Thursday, February 6, 2020

Palindromic History of Civilization

                         Palindromic History of Civilization


                                              Howard Richler

It is time to take stock of some celebrated palindromic statements in recorded history.

Live not on evil, Madam, live not on evil. (circa 2 weeks after Creation)  The Almighty delivers an injunction to Eve.

Cain, a monomaniac. (circa 3 weeks after Creation) Adam is disconsolate that Cain slew Abel in a classic case of sibling rivalry run amok.

Was it Ararat I saw? (circa 1060 years after Adam) On the 17th day of the 7th month of confinement with odiferous beasts, Noah does a double take when he spots Mount Ararat from the ark.

Harass selfless Sarah?  (circa 400 years after Noah)  Sarah gives Abraham an ultimatum: “It’s me or the handmaid.” Abraham chooses Sarah and extradites Hagar and Ishmael.
Egad, no bondage? (circa 600 years after Abraham)  An Israelite slave is euphoric upon being released from captivity.

Sex at noon taxes. (circa 1400 BCE) Attributed to Rahab, a Jericho harlot.

Naomi, I moan.(circa 1300 BCE)  Ruth laments the death of her husband to her mother-in-law Naomi  when she discovers the stiff didn’t carry life insurance.

Yahweh, chew hay!   (circa 750 BCE (Job lets loose after being  tested one time too many.

Poor Dan is in a droop. (circa 550 BCE)  Daniel is feeling low over the prospect of spending the night in a den of lions. He is saved when the cats display a dislike of kosher food.

Sex, Rex Xerxes?  (480 BCE). An Athenian courtesan propositions the conquering
Persian king.

Sore deifier reified Eros. (399 BCE)   At his trial, Socrates is accused of corrupting

We, Plato, tar a total pew. (365 BCE)  Attributed to an ebullient Aristotle after one of his peeps at the Academy spilled tar on a bench.

Sulla, call us. (88 BCE )  Confronted by Sulla that he and Sulpicius are challenging Sulla’s rule, Marius gives Sulla  a flippant answer.

Revolting is error, resign it lover. (73 BCE)   Spartacus’s main squeeze exhorts him not to lead a revolt against Rome.

Draw O Caesar, erase a coward! (44 BCE).  Caesar ignores advice to off Brutus before Brutus offs him.

Nosh son? (6)  Joseph offers his young son Jesus his first bagel at his sister’s sweet sixteen.

Mary  bred a derby ram. (9) To supplant her husband’s paltry carpenter’s income, Mary raised thoroughbred rams. The one named Shofar went on to win the Triple Crown
of sheep racing.

Evil I did dwell; lewd did I live. (28)  A contrite Mary Magdalene washes Jesus’s feet with her tears.

On! I sack casino (29) Jesus urges his disciples on after he overthrows the tables of the money changers in the temple.

Lepers, alas, repel. (30)  A leper implores Jesus to cure his disease so that he can get a date with a nice Jewish girl.

Rise, sir!  (31)  Jesus commands Lazarus to rise from his grave.

Moody men, I pine my doom. (33)  Jesus is gloomy at the Last Supper after eating too much Passover food.

O renege Nero! (68) An aide to Nero tries to get the Emperor to call off the torching of Rome,

I nab rumor from Urban 1.  (229)  A bishop eavesdrops on the first city Pope.

No! Rome, moron! (452) Attila corrects a hearing-impaired Hun set on pillaging
Nome, Alaska,

Lid off a daffodil, Allah; shall Ali doff a daffodil? (650) Supplication courtesy of
Caliph Ali ibn-abu Talib

Gnat was I ere I saw T’ang! (668)   A sycophantic Korean tries to curry favor with his Chinese masters)

Evil was Saladin a man, I’d alas. saw live.(1191)- Richard the Lion-hearted rues his encounter with Saladin.

Slog no mini Mongols  (1238)  Russian Price Alexander Nevski underestimates the Mongols about to overrun his country)

Was it a rat I saw? (1284)- Attributed to the pied-piper of Hamelin

Hot-oh! !1431)- Attributed  to Joan of Arc at the stake.

