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July 2005 Archives

Common Words missing from OED: mixed message; dual-use technology; podcast; red state or blue state; bris; treasury bond (T-bond)

Unpleasant Places: Dogpatch; slough of despond (slough); potter's field; aceldama (intestine); Hooverville; take to the woodshed (or 'to woodshed'); ghetto

Political Leaders as Eponyms: jimson weed (mow); Queen Anne's lace; quisling; Nero; Molotov cocktail; Fabian; draconian



Common Words missing from OED

mixed message – action that gives confusingly contradictory signals


The Supreme Court gave government officials a mixed message … A closely divided court said a granite monument that proclaims "I am the Lord thy God" outside the Texas Capitol is allowed. But it struck down framed copies of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.
– Hope Yen, Associated Press, June 28, 2005

Note: "Both cases were decided on a 5-4 vote, with Justice Stephen Breyer providing the swing vote and the others consistently voting for or against the displays." – Tom Heinen, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


dual-use technology – technology that can be used for both peaceful and military purposes (usually, production of nuclear weapons)


Iran has obtained uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which can produce both fuel for nuclear power plants and material for bombs. Washington contends Tehran plans to build weapons, but the Iranians say they’re interested only in peaceful energy. Delegations here had promoted ideas for limiting access to such dual-use technology with bombmaking potential.
– Associated Press, May 27, 2005


podcasts – radio shows and other audio programs posted on the Internet, available for download


Apple Computer introduced software that includes a directory making it easier to find and listen to podcasts, … a sort of TV Guide for Internet audio programs. It hasn't always been easy finding the tens of thousands of available programs … Apple's embrace of podcasts represents the biggest endorsement yet of the relatively new but fast-growing phenomenon. Podcasts let consumers listen to audio programs when they want to, rather than when broadcasters schedule them. Major media companies are doing podcasts of their news programming. Thousands of amateur podcasters are a grassroots movement, showcasing everything from politics, to their favorite music, to a discussion of breakfast that morning.
– Nick Wingfield, Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2005


red state or blue state – U.S. states which predominantly vote for the Republican party (red) or the Democratic party (blue) respectively, esp. in presidential elections
The terms are often used to indicate culture and values. See quotes.


Accent? I thought I'd purged the last whiff of that red-state stigma during my Okie [Oklahoma] childhood, partly thanks to a German mother who spoke impeccable English with, if anything, a vaguely British accent.
– Blake Bailey, award-winning literary biographer, quoted in The Boston Globe, June 5, 2005

… the Sunday [New York] Times, the single greatest current events icon in the East Coast, Blue State urban, moneyed and intellectual world. If anything creates water-cooler buzz in this orbit, it's the Sunday Times.
– Dick Meyer, CBS News (on line), June 7, 2005


bris (or brith) – Judaism: the rite of circumcision (male), performed on the eighth day after birth.
[from Hebrew berξt covenant]


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg squeezed next to Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the State Assembly, before a large menorah set up in a small Midtown kosher restaurant. The Hanukkah ceremony was one in a series of chits that Mr. Bloomberg attempted to tally with Mr. Silver over the last year. The mayor attended the bris of two of Mr. Silver's grandsons, paid a condolence call when the speaker's brother died in August and held news conferences as often as possible in the speaker's Lower Manhattan district.
- Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, June 8, 2005


In a recent "guess the theme," the theme we revealed was, "Even the Oxford English Dictionary includes several thousand words or meanings for which OED, having absolutely no example of the word actually being used in context, is relying solely upon other dictionaries. This week we are giving examples." All these words were in OED but very rarely used.

This week's theme is the opposite: oft-used words that OED has not included. Here is a rough measure of frequency-of-use for what we've presented under this theme. OED has admitted none of them.

    418,000 Google hits for mixed message (singular or plural)
      77,600 for dual-use technology (singular or plural)
  8,330,000 for podcast (14 million more for ~s, ~ing, ~er, ~ers, and ~ed)
  2,074,000 for red state or blue state (singular or plural)
     931,000 for bris or brith


The functionary who performs a bris is called a mohel. Interestingly, OED omits bris (931,000 hits) but includes mohel, which has only about 43,000 hits.


treasury bond (or T-bond) – long-term debt of a government, issued as a tradable security.

In the overwhelming majority of usages, the government meant is the US government.
--- a T-bill is for one year or less;
--- a T-note is over one year up to ten years;
--- a T-bond is more than ten years.
Collectively, they are referred to as treasuries.

