Sunday, September 11, 2016

What's in the names Betsy, George, Bob, & Fanny?

 By George, who were Betsy, Bob and Fanny Adams?
                                  by
                           Howard Richler
Have you ever come across an expression that you have not encountered in decades?  This happened to me some months ago while watching a German movie with English subtitles that featured a concentration camp scene with some horrific goings-on. To my astonishment the subtitle translated the German ejaculation of despair with an understated, rather comical “heavens to Betsy.” For those not familiar with the expression, it is a mild exclamation of surprise or shock, and thus the translation hardly seemed adequate to describe the situation.
My interest aroused, I found the origin of this phrase is shrouded in mystery. It represents one of the euphemistic non-curses that was prevalent more than fifty years ago and whose usage has all but vanished. The OED’s first citation of the phrase is in 1857 from Frederick W. Saunders’ short story Serenade found in Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine: “‘Heaven’s to Betsy!’,he exclaims, clapping his hand to his throat, ‘I’ve cut my head off’.”  It seems the selection of the name Betsy as the subject of this minced oath was arbitrary. According to Charles Earle Funk who in 1955 used the phrase Heavens to Betsy as the title of his book on interesting phrases, its origin is “completely unsolvable.”
On the other hand, we do have a leading candidate for the subject of the expression “Bob’s your uncle” used to express the ease with which a particular task can be achieved. The most popular theory relates it to an act of nepotism in the 1880s.  British political pundits were bemused when the young and inexperienced Arthur Balfour (to become Prime Minister in 1902) was appointed as Chief Secretary for Ireland by his uncle Robert (Bob) Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, then Prime Minister.  Hence, the theory suggests that if Bob is your uncle then anything is possible.
Some etymologists believe there is no basis for this origin and that it represents an example of a back-formation, i.e., an explanation that is invented after the event. An alternate theory points out that in 18th century slang there was an expression “all is bob” that meant “all is well” and some etymologists see this as the expression’s origin.
The problem with both these theories is that the expression is only found in print in the 1920s.  This makes the latter origin theory appear particularly dubious. It also seems somewhat odd that an expression connected to the nepotism of an uncle to his nephew would only surface after both men were well out of office.
So it would appear that there exists reasonable doubt about the true identity of our aforementioned Betsy and Bob. But what about the George found in the mild exclamation “By George!” According to Robert Hendrickson in Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, this George is none other than Saint George who has been the patron saint of England since the institution of the Order of the Garter in 1348.  Little, however, is known about this canonized George. It has been speculated that he was a soldier in the Roman army who was martyred for his Christian faith in Asia Minor.  This theory, however, is specious. Most etymologists believe that George represents a substitute for God and follows the old Hebraic and English traditions of avoiding the use of sacred words such as God or Jesus by using a name with the same initial letter. So in the case of God, George represents one of the many G substitutes for God, such as golly, gosh or Godfrey.
For those people who prefer onomastic certainty, I am pleased to relate that at least in one instance we are positive about the identity of a person referenced in an expression.
In the expression “Sweet Fanny Adams” we actually have detailed knowledge about the subject. While this expression is very popular in Britain and Australia, it is not widely known in North America and  I am only aware of it because it is one of my  British-born partner Carol’s favourite expressions.  Officially, “Sweet Fanny Adams” means “nothing” and it is often used as a euphemism for the expression “sweet f*** all.”  Fanny Adams was an eight year old who was murdered in England in August 1867 by Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor’s clerk. Her mutilated body was found in a field near Alton. This heinous crime was widely reported and drew much sympathy due to the victim’s age.  A ballad about the murder described the victim as having a sweet nature and before long British sailors turned this tragedy into sick comedy as the expression “Sweet Fanny Adams” came to refer to the inedible meat rations the sailors were served, likening the meat to the dead girl’s remains. In fact in 1889, a dictionary of slang defines Fanny Adams as “navy, tinned mutton.”  Eventually, the phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” became a substitute for the aforementioned expression “sweet F*** all,” often rendered initially as s.f.a  given that both expressions sport the same initials.
So whether you’re a known or unknown Bob, George, or Fanny you may be immortalized in an expression, such is the egalitarian nature of the English language.
Richler’s book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May  2016. It is available in fine bookstores and on Amazon.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

