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November 2005 Archives

Toponyms: toponym; New York minute; Bronx cheer (Goldilocks economy); shanghai; serendipity (buckyball, fullerene, buckytube; buckminsterfullerene); wailing wall; denim (jeans, levis, serge; twill, Genoa); sherry

Toponyms from heavenly places: cockaigne; Elysium; tempean; Eden; tranquillityite; Shangri-La; ***

Thanksgiving: non nobis; beatitude; minerval; benison; gramercy; hosanna/hosannah



In geography, a toponym is the name of a place (England), especially one describing landscape (Pacific Ocean). In the linguistic sense - not yet in OED - a toponym is a word derived from a place name. This week we present linguistic toponyms.

New York minute (used only in the phrase in a New York minute) – immediately; at once; in a heartbeat

On this toponym the authorities need a bit of correction. They include no recorded usage before 1967 (see World Wide Words; OED is similar), but we can take this back almost a century further, to the 1870 quotation below.

Also, the usually-given definition given is not quite correct. OED says, "New York minute: a very short period of time; a moment, an instant"; AHD is similar. Not so: you wouldn't say, "I can only stay for a New York minute;" for an instant; briefly. The term is not used with "for". It appears only in the phrase "in a New York minute;" in a very short time; in an instant; immediately. For the importance of this distinction, see our final and quotation. It is a bit blue, but Mr. Holmes is saying that he would undertake an activity immediately, but not briefly.


A Wildcat Story, The Indiana Democrat (Indiana County, PA), Sept. 8, 1870:
     He was preparing to settle into an all night's sleep, when a scratching sound was heard beneath the bed. Hastily rising, he jerked on his unmentionables, and, dropping on all fours, began to crawl beneath the bed after the midnight intruder.
     He found it, and in one-fourth of a New York minute all the clothes that were upon him would not have made a bib for a China doll. He finally found himself in the corner partially scalped, with his lower limbs looking as though he had been through a wool-carding machine; while at this juncture, with a spit and a growl, a catamount disappeared through the open window.

[Patrick] Holmes leaned in and asked, "Let's get business out of the way. Why did you suggest we have dinner tonight?" Stealey gave him a coy smile. "Do I have to have a reason to want to have dinner with a handsome, fabulously wealthy, powerful man?" Holmes's response was a mix of primal grunt and laughter. "Oh, Peggy, you know I'd screw your brains out in a New York minute, but we both also know you're a dick tease. So … let's just keep our attention above the table."
– Vince Flynn, Memorial Day


While we're in New York City, here's another New York toponym.

Bronx cheer -- a loud sound, imitating a fart, used to express contemptuous or derisive scorn. It is produced by vibrating the lips while exhaling explosively. (can be used figuratively)

Another term for this is raspberry (Cockney rhyming slang: raspberry from raspberry tart = fart). Many dictionaries are too coy to come out and say that a Bronx cheer sounds like a fart. They instead refer you to "raspberry", where the flatulent reference is buried amid more fruitful definitions.


Ben Bernanke, President Bush's choice as the next Federal Reserve chairman, faces a delicate balancing act to preserve the Goldilocks character of today's just-right economy. The stock markets … embrace[d] Bernanke's selection. The Dow rocketed … But bond prices, perhaps because of uncertainty over just how vigilant Bernanke would be about fighting inflation, slipped lower. "Bernanke got three cheers from the stock market and got a Bronx cheer from the bond market," said Brian Wesbury …
– George Avalos, Contra Costa (CA) Times, Oct. 25, 2005


Bonus Word: (all credit on this to the Word Spy site)
Goldilocks economy – an economy that is not so overheated that it causes inflation, and not so cool that it causes a recession


America's "not too hot, not too cold" Goldilocks economy is getting too hot. The result will be 8% interest rates by next summer if the overheated, tech-craze-driven stock market does not crash first.
– John Makin, Sunday Times (London), December 12, 1999

This rate of expansion is considered by many to be the maximum that the nation can sustain without inflation. … Stephen S. Roach … thinks they can be balanced for a while … But the consensus view of most economists is that a Goldilocks economy cannot survive beyond 1990.
– Louis Uchitelle, The New York Times, November 13, 1988 (earliest citation)


Today, our toponyms leave New York with a quote about a much sadder departure from that city. Our word is current, but our quote antedates OED's earliest by more than a decade. It tells a chilling, true tale, and it evokes the time, before the Panama Canal, when China was a terribly far voyage from New York City.


