NEWSLETTER 498: SATURDAY 29 JULY 2006
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Correction In the piece on POTUS last week, I stated that Walter Phillips had been president of the Columbia Gramophone Company. As John Winn noted, the firm was the Columbia Graphophone Company (The Gramophone Company, better known by its slogan His Master’s Voice, had grabbed the word gramophone.)
Enpurpled Lots of people queried this, which appeared in the piece on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, because they couldn’t find it in their dictionaries. I have to confess I’d made it up in the heat of composition, being in need of a word to communicate the idea of excessively flowery language. Roger Cooper pointed out that English doesn’t like enp- and very few words begin with it. One British example is enprint for a standard-sized photo, though that’s an invented term that really ought to be hyphenated, and there’s also the aviation term enplane for getting passengers on board. But—and this is why it may be worth all this space—enpurpled feels right to me while the alternative given in the bigger dictionaries, empurpled, doesn’t. That this isn’t solely an idiosyncrasy is due to the Daily Mail of 13 June 2003: “Lord Irvine of Lairg brought to the historic House of Lords a whole new meaning to our concept of enpurpled majesty”, as well as many historical examples. Now having started this hare running, I mean to try to catch it and store it between the pages of the OED.
2. Turns of Phrase: Menaissance
Farewell metrosexuals, with your gelled hair, your moisturised skin and your impeccable clothing. Hello real men: beer-swilling, carnivorous, macho, hanging-out-with-your-mates, sexist. It’s the menaissance.
A sign of the times?
It’s the backlash. American newspapers, quick to spot a trendette, have pounced on a series of recent US television advertisements that pander to one’s inner caveman, and on books like The Alphabet of Manliness by George Ouzounian (alias Maddox), I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max, and Real Men Don’t Apologize by Jim Belushi. In various ways, all preach a return to a pre-modernist old-style masculinity. Another term for the unreconstructed (or reconstituted) male that pops up in some articles is retrosexual. Thoughtful commentators point to the male sex’s struggle to adjust to a world of sexual equality as the main driver for the backlash. Professor Harvey Mansfield’s recent book Manliness argues men need to recapture some virtues of manliness—such as decisiveness and assertiveness—and not be afraid to display them.
Of course, advocates of the Menaissance may argue that we shouldn’t be too concerned about what kind of a man women want these days. Isn’t that, they would say, the way we arrived at simpering metrosexuals desperate to please their other halves?
[Daily Mail, 12 Jul. 2006]
A woman friend tells me there’s a desperate need for a “menaissance.” Many women are weary of sensitive emo-boys and metrosexuals.
[Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 Apr. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Epeolatry
The worship of words.
Though an appropriate term for this forum, it hasn’t achieved any great success in the world at large. It’s not even especially old, since its first known user, and presumably its creator, was Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his Professor at the Breakfast Table of 1860: “Time, time only, can gradually wean us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the thing signified.”
It derives from Greek epeos, a word, plus the -latry ending from Greek latreia, worship, that turns up also in words such as idolatry. For some reason, epeos lost out in the Greek-roots popularity stakes to logos. However, epic is from the same source, an epoist is a writer of epic poetry, and cacoepy means faulty pronunciation (a word that’s suitably easy to say wrongly: it’s , roughly CACO-ipi.)
Its appearances are so few that the tag “obscure” attached to it in some dictionaries is all too apt. However, I did find it in a work called Anurada Negotiates Our Wobbly Planet, a self-published title of 2006 by Roger Day: “I read my dictionary for a few more minutes, until tiredness eventually brought my epeolatry to an end for the day.”
4. Recently noted
Hotitudinal skinterns The Washington Times told the story on 5 July: “Tank tops, flip-flops, bare flesh and cleavage. It’s the unofficial uniform of the summer interns, gaggles of college-age women and recent graduates who invade buttoned-down conservative Washington every summer, bringing a large dose of hotitude to offices from Capitol Hill to K Street.” The piece explained that the nickname for these barely dressed incomers is skinterns.
Democrazy Stephen Colbert used this in his US TV show The Colbert Report this week in reference to events in the Middle East. Unlike his truthiness last year, which was selected as Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, this one isn’t original to him, despite at least one commentator’s belief that it is. For starters, a film of 2005 and the 2003 album by Damon Albarn both have that title. The earliest print example I’ve so far found is in the title of an article in the National Review of 8 January 1992, which began “At the Japanese war trials of 1946, the defunct empire’s former propaganda minister, Shumei Okawa, inadvertently made a good pun. Leaping to his feet, he screamed in his uncertain English: ‘I hate United States! It is democrazy!’” But the current winner is the Smith’s album of 1991, so titled.
