NEWSLETTER 562: SATURDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2007
1. Turns of Phrase: Knork
It’s a combination knife and fork, whose integration has led to the creation of this infelicitous term, surely a barrier to its adoption (though the name of the combined spoon and fork, the spork, is almost equally off-putting). The term suddenly appeared all over the British press in October and early November 2007 following a survey of our eating habits by the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. Since meals are now so informal, often eaten on the sofa in front of the television, traditional cutlery is too much hassle. The survey reported that 11% of 18- to 34-year-olds did away with knives and instead used a fork as an all-in-one eating tool. The survey called this a knork, but it’s merely an improvised tool, not a true knork. The real one is an American invention of 2003 by a young entrepreneur named Mike Miller, whose UK sales prospects have had a wonderful PR boost as a result of the survey. His knork is of stainless-steel, with an enlarged handle for gripping and outer tines bevelled into a curved shape to help it cut foods. The word is, of course, said with the initial k silent, as in knife.
People — when I say “people”, I actually mean idiots like me in the media — are already claiming that the knork will “destroy divisive cutlery hierarchies and erode social distinctions” which, I think, means that us commoners won’t feel like proper berks anymore when we don’t know our shrimp fork from a tuning fork at dinner parties.
[York Press, 12 Nov. 2007]
Just 19% of the population now use a knife, fork and spoon at dinner time, with many opting for a “knork” — a fork that, transferred to the right hand, doubles as a knife, as they balance plates on their knees in front of the television.
[Scotland on Sunday, 27 Oct. 2007]
2. Weird Words: Ceraunograph
A lightning recorder.
A ceraunograph detects lightning strikes through the radio waves they give off. The earliest reference I’ve found to this device says that it was invented in the late 1890s by the Jesuit Father Frederick Odenbach of St Ignatius College in Cleveland, Ohio.
Words in kerauno- or cerauno- are very rare. If you have keraunophobia, you have a fear of thunderstorms, though as people are more scared by the sound of thunder than by the storm itself, the alternative brontophobia would be better; the OED says a ceraunoscope is a machine for producing stage-thunder, from a Greek word meaning an apparatus that was used by the ancients in their mysteries. A ceraunite is a thunderstone or thunderbolt.
Ceraunograph has also been used for a figure or picture impressed by lightning upon the human body or elsewhere.
3. Recently noted
Locavore A faint feeling I was being followed came upon me on Monday when I learned that the New Oxford American Dictionary had chosen locavore as its Word of the Year 2007. It was only in September that it featured here as a Turns of Phrase item. It’s on the Web site, which saves me from having to give you all the details again. The press release adds the information that the word was coined in 2005 by a group of four women in San Francisco; it notes that “The choice reflects an ongoing shift in environmental and ecological awareness over the last several years. Lexicographers at Oxford University Press have observed that this social transformation is having a noticeable effect on the English language.” Among the listed runners-up are cloudware, online applications such as Web mail that are powered by massive data storage facilities, often called cloud servers; previvor, a person who has not been diagnosed with cancer but has survived a genetic predisposition for it; and upcycling, the transformation of waste materials into something more useful or valuable.
Unbrick A word that might be in the list of words of the year is brick, which has become common in relation to the Apple iPhone. Because the iPhone is tied to one telephone network, programmers have found ways of unlocking it so it can be used with the network they want. This has annoyed Apple, which gets a slice of the income from the phone contracts. A recent upgrade to the software in the iPhone stopped hacked phones from being used with the rival networks and rendered them useless. In the jargon, Apple bricked it — made it about as useful as a brick (another term for a disabled iPhone that’s frequently seen is iBrick). Brick has also been applied to the Apple iPod Touch, which hackers rendered capable of running third-party applications. Its inverse, unbrick, has now started to appear for the original hacking exploits, as in this warning from Apple-Touch.com on 7 November: “If you do install the update and in result get a bricked iPod Touch, it will be rendered useless until a third-party company will release a program to unbrick it.”
