January 2003 Archives
Mythical Places: Valhalla; Ultima Thule; Gotham;
Common Food Names with Interesting Stories: Jerusalem artichoke; turkey; lobster Newburg; corn; hot dog; French fried potatoes; sundae
Words from US Football: end run; political football; punt; quarterback; Hail Mary pass; moving the goal posts; Monday morning quarterback
Weird and Wonderful Words: fleer; handsel; gallimaufry; gammerstang; mundungus; wamble; moil (marge)
Mythical Places (Week of Jan. 6, 2003)
Our theme this week will be mythical places.
political infighting in the Opera Bastille in
[T]he Wagnerian context for this meeting had come to seem all too
Rupert Christiansen, Vanity Fair, May 1989
Ultima Thule a distant territory or destination; a remote goal or ideal
geographers' term for the northernmost region of the habitable world. '
A reader notes:
From there I caught the train to Chernyshevsk, a blight of a settlement
180 miles north of
Jeffrey Tayler, This Side of Ultima Thule; A dispatch from Eastern Siberia, Atlantic Monthly, April 1997
In 330 BC the Greek explorer Pytheas sailed north from the Mediterranean
and became the first recorded voyager to cross the
net travel site; note the variant pronunciation
Gotham a common sobriquet for
Washington Irving, the creator of "The Legend
of Sleepy Hollow," attached the name to
Tracing back further, a 1460 book, Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, collected legendary stories of English villagers. Legend hath that two centuries earlier King John, he of the Magna Carta, came to a Nottinghamshire village to acquire land for a hunting lodge. The villagers, having no wish to be taxed to support the King's Court, schemed to change his mind. Thus when the King's advance men arrived, the villagers behaved in a thoroughly demented manner, running wildly in circles. The King promptly dropped his plans to reside among madmen.
village was the named Gotham, and the wise fools there were said to have
remarked, "More fools pass through
From an ancient Greek region of that name, whose inhabitants, relatively isolated from the rest of the known civilized world, proverbially lived a simple, pastoral life.
The brouhaha that erupted in
Michiko Katutani, "Britons Chafe at Giving Americans a Shot at the Booker Prize", New York Times, June 10, 2002
After the remote city in northwest Africa, in what
You'd also like your project site to have a short and simple URL, rather
than stretching to
Linux Journal, May, 2000
Suzie Mackenzie, The Guardian, May 29, 1999
cloud-cuckoo-land someone is said to live in cloud-cuckoo-land when they seem optimistically out of touch with reality
University heads were living in "cloud cuckoo land"
if they thought they would get the £9.94bn they are asking for over the next
three years, Margaret Hodge, the higher education minister, told them bluntly
today. ... "It is cloud cuckoo land because it [Universities
UK, which represents vice-chancellors] has not addressed priorities and it has
assumed a public spending envelope which is totally unrealistic," she
The Guardian, September 17, 2002
On Thursday, the Bush administration announced that it would join with
the United Nations, the European Union and
Robert W. Tracinski, Jewish World Review, May 8, 2002
A reader notes: Cloud-cuckoo-land comes from Aristophanes' play The Birds, where the world's birds adopt a grandiose scheme to seize supreme power. They will establish a kingdom in their habitat, between heaven and earth. With that central position they can dominate the gods by intercepting their sacrificial supplies, and can terrorize mankind by the threat of devastating the crops. (Sort of an ancient version of Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.)
The birds name their kingdom Nephelokokkygia, greek for Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.
Xanadu an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place
From Coleridge's poetic idealization of Xandu, the
In his lonely Xanadu on
Common Food Names with Interesting Stories (Week of Jan. 13, 2003)
This week we'll talk about food names. These aren't words that will increase you vocabulary, for most of them are familiar names -- but ones that have an interesting story behind them.
Jerusalem artichoke 'Sunflower' is girasole
in Italian. We have corrupted girasole to
How did the turkey, a native American bird, become named for a country 4,000 miles away?
Delmonico's Restaurant in
The Waldorf-Astoria hotel, creator of the Waldorf salad, also concocted a hangover cure for a Mr. Samuel Benedict. The cure? Eggs Benedict.
Though the Pilgrim colonists brought wheat with
them, it was devastated by a fungal disease native to the
Why do we call it a hot dog?
The butchers' guild of
Enter Tad Dorgan, syndicated cartoonist for the Hearst newspapers. He sketched a cartoon of a dachshund smeared with mustard, sandwiched in a bun. But since he was unable to spell dachshund, he settled on "dog," captioning the picture "Get your hot dogs!"
Then name not only stuck, it virtually obsoleted its predecessors, and soon spun off terms like the exclamations "hot dog!" and "hot diggity dog".
Note: My source for this is Charles Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Thing (including the verb "to obsolete"). Other print sources confirm the Dorgan story, though some say the catchphrase "hot dog" was already sweeping the nation and helped support the name for the sausage, rather than vice versa. In fairness, I'll add that snopes and word-detective stoutly deny the Dorgan story but until otherwise shown, I'm putting my money with the published-in-print sources.