The New York Times, Feb. 9, 1860, p.3: Richard A. Eddy, a negro, was then placed on trial, charged with the murder of James Boston on the 28th of June, 1859. These are the facts of the case: The ship Ellen Austen, Capt. Garrick, had just arrived in this port, after an 18 months' voyage, when Eddy, one of her crew, an hour after getting into dock, was enconntered at the corner of Peck-slip and Front street, by the man Boston. Eddy well-remembered him as being the individual who kidnapped, or, as it is called, "shanghaied" him on board the Ellen Austin, before she sailed on the voyage which was just terminated. Boston, who was one of the most notorious "shanghais," or kidnappers of colored men, and quite adept in forcing them on board vessels just ready to go to sea, against their will, again approached Eddy, seized him by the collar, and expressed his resolution to "Shanghai" him immediately for a new voyage in another ship. Not yet being one hour on land, and with the clear recollection of the former enforced voyage, for which he was indebted to this same Boston, he forcibly attempted to regain his liberty, but Boston continuing to hold and drag him along, he plunged the blade of a claspknife into Boston's abdomen. The latter fell to the ground, exclaiming, "I am stabbed" – was taken to the Hospital, where he died immediately after admission. Eddy made no attempt to escape, but gave himself up to Officer Delaney, of the Fourth Ward.
     The jury convicted him of manslaughter in the third degree. Great sympathy was manifested for him in Court, and his sentence, undoubtedly, will be as lenient as the law allows.


shanghai – to forcibly carry off, into servitude, a convenient victim. Figuratively: to entrap or commandeer someone into a job: "When the planning group met, they shanghaied the absent member into chairing the new committee.

[Note: To me, to shanghai is to say, "I need a volunteer – and that means you!" That is, 1.a person , 2. chosen just because he is available, 3. is coerced 4. into doing work. Some broader meanings, which you'll find in usage and dictionaries, are in my judgment not firmly enough established to be "correct". Specifically they are: appropriating a thing¹; or coercing a particular person²; or coercing him to something other than labor³; or using trickery to induce [not coerce] a voluntary act.*]


¹the [ad] campaign shanghaied most of the Garden State's radio spectrum
²Quinlin … is shanghaied by his estranged wife and [his boss]
³Quinlin … is shanghaied ... and packed off to "whisky school," the detox ward.[also OED: "to constrain or compel"; also AHD below]
*AHD: We were shanghaied into buying worthless securities.

Sources of quotes: ¹David Plotz, Slate Magazine, June 2, 2000 ²Marilyn Stasio, New York Times, April 4, 1999; ³Stasio


This will be the longest word-of-the day to date.

Today's word is a 1754 coinage, but the OED definition does not match that of the coiner. This would be understandable if the meaning had changed in intervening usage, but in fact there was no such changed usage; indeed was no usage whatsoever until 1880, and very very little for another 78 years. OED had simply misdefined the word. Nonetheless, by virtue of OED's authority the misdefinition has become the accepted definition, and the word is so used today.

The details are an interesting story but are longer than some may wish.  If you're content with just the short version, just skip brown type.


The tale begins when Michele Tramezzino, a printer in 1555 Venice, published a book that become quite popular. It claims to be an old Persian tale, translated into Italian, of three princes of Ceylon. (Some think there was no such Persian tale, Tramezzino setting his story in Ceylon as a marketing ploy.¹) In any event The tale was popular enough on the continent to be reprinted in Italian and translated into German and French, all within fifty years (1884, 1883 and 1610 respectively).

But it did not much catch on in England. There was no English translation until 1722 (from a 1719 French version), and none direct-from-the-Italian until – get this – 1965, a full four centuries after Tramezzino. Thus presumably few Englishmen knew the tale.

One who did know was Horace Walpole, who mentioned the tale in a 1754 letter. (He'd probably read the book as a boy – he was 5 when the English version appeared – for recall his is imperfect: a camel in the tale becomes a mule in his recall.) Walpole comments that he uses the word ceylonity to describe an event like those befalling the tale's three princes, and he explains his word by an example from the tale itself another from then-current events.

