November 2005 Archives
Toponyms: toponym; New York minute; Bronx cheer (Goldilocks
economy); shanghai; serendipity (buckyball, fullerene, buckytube; buckminsterfullerene);
wailing wall; denim (jeans,
Toponyms from heavenly places: cockaigne; Elysium; tempean;
Thanksgiving: non nobis; beatitude; minerval; benison; gramercy; hosanna/hosannah
In geography, a toponym is the name
of a place (
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 (
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
[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
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.
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
– John Makin, Sunday Times (
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
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
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
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
This will be the longest word-of-the day to
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
But it did not much catch on in
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.)
Not a single other soul used this word, either then or after
Journal editor Edward Solly replied to each inquiry and then, in 1880, used the word himself. His usage noted
However, OED's definition does not match
· 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
definition, below, differs from
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
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).
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
buckyball – 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
Continuing west from
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.
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
– Lewis W. Diuguid,
When you wear your
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 (
Those are our toponyms, but what of our eponyms?
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
In any event, by the 1500s the name had evolved to Xeres (now rendered as
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.
Let's continue with toponyms, specializing
with those from heavenly places.
cockaigne – in 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,
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,
– Rosemary Edghill,
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
- 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
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
dayspring, when some rarest view
Unveileth its Tempean grace anew
To meet the sun …
– Charles Harpur (1813-1868), Regret (1842)(some editions say Tempèan)
Shakespeare gives a stunning usage-example: "this scepter'd isle, this earth of majesty, / This other
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
Did the radio crackle and hum? / You simply called down to the janada!
For the genius who lived in the basement.
They longed for a hearth and a doorway,
In Arden, or maybe in
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
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
[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
It is early 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, and
physical damage from the raid was comparatively light, the psychological damage
was enormous. The Japanese government had promised the people of
And (according to one source), when Roosevelt similarly announced that two battleships had gone "to Shangri-La",
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
– Loren Pope, Colleges That Change Lives… [etc.]
Best seen in late spring when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, the lush greenery of
– Jamie Jensen, Road Trip
This week, as those in the
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
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.
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
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
Here are two very different example of a father withholding his benison from his child.
He taught him some
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
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
right good speed, sir, for your good will," quoth the canon, "grammercy
– 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!"]