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This week's theme is titled A History of Numbers. But that title is a pun. We won't be talking of the etymology of number-words, or of words that arose from the ongoing development of mathematical concepts. Instead, we'll enjoy words whose etymologies – whose histories – trace back to numbers in a non-obvious way.

We'll start with one whose number-background is reasonably well known to those who played with etymologies.

decimate – to destroy or kill a large part of (a group)
[Note: often used to mean "to inflict large-scale damage (other than killing) upon", as in the weevils decimated the cotton crop. But about 75% of the "language mavens" look down their noses at that usage.]
[From Latin decimus, tenth, decem ten. Decimate originally referred to the practice, in the Roman army, of punishing a mutinous legion by killing every tenth soldier. An effective deterrent!]
    After 17 years in power, the crisis is likely to decimate political support for [Iceland's] Independence Party, seen as an inextricable part of the tiny elite that led this country of 320,000 to financial ruin.
    – Irish Times, Jan. 25, 2009 (awkward placement of the phrase preceding the first comma, eh?)
 
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khamsin – an oppressive, hot Saharan wind, from the south or southeast, blowing across Egypt in spring

[from Arabic khamsun fifty; the wind blows for about fifty days. Pronounced with an initial k-sound.]

A marvelously evocative description from Lawrence of Arabia:
    It was a breathless wind, with the furnace taste sometimes known in Egypt when a khamsin came, filled with the dust of the Nefudh. By noon it blew a half-gale, so dry that our shriveled lips cracked open, and the skin of our faces chapped; while our eyelids, gone granular, seemed to creep back and bare our shrinking eyes. I always rather liked a khamsin, since its torment seemed to fight against mankind with ordered, conscious malevolence, and it was pleasant to outface it so directly, challenging its strength, and conquering its extremity. [B]ut, as we rode further into the desert and the hours passed, the wind became stronger, thicker in dust, more terrible in heat. All semblance of friendly contest passed.
    – T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (ellipses omitted)
 
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tessellated – mosaic [that is, made of small stones fit together to form a flat surface]; or like a mosaic [e.g., many quilts; many Escher creations]. Usually refers to a regular, repeating pattern

[from Latin tessella small square stone or tile, which is perhaps from Greek tessares four (as in a square)]
    A dark medal of blood had formed itself near the man's head on the tessellated floor. The manager, alarmed by the grey pallor of the man's face, sent for a policeman.
    – James Joyce, Dubliners
 
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I hope you enjoy the two links below.

millefiori or millefiore – decorative glass made by fusing multicolored glass rods together, and then cutting them crosswise, then using the slices as elements of a larger piece. Very labor-intensive.

["thousand flowers", Italian mille thousand (from Latin) + fiori flowers]
    . . .He watched her turn the paperweight in her hand. From where he was sitting … it appeared to be crammed full of small, brilliant crystal flowers.
    . . ."Is it valuable? he asked, idly curious.
    . . ."It's Clichy millefiori. Quite lovely. Worth several thousand on the open market. But … our paperweight collection already has several fine examples."
    – Jayne Ann Krentz, Sharp Edges
If I understand correctly, the "cane" of fused rods is called a murrine or murrini, and each slice from it is called a murrina.

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inch; ounce – two familiar words, needing no definition
Each from Latin uncia twelfth part.

You can see why inch, being a twelfth of a foot, would be related to uncia twelfth part. But an ounce is 1/16 of a pound, so what does it have to do with "twelfths"?

Answer: the original ounce was 1/12 of a troy pound. Troy ounces are still in use for measuring gold and other precious metals, gems, and medicines. The troy pound is about 18% lighter than the standard (avoirdupois) pound, but since it is cut up into only 12 ounces (rather than 16), a troy ounce is about 10% heavier than a standard ounce.

Thus a pound of gold is lighter than a pound of feathers, but an ounce of gold is heavier than an ounce of feathers!

By the way, troy measures have nothing to do with the Troy of Homer's Iliad. The name is from a weight used at the fair of Troyes, France.

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murrine?

If "murrrine" is the correct spelling, this is the first time we have seen three "r's" together in one word.
 
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<texhenge>
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by wordcrafter:
inch; ounce

...a troy ounce is about 10% heavier than a standard pound...

