NEWSLETTER 551: SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Bosh In Recently Noted last week I demolished the claim of a BBC television programme that Sir Thomas Bouch, the civil engineer who designed the Tay Bridge, gave his name to bosh. It turns out that I was firing at the wrong target. Several readers told me that I’d misheard: the word that Bouch was supposed to have originated was botch. This is a widespread story, told as fact in several sites online. But it’s as wrong as it’s possible to be. Botch, meaning simply to repair something, was used by Wyclif in his translation of the New Testament back in 1382. The modern sense, “to construct or repair in a bungling manner”, is known from about the middle of the sixteenth century.
David Shand mentioned another story he’d heard: that Bouch’s name was the source of butchers, in the sense of an overly cursory examination by a master craftsman. Leaving aside how you get from Bouch to butchers, the latter’s origin is known to be Cockney rhyming slang (butcher’s hook — look).
Crib Many New Zealanders pointed out that in cribbing (ahem) some senses of the word from major dictionaries, I failed to convey some subtleties of usage known to people on the ground. Patricia Norton wrote: “The use of ‘crib’ for a weekend or beach cottage is strictly regional, limited to the south of the South Island. The word universally used elsewhere is ‘bach’ (pronounced ‘batch’). A bach or crib is not necessarily only for use during holidays. It is often regarded as a second home, commonly just an hour or two from home and used every weekend.” John McNeil suggests that this sense of crib may be used in this one area because of Scots influence. And bach seems to be an abbreviation of bachelor, originally meaning living alone and doing one’s own cooking and housekeeping.
2. Weird Words: Heterography
Incorrect or inconsistent spelling.
“His orthography, or rather heterography, has been a subject of animadversion [criticism]; and he has been charged with misspelling his own name.” A writer in Blackwoods Magazine in 1831 was referring to the painter William Hogarth (whose name, the writer alleged, should be spelled Hogart, to suit the family’s Westmorland origins).
In this period heterography (say it as “het-uh-ROG-ruh-fee”) referred to an individual’s idiosyncratic way of spelling that didn’t fit the conventions. (It’s a combination of Greek heteros, other, plus graphia, writing, the opposite of orthography, the correct or conventional spelling system of a language, from Greek orthos, correct.) In that sense, the word is long defunct. That’s a pity, you may feel, since there’s a lot of heterography about and it would be good to be able to describe a bad speller as a heterographer and be understood.
Heterography is still with us. Linguists associate it with those languages in which the written form doesn’t properly reflect the way in which it’s spoken. Robert Trask explained in his Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology that it’s a system of writing that “lacks a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and written symbols.” In systems of this kind, one letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound. He goes on to note that “English orthography is, of course, a spectacular example of this.”
That’s the problem, as a lot of teachers tell us. Heterographers are that way because English is heterographic.
3. Turns of Phrase: Glamping
It’s a hard thing to say in the year in which the Scout Movement is celebrating its centenary, but something fundamental has shifted in public perception of what camping’s all about. We are experiencing the rise of glamorous camping — a term condensed in the current fashion to glamping. Its proponents declare camping no longer means leaky tents, unlightable campfires, smelly toilets and lumpy ground to lie on. Instead, luxury accommodation is available that can include — apart from neat tents with comfortable beds, duvets and carpeted floors — amenities such as power for your PlayStations and hair dryers. A few high-end glamping sites even have swimming pools, restaurants, four-star baths and camp butlers to light fires and generally meet every need. It seems to be the fault of us effete Europeans (at least, that’s what US newspapers say), especially such fashionable glampers as Kate Moss and Sienna Miller who attend festivals like Glastonbury but want to avoid the mud and mess. This year, British retailer Marks & Spencer has even brought out a special line in glamping tents, which includes floral tent pegs. Floral tent pegs? Baden-Powell must be turning in his grave.
It’s known as “glamping,” or glamorous camping, a British import inspired by A-listers who wanted to be in touch with nature without touching the dirt and dishes.
[Seattle Times, 30 May 2007]
The number of visits to U.S. national parks is declining, but “glamping” — glamorous camping — is on the rise in North America after gaining popularity among wealthy travelers in Africa and England, where luxury tents come with Persian rugs and electricity to power blow dryers.
[Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2007]
3. Recently noted
Let me count the ways We’ve long had sequels, then prequels came along for a work telling an earlier part of the same story, then the movie business invented threequel for the sequel to a sequel, the third in a series. We’ve even had sightings of intraquel, a movie or book that’s set within the time frame of the original but which isn’t a sequel or a prequel (a reviewer in the British SF magazine Interzone in 1996 said sniffily that intraquels “move the protagonists round but don’t further the fundamental plot.” Peter Bradshaw, reviewing The Bourne Ultimatum in the Guardian recently, said he was looking forward to a fourth in the series of Bourne films, which he called a quadrequel.
Nice to smeet you, to smeet you, nice The veteran British broadcaster Bruce Forsyth might thus modify his best-known catchphrase to accommodate one of the newer Internet-related neologisms. This one was reported, Ben Zimmer tells me, in the Chicago Tribune on 24 August. The paper reported that smeet was coined at the first of the Second Life Community Conventions, at which contributors to Second Life could meet face-to-face. They coined smeet to mean “make a second meeting”, the first one having been online.
Tattooing trumpets A word turned up in television listings the other day that I can’t remember having seen in print before. A note about a programme on the opening ceremony of the Edinburgh Tattoo said “The fanfaric salute heralds the start of the event.” Few earlier examples are on record, though it does appear in Paul Barker’s 2003 book, Composing For Voice (“An obvious example is popular films, where clichés of rumbling bass sounds habitually compete with rhapsodic string and fanfaric brass sounds at the threshold of auditory damage.”). It’s a good word, well-formed, although its rarity is easily explained. When was the last time you needed the adjectival form of fanfare?
5. Questions & Answers: Dead reckoning
[Q] From Don Monson: “I just came across this sentence about navigation from an old Flight Simulator book: “Dead reckoning (DR), sometimes referred to as ‘ded reckoning’ since it is short for ‘deduced reckoning,’ is actually a more scientific approach to navigation than pilotage.” Is this origin for the term correct?”
[A] It’s always fun to learn about a popular etymology. No, it’s not correct. Not even close.
But a search shows that the story is widely believed and appears in a lot of reference books, mainly US ones on navigation. I’ve even found an example in a US patent (number 6046565): “Ded-reckoning, often called dead-reckoning in error, is a shortening of the term deduced reckoning.”
I’m indebted to The Straight Dope for a detailed discussion of the matter back in 2002, which is much fuller than I would attempt here. In essence, the writer states that the tale is first recorded in a work of 1931 but that it became common during World War Two. My own enquiries support the latter point, examples starting with Leland Lovette’s 1939 book, Naval Customs, Traditions and Usage, and becoming frequent during the war years. It seems to have got a fair hold on people by the time this item appeared in the Oakland Tribune on 24 January 1947:
A friend of mine who prides himself on being a precisionist, went to see “Dead Reckoning” the other night and I asked him how he liked it. “Oh, the picture was fine,” he said, “but the title ...” “What’s wrong with the title?” I asked. He looked down his nose at me. “There’s no such thing as ‘dead reckoning’,” he replied. “It’s ‘Ded’ Reckoning, which is short for ‘Deduced Reckoning’. Ask any navigator.”
This supposed derivation is given some credence in the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, which states the story without any alternative, though it does prefix it with “possibly”. Every other dictionary on my shelves either keeps quiet or follows the evidence that’s laid out in the Oxford English Dictionary.
That shows that dead reckoning, in that spelling, has been in the language since the early seventeenth century. It had much the same sense then as it does now, that of estimating the position of a vessel from its speed, direction of travel and time elapsed, making use of log, compass and clock. The alternatives were pilotage, which made use of visible landmarks, and celestial navigation by the sun, moon and stars.
What makes deduced reckoning and ded reckoning seem plausible is that dead reckoning doesn’t make sense, even though you might end up dead if you got your sums wrong. Writers are divided on which sense of dead the old-time mariners had in mind. Was it perhaps the idea of being as still as a corpse, so referring your position to a point that’s dead in the water? Or is it something completely or absolutely so, exact or precise, as in dead level, dead wrong, or dead ahead? The OED plumps for the latter.
As so often happens, we are left in a state of less-than-perfect understanding about the reason for an expression coming into being, but the one thing we can be sure of is that dead reckoning has no link with deduced reckoning or the abbreviated ded. reckoning.
• The menu at the British fast-food chain Little Chef, Beverley Rowe reports, currently offers both free-range omelettes and outdoor-reared pork sausages.
• Wilson Fowlie found a headline on the CBC’s Web site that provoked him to remark: “Leona Helmsley’s dog is as cheap as she was. Plus, it’s a rare dog with two grandchildren.” The headline? “Helmsley’s dog gets $12 million, but leaves 2 grandchildren zilch.”
• John Gray was captivated by the image of peripatetic daffs evoked by the official Wordsworth Trust Web site: “Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils was composed in 1804, two years after he saw the flowers walking by Ullswater on a stormy day with Dorothy.”