Tag Archives: language

Are you an Atholl?

 

Before you say no, consider “What’s in a name?”

“A rose,” said Juliet to Romeo, “by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Oh, yeah?  What if your local nursery had a beautiful looking rose named “Garbage Dump on a Hot, Humid Day (or G’Day)?”  The nursery notes that: “The G’Day rose was found at our local land fill among over-ripe vegetables, used condoms, rotten meat and what appears to parts of a victim of The Sopranos.  It is a healthy, compact, low growing plant that has buds that open to dainty, altogether charming flowers.  It is vigorous, heat tolerant and disease resistant with long-lasting flowers of deep blood-red and velvety petals.  Its fragrance – well – denotes its origins and would make a wonderful addition to your garden, especially if you hate your neighbors.”  I think that most of us would pass and settle for roses named Double Delight or New Dawn.

Those of us with long or unpronounceable or phonetically-challenged names suffer consequences from birth not unlike the G’Day rose.  These are consequences not experienced by people named Smith or Jones.

Consider the plight of the Bater’s. It is an English (Devon) occupational name from Old French bateor “one who beats,” possibly denoting a textile or metal worker.  How appropriate when you receive mail addressed to Master Bater.

There is the fine old German family name of Fuchs; In English, it is better that is rhymes with books and not with ducks.

Names do not have to be long to be difficult to pronounce.  Consider Przbrz.  No, it is not priz-biz.  It is Polish and pronounce (phonetically) sheb-bish.

Which brings us to the unfortunately named Peerage of Atholl.

Areyou1

The Duke of Atholl, named after Atholl in Scotland, is a title of peerage in Scotland held by the Clan Murray.  It was created by Queen Anne in 1703 for John Murray, 2nd Marquess.  Now there are a number of perfectly respectable peerages in Scotland – Hamilton, Argyll, Montrose, Huntly and Queensberry to name a few – so what did the head of Clan Murray do to have Queen Anne elevate him to such ignoble status?

According to Wikipedia, the town of Blair Atholl is built about the confluence of the rivers Tilt and Garry in one of the few areas of flat land in the Grampian Mountains.  The Gaelic place-name Blair or field refers to this location while Atholl, which means “new Ireland” refers to the surrounding district.

Aha!  Is it possible that this is how Queen Anne regarded anyone from Ireland?

Keep that in mind when you decide to submit to Ancestry DNA to find your true roots and discover that you are, in fact,

… an Atholl.

 

 

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Surprising Words

surpring-words

Dr. Language Guy here. After a long hiatus, I was brought back to life by a recent Reader’s Digest article about surprising words recently added to the dictionary.  While I cannot improve on them, I can give my own alternatives.

Humblebrag

Often found on social media, the humblebrag is a boast disguised as self-deprecation: ‘I’m so nervous about picking up my Nobel Peace Prize, I’ll probably trip on my way up to the podium!’ Most legitimately used in job interviews to answer the dreaded trick question, ‘What is your worst quality?’ There is no other answer but a humblebrag: ‘I’m such a perfectionist, and I work too hard. My boss has to make me go home at night to take a break.’

[Dr. L G: I am familiar with humblebrag.  I am often asking people to look for my lost Congressional Medal of Honor at dinner parties.]

Snollygoster

A snollygoster may sound like a Dr. Seuss character with a topknot, but it’s actually a shrewd, unprincipled politician who is only out for himself. First popularized by President Truman after World War II and fallen into disuse for decades, this colorful insult has been almost single-handedly revived by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

[Dr. L G: I am more likely to think of a snollygoster as snot that gets hidden under the coffee table.]

Fast fashion

Fast fashion doesn’t necessarily involve roller blades, peekaboo necklines, or racing goggles. Instead, it refers to an elaborate system of producing cheap, trendy garments in sweatshops that are designed to fall apart quickly: the perfect excuse to buy next season’s fad. Like fast food, it’s cheap, temporarily satisfying, but not especially good for you.

[Dr. L G: To quote Dolly Parton, “It took a lot of money to look this cheap.”]

Collapsar

Have you been wondering what to call an old star that’s imploded under the pressure of its own gravity to form a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole? Try collapsar, which may sound like a Marvel super villain or an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but really just means ‘collapsed star.’

[Dr. L G: Collapser also describes my investments.]

Mumblecore

Everyone knows about hardcore and software, but what about mumblecore? Lena Dunham’s TV show Girls is a prime example of this genre, which focuses on the private lives of earnest young slackers who talk a lot but don’t understand themselves and, frankly, sometimes don’t speak clearly enough for the audience to understand them either.