My comment-- I have many troy ounces of gold to trade you for your "pounds" and you can keep the 10%. Ho, boy! Gotcha!
 
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regarding the offensive "Junior Member" title I am given by this board --- I have written thrice to the boss here and have gotten no reply, so I suppose this will be my last time to cast my pearls here. To my intelligent and delitefully articulate co-members of the board, I bid you a tentative adieu; to the boss, I need not articulate what you must surely understand to be my message to you.
 
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texhenge, I think that after you have made some minimum number of posts, your "Junior Member" status will automatically change. I think that number is 25, but I could be wrong. Hang in there !!
 
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<texhenge>
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Thank you, Jerry. The boss here has absolutely ignored my three attempts to understand this offensive title. On this board above all, the boss should understand that "New Member" is perfectly descriptive, while "Junior Member" might be offensive.
 
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That's right, jerry. The title changes to "Member" after 25 posts.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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texhenge, it occurs to us that because you have expressed frustration due to your lack of ability to communicate with the boss, you might not have been told that you will be expected to host the usual Graduation Party when you move upward from your Junior Member status.

You probably should get busy right now with the major decisions as to whether you want to manage the Food and Beverages yourself or have it catered.

Also you should give special attention to the Dress Code for your party. Will you go with the customary Clothing Optional style, or Texas-style "suits & boots" ?

Will you be reserving the WordCraft Chat Room for this big event ??

Your Graduation Party should coincide with the date your twenty-fifth post, so it's all up to You.

You might want to organize a group of Junior Members and make it a joint effort.
 
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quote:
regarding the offensive "Junior Member" title I am given by this board --- I have written thrice to the boss here and have gotten no reply, so I suppose this will be my last time to cast my pearls here.

Texhenge,

When you originally joined us, I sent you a personalized PM, welcoming you. In that PM, I explained that I am an Administrator here and that I'd be happy to answer any questions. I don't know why you don't think I am a "boss" here, therefore. My husband and I pay for this server that runs this Board.

As for Junior Member, versus Member, you've been given the answer on that. Jerry, a long-time member here and another administrator, arnie, have both explained the system here. We didn't not design it; it's part of the software that we buy into. We could probably change it, though I am not even sure. No one else, in our 6 1/2 years here, has complained about that. I am happy to look into it though. I've never been a fan of changing titles as people have more posts (I think there's a word for that). It's the quality of posts that matter, not the number.

We hope you cool down a bit and decide to stay.
 
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texhenge, it seems we hahve a communication breakdown, because I haven't gotten any PM or email from you. Drop me an email at wordcrafting@gmail.com, and we'll get it straightened out.
 
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Junior Member [...] long-time member

In my years on the Web, which only stretch back to '94, and on the Internet which only go back to '88, I have run across many synonyms for the newly arrived: e.g., newbie (or n00b, portmanteau word of new + boy, and predating the Internet), neophyte (originally a religious term). Online boards are a lot like other groups in the Real World™. One does not become a Greenlander merely by disembarking from a plane in Nuuk. You have to live there a while and get used to how things are done.
If you decide to change it, Kalleh. How about probationary member versus old fart? Or rookie and lifer?

I think the reason for labeling members WRT their vintage is for the purposes of determining how long they've been around and how many posts they've made. I've been a member on boards which have more levels of membership and tougher requirements in moving from one level to another. It dawns on me now that I think about it, that I have never belonged to an online community where the general membership votes on acceptance of new members to membership or a new level. Might make for an interesting experiment.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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<texhenge>
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Jerry--
The graduation party is a weighty responsibility. Since there is hope I can shed the offensive title "Junior Member" I will think carefully about all your suggestions and try to host an enjoyable bash. In South Texas we "slow cook" the meat so even an old steer is tender and delicious, like this "Junior Member" title has slow cooked me.

After being an advisor to, and a guest in foreign heads' of state's palaces in the 1960s, I never thought to be called "Junior Member" of anything. Perhaps not the "dalang of geopolitics", I nevertheless enjoyed considerable stroke in the unpleasantness of the past fifty years. Since it's the quantity of my missives upon which my status is now earned, further posts will be as thin as a poor man's fence posts.

In the vein of the "attorney generals" discussion, did I get the correct syntax for "foreign heads' of state's palaces" correct??
 
