Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nominative Determinism

What’s in a Name?  ­­­— Maybe Your Profession


                                Howard Richler

Synchronicity is a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. And in his work Synchronicity published in 1952  he alluded to the possibility that there may be a suggestive effect to names.Apparently, Jung was impressed that Sigmund Freud’ s surname meant “joy” as his  psychoanalytical colleague studied pleasure.

In 1994, the British magazine New Scientist went somewhat further. It posited the  argument that people actually gravitate towards jobs that reflect their surnames. They called this process “nominative determinism” and suggested that there is a subconscious imperative that impels one to find a job that fits one's surname. Readers were asked to supply examples of this process and as a result New Scientist was inundated by hundreds of  “proofs.” In 1998, New Scientist resurrected the controversy when they quoted the following underwhelming statement in Lawrence Casler’s  article Put the Blame on Name that appeared in the journal Psychological Reports in 1975: “There is a determinant whose effect may not be phenomenal but is probably more than nominal, namely the name.”

As examples of this process, New Scientist listed John Barnacle’s decision to become a marine-timber expert, and Daniel Snowman who wrote the book, Pole Positions-The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet. Also cited were Britain’s Meteorological Office which features staff with the surnames Flood, Frost, Thundercliffe and Weatherall, and the U.S. National Weather Service employee Dave Storm. As a proud Montrealer, I was saddened that my hometown received short shrift in the New Scientist list of aptronyms. It didn’t reference McGill ornithology professor David Bird who wrote a column about birds in The Gazette for twenty-eight years. Also ignored were ill-fated Will  Drop, a local window cleaner who died in a fall, and one-time Director of  Pediatric Urology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Joao Luiz Pippi-Salle who is currently Professor with Department of Surgery, University of Toronto.

One finds many apt surnames of lawyers and doctors. To wit, the Florida Bar Directory lists eight lawyers named law and we also have famed British barrister James Counsell. Counsell, whose father was also a lawyer, said “I remember as a child people saying ‘of course you are going to be a barrister because of your name.’ How much is down to the subconscious is difficult to say but the fact that your name is similar may be a reason for showing more interest in a profession than you might otherwise.”   Aside from famed neurologist Russell Brain, I found many doctors with vary apt names. For example a quick Google search found urologists Dr. Robert Ball, Dr. Justin Cox and Dr. Matthew Whang.

It would appear that academics in particular follow this onomastic imperative. For example, biology professor David M. Hoppe is an expert on deformed frogs, meteorologist Christopher Landsea has written several research papers on hurricanes and cyclones, Jules Angst has published works about anxiety and Peter Skidmore wrote a journal article on cow dung. As karma would have it, astronomy buffs are guided not by the stars but by their names. To wit, we have Professor of Theoretical Physics Alan Heavens, astronomy professor Charles Telesco, astronomer Sumner Starrfield, not to mention astronaut Sally Ride.
Probably due to some quantum dynamic process I'm not bright enough to fathom, nominative determinism sometimes works in reverse. While Wikipedia lists an American rabbi named Alexander D. Goode, this is countered by Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila who passed away in 2005. There are also these “inaptonyms”:  Aside from the countless lawyers named Lynch, we have David Soberman, who years ago worked in marketing for Dow Breweries; dentists Emily Payne  and Keith Au; the  British building company, R.Crumbleholme & Son; psychiatry professor William C. Dement; white supremacist Donald Black and Henry Calamity who in March 1969 was voted the Santa Fe Railroad’s  “safety man of the month.”

Hmm. Maybe there is something to this nominative determinism process. After all, Thomas Crapper the inventor in the 19th century of the modern flush toilet, was a sanitary engineer, Toronto mayor John Tory was the former leader of the Tories in Ontario, Martin Short is short, the world's fastest man Usain Bolt did bolt out of the blocks, former US Congressman Tom DeLay was prone to filibuster and American Jacques P. Moron sold drugs to narcs. Let us not forget, that stockbroker Bernie Madoff “made off” with billions of investors’ money, former US Congressman Anthony Weiner was convicted of texting pictures of his whozitjigger and Charles Diggs Sr., Detroit’s first black Congressman was the owner of the House of Diggs Funeral Parlor.   Just in case you're not convinced by this overwhelming evidence take note that on October 6, 1941, the unfortunate duo of Wilburn and Frizzel were given the electric chair at Florida State Prison.

