NEWSLETTER 524: SATURDAY 27 JANUARY 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Receipt and recipe Following my note last week, subscribers told me that receipt survived rather longer than I had said, well into the twentieth century in some parts of the USA: the Carolinas and the Appalachians were mentioned in particular. John Carlson added, “My thoughts are that the people who wrote to you about receipt for recipe are less than 50 years of age. My mother and some of her friends used receipt in the 1930s and 1940s.”
Spot of tea My comments on the social and geographical use of the word tea to mean a cooked meal provoked many subscribers to tell me about their own experiences. Tea for a meal was and is used also in Ireland (which I should have mentioned) and also in some rural parts of the southern half of Britain. Several pointed out that in the US, the term high tea has been misunderstood to mean a posh version of ordinary afternoon tea (best silver service and highest quality cakes), whereas in the UK it is definitely a working-class repast. (High here indicates its complexity or formal nature, not its style. That this misunderstanding is not confined to the US was demonstrated by an article in the Guardian’s Weekend Magazine on the day my piece came out; Gill Meller wrote “We occasionally sit down to afternoon tea, a proper one — a ‘high tea’ as it used to be called”, but his accompanying notes and recipes refer to cakes and biscuits with nothing savoury being mentioned.) Many writers wanted me to go into the cultural and class ramifications of other names for meals — lunch, dinner and supper. This would need what feels like half a book to explain in detail; I hope you’ll forgive me for postponing it until I have more leisure!
The British usage of spot brought this comment from Ed Charlton, who is “unashamedly from the North (of Northumberland)”: “Spot can be, and is, used for any meal. An invitation to stay for a spot of supper after a recent afternoon playing tennis progressed to home-made soup, roast pheasant and apple tart. None of the participants (ranging in age over five decades) felt ‘spot’ was an inappropriate description.”
2. Turns of Phrase: Hyperlocal
Newspaper sales are under huge threat from rival media. One way of stemming the decline has been pioneered in the US and is now being looked at seriously in the UK and other countries. The idea is to reinvent the local paper as a series of freesheets, each serving a very small community, perhaps only one suburb or group of streets.
Such hyperlocal papers (another term is micropapers) would employ only one or two journalists; they would mainly rely on content provided by readers (citizen journalism, as the industry has rather grandly dubbed it). Such news sources would also be multimedia, with content being simultaneously made available on the Web, in some cases through podcasts or vodcasts (audio and video items available on demand), and by mobile phone. One aim is to provide a series of complementary outlets in which local firms and shops can advertise cheaply and effectively.
Those involved in producing community freesheets, many of which have been running for decades, will scarcely consider this to be innovative. The industry argues, however, that newspaper groups would bring professional marketing and journalism, together with cross-media expertise, that community groups frequently lack.
The term hyperlocal has been used in this sense since the late 1980s, but it has been restricted to industry sources until quite recently. Though most frequently turning up in relation to the Web and newspapers, it is also used, for example, in local radio. The word is formed using the common hyper- prefix from Greek huper, something over or beyond the normal. Hyperlocal Web sites are also often called placeblogs.
Media analysts agree that many readers are looking for hyperlocal content, but they say most citizen-journalism sites aren’t mature enough to tap into the lucrative local advertising markets.
[Washington Post, 15 Jan. 2007]
“Think Globally, Act Locally” has flourished for decades. But for plenty of media companies in 2007, the first part of that gospel will be eclipsed by a souped-up devotion to matters “hyperlocal.”
[New York Times, 30 Dec. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Dydler
A clearer of water channels in the Norfolk broads.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has recently bought a remote fen in the Norfolk Broads, so isolated that few people have ever been there. As the Guardian reported this month, “A few wild-fowlers would have visited it by boat when it was owned by Lord Percy; a handful of marsh men and sedge cutters still go there occasionally to harvest reeds; ditch ‘dydlers’ are sometimes sent in to keep the water channels open from vegetation, and a few naturalists and artists know about this lost world of swamp and sky.”