Not a single other soul used this word, either then or after Walpole's correspondence was published in 1833. The word did not "catch on", presumably because few Englishmen knew the tale. It finally resurfaced in 1875, as Walpole scholars were discussing the old Walpole letter itself, and a letter to an erudite Oxford journal asked, "Where in his admirable letters does Walpole refer to the story of the Princess [sic] of Ceylon?" So too an 1879 letter commented, "Ceylonity – A word coined by Horace Walpole … The word has been quoted in some recent monthly," and raised questions about it.
     Journal editor Edward Solly replied to each inquiry and then, in 1880, used the word himself. His usage noted Walpole but, for the first time, was not using the "ceylonity" solely as a reference to Walpole's usage. Perhaps this is why OED credits this by Solly as the first usage since Walpole, 126 years earlier. For 75 more years the word remained very rare (with only 135 print-examples through 1958), but thereafter it spread like wildfire.

However, OED's definition does not match Walpole's (which, for that matter, does not well match the tale itself). In view of the long lack of usage, OED cannot plead that usage had changed. Nonetheless, the OED meaning has become the one now used. Let's explore the differences.

·  In the Italian tale the traveling three princes are much like Sherlock Holmes: extraordinarily skilled in observation and deduction. When asked if they have seen a stolen camel, they ask whether it is lame, blind in the right eye, missing a tooth, carrying honey and butter (the latter on its left side and the former on the right) and ridden by a woman – who is pregnant! They know so much about the crime that it's thought that they themselves must be the criminals. But like Holmes, they explain how they deduced these details from what they have seen along the road.

·  In Walpole's recall, Walpole says, "As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right - now do you understand ceylonity?" Walpole is thus emphasizing the wise learning of things not sought (he refers to "this accidental sagacity"), but omits the "Sherlock Holmes" aspect.

·  OED's definition, below, differs from Walpole's in two ways. It omits 'sagacity' and substitutes dumb luck; and requires that the accidental discovery be a happy and welcome one. But OED's definition has prevailed.

I told a white lie in saying that the word is ceylonity. Had I told you the true word, it would color your reading of the the history. The actually word appears in the next post.

Credit: almost all the above is from these three articles by Richard Boyle, which provide further detail. A book-length discussion was published last year, authored by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber.

Footnote: ¹As I understand it, the intelligentsia as a parlor game would pose to each other trivia questions from popular books, particularly ones set in the exotic mysterious East – much as today's Harry Potter fans enjoy talking Potter trivia with each other. Many books were published to provide fodder for that game, and Ceylon itself was at least somewhat in the news at the time. Did Tramezzino make up his supposedly-Persian tale or its eastern setting? One wonders if any such tale been found in the Persian, but I can find no scholarly comment on that question.


serendipity – the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery.
[coined by Horace Walpole, who notes and explains it in an 1754 letter (but with a different meaning). Walpole was referring to a tale titled The Three Princes of Serendip. 'Serendip' is one of the old names for what we now call Ceylon or Sri Lanka.]


The word serendipity often pops up when scientists talk about buckyballs. In fact, chance has proven almost as important as planning in many recent experiments involving these soccerball-shaped, 60-carbon molecules of the fullerene family. Douglas A. Loy says he and his co-workers were inspired to make the first buckyball polymer only after Loy happened to catch a remark made at a conference. Now a different group [with Chemist Roger A. Assink] reports another lucky bucky discovery. [omitting technical matter, to the conclusion of article] Both Assink and Loy assert that the buckyball bonanza is still going strong. "In the fullerene business, it's pretty much open season," Loy says. Moreover, "a lot of the serendipitous stuff that's been falling out may surprise the devil out of you."
– Michael Stroh, Serendipity yields buckyball trap for gases, Science News, May 30, 1992


Bonus words:
– a short name for the first-known fullerene; it is ball-shaped
fullerene – a class of molecules with carbon atoms arranged as in a soccer ball: pentagons and hexagons (each with carbon atoms at all points) are arranged to form a sphere or other hollow shape. (A buckytube is any fullerene shaped like a tube or cylinder.)
The formal name for buckyball is buckminsterfullerene, named for R. Buckminster Fuller because its structure resembles Fuller's geodesic domes.


wailing wall – a place to vent one's woes or (less often) to seek relief from them

Continuing west from Ceylon we reach the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, at a remnant of Solomon's temple, Orthodox Jews come to pray, to lament, and to place between the stones slips of paper bearing prayer requests. It's called the Wailing Wall (many prefer the older name Western Wall,) and you can view the its website with live webcam.