BRITISHISMS IN THE USA

                                    The Britishisms are coming

                                                   by

                                            Howard Richler

“I think it’s fair to say maybe some point down the line, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is on negotiating with the E.U… The U.K. is going to be at the back of the queue.”
Barack Obama. April 23, 2016
Obama’s use of queue was regarded as suspicious in some British quarters. Was the use of the non-American “queue” a sycophantic attempt to curry favour with the British public? Or even worse, did Obama hire some Brit to write the speech?
Truth be told, Obama has used the term queue previously (instead of “line”) on several occasions which might partially explain why many Republicans don’t believe he was born in the USA. In 2010, in a White House transcript, he stated, “There were several people who were still in the queue who didn’t have a chance to speak prior to breaking, The next year, we have hin saying “Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions  –  so far. So just  when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue- I’m messing with you Chuck.”  In 2013, POTUS declared “We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for five years, ten years, fifteen years – in some cases, 20 years.”
Actually, there has been an upswing in the usage of British terms in the US for many years, particularly in the northeast. Whereas at one point, employing a British accent was seen as classy nowadays the peppering ones speech with Britishisms in the US is seen as intellectual.
Here are some other examples of Britishisms that have become popular.
bespoke-   Bespoke is often used by Americans to refer to  high-quality items and services.  In the New York city area there are over twenty “bespoke” companies including “Bespoke Books,” “Bespoke Surgical,”  “Bespoke Barber Shop,” “Jasmine Bespoke” and at least one store simply called “Bespoke.” Also, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists over forty active registrations and applications for “bespoke” brand names with the majority of the patents being filed in the past eighteen months. If you have a USA bespoke product or service to offer you better act quickly. One person wanted to use Bespoke.com as their web address but as this belonged to Bespoke Software, he had to settle for Bespoke Innovations.
chav- The OED defines chav as, “In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.”
This term is increasingly being used in probably due to the insidious influence of You Tube videos. Here are two examples stemming from the U.S, that I spotted on the Internet:  “Nah I'm not buying those sneakers man, they are so chavvy.”   Someone from Boston posted the following on a language newsgroup:“Chav is gaining currency as Americans understand that not all British people are posh. Boston/Cambridge is rife with international college students, so it may just be a blip, but I've heard it in a suburban grocery store to refer to some hooligans outside the store.”
kit –When  American science-fiction author John Scalzi wrote on his blog some years ago that the latest IPad  was a “lovely piece of kit,” he was deluged by many followers who thought his using the expression was highly pretentious. Scalzi retorted:  “Apparently being an American, I should have settled on “Dude, this tablet is bananas,” or something else equally comporting with my nation of origin.” This usage appears to be popular with techies and tennis fans who might refer to a player’s “kit,” whose gear might change depending on the surface of the tennis court.
Similarly, the words “toff” and “gobsmacked” are being used much more in the US in recent years. “Toff” is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or someone who exudes an air of superiority.” During the 2012 presidential campaign is was used by American journalist Daniel Gross who took pains in an article to declare that Mitt Romney was not the “bumbling toff” he was made out to be. “Gobsmacked,” is oft heard these days in North American circles and the person who seems to have popularized the word is singer Susan Boyle whose appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 quickly went viral.
Blimey.

Richler’s book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May 2016.




Tuesday, August 9, 2016

QWERTY

(Lexpert Magazine)


                          The Keys to QWERTY
                                
                                         by
                             
                                Howard Richler


Quiz-What common 10-letter word is composed solely of letters found on the top letter line of a typewriter*?