[Dr. L G: It is what you say under your breath when your spouse announces that a dear friend, who you cannot stand, is coming to visit for three weeks.]

Abandonware

If you’re one of the many fans who pines for discontinued software, especially games from PacMan to Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now, you probably know all about abandonware. For the rest of us, it’s a revelation to discover that third-party suppliers are keeping thousands of orphaned programs alive online—enough to justify a new word in the dictionary!

[Dr. L G: Tupperware party purchases, anyone?]

Yowza

Sometimes it takes a new word a while to catch on. Yowza, an exclamation of surprise or amazement, was first introduced in 1933. It never died out, probably because it’s just so much fun to say, and this year it finally made the cut.

[Dr. L G: See Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “Yowza, yowza, yowza.”]

Woo woo

Woo woo may remind you of courtship, cheerleaders, or baby talk, but it actually refers to any mystical, paranormal, and generally unscientific claim, from alien abduction to the telekinetic bending of spoons. But as Julia Moskin, a New York Times reporter, puts it, ‘One man’s woo-woo, of course, is another’s deeply held belief system.’

[Dr. L G: Some of you may be familiar with Curmudgeon-at-Large’s assertions on alien anal probing.]

Conlang

A conlang has nothing to do with three card monte, Ponzi schemes, or the lost wallet scam. It’s an invented language with a real vocabulary and consistent grammatical rules. And though conlangs arise from elaborate fictional worlds like Klingon from Star Trek, Elvish from Lord of the Rings, or most recently, Dothraki from Game of Thrones, these languages have taken on a life of their own, with thousands of fantasy fans around the world using them in real life.

[Dr. L G: It’s also the language used after six or more stiff drinks.]

Supercentanarian

Anyone older than 110 is supercentanarian, and we’ll probably be seeing that word a lot more often as human life spans continue to grow. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Probably depends on the supercentanarian!

[Dr. L G: “Look, down on the ground!  It’s a stuffed bird!  It’s a stalled plane!  No, it’s Supercentanarian Man!”]

Beestys and Fowlys

 

Dr. Language Guy here.

It has come to my attention that many of you face a grammatical dilemma when encountering strange wildlife in your own backyard. Now I know that, if you sight wolves, deer or locusts, you will immediately call out “There is a pack of wolves or a herd of deer or a plague of locusts in my backyard!”  Packs are common to a number of creatures – wolves, hounds and other dogs – as are herds – asses, buffalo, deer, elephants, giraffes, moose and zebras.  Plagues only apply to locusts and politicians.

But what do you say if, for examples, you encounter baboons, sheldrake or wombats? Never fear. Thanks to the Book of Saint Albans of 1486 entitled Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, aided by Wikipedia and abcteach, you will correctly and properly identify any group of animals that cross your path.  The animals will respect you for this attention to detail.

A Troop of Baboons

A Sedge of Bitterns

A Sounding of Boars

A Drove of Bullocks

A Tok of Capercaillie

A Quiver of Cobras

A Covert of Coots

A Bask of Crocodiles

A Murder of Crows

A Trip of Dotterel

A Fling of Dunlins

A Mob of Emus

A Fesnyng of Ferrets

A Bloat of Hippopotamuses

A Clattering of Jackdaws

A Deceit of Lapwings

An Ascension of Larks

A Plump of Moorhens

A Pod of Pelicans

An Ostentation of Peacocks

A Congregation of Plovers

A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes

A Crash of Rhinoceros

A Dopping of Sheldrake

A Walk of Snipes

A Pitying of Turtle Doves

A Wisdom of Wombats

Beestys

A WTF? of Weird Wildlife

 

We should start applying such terms to groups of people as well:

A Brace of Bloggers

A Klump of Kardashians

A Really Good Deal of Used Car Salesmen.

Do you have any suggestions?

If you can’t improve your health, improve your writing

 

Hypertextbook.com says that an average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Most sources say that the English language contains between 600,000 to over 1 million words depending upon how you count.  (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)  Not only do most of us use less than 3% of available words, we employ them poorly.  And when I say “we,” I mean “me, myself and I.”

As a charter member of the Failed Writers Society, I recognize my repetitive, trite speech and writing patterns especially when I come across informative reading matter.