OED omits these meanings. Some terms (T-notes; T-bonds) it omits entirely; some others (T-bills; treasury bills; treasury bonds) it defines, provincially, as applying only to UK debt – but the terms are used for debt of any country, most often the US. OED does correctly list treasury note as typically a US security – but mistakenly says it is one payable on demand. This is simply wrong: a US treasury note has a fixed maturity date.



Unpleasant Places

Let's visit some undesirable places.

Dogpatch – the prototype of the low-class, rural hick
[From the comic strip Li'l Abner by Al Capp, set in the mythical town of Dogpatch]

Since this term has not been included in any dictionary, I'll support it with more citations than usual.


… one-time Nixon aide Monica Crowley writes how her old boss wrote to Bill Clinton in 1992 to congratulate him on "a very well-run campaign." However, when three months passed without a reply from the President, Nixon complained, "What do you expect? They're Arkansas dogpatch."
– Human Events, April 26, 2004

Benyamin Cohen, editor of the online publication Jewsweek, went to see The Passion Of The Christ and came out homicidal: "My first comprehensible thought was this: I really want to kill a Jew." Maureen Dowd of The New York Times agreed: "Here, you want to kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth. And since the Romans have melted into history...." But I reckon Dowd and Cohen are faking it. They don't mean that marquee columnists and liberal Jewish New Yorkers will be rampaging around looking for Jews to kill, they mean all those rubes and hicks in Dogpatch who don't know any better will be doing so.
– Mark Steyn, Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2004

Puerto Ricans will cast their ballots for statehood, independence or a continuation of commonwealth status. But don't Americans have the right not to be saddled with an impoverished, crime-ridden island of non-English speakers as our 51st state? … It's hard to imagine a worse candidate for admission to the Union than this Caribbean Dogpatch.
– Don Feder, No Statehood for Caribbean Dogpatch, Boston Herald, Nov. 30, 1998

Hillary Clinton raised the dread specter of a vast anti-Arkansas conspiracy as the hidden factor behind her husband's legal plight. "I think a lot of this is prejudice against our state," the first lady declared. The Dogpatch defense seems bizarre enough to pass the sincerity test. … This is not the first time that Mrs. Clinton has portrayed Arkansas as an unfairly maligned state.
– Walter Shapiro, Hillary's Dogpatch Defense, Slate Magazine, Aug. 11, 1998

They depicted Paula [Jones] as a Dogpatch Madonna who cut lose after a strict religious upbringing … smoking, drinking beer, dancing, and doing other things that were forbidden at home.
– Melinda Beck, Newsweek, May 23, 1994


A slough is a stagnant bog or mire, mucky and difficult to slog through. Hence,

slough of despond – a state of extreme depression
[From John Bunyan's allegory, Pilgrim's Progress: "Now I saw in my dream, that … they drew near to a very miry slough … ; and they, being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian … began to sink in the mire."]


Jennifer Capriati, for instance, has credited her black Lab-boxer puppy with helping her emerge from her own slough of despond.
– Tom Junod, Sports Illustrated, April 10, 1995


potter's field - a burial ground for burying paupers and unclaimed bodies; also figurative
[alludes to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27]

The term is more interesting when used figuratively. For example:


Hardly a book of human worth is honestly placed before the reader; it is either shunned, given a Periclean funeral oration in a hundred and fifty words, or interred in the potter's field of the newspapers' back pages.
– Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977), U.S. author, critic; "For Sale," Alms for Oblivion (1964)

Trite terms represent simplications of real and sometimes important concepts that can be very useful, until we forget what it was they were supposed to be useful about. They then become dangerous, empty reifications or are relegated to menial uses and finally buried in the potter's field of pedantry.
– Lawrence B. Slobodkin, Simplicity and Complexity in Games of the Intellect

Ventures into Verse: Being Various Ballads, Ballades, Rondeaux, Triolets, Songs, Quatrains, Odes and Roundelays. Rescued from the Potters' Field of Old Files and Here Given Decent Burial [Peace to their Ashes]
– Title page of H.L. Mencken's first book, 1903 (very rare; 100 copies printed, only 37 survive)


The Bible tells that Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver to betray Christ. That money was used to buy a potter's field, which became known as the "field of blood" – which, in the local tongue, was Alcedama. Acts 1:19; Matthew 27:8. Hence today's word, which is quite rare.

aceldama – a field of blood; a bloody battlefield


The struggle between the Macedonians and Greeks, for an unprofitable superiority, form one of the bloodiest scenes in history. … we cannot judge that their intestine divisions, and their foreign wars, consumed less than three millions of their inhabitants. What an Aceldama, what a field of blood Sicily has been in ancient times. You will find every page of its history dyed in blood.
– Edmund Burke (private letter)

