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Picture of shufitz
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The same Quentin Letts article that I just now cited elsewhere also says,
    ... the moralistic Jonahs attacking him [David Cameron] represent old Conservatism.
Is Mr. Letts (pardon me, Mr Letts) misusing the word Jonah?
 
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I'd say that he is. To me a Jonah is someone who brings bad luck. It's hard to say what is meant here but it doesn't seem to be that.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by BobHale:
I'd say that he is. To me a Jonah is someone who brings bad luck. It's hard to say what is meant here but it doesn't seem to be that.


I'm with Bob on this one.
 
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I think the "Jonahs" referred to in the quote are those who predict doom, as Jonah, the prophet, did in the Biblical story--as in mend your ways or you are doomed. I don't think "a Jonah" is one who brings bad luck, but one who predicts it as inevitable if people don't change their ways. In that context, the quote makes sense. So I think Letts is using the word properly. It may be an unusual choice, but apt for the point being made.

Wordmatic
 
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by BobHale:
I'd say that he is. To me a Jonah is someone who brings bad luck./QUOTE]

Yes, I concur, especially after having had him WS one of my limericks...
 
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According to Merriam-Webster, definition 3, yes, but also the other two:

Main Entry: Jo·nah
Pronunciation: 'jO-n&, 3 is also -n&r
Function: noun
Etymology: Hebrew YOnAh
1 : an Israelite prophet who according to the account in the book of Jonah resisted a divine call to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, was swallowed and vomited by a great fish, and eventually carried out his mission
2 : a narrative book of canonical Jewish and Christian Scripture -- see BIBLE table
3 : one believed to bring bad luck
 
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In Persian and Arabic the prophet who was swallowed by a great fish is called "yunes". "yuhannâ" has written a religious book that if I remember rightly is about the events at the end of the world.


----------------------
Hamdeli az hamzabâni behtar ast
To be one in heart is better than to be one in tongue

- Rumi (Persian poet)
 
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quote:
Originally posted by wordmatic:
I think the "Jonahs" referred to in the quote are those who predict doom, as Jonah, the prophet, did in the Biblical story--as in mend your ways or you are doomed. I don't think "a Jonah" is one who brings bad luck, but one who predicts it as inevitable if people don't change their ways.


Two comments...
1. In the quote,"Jonahs" may indeed have been intended as a reference to "doomsayers". But I don't think that that is the traditional use of the word. In the Royal Navy, for instance, a Jonah was a shipmate (usually a new hand) who was blamed for any stretch of bad luck, including bad weather.
2. If the Biblical Jonah is considered a doomsayer, he was a most reluctant one. One of the main points of the book is that Jonah ran away to sea because he never believed that God would destroy Nineveh, and in the end, Jonah was proven correct. Jonah's heart wasn't in predicting doom.
 
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Ah, but in the end he came through with the goods. Also, I think before the order came to prophesy to Nineveh, didn't Jonah do some doomsaying elswhere?

I have to confess, I had never heard of the term "a Jonah" being used to mean the same thing as "an albatross"--until I looked it up, that is, which I should have done before posting in the first place. Must be a Britishism.

WM
 
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I've emailed the inquiry to the paper for which Letts writes. But I'm not hopeful of a reply.
 
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Dear "Shufitz",
I did receive an email and sent a reply. If you did not receive it please let me know at quentin.letts@dailymail.co.uk.
 
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I should have said, "I'm not expecting that the paper will forward such an inquiry to Mr Letts." Mea maxima culpa.

Turning now, in eager anticipation, to my e-mail.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by wordmatic:
Ah, but in the end he came through with the goods. Also, I think before the order came to prophesy to Nineveh, didn't Jonah do some doomsaying elswhere?

WM



Outside the book of Jonah, he's mentioned only in II Kings 14:25. He spoke for the Lord, but apparently no doomsaying. Amos was handling that at the time.
 
