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May 2003 Archives

"Iraq words" – Q without U: Q-boat (Q-ship); qiviut (qintar, qepiq, sheqel); qoph (qaf, velar, velum); Iraqnophobia; qiana; qwerty; pinyin

Bible stories: shunamitism; abishag; alcedama; pharisee; jehu; shibboleth; simony

Oration: Types of Speeches: jeremiad; peroration; stemwinder; panegyric; tub-thumping; demegoric; histrionic

Individuals' Relation to Society: ubuntu; apartheid; manuduction; syntality; marplot; ostracize; sodality


"Iraq words" – Q without U (Week of May 5, 2003)


The ubiquity of Iraq in the news has brought a burning question to our attention: what English words have a Q not followed by a U? Doubtless this issue has been the subject of stimulating discussions around your breakfast table, and has troubled your mind through many a sleepless night. This week we present U-less Q-words, enabling you to shock and awe those with whom you converse.


Q-boat; Q-ship – an armed ship disguised as a merchant or fishing ship to decoy enemy submarines into gun range


qiviut – the soft wool lying beneath the long coat of the muskox

[Inuit, pl. of qiviuq = down, underhair]


I know you've been dying to know how to refer to that in your everyday conversations.


Units of currency:

Albanian qintar: 100 qindarka = 1 lek

Azerbaijani qepiq: 100 qepiq = 1 manat

Israeli sheqel: 100 agorot = 1 sheqel


A reader has noted qoph, the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The equivalent letter in the Arabic alphabet is called qaf. What follows is my understanding, but I've very weak on this, so please forgive any errors and do not take it as gospel.


Semitic languages have a sound, not present in English, that is somewhat like the k-sound but is velar: (articulated with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate [velum: the soft palate]) and guttural. This sound, represented by the qopf and qaf, has been carried into some non-Arabic languages that have borrowed heavily from Arabic through the spread of Islam, e.g., Persian and Urdu.


Linguists and scholars often transliterate this sound as a q, to distinguish it from the k-sound of English. But ordinary English uses a k or a hard-c in words it borrowed directly or indirectly from Arabic. Examples are Koran, coffee, caravan, canal, canon, and cotton. In a few English words, the use of a q is recognized as a permissible alternate spelling: qabalah (kaballah); faqir (fakir).


The nation of Iraq adopted the q-spelling, for Iraq and Iraqi, upon achieving independence in 1958. In colonial days the usual spelling was Irak.


Iraqnophobia – an unusually strong fear of Iraq, especially its ability to manufacture and use biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons


Iraqnophobia is the American Dialect Society's 2002 selection for the "Most Creative Word" of the year 2002. The Society has published its word choices since 1990, originally calling them "New Words of the Year". The Society later dropped the "new" because it often found, after publishing its selections, that its chosen words or usages were not new at all, but rather were newly-prominent.


"Iraqnophobia" is not brand new. Word Spy gives the "earliest citation" as August 4, 1990, but notes that that it had also appeared the day before in a political cartoon. If the web can be trusted, the word was the title of a 1980 publication by Roger Cass (see bottom of site) . Obviously, this coinage has not achieved dictionary-recognition, at least to date.


qiana; Qiana – a silklike nylon fabric, introduced by DuPont in 1968. This is a tradename, but is often most often seen without the ฎ symbol. It is listed in at least one major on-line dictionary as a word, without mention of trademark status.


qwerty – pertaining to the standard keyboard-arrangement of an english-language keyboard.


When Sholes built the first typwriters of what became the successful design, he found that the typebars springing up to the paper would often jam at high speeds. In 1878 he patented the qwerty keyboard as a remedy.


Some say he designed qwerty as an awkward arrangement to slow the typist.


Sholes had tremendous trouble with the keys jamming if they were hit too closely in succession. The primitive manufacture simply didn't allow each key hit to return to its mooring in time to make way for the next key chosen. Nothing Sholes or his friends did could eliminate the problem. Finally, in desperation, Sholes redesigned the keyboard to force the typist to type more slowly.


Others say the arrangement sped the mechanism by putting commonly-used letter pairs (e.g., th) on typebars that were widely separated, and thus less likely to jam.