Live for a War of Roses or for a war of evil. (1455) Henry Tudor rallies his red rose Lancastrians against their white rose York foes.

Resume so pacific a pose, muser (1516)  After a lunch break, Leonardo da Vinci exhorts La Gioconda to resume her previous expression.

Egad! A base tone denotes a bad age. (1555)- Nostradamus predicts the assault of disco music in the 1970s.

Sums are deified, Erasmus. (1563) John Calvin decries society’s materialism to Desiderius Erasmus.

Sex? Even a Dane vexes! (1600)  Hamlet can’t deal with his mother’s carnal nature.

Delivery, Revere very reviled (1776) A customer complains when his order arrives a
week late from Pony Paul’s Pizza Parlor

No slender evil, snug  was I ere I saw guns-livered Nelson (1805) Commander Villeneuve of the joint French-Spanish fleet laments his defeat to Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar.

Embargo? Go grab me. (1807)   Senator Timothy Pickering tells President Jefferson’ planned embargo.

Able was I ere I saw Elba. (1821)  An enisled Napoleon laments his exile.

Peel’s asleep.  (1834) A British M.P. remarks that P.M. Robert Peel is somnolent in Parliament.

Yes, Sy, doom Alamo odyssey. (1836) Mexican General Santa Anna gives Lieutenant Sy Gonzales the order to storm the Alamo.

Degas, are we not drawn onward, we freer few, drawn onward to new eras aged? (1864) Attributed to Claude Monet addressing Edouard Degas.

Steno men interpret nine Monets. (1866) Pierre Renoir can’t resist a snide comment when he hears some office workers discussing Impressionism.

O, Geronimo, no minor ego (1866)   Attributed to General Cook who captured Apache leader Geronimo.

I,man, am regal: A German am I. (1898)  At a masked ball, Emperor William 11, gives  a big clue as to his identity.

Are we not drawn onwards, we Jews, drawn onward to new era? (1900)  Attributed to Theodore Herzl.

A man , a plan, a canal-Panama. (1914)  Attributed to Woodrow Wilson at the opening of the Panama Canal.

Jar not a tonga; nag not a Raj. (1942)Attributed to Winston Churchill hectoring Mahatma Gandhi.

Can I attain a C? (1965)  Attributed to Donald Trump at Fordham U. is his quest for academic mediocrity.

Neil, an alien! (1969) Buzz Aldrin mistakes his own shadow for a moonman.

Drat Sadat a dastard!(1979)   Ariel Sharon shows  distrust of Anwar Sadat during the Camp David negotiations.

Evil odes or prose do live. (1988)- Ayatollah Khoumeini’s comment about Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Egad! A Red loses older adage. (1989)-Reagan admits that Gorbachev’s not a bad guy after all.

Drat Saddam, a mad dastard. (1990) George Bush expresses his opinion of Saddam Hussein.

Joy, O.J? (1996)- Johnny Cochrane congratulates O.J. Simpson  after his acquittal.

No in uneven union! (2016) Attributed to Boris Johnson advocating for Brexit.

Star comedy by Democrats.(2020)  Attributed to Donald Trump after the Iowa Caucus fiasco.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019