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Quentin, welcome to Wordcraft! We'd love it if you'd post with us every so often. Smile
 
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Received:

Thank you for your email.
I must confess I did not check my dictionary before writing that sentence about moralising Jonahs. I have always understood a Jonah to be a pessimistic soul, burdened by Old Testament airs, who thinks everything is set to decay into hell and damnation. There is a Scottish character in the old BBC comedy "Dad's Army", one Private Fraser, who to my mind is the classic Jonah. His catch phrase was "yer all dooooomed". I hope this helps a little. Best wishes, and thank you again for making contact.
Yours sincerely,

Quentin Letts
 
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quote:
a pessimistic soul, burdened by Old Testament airs, who thinks everything is set to decay into hell and damnation.
There really ought to be a word for such a soul, wouldn't you think? Is there such a word?
 
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There really ought to be a word for such a soul

There is: prescriptive grammarian.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Big Grin That's funny! Our Communications Department just presented their style guide to us, and OMG...the prescriptivists are running our world! When I heard about the "which/that" controversy being a "blatant grammatical error," I wanted to scream. Then there was the comma that was necessary because there was a "change of thought."

I tried very hard to be good, but I had to send an apology email when the class was over. Red Face However, that wasn't so bad because I referred them to Language Log.
 
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quote:
When I heard about the "which/that" controversy being a "blatant grammatical error," I wanted to scream.

Is that really what they wrote? How can a controversy be an error - let alone a grammatical one?


Richard English
 
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This use of Jonah has raised an interesting question for me. I wonder how often we use words, confident that we know what they mean, and our listeners hear those words, also confident that they know what they mean, when in fact we have completely different ideas. I have no idea how this could be researched but I'll bet it happens a lot more than we think. With the Jonah example it couldn't, from the context, have meant "someone who brings bad luck" so it was obvious that there was a miscommunication happening but there must be plenty of times where the miscommunication goes unnoticed.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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Interesting. I apparently understood the original sentence as Mr. Letts intended for it to be understood. Having neither the time nor the inclination to do Biblical research, I guess I won't carry this any further, but I am still pretty certain, despite Duncan's statement, that Jonah did prophesy doom for those other than the Ninevites, and finally also for the Ninevites. Also, I believe that "a Jonah" can be a metaphor for "doomsayer," without being defined as such in a dictionary.

Somehow "an Amos," "an Elijah" or "an Isaac" just doesn't have the same ring.

Wordmatic
 
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I'm sure you're right. It's just that until this discussion I would unhesitatingly have taken the phrase "He's a Jonah" o mean someone who brings bad luck. I've heard it thousands of times and always taken it to mean someone who brings bad luck. I wonder now if any of those times the person saying it has meant someone prophesying doom.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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quote: Somehow "an Amos," "an Elijah" or "an Isaac" just doesn't have the same ring.

A Jeremiah, perhaps? But see next post.
 