The mind boggles as the body smoulders.

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

OED Online Features


Howard Richler is a Montreal-area word nerd and author of these seven books on a variety of language themes: Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, Take My Words, A Bawdy Language, Global Mother Tongue, Can I Have a Word With You?, Strange Bedfellows and his most recent book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit (May 2016, Ronsdale Press, Vancouver).
Alas, because language is in a constant state of flux, a lexicographer’s work is never done. The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), replete with 414,825 words was completed in 1928 and ceremonial presentations were made to President Calvin Coolidge and His Majesty King George V. Supplements ensued but not until 1989 did a second edition comprised of twenty volumes appear. According to The Oxford Companion to the English Language, this edition has “21,728 pages and contains some 290,500 main entries, within which there are a further 157,000 combinations and derivatives in bold type (all defined) and a further 169,000 phrases and undefined combinations in bold italic type, totaling 615,500 word forms.”
The pace of change is ever-quickening. In March 2000, the 20 volume OED, plus three volumes of additions, became available online and every word in the OED is being revised. So, 120 years after the first editor of the OED James Murray launched an “appeal for Words for the OED,” John Simpson, then the chief editor, invited “readers to contribute to the development of the Dictionary by adding to our record of English throughout the world. Everyone can play a part in recording the history of the language and in helping to enhance the OED.” I believe this project represents one of the greatest feats of scholarship ever undertaken and accomplishes for lexicography what the Human Genome Project is doing for biology.
Words, and new senses of existing words, are flooding into the language from all corners of the world. Only a dictionary the size of the OED can adequately capture the true richness of the English language throughout its history, and the developments in English. By the time the revisions are completed sometime between 2025 and 2030, the English vocabulary will most likely have at least doubled. As a result, there may not even be a print edition as it would require close to fifty volumes to complete it. One reason so many words are being added is because of the lexicographic advancements in the non-British and non-American Englishes, such as African and Asian varieties, whose words are increasingly being recorded in the OED. There is no longer only one English language; rather English is now available in a variety of flavours.
Interestingly, the revision in 2000 began not with the letter “A” but with the letter “M.” I asked John Simpson why this was done and he replied that “the OED editors wanted to start the revision at a point halfway through the dictionary where the style was largely consistent, and to return to the earlier, less consistent areas later.” In any case, by 2010 all words from M to R had been revised and since then this alphabetical format has been abandoned and every three months we now find revised entries across the alphabet. For example, in March 2017 pogonophobia, “strong dislike of beards” was added as well as heliiopause, “the astronomical term for the very outer edge of the solar system beyond which the solar wind in undetectable,” and genericide “the process by which a brand name loses its distinct identity.”
Aside from cataloguing virtually every English word of the last 1000 years, the OED, in its online incarnation, offers a host of useful features for the lexicographically-minded:
In graphic form, timelines are provided that highlight the year words are first recorded in the OED. Hence, the year I was born also featured the arrival of the words cappuccino, cybernetics and transistor whereas 1616, the year Shakespeare expired saw the birth of acquiescent, incidental and Kurd.

