What's in a Word?
Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel
By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
"Daze” is still the operative word for many Western Slope students on Day Two of the new school year.
Used as a noun in the headline above, it means bewilderment, “as by a shock or blow,” according to Webster’s.
After the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, many students are understandably dazed. After all, they’ve had to figure out the combinations to their lockers, locate new classrooms, meet new teachers, learn classroom procedures and cram into their backpacks such necessities as textbooks, course syllabi, gym shoes, and, of course, combs and cell phones.
“School daze” is a play on words, taken from “school days,” a time-honored allusion to the song by the same name. Will Cobb and Gus Edwards wrote the song in 1907, well over a century ago.
According to Wikipedia, the song is about “a mature man and woman looking back sentimentally on their lifelong friendship and their days in primary school.”
Wikipedia adds that the best-known part of the song is its chorus:
“School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
'Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful, barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate, "I Love You So"
When we were a couple o' kids”
While slates and hickory sticks aren’t in modern-day schools, let’s trust that the Golden Rule still is.
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, August 23, 2010
“Velcro parents” is a phrase that means parents who cling to their children, refusing to let them do anything on their own.
Velcro is a trademarked name for a product that often replaces zippers or shoelaces.This product has two layers, a hook side and a loop side. When the layers are put together, they stick.
Velcro joins other trademarked names that are now second nature to us. For example, instead of saying, “I’ll photocopy this,” we often say, “I’ll xerox this.” Xerox is a trademark, but we tend to use it as a verb or a noun without capitalizing it. It has made its way into our common speech and writing. That is probably just fine with executives and other workers at Xerox Corporation.
In the same way, we may ask for a Coke or a Popsicle at a lakeside concession stand without realizing that both treats are trademarked names. If we are lucky enough to use a pair of Jet Skis at the lake, we are enjoying personal watercraft with a name trademarked by Kawasaki.
As for those doting, Velcro parents, I think they are just doing their jobs.To deflect their critics, they should develop Teflon skins and go right on sticking to, by and up for their sons and daughters.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Life is about choices, it’s commonly said, but I simply cannot choose the best comic among three that caught my eye today. Here are quick comments on each.
“Those blasted horns” were vuvuzelas (voo-voo-ZAY-las), long, slender horns that nearly punctured ear drums in July at the World Cup in South Africa.
An enigma is a mystery. It comes from a Latin/Greek word meaning to speak in riddles, according to Webster’s.
Nope, fiction is definitely not a place. Webster’s states that fiction is “anything made up or imagined, as a statement, story, etc.”
As school resumes, students can expect to delve into plenty of great fiction, everything from Charlotte’s Web to To Kill a Mockingbird.
Best wishes to all students for a successful new school year!
By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I’m visiting area schools today, so there’s just time to define two words appearing in today’s Frank & Earnest comic strip.
Ka-ching - an imitation of the sound made by a cash register, according to
Mantra - taken from Hinduism, it is a “hymn or portion of text … chanted or intoned as an incantation or prayer,“ according to Webster’s
By the way, "ka-ching" is an example of onomatopoeia. That is when a word imitates a sound. Other examples include buzz and tinkle.
By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
If I were stranded on a desert isle with only one book, I would want a dictionary.
The dictionary contains thousands of stories. Each story is found in the etymology that is placed in double brackets right after the listing of the word’s part of speech. The etymology explains a word’s origin and development.
Case in point: Consider the use of egregious in one of today’s editorials (reproduced below).
I already knew that egregious means very bad, but I didn’t know that it is linked to gregarious, which means sociable.
How could a word with a bad connotation (shade of meaning) be linked to one with a good connotation? The answer lies within double brackets.
Both words date back to the Latin word grex, which meant a flock or a herd, according to Webster’s. Grex was later expanded to gregis.
When I looked up egregious, I was directed to gregarious. I flipped the pages over to it, grumbling a bit because I already knew its meaning.
I became glad I took the time. Armed with the knowledge of both words’ origin, I began to see their connection.
A gregarious, or sociable, person enjoys the company of others and therefore wants to live in and be accepted in “flocks” or “herds.” Put in modern terms, a flock or herd means society.
On the other hand, someone who has committed an egregious error may be excluded from a flock or herd. When our predecessors added the prefix “e”, which means out, to a root word meaning flock or herd, they created a word that originally meant separated from the herd. Put in modern terms, then, an egregious error is one that involves the risk of ejection from one’s social circles.
To learn other words related to egregious and gregarious, check out:
With just a dictionary, I could probably while away the hours on a desert isle for quite some time. Being gregarious, though, I’d eventually spell out HELP in the sand. With some willpower, I’d refrain from adding the word’s part of speech, etymology, definition and synonyms.