What's in a Word?
Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, November 29, 2010
I was especially interested in the Student of the Week section today, because it features Sarah Ferrieri, a former literacy student of mine. The name Sarah comes from the Hebrew, Sara, which means princess.
Despite the meaning of her first name, Sarah Ferrieri never expected to be treated like royalty when she was an eighth-grader at West Middle School. Quite the contrary. Every day, she rolled up her sleeves and tried to learn as much as she could. She always went above and beyond her teachers’ expectations for her schoolwork and for her behavior.
Sarah Ferrieri has a bright future ahead—one of her own making. If she is ever treated like royalty, she will have earned every second of it.
As promised Friday, here are some more words that end in “ee”: lessee, trustee, escapee, refugee, retiree, employee, trainee, referee, absentee and addressee.
Sarah Ferrieri, Palisade High School senior
By Debra Dobbins
Friday, November 26, 2010
The Frank and Earnest cartoon today has fun with the name of a famous American. The Battle of Appomattox was one of the last Civil War battles; it was fought April 9, 1865. The general on the winning side was Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union forces. He would become the 18th president of the United States.
A grant is something that is given, such as "property, a tract of land, an exclusive right or power, money from a fund, etc.,” according to Webster’s. Teachers, for example, often write proposals for grant money from charitable foundations.
Grant may also be used as a verb. For instance, a genie might say “I’ll grant your wish.” Here, the genie is a grantor, someone who makes the grant. (See blog of Oct. 12 for other words with the “or” suffix.)
The person receiving the grant is the grantee. Can you think of other people who are described in words that end with the “ee” suffix? Check Monday’s blog for some answers.
In the meantime, as promised Wednesday, here are some synonyms for diminutive: little, small, miniature, miniscule, minute, petite, teeny, tiny, teeny-weeny, teensy-weensy and wee.
By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
If the words in this headline are unfamiliar, reading the subhead helps us guess their meaning:
Using the context clues in the subhead, we can infer (logically guess) that diminutive dynamos are small but powerful football players. We can test our inference by reading the story. Sure enough, it provides details on Danny Woodhead, not quite 5-foot-8, and Darren Sproles, 5-foot-6, whose outstanding performances make them dynamite in small packages for their teams. (Check out the print edition or e-edition for the entire story.)
Dynamos, or powerful people, dominate other fields, too. For example, many people consider Bill Gates a dynamo in the computer world, Bruce Springstein a dynamo in the music world and Hillary Clinton a dynamo in the diplomatic world.
A dynamo also means “a generator that produces direct current with the use of a commutator,” according to Wikipedia. Webster's says that the word stems from the Greek word dynamis, which means power.
How many other synonyms for diminutive can you think of? Check Friday’s blog for a few more.
By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Giving someone the cold shoulder means to snub him or turn away from him. In this case, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf froze out head coach Brad Childress by firing him. Was Wilf’s decision cold-hearted? You may read the story in our print edition or e-edition and decide for yourself.
Through the centuries folks have claimed that this phrase came from the practice of giving an unwanted visitor the cold shoulder of mutton, rather than freshly cooked, hot meat given to guests enjoying a warmer welcome. According to several sources, though, this explanation may simply stem from folk tales. Scholars who like to delve into the history of words cannot find much proof that such cold cuts really existed.
What is documented is the use of the phrase by Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish playwright, poet and historic novelist. According to Wikipedia, the phrase first showed up in Scott’s The Antiquary, a gothic novel written in 1816. Here’s a quote from page 69:
"Ye may mind that the Countess’s dislike did na gang farther at first than just shewing o’ the cauld shouther—at least it wasna seen fartha; but at the lang run it brak out into such downright violence that Miss Neville was even fain to seek refuge at Knockwinnock castle with Sir Arthur's leddy, wha (God sain her) was then wi' the living."
Wikipedia says that Scott again used the phrase both in a later novel and in a letter he sent to an editor. Scott’s spelling of “cold shoulder” did not survive over time, but the meaning of his phrase did.
Some people contend that “cold shoulder” is a cliché, an expression that is overused. (See yesterday’s blog entry.) I say we retain it to help us remember how to drop a hint in our modern, over-connected world. Who knows? If some of our Facebook “friends” appear on our doorsteps someday, we may have to feed them.
Sir Walter Scott
From Project Gutenberg's The Modern Scottish Minstrel, Volume I
Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia
Cliches I hate
Cute as a button (The vast majority of buttons cannot be called cute.)
Slept like a log (Logs may rest on the ground, but they don’t sleep.)
Thinking outside of the box (It’s used so much that it now reflects thinking inside the box.)
Cliches I love
Cat got your tongue (Sorry, but the phrase brings up a Jules Feiffer kind of image for me.)
Knee-high to a grasshopper (Maybe this one’s overused because folks such as I love its whimsy.)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (I’ll concede that the grammar is bad, but the advice is wise. I would add: Don’t buy the latest version and toss the first one into a landfill.)
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, November 22, 2010
The cartoon above plays on a statement by a famous pop artist. Writing for the catalogue of an exhibition of his art in Stockholm in 1968, Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
His words are often misquoted or paraphrased, but what has remained in our collective consciousness is the phrase “15 minutes of fame.” It is somewhat of a cliché (cle SHAY), a phrase or saying that is overused.
A cliché, however, can come in handy. Because most of us recognize it, it becomes linguistic shorthand. We can blithely blaze from one cliché to another, confident that we’re making ourselves understood … just not in an imaginative way.
Cartoonists have been poking fun at clichés for quite some time. Consider the cartoon, “Our Three-Volume Novel at a Glance," by Priestman Atkinson. He produced it for the Punch Almanack for 1885, according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia further explains: “This is a jocular look at some clichéd expressions which were overused in the popular literature of the time. It contains absurd literalistic interpretations of a number of conventional metaphors, accompanied by some outrageous visual puns.”
Cartoon courtesy of Wikipedia
How many clichés do you know? I’ll list some that I either love or hate tomorrow.