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Mr Letts used 'a Jonah' to mean 'a prophet of doom and gloom'. After some research I'm pleased to report that his usage, though it has not yet made the dictionaries, has the due sanction of actual usage. Language evolves over time, and it seems to have evolved to cover his usage.
  1. We need a Jonah today who will call us to repent and bang on the gates of heaven with our prayers until God answers and sends genuine revival. — Crosswalk.com - May 1, 2006
  2. redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from waste, materialism, greed, and injustice, — Subscription - Jewish Telegraphic Agency - HighBeam Research - Apr 10, 2006 1
  3. Or would our modern-day Jonahs disagree? Would they, too, seeing their warnings go unheeded, go off and sulk, mad as all Get Out that Nineveh, that sinful city, had been spared? Would they, too, feel that their purpose in life — to batten on disaster — had been thwarted by a G-d who never follows through despite all His tough talk? — Paul Greenberg, Jewish World Review - Oct 14, 2005
  4. Some Jonahs muttered darkly as they recalled another internet boom exploding only a few years back, but ... — Subscription - Independent on Sunday - HighBeam Research - Sep 11, 2005 also Some Jonahs muttered darkly as they recalled another internet boom exploding only a few years back, but the cheerleaders were adamant: this time it was different. The Independent – Independent – Sep 11, 2005
  5. Cassandras or Jonahs? Well, the blogversation is not exactly dominated by well-informed epidemiologists, any more than is the debate in the mainstream media. — BBC News - Sep 5, 2005
  6. The Jonahs, and I was one of them, were talking about a 5-0 defeat in the series. Then the underdog fought back. — Pay-Per-View - Daily Express - Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company - Aug 16, 2005
  7. Every time some silver-haired smoothie knocks up his gorgeous, hot missus, a pack of Jonahs predicts that he'll be in his grave while the tot is still in — Subscription - Independent on Sunday - HighBeam Research - Jun 5, 2005
  8. the throng of Welsh supporters, never particularly low on Jonahs, nay-sayers, pessimists and eyeores even in times like this, — Subscription - Independent on Sunday - HighBeam Research - Mar 20, 2005
  9. Thank heavens that there were thousands of people who have seen beyond the Jonahs in the media … — Pay-Per-View - Leicester Mercury - Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company - Feb 10, 2005
  10. Of course the Jonahs have been predicting doom and gloom for most of my life. — Subscription - Evening Gazette - HighBeam Research - Jan 7, 2005, Barbara Argument's columm
  11. We have many Jonahs today, who, rather than take a stand, have left for Tarshish — Subscription - Washington Times - HighBeam Research - Mar 29, 2004
  12. "I don't want to sound like a Jonah, but we have to keep our feet on the ground and make sure we get the points that will keep us clear of the bottom three ... — Pay-Per-View - Newsquest Media Group Newspapers - Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company - Feb 5, 2004
  13. I hate to be a Jonah but it's certain to get worse. A big hike in our water bills and police budgets is looming … — Pay-Per-View - North Devon Journal - Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company - Nov 13, 2003
  14. As we confront the immense task of reconstruction, there will be no shortage of Jonahs, of those who carp at our efforts to bring stability and prosperity ... — Birmingham Post - HighBeam Research - Apr 9, 2003 ( also ... it will take years'' He added, ``As we confront the immense task of reconstruction there will be no shortage of Jonahs, of commentators who will rail at … — Subscription - Western Mail - HighBeam Research - Apr 2, 2003: Straw sets out post-war plan.(News) As we confront the immense task of reconstruction, there will be no shortage of Jonahs, of those who rail at the apparent futility of efforts to bring … — Full text of Jack Straw's speech Guardian Unlimited - Apr 2, 2003 He added: "We are going to win this conflict, we are going to liberate the people of Iraq, and we are going to put the Jonahs behind us. — Guardian Unlimited - Apr 1, 2003 "We are going to win this conflict, we are going to liberate the people of Iraq, and we are going to put the Jonahs behind us." — Subscription - The Mirror - HighBeam Research - Apr 1, 2003
  15. A slow drip of information has grown to a trickle and, if you listen to some of the Jonahs of the jumping game, it could be lights out for the race — Subscription - Evening Standard - HighBeam Research - Dec 23, 2002
  16. If it failed - and there were plenty of Jonahs who hinted it would - it would sink hopes of a prosperous direct link to mainland Europe for years to come. — Subscription - Daily Record - HighBeam Research - Jul 9, 2002
  17. Where are the Jeremiahs, Isaiahs, Samuels, even Jonahs of our day? — Subscription - The Gleaner - NewspaperArchive - Jan 20, 2002
  18. The share price slump wasn't the absolute collapse that so many Luddites and Jonahs had predicted and the `bubble' didn't burst. — $6,95 New Media Investor - AccessMyLibrary.com - May 31, 2000
  19. "Now is not the time for Jonahs to undermine the credibility of the targets, or the confidence of those who can make it work. Let us believe in ourselves — Subscription - M2 Presswire - HighBeam Research - Jun 14, 1999
  20. You may accuse me of being a Jonah but nothing's to be gained by raising false hopes — Subscription - The Mirror - HighBeam Research - May 6, 1998
  21. Barnsley arrival alongside the rich and famous has finally silenced the Jonahs who said the super Reds didn't want to be promoted. — Subscription - The Mirror - HighBeam Research - Apr 28, 1997
  22. after a lot of effort, the British Broadcasting Corp managed to find a couple of Jonahs to cast cold water on the deal — $9.95 Computergram International - Alacra Store - Nov 5, 1996
  23. When we are tolerant of the views of others only to the extent that their views coincide with our own, we become a Jonah. — Subscription - U.S. Catholic - HighBeam Research - Sep 1, 1994
  24. In a great many ways he became an American Jeremiah warning us of impending doom, a Jonah in exile in the belly of France, a courageous Isaiah on the march — Subscription - The Nation - HighBeam Research - May 2, 1994
  25. Bishop Edward O'Donnell, administrator of the St. Louis Archdiocese, told worshipers to be latter-day Jonahs in preaching their anti-abortion message — $2.95 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - NewsBank - Jan 23, 1994
  26. ... final days before the Supreme Court, not abounding in steadfast love, called a halt to the stays of execution, thus appeasing a lot of modern Jonahs. — Fresno Bee - NewsBank - Jun 20, 1992
  27. Street magicians, homeless advocates, a Jonah-like prophet forecasting doom in 40 days … — Pay-Per-View - Palm Beach Post - NewsBank - Dec 4, 1990
  28. The consequence was that he was at variance with many of the leaders of the Federal party, who, regarding him as a Jonah, laid a plan to defeat his — Subscription - U.S. History - HighBeam Research - Sep 1, 1990
  29. Despite the recession predictions from certain Jonahs, I find that, given the right product, consumers are ready to reach for their wallets and spend, — $3.50 Daily News of Los Angeles - NewsBank - May 14, 1990 also, same in — $4.95 - New York Times - May 6, 1990
Most of these are taken from Google-blurbs since, for want of subscription, I can't access the full text. So there may be a few inapt citations. But the general sense is clear.

