The semifinals and finals of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee were held last week, and broadcast on ESPN, no less. This week we'll look at some of the words the contestants had to face in the day's rounds.
Now many of the words that day are, frankly, not very interesting. (I mean, granted that pschent is a difficult word to spell – but is there any interest or utility in a word that means "the double crown of ancient Egypt, combining the white crown of Upper Egypt with the red crown of Lower Egypt"?) Fortunately, we can find some good ones among them. For instance, here's the last word missed, the word on which the second-place finisher stumbled.
coryza – a runny nose, as with a cold (or more exactly, the inflamed nasal membrane that causes the runny nose). Greek koruza, ‘nasal mucus’
[Some sources, such as AHD, define it as the cold itself. But the word refers to the nasal symptom, not to the underlying disease.]
– Robin Cook, Contagion
It's a fairly common medical term, though I haven't heard it generally used. I remember Cook's book, and it was quite good.
Here's a fun one.
Schuhplattler – a lively Bavarian and Austrian folk-dance, with slapping of the thighs and heels
[the roots are German for shoe and slap]
– Rick Luttmann and Gail Luttmann, Chickens In Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide
Today's word has an interesting pair of meanings, each of which we'll illustrate.
tournure – 1. graceful manner or bearing 2. a woman's bustle or other padding "to give shapeliness" to her waist or hips
– Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures
A pair of women whose paint & tournure advertised their ancient calling peered at me & crossed themselves.
– David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
genizah – a repository for Hebrew documents and sacred books that are no longer in use (e.g. old and worn), but must not be destroyed
. . ."They range from good first editions of early twentieth-century classics … to medieval Latin and Hebrew manuscripts dating back to 1210."
. . ."Actually, Uncle Alex," Marius interrupted, "we had one scroll that was a Greek translation of the Bible dating from 900 A.D."
. . ."Ah, yes. How could I forget? That was a find! Marius got it from an Egyptian trader who'd found it in the genizah in Alexandria ... but that's a different story. We didn't have it long. Museums all over the world began contacting us as soon as the rumor got out."
. . ."Genizah?" Francesca inquired.
. . ."Hebrew books, which contain the sacred name of G-d, cannot be thrown away when they get torn or old. They must either be buried in a cemetery, or put in a safe resting place, usually the attic of a synagogue. Such a repository is called a genizah, and it is a gold mine for rare-book hunters.
– Naomi Ragen, The Ghost of Hannah Mendes
These are not common words this week. Today's is particularly rare – but fun.
punaise – a bed-bug
– E. M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady
That sort of brings up some questions. When does a French word become an English word? Should the above text count as an example since Mademoiselle is presumably French and could very likely in her excitement be using words in her native tongue?
Cerebroplegia--the cure is within our grasp
Belial – the spirit of evil personified
– John McPhee, Coming into the Country
Myth Jellies, I was thinking the very same thing. I mean, why even import that particular word, which doesn't exactly mean bedbug... 'punaise des lits' is bedbugs; 'punaise des bois' is stinkbug, which is a lot closer to the etymology of the word (L.Latin putinasius,means 'stinking'). At least I don't think bedbugs emit a smell from a gland the way stinkbugs do-- though I can see the connection, I guess.
So I researched further, & found that this is one of those words that must have come to us from our several-hundred-year period of being managed by & speaking the language of the French. I guess even though we have perfectly good words of "our own", we have to accept the 'high-class' French words that sneaked in.. probably they were seen as more polite ways of expressing crude concepts. Looks like back in the early days (here, the 1500's), the word was used to mean crabs, bedbugs, & who knows what other annoying vermyn, as they were called back then.
I found this on Google book search-- it's an 1853 commentary on a 1568 text. Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc By William John Thomas, Doran (John), Henry Frederick Turle, Joseph Knight, Vernon Horace Rendall, Florence Hayllar, page 496.