(For the benefit of millennials I should explain the antediluvian word typewriter. It is a single font, mechanical system for applying ink to paper that handled only alphanumeric character.)
Notwithstanding that “repertoire,”  “perpetuity” and “proprietor” are satisfactory answers to my quiz , and that “pepperwort” “prerequire,” and “pirouetter” also work, the usual answer to this conundrum is “typewriter.”
Of course, this answer is dependent on using the QWERTY keyboard. (So called because QWERTY form the first six letters on the top letter row.)  But why do we have this configuration in the first place?  After all, it wasn’t designed to accommodate specific typing technique because at its 19th   century inception touch typing hadn’t as yet been invented.
While the earliest known typing devices date back to the 1750s, the first versions with a key for every character occurs in the 1860s, when Christopher Latham Sholes whose eclectic interests included being a Wisconsin politician, newspaper publisher and amateur inventor who various machines to make his enterprises more efficient. One such invention was an early typewriter which he developed with Samuel W. Soul, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden, and first patented in 1868.
The earliest typewriter keyboard resembled a piano and was built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys. The developers believed it represented the most efficient arrangement as everybody knew the order of letters in the alphabet.  So why was the QWERTY keyboard developed?
The standard theory asserts that Sholes had to redesign the keyboard in response to the mechanical failings of early typewriters. The metal arms connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed. The solution was to redesign the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters such as th  st  or on . This theory is somewhat suspect because er is one of the most common letter pairings in the English language and the letters e and  r  adjoin on a QWERTY keyboard. Interestingly, one of the typewriter prototypes had a slightly different keyboard that was only changed at the last minute. If it had been put into production we might now be discussing a QWE.TY keyboard.
In any case, by 1873, the typewriter had 43 keys and an arrangement of letters that was designed to prevent these expensive machines from jamming. That same year, the Sholes’ consortium entered into an agreement with gun and precision machinery manufacturer Remington who with the demise of the Civil War, was trying to adapt to a peacetime economy. However, right before their machine, dubbed the Sholes & Glidden, went into production, Sholes filed another patent, which included a new keyboard arrangement. Issued in 1878, it   marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout. The deal with Remington proved to be an enormous success. By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY-based Remington produced typewriters in use across the United States. The fate of the keyboard was entrenched when the five largest typewriter manufacturers –Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged in 1893 to form the Union Typewriter Company which agreed to adopt QWERTY as the standard that dominates even in the 21st century.
While undoubtedly the partnering with Remington helped popularize the QWERTY system, its development as a response to mechanical error has been questioned. A 2013article entitled Fact of Fiction:The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard written by Jimmy Stamp  in Smithsonian.com points out that  researchers at  Japan’s Kyoto University concluded in 2011 that the mechanics of the typewriter did not influence the keyboard design. Rather, the QWERTY system emerged as a result of how, and by whom, the first typewriters were being employed. Early users included telegraph operators who needed to transcribe messages in a timely manner. It is feasible that these operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be unclear and inefficient for translating Morse code. The Kyoto analysis suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by these telegraph operators.
In this scenario, the typist preceded the keyboard. The Kyoto research also cites the Morse lineage to further debunk the theory that Sholes wanted to protect his machine from jamming by rearranging the keys with the intent of slowing down typists
Regardless of how he developed it, Sholes himself wasn’t convinced that QWERTY was the best system. Although he sold his designs to Remington early on, he continued to tinker with advancements to the typewriter for the rest of his life, including several keyboard layouts that he determined to be more efficient. In fact, he filed a patent in 1889, a year before he died that was issued posthumously.
So why do we persist with the QWERTY layout? I suppose the answer is simply because by now so many people know its sequences so well and can type without even having to look at the individual keys. Adopting a different layout would be tantamount to learning a new language.
Richler’s latest book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was released at the end of April 2016.