A few dictionaries also recognize a broader usage of wailing wall. OED says "also transf. and fig." without further detail, and MW says "a source of comfort and consolation in misfortune". To me the usage seems slightly different, so I've composed the defininiton above. Here are multiple usage-examples (the last two from MW's Dictionary of Allusions), from which you can judge for yourself.


Johnson's office became a wailing wall where everybody came to cry about the injustice of it all.
– Bryan Burrough, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

I do not advocate that we turn television into a twenty-seven-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense.
– address by Edward R. Murrow, October 12, 1958 (from secondary source)

"You sound like an old fud."
"Knowing you has made me an old fud."
"Yeah, yeah, the wailing wall is around back."
– MaryJanice Davidson, Undead and Unemployed

this window in Hammersmith, West London, is … a shopfront for the booming black market for migrant workers. In Warsaw the shop is celebrated as the "wailing wall" – the first port of call for hundreds of Polish migrants arriving … in search of work and a life of riches. … thousands of migrants have simply headed for the Wailing Wall in search of an escape from poverty. Hundreds of adverts, all written in Polish, offered an array of jobs.
– Anthony France, Migrants flock to 'wailing wall', Sunday Mirror, Apr. 4, 2004

She [Dear Abby] explained that she had never written professionally, but she knew she could write an advice column because all her life she had been an amateur "wailing wall without portfolio."
– Deseret News (UPI), January 12, 1996

Today people nationwide will take such problems to the … rally in Washington – the city that has become the Wailing Wall for all of America's woes.
– Lewis W. Diuguid, Kansas City Star, June 1, 1996


When you wear your levis, your denim jeans, you're wearing three toponyms and an eponym or two. Those words are too well-known to need definition, but to help explain why they are toponyms, we present two less familiar words.

serge – a woolen twill
twill – a fabric woven to have a surface of parallel diagonal ridges
[from the same root as two and twice]

We've already seen that fustian (toponym #1) is a type of cloth thought to be named for El Fustat, Egypt, where it was made. Genoa, Italy produced a twilled cotton fustian, called geanes fustian, after the city (#2), and Nîmes, France produced a woolen twill (that is, a serge) that was similarly called serge de Nîmes (serge of Nîmes), our third toponym.

Over time, geanes fustian shortened to geanes, geane, gene, or jene and finally became jean (UK) or jeans (US). The name of the Nîmes cloth shifted to a cotton fabric, rather than a serge, and de Nîmes was shortened to denim.

Those are our toponyms, but what of our eponyms? Levis take their name from manufacturer Levi Strauss, who sold to the miners of the 1849 California Gold rush. His selling point was an innovation that made his pants far more durable: he reinforced the stress points with rivets. A possible second eponym is Genoa. The name is of unclear origin but may trace to the god Janus, who also gave us the name January.

For further information on the history of the words denim and jeans, see the Levi Straus & Co. site.


sherry – a certain type of wine (named from the place where it was originally produced)

Today's toponym may also be an eponym.

The ancient Romans named many a colony after Caesar, and among them is one in the Andalusia region of Spain. Sources differ on the details: I cannot tell you which Caesar; it's unclear whether their name was Urbs Caesaris or Asido Caesariana; and the exactly location is sometimes identified with one modern town, sometimes with another 35 kilometers miles away.

In any event, by the 1500s the name had evolved to Xeres (now rendered as Jerez), and a wine produced nearby was quite naturally called vino de Xeres. In the Spanish of the time, the X was pronounced sh. By 1540 English was using this name for the wine, spelling it sherris or sherries to match the Spanish pronunciation. (You'll find the former in Shakespeare's 2 Hen. IV).

Sherris/sherries is a singular noun, but it sounds like a plural. By 1604 the form sherry was being used as a singular, on the mistaken assumption that sherris was a plural.



