnless,’ as the word comes to us from the Germanic strand, from ‘gaum,’ meaning 'understand.'
And if you don’t want to be understood, save ‘gormless’ for State-side; the Brits apparently use it more than we. Plus, it is likely to be on the upswing here as well, as J. K. Rowling used it in the 2007 Potter release.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Sometimes the word that stumps you isn’t unknown – it’s just used in an unfamiliar way. Thus, when Ms. Hazzard referred to someone ‘ravening,’ I wasn’t certain I knew what she meant.
I know, of course, what a raven is. It’s that big bird that appears in Poe’s poem. But I didn’t know it was possible to raven; I didn’t know ‘raven’ could be a verb.
What does it mean ‘to raven’? (So glad you asked.)
Probably, I thought, something like this: to behave in the manner of ravens. And how do ravens behave? They fly, they nest, they flock, they eat, they scavenge. We don’t see ravens much in the suburban North Shore, but I did have a tribe of them (flock seems too gentle a word) at my north side birdfeeder once and I’ll tell you this: they scared away all the other creatures, not just the littler birds but the squirrels on the ground, too. And they devoured everything they could get their beaks on.
At the risk of distracting you with a wild bird chase, I also considered the possibility that ‘ravening’ meant something like ‘falconry’ or ‘hawking.’ Falconry or hawking involves training and using birds in hunting small game; it was a sport popular among the Anglo-Saxon nobility some centuries back.
So off to the dictionary went I, where my first suspicion was confirmed: 'to raven' is 'to consume greedily, to devour.'
And, while ignoring the likely connotation, I want to say: to raven words ain’t misbehavin’.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Usually when I read, I do not need a dictionary. Nor do I consider the use of uncommon words a necessary feature of creative or imaginative writing. Yet I could not help but be impressed with two writers I encountered this summer whose work sent me to or even beyond my handy Webster’s Collegiate time and time again.
Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus introduced me to at least two dozen new words. And reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy tripled that treat. With almost one hundred new words in my quiver, I thought I’d share a bit.
One at a time.
So, today, I offer an azoic or beginning lesson. That is to say, the word for today is ‘azoic,’ meaning ‘at, in or near the beginning.’
The word ‘azoic’ is an adjective. The ‘a’ in this case carries the meaning of ‘not, without or opposite.’ And ‘zoic’ is related to ‘zoo,’ as in ‘zoology’ – meaning ‘life.’ Thus, ‘azoic’ refers to a period of time without life; geologically, the time before life appeared on earth.
For we living things, the time before life is at, in or near the beginning. Thus, the word ‘azoic’ comes to mean just that – at the beginning.
And I thought that was the perfect place to start.