Quiz2601-Anagram   porcine power     
2602-Split Definitive   South American country chant    (8)   (s)
2603-Convergent      mama-off-bush   shoe-sweet-tree    cottage-Eskimo-hole
2604-Commonality     pepper-man-serpent
2605-Split Definitive   Perverse for each small poem     (8)   (p)
2606-Convergent    park-hot-gate    eye-egg-lobster    vine-computer-juice
2607-Anagram      labelled gizmo  
2608-Split Definitive     law proposal outstanding  (9)    (b) 
2609-Convergent     dresser-dryer-dye       warmer-great-little   watch-band-wrestling
2610-Commonality    underling-canon-grating 
2611-Split Definitive      exist talked   (7)  (b)
2612-Convergent    tolerate-for-spray      market-sun-saw    ballot-effect-iron
2613-Commonality   cable-cage-impish
2614-Split Definitive     dog lease  (7)  (r)
2615-Convergent       wood-carrier-post    sea-punch-bullet   town-frighten-girl
2616-Anagram       new middle
2617-Split Definitive     friend attempt  (6) (p)
2618-Convergent     tap-spur-cad   white-dry-shank      rot-level-cat
2619-Anagram cleaning up pride and self-respect
2620-Split Definitive     severely criticize pain   (7) (p)
2621-Convergent      inter-ass-cake    tile-of-sword     piano-bed-eye
2622-Commonality     mick-sled-wing
2623-Split Definitive     Great Lake engine revolution (7) (r)
2624-Convergent     saw-up-shot  simpleton-dropping-toe    water-witness-tolerate
2625-Commonality   abductor-brought-rebound
2626-Split Definitive     launching mandatory stake     (9)   (a)  
2627-Convergent     bag-circus-pit      feed-feet-blind   ball-golden-wheel
2628-Commonality    ere-hashes-sone    
2629-Split Definitive     collapsible lightweight bed great lake  (7)  (c)
2630-Convergent    opera-pin-old    bath-dis-ward   bottoms-game-party
2631-Commonality     piled-viler-fellate
2632-Split Definitive     Masculine wag   (7) (p)
2633-Convergent     hunt-hound-party    cow-trap-keeper       seal-snow-spot
2634-Anagram       penalized dastard
2635-Split Definitive       prisoner who’s a slow learner   (8)  (d)
2636-Convergent   funny-poker-cliff     soft-square-room    music-conversation-king
2637-Commonality    Istanbul-Medina-Nagaram 
2638-Split Definitive     obtain a friend   (6) (g)
2639-Convergent    fowl-vitamin-melt      pole-field-counter         rent-up-dice
2640-Anagram   didn’t own a Japanese car    
2641- Split Definitive     leave a  monarch  (9)  (p)
2642-Convergent     mess-sea-shadow     silk-cloth-wolf     guard-car-way
2643-Commonality    varies-delete-bride
2644-Split Definitive     record mislay  (8)  (l)
2645-Convergent     fondle-filler-warmer     spoon-ion-money    dew-dog-land
2646-Anagram     therefore coagulated blood of an evil monster  
2647-Split Definitive     obvious fury (8)  (o)
2648-Convergent    crossing-tick-blind      ball-golden wheel        march-sea-times   
2649-Commonality    What do America, Canada, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates have in common?
2650-Split Definitive     unit for transmitting inherited characteristics    (9)   (r)
2651-Convergent     grind-egg-oil    ladder-lady-lion    ghost-fiddler-cake
2652-Name a Pig Latin term that is listed in the OED? 
2653-Split Definitive     bend under weight Italian love   (8)  (a) s
2654-Convergent     trust-wave-lame   play-money-charge     ally-yellow-ding
2655-Commonality    tarnation-slender-scurry-twirl     
2656-Split Definitive     make pigeon sound connect things   (6)  (c)
2657-Convergent    area-window-leaf    sight-I-be    lantern-wheel-fire
2658- Commonality farm-fast-flit 
2659- Split Definitive       emblem encircle (9)  (b)   
2660-Convergent     call-up-bed     speed-up-first       air-works-ern
2661-Anagram    Involved newspaper article time marker     
2662- Split Definitive       formal social gathering gamble   (7)  (d)
2663-Convergent      air-blower-elk       brown-cream-save    fall-fat-feed
2664- Anagram    Highly unusual tray for holding burning coal   
2665- Split Definitive     horizontally-challenged confederate     (7)  (a) 
2666-Convergent   bottlenose-river-spotted    tiger-swindler-sucker   pat-pen-patch
2667- Anagram    From being mildly miffed to being apoplectic   
2668- Split Definitive        segregation   (d)  (14)
2669-Convergent   end-roast-overt   swill-fat-Delhi   wash-wandering-wear
2670-Commonality   chore-defy-untied 
2671- Split Definitive        in favour of con artist   (r) (8)
2672-Convergent    casserole-salad-maker       skin-tea-green   rabbit-chip-dip
2673- Anagram    Most decorated stretch material    
2674-Split Definitive     attractive writing   (p)   (9)
2675-Convergent   shutter-spittle-spray   polo-pit-up    carpenter-line-ping
2676-Commonality      deify-outing-reify  
2677- Split Definitive     twitch in this place    (h) (7)
2678-Convergent    board-a-path    big-queer-sore    frond-pilot-beach
2679- Commonality    aimless-angled-inane                                            
2680- Split Definitive     interpret only   (r)   (8)
268-Convergent     blue-candy-top     toe-tor-room         union-executive-ability
2682-Commonality    tread      end      mead                       
2683-Split Definitive     depressing fighter pilot   (g)    (7)
2684-Convergent    splitter-way-complain   pecker-ides-wagon   silver-sec-expect
2685-Anagram    Empty pastrami house 
2686-Split Definitive     can I?    (a)   (7)  
2687-Convergent     bar-mental-flying     apple-cane-eye    sing-party-sweet
2688- Anagram    Russian empress craftsperson 
2689-Split Definitive     curve twitch   (a)  (6)
2690-Convergent  lap-to-span     bump-barrel-pump       tin-dog-worm
2691-Commonality   art-ban-bed-boa-can-con-dew-die-end-era-gin-lea-nip-oat-pay-per-red-ref-ret-rum-sea-set
2692-Split Definitive     friend to a $5 bill   (f)  (7)
2693-Convergent  soap-soup-rose    Irish-cold-egg    force-dead-white
2694-Anagram        pioneer post   
2695-Split Definitive     applause, any?   (s)   (8)
2696-Convergent     requiem-loan-white    line-rink-desert     stink-bed-led
2697- Anagram    Had enough courage to  fear
2698-Split Definitive     used to look after        (t)    (8)
2699-Convergent   treasure-pain-war     bare-ball-under   cold-soft-length
2700-Anagram    Expropriator chaser        