Toponyms from heavenly places

Let's continue with toponyms, specializing with those from heavenly places.

cockaignein peasant legand of middle ages: an imaginary country of abundent food and of idle luxury. fig: a place of overflowing abundance. [apparently from older words for cook and cake]
[The figurative sense is rare and not in the dictionaries, but see our quote.]

Cockaigne is the utopia of the poor and the hungry, "the medieval peasant's dream … where cooked birds fly into one's mouth and the streams flow with wine", ... "where the streets are said to be pav’d with half-peck Loaves, the Houses til’d with Pancakes, and where the Fowls fly about ready roasted, crying, Come eat me!" (Edward James, Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction; Benjamin Franklin, Information to Those Who Would Remove to America).

It's believed that the song Big Rock Candy Mountain traces to this legend, and to an old song about the similar place called Lubberland.


… around the time I was learning to walk, New York was a city of bookstores. … Downtown was the Land of Cockaigne: used, secondhand, antique-call them what you like, they were bookstores where you might, indeed, find anything.
– Rosemary Edghill, Bell, Book, and Murder


Elysium – a paradise; a place or condition of ideal happiness (adj. elysian)
[Also Elysian Fields, which in Greek mythology was the abode of the blessed after death]


But if I sound anti-American, I am not. I am merely being realistic about the institutionalized problems that make the US less of an Elysium for long-term British visitors and for immigrants clamouring to come here than many at first believe.
- Andrew Stephen, New Statesman, Nov. 17, 2003


In a fine example of copying, the AHD and MW Coll. each have "the abode of the blessed after death", word-for-word identically.


tempean(of a place) of great and delightful natural beauty
[After Tempe, a charming valley in Thessaly, in Greece]

OED's only cite is "1864 in WEBSTER; hence in mod. Dicts." That is, OED shows no usage of the word outside of dictionaries. (It does give cites for Tempe as "a beautiful valley [or] any delightful rural spot".) But here is one, predating Webster by a couple of decades.


Into the dayspring, when some rarest view
Unveileth its Tempean grace anew
To meet the sun …
– Charles Harpur (1813-1868), Regret (1842)(some editions say Tempèan)


Eden – a paradise of innocence and unspoiled, idyllic peace (adj. edenic)
Shakespeare gives a stunning usage-example: "this scepter'd isle, this earth of majesty, / This other Eden, demi-paradise, / This precious stone set in the silver sea, / This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." Here are a couple more, though pale by comparison.


[The] artist['s] work, which comprised a series of lush images of two beautiful women in an Edenic landscape, became a word-of-mouth hit - despite being written off as chillout-room nonsense by some critics.
– Charlotte Higgins, Guardian Unlimited, Nov 16, 2005

[Ogden Nash, on a couple who graduated from an apartment flat to home-ownership:]
The Murrays are vague about fuses, / And mechanical matters like that,
And each of them frequently muses / On the days when they lived in a flat.
Was the plumbing reluctant to plumb? / Was the climate suggestive of Canada?
Did the radio crackle and hum? / You simply called down to the janada!
The Murrays have found no replacement
For the genius who lived in the basement.
They longed for a hearth and a doorway,
In Arden, or maybe in Eden,
But the Eden is rather like Norway,
And the Arden like winter in Sweden.
Oh, I don't regret / Being wed to you,
But I wish I could wed / A janitor too.

[All quotes modified for brevity and further, where deletions require, for clarity.]


You'll probably never have a chance to use today's toponym, but the name is out of this world. Literally. Insofar as I know, it is the only toponym named for a real (non-fictional) place which is not on earth.¹

tranquillityite – a certain mineral, a silicate of ferrous iron, titanium, zirconium, and yttrium. Named for Mare Tranquillitatis, the Sea of Tranquillity, on the moon.

The first astronauts on the moon landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and they collected rock samples to bring back to earth. Analysis revealed that the rocks contained, in addition to familiar matter, three minerals not known on earth. One of these was named
armalcolite, for astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.

