What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

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Zulu, anyone?

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

English seemingly knows no international boundaries. Our language is like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up words everywhere it can.

Case in point: impala. Used to describe a small antelope in central and South Africa, it came into English in 1875 from the Zulu word for gazelle, im-pala, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Zulu is the language of the Zulu people, most of whom live in South Africa.

It's easy enough to understand why Chevy dubbed one of its vehicles after this creature. Impalas are quick runners, and their curved horns (on males, anyway) and sleek bodies are elegantly eye-catching. “Impala” thus implies speed and good looks.

Wikipedia notes that impalas “communicate using a variety of visual and vocal communication.” Considering the technological advances found in modern vehicles, that connotation seems appropriate, too.

Oh, I can't resist: Bravo to the Zulus for such an interesting word!

Zulu dancer
Photo by Ernmuhl courtesy of Wikipedia

 

The impala is also known for its giant leaps, as high as 3 meters (9.8 feet), according to Wikipedia.
Photo by Arturo de Frias Marques courtesy of Wikipedia

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Almost paradise

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 28, 2014

The Acadia advertised in today's paper evokes a mental image of people freely dashing off to all sorts of blissful destinations. Such a vision was likely behind GMC's decision to name this vehicle as it did.

“Acadia” is yet another interesting example of how words evolve – or devolve – over time. Besides being the name of a vehicle, it is a proper noun describing a French settlement on the northeast coast of North America. According to Webster's, that settlement existed from 1604 to 1713. The dictionary notes that the area includes “what are now the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, plus parts of Quebec and parts of Maine.”

This vast region, however, was not always known by this exact name. According to Wikipedia, the entire north Atlantic coast north of Virginia was actually dubbed “Arcadia” by the 16th-century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who admired the beauty of the trees he found in Virginia and Maryland. In later years, though, the “r” would be dropped and the region would be known as “Acadia.”

Da Verrazzano is said to have taken his inspiration for the region's original name from the ancient Greeks. As sea-lovers, the Greeks were constantly exploring – and conquering – new lands, according to Isaac Asimov in Words from History, Not every Greek, however, wished to venture far from home.

In inland Greece was a land-locked district known as Arcadia, Asimov writes. “The Arcadian townsmen and farmers did not travel or colonize. Lacking the stimulation of foreign ways, they clung to their older, more primitive life.”

As time went on, Asimov adds, the Arcadians came to be admired, even envied, for their uncomplicated ways. “The Roman poet Vergil, about 30 B.C., wrote of Arcadia as a place of the ideal simple life, the home of pastoral happiness, where shepherds piped to their flocks and were free of all the vice of cities.”

In 1590, Asimov continues, Sir Philip Sidney entitled one of his poems “Arcadia,” and “that fixed the word in the English language … [I]t now means any place of ideal but simple happiness.”

Thomas Cole's The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1834
Photo of painting courtesy of Wikipedia

 

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Secret stories

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I smiled over Pickles today for a number of reasons. Among them is that coincidentally I'll attend my book club tonight, and we are likely to share some good anecdotes as we discuss our latest read. That's what good books do: They spark personal responses as readers incorporate their contents into their own life stories.

Yourdictionary.com notes that anecdotes can be used for these reasons: to caution, to reminisce, to bring cheer or to persuade or inspire. Public speakers often start out with anecdotes as a way to “hook” the interest of their audiences. Or, the dictionary adds, anecdotes can simply be “part of a natural conversation.”

This word also has had its meaning watered down. According to the Online Eytmology Dictionary, it came into English in the 1670s and meant "'secret or private stories' from French anecdote (17c.) or directly from Greek anekdota 'things unpublished.'” The dictionary adds that by 1761, the word's meaning had “decayed in English to 'brief, amusing stories.'”

In researching "anecdotes," I came across one word I hadn't known: “anectdotage,” which is a portmanteau word composed of anecdote and dotage. Webster's defines it as “senility, as characterized by the telling of rambling anecdotes.” (I dare not explain this word to my son – too much ammo.)

Maria Hatcliffe and Bobbi Alpha have shared many delightful anecdotes at our book club meetings. (Photo by Debra Dobbins)

Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.
Mark Rothko  (Source: brainyquotes.com)

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Thinking about zinc

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 14, 2014

Right after lunch today I popped a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral pill. Its minerals include 11 milligrams of zinc, which, according to the product labeling, meet 73 percent of an adult’s daily requirement. I’m not worried about the other 27 percent, as health professionals say that zinc is also found in low-fat dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals, chicken (dark meat), cashews, flounder and sole, all of which I like.

Ingesting zinc is said to benefit one’s skin and liver. It is also considered helpful in healing wounds and in enhancing the immune system.

The word for this mineral, which is number 30 on the Periodic Table of Elements, is an anglicized version of the German word Zink. It came into English in the 1650s, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Oh, almost forgot: Zinc’s reportedly also found in dark chocolate. Nope, absolutely no concerns here about any unhealthful zinc deficiency …


Special to the Sentinel
 

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Horsing around

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On tap for this weekend is the Lions’ Club parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by its carnival starting at 5 p.m. at Two Rivers Convention Center. There’s sure to be hijinks, hilarity and/or horseplay at both events. After all, the Lions’ motto is “Doing the most good, for the most people, while having the most fun."

Speaking of horseplay, the word has been around for centuries. It came into English in the 1580s, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

In his book, Red Herrings and White Elephants, Albert Jack sheds more light on the word’s history. “To indulge in horseplay is to behave in a boisterous but friendly manner,” he writes. “The origin of this saying lies with the English Morris dancers. At country fairs players riding wooden hobbyhorses usually accompanied Morris dancers. These ‘horses’ were expected to engage in wild and uncontrollable antics to entertain the crowds ... and the ‘horseplay’ became a popular and important part of the Morris dancers’ act.”

Morris dancers along the Thames near Richmond, c. 1620.
Detail of The Thames at Richmond, with the Old Royal Palace by an unknown artist
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Caption and photo courtesy of Wikipedia*

* This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.
The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:
This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

 


 

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