What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 124 of 132

The bios behind the words

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, September 10, 2010

A little cove on the southeast coast of Norway is a charming spot to go for some rest and relaxation. It would be excellent for swimming, except for one problem. Strewn throughout the water are huge boulders—boulders that cannot be removed by mandate of the Norwegian government.

During World War II the Nazis invaded Norway by land through neighboring Sweden and by sea. Many Norwegians did everything they could to impede (slow down) the progress of the Nazis. For instance, they pushed boulders into coves and other landing areas so that the Germans would have a more difficult time coming ashore. After the war, the Norwegian government said the boulders must remain as a tribute to the courage and sacrifice of ordinary citizens.

For much of the war, Norway was under the rule of a puppet government headed by Vidkun Quisling. Quisling was a Norwegian who collaborated (worked with) with the Nazis. As noted above, Quisling was executed by firing squad for betraying his country. His name now is a synonym for traitor.

Other men have contributed their names to English, as well. In the late 1700s, John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was reputedly too engrossed in his card games to take a break to eat. He ordered his valet to bring him meat in two slabs of bread so that he could remain at his card table. Others started saying that they wanted what he was having. Thus, the sandwich became popular. Were he alive today, the Earl of Sandwich might well be astonished at all the variations of his culinary concoction.

The word “maverick” comes from Samuel Maverick, a Texan rancher who bucked the system in the 1800s by not branding his cattle. Maverick now means someone who refuses to conform, according to Webster’s.

Finally, there’s “bowdlerize,” a word which means to take out passages in a literary work that might be offensive. It comes from Thomas Bowdler, an English editor who published sanitized versions of Shakespeare’s works in the early 1800s. According to http://shakespeare.palomar.edu, he said, “I acknowledge Shakespeare to be the world's greatest dramatic poet, but regret that no parent could place the uncorrected book in the hands of his daughter, and therefore I have prepared the Family Shakespeare.”

Now, of course, daughters (and sons) everywhere read unaltered plays of Shakespeare. Bowdler must be turning over in his grave.


John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich

photo of oil painting courtesy of Wikipedia


‘Musik’ to our ears

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, September 9, 2010


Music is indeed a universal language; it captivates people of all ages all over the world. Thanks to mass media, people nearly everywhere also easily understand the English word “music.”

It is a cognate, a word that sounds similar, in these languages:

Italian             musica
Spanish         música (with an acute accent over the u)
Portuguese   música (with an acute accent over the u)
French           musique
German         musik
Dutch             muziek

“Eine Kleine Noon Musik” is an allusion (a reference) to The Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525. Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1787, this work is also known by the title "Eine kleine Nachtmusik."

According to Wikipedia, “The German title means ‘a little serenade,’ though it is often rendered more literally but less accurately as ‘a little night music.’ The work is written for a chamber ensemble of two violins, viola, and cello with optional double bass, but is often performed by string orchestras.”

To hear the first movement, go to You Tube.




‘Suitcase’ words

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Since today is International Literacy Day, I was pleased to see a front-page story on Sarah Palin’s coinage of a new word: refudiate. It’s a blend of refute and repudiate. You may read the story in our print edition or e-edition to get the definitions of both words.

The article goes on to give more examples of blends, such as splatter (splash and spatter). Here are several of my favorites:

smog   - (sm)oke and f(og)
snazzy - (sn)appy and j(azzy)
brunch - (br)eakfast and l(unch)

Lewis Carroll, author of “Jabberwocky,” Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, gave us these:

slithy    -   (sli)m(y) and li(th)e
chortle -   (ch)uck(le) and sn(ort)
snark   -   (sn)ake and sh(ark)

These words are sometimes called portmanteau words. A portmanteau is a type of suitcase that folds in and has two separate sides to it.

But, what’s in a name? Whether they are termed blends or portmanteau words, they demonstrate how adaptable, and often delightful, the English language really is.


A take-away word

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The word “desegregation” has a historical connection to words such as “egregious” and “gregarious.”

As noted in the Aug. 18th entry, these words stem from a Latin word, greg, which meant herd.

“Segregation” is separation from the herd, or, to use a modern term, society. Growing up, I learned many instances from news reports of how blacks were excluded from society. They were forced to go to separate schools, could not eat at certain lunch counters, saw public drinking fountains marked for white use only and had to use waiting rooms set aside “for coloreds” in train and bus stations.

The word “desegregation” was formed by adding the prefix “de.” This prefix means, among other things, taking away. (Think of the math term “deduct.”) So, in a way, desegregation is the taking away of the practice of taking away the fundamental rights of every American.

Achieving desegregation has been a long battle in our nation. See the story below for a few details on how Jefferson Thomas helped make a difference in that battle.




Lady Who?

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, September 3, 2010

 “Antebellum” is an Americanism that means “before the war.” In the United States, it is used to note something before the Civil War. People visiting the South can still see a number of pre-Civil War residences, which are called antebellum homes. (The prefix “ante” means before.)

Wikipedia says that the three members of the pop/country band  “Lady Antebellum” had an interest in photographing large plantation homes in the South. In the course of this pastime they had an epiphany (a flash of insight) and decided that antebellum should be part of their band’s name.

The story below notes that guitarist Dave Haywood has asked his mom to the Country Music Association Awards, but she can’t go. (Dave, if you read this, call, text or tweet. I’m available.)


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