French fried potatoes are not named for
Why is an 'ice cream sundae' named after a day of the week?
The authorities agree that this Americanism, from the late 1800's, comes from the day of the week. The majority view cites the "blue" laws of the period, which often forbade the sale on the Lord's Day of intoxicating sprits and which viewed carbonated soda as an "intoxicating spirit". On Sunday, then, an ice cream parlor would have to modify its ice cream sodas by removing the soda water, and use only ice cream and syrup the ice-cream sundae.
city thus given birth to the sundae? Several claimant cities can show that the term
was used on their local menus from that time. The various authorities list as
I tend to
go with Evanston, for
two reasons. First, almost every authority lists it as a "possible".
Second and more important,
Words from US Football (Week of Jan, 20, 2003)
Coming next Sunday is the biggest sporting event on
We would be derelict if we did not devote our week's theme to such a major event. Today we offer the first of a week's worth of terms from football. I will be curious whether these terms are familiar to our non-USn's.
end run to bypass (an impediment) often by deceit or trickery (AHD). an evasive trick or maneuver (MW) The term can be used as either a noun or a verb.
I view the term as simply going around an obstacle rather than fighting to overcome it usually, but not necessarily, involving trickery. Those who oppose the action will of course think it a knavish trick.
State motor vehicle agencies are working on a plan to create a national
driver's license ... that could end-run civil rights and
political opponents ... privacy advocates and politicians of wide-ranging
persuasions ... see it as a de facto national identification card and a tool
for extensive invasions of privacy.
Dee Ann Divis and Nicholas M. Horrock, UPI, Foes fear states' end-run on privacy, Washington Times, April 18, 2002
political football a problem or issue that
is discussed among groups or persons without being settled. Wordcrafter comment: often with the sense
that groups are keeping the issue unresolved to be used for political benefit.
I am frankly surprised how widespread the term has become. Here are examples
I am increasingly intrigued by the psychology of those who claim to care
about the poor of the world but then distort the historical record by
suggesting the poor are getting poorer and everything is going backwards. This
is not true. We will not improve the lives of the poor by using them as a political
football. We must focus on their true situation and what needs to be
Speech by Rt Hon Clare Short, MP, Clare Short, the
If liberal leader Danny Graham intends to use the controversy over the
Tory governments use of funds from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation as a political
football, he needs to be careful. He may well find himself thrown for a
loss on the play.
Even as the farmers of
NCR Tribune (
A reader questions: What makes you think that this saying
comes from the American version of football, rather than
A reader responds: "Political football: origins, and OED's
goof " 'Football' has long been used in this figurative sense.
OED lists examples going back to 1532, and though the earliest seems rather
doubtful, the one from c1600 seems apt: "I am the verye foote-ball of the
starres." It seems clear that this usage is too early to be of
the term 'political football' is another matter. OED gives three
cites, all recent (1971, 1975 and 1977), and none from the
punt to cease doing something; give up, as in punt on the issue of
Interestingly, sources indicate that in Australian slang the term means the opposite, 'to attempt a difficult task'. I understand that the British meaning is 'to bet'.
should not continue to punt on the issue of quota-based
management. Why should fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and the
afraid to tackle this difficult issue?
We have decided entirely to punt on the issue of longterm solvency. Don't try to tell me the private sector is going to come up with wonderful solutions to all the problems, because they ain't, and we are going to end up with surpise on our face.
-- Rep. John D. Dingell, per 1998 on-line third-party report citing Amy Goldstein in Washington Post
quarterback to lead or direct the operations of
(After the name of a particular position in football, the quarterback. Use as a verb dates from the late 1940's.) Wordcrafter note: I view this definition, from AHD, as superior to M-W's in that it implies a more active role. However, AHD says this use is 'slang'; MW does not; and in this I think M-W is correct.
The word in recent use, regarding efforts to control asbestos litigation:
The offensive team is now in danger of getting tangled up in its own
legs. Insurers, auto companies, chemical firms and former asbestos makers all
have their own idea about legislation. Urgently needed is strong quarterbacking
from the White House to get these players moving downfield in concerted
Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2003
Hail Mary pass a desperate, last-minute attempt to save a losing situation.
My definition. This meaning, apart from the literal football use, is not included in any dictionary I have found, but seems reasonably accepted in the media. Coined December 28, 1975 by quarterback Roger Staubach.
Why doesn't Al Gore just commit suicide right now? In a desperate Hail
Mary pass to save his inert candidacy, his flacks are wildly spreading
rumors about some rather mundane infractions George W. Bush committed decades
Columnist Anne Coulter, Nov. 6, 2000
Gateway, the maker of low-end PC clones, is running ads for its new
Profile 4 computers comparing them -- gasp -- to the new flat-panel iMac.
Gateway is that losing team, and the Profile is its Hail Mary pass.
... And I'm sure Apple is laughing all the way to the bank.
moving the goal posts changing the rules in the middle of the game; changing what is required to win
The environmentalists kept moving the goal posts farther
and farther back. Nothing was ever good enough for them.
