NEWSLETTER 601: SATURDAY 23 AUGUST 2008
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Fescennine Several readers, better informed about the geography of Italy than I am, have pointed out that the Etruscan town Fescinnia that’s the source of this word can’t be in Tuscany, where I put it. Though nobody seems to know its location for certain, it’s usually taken to be near either Civita Castellana or Corchiano, which are in the Lazio region.
Sic! Ton Stauttener e-mailed from the Netherlands: “You mentioned the word incinerate in an automatically translated Belgian advertisement. Maybe your readers would like to know what caused this error. Dutch has the word verassen, meaning ‘to incinerate (literally: ‘turn to ashes’), and verrassen, meaning ‘to surprise’. The unfortunate author of the ad probably made a typo, using verassen instead of verrassen.”
2. Turns of Phrase: Virtual water
During the World Water Week conference held in Stockholm this week (17-23 August), the environmental group WWF released a report that demonstrates the extent to which the UK consumes the water of other countries.
The concept of virtual water was created by Professor John Allan of King’s College, London, who was awarded the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize for it. It measures the amount of water that’s used in food production and in industrial processes such as the manufacture of textiles. The WWF report says 62% of the water consumed in Britain is virtual water from other countries.
Another term for it is embedded water. Other terms environmentalists use when discussing problems of water supply are water footprint, the amount of water, both virtual and visible, used by a country, a business or an individual (a term closely related to carbon footprint), and blue water, water withdrawn from ground and surface reserves, as opposed to green water, which is taken directly from rainfall.
The concept of “virtual water” holds immense relevance for the water-scarce countries. Much water can be saved by cultivating only those food crops which need less water and importing the food items and other agricultural produce that need high amounts of water.
[Khaleej Times, Dubai, 22 Mar. 2008]
Academics behind the “virtual water” calculations have also created a worldwide league table for the water footprint of different countries. The US is the biggest offender, with a water footprint of close to 2,500 cubic metres per year per capita, while Italy is a close second. Britain’s water footprint is relatively modest at 1,245 cubic metres per year per capita.
[Belfast Telegraph, 21 Apr. 2008]
A dwarf or small boy; an insignificant or contemptible person.
When the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth wrote a letter to a friend in April 1795, she commented on her recent reading, “It is a scarce and very ingenious book; some of the phraseology is so much out of the present fashion, that it would make you smile: such as the synonym for a little man, a Dandiprat.”
She was somewhat premature: the word survives to be included in at least a few modern one-volume dictionaries because it does turn up from time to time in historical or fantasy fiction. In evidence of this, I place before you a quotation from Forward the Mage by Eric Flint and Richard Roach of 2002:
Who is so wise as to distinguish, with unerring precision, between a little man, a dwarf, a gnome, a midget, a shrimp, a runt, a pygmy, a Lilliputian, a chit, a fingerling, a pigwidgeon, a mite, a dandiprat, a micromorph, an homunculus, a dapperling, a small fry or someone with bad posture, weighted down with the cares of the world?
though this perhaps proves no more than that Messrs Flint and Roach possess a thesaurus with historical pretensions.
Nobody has the slightest idea where the word comes from. It first appears in the language in the early sixteenth century in the sense of a small coin current at the time, curiously worth 1½ pence, but then quickly develops its other senses.
4. Recently noted
Visuacy If you don’t know this word, don’t worry, that’s because it’s new, one that Christopher Allen, writing in The Australian on 16 August, called a “horrible neologism”. Visuacy is shorthand for “visual literacy” and appeared in a report, the National Review of Visual Education, published that day in Australia. It argues that society is heavily saturated with images, which are words in a visual language that should be taught to young people so that they can navigate and interpret them. Visuacy, the report argues, should be put alongside literacy and numeracy as a foundation skill in compulsory schooling.
Aureolate I came across this word in the obituary of the Queen’s former milliner, Simone Mirman, in the Guardian on 14 August: “The Queen Mother harked back to the aureolate hats of her youth, wide-brimmed and cargoed with frail flowers and feathers.” The writer presumably meant a hat with a light-coloured brim, as aureolate is surely related to aureole, a circle of light or brightness that surrounds something. To my mild surprise, the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t include it and it is only extremely rarely to be found outside entomology, in which it is used for a diffused coloured ring. Might aureolate be a term of art in hat-making? Like several similar words, it’s from Latin aureola (corona), a golden (crown), in particular in paintings the gold circle around the head of a person represented as holy.
5. Questions & Answers: Lukewarm
[Q] From Jan Pearce: “This question was posed on the US television programme, The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, ‘Who is Luke and why does he have his own temperature?’”
[A] I presume no good answer was given, which is why you’re turning to me? That’s the trouble with these smart lines, they’re fun for a moment but leave you unsatisfied and wanting more. As it happens, it’s an interesting question and I’ve spent a few intrigued minutes delving into the history of lukewarm.
The word has been spelled in all sorts of different ways down the centuries, including lew-warm, loo-warm (a necessity in our house), lewke-warm and luckwarm. The first part was mainly in dialect use and transmitted orally, so the spelling only settled down to our modern version in the eighteenth century.
Luke has, of course, nothing to do with the given name. It comes from an Old English adjective hléow that may be linked to hlēo, shelter or lee, and also to another Old English word meaning debilitated that developed into lew, weak or wan. To be lukewarm is to be only weakly warm, tepid.
An odd sidelight is that from the thirteenth century, luke by itself could mean lukewarm, as could lew (the English Dialect Dictionary reported a century ago that it was then very widely used in various spellings throughout England, Scotland and Ireland). So you could argue that lukewarm means “warm warm”.
• Kelly went to a gynaecologist in Riverside County, California, for a routine examination, only to encounter this notice: “All pregnant women who expect to have a male baby can arrange for circumcision before delivery!!!” These intrauterine operations are a great medical advance, to be sure.
• Over-heated Olympics language: “Forgive me if the quotation is not exact — I was driving at the time,” e-mailed Chris Church. “But did I really hear a sports reporter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme say, ‘In just one jump, he qualified for the triple jump’?” Terry Dowling swears he heard a reporter on BBC News say of the winner of the 100m sprint, “He has literally exploded onto the athletics scene.”