Top 1000 Sources
If you guess Shakespeare as the most frequent quoted OED source, you're not far wrong. The Bard, however comes in second and is bested by the London Times (39,884 quotations versus 33,127). Rounding out the top five are #3, Walter Scott, #4, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and #5, Encyclopaedia Brittanica. The top North American source is the New York Times at #11 and the Globe and Mail takes Canadian honours at #212. I don't think too many people would guess the Canadian runner-up -- The Daily Colonist of Victoria, B.C. at #431.
Historical Thesaurus
The historical thesaurus is a taxonomic classification of the majority of senses in the OED. It can be thought of as a kind of semantic index to the contents of the dictionary. It can be used to navigate around the dictionary by topic, find related terms, and explore the lexical history of a concept or meaning. It is divided in three categories, the External World, the Mind and Society. So for example, if you were researching Clairvoyance, you would click on External World and then to the Supernatural heading, then to Paranormal and finally Clairvoyance where you would find several entries such as “second sight” defined as a supposed power by which occurrences in the future or things at a distance are perceived as though they were actually present.”
Category Section
Although the online OED affords word lovers a myriad of ways to explore the English language, the largest area for searches occurs in the category section that is sub-divided into four parts: Subject, Usage, Regions and Origin. Under Subject, one can check words on a plethora of topics such as Education, Military and Law.
For example, in the Law section, there are over 8,000 words, such as recusal, abeyance, and codicil, many of which will be known to those familiar with legal terms. However, for readers who delight in arcane words, you will discover expressions such as bastardy order “an order made by a magistrate for the support of an illegitimate child by a putative father” and alnage, “the action of ... determining whether woolen cloth conforms to particular standards of shape and quality as required... under British law.” For those mining obscure legal words you'd likely find them in legal sub-categories such as Medieval, Ecclesiastical and Roman law. For example in feudal times bloodwite referred to a fine payable for the shedding of blood,” whereas lairwite, was a “fine for fornication or adultery with a bondwoman.” Corsned in Old English law referred to type of trial by ordeal in which an accused person would eat a one-ounce piece of barley bread and cheese which was consecrated by exorcism. Supposedly, if the accused was guilty, his eating the holy bread would cause him to go into convulsions and choke. In days of yore, reaggravation was something best avoided as it referred to “the second warning given to a person before final excommunication.” This, however, was probably not as dangerous to your well-being as perduellion which in Roman law denoted high treason. Also in Roman law, it wasn't necessarily a good thing to be emancipated as this could refer to being delivered into servitude or subjugation because emancipation was often effected by fictitious sale.
Cornucopia of English flavours in the OED Online 
The Regions category demonstrates the incredible variety that marks 21st century English. And even though English is spoken virtually everywhere on this planet it may not seem like the same language to all based on distinctive vocabulary one finds in different parts of the English-speaking world. Former British colonies often display flavourful Englishes. In Jamaica, nyam means to “eat voraciously” and Babylon is a “dismissive term for something regarded as representing the degenerative or oppressive nature of white culture.” In South Africa, skindering is a word for gossip and if you're babalaas, you're suffering from a hangover, which is probably not kwaai, a slang term for “cool.” It's also not kwaai to be a moegoe, a country bumpkin or gullible person. In West Africa you don’t remove someone from authority, you destool them which may be a result of a palaver, a “dispute.” Colloquially, palaver can be used to mean “problem,” as in “That's your palaver.” In New Zealand, you don’t attend a funeral but a tangi and if a New Zealander tells you to hook your mutton, you haven't received an invitation to dine on sheep, rather you've been advised to “clear out.”
In India, you'll find that familiar words might have very different meanings. For example, intermarriage refers not only to people of different religions getting hitched but also to people from different castes. Accomplish often will have the distinct sense of “to make complete or perfect” and cabinusually refers to an office or office cubicle. If someone in India or other South Asia locales says they’re going to send you their biodata, understand the term to mean curriculum vitae and not their genetic makeup. We in Canada call where we put the luggage in our car the trunk; the Brits call it the boot but in India it is called the dicky. Also certain terms that have been obsolete for over a century in England live on in India, including the verbscondole “to offer condolences” and prepone “to bring forward to an earlier time or date.” Unfortunately, the euphemistic term eve-teasing is heard all too often in India; it refers to the sexual harassment of a woman by a man in a public place. One of the more amusing descriptions of a person in East Asia is astronaut. This designation describes a “high-flying” business person, semi-permanently in transit between locales such as Hong Kong and Vancouver because his/her family has emigrated.