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Shu's 29-point entry on "Jonahs" persuades me that the word has undergone a metamorphosis. If enough people apply a new meaning to a word, then that's the new meaning! Perhaps the old meaning can survive among us cavemen.

However, anyone casting about for a doomsayer synonym had lot of more appropriate choices in the Old Testament. Jonah was the only prophet who KNEW that disaster would NOT come. (See chapter 4, verse 2.)
 
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Quote: Perhaps the old meaning can survive among us cavemen.

I was unclear. The new meaning exists, but the old meaning persists as well.

Frankly, I don't much like the change. But I also don't like the thought that Mr Letts would be wrong. Talk about internal conflict!
 
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What about a Cassandra?


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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We talked about Cassandra a long time ago.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by BobHale:
This use of Jonah has raised an interesting question for me. I wonder how often we use words, confident that we know what they mean, and our listeners hear those words, also confident that they know what they mean, when in fact we have completely different ideas.

The classic example (supposedly true but you never know with great stories like these) came from the Viet Nam War era in which two men, each a CO in that war, spoke of the hardships they had to undergo. Both complained that no one understood how difficult it was to make such major decisions, they couldn't even count on the support of their own families, and on and on.

The two spoke at some length, each sure in the belief that he had found a kindred spirit in the other, when actually one had been a commanding officer in Viet Nam and the other had been a conscientious objector and had never gone.
 
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That's an interesting thought, Bob and CJ (BTW, it is great to see you here, CJ!), and I suspect it's often true. Sometimes either here or on OEDILF when I've researched a word, I realize that I've had a slightly different idea of what the word means (and sometimes it's not so slightly!). "Peruse" is a good example. Until Wordcraft, I had always thought "peruse" to mean to "skim" or "glance over," but according to the most recent AHD Usage Panelists, 58% find that to be a an error.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
Until Wordcraft, I had always thought "peruse" to mean to "skim" or "glance over," but according to the most recent AHD Usage Panelists, 58% find that to be a an error.


I always thought that to peruse fell somewhere between to skim and to study....a sort of happy medium. But, according to my Canadian Oxford, it means 1. To read or study thoroughly or carefully. 2. read in a casual manner.
In other words, it means both. Gimme a break! I mean, I can accept a word having two meanings that are unrelated. But, isn't this suggesting that a word can be the opposite of itself? I gotta think about that one. Am I missing something here?
 
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I always thought "peruse" meant "read," but there's a relaxed element in that for me. Still, I think "to read" can mean many different styles of reading, from skimming to pondering every word at length.

WM
 
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Well, as I said, Duncan, the AHD usuage panel thinks that the use of reading in a casual manner is in error. We have discussed this word here before, As you can see, arnie has always used it correctly, which isn't a surprise. Wink I am now aware of the usage question, but the majority of people I hear using it intend the "to skim" or "to read" meaning.

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