What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 9 of 132

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 or directly from Greek anekdota 'things unpublished.'”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)


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


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.




Watered-down rum

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In modern parlance, “grog” is a synonym for any alcoholic beverage, but its original meaning has been watered down over time. Perhaps a certain English military man, were he alive today, would be happy about that.

Admiral Edward Vernon was a long-time naval officer in England in the mid-1700s. At least one of the men he commanded respected him highly — none other than the half-brother of President George Washington. According to Wikipedia, Lawrence Washington named the family estate, Mount Vernon, after the admiral.

Alas and alack, this staid historical tidbit about Vernon seems to have been surpassed by notoriety related to what the admiral wore and an order he issued.

Vernon apparently was fond of wearing a grogram cloak. Grogram was “a coarse fabric … made of silk, worsted, and mohair, often stiffened with gum,” according to Webster’s. As a result, he was nicknamed “Old Grog.”

“In 1740,” writes Albert Jack in Red Herrings and White Elephants, “Admiral Vernon, the commander in chief of the West Indies, replaced the neat rum which was then issued to all sailors twice daily, with a watered-down version.” Other sources claim Vernon had the rum diluted with lemon juice or lime juice — a practice that actually improved the health of his sailors by reducing the chances of scurvy.

At any rate, his order went straight to the heart of many a sailor. Given the conditions of sailing ships in those days, it is not too far-fetched to think that the rum rations were the highlights of a sailor’s day.

Sailors began calling the new concoction “grog” after the admiral’s nickname. Many, I suspect, did not consider the term complimentary.

Jack mentions that one sailor, Thomas Trotter, who was aboard the Berwick, enshrined Vernon’s mandate into history in this manner:

“A mighty bowl on deck he drew
And filled it to the brink
Such drank the Burford’s* gallant crew
And such the gods shall drink
The sacred robe which Vernon wore
Was drenched within the same
And hence his virtues guard our shore
And Grog drives its name”

*The Burford was Vernon’s flagship from 1739 to 1742.

Portrait of Admiral Vernon by Thomas Gainsborough
Photo of painting courtesy of Wikipedia

Royal Navy grog issue
Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia



A wry twist on a lovely poem

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Liz is punning on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem, which has a rather long name, “Sonnets from the Portuguese 43: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

As the title suggests, the poem is one of a collection of 44 sonnets this Victorian writer penned as a tribute to a fellow poet, with whom she had more than a professional relationship.(Sonnets are poems of 14 lines that have a strict rhyme scheme; Shakespeare was also adept at composing them.)

“The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet's lifetime and it remains so today,” according to Wikipedia.

Here are the first four lines of the poem:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

For the full text, go to http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172998

Phoebe Anna Traquair’s illuminated copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese: Sonnet 30”
Held by National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and uploaded by oaktree_b
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


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