What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 103 of 132


People power or mob rule?

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Democracy has two Greek word parts: demos, meaning the people, and kratein, meaning rule. So, democracy means rule of the people.

Democracy is an emotionally laden word for most Americans. We cherish our democratic rights so much so that we actively encourage other countries to hold free and fair elections, as evidenced in our nation-building of Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re moved by pictures of Iraqis holding up purple index fingers to show they’ve voted.

Though arguably a better alternative to, say, autocracy (a rule by one) or plutocracy (government by the wealthy), pure democracy also has its shortcomings. In a pure democracy, everyone has a say in running the government, and the majority rules. While that may sound good on the surface, historians tell us that our Founding Fathers had their reservations.

Some were concerned about majority rule running rampant over the needs of the minority. So, they established our form of government as a republic, a system that allowed representatives to enact the wishes of their constituents and created laws to limit the power of government. The Founding Fathers did, of course, retain the democratic procedure of voting.

Ironically, then, Arab leaders may justifiably be concerned about democracy, at least in its purest form. Given the volatility of the region, pure democracy could descend into mob rule.

Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarek, an autocrat who held power for nearly 30 years, has been a fascinating look into the determination of common people to rule themselves. Now we see a wave of other protests in the Middle East and North Africa.

As we watch Egypt’s ripple effect, let’s hope that both courage and wisdom guide our fellow citizens of the world in their quest for democracy.


 

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Tree octopus pushovers

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 14, 2011

The word “gullible” also appears in today’s “Freshly Squeezed,” reproduced below. It means easily fooled or duped.

To better understand the meaning of this word, check out an interesting video on NIEOnline that discusses how many people believe there is a “tree octopus.” You’ll find it at http://nieonline.com/grandjunction/videooftheweek.cfm?id=89.

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Tasteful French phrases

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 14, 2011

One measly rose? Made-up holiday or not, surely Sam can do better. While he may know that ”au contraire” means “on the contrary” in French, he hardly seems fluent in the language of love.

Sam should at least present Sara her rose in a romantic French restaurant. Below are a few phrases they’d possibly see on the menu:

À la carte - on the menu, with each dish priced
À la mode - with ice cream.
Au gratin - with cheese
Bon appétit - good appetite, or "Enjoy your food"
Café au lait - coffee with milk
Cordon bleu - high quality, especially of cooking
Crème brûlée - “burnt cream,'” baked custard with a carmelized crust
Crème caramel - a flan, a custard dessert with a layer or caramel on top
Haute cuisine - high class cooking; literally, “upper kitchen”
Hors d'oeuvres - an extra dish served as a relish to whet the appetite, normally at the start of a meal
Petit four - a small dessert, usually a dainty cake
Soupe du jour - “soup of the day,” the soup offered by a restaurant that day
Table d'hôte - a full-course meal offering a limited number of choices and served at a fixed price in a restaurant or hotel

Sam seems to have forgotten Sara’s stress over the major life change of having her parents move in. A rose and a romantic meal could greatly restore her joie de vivre (joy of life.)

Source of definitions: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/french-phrases.html
 

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Vandalism and an unromantic Valentinian story

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 11, 2011

Since we all have hearts and flowers on our minds, I hate to be a spoilsport, but a check of Wikipedia and Answers.com reveals this highly unromantic bit of history:

In the 400s Roman emperor Valentinian III and Genseric, leader of the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, had betrothed their daughter and son. The match was seen as a way to strengthen relationships between the two powers. Unfortunately, when Valentinian III was killed in 455, Petronius Maximus took over, married his predecessor’s widow and had his own son marry Valentinian’s daughter.

This change in plans did not set well with Genseric, also called Gaiseric. He took it as a breach of contract of sorts, at least a good enough excuse to lay waste to Rome and capture Valentinian’s daughter. Genseric's son then married her, after all. Historians do not say how happy she was about the marriage, but to modern sensibilities, it does not sound like a match made in heaven.

As sacks go, historians have concluded that it wasn’t Rome’s most riotous rout, but apparently the Vandals did enough looting, pillaging and ravishing for Renaissance and Early Modern writers to put the blame for Rome’s destruction mostly on them, according to Wikipedia.

Webster’s says that vandalism now means “malicious or destruction of public or private property, esp. that which is beautiful or artistic.”

Vandalism in the news recently has been the destruction of priceless artifacts in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Military troops are guarding the museum against further destruction.

Perhaps now that President Hosni Mubarek has agreed to turn over power to Egypt’s army, Cairo, another ancient city, will be spared further acts of vandalism.

For more on this breaking news, go to http://www.gjsentinel.com/breaking/articles/mubarak-resigns-hands-power-to-military.

Genseric Sacking Rome
Karl Briullov (1799–1852)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Sack of Rome by the Vandals
Heinrich Leutemann (1824–1905)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

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Toast shows hope

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, February 10, 2011

What’s in a word? In the case of Gabrielle Giffords, what lies within one word, toast, is another, hope.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the left side of her brain Jan. 8, recently asked for toast at breakfast. Toast is a simple, one-syllable word, but her request gave her doctors, family and friends hope that she might recover her higher-level cognition. You may read more about Giffords in today’s print edition or e-edition.

Toast refers both to a piece of browned bread and to the giving of honor to someone or something, as in “I propose a toast to.…” In its latter sense, the word came from the practice of dropping browned, spiced bread into wine to add flavor, according to Webster’s.

I propose a figurative toast to Giffords’ resilient spirit. I hope she’s soon well enough to propose her own toasts to the doctors, family members and friends who are guiding her through the fight of her life.


 

“Hip, Hip, Hoorah,” by Danish painter P.S. Kroyer, 1888
Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

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