(US Civil War, 1862): During the ten days I remained at Corinth the town was a perfect aceldama … The wounded were brought in by hundreds. Above 5000 wounded men, demanding instant and constant attendance … A much larger proportion of amputations was performed than would have been necessary if the wounds could have received earlier attention. On account of exposure, many wounds were gangrenous. Where amputation was performed, eight out of ten died.
– William G. Stevenson, quoted in Harold Elk Straubing, In Hospital and Camp

… while carnage was laying its scores of victims around him-we behold him riding from point to point, bringing order out of confusion, and leading away from that aceldama the shattered battalions of the proud army of the morning …
– B.J. Lossing, George Washington's Mount Vernon


Notice the unusual use of intestine in the first quote.
intestine (adj.) – internal


Hooverville – a shantytown of temporary homes
[Areas like this, thrown up at the start of the Great Depression, were sardonically named after then-president Herbert Hoover]

Would you agree that this term, unlike (say) 'slum' or 'shantytown', conveys a sense of disconnection, dispossession?


One of the most popular stories circulating today has to do with a variously described "death" of the American Dream. All the key words of the pronouncement are fuzzy - What exactly is the American Dream? Just who qualifies as middle class? - but there is a palpable sense that we are living in a barren ruin of a country, a Hooverville from sea to shining sea.
– Nick Gillespie (book review), Reason, Dec. 1996

[Review of the movie "Cinderella Man'] Poverty is an inadequate word to describe the circumstances Americans found themselves in during the period. While Howard does create a sense that it was a very short stroll from Hooverville to Potters Field, he neglects the larger social and economic forces that drove the downturn.
– Duane Dudek, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 3, 2005


take to the woodshed (or 'to woodshed') – U.S politics: 1. orig.: to 'grill' someone brutally, in private; to subject to no-holds-barred questioning 2. more commonly: to criticize scathingly.
From the image of a pioneer father taking his son "out behind the woodshed" for a serious talking-to, perhaps using a leather strap to emphasize his point.


Howard Dean accused Republicans of never "having done an honest day's work in their lives" [etc.] … Called to the woodshed by Senate leaders when his hate-filled attacks diverted attention from the Democrats' message, Mr. Dean slightly toned down his rhetoric.
– Bill Sammon, The Washington Times, June 22, 2005


To explain and use the original sense, we turn to A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures by newspaper editor Ben Bradlee, whose reporters broke the Watergate story.


… take … "to the woodshed," an old political practice described to me by Jim Rowe, a longtime Washington powerbroker. Jim Rowe had taken Hubert Humphrey to the woodshed at the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson, before LBJ decided on Humphrey as his vice-presidential running mate. When you take someone to the woodshed, Rowe told me, you get him off in a room alone and grill him about his taxes, his health, his girlfriends, his finances, his war record, his debts, his addictions, his innermost secrets.
      … Dusko Doder, our cigar-chomping expert on Soviet affair for the last twelve years … we couldn't pull Doder off the [story] on the basis of hearsay testimony from a once and future KGB agent. Ed Williams took Doder to the woodshed, as we had requested, grilling him for almost two hours, and reporting back to me: "Fuck 'em … he's a terrific guy … the charges are horse shit."


A reader notes that the term also has a musical meaning "To practise or rehearse, esp. privately"


ghetto – a part of a city in which a group is isolated (esp. a poor part, with confinement by social, legal, or economic pressure). fig: a similarly isolating situaton (esp. one of poor status or poor opportunity)

Though the word is familiar, its origin is not. It comes from the area in which 14th-century confined its Jews. The neighbor had formerly been an iron foundry; in Italian, getto.

A 1555 papal bull forced the Jews of Rome to live only in the designated ghetto area. It is perhaps appropriate that the title of that bull was Cum nimis absurdum.



Political Leaders as Eponyms


It's been a while since we looked at eponyms, words from names of people. This week we'll enjoy a few.

jimson weed (or jimpson weed) – a certain noxious poisonous weed, with rank-smelling foliage and narcotic/hallucinogenic properties. A corruption of Jamestown weed.

Jamestown, Virginia, named for King James I, was the first permanent British settlement in the New World. The British troops in Jamestown suffered a comical incident in 1676, involving the weed. Here's the story.


'This was gathered for a boiled salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither [to Jamestown] to quell the rebellion of Bacon; and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces, with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll. In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves, — though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned to themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed."
– Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia


bonus word:
– a grimace (some sources suggest the grimace of sticking out the lower lip)


We started with a noxious plant named after British royalty. We counter with an attractive plant that seems to be so named – but the name is an etymological mystery.