Another was named for the Sea of Tranquility. It was at first called tranquilite but soon became known as tranquillityite. It may prove important to lunar colonization, for "Of all lunar minerals, tranquillityite is perhaps the most important carrier of the naturally radiogenic elements, uranium and thorium." (P. H. Cadogan, Moon; credit OED)

Bonus Word: The third new mineral, an iron-based mineral of the proxene class, was named pyroxferroite. The name proxene, coined in 1796, means fire-stranger (pyro- πυρο- fire + xenos ξένος stranger), as these rocks were thought to be formed without volcanic processes, without fire. The name seems especially apt for the lunar pyroxferroite, which is a stranger to earth.

Footnote: ¹A reader notes that several chemical elements have names which are at root the name of a planet or asteroid. But the heavenly body is in turn named for a character of myth, and it is not clear to me whether thte character, or the body, gave its name to the element.


Shangri-La – 1. an imagined paradise on earth 2. a distant hideaway, secluded, peaceful and beautiful
[From the utopia in the novel Lost Horizon be James Hilton (1933), and its 1937 movie. La is Tibetan for 'mountain pass', and the movie was set in Tibet. There is a long history of legends of a paradise in the far east, going back to Marco Polo and the tales of Prester John.]

It is early 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, and Japan is rolling through the Pacific. The US launches the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo.


Though the physical damage from the raid was comparatively light, the psychological damage was enormous. The Japanese government had promised the people of Japan that their homeland would never be attacked. The Doolittle raid had shown that the empire was not invulnerable after all. [Note: This was somewhat baffling, for the US had no base within bomber range.] …. everyone wanted to know where the planes had come from. Delighting in the mystery, [President Roosevelt] smiled broadly. "The came from a secret base in Shangri-la," he said.
– Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II


Roosevelt was also punning. Shangri-La was the name of the presidential retreat (which is currently called Camp David, by Eisenhower's renaming).

And (according to one source), when Roosevelt similarly announced that two battleships had gone "to Shangri-La", Berlin radio confessed that reported that the German authorities had been unable to find that place on the map.

Two more-typical examples:


0n a balmy April day, as one enters the 50-acre enclave of masses of red and white azaleas, dogwoods, giant willow oaks, and manicured lawns that set off Hendrix's attractive buildings, the overwhelming impression is that this Shangri-La in Conway, Arkansas, must be the most beautiful campus of them all.
– Loren Pope, Colleges That Change Lives… [etc.]

Best seen in late spring when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, the lush greenery of Craggy Gardens feels like an Appalachian Shangri-la.
– Jamie Jensen, Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures …[etc.]




This week, as those in the U.S. celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, we will focus on words of gratitude and blessing. It may be a short week, for the sad fact is that there seem to be very few such words beyond the obvious and familiar ones like 'gratitude'.

Indeed even our first term-of-thanks is usually used ironically, though OED gives only the positive sense. Our quotes amusingly illustrate the irony.

non nobis – 1. interjection, expressing gratitude or thanksgiving (also 'non nobis, Domine'). from the next meaning 2. a hymn of that title, used in 'popular entertainment. (Each meaning often ironic.)

The hymn takes the opening words of Psalm 115:1, saying "The glory of the deed is not ours, but God's".

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
(Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory


The hymn is, I understand, a breath-takingly beautiful round in four-part a cappella harmony, written by Handel but usually attributed to William Byrd (1543 – 1623).

In Shakespeare's Henry V the hymn celebrates the victory at Agincourt. "Do we all holy rites: Let there be sung ‘Non Nobis' and ‘Te Deum'." (This is an anachronism in that, at that time, the hymn had not yet been written.) A modern version of that play converts the hymn to a very different meaning.


In Doyle's score for [Ken] Branagh's Henry V, the Non nobis theme can be found in several moments of the film to evoke the waste of war.
– Sarah Hatchuel, Shakespeare


Below are three other ironic uses. In the first two the hymn has become almost a drinking song at the end of a banquet. In the last, the speaker saying, "Not me" to mean "Not my fault," rather than to attribute glory to God. They are so much fun that I quote at length.