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rule of Thumb myth

            Rule of thumb: Don’t believe folk etymologies
                               Howard Richler

I’d  been getting together weekly with a group of friends for around a year where we indulge in some banter whist scoffing croissants and imbibing varieties of java. We originally called these meetings “The Summit” but  after several months of not coming close to solving any world problems and owing up to the mundane nature of our discussions we  re-dubbed it “the swamp.” In any case, one time during one of our rare erudite sessions, we must have discussed some language issue, because a lady came over to our table and said she was listening to our language bavardage and asked whether we knew that the origin of the expression “rule of thumb” came about to dictate the legal length of an object a man could use in order to beat his wife.  Alas, I had to disabuse of as to the veracity of this explanation.
Mind you, this myth is oft repeated. Take the following explanation found in Women: A Feminist Perspective, edited by Jo Freeman: "The popular expression 'rule of thumb' originated from English common law, which allowed a husband to beat his wife with a whip or stick no bigger in diameter than his thumb. The husband's prerogative was incorporated into American law. Several states had statutes that essentially allowed a man to beat his wife without interference from the courts."
In the 1980s, Time magazine wrote, “The colloquial phrase ‘rule of thumb’ is supposedly derived from the ancient right of a husband to discipline his wife with a rod ‘no thicker than his thumb,’ ” and in 1989 Washington Post added, “A husband's right to beat his wife is included in the 1768 codification of the common law. Husbands had the right to ‘physically chastise’ an errant wife so long as the stick was no bigger than their thumb - the so-called ‘rule of thumb’”.
Actually, nobody has been able to find a single English or American law that ordains this conjugal thumb right to a husband.  It has been claimed that in 1782 British judge Sir Francis Buller proclaimed that a husband may beat his wife with a stick not thicker than his thumb but nobody has been able to discover documentation of such. On the contrary, 18th century British and American law  prohibit wife beating (though often this provision was only casually enforced.)
That the phrase did not originate in legal practice is verified by the “rule of thumb” entry  in the OED: “A method or procedure derived entirely from practice or experience, without any basis in scientific knowledge; a roughly practical method. Also, a particular stated rule that is based on practice or experience.” The first citation is from 1658: “Many profest Christians are like foolish builders who build by guess and by rule of thumb.”
 The expression probably comes from the world of wood-working where ancient practitioners would rarely use rulers but would measure things by the length of their thumbs. It’s most likely that the saying comes from the length of the first joint of the thumb, which measures approximately one inch. An alternate theory, posited by other etymologists, credits the origin with brewmasters who often tested the temperature of the beer (before the invention of the thermometer by dipping a thumb in the brew. This seems unlikely to me as the thumb is not that sensitive and the fermentation range between too warm and too cool is not appreciable.  
In a subsequent column, I’ll look at some other folk etymologies.