Ron Arnold, of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 1995
William H. Carlile,
Monday morning quarterback a second-guesser; one who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight.
I am terribly anxious to state the facts as they were, from my viewpoint
- not from someone elses - what I saw and what I acted on, not as a Monday-morning
Quarterback. I want to state conditions as they were then ... and the
steps that were taken to meet the situation [after North Korea invaded South
President Harry S Truman, Presidential memoirs interview, February 16, 1955
[Question] Do you believe that the U.S. missed a chance prior to Sept.
11 to negotiate successfully with the Taliban? Bergen: It's an interesting
question ... but it's easy to Monday-morning quarterback all
these decisions after the fact.
CNN analyst Peter L. Bergen, interviewed Feb. 11, 2002 in Washington Post
Weird and Wonderful Words (Week of Jan. 27, 2003)
Finding a truly weird and wonderful word is like meeting a gorgeous
person who is also a good cook and will help you move.
Erin McKean, in introducing her book Weird and Wonderful Words
"There are plenty of words that are weird without being the least bit wonderful," says Ms. McKean, " nectocalyx is orthographically weird, but [its dreary scientific meaning] is sadly lacking on the wonder scale." Conversely, "There are wonderful words, such as brio and luminescent, which long familiarity has deprived of any weirdness."
This week we present weird and wonderful words, with useful meanings. We'll even choose ones that sound so ordinary and unassuming that one could work them into everyday conversation without drawing attention; that is they are useable as well as useful. No sesquipeds here! As a bonus, the sounds of each word give a grin and, perhaps, reflects its meaning.
fleer to laugh in a disrespectful or jeering way. prob. of Scand. orig.
Our quote concerns the adoption of "standard time" -- time zones -- in the late 1800's, supplanting each city's and town's use of its own local time. The railroads sought that change for uniformity, lest scheduling confusion produce the unfortunate result of two trains attempting simultaneously to occupy the same track.
Railroads had long since accelerated the tempo of life. But [that] had
occurred gradually, and under the cover of celebration. Standard time focused a
delayed ambivalence. "Damn Vanderbilt's time! We want God's time,"
one old party fleered at a railroad time consultant. Many
non-codgers felt the same way.
Jack Beatty, "The Track to Modernity", in The Atlantic, Jan. 2, 2003
handsel a gift as a token of good luck, such as one upon a graduation, new year, wedding or opening-of-business. Also, the first money taken in at a shop.
In Scotland, the first Monday of each year was celebrated as the holiday of Handsel Monday.
gallimaufry an absurd medley; a hodgepodge (This word originally meant "a hash of various kinds of meats". It traces back to Old French for "to make merry" (source of English gala) + "to eat much", and to Medieval Dutch for "to open one's mouth wide".)
Today bilingual programs are conducted in a gallimaufry of
around 80 tongues, ranging from Spanish to Lithuanian to Micronesian Yapese.
Ezra Bowen, "For Learning or Ethnic Pride?" Time, July 8, 1985 (special thanks to dictionary.com for this entry)
gammerstang a tall, awkward woman
Sometimes you'll find this lovely word defined with further shades of meaning, such as "with bad manners" or "with bad morals". Gammerstang seems to be principally of british use; can any of our british readers shed further light? The word is too rarely used to find a published sample-sentence.
mundungus foul-smelling tobacco.
How lovely to be able to say, "Get that mundungus out of my home, please."
Mundungus has apparently has become slang, in the Royal navy, for any useless or unwanted material (like gubbins, wiffen, etc.) Mundungus Fletcher is a minor character in JK Rowling's Harry Potter books.
Lizo: Is there anything that you can tell us about book five? Any new characters?
JK: Well, we've
obviously got a new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher ... You may see a
little more of Mundungus and there's a new sorting hat song.
CBBC interview with JK Rowling, 19 September 2002
wamble to move in a weaving, wobbling, or rolling manner (noun: a wobble or roll)
from ME wamelen = to feel nausea
also, when referring to the stomach: to turn or roll (noun: an upset stomach)
Note: the vowel sound in the first syllable can be pronounced either as in 'pot' or as in 'pat'.
Yes, I believe ye. That's just it. I KNOW Grace will gradually sink down
to our level again, and catch our manners and way of speaking, and feel a
drowsy content in being Giles's wife. Fancy her white hands getting redder
every day, and her tongue losing its pretty up-country curl in talking, and her
bounding walk becoming the regular Hintock shail and wamble!
Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders, Chapter 11
moil to work with painful effort; to toil; to drudge (noun: toil; hard work; drudgery);
also, to churn or swirl about continuously (noun: confusion; turmoil)
Doesn't this sound of this word somehow conjure up an image of mole-like beasts slaving away in the dark?
Now he must moil and drudge for one he loathes. Dryden
Dusty and dim are the eyes of the miller,
Deaf are his ears with the moil of the mill.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Keepsake Mill, from 'A Child's Garden of Verses'
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the margeΉ of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Robert W. Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee
ΉBonus word: marge border; margin; edge; verge