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<texhenge>
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Thank you for the explanation of why I am insulted with the "Junior Member" title rather than the more appropriate "New Member" moniker.

It is a great comfort to know that, with at least three Administrators, ten minutes of reprogramming the board is less important than the laudable pursuit of insulting all new members. "Cool down"? I hope I have.

As they say hereabouts upon being given a suitable target of lambast, "You don't eat a pig like that all at once!"

<edited to correct some doofus English>
 
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Please accept my humble petition wherein I now assert that my polite reply is most important (nothing further to straighten out), followed by my ruthless intent to test the 25-message hypothesis.
 
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Voting on peoples' acceptance reveals the horror of the ever changing winds of a democracy, rather than the seasoned helmanship of the republican form of government found on this board and in America where I vote.

As the tally for the number of posts is given for all members, the offensive "Junior Member" title is wholly unnecessary to shed light on my ruthless pursuit of 25 posts, after which time I suppose something will have changed for those who do not have numerical literacy.

How can my 26'th post qualify me to sit under the learned boughs of the old oaks who have posted thousands of times?
 
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texhenge, I'm sorry that you still seem to be annoyed at this. I'm not an administrator but I have been here for a long time and it's by far the friendliest and most good natured board I've ever hung out on. Given the obvious strength of your feelings on the matter you may find it hard to believe but in the years I have been here I don't recall anyone else being offended by the titles used though I have seen it discussed from a language point of view and I have seen fierce antagonism to titles on other boards.

Incidentally I have seen elsewhere (and no I'm not intending to name names) exactly the same strength of feeling levelled against "New Member" as you show against "Junior Member". In my experience elsewhere there is no way to keep everybody happy about this.
 
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Texhenge, i noticed you posted several separate messages here in a row. As you may have observed, the number didn't change. You have to post in another forum to change the digits. Posting on the same day in the same forum counts only as one post.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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<texhenge>
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I'd hoped my antagonism against the offensive title "Junior Member" was well reasoned and calmly expressed. I am no more your peer now that I've posted the required 25 messages to shed the title. Maybe we should strive to offend no one, rather than to please anyone.

In South Texas, getting a dog or a mate can please. Offending can be fatal. That's why I enjoy the easygoing affable literacy of the giant oaks towering over my almost whithered seedling.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Proofreader:
Texhenge, i noticed you posted several separate messages here in a row. As you may have observed, the number didn't change. You have to post in another forum to change the digits. Posting on the same day in the same forum counts only as one post.



Alas, politeness demands I forfeit another posting numerical accolade to acknowledge your reminder that any "26" that is equal to another 26 is equal to all 26s. I stand disenumerated.
 
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I always strive to offend no one. Life, however, has taught me that it is just as impossible to achieve as pleasing everyone.

Congratulations, I see that now you are a member.
 
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Thanks, Bob, for the congrats. I tried, within reasonable bounds, to lampoon the transition from "Junior member" to "Member" with intended results. This ain't a pig you want to eat all at once.
 
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Texhenge,
Please see your PMs.
 
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It is a fact that words can offend people even when no offence is meant. I belong to an organisation whose membership comprises those who have worked in a managerial capacity for ABTA (The Association of British Travel Agents). Membership is only open to those whose employment is in the past - current employees are not admitted.

To distinguish the group from any other that might be formed for current employees, we used the nomenclature common in the UK for associations of past pupils of schools - Old Boys or Old Girls associations. My own is the Old Reigatians, an association of those who attended Reigate Grammar School.

But the Old Abtarians name has been seized on twice by different members who objected to being described as "old" and one of those actually left the association in protest.

In vain did the Committee try to explain that the nomnclature "old" simply meant "past" or "previous" - not elderly - but the members concerned did not accept the explanation and one actually tabled a motion that the name be changed. The Committee debated the matter at considerable length and decided not to change the name. But, this decision notwithstanding, another member has now asked the Committee to debate the matter again.


Richard English
 
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quote:
1. texhenge says:
[quoting wordcrafter:] "...a troy ounce is about 10% heavier than a standard pound..."
I have many troy ounces of gold to trade you for your "pounds" and you can keep the 10%. Ho, boy! Gotcha!