FACEBOOK QUIZZES- 1401-1500

FACEBOOK WORD PUZZLES #1401-1500
To help celebrate having reached the 1400 plateau I am introducing a new word puzzle called “Split Definitives” that features words that can be defined by their constituent parts. For example, if the clue read “marijuana residue” (6)  (a), you’d be looking for a 6 letter word where one of the 2 parts starts with an a. The answer here is “potash: which can be divided into “pot” + “ash.”  I first developed this concept in a series of articles I published more than 20 years ago in National Lampoon.  These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.” The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.
Here is the first “split definitive.”      1401- Conclave of Mafia bosses    (7)   (t)
1402- Name a country that has an acronymic origin
1403-Discern the convergent words:   end-stern-room     end-work-bow     end-nest-ring
Here is the second “split definitive.”      1404-Fog over Warsaw  (8)  (m)
1405-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means change what you  eat
1406- Discern the convergent words:   dance -jerk-rubber     bear-fully-idleness        rock-skin-tears  
1407-Split Definitive Puzzle     icicle (12)  (e).
1408--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that could be a slang expression for the tire industry   tread trade
1409- Discern the convergent words:   ring-shield-cream      light-      diamond-bare     family-line-money
1410-Split Definitive Puzzle     fashionable religious denomination   (6)   (s)
1411-What do these words have in common?  blurb-boondoggle-lilliputian-gas
1412-Discern the convergent words:   train-bonus-boat    up-cinnamon-tax     snap-watewr-coat
1413 -Split Definitive Puzzle    battle cry (7)   (w).
1414- What do these words have in common?  endears-costumier-hominal  
1415- Discern the convergent words:   bug-cinnamon-cat    peas-ten-hem     crossing-referee-mussel
1416 -Split Definitive Puzzle-  great hooter  (9)   (s) 
1417- What do these words have in common?  budgie-piano-cab  
1418-Discern the convergent words:   cake-claw-complain   as-sage-house     stick-borne-bite
1419 Split Definitive Puzzle-   priestly promises   (9)    (v)
1420-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a possible result of a shortage of analgesics 
1421- Discern the convergent words:   hole-wounded-brace     plant-time-about     check-less-cat
1422 Split Definitive Puzzle-  bankroll a psychic (14)    (f)
1423- What do these words have in common?  date-celery-cereal-butter-fish-pecan   
1424- Discern the convergent words:   wedding-master-burnt    garlic-up-fly    loops-less-fully
1425 Split Definitive Puzzle-   What Pizarro caused   (12)    (d)
1426-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that represents a verbose way of saying forever   
1427- Discern the convergent words:   bad-relations-lust      pencil-hammer-arrow     pie-bean-stone
1428 Split Definitive Puzzle-  cease wrath  (8)    (a)  
1429 -Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a strapping many-headed snake 
1430- Discern the convergent words:   woman-arctic-coal     wife-white-rose     woman-walk-arctic
143- Split Definitive Puzzle-  constriction   (8)    (s)    
1432- What do these words have in common?  anger-berserk-ugly
1433- Discern the convergent words:   bare-under-down     purple-broken-less     pilot-ate-oil
1434-Split Definitive Puzzle-  in favour of conception (11)  (c)
1435- What do these words have in common?  morose-sepal-peony-defer-claim-heroin
1436-Discern the convergent words:    arm-land-girl     pole-black-vanilla     water-pickled-salad
1437-Split Definitive Puzzle-  barbecue chicken  (7)    (h).
1438-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a small hunting bird  
1439- Discern the convergent words:   sea-fat-boy     sea-whistle-sit dog     sea-boo-brain bird
1440-Split Definitive Puzzle- what you might ask an arsonist  (6)    (a)   
1441-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means  an ideal older student authorized to enforce discipline 
1442- Discern the convergent words:   waiter-war-wear        fog-freeze-fart     calf-car-coerce
1443- Split Definitive Puzzle-   anti-dog  (6)  (c)
1444-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means part of a metallic element  
1445- Discern the convergent words:   night-speckled-white      up-loft-horse    medal-sea-gang
1446-Split Definitive Puzzle- Reagan campaign slogan    (8)    (e) 
1447- What do these names have in common?  Cedric-Fiona-Jessica-Pamela -Stella-Vanessa   