For years, popular writers have accused Sholes of deliberately arranging his keyboard to slow down fast typists who would otherwise jam up his sluggish machine. In fact, his motives were just the opposite. If two typebars were near each other in the circle, they would tend to clash into each other when typed in succession. So, Sholes figured he had to take the most common letter pairs and make sure their typebars hung at safe distances.


The former story seems to me far more convincing. For example, why else would the qwerty keyboard devote the "home-position" of the two strongest fingers to such rare letters as j and k?


Pinyin is the system for representing Chinese words in our alphabet. It often has a Q not followed by a U – and not pronounced at all as you would expect. Here is the story behind this, as told in Lucien W. Pye's letter published in William Safire's column:


It happened in the 1950s when the Soviet Union was the acknowledged "elder brother" to the newly established Chinese Communist regime and was ready to be helpful in many fields, including alphabetizing the Chinese language. A team of Russian linguists arrived in Beijing, primed to talk the Chinese into adopting the [Russian] Cyrillic script. The head of the Chinese team, Guo Morou, boldly rejected the idea, arguing that the Chinese had already invested far too much in learning and using the Latin alphabet.


With that settled, the two teams proceeded to formulate the pinyin system. When they came to the "ch" sound, the Russians, still making the case for their script, pointed out that the Cyrillic "Ч" [, pronounced "'ch",] was exactly the right letter for the "ch" sound.น Guo Morou looked at the character and said, "Why, that looks like a q, so why don't we just use a q for the 'ch' sound."


And that is how we all were cursed with one of the quirkier features of pinyin, and people who don't speak Chinese end up making the strangest sounds as they try to read, for example, "Qing," which is now the silly way of spelling the great Ching dynasty.



Bible stories (Week of May 12, 2003)

This week we'll take words from bible stories your religious-school teachers probably never taught you.


From I Kings 1: Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.


The place-name and the story give us:


shunamitism – rejuvenation of an old man by a young woman


The original effort was unsuccessful: "And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not."


From the same biblical passage:


abishag (from Hebrew: "the father's error") – the child of a woman by a man married to someone else


A very rare word, not included in in one-look on line or even in OED. I've found it in Mrs. Byrne's dictionary and in one other word-book. However, Mrs. Bryne errs on the etymology: many sources on biblical names say that "Abishag" is Hebrew for "father's error," and not (as Mrs. Bryne says) for "mother's error". An interesting comment on sexual responsibility .


You can fined "Abishag" on-line, but only as the proper name. I cannot find a single use of it as a word. Robert Frost refers to her, but does not follow the bible story. To Frost, Abishag personifies the Hollywood starlet who, though prized in the beauty of her youth, becomes a forgotten and impoverished has-been in old age.


The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag,
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

alcedama – a battlefield; a place with dreadful associations

(Aramaic: "field of blood," the name given to the "potter's field" bought with Judas's filthy lucre)(accent on second syllable)


No God, being interpreted, means no law, no order, no restraint to lust, no limit to passion. Who but a fool would be of this mind? What a Bedlam, or rather what an Aceldama, would the world become if such lawless principles came to be universal!
– Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-92), Treasury of David. Spurgeon was England's best-known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century.


pharisee – a self-righteous or sanctimonious person

From the name of ancient Jewish sect, at the time of Jesus, noted for strict obedience to Jewish traditions.


Even in biblical times, before the automobile, there were crazy drivers. In 2 Kings 9:20, as a chariot approaches:


The lookout reported, "The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi – he drives like a madman."


jehu – a driver, especially one who drives furiously

shibboleth – a word or pronunciation that distinguishes another;

a custom or practice that betrays one as an outsider


Judges 12:5-6 tells how Gileadites identified members of the tribe of Ephraim:


the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordane


simony – the buying or selling of a church office, privilege or service; for example, accepting a fee for performing a baptism. A grave sin under Catholic doctrine.


from Simon Magus, Samaritan sorcerer who attempted to buy spiritual power from the apostles.



Oration: types of Speeches (Week of May 18, 2003)

This week we'll talk about types of speeches one might make -- beginning with a word that also fits last week's theme. (I do so love to be able to link themes that way!)


jeremiad – a speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom


One source says "a prolonged lamentation or complaint"; another says "a tale of sorrow, disappointment, or complaint; a doleful story; a dolorous tirade". To me those definitions err in that they would include a whiney tale of the woes one has suffered; to my reading "jeremiad" implies an angry denunciation. Comments?


peroration – the concluding part of an oration; especially, a final summing up of an argument


perorate – to so conclude a speech; also, to speak at great length, esp. in a grandiloquent manner


In the House of Commons, 18 July 1991:
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson: Will my hon. Friend resist any further regulations from the [EU] Community that might interfere with the traditional names of favourite English foods? May we have an assurance that well-known English foods, using their generic names, such as Cheddar cheese, York ham or Devon or Cornish cream will not be brought within the regulations and that he will resist any attempt to change those names? Will he also defend the British kipper from any suggestion that the wisest cure constitutes a health risk?
Mr. Curry:[A]t the meeting of the Agriculture Council in Luxembourg last month, when I represented the United Kingdom, I gave a considerable peroration on precisely that subject. It is wholly unnecessary and perfectly silly that generic names should be included in any bureaucratic regulations.
            As for the kipper, I share my hon. Friend's predilection for that delicacy. I see no reason why any food should be interfered with, other than on health grounds, and there are no health grounds whatever to get in the way of the good old British kipper.
Mr. Cormack: Was my hon. Friend's peroration successful? If not, will he repeat it until it is?


A word that has two completely different meanings. World Wide Words gives a very interesting discussion of the etymology.


stemwinder – a rousing political speech


After all the calls to unity, a stemwinder in the old tradition from Hubert Humphrey, appearances by Muskie and Kennedy, Sargent Shriver was formally nominated for Vice-President.
– Theodore White, The Making of the President

Mohammad al-Asi last April gave a stemwinder of an anti-Semitic speech to the howls of approval from assembled Muslim students. His speech was laced with these phrases: "Zionist, racist, criminal" Israelis, the "hard-core war criminal Sharon," "Zionist thugs," "poisoned Israeli Zionist soil."
– Steven Greenhut, Muslim leaders should get off the fence, The Orange County Register, Nov. 24, 2002


But occasionally: stemwinder – a speech so long and boring that it feels as though one needs to wind one’s watch before it ends


the Bill Clinton of 1988, who gave a tedious stemwinder in 1988 that has gone down in the books as the worst nominating speech in recent memory
– Bill Schneider and Keating Hollan, What to look for Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, reporting on CNN's Website, August 17, 2000


panegyric – an oration or eulogy in praise of some person or achievement

from Greek panegyris "public assembly," from pan- "all" + agyris "place of assembly


The highest panegyric, therefore, that private virtue can receive, is the praise of servants.
– Samuel Johnson

The South had begun to throw out its skirmishers for a [Lyndon B.] Johnson presidential candidacy in 1956 … the press was going to join in the chorus … "This super-sensitive political town has begun speculating this week" about " the first rumblings of a Johnson presidential bandwagon," the [Liz Carpenter] article said. The New Republic's July 4 issue would carry what would be described as an "exuberant panegyric" of Johnson by Senator Richard Neuberger.
– Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate


tub-thumping (adjective or noun) – a forceful, violent or ranting impassioned speech, based more on emotion than reason.


Think of the preacher who pounds on the pulpit. Quinion notes, "At the time the expression was first recorded — in the Cromwellian period of English history, roughly the 1650s — the allusion was to nonconformist preachers."


[Coffee:] By the end of the 15th century devout Catholics were asking the Pope to ban the 'devil's drink' (he took one sip and went over to the Dark Side) and the Women's Petition Against Coffee Houses in 1674 never had a chance in hell. By this time, coffeehouses had become hotbeds of intellectual activity, and a cup usually came with a tub-thumping and a querulous call to arms. Voltaire, Diderot and Robespierre all hung out at coffeehouses - ... conservative institutions such as Lloyd's and the London Stock Exchange were incubated in the same hothouse environment.
– Lonely Planet Publications, theme guide to food


demegoric – of or pertaining to public speakingน


contrast histrionic – relating to actors or acting; also, excessively dramatic or emotional; affected.




นThis is the OED definition, but not the only one you can find: the word appears in at least three free on-line dictionaries, each time defined as "pertaining to demagogues or demagogic speech". That is is quite different – and would seem to make demegoric a useless word, duplicating demegogic.


The sole cite in OED does not give clear usage evidence, one way or another. Can any of our readers shed light by telling us what the Greek demegorikos would mean?


A reader notes:  "I think that demegorikos means 'qualified as a public speaker'. "



Individuals in society (Week of May 26, 2003)


This week's theme begins with a word I stumbled upon yesterday, one that seems to me extraordinary. Indeed, at the last minute I changed from the theme that had been planned. Please forgive any resulting roughness.


In rough terms, our theme will be words regarding a person's relationship with the society of which he or she is a part.


Today's word is hard to pin down, and the sources I find conflict. The term is from Nguni or Xhosa, and appears in South African Concise Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2002).


Zulu maxim: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: "I am what I am because of you."


ubuntu – in rough terms, humanity, not as an individual as defined by one's interrelationships. The South African Governmental White Paper on Welfare officially recognizes ubuntu as "The principle of caring for each other's well-being...and a spirit of mutual support …"


To explain further:


Christianity in North America and Europe tends to buy into the Enlightenment ethos of "enlightened self-interest" and "rational individualism." The individual as free agent is the starting point for thinking about society, and this of course reduces community to little more than a collection of individuals who come together out of self-interest.

[In contrast, the] underlying principle of Archbishop Tutu's Christian ethics is the African notion of "ubuntu." Ubuntu is a difficult word to translate, but it connotes community, with the understanding that it's impossible to isolate persons from community, that there's an organic relationship between all people such that when we see another, we should recognize ourselves and the God in whose image all people are made. Interdependence and reciprocity, not independence and self-sufficiency, are the keys here. As Tutu magnificently says, "A self-sufficient human being is subhuman. I have gifts that you do not have, so consequently, I am unique--you have gifts that I do not have, so you are unique. God has made us so that we will need each other. We are made for a delicate network of interdependence."
– Kerry Walters, reviewing Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu by Michael Jesse Battle and Desmond Mpilo Tutu


Today's word, though familiar, takes a new resonance when one realizes in arose in a society based upon ubuntu. For its root meaning of separate-hood or apart-ness, is a direct conflict with a social vision of ubuntu.


apartheid – a condition of segregation, or a policy/practice of segregating; also, the former segregation policy of the Republic of South Africa. from Afrikaans/ Dutch


When was this coined? One fine source says 1947. Another says the first recorded use is in a 1917 speech by Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa.


manuduction – careful guidance (adj. manuductory)

literally, "leading by the hand", from Latin manus hand + ducere leading


According to Hook, The Grand Panjandrum, "A good leader demonstrates manuduction. Practically, it is any act of leading or guiding, or any book, article, set of instructions, etc., that may serve as a guide." But other sources seem, in my reading, to relate the word more to the tutelage of a neophyte.


A reader notes:  MANUDUCTOR, n. [L.manus,hand, and ductor, a leader.]: An officer in the ancient church, who gave the signal for the choir to sing, who beat time and regulated the music. [from the original Webster's]


syntality – the consistent and predictable behavior of a social group


"Group theorists use the term "syntality" to describe for a group what the term "personality" describes for an individual."
– International Polio Network

Article: An attempt at more refined definitions of the cultural dimensions of syntality in modem nations. H. Bruel, and H. P. Hartman, American Sociological Review 17 (August 1951)


This would seem a useful term that has not entered the general vocabulary. I find it only in specialized areas such as therapy and management-dynamics.


Let's take a couple of words for conflicts between the individual and the group. First, the conflicting individual:


marplot – an officious meddler whose interference compromises the success of an undertaking

After Marplot, a character in The Busy Body, a play by Susannah Centlivre (1669-1723)


Billy was a striking instance that the arch interferer, the envious marplot of Eden, still has more or less to do with every human consignment to this planet of earth. In every case, one way or another he is sure to slip in his little card, as much as to remind us – I too have a hand here.
– Herman Melville, Billy Budd, ch. 2


ostracize – to expel from a community or group; to cast out from social, political, or private favor


Ostracize is from Greek ostrakon, a piece of earthenware, a potsherd. Ostracism, banishment by potsherds, was practiced at Athens to get rid of a citizen whose power was considered too great for the liberty of the state. Each voter wrote on a potsherd the name of a person he wished banished. The man named on the most ostraka was exiled, normally for a period of ten years.


sodality – brotherhood; community; a fellowship