Sunday, March 27, 2011

rhyme time-puzzle


This puzzle is called “rhyme time” because the solver is asked solve clues that will yield either a phrase or a word that rhymes. For example if the clue was “weak,” the answer would be “namby pamby” and if the clue was “bull” the answer would be “toro.” This game is sometimes called “inky pinky” and a usual proviso is that the clues should be both clear and concise. In this puzzle I'll go one better and only use clues that are one word or refer to a single person or character. Many of the answers here are reduplicated compounds, single words where the second part of the word rhymes with the first part. Therefore, if the clue read “eighty,” the answer would be “four score.” As an aid, the answers will be arranged in alphabetical order. So, the answer to the first question “cockpit” is “ace place.”
1)cockpit                                    ace place
9)Paul David Hewson
31)Mohammad Ali
50)New Zealander
65)Bloody Mary
73)Fidel Castro
81)Wayne Gretzky
98)Moby Dick

Thursday, March 17, 2011

irish eponyms

(This is an extended version of an article that appeared in today's National Post with the title "Ireland's Linguistic Legacy."

What’s in an Irish surname?


Howard Richler

Tis said that on March 17th every lad or lass wishes he/she were Irish, but what happens the rest of the year? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) pays homage to the Irish the other 364 days by having many a famous Irish surname enshrined. Take the quintessential Irish surname, Murphy, of which the OED lists five senses. It can mean a)asleep, as “in the arms of Murphy”; b)a potato; c)a foldaway bed ; d)a term used for a device consisting of two short telescopic metal tubes each with a button-like end, used to perform surgery on the intestine ; and e)a con game in which someone is tricked into handling over money for something that is promised but not given, also known as (Murphy’s game). And of course, we also have Murphy’s Law, named after American engineer, Edward A. Murphy,that postulates that if anything can go wrong, it invariably will.

Other Irish surnames are listed as words in the OED, but none are as prolific as the Murphy clan. According to a 1934 citation, kelly,is a variety of fifteen-ball pool in which each player draws a number and, while playing on the object balls in numerical order, aims to pocket the ball of the number corresponding to his own, thereby winning the game. Kennedyis listed as obsolete slang for a poker; the term apparently derives from the name of a man who was killed by being struck on the head with a poker. Collinsrefers not only to an iced drink consisting of whisky and gin but also to a letter of thanks for entertainment or hospitality, sent by a departed guest. The term derives from the name of a character, William Collins, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Perhaps the most infamous Irish surname entombed in our language is Lynch. Many men have been suggested as the progenitor for this term that refers to extrajudicial hanging. The first person on whose behalf claims have been made was James Lynch Fitzstephen, a 15th century mayor of Galway, Ireland. According to legend, Lynch was forced to hang his own son, a convicted murderer. Adherents to this tale are at pains to explain why Lynch and not Fitzstephen survived as the eponym, and why it took several more centuries until the word lynchpermeated our language. Most etymologists credit a Captain William Lynch (1742-1820) who served with the Virginia militia and presided over a tribunal whose mandate was to rid his county of undesirables that had heretofore eluded the authorities. Lynch and his vigilantes became known as lynch-men and their methods were dubbed lynch’s law. By 1836, the verb lynch had acquired its current meaning of hanging by mob action without legal sanction.

Although not the most fecund family, the Boycotts enjoy the distinction of providing a word for the refusal to deal with a person or a business firm not only in English but also in Dutch, French, German, Russian and Indonesian. Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was the land agent for the estates of the Earl of Erne in County Mayo, Ireland. When Boycott raised the rents in 1880, the tenants raised the roof. Local stores refused to sell to him and militant protestors destroyed his property and cut off his food supply. Eventually Boycott was forced to flee to England, but as a small consolation his name was on its way to being immortalized.
Two other Irish surnames that have found a place in our language are Mulligan which can refer to a potpourri stew or an illegal shot in golf, and Mullarkey which appears to have been corrupted into the word “malarkey.” The word “hooligan” appears to have a provenance from an Irish family, but etymologists are divided on the original progenitor. The OED says that the word first appears in print in daily newspaper police- court reports in the summer of 1898. Several accounts of the rise of the word, purporting to be based on first-hand evidence, attribute it to a misunderstanding or perversion of Hooley or Hooley's gang, but no positive confirmation of this has been discovered. The name Hooligan figured in a music-hall song of the eighteen-nineties, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family, and a comic Irish character of the name appeared in a series of adventures in Funny Folks, a British comic book.

In any case, whether you’re a Murphy or a Hooligan, or just an Irish wannabe, enjoy St. Patrick’s Day.

Howard Richler's latest book is Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


(A shortened version of this article appeared in the Natl Post on March 7)

We are an island surrounded, on all sides, by repetitive pleonasms.


Howard Richler

If the cliché is the curse of the writer, the pleonasm is the plague of the politician. I first became aware of politicians’ penchant for pleonasms in 1993.In an interview with CBC’s Hana Gartner, then PM Jean Chretien once stated that he was respected by most Quebecers, and that it was only the “intellectual intelligentsia” who dissed him. South-of-the border, George Herbert Bush probably outdid Chretien in one of his televised debates. He made reference to the “economic economy.” Small wonder his economic policies were not too popular with the American populace living in the United States. Former President Calvin Coolidge declared in the 1920s that “When large numbers of men are unable to find work, unemployment results.” Probably the master of the political pleonasm was former Vice President of the USA Dan Quayle who in 1986 referred to “precise precision,” and later in 1989 stated “If we don`t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”

One need not be a North American politician to think or talk in this manner. Billy Sneddon, the leader of the Liberal Party in Australia, declared in 1974, "We didn't lose the election because they got more votes than we did. We just got less than them." Occasionally, even a non-politician is capable of these gems. Actress Brooke Shields once opined, “Smoking can kill you, and if you’ve been killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life,” and football coach Tom Landry averred, “Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it’s so incredible, it’s unbelievable.”

These are some of the more egregiously flagrant examples of redundant language but yea we are not drowning in a sea of unnecessary words, rather in a veritable swamp. Why can't things be merely null, why do they have to be void? If I look in every nook, must I explore every cranny? Must I desist when I cease, abet when I aid, choose when I pick and rave when I rant? Can't I just cease, aid, pick and rant? When we talk about “complete annihilation,” “false pretenses,” “foreign imports,” “close proximity,” a couple being joined together,” a “lesbian woman,” and a “woman pregnant with child,” I ask, what are the alternatives?

Have you ever seen a young geezer, a cold water heater, a non-living survivor, or a non-lazy bum? I've smelled, with my own nose, different bouquets but the only type I've ever seen, with my own eyes, is the flowery variety.

Am I paranoid, or is there some secret of time only I can't intuit? Former movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn said, “I never make predictions, especially about the future” and the hoi polloi are constantly referring to “future plans,” and “advance warning.” This implies there are alternatives like past plans and an after warning. The past is equally beguiling. Why do we specify “past experience” and “never before”? Aren't all experiences “past”? Why does “before” have to be added to “never”? Is there a hidden quantum dimension called the “never after?” I worry when someone tells me the “honest truth,” or gives me a “garden salad” to eat, or something “100 % pure” to drink. Does that mean if they only tell me the truth or ply me with a mere salad or a beverage that's only pure I'm in “serious danger?” Do I overexaggerate? Please R.S.V.P so I can overcome my state of uneasy anxiety.

I thought acronyms were used as a shortening technique. But people don’t seem to realize that when they talk about their PIN number, an ATM machine, a DMZ zone, the HIV virus and an ABM missile that they are effectively saying “number number,” “machine machine,” “zone zone,” “virus virus” and “missile missile,” respectively.

Mercifully, it takes but a single word to describe verbal redundancy. The term is “pleonasm” defined by the OED as “the use of more words in a sentence than are necessary to express the meaning.” It derives from the Latin pleonasmus which, in turn, comes from the Greek pleonasmos (more-ness). Antony's line in the play Julius Caesar, “the most unkindest cut of all,” is an example of a pleonasm done for effect, as is the biblical "I am that I am.” In any case, Moses was probably leery about accusing a capricious Burning Bush of being redundant.

Most pleonasms, however, are not so stylish and only denote poor form. “Could you repeat that again?” is an example of a commonly used pleonasm. A redundancy can be avoided by saying either “Could you say that again?” or “Could you repeat that?” Avoid saying “each and every” and “at this point in time” when “every” and “at this time” suffice, nor say "she is a woman who" when "she is" will do, or use "if and when" when only "if" is required. The word “fact” is a major pleonastic culprit. “In spite of the fact” can be replaced with “though,” “owing to the fact” can be reduced to “because,” and “unaware of the fact” can be shortened to “unaware that.”

Perhaps I'm just an unprogressive conservative who pines for the days when you didn't need to qualify that a gift was free, a victim innocent, a fact true, a record new, and scholarship academic. In the past, one didn't have to specify strictly private or natural grass. Then again, some pleonasms like “cash money” and “disposable garbage” have evolved into possible states of non-redundancy. Some might say that in the past “heterosexual sex” was pleonastic. Unfortunately, a former pleonasm, “healthy tan,” has mutated into an oxymoronic state in our ozone-depleted world.

So, who is to blame? As I live and breathe, I think I know the party responsible for our modern orgy of redundancy. (itl)J'accuse(itl) Raid Bug Repellant. They unveiled the slogan “Raid kills bugs dead” in 1966 and to keep pace with this linguistic overkill, other ads stressed products that were “new innovations,” “more superior” and “very unique.” McDonald’s isn’t content to sell billions of hamburgers but “billions and billions,” and Soft Soap Body Wash doesn’t merely make you “clean,” you become “more than just clean.” And don't think the pleonastic process only flows towards aggrandizement. Isn't a dot miniscule enough? Must we have microdots?

N.B. Making a duplicate copy of this article in any shape or form without my express, agreed permission, and authorization is totally and utterly allowed, and indeed more preferable than alternate options.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Appeared in March edition of Lexpert with title "Out of Thin Air"

The number of words out of thin air is thin


Howard Richler

The Oxford Companion to the English Language lists nine ways neologisms are formed

1)compounding, e.g., “blackboard”; 2)derivation, e.g., “unfriendly” deriving from “friend”; 3)shifting meaning, e.g., “spin” to mean “bias”; 4)extension in grammatical function, e.g. the verb “to fax” from the noun “fax”; 5)abbreviations, e.g., “fax” shortened from “facsimile”; 6)back-formation, e.g., “disinform” from “disinformation.”; 7)blending, e.g., “smog” from “smoke” and “fog,” and 8)borrowing from other languages, e.g. “karate” from Japanese. Under its ninth category it states that we see “very rarely, root creation, or coinage from sounds with no previous known meaning.”
The designation “very rarely” is hardly an exaggeration. There are close to a million words listed in the OED, yet no more than three dozens of these words fall into the “ex-nihilo” category. There are many words in our language that are named after people such as “lynch” and “sandwich” but these words derive from flesh and blood rather than appearing out of the blue. Many words that are listed as having “arbitrary” etymologies in the OED are in fact highly influenced by existing words. Such is the case of “flabbergast” influenced by “flabby” and “aghast,” and “discombobulate” from “discompose.”

An ex-nihilo word may find its way into our language simply because the word’s progenitor liked its sound. When American physicist Murray Gell-Mann discovered a new particle in 1964, he at first called it a “quork.” He eventually switched the name to “quark,” a word he discovered in this passage from Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce: “Three quarks for Mister Mark” which referred to an order for three quarts of beer placed in a pub in the novel.

Even more improbable is the creation of the word “blurb” named after a pulchritudinous Miss Belinda Blurb who adorned the front cover of humourist Gelett Burgess’s 1907 book Are You a Bromide? at the annual dinner of the American Bookseller’s Association. The picture was actually a doctored version of a fetching lass Burgess had ogled in a dental advertisement. In 1914, Burgess defined this coinage in his work Burgess Unabridged: “Blurb 1: A flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial. 2. Fulsome praise; a sound like a publisher…” From the beginning , Burgess himself and others applied “blurb” to all dust jacket copy as well as to advertising copy and publicity notices of any kind.

The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein is also credited with creating an ex-nihilo word . In his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, he introduced the verb “to grok” to refer to intuitive understanding. The term caught on and in 1968 Tom Wolfe used the verb in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “Instead they are all rapping and grokking over the sound.”

The term “boondoggle” also seems to have to have come out of thin air. In 1929 , the word was used by scoutmaster Robert Link of Rochester, New York to refer to the leather cord worn by Boy Scouts around their necks. Link may not have been the progenitor of the term, as there is some evidence that points to the term having been used previously to refer to various devices used by cowboys. In any case, the sense of the word changed on April 4, 1935 when the New York Times sported the following headline “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play .. Boon Doggles Made.” The article stated that the term “boondoggle” was “simply a term applied back in the pioneer days to what we call gadgets today”. This news story was picked up by several newspapers and “boondoggle” and “boondoggling” were quickly adapted by opponents of the New Deal to refer to money-wasting , unproductive projects.

One need not be an author, physicist or scoutmaster to create a lasting ex-nihilo term. Perhaps the best-known of genre of words is “googol” which refers to the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeroes. In 1940, distinguished American mathematician Edward Kasner invited his nine-year old nephew , Milton Sirotta, in to make up a name for a very big number and the lad responded “googol.” Not bound by the confines of “googol,” Milton suggested that the term “googolplex” be applied to the number one followed by a googol zeroes. Using “googolplex” as shorthand for this finite number is definitely a time-saving device, for, as Kasner noted, “there would not be enough room to write it, if you went to the farthest star, touring all the nebulae, and putting zeroes every inch of the way.”

Just think. There’s probably an eight-year old somewhere who is going to “grok” a new term for infinity.