And even when you happen upon a country where most people speak English as a first language, don't assume you'll understand the lingo. In Australia if someone asks you where the dunny is, they’re looking for the toilet. If you've been referred to as a wowser, don't feel complemented as it means “party-pooper” as the term refers to a puritanical person who disapproves of dancing and drinking. Alas, it is not only Down Under where you may feel at a linguistic loss partying in an English-speaking area. In Scotland you are not the life of the party if you are described as fire-raising. You are accused of arson!
The Oxford Companion to the English Language (OCEL) is missing an "s" at the end of its title. OCEL has headings for over four hundred varieties of our multitudinous mother tongues, such as Australian English, Singapore English, Indian English and Black Vernacular English. I've never even heard of some of the varieties, such as Babu English, which is described in the OCEL as “a mode of address and reference in several Indo-Aryan languages, including Hindi, for officials working for rajahs, landlords, etc,”
My mother tongue is actually one of those mutants listed in OCEL. To illustrate the particulars of this form of English, I've concocted the following paragraph which consists of many words and terms found in the OED that might only be understood by Canadians: “The party was attended by rubbies sporting Molson muscles drinking mickeys and Bloody Caesars. The food eaten by the hosers consisted of tourtieres and Nanaimo bars, along with poutine mostly uneaten and chucked down the garburator.” Some explanation may be in order. Rubby is defined in the OED as “an alcoholic who drinks an improvised intoxicant, such as rubbing alcohol . . . ” Molson muscles is a jocular term for a paunch, mickey is defined as “chiefly Canadian, a small bottle of libation holding 3.75 ml,” and a Bloody Caesar, is a drink consisting of vodka, clamato juice, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce that's virtually unknown outside of Canada. It was invented in Calgary in 1969 by bartender Walter Chell. A hoser refers to a stupid, unsophisticated person and the term was popularized by the fictional McKenzie brothers in their skit Great White North on SCTV. Surprisingly, poutine only made into the OED in 2006; Nanaimo bar, originated in Nanaimo B.C, in the 1950s. It is defined as a “dessert consisting of a base made from a mixture of crushed biscuits and covered with a vanilla buttercream filling and a chocolate glaze, served cut in squares.” A garburator is a waste disposal unit found underneath a sink designed to shred waste into small pieces that can pass through household plumbing. The OED adds that “the form Garberator is a proprietary name in Canada.”
The OED informs us that certain words take on distinct senses in Canada. Not surprisingly in Canada, bilingualism means more than speaking one language and refers to the government that promotes the use of French and English throughout large segments of the population. Acclamation also acquires a distinct Canadian sense when it is used to mean an election to an assembly without opposition or by unanimous or overwhelming support. Even adjectives can be Canadianized as is the case of impaired when it refers to improper driving caused by alcohol or narcotics.
If you spend any amount of time with Americans, you're likely to be apprised that part of your lexicon are quaint Canadianisms. For example, when an American is nauseous, she won’t reach for Gravol but for Dramamin. And while Javex, and Varsol may be Canadian household items, an American will not know what these terms mean and will reference them as chlorine bleach, and mineral spirits respectively. The OED extends this point by listing the terms block heater and power bar as “chiefly Canadian.” In Canada, it is clear that a power bar refers to an electrical cord containing a number of outlets, whereas in the US, the OED informs us it could mean a proprietary name for a type of snack food and in the past to a tread on a tractor tire. The term blue box originated in Canada referring to the blue plastic box used for the collection of recyclable household items in many Canadian municipalities. Its first citation in 983 comes from the Toronto Star but it seems to have spread overseas as there is a 2010 citation from the Birmingham Evening Mail. Also, I was not aware that the term crowd-surfing originated in Canada. The OED defines it as “the action of lying flat while being passed over the heads of members at a rock concert, typically from jumping into the audience from the stage. Its first citation occurs in the Globe and Mail in 1989 but by 2002 we find its use in the New York Times.
I suspect that there are few people who are aware that muffin before the Tim Horton era had a distinct Canadian sense. The OED defines it as “a young woman...who regular partners a particular man, during a social season.” The first citation in 1854 states “I had a charming muffin yesterday. She is engaged to be married, so don't be alarmed.” Its last citation from 1965 testifies to the term being archaic.
I was perplexed as to why the OED includes the term pocket rocket which is defined as “a nickname for a small person regarded as a very fast or energetic person (originally a nickname given to Canadian hockey player Henri Richard).” Surprisingly, this term isn't considered worthy of inclusion in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary which has a far larger collection of Canadian terms. On the other hand, the OED does not contain these jewels of Canadiana: all-dressed, smoked meat and shit-disturber, but worry not as I have appealed for their inclusion.

