“Old Farmer’s Almanac” says the Halcyon Days begin today. From the Almanac: “This refers to about 2 weeks of calm weather that often follow the blustery winds of autumn’s end. Ancient Greeks and Romans experienced this weather around the time of the winter solstice, when the halcyon, or kingfisher, was brooding. In a nest floating on the sea, the bird was said to have charmed the wind and waves so that the waters were especially calm during this period.”
Archive for the ‘Language’ Category
I heartily disagree with people who complain about police officers and speed traps and such. I am thankful for law enforcement, and I despise speeders, tailgaters and obnoxious drivers. But I would like to teach policemen and dispatchers the fine points of clear, concise speaking and writing.
I read a plethora of police reports in the line of duty, and I hear scads of scanner chatter. In the course of all that law enforcement reading and listening, I regularly notice the unnecessary verbosity of police officers and dispatchers. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s another interesting etymology I learned in “Connections.” “Malaria” derives from the Italian “mala aria,” meaning bad air. An aria in opera is an elaborate solo song, and air can mean a piece of music. We call slow tunes in Irish and Scottish music airs.
Reading the book “Connections” by James Burke, I learned that the word “curfew,” which entered Middle English from AngloFrench “coverfeu,” meant a signal given to bank the hearth fire, from French coverir, to cover, plus feu, fire. Its oldest listed English definition in Merriam-Webster is “the sounding of a bell at evening,” and the second definition was that which we know now, “a regulation enjoining the withdrawal of usu. specified persons (as juveniles or military personnel) from the streets or the closing of business establishments or places of assembly at a stated hour.” Later the word came to mean the time period that the regulation is in effect.
I named my column when it began in 2003 for the old writing rooms in monasteries, the Latin word for a writing room coming from the root scribere, not because I long to live a cloistered monk’s life but because I love calligraphy and old-style paper. So one day I was wondering what I would call my library if I used the Latin word. “Ex Libris,” seen on bookplates, made me think that “libris” means library, but it means “books,” and “Ex Libris” means “from the books of.” I think the phrase means “from the library of” in a more relaxed, symbolic sense. Read the rest of this entry »
Because I love calligraphy and paper, I like exploring the roots of the word “manuscript.” Separating words into their components can lead to a better understanding of the words, and when you understand the meanings behind the parts of words, you can often deduce the meaning of the combined word. When you can spell the components, you can often spell the word. If nothing else, the study of etymology is a rewarding study of Latin and Greek words.
Although the first thing that comes to mind when someone hears the word manuscript is a typewritten copy of a book submitted for publication, the original meaning is a handwritten copy. Manuscript is a combination of two Latin words, manus, meaning hand, and scriptus, a thing written, the past participle of scribere, to write. So manuscript means something written by hand. A raft of words have their origins in scribere. Some, such as scrive and scrivener, are variants of scribe, a copier of manuscripts. Some are similar to manuscript and refer to something written, such as a play or movie script, a transcript, a prescription, or scriptures. Scribble also has its roots in scribere. Read the rest of this entry »
Acarophobia: 1) fear of corn syrup; 2) fear of Egyptians; 3) fear of skin infestation by small crawling organisms.
Acrophobia: 1) fear of acronyms; 2) fear of acrobats; 3) fear of great heights.
Aerophobia: 1) fear of getting sick in airplanes; 2) fear of aerating your lawn; 3) fear of drafts of fresh air.
Agoraphobia: 1) fear of Cleveland rock concerts; 2) fear of blood and guts; 3) fear of open spaces or embarrassing situations in public places.
Ailurophobia: 1) fear of not being appealing to the opposite sex; 2) fear of airplane controls; 3) fear of cats.
Algophobia: 1) fear of algae; 2) fear of algorithms; 3) fear of pain.
Amathophobia: 1) fear of math; 2) fear of big-time wrestling; 3) fear of dust. Read the rest of this entry »
Long ago I was a phillumenist, but I discarded the habit. A phillumenist is one who collects matchbooks. I had a sizable collection that filled two metal coffee cans. The matchbooks were ranged in circular rows in the cans, lying on their sides with the top, wide, side out, standing maybe three matchbooks high. I decided one year to discard some of my collections, and I got rid of the matchbooks. I wish now I had kept them because they would provide interesting insight into the 1960s and 1970s, and I especially regret that I burned the matchbooks. Is there a word for one who burns matchbooks? Something along the lines of pyrophillumener? Now I collect beer labels. There must be a word for that.
I heard an in-store ad at Rite Aid that named the store’s website and included “backslash” in the address. I checked the website and found slashes but no backslashes. Although I performed a cursory investigation and can’t be sure the site has no backslashes, I suspect that the ad writer, like many others, doesn’t know the difference between a slash and a backslash. A slash (/) is a traditional punctuation mark, and a backslash (\) is rare. I remember seeing the backslash in the 1990s when I had to type file names to save information — now that seems like something Australopithecus would use —but I’m unaware of it in other uses. I suspect that people learned that term in those Cro-Magnon computer days, retained the word, and now, because people repeat what they hear without pondering the meaning of a term, use it when they should say “slash.”
The same is true of 180 versus 360. For a long time people said “a 180-degree change” or “do a 180” to refer to a reversal in behavior, attitude, or thinking. Now people are saying “do a 360.” That is wrong and again indicates parroting a phrase without forethought. The numbers refer to the degrees in a circle — a circle has 360 degrees, that number derived from astronomy and the moon — and half a circle is 180 degrees, so turning halfway around is a 180-degree change. If you “do a 360,” you’re still going in the same direction or behaving in the same manner.
People love colloquialisms, but they should think before they speak. That of course applies to more than just proper use of language, and we would all be well off to practice more silence and less talking.