1448- Discern the convergent words:   flags-flask-friends    thumping-war-cold      chestnut-angel-horse
1449-Split Definitive Puzzle    average  bullfight cheer   (6)  (o)
1450- What do these words have in common?  robot-superman-witticicm-intensify   
1451-Discern the convergent words:   alight-ocean-bird    riot-foot-cat       fink-her-desert
1452-Split Definitive Puzzle- obvious number   (8)  (o)
1453- Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a dry foray  
1454- Discern the convergent words:   jack-say-American    jack-pot-lemon      jack-soda-animal
1455- Split Definitive Puzzle    thrash thoroughly    (9)     (b)
 1456--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means solicitous defilement
1457- Discern the convergent words:   rope-snow-drive     top-atoll-string     ate- gym-shirt
1458- Split Definitive Puzzle-love boat (10)    (f) 
1459- What do these words have in common?   interregnum, transmigration, chrysanthemum
1460- Discern the convergent words:   magic-soup-cap      bad-crate-beater    pot-festival-trap
1461- Split Definitive Puzzle -    command falsehoods    (9)    (o)
1462- What do these words have in common?  mojo-celery-gravy
1463- Discern the convergent words:   mother-party-pea    islands-wharf-yellow    dung-cigarette-racing
1464- Split Definitive Puzzle-   battle room (6) (d)  
1465- What do these words have in common?   racquet-chiropractor-mandate
1466- Discern the convergent words:   art-fly-up     sandwich-Canadian-crisp       Indian-field-snake
1467- Split Definitive Puzzle    centurion’s twitch   (8)  (r) 
1468- What do these words have in common?  capital-kowtow-cabbage
1469- Discern the convergent words:   duck-off-poker    do-pin-oil      bend-cap-fore
1470-Split Definitive Puzzle    undiscovered atomic particle    (9)  (s)
1471- What do these words have in common?  chagrin-cavort-hippopotamus
1472- Discern the convergent words:   wood-whip-hook   worker-line-keeper      cavil-entry-us         
1473-Split Definitive Puzzle-What you do when you have a flat    (6)  (r) 
1474- What do these words have in common?  gruff-bumpkin-frolic
1475- Discern the convergent words:   my-east-got      pound-ash-hot      salad-spring-sweet
1476-Split Definitive Puzzle-Insect hallucinogen    (7)  (a)
1477- What do these words have in common?  adder-nickname-umpire
1478- Discern the convergent words:   page-jet-bled         page-ten-hole        nation-reich-horn
1479-Split Definitive Puzzle-  Imply negative response   (7)   (n)
1480- What do these words have in common?  homophone-monster-anode
1481- Discern the convergent words birds-wooden-roll       fore-work-boot         beach-bound-stiff
1482-Split Definitive Puzzle   Entomological quorum   (7)  (t)
1483-What do these book titles have in common?  House of Mirth, The Sun Also Rises    Go Set a Watchman
1484- Discern the convergent words   in-dial-on     cap-fracture-numb        stem-cramp-less
1485-Split Definitive Puzzle-Fashionable religious denomination  (6) (i)
1486- What do these words have in common?  Clerihew-bowler-Pilates  
1487- Discern the convergent words up-need-my   flour-a-flower    almond-tea-dog
1488- Split Definitive Puzzle Run of the mill petty quarrel (9)   (p)
1489-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that could describe what Canute tried to do 
1490- Discern the convergent words at-on-fruit     cinnamon-baiting-tolerate    crossing-fly-hunter
1491- Split Definitive-Start of the pot  (9)    (d)
 1492- Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that explains who gets what
1493- Discern the convergent words   a)man-corn-bad b)per-blue-wood c)black-oil-horse
1494- Split Definitive Puzzle - harberdashery holdup   (9)    (h)
1495-Name 3 words of at least 8 letters  only comprised of letters that occur twice
1496- Discern the convergent words     university-inner-shrine      tennis-grease-macaroni      tissue-pizza-pale
1497- Split Definitive Puzzle –Owns sled (7)   (h)
1498-What do these words have in common?preternatural-antemundane-idiosyncratic   
1499- Discern the convergent words   ballet-glass-house    pin-clip-rod        eye-sweat-hop
1500- Split Definitive Puzzle-barer  (6)    (o) These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.”The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon






Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shakespeare's Legacy

                         The Man for All Ages

                                        by

                               Howard Richler

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of perhaps the most immortal of all writers. It is fitting that the phrase “We all make his praise” is an anagram of William Shakespeare.
Moreover, the “all” in the phrase refers not only to native speakers of English but to all literate people on the planet. Shakespeare’s works have been translated into more than 100 languages and it has been calculated that almost half of the world’s students have studied parts of his oeuvre. Ben Jonson’s comment about Shakespeare in the Preface to the First Folio in 1623, “He was not of an age, but for all time” has been vindicated by time.
Literary critic Harold Bloom titled his tome Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human because Shakespeare “went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we know it.”  Bloom argues that the Bard can be singularly credited for creating the modern person not only in the Western word but throughout all cultures, and he views the Shakespearean characters Hamlet and Falstaff as representing “the inauguration of personality as we have to recognize it.”
Shakespeare’s contribution to our phraseology is ubiquitous. Observe:  We all cite him “without rhyme or reason.” If you are “in a pickle” because you’ve been “eaten out of house and home” by your own “flesh and blood,” or by a “stone-hearted”  “blinking idiot” or by ”strange bedfellows,” you are quoting Shakespeare.  Small wonder you’ve been “hoodwinked” and are “playing fast and loose” and haven’t “slept a wink” and are probably “breathing your last.” Methinks you’ve been “more sinned against than sinning.”  While it may be “cold  comfort,” it’s also a  “foregone conclusion” you are quoting Shakespeare.
The story is told (probably apocryphal) of an adolescent’s response upon seeing a performance of Hamlet stating that the play is “merely a collection of clich├ęs.” Of course when Shakespeare coined expressions such as “brevity is the soul of wit,” “primrose path,” “dog will have its day,” “the lady doth protest too much,” “sweets for the sweet” and “cruel to be kind,” they were newly minted gems.
We sometimes forget because of Shakespeare’s transcendent phraseology that he may also rate as the greatest word creator of all time. To wit, the OED shows that the first evidence of a word is found in his works 1504 times and the first sense of a word appears in his works on 7698 occasions.  Examples of the latter are the verbal use of elbow and cow to mean “jostle” and intimidate” respectively and  admired to mean “praiseworthy “ (especially as previously it had meant “wondered about”. The total of the above two categories exceeds his nearest competitor Chaucer by almost 2000. George Gordon, In Shakespeare’s English congratulations Elizabethan writers for their willingness to use “every form of verbal wealth.”
 Shakespeare was fortunate to live an era when the language was very fluid. Gordon explains that Shakespeare was able to do what he liked with English grammar because it had no fixed rules and he “drew beauty and power from its imperfections.”
Many words were created by the addition of prefixes and suffixes. Arouse first appears in Henry VI, Part II; premeditated was first used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; uncomfortable in Romeo and Juliet; useful and useless in King John and The Rape of Lucrece respectively. Lonely first appears in Coriolanus and reclusive makes its debut in Much Ado About Nothing. Amazement, first found in Titus Andronicus, is one of the first uses of the suffix  -ment to form a noun from a Teutonic verb.
As a language with deep Germanic roots, English had a long tradition of creating new words through compounding, as German still does. Some of the Bard’s contributions here are barefaced, hot-blooded, lackluster, dewdrop, foregone, still-born, and skim-milk.
But if English lacked a word that could enhance his writing, Shakespeare invented it, invariably with a Latin root.  Because many of these words were polysyllabic with a proclivity to sounding mellifluous, Shakespeare employed them to enhance rhythm. For example, frugal comes from the Latin frugalis and is first seen in The Merry Wives of Windsor: “I was then frugall in my worth.”  Castigate derives from the Latin castigare (to correct) and makes its stage entry in Titus Andronicus:  “If thou didst put this soure cold habit on to castigate thy pride, ‘twere well.” Courtship is first seen in Love’s Labour’s Lost with the sense of the behaviour befitting the court: “Trim Gallants, full of Courtship and of state.” Besmirch is first seen in Hamlet: “And now no soyle… doth besmirch the virtue of his will.”  Shakespeare also borrowed from other Romance languages. Examples here are bandit crafted from Italian bandito and torture fashioned from the French torturer.
Professor Victor Margolin summed up Shakespeare’s linguistic genius succinctly with this pun:  “Shakespeare was great shakes and without peer.”
Richler’s latest book Wordplay: Arranged & Deranged Wit was published in April 2016