'Pray, silence, gentlemen, if you please, for Non Nobis!' shouts the toast-master with stentorian lungs … The uninitiated portion of the guests applaud Non nobis as vehemently as if it were a capital comic song, greatly to the scandal of and indignation of the regular diners, who immediately attempt to quell this sacrilegious approbation, by cries of 'Hush, hush!' whereupon the others, mistaking these sounds for hisses, applaud more tumultuously than before, and, by way of placing their approval beyond the possibility of doubt, shout 'Encore!' most vociferously.
– Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz

We can eat no more. We are full of Bacchus and venison. But a great rap, tap tap proclaimed grace, after which the [hired singers] sang out, "Non Nobis'" and then the dessert and the speeches began. … Mr. Chisel, the immortal toast-master, roared out, “Non Nobis;” and what is called “the business of the evening” commenced.
– William Makepeace Thackeray, Sketches and Travels in London

the modern advocate, after having confounded all the ancients … will not be satisfied to condemn the rest of the world without applauding himself; and falling into a rapture upon the contemplation of his own wonderful performance…. [He should] have as had as much grace as a French lawyer … who, after a dull and tedious argument, that had wearied the court and the company, when he went from the bar was heard muttering to himself, Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; but this writer …. would not have [the victory] ascribed to the grace of God, [or] have his own perfections and excellencies owing to any thing else but the true force of this own modern learning: and thereupon he falls into this sweet ecstasy of joy, wherein I shall leave him till he come to himself.
– Sir William Temple, commenting on Swift's work, in J. Swift (ed.), Miscellanea. The Third Part (1701).


beatitude – 1. supreme blessedness or happiness 2. Heaven (in the sense of a place)
(also, any of the "blessed are" declarations in the Sermon on the Mount)

The heaven definition, though not in OED, seems to me supported by usage, such as that below. The first will help you remember the word.


Sure, you’ll be playing a harp in beatitude
(And a quare sight you will be in that attitude)—
Some day, where gratitude seems but a platitude,
You’ll find your latitude, Barney McGee.
– Richard Hovey, Barney McGee
[note: "quare" = dialect for "queer"]

Afterlife: A great chasm separates the place of beatitude from the place of fiery punishment (Luke 16:26). In the place of beatitude people enjoy sumptuous banquets in the presence of God and the patriarchs (Matt 8:11), while the envious damned are compelled to witness (Luke 13:28).
– Raymond Edward Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology


Today's word is an obscure one. I include it as exemplifying how far one must reach to find terms of gratitude. It is also, of course, an eponym from Minerva, goddess of wisdom.

minerval – a gift given in gratitude by a pupil to a teacher; also a fee paid to a schoolteacher [Wordcrafter: presumably one which is called, with genteel tact, a 'gift'.]


     On the Continent, character-building `factories for gentlemen' are thin on the ground. Belgium has various private academies for rich kids, the most famous being l'Abbaye de Maredsous, where parents pay a 'minerval' proportionate to their income; Salem in south Germany is a smart private school where Thomas Mann sent his children.
     Otherwise, Eurotrash babes have to slum it in Le Rosey, the boarding school in Switzerland that is the alma mater of King Baudouin, the former Shah of Iran, the Duke of Kent, Prince Victor-Emmanuel of Savoy and Prince Rainier of Monaco, as well as generation upon generation of Metternichs, Borgheses and Hohenzollerns.
     Or they get sent to school in England
– Rachel Johnson, The Spectator, Oct. 28, 2000


benison – a blessing

Here are two very different example of a father withholding his benison from his child.

He taught him some Raleigh, / And some of Macaulay,
     Till all of "Horatius" he knew,
And the drastic, sarcastic, / Fantastic, scholastic
     Philippics of "Junius," too.
He made him learn lots / Of the poems of Watts,
     And frequently said he ignored,
On principle, any son's / Title to benison
     Till he'd learned Tennyson's / "Maud."
- Guy Wetmore Carryl

                                         for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison.
- Shakespeare, King Lear


gramercy (interj.; obsolete) - used to express 1. thankfulness 2. surprise (as in 'mercy me!"). Various spellings.
[Old French grant = grand or great, + merci ‘reward for merit’. So the phrase meant ‘may God reward you greatly’. The accent is on the second syllable; contrast GRAMercy Park in New York City.]


"Have here right good speed, sir, for your good will," quoth the canon, "grammercy and farewell!"
– Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Canon's Yeoman's tale (Mackaye rendering, 1904)


hosanna; hosannah (interj.) - used to express praise or adoration to God
[Hebrew for "Save us!"]