Envelopmental journalism This appeared in a newspaper in the Philippines last week and was new to me, though it turns out to have long been known in that country and elsewhere. It refers to giving journalists envelopes containing money—bribery, in other words—to put a favourable gloss on reporting a story.
5. Questions & Answers: Banter
[Q] From Donald Hopkins: “What is the origin of the word banter?”
[A] Presumably you would prefer not to settle for “origin unknown”? It makes a short answer and is accurate, but is hardly satisfying. There is a story behind it, though, that may be worth the telling.
The word began as low slang around the last third of the seventeenth century. The verb came first, then the noun. When it first appeared, it referred to exchanges that were more aggressive and vicious than the mild, playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks, usually preceded in descriptions by “good-natured”, that it became later. It variously meant then to delude or bamboozle somebody, to hold them up to ridicule and to give them a roasting, in a term of the day we still possess. You can see that in the first appearance of the verb in Madam Fickle, a play dated 1676 by Thomas D’Urfey, in which Zechiel cries to his brother: “Banter him, banter him, Toby. ’Tis a conceited old Scarab, and will yield us excellent sport—go play upon him a little—exercise thy Wit.” A letter of 1723 equated banter with Billingsgate, the foul and vituperative language of the porters at the London fish market of that name.
Do not try to banter with this man
Banter became notorious because of a spirited attack on it by Jonathan Swift in a famous article he wrote for The Tatler in 1710. In it he attacked what he called “the continual corruption of our English tongue”:
The third refinement observable in the letter I send you, consists in the choice of certain words invented by some pretty fellows; such as banter, bamboozle, country put, and kidney, as it is there applied; some of which are now struggling for the vogue, and others are in possession of it. I have done my utmost for some years past to stop the progress of mobb and banter, but have been plainly borne down by numbers, and betrayed by those who promised to assist me.
The same year he wrote of the word in his Apology to The Tale of a Tub (apology meaning a formal defence of the work), that “This polite word of theirs was first borrowed from the bullies in White-Friars, then fell among the footmen, and at last retired to the pedants; by whom it is applied as properly to the productions of wit, as if I should apply it to Sir Isaac Newton’s mathematics.”
Note that nobody has anything to say about where those bullies took it from. That is lost in the mists of ancient linguistic invention.
• Alvin Rymsha e-mailed from the US Virgin Islands with news of an article in the Boston Magazine for July 2006: “Barnacle Billy’s is an Ogunquit institution. And so is its owner Billy Tower, who’s been catching, cooking and feeding rich, famous and dedicated lobster-lovers for 45 years.” Ummmm! Those crusty New Englanders!
• John Carrick reports: “In real-estate advertisements in Sydney and elsewhere in Australia, a desirable property is increasingly being called sort-after, although not always with the luxury of a linking hyphen. This practice seems to be spreading, presumably through online advertising, where agents see each other’s ads and presumably copy this especially keen usage from each other.”
• Speaking of Australia ... while researching a possible holiday in outback New South Wales, Elizabeth Chow went to the National Parks Web site. One of the tours looked interesting: “Tours leave from the Historic Woolshed. Participating vehicles need to be high clearance, a hat, cup, drink, sturdy shoes & sunscreen.”
• The 21 July issue of the Saanich News, the local paper of both Don Wilkes and Peter Weinrich, included a picture caption: “Jagged glass marks the holes left by a trio of builders an angry man tossed through the windows of the CBC’s Pandora Avenue studios Tuesday.” Fortunately the article makes it clear that boulders were meant, and not that the man was offended by the creators of the building.
• Judith Rascoe tells me that the San Rafael greenmarket, a Sunday rendezvous in Marin County, California, is known for its organic produce and ‘artisanal’ food products competing for the foodies’ dollars. For years it’s been the place to buy heirloom tomatoes, those special varieties revived by small-scale market gardeners. But maybe they’re demodé these days, she says, since last Sunday she encountered a stall featuring bins of air loom tomatoes.
• From the Guardian of 20 July: “The less ignorant will be aware that Joseph Pilates, a German of Greek descent, first developed his system of ‘contrology’ in order to rehabilitate victims of the 1918 flu pandemic while he was interred in the Isle of Man during the first world war.” That would have been a neat trick, but he had been interned, not interred.