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brit terms gaining traction in US

                                    The Britishisms are coming

                                                   by

                                            Howard Richler

“I think it’s fair to say maybe some point down the line, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is on negotiating with the E.U… The U.K. is going to be at the back of the queue.”
Barack Obama. April 23, 2016
Obama’s use of queue was regarded as suspicious in some British quarters. Was the use of the non-American “queue” a sycophantic attempt to curry favour with the British public? Or even worse, did Obama hire some Brit to write the speech?
Truth be told, Obama has used the term queue previously (instead of “line”) on several occasions which might partially explain why many Republicans don’t believe he was born in the USA. In 2010, in a White House transcript, he stated, “There were several people who were still in the queue who didn’t have a chance to speak prior to breaking, The next year, we have hin saying “Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions  –  so far. So just  when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue- I’m messing with you Chuck.”  In 2013, POTUS declared “We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for five years, ten years, fifteen years – in some cases, 20 years.”
Actually, there has been an upswing in the usage of British terms in the US for many years, particularly in the northeast. Whereas at one point, employing a British accent was seen as classy nowadays the peppering ones speech with Britishisms in the US is seen as intellectual.
Here are some other examples of Britishisms that have become popular.
bespoke-   Bespoke is often used by Americans to refer to  high-quality items and services.  In the New York city area there are over twenty “bespoke” companies including “Bespoke Books,” “Bespoke Surgical,”  “Bespoke Barber Shop,” “Jasmine Bespoke” and at least one store simply called “Bespoke.” Also, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists over forty active registrations and applications for “bespoke” brand names with the majority of the patents being filed in the past eighteen months. If you have a USA bespoke product or service to offer you better act quickly. One person wanted to use Bespoke.com as their web address but as this belonged to Bespoke Software, he had to settle for Bespoke Innovations.
chav- The OED defines chav as, “In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.”
This term is increasingly being used in probably due to the insidious influence of You Tube videos. Here are two examples stemming from the U.S, that I spotted on the Internet:  “Nah I'm not buying those sneakers man, they are so chavvy.”   Someone from Boston posted the following on a language newsgroup:“Chav is gaining currency as Americans understand that not all British people are posh. Boston/Cambridge is rife with international college students, so it may just be a blip, but I've heard it in a suburban grocery store to refer to some hooligans outside the store.”
kit –When  American science-fiction author John Scalzi wrote on his blog some years ago that the latest IPad  was a “lovely piece of kit,” he was deluged by many followers who thought his using the expression was highly pretentious. Scalzi retorted:  “Apparently being an American, I should have settled on “Dude, this tablet is bananas,” or something else equally comporting with my nation of origin.” This usage appears to be popular with techies and tennis fans who might refer to a player’s “kit,” whose gear might change depending on the surface of the tennis court.
Similarly, the words “toff” and “gobsmacked” are being used much more in the US in recent years. “Toff” is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or someone who exudes an air of superiority.” During the 2012 presidential campaign is was used by American journalist Daniel Gross who took pains in an article to declare that Mitt Romney was not the “bumbling toff” he was made out to be. “Gobsmacked,” is oft heard these days in North American circles and the person who seems to have popularized the word is singer Susan Boyle whose appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 quickly went viral.
Blimey.

Richler’s book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May 2016.




Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cool

(This article was first published in May 2016 Lexpert)       

                                           Why Cool is So Cool
                                                               by
                                                    Howard Richler
When the last century ended, I was somewhat bemused to read in John Ayto’s 20th Century Words, which outlines new words of the past century to find the word “cool” was twice listed: the first time in 1933 adjectively as a term of approval, and in 1953 as a verb to mean to relax as in the expression “cool it.” The reason for my confusion was my knowledge that in fact cool is a very ancient word and there are many references to it in Old English (from the 5th to 11th centuries) with the sense of a senses of calmness of emotions and lack of enthusiasm as well as temperature.
What is surprising about the word cool is its relative constancy in meaning as this is particularly rare in words that have adjectival senses. For example in my book  How Happy Became Homosexual and Other Mysterious Semantic Shifts , I mention that the original sense of careful was “sorrowful”; nice originally meant “foolish” or “stupid”  shrewd also meant “foolish” and initially an enormous appetite was not so much large as “abnormal.” The opposite pattern often occurs when adjectives are endowed with less favourable meanings as with the case of silly that originally meant “blessed” and it connoted being “remarkably good” as late as 1845. The word fulsome is going through a process of amelioration right before our eyes. Until recently, its most common sense was “offensively excessive” but nowadays it is most likely to be employed to mean either “extravagant” or “lavish” and increasingly to mean “full.”
So cool is an anomaly in more or less having the same, albeit multiple senses for well 1000 years. It could mean “dispassionate,” (Chaucer uses it in this sense in a 1440 poem: “Thow thynkist in thyn wit that is full cole”) “audaciously impudent,”  “lukewarm,”  “exhibiting a lack of warmth or affection,” and “not caring about consequences” to name but some of the different flavours of cool.  Abraham Lincoln used cool in this sense in 1860 when he said “That is cool” referring to the intention by secessionists in the South to break up the country.
 But.it took black jazzmen of the 1930s and 1940s to transform this word into its modern sense as a term of approval. This change may have evolved from a previous slang sense of “shrewd” which itself may have evolved from its “impudent” sense. Cool reached a wider audience after World War II by which time it had acquired a sense of “laid-backness” associated with jazz as well as one of “stylishness.”  On the jazz scene, the word cool first came to be associated with saxophone player Lester “Pres” Young in the early 1940s.  The term made its debut in popular publications in 1948. That year a headline in Life magazine announced, “Bebop: New Jazz School is Led by Trumpeter who is Hot, Cool and Gone” and The New Yorker stated: “The bebop people have a language of their own… Their expressions of approval include ‘cool’.”  That same year music critics started to use cool to describe a particular relaxed form of jazz. For example, a music review in The Bridgeport Telegram announced “Hot jazz is dead. Long live cool jazz!” Probably owing to the term’s endorsement by mainstream media it wasn’t long before cool became a desired state of being for white adolescents. In an article entitled “When ‘Cool’ got Cool,” lexicographer Ben Zimmer relates that a "June 1952 article about teen slang in the St. Joseph, Michigan Herald-Press explained that ‘to be cool’ is the desire of every teen-ager.”
Cool started to lose some of its insouciance by the middle of the 1960s. As the term became overused it lost its sense of an existential awareness that differentiated one from “squares.”  However, in the 1970s it enjoyed a renaissance as people became nostalgic for the perceived simpler times of the 1950s as exemplified by the popularity of the television show Happy Days(1974-1984)  and the movie Grease (1978).
What explains the endurance of cool?  Linguist Donna Jo Napoli believes its appeal lies in the “underspecified” nature that allows it to adjust to many different contexts. I’m not convinced this alone explains its popularity. In his book  Contagion: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger, a  marketting professor at University of Pennsylvania,  posits an interesting theory to explain the success of cool. He says that our senses, such as sight, smell and touch, play a large part in determining which words catch on. As examples, he mentions that the phrases “bright student” and “cold person” are more popular that their equivalents “smart student” or “unfriendly person.”  He also cites the expression “sudden increase” that came into vogue in the 19th century but was superseded by the expression “sharp increase” that started to be used at the start of the 20th century. Words like cool that describe those who are “au courant” are particularly changeable which is why the term “spiffy” from the 1940s and “swell” from the 1950s had a short shelf life.
This appeal to the senses perhaps explains why cool has been hot for two millennia.
Richler’s book Wordplay: Arranged & Deranged Wit was published in May 2016