I also found this funny use of the word on a blog calling for curses in obscure languages: "As an example of imaginative insult, here is one from a French taxi driver, addressing a little old man who was crossing the street too slowly: 'Espèce de petit gigot de punaise!' (I leave it to others to translate into English - it has to do with the man's legs being as tiny as a bedbug's). language hat
It is my firm belief that one of the reasons why English has become the world's most important language is its willingness to import, accept and quite quickly adopt words from all sources.
So comfortable are we with this concept that there are many words which we now use as if they were our own when, in truth, they only entered our vocabulary a few years ago.
Refusal to accept lexicographical immigrants impoverishes a language as a refusal to accept human immigrants can impoverish a society.
Today we have a once-common term for a heat-induced fever or delirium. Famous works used it thus, and (like 'fever') it can also be used figuratively to mean 'passion'. This is illustrated in the post below, and if this were all, it would be rather dull.
But Samuel Johnson's old dictionary (perhaps influenced by mariner's tales) gave a too-narrow but striking definition, from which have come two rare but beautiful figurative usages. Johnson wrote:
calenture – a distemper peculiar to sailors in hot climates, wherein they imagine the sea to be green fields, and will throw themselves into it
On this basis, sometimes the term is used metaphorically to mean the self-destructive urge, such as the urge, when at a great height, to throw oneself off:
– Wellsboro (PA) Agitator, Jan. 10, 1888
'Tis but the raging calenture of love.
… To walk, plunge in, and wonder that you sink.
– Dryden, The Conquest of Granada (1670)
Oh what spiritual Calenture possesses you, to make this hard shift to destroy your selves?
– John Donne, Pseudo-Martyr [etc.]
– Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare
It were not easy to overestimate the astounding sensation which was caused by this story [Byron's The Vampyre] … which promised infinite possibilities in the way of that sensation and melodramatic calentures which the period craved.
–Montague Summers, Vampire: His Kith and Kin
Isn't life, after all, pretty much a matter of imagination? Do we not lend to many things, to many happenings, in order that we may enjoy them more, charms which they do not really possess? … some calenture of the brain at all times
– G. Allison Phelps, Tides of Thought
Literal ('heat fever'):
… I was continually sick, being thrown into a violent calenture by the excessive heat of the climate … – Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
– Cheryl Holt, Complete Abandon
The calentures of music … – Lord Byron, Don Juan
What a beautiful word, Wordcrafter!
I can't let this thread die without pointing out that the winner of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Evan O’Dorney, 13, from Danville, California, was another dangerous insufferable homeschooler, the third in the last six years.
Well, thanks for that, neveu. That certainly is excellent support for home schooling, isn't it? I have heard of some other situations here in Illinois lately where the kids have been involved in 4 and 5 after school activities and they have starred in testing. I am definitely supportive of home teaching when parents are capable and motivated. [I do realize that teachers aren't always capable and motivated.]
Yes indeed Kalleh,
We considered home-schooling our kids - for about 30 seconds. Neither of us has the temperment for it - and pedocide is frowned upon. So what we did was to form good relationships with all of both kid's teachers, so that the teachers did not view us as an adversary - with one unhappy exception.
I hope pedocide is an actual word - I just put it together from relevant roots.
Funny because when I first saw your word pedocide, I thought of walking. I wonder if the ped in pediatrics and in pedestrian are related. Then of course there's pedigogy (a word often used in my field!). I guess I have some footwork to do.
You wouldn't have that problem if you Americans spelled words properly. It's pædo- .
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.
I have nothing against homeschooling. However, homeschoolers winning international spelling bees, for me, conjures up images of kids at the mercy of eccentric parents who encourage them to study dictionaries 10 hrs a day instead of getting a well-rounded educational experience. I guess it's just the overcontrolling taxpayer in me.
And what image does public-schooled kids winning spelling bees conjure up?
Actually, this is one of the reasons I don't like the term "homeschooling": it conjures up too many images. I prefer "unauthorized education".
There must be a word for those who use one isolated example (the spelling-bee winner) as evidence for condemning a vast, popular system (home schooling).
In other words ...
In the UK we call them "politicians".