E-MAGAZINE 701: SATURDAY 28 AUGUST 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Cucumber time Peter Scoging read this piece online and commented on my reference to cabbage, the term for the tailor’s perk of the offcuts of cloth: “Amongst machinists in the UK, ‘cabbage’ is very much a living idiom — and I believe this is the case everywhere in what I suppose one would call collectively the garment trades. My sister was involved in the trade from the early 1970s through to 1999, and she confirms that ‘cabbage’ in this sense was a regular part of the language for as long as she was involved.”
Mordechai Ben-Menachem and No’am Newman say that a Hebrew translation of cucumber time is the usual term in Israel for the summer silly season. I have since discovered that similar terms, either featuring cucumbers or gherkins, exist in Estonian, Czech, Polish and Hungarian. Any more?
Review online As forewarned last week, I’ve written a full review of the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, mentioning that its US stablemate, the New Oxford American Dictionary, has a new edition out soon, too.
On recently buying some well-rotted stable manure for my garden, I was naturally apprehensive lest it be too obviously jumentous. I’m glad to be able to report that my worries were unfounded.
The word is usually explained as meaning a smell like that of the urine of a horse. It comes from Latin jumentum, which the Oxford English Dictionary explains means a yoke-beast, from jugum, a yoke. Though this might reasonably include oxen, the Oxford Latin Dictionary helpfully notes — somewhat surprisingly in view of its origin — that in Roman times it usually meant horses or mules, not cattle. Similarly, the obsolete English word jument, from the same source, could mean any beast of burden, but was most often applied to a horse or donkey.
The first appearance of jumentous that I can trace is in this report of the symptoms of a sick person:
No motion of the bowels; urine very scanty, red with a jumentous and lateritious sediment, also great thirst, great dryness of mouth and tongue, which were covered with a dirty white covering.
The British Journal of Homoeopathy, 1801. The word was deemed to be unfamiliar enough that it was defined in a footnote as relating to a working horse. Lateritious, from Latin later, a brick, means resembling brick, or coloured brick-red, a word that has usually been applied only to urine.
Other nineteenth-century works used jumentous in the same way, but by the end of the century it had become extremely rare, and remains so. Peter Bowler asked of it in The Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words of 1992, “Is this word really necessary?” You may concur; I couldn’t possibly comment.
Extreme sport? Recently, the press widely reported a warning from the Spanish authorities against a dangerous game being played by young holidaymakers on the Balearic islands. They return to their hotels from a night out, drunk or on drugs, and attempt to swing from one balcony to another or jump off balconies into swimming pools below. Videos have appeared on Internet sites and the activity has become known as balconing. Four deaths have been reported this summer.
On the way out Paul Hensby, founder of the website My Last Song, describes an intriguing funerary rite called beaching. The deceased person’s family and friends find a suitable beach, mark out his or her name or some suitable message in the sand, fill the furrows with the cremains (cremated remains) and wait for the tide to come in and wash them out to sea. A close study of tide tables and the current phase of the moon is essential. He comments that careful timing of the ceremony is also needed to avoid clashes with people intent on going swimming or building sand castles.
Sodcasting This is the broadcasting of music in public through the loudspeaker on one’s mobile phone. The result is not only often intensely annoying to bystanders but is also tinny, lacking in bass because of the small loudspeaker size. (Some music tracks are being rerecorded to transpose bass parts into a higher register so that they can be heard in such circumstances.) The term is a play on others ending in -casting, particularly podcasting (downloading recordings from the net to a personal audio player). One wag said that sodcasting is “podcasting for the grass roots” or, in British slang, for the sods, unpleasant or obnoxious people.
4. Questions and Answers: In a trice
Q From Robert Kaplan: In the expression in a trice, where does trice come from?
A Before Britannia ruled the waves, the Dutch were the dominant maritime nation of Europe and much of our seafaring vocabulary can be traced back to Dutch words, trice included.
It’s from the Middle Dutch word trîsen, to hoist, an older form of the modern Dutch trijsen. It came into English in the late fourteenth century. In maritime usage, it meant to lift something using a rope and was usually coupled with “up”. In that form, it has been part of naval terminology pretty much ever since:
On the boatswain blowing his whistle the men mustered upon deck and formed line, whilst the captain, standing well in front of them, delivered a few words to them. “When I give the word,” he concluded, “you shall discharge your pieces, and by thunder, if any man is a second before or a second after his fellows I shall trice him up to the weather rigging!”
Cyprian Overbeck Wells, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in the Boy’s Own Paper, Christmas 1886.
However, the more usual implication of trice up is not only to hoist something but also to secure it. Perhaps the best-known case is in the reveille call, “All hands heave out and trice up”, which originally told sailors to get out of their hammocks and lash them up out of the way. Here’s another common instruction from sailing-ship days:
He therefore turned the hands up, “mend sails,” and took his station amidship on the booms, to see that this, the most delinquent sail, was properly furled. “Trice up — lay out — All ready forward?”
Newton Forster, by Captain Marryat, 1832.
Landlubbers — from the first known user, Geoffrey Chaucer, in the Canterbury Tales — had a slightly different meaning, to pull quickly or suddenly at something, to snatch at it. If you did something at a trice, you did it in one pull, so immediately or without delay. In time trice changed from meaning a hoist or a heave to “instant” or “moment”.
• The long arm of the law? Leo Boivin tells us about a story from the Washington Post last Saturday: “A Montgomery County police officer has been charged with assault for hitting a suspect on the head with a baton after the suspect had fled, officials said Friday.”
• A caption to a photograph in the Boston Globe last Thursday was submitted by Walter Sheppard: “A cyclist rode past the historic Chatham house repainted fluorescent lime green and yellow, and has the town talking.” For the avoidance of doubt, it is the colour scheme of the repainted house that has the town talking, not the cyclist.
• Maureen Whitaker mentioned a report from BBC News for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight on 25 August: “Police are trying to reunite precious World War I documents and jewellery found in a bin with their owner.”
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