Richler’s latest book is Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit

Simcha Torah

                          A Secular Celebration of the Torah
                                       Howard Richler
At sundown on October 21st , observant Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah, “rejoicing in the Torah,” as this  marks the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah and hence the time to start anew. During this holiday, the last section of Deuteronomy and the first section of Genesis are read in succession after a festival parade of the Torah scrolls embellished with singing and dancing. For secular Jews such as myself, or non-Jews, who feel left out of this celebration, we can take solace that as English speakers we're able to rejoice in the many words and phrases that the  five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) have contributed to the English vernacular. 
     Mostly, these words and expressions found their way into English through translations of the Torah, such as the King James Bible (KJB).
          Take the word “jubilee.” While a jubilee might be an occasion for an English queen to be jubilant, as in the 2012 “Queen's Diamond Jubilee,” celebrating the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth II ascension, the word bears no etymological ode to joy. The first definition of this word in the OED is “A year of emancipation and restoration, which according to Leviticus 25 was to be kept every 50 years, and … proclaimed by the blast of trumpets.. ; during it the fields were … left uncultivated, Hebrew slaves were …set free, and lands and houses in the open country.. that had been sold were to revert to their former owners or their heirs.” This august year takes its name from the Hebrew word yobhel, “ram’s horn,” which was used to proclaim the advent of this event. The word “jubilee” is first used in John Wycliffe’s 1382 translation of the Bible: “Thow shalt halowe the fyftith yeer.. he is forsothe the iubilee.” Chaucer was the first person to use the word without its religious context and by the late 16th century its secular sense became the dominant meaning.
         “Scapegoat” is another word first found in Leviticus and once again its progenitor is Wycliffe who renders Leviticus 16 as “And Aaron cast lottes ouer the.. gootes: one lotte for the Lorde, and another for a scapegoote.”  Most people think of a scapegoat as an innocent person or group that bears the blame for others and suffers a punishment in their stead. However, in the biblical ritual of the Day of Atonement  a scapegoat referred to one of two goats that was sent alive into the wilderness. The sins of the people had been symbolically laid upon this “escaped” goat, while the other goat was sacrificed to God. So, I suppose, in the original sense, being a scapegoat was better for your well-being than the alternative.
          Also, our vocabulary has been enriched by several colourful expressions found in the five Books of Moses. These include: “brother's keeper,” (Genesis 4:9), “land of milk and honey”(Exodus 3:8), “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23-27),  and “fat of the land” (Genesis 45:18)
          Actually, there are several words and phrases thought to have a biblical provenance that, in fact, do not. Such is the case of “helpmate.” We read in Genesis 2:18, in the KJB, “God, having created man, observed, 'It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him' ”, i.e, a “suitable help.” Hearing “help meet” pronounced,  by the end of the 17th century churchgoers rendered the term as help-meet and by the 18th century this hyphenated term transmogrified into “helpmate.” Another Genesis term whose meaning has been misconstrued  is “mark of Cain.” We think of this phrase to signify a murderer just as the letter A denoted an adulterer in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. However, when God puts a “mark upon Cain” it is placed so that Cain will be labelled so that others would know not be punish him further.
          One of the best-known supposedly biblical expressions is “forbidden fruit,” but in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 Adam and Eve are only instructed not to partake of the fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  According to the OED, “forbidden fruit” is first used in Edward Stillingfleet's 1662 Origines Sacræ: “He required from him the observance..of not eating..the forbidden fruit.” Also, surprisingly, not found in Scripture is the expression “promised land” as this phrase was first used in Thomas Norton's  translation of  Calvin's Instutio Christianae  Religionis written in 1561.
          N.B. This article is aimed for all readers; those who “walk with God” (Deuteronomy 10:12) or those who worship  “the golden calf” (Exodus 32:4)