Take a moment to read this Over on the A Word A Day list, William Abbott wrote in response to aliterate (a person who can read but chooses not to), the featured word on 6 November: “Maybe I am an achronoliterate (I made that up), someone who does not have enough time to read everything that he wants to read!” I do hope that it catches on, as it exactly fits our cash-rich, time-poor world.
4. Questions & Answers: Marylebone Coach
[Q] From Dave Aton: “For years, I was curious about the line ‘So I will take the Marley Bone Coach / And whistle down the wind’ in the song Whistle Down The Wind by Tom Waits. Later, I discovered that Marylebone was an area in central London. Then I found online: ‘I can’t grade papers because the campus mail’s web interface appears to have come a cropper, gone tits up, ridden the Marylebone Coach, and other unlikely things.’ So, apparently it’s a slang expression for dying, though I don’t know how common it is in England, nor its origin. Can you help?”
[A] Many people have queried this line but to little useful effect. The other reference you quoted (which seems to be the only one of its kind online that's other than literal, according to Google, and of which my fairly wide-ranging literature search throws up no other example) is presumably an allusion to the song. There was no slang expression Marley Bone Coach or Marylebone Coach that I can find. There was, however, Marylebone stage, where stage refers to a stagecoach. Tom Waits may have had this in mind. Your asking the question gives me an opportunity to expatiate on this item of totally defunct British slang.
You’re right about Marylebone being an area of London, most famous for being the titular home of the Marylebone Cricket Club — better known by its initials MCC — formerly the governing body of English cricket. Marylebone is an abbreviation of its 14th century name, St Mary-by-the-Bourne, where the bourn is the Tyburn stream, which gave its name to the infamous gallows in the parish. It is said as “MARRY-le-bone”, an attempted clarification which may confuse those Americans who say Mary, marry and merry all the same way.
Marylebone stage meant to go on foot. It appears in a novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon called Charlotte’s Inheritance of 1868: “‘The cabmen are trying it on, anyhow, just now,’ thought Mr Sheldon; ‘but I don’t think they’ll try it on with me. And if they do, there’s the Marylebone stage. I’m not afraid of a five-mile walk.’” There was indeed a stagecoach which ran (staggered would be a better term — a contemporary writer said it “dragged tediously”) the four miles from Marylebone to the City of London, taking two and a half hours to get there and three hours to come back, this duration being partly accounted for by the extremely bad roads of the period but mainly by an unnecessarily long stop at an inn along the way. The earliest reference I can find to it is in a court case at the Old Bailey in 1822, in which a young man was found guilty of stealing two handkerchiefs from a passenger.
It was quicker to walk. This may have been part of the allusion, since the phrase Marylebone stage was itself a joke based on, or perhaps a corruption of, of the older expression marrowbone stage, known from the 1820s. Here, marrowbone is a figurative term meaning the shinbones, hence the legs. It has exactly the same meaning as Shanks’s pony or Shanks’s mare. (There was also the obvious going by Walkers’ bus, which Dr Cobham Brewer mentions in early editions of his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.) The first two expressions are equated in a book by George Augustus Sala with the title Twice Around the Clock, dated 1859: “The humbler conveyances known as ‘Shanks’s mare’, and the ‘Marrowbone stage’ — in more refined language, walking.”
• On 11 November, the Sydney Morning Herald had a serious problem with its syntax: “The turnaround in Coles supermarkets could take up to five years as Wesfarmers seeks to revive the workplace and management culture and grapple with structural issues. Meanwhile, Wesfarmers will be working on reducing costs, store cleanliness and availability of product.” Thanks to Anthony Douglas for that.
• The Daily News, Halifax, Nova Scotia, carried the following banner headline to an article: “Man touches himself in south end”. You may easily work out what the story was about (the full piece is online if you want details). It may be worth noting, however, as David Carr points out, that south-end is an area of Halifax, not a previously unknown anatomical term.
• Back in Australia, ABC News online had a cricket story about the first test between Sri Lanka and Australia: “The dogged Vandort had been the pillar of a resolved Sri Lankan showing before Stuart MacGill, who was struggling to grip a wet ball, ripped a viscous leg-break to bowl the left-hander for 82.” Dan Stalker reckons the Sri Lankans were batting on a sticky wicket.