A recent article from The New Yorker entitled Alone in the Alps by James Lasdin described the connection between the Via Alpina trail in Europe and its rich culture as follows:

“That sense of multiplicity is still strong. The Rockies may offer wilder wilderness, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place…   It’s there […] in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which is Slovenia are clotted with consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”

This description of a consonant-rich Eastern European language is the best I’ve come across since a Car Talk episode called Vowels to Bosniahttp://www.cartalk.com/content/vowels-bosnia

So what’s the connection between not improving your health and improving your writing? Well, if nothing else, not improving your heath will give you less time to improve your epitaph* when that inevitable day comes.

[*Dr. Language Guy wishes to point out that he word “epitaph” comes from the Latin epitaphium, which, in turn, comes from the Greek epitaphion, meaning “over or at a tomb.”  This is derived as epi (“on” or “over”) + taph(os) (“tomb”).]

Here are some better examples.

In a London cemetery:

Here lies Ann Mann,

Who lived an old maid

But died an old Mann

Dec. 8, 1767

 In a Ribblesford, England cemetery:

The children of Israel wanted bread;

And the Lord sent them manna.

Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,

And the Devil sent him Anna.

In Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona:                          

Here lays Butch,

We planted him raw.

He was quick on the trigger,

But slow on the draw.

 Also in Boot Hill:                          

Here lies Lester Moore

Four slugs from a 44

No Les

No more.

 Of a hanged sheep thief, in Lame, Ireland:

Here lies the body

Of Thomas Kemp

Who lived by wool

But died by hemp.*

 * A witticism from Cervantes’ Don Quixote states:  “One does not speak of hemp in the house of the hanged.”

A lawyer’s epitaph in England:

 Sir John Strange

Here lies an honest lawyer,

And that is Strange.

 In Newbury, England (1742):

 Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,

Nobody laughs and nobody cries;

Where his soul’s gone, or how it fares,

Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

 In a Welland, Ontario cemetery:

Here lies all that remains of old Aunt Charlotte,

Born a virgin, died a harlot.

For sixteen years she kept her virginity,

A marvelous thing for this vicinity.

 

And finally, in Hollywood Forever cemetery:

Improveyourwriting

 

Biases and Prejudices

In a rare moment of reflection and self-evaluation, I came face-to-face with a startling realization about my own biases and prejudices.

Biased1

I will believe as Gospel truth anything told to me by someone who has a proper British accent or a deep baritone voice.  The late Sir Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart or Dennis Haysbert could sell me swamp land, stock in the Brooklyn Bridge, a body organ or a radioactive device.  They could tell me that they know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, reveal their encounters with alien life forms or how to make gold from base metals and I would believe them.  They could convince me that I was a victim of botched trans-vaginal mesh surgery or that I lived a previous life in the court of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary.  I could listen to any of these voices as they recite the Newark, New Jersey yellow pages and be mesmerized.

I consider Abraham Lincoln as the greatest prose poet of the nineteenth century.  He is reported, however, to have had a high-pitched, squeaky voice.  It is better that I never heard him speaking his famous words because I would not accept them.

Imagine that you are driving along an interstate highway in the Deep South in the United States and you are involved in a terrible traffic accident.  You are rushed to the emergency center of a nearby regional hospital with life threatening injuries.  Which of these two doctors would you prefer to operate on you?

Doctor Number 1:  (in a clipped, upper class British accent) “I am your surgeon, Dr. Hugh Lockhart-Mummery.  Trust me when I say that I and my superbly capable staff shall get you through this complicated procedure with as little difficulty as possible.  I must tell you that, although I trained at Harvard, Oxford, the Mayo Clinic and the American Hospital of Paris, this is my very first attempt to perform this complicated operation.  Your family may rest assured, though, that you are in competent hands.”

Doctor Number 2: (in an accent like Gomer Pyle): “Well gol-lee, we sure got us a good one here.  Haven’t seen a break like this since baby brother fell outta the ol’ swamp oak.  I’m Dr. Joe-Bob and me and my crew will get you fixed up quicker’n your mama can unbutton her overalls.  Done a couple thousand of these and ain’t had to call the morgue yet.”

Now logic would dictate that Dr. Joe-Bob, with a thousand plus operations under his belt, knows what he is doing and Dr. Lockhart-Mummery-Whatever doesn’t know squat.  But are you going to tell me that you would not be reassured by that soothing voice of confidence that only comes with a proper British accent?  And that you would be less than comforted by hearing the voice of a surgeon who sounds like one of the supporting characters from the Dukes of Hazzard?

Yes, we all carry our biases and prejudices with us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone who sounds just like James Earl Jones is telling me I only have five minutes left to make a once-in-a-lifetime investment in property on the moon.