Howard's  latest book is Wordplay:  Arranged & DerangedWit.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Semantic & Etymological Reflections on Nerds & Geeks

Can you speak geek about a word nerd?


                 Howard Richler

Is there a difference between a geek and a nerd?
This existential question was posed to me last year by a friend. He had recently read  an article  in the New York Times where the writer used these terms interchangeably. My friend felt strongly that the two terms referred to slightly different people and checked his Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary that  indicated that  “the words do not mean the same kind of person, although to my surprise nerd includes ‘unattractive’ person in the definition and geek does not, which I would have thought was the other way around. ” 
To my mind,  most people would give a geek a slightly higher status than a nerd. While both terms imply obsession with a particular activity,  for me the obsession that the geek possesses comes also with knowledge of his subject whereas I don’t necessarily regard the nerd as being equally knowledgeable.Also,  I view a geek as  more hireable than a nerd. Although the terms “computer nerd” and “computer geek” are often interchangeable, I wouldn’t describe Mark Zuckerberg as a computer nerd but only as a “computer geek.”
What I am reflecting here is not so much the actual meaning of these words but the way in which I and every speaker employs particular words. I know people who ascribe a higher status to the term nerd than to geek. Dictionaries are not that helpful in settling this debate. OED defines “nerd” as “an insignificant, foolish, or socially inept person; a person who is boringly conventional or studious” whereas the Encarta World English Dictionary (EWED) characterizes a nerd as “an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody’s, especially a man or boy’s social skills or intelligence.” It also mentions that a nerd can be a “single-minded enthusiast.”   For “geek,” the OED says “Frequently depreciative. An overly diligent, unsociable student; any unsociable person obsessively devoted to a particular pursuit” and EWED says a “geek” is “someone who is considered unattractive and socially awkward.”


One can see from these definitions that some people would view the two terms as synonymous and others would not. 
In any case I believe that due to the fact that many people who were labeled geeks or nerds in high school went on to become very wealthy imparted a higher status to these words. After all, being a billionaire is seen as cool in society notwithstanding that the billionaire may be a geek or a nerd.
Both words have interesting etymologies. The first OED citation of geek is in 1876 in a glossary of words from northern England where it is defined as “a fool” a person uncultivated; a dupe.” It was also used in the United States for a good part of the 20th century to refer to circus performers who performed bizarre feats such as biting of the head of a chicken. Its first usage in the modern context occurs in a letter written in 1957 by writer Jack Kerouac and the word is used in a clearly depreciative manner: “Unbelievable number of events almost impossible to remember, including..Brooklyn College wanted me to lecture to eager students and big geek questions to answer.” The words origin is uncertain but it is generally believed to be a variation for the word “geck,” a word that arose in the 16th century to refer to a simpleton.
The word “nerd” appears to have been derived  from a fictional animal found in Theodore Geisel’s  (aka Dr. Seuss)  story If I Ran the Zoo written in 1950. This creature was depicted as a small, unkempt, humanoid creature with a large head and a comically disapproving expression. The following year Newsweek magazine stated, “In Detroit, someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd.” The term, however did not become popular until the late ‘60s when it became a shibboleth among college students and surfers to mark those considered “uncool.”
P.S.   I have no intention of changing the name of this column from Word  Nerd to Geek Freak.

Howard Richler’s latest  book is Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit