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Etymology gleanings for August 2018

In a jiffy: Stephen Goranson has offered several citations of this idiom (it means “in a trice”), possibly pointing to its origin in sailor slang. English is full of phrases that go back to the language of sailors, some of which, like tell it to the marines, by and large, and the cut of one’s jib (to cite a few), are well-known.

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The shortest history of hatred continued and partly concluded

As a matter of fact, it is a long story, because the distant origin of hate—the word, not the feeling—is far from clear. As usual, we should try to determine the earliest meaning of our word (for it may be different from the one we know) and search for the cognates in and outside Germanic. At the beginning of the month (see the post for 1 August 2018), a good deal was said about the Gothic language.

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The multifaceted art of lying

In 1882, Mark Twain gave a short speech titled “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” not his best or wittiest. I assume that Oscar Wilde did not miss the published text of that speech, for seven years later, he brought out  a kind of treatise in the form of a dialogue with a similar title, namely, “The Decay of Lying—An Observation,” one of his most powerful and brilliant (as always, too brilliant) essays.  

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Editing The Scarlet Pimpernel

Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) is one of those popular novels that we tend to assume we already know without having read it. This tale of the French Revolution has been adapted many, many times, for the stage, small and large screens, and radio, and it has been frequently parodied over the decades, most famously, perhaps, by the Carry On team with Don’t Lose Your Head (aka Carry on Pimpernel).

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The ever-evolving US Supreme Court

Justice Byron R. White, who served on the Supreme Court for 31 years (1962-1993), once observed that every time a new justice joins the court, it’s a new court. His observation may sound counter-intuitive: after all, a new justice joins eight incumbents. Can a single new member make such a difference?

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The shortest history of hatred: Part 1

It would be unwise to leave the topic of emotions (see the posts on anger, dread, and fear), without saying something about hate and hatred. Although hate refers to intense dislike, it is curious to observe how diluted the word has become: today we can hate orange juice, a noisy neighbor, even our own close relative, and of course we hate not finding the objects we have mislaid. For some reason, to dislike, have little regard for, and resent are not enough for expressing our dissatisfaction.

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Understanding academic impact: fear and failure, stealth and seeds

Failure is an unavoidable element of any academic career. For all but a small number of ‘superstar über-scholars’, most of the research papers we submit will be rejected, our most innovative book proposals will be politely rebuffed and our applications for grants, prizes and fellowships will fall foul of good fortune.

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The Little Red Book vs. the Big White Book

There are some similarities between former Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong’s most famous book, Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (“The Little Red Book”) and current General Secretary Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (“Big White Book”)—the second installment of which came out last year, each volume the same cream color and featuring the same photograph of the author.

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Why I Oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Connecticut, where I live, is the most recent state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The Nutmeg State was wrong to join this Compact, designed to ensure that the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote also wins in the Electoral College.

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Celebrating Emily Brontë

Only one birthday is “celebrated” in Wuthering Heights. It doesn’t go well. The young Catherine Linton begins her 16th birthday with a modestly optimistic plan to buck the established family pattern of solitary mourning to mark the date when she came into the world (“a puny, seven months child”), but her mother died two hours later.

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Where to put hyphens

After reading a draft of something by a colleague, I asked her how she decides when to use hyphens. She responded tartly: “Hyphens. You mean like in well-spoken, or half-assed? I’m not sure. I don’t care for them.” Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me. Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me.

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Etymology gleanings for July 2018

Work on a project for reformed spelling is underway (under way). Three comments and letters have come to my notice. Masha Bell called our attention to useful and useless double letters. No doubt, account and arrive do not need their cc and rr, and I am all for abolishing them. I won’t live long enough to see acquire spelled as akwire, but perhaps aquire will satisfy future generations?

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One-sided etymology

There is a feeling that idioms resist interference. A red herring cannot change its color any more than the leopard can change its spots. And yet variation here is common. For instance, talk a blue streak coexists with swear (curse) a blue streak. One even finds to swear like blue blazes (only the color remains intact). A drop in the bucket means the same as a drop in the ocean. We can cut something to bits or to pieces, and so forth.

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Living with hysteria: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of the semiautobiographical short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” was a first-wave feminist determined to live a fully actualized life of work for the common good. Born in Connecticut in 1860, she was a lecturer on ethics, labor, and feminism, and was also the niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Charlotte grew up in poverty and was particularly interested in bettering the economic straits of women. Her family moved so often that she was largely home-schooled and self-taught.

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Pidgin English

There will be no revelations below. I owe all I have to say to my database and especially to the papers by Ian F. Hancock (1979) and Dingxu Shi (1992). But surprisingly, my folders contain an opinion that even those two most knowledgeable researchers have missed, and I’ll mention it below for what it is worth. Several important dictionaries tell us that pidgin is a “corruption” of Engl. business, and I am not in a position to confirm or question their opinion.

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Shariah: myths vs. realities

For many in the West today, “Shariah” is a word that evokes fear—fear of a medieval legal system that issues draconian punishments, fear of relegation of women and religious minorities to second-class citizenship, fear of Muslims living as separate communities who refuse to integrate with the rest of society, and fear that Muslims will seek to impose Shariah in America and Europe.

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