What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 7 of 132

From zed to z

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, April 15, 2014


If Dolly were a British schoolchild, she likely would not be saying “Z.”

We Americans seem to be the only ones who use “Z” for the final letter of the alphabet. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the term “zed,” which is closer to the Greek word zeta, is used.

One theory, according to staightdope.com, is that Americans changed the pronunciation of the letter after the American Revolution, because many folks did not want to sound English.


Everyday heroism

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, April 14, 2014

“Eroica” is in today's crossword puzzle answers. The clue for it had simply been “Beethoven's third,” which is a decent hint, but I had to look the word up. I am glad I did; an interesting story lies behind it.

According to various sources, Beethoven orginally wrote Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte, considering him a great man. When Napoleon pronounced himself emperor of France in 1804, however, his star fell in the eyes of Beethoven, so Beethoven renamed The Bonaparte Symphony to Eroica. Eroica was a synonym for heroic.

PBS.org has quite an enlivening explanation of the events in Beethoven's life that led him to compose Eroica and to infuse it with a wide range of emotions. For one thing, the PBS site notes, as Beethoven was writing the symphony he was struggling with the reality that he was going deaf.

One of my favorite excerpts is this: “But if the hero of the music was no longer Napoleon, who was it? The Eroica explores what it means to be human. In facing his own demons and choosing to continue making music, to continue living, Beethoven embraced the heroic in everyman and, ultimately, in himself.“

To learn more about this classic symphony and its composer, go to: http://www.pbs.org/keepingscore/beethoven-eroica.html

Title page of Eroica with Bonaparte's name partially erased
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


Stuck in the past

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The term “Luddites” in Greg Ruland's article today about qutting cigarette smoking is used in the general sense of people refusing to accept changing times.

The term, however, had a very specific meaning when it first came into English. It referred to workers in England in the early 1800s who were angry about technological advances in the wool and cotton industries. They viewed new machinery in these industries as threats to their livelihood.

“The Luddites were named after ‘General Ned Ludd’ or ‘King Ludd’, a mythical figure who lived in Sherwood Forest and supposedly led the movement,” according to the website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Their protests turned violent — so much so that the British government dispatched thousands of troops to places such as Yorkshire, according to the same site. “In 1812, machine-breaking became a crime punishable by death.”

Every time I unload my own groceries from a cart and/or scan them at a self-checkout station, I feel a little bit like a Luddite — in its more general sense, I must hastily add. (There will be no havoc on aisle nine.)

I miss the cheerful help I had in the “good old days.” However, that type of job, requiring not much education, is being swallowed up by advancements in technology. I, as a consumer, must accept that, and young people who may be tempted to skate by in life without constantly adapting and learning new skills would be wise to accept that, too.

According to LinkedIn, jobs in the tech sector were among the hottest for 2013. To see the list, use this link: http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/12/18/the-25-hottest-skills-that-got-people-hired-in-2013. Please don't ask me what many of these jobs actually entail. When it comes to high tech, I'm a lowly Luddite.


TIME WARP: According to Wikipedia, an 1884 Penny magazine engraving superimposed art of two men purportedly acting in 1812 onto art of a Jacquard loom. However, Wikipedia adds, the Jacquard loom did not come into being until after the 1820s. (Photo of engraving courtesy of Wikipedia)


Blurry vision, lovely sights

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eventually, I've been advised, I'll need surgery to remove cataracts in both eyes. I'm not worried about the prospect; from all accounts, such surgery is relatively quick and painless, and it often improves one's eyesight quite a bit. “Cataracts” describes a medical condition in which an eye's lens slowly grows opaque, causing vision to blur.

I learned today that “cataracts” also means large waterfalls. According to the Online Dictionary, the word “cataract” came into English in the early 15th century and meant “'a waterfall, floodgate,' from Latin cataracta 'waterfall,' from Greek katarhaktes 'waterfall, broken water.'”

How lucky we are now to have advanced techniques to zap cataracts — enabling so many of us to better admire lovely sights such as, well, cataracts.

Photo of Cumberland Falls in Kentucky special to the Sentinel


Anonymous — and happily so

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, March 27, 2014

Scanning this headline this morning, I couldn't help but think of Emily Dickinson.

A 19th century American poet whose writing is now a staple in middle-school literacy textbooks, Dickinson was a prolific writer, but a near-recluse for much of her life.

Given one of her better-known poems (below), imagine her horror if she were magically whisked forward in time and someone offered to friend her on Facebook.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog – 
To tell one's name – the livelong June – 
To an admiring Bog!

(Source: www.poets.org)

Photo of daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson courtesy of Wikipedia


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