Queen Anne's lace – a common wildflower with a large, lacy white head (8th picture here). Akin to the carrot; can be used as a garden flower.


Pretty cut flower or a weed? Queen Anne's lace or Devil's plague--these two common names reveal its dual nature. Under some circumstances, it is a weed that takes over vacant lots and roadsides, but it can also be a pretty cut flower if you can keep the plants under control.
– Sunset, November 1, 1986

... one of [Eudora] Welty's last admirers stepped forward and held out a handful of limp vegetation. I saw that the offering was wilted Queen Anne's lace from a roadside. ... As if taking orchids, she then accepted the scraggly bouquet in her left hand, admired it, and, with her right, wrote a personal message above her signature. Miss Eudora Welty-tough under fire, tender enough to turn weeds into orchids.
– Doris Betts, quoted by Wanda Butler, Southern Living, Apr. 1999


Oddly, no one knows what 'Queen Anne' this flower is named for. Some name Queen Anne the spouse of the same James I we cited for jimson weed. A more likely source is the Queen Anne who reigned about a century later, for a dozen years ending in 1714. And there are other candidates. But all are speculations for which no one has come up with any evidence.

Moreover, the first known usage is in the 1890s, long after either Queen Anne, and is in the US, not in the UK.

What do you in the UK call this plant?


quisling – a traitor to one's country, esp. one who is collaborating with occupying forces; also fig.
[Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian army officer, headed puppet government during Germany's WW II occupation of Norway; executed for treason after Germany's defeat. The word entered the language very quickly after Quisling took office. It almost immediately spawned offshoots such as 'to quisle'.]


A gray stone medieval boarding school reeks of disinfectant and is ruled by boy quislings and adult despots.
– John le Carre, Absolute Friends

The first three Ptolemies were unusually enlightened, but later decadence set in, and the line ended with the Quisling Queen Cleopatra.
– Petr Beckmann, A History of Pi


As you may have noticed, the eponyms presented this week all come from political leaders.

Nero – a person resembling Nero, esp. in displaying cruelty, tyranny, or profligacy.
[Nero Claudius Caesar, Roman emperor A.D. 54-68]


[at Ronald Reagan's death:] his critics believe that … Cutting taxes while at the same time allowing military spending to soar was the act not merely of a conservative, but of a Nero.
– Mark Helprin, National Review, June 28, 2004


Molotov cocktail – an easily-made incendiary bomb: a bottle, filled with flammable liquid and stuffed with a rag wick
[Used and named by Finns in the Russo-Finnish War, 1940; served as an anti-tank weapon; named for Molotov, Soviet foreign minister]


Killing them with a single bullet, a stab, a device made up of a popular mix of explosives or hitting them with an iron rod is not impossible . Burning down their property with Molotov cocktails is not difficult. With the available means, small groups could prove to be a frightening horror for the Americans and the Jews.
– Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights Under the Prophet 's Banner, as quoted by Michael Scheuer in Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam & the Future of America


A reader notes:  The cocktail is named for the Stalin's Prime Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov. This is special, because it is an eponym of pseudonym. …  it derives from the Russian "molot" or hammer. This was a nice complement to Stalin's own pseudonym, from the Russian for steel.

Fabian – of cautious delaying tactics to wear out an enemy, avoiding decisive battle
[Quintus Fabius Maximus, Roman general who used such tactics to defeat Hannibal. See our entry for 'cunctation', third item at link]

Fabian – of the Fabian Society, which aimed to reach socialism by non-revolutionary methods


[In 1216 Henry III, age 9, succeeds the hated King John. The leaders confer at Bristol.] It was generally agreed that it would not be wise to risk everything on a pitched battle with the [French] invaders, who still had a great preponderance of strength. It was decided instead to use Fabian tactics while recruiting more adherents and accumulating strength.
– Thomas B. Costain, The Magnificent Century


draconian – (of laws) excessively harsh
Draco, an Athenian legislator (7th century BCE) whose laws provided a death penalty for minor crimes


Some of that cultural unification was ferocious: for instance, the first Qin emperor condemned all previously written historical books as worthless and ordered them burned, much to the detriment of our understanding of early Chinese history and writing. Those and other draconian measures must have contributed to the spread of North China's Sino-Tibetan languages over most of China, and to reducing the Miao-Yao and other language families to their present fragmented distributions.
– Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (winner of Pulitzer Prize)