Those who have followed this series will remember that English kl-words form a loose fraternity of clinging, clinking, and clotted-cluttered things. Clover, cloth, clod, cloud, and clout have figured prominently in the story.
We adults are careful about swearing around our kids. We don’t want bad language to confuse or corrupt or otherwise harm them. As Steven Pinker says in passing while talking about profanity in The Stuff of Thought (2007), “if some people would rather not explain to their young children what a blow job is, there should be television channels that don’t force them to,” and there are. We have every right to be protective of our children even if we don’t have a reason.
There was a desperate attempt to find a valid Greek cognate for cloth, but such a word did not turn up. One way out of the difficulty was to discover a Greek noun or verb beginning with sk- and refer its s to what is known as s-mobile (“movable s”). Movable s is all over the place. For instance, the English cognate of German kratzen is scratch (the same meaning).
All words, especially kl-words, and no play will make anyone dull. The origin of popular sayings is an amusing area of linguistics, but, unlike the origin of words, it presupposes no technical knowledge. No grammar, no phonetics, no nothin’: just sit back and relax, as they say to those who fly overseas first class. So here is another timeout.
Slogan-wise, this year’s presidential campaign gives us Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her.” Trump’s slogan is a call to bring something back from the past. Clinton’s are statements of solidarity.
Euphemisms, per their definition, are used to soften offensive language. Topics such as death, sex, and bodily functions are often discussed delicately, giving way to statements like, “he passed away,” “we’re hooking up,” or “it’s that time of the month.”
I keep clawing at the bars of the cage I built for myself. But first a digression. Walter W. Skeat wrote numerous notes on English etymology, some of which he eventually put together and published in book form. Much to my regret, not too many kl-words attracted his attention. But I was amused to discover that the verb clop means not only the sound made by shoes or hoofs but also “to cling, adhere to.”
Perhaps the story would not have been worth telling if German and Dutch klein, the closest cognates of Engl. clean, did not mean “small.” Long ago, on 4 July 2007, I devoted half of my post to the adjective mad.
As I have observed in the past, the best way for me to make sure that I have an audience is to say something deemed prejudicial or wrong. Then one or more readers will break their silence, and I’ll get the recognition I deserve (that is, my comeuppance).
In anticipation of the post on clean, I decided to say something about the idioms in which clean figures prominently, but chose only those which have the structure as clean as.
“Mateship” is an Australianism – my American spell-checker doesn’t recognise it – and it’s one that captures something widely held to be distinctive about Australia. Like many Australianisms, the word existed well before there were any Australians in the ordinary sense.
Last week, I mentioned Francis A. Wood’s rhyme words and rhyme ideas and cited his example cloud and crowd. In my life, such a pair is gleaning and cleaning.
Anthropologist Edward Sapir once wrote, “Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.” Sapir was talking about the irregularities of language. For me, this leakiness is especially evident in what I think of as doppelgrammar words.
Born in 1935, Robert Whitman was a member of an influential, innovative group of visual artists– Allan Kaprow, Red Grooms, Jim Dine, and Claes Oldenburg– who presented theater pieces on the lower east side in Manhattan in the early 1960s. Whitman has presented more than 40 theater pieces in the United States and abroad, including The American Moon, Flower, Mouth, and most recently Passport (2011) and Swim (2015).
Robert Whitman is a pioneering American artist who, in the company of other groundbreaking figures including Claes Oldenberg, Jim Dine, and Allan Kaprow, performed experimental performance art pieces in New York in the 1960s. In 1966, Whitman would become a founding member of the collective Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), along with Bell Labs engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhaur and artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Engl. cloud belongs so obviously with clod and its kin that there might not even be a question of its origin (just one more lump), but for the first recorded sense of clūd in Old English, which was “rock, cliff.”