Friday, December 22, 2017


1901-Discern    rocks-art-culture          name-behalf-keep            rice-cold-belly
1902- Split Definitive Puzzle -sheepish gaudy jewellery  (8) ( r) 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
1903-Anagram   fake bugs
1904-Discern     state-snake-wood    counting-dip-bell     around-kicking-hair
1905-Split Definitive Puzzle  lively soldier (5) (g)
1906-Palindrome   a  particular ambient sound
1907-Discern     man-cottage-American   cake-up-out     chop-loaf-stew 
1908-Split Definitive Puzzle    in favor of getting older (8) (f)
1909-Anagram mated enthusiast
1910-Discern   rate-blasting-let   room-under-catch     grey-I-poodle
1911-Split Definitive Puzzle bury religious denomination              (9)   (s)
1912-Name an “anagrammatic” word that refers to a farrier
1913-Discern     tap-tip-turf       patch-oil-alive       wrestling-band-seal
1914-Split Definitive Puzzle decisive blow directed (7)   ( c)
1915-Anagram Starchier marauders 
1916-Discern     gun-tough-case   mash-tree-toast     pan-silver-sun
1917- Split Definitive Puzzle Abraham (7) ( g) These “split definitive” are now featured in my most recent book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit.
1918-Anagram  buttress crustacean
1919-Discern    dragon-over-call     barley-fin-wife   thwart-hop-butter
1920- Split Definitive Puzzle period chant (7)  (e)
1921-Commonality   Kuznetsov, Haddad, Kovacs
1922-Discern   cup-recipe-bowl      jar-spot-sweet      potato-aha-Chinese
1923- Split Definitive Puzzle Mafia boss devoured   (6)  (a)
1924-Commonality     rutabaga, ombudsman, moped  
1925-Discern      eye-rake-quick               jet-page-rod    Canada-sand-grumble
1926-Split Definitive Puzzle    loaded     (8)   (i)   
1927-Anagram   chaste man-servants  
1928-Discern   game-bottoms-party     bed-yellow-pea    bag-box-brake
1929-Split Definitive Puzzle    brake condition (9)  (s)
1930-Anagram limey reviewer?
1931-Discern   iceberg-spring-wild   camera-mix-points       masher-baked-spring
1932-Split Definitive Puzzle     a friend (6) (a)
1933-Anagram   over-the-hill Irish spirit
1934-Discern  cured-my-per     counter-vanilla-black    shooter-meal-gravel
1935-Split Definitive Puzzle    boatyard finale (7) (p)
1936-Anagram particular language used at a particular  military college
1937-Discern    season-honey-line    pole-bear-house    license-wood-under
1938-Split Definitive Puzzle    morning exam (6) (a)   amoral
1939-Anagram    tasteful prescriber
1940-Discern   chow-hell-dog     angel-story-drag      halt-irate-ire A
1941- Split Definitive Puzzle      ax  adolescent  (7)  (c)   canteen
1942-Anagram   Mississippi French chicken 
1943-Discern    sop-powdered-soap    western-bowl-tubing    tax-under-boy   
1944-Split Definitive Puzzle exactly violent disturbance (7)  (p)
1945-Anagram   determined beauty
1946-Discern    under-ate-shirt   string-over-elevator    up-pink-cow
1947-Split Definitive Puzzle partition in the mind (15) (c)
1948-Anagram     mr or mrs congeniality in an entomological contest
1949-Discern     fat-edge-service           rhyme-my-red    wig-mark-outer
1950-Split Definitive Puzzle scream not paid   (9) (o)
1951-Commonality     heater-astray-dingy
1952-Discern    sack-jacket-hot    batter-pan-waver       yogurt-bean-French