2. jerry thomas says:
murrine? If "murrrine" is the correct spelling, this is the first time we have seen three "r's" together in one word.
Thanks guys! I admit to being imperfect; errors now corrected. grrrrrrrrrrrrr Wink

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Brigadoon – something desirable but mythical or idealized, and/or of rare, fleeting occurrence
[from Brigadoon, a fictional Scottish Highland village which materializes for only one day every hundred years, in the 1947 musical Brigadoon by Lerner and Loewe. (Wordcraft note: sort of like their later Camelot?)]
    Sometimes when she was unhappy she'd … remember how Spring Lake used to materialize out of nowhere every summer, magically full blown, Mary Dawn's Brigadoon.
    – Philip Roth, American Pastoral

    [headline/subhead, re the 1993 inauguration of US president Bill Clinton:]
    Excitement Rises Like Brigadoon on Potomac Ceremony: Every four years, the jaded capital of politics gets gee-whiz emotional over the parades, the dinners, the galas, the tourist dollars.
    – Los Angeles Times, Jan. 17, 1993
 
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Very cool, Richard. We haven't the same historical depth of culture here in South Texas> back in the 1960s astronaut Wally Schirra initiated be into The Ancient And Honorable Order Of The Turtle, a pilots' drinking society with a startling recognition pass phrase, a witty initiation quiz based on wordplay. Just in my third decade, the "Ancient" was relished by anyone who had a few good landings to their credit. Tales of flying completely snookered were fictional unless the weather was horrid. Anyone with any sense likes gray hair in the cockpit, where age is revered.
 
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We end this theme with another word whose familiar façade hides the surprise that it is rooted in numbers. The first known usage, in this sense, is by Shakespeare.

trivial – of small account, little esteemed, paltry, poor; trifling, inconsiderable, unimportant, slight
[from Latin tri- three + via way, route, road. A place where three ways meet; it is thus, a place where travelers from two different places will meet, exchange news and gossip, and carry it to a third place. (Note: some folks dispute that this is the mechanism by which "three ways" came to mean "trifling".)]
    . . ."How long have you known?"
    . . ."About forty minutes, sir."
    . . .The general stood. "Air Force Office of Special Investigations arrives on my base, unannounced, in the middle of the night, and it takes you forty minutes to notify me."
    . . .Leland stood ramrod straight and looked over the top of the general's head. "Sir, you left specific orders not to be disturbed."
    . . ."I left specific orders not to be bothered with all the trivial bullshit that you think is important. When the Office of Special Investigations shows up in the middle of the night, it's about as bad as it gets for a CO. It ranks just an ass hair under a plane crashing or an attack on the base. … How in the hell did you ever graduate from the United States Air Force Academy?"
    – Vince Flynn, Extreme Measures
 
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<texhenge>
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"trifling" also refers to the act of using a little triangular file.
 
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quote:
some folks dispute that this is the mechanism by which "three ways" came to mean "trifling"

I had heard it came from medieval curriculum of quadrivium and trivium.
 
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Just discovered this one today:

punch – a drink made from a mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients

Apparently from Sanskrit pañca, lit. ‘five nectars (of the gods)’, so called on account of its five ingredients, i.e. milk, curd, butter (probably ghee), honey, sugar (probably molasses)
from pañca "five"
 
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quote:
punch – a drink made from a mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients

Whereas I would agree that a punch is thus comprised, so, I would suggest, are all other alcoholic drinks.

I reckon the definition needs some work.


Richard English
 
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What is that queue where they are waiting to ladle a mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic liquors into their cups?

...

Smile ... Big Grin ... Eek



That's the punch line.
 
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And the place where we all wait our turn at the food is the


paunch line


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by shufitz:
Just discovered this one today:

punch – a drink made from a mixture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients

Apparently from Sanskrit pañca, lit. ‘five nectars (of the gods)’, so called on account of its five ingredients, i.e. milk, curd, butter (probably ghee), honey, sugar (probably molasses)
from pañca "five"


Perhaps it's borrowed from Hindi and not from Sanskrit directly. The OED says
quote:
The earliest spelling paunche (see quot. 1600 at sense 1a), if au is interpreted as /ɑː/, would also favour derivation from the Sanskrit word.


However, the Sanskrit word pañca would be pronounced with a schwa /ə/, but the Hindi word for "five", pāñc, is pronounced with /ɑː/, so the earliest spelling supports a borrowing from the Hindi word, it seems to me.
 
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