1953-Split Definitive Puzzle    getting you to buy something you don’t necessarily want or need  (9) (m)
1954-Anagram     frosty skate
1955-Discern     corn-park-run   grass-bill-berry     weather-wood-up
1956- Split Definitive Puzzle   what you may get if your bathroom aim is off   (7)   ( r)
1957-Commonality     failing-insulated-Faustian  
1958-Discern     rep-motel-app    northern-sea-turn      up-keg-ride
1959-Split Definitive Puzzle vigor spasm    (6)  (p)
1960-Anagram    early week go-getter
1961-Discern    cock-over-contact      reader-beach-pilot    pad-wrong-golf
1962-Split Definitive Puzzle    distant object (8)  (t)
1963-Anagram    Combat nun
1964-Discern     makeup-banana-batter    meat-shell-butter    racket-winter-butternut
1965-Split Definitive Puzzle    debts of a beefcake (8)  (i)
1966-Anagram    Name an anagrammatic phrase that could be the title of a horror film whose subtitle is Savagery of the Knives and Forks                  
1967-Discern    hard-Panama-shop   mushroom-distributor-liberty   tea-bridal-ball
1968-Split Definitive Puzzle   inhume mesh (8)  (i)
1969-Anagram     confirmation of mistake
1970-Discern  willow-prairie-call        pack-terrier-lab    yellow-round-hood
1971-Split Definitive Puzzle   former journalists  (7) (p) These “split definitives” are now featured in my most recent book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit.
1972-Palindrome    inception of a famous rail line in 1863
1973-Discern    puncher-bell-hide   berry-shadow-horn      all-black-death-night-puff-red
1974-Split Definitive Puzzle     hang nine (8)   (i)
1975-Anagram    hottest cats   
1976-Discern    pith-tin-crash    law-executive-penguin      vest-training-zen
1977-Split Definitive Puzzle   recognize adage (6)  (s)
1978-Commonality     syphilis-pander-milquetoast
1979-Discern    drive-hole-trigger     oil-piece-spray     shot-rib-shut
1980-Split Definitive Puzzle   large vehicle row  (7)  (t)
1981-Name a 3 word anagrammatic phrase that means initialled burnt drawing    
1982-Discern      well-way-wear    long-led-left     function-felt-fully
1983-Split Definitive Puzzle   hip hop onion   (11)  (s)
1984-Name the first world capital to appear alphabetically and the last one
1985-Discern     all-zest-old   pot -hip-mud     agent-men-duck
1986-Split Definitive Puzzle     terse trouble   (7)  (a)
1987-Commonality     commence-impunity-earning 
1988-Discern    show-up-keg    dog-hole-nose     lime-dog-rail
1989- Split Definitive Puzzle    had a round of 72 (8)    (t)             
1990-Commonality   caste-cling-coming-info-sling-sting            
1991-Discern     word-oil-tossed    pit-toast-green    stone-fuzz-bowl
1992-Split Definitive Puzzle    wheat or oat food container  (8)  (d) 
1993-Anagram     Flopped from a distance    failed afield
1994-Discern     white-holy-deep   mushroom-break-gunpowder[H1]       he-master-ski     
1995-Split Definitive Puzzle     dog raves  (8)      (r)
1996-Anagram    Revolutionary bedsheets?
1997-Discern      patch-blonde-fields    job-bed-tree      bowl-revolution-zest
1998-Split Definitive Puzzle    round container encouraged   (9) (e)
1999-Commonality     ending-else-west-bed-ale 
2000-Discern       gym-tan-her     away-flying-grey     emperor-suit-king