Dydler is local to the Broads; it comes from the implement that the worker uses, a dydle, either a sharp triangular spade or a metal scoop or dredge fixed to the end of a long pole. To dydle is to clean out the bed of a river or ditch. The Oxford English Dictionary (which spells dydler with an i instead of a y — the latter spelling may be a mock archaism) guesses it is a cut-down version of dike-delve, but nobody really knows.
Walter White wrote a description of the dydler in his book Eastern England in 1865: “Standing on the bank with a scoop or dredge fixed to the end of a long pole, he plunges it into the stream; ... then he drags up the scoop by a bodily effort, and drops the muddy contents upon the bank.”
Although it’s pronounced the same, the word has no connection with diddler, a swindler or cheat; that comes from the name of Jeremy Diddler, a character in the farce Raising the Wind (1803) by the Irish dramatist James Kenney.
4. Recently noted
Loonspuddery This delightful word appeared in a letter printed in the issue of New Scientist for 13 January. The writer discussed the various ways in which it was possible to detect the suggestions of crackpots so that “you don’t need actual ‘green ink and no margins’ to detect probable loonspuddery.” Nothing in my reference works suggests an origin for it, though it may well be a combination of loon (a silly or foolish person) with spudder (which the Oxford English Dictionary says means fuss, disturbance of bother and which may be an alteration of pother). A small number of examples turns up in a Google search, so it is definitely not a neologism. Anyone with any thoughts about its history?
Big sigh Julane Marx pointed me to an answer on Ask Yahoo! dated last Tuesday, about the origin of the practice of tipping. Whatever the general merits of the piece, it utterly failed my reliability test by quoting the usual folk etymology about tip, even providing an embroidered version of it that’s new to me: “The term has also been linked (though not by all word historians) to 18th-century England, where eating and drinking establishments put out brass urns inscribed with the phrase ‘To Insure Promptitude’ (T.I.P.) for customers to leave money in.” For “not all word historians”, read “by no reputable word historian”. The word has an interesting history.
Words of the year The results of the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2006 poll in Australia were announced this week. To judge from some of the category winners, Australia is taking a while to catch up with the rest of the English-speaking world, wordwise. For example, the winner in the general interest category, affluenza (feelings of isolation and guilt supposedly affecting young wealthy people) is recorded from the US at least as far back as 1988 (it appeared in the UK no later than 1993 and is in several British dictionaries). The Fashion section winner ubersexual (a confident, stylish and masculine man) has passed its peak and is dropping out of sight in the US; the Specialist section one, administrivia (boring details relating to administration) is well established in the US and UK.
The overall winner was muffin top. It featured here on 6 January as one of Lynne Murphy’s words of the year and was also an American Dialect Society 2005 nomination. It means the fold of fat around the midriff that on an overweight woman spills out over the top of tight-fitting jeans or skirts. The organising committee commented, “This seems to be an Australian creation which has spread around the world, carried on by the popularity of Kath and Kim... The Committee thought that the vivid imagery of this word with its sense of playfulness and the fact that it is an Australianism made it the clear winner.” (If you haven’t come across Kath and Kim yet, you can find several Web sites that will enlighten you, including the BBC’s.)
5. Questions & Answers: Lobbyist
[Q] From Jennifer Painter: “A recent piece on the NBC Nightly News included the origin of the word lobbyist. The host, Brian Williams, explained that the word originated with President Ulysses S Grant, who liked to get out of the White House and often went to Washington’s Willard Hotel for brandy and cigars. Anyone who wanted access to the President to make their mark on Presidential politics would know to find him in the lobby there. President Grant was the first to refer to these DC power brokers as lobbyists. This was presented as part of the story on Washington’s new ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and how it brings to an end the era of politics conducted in smoke-filled rooms. I hadn’t previously heard this. Is it correct?”
[A] This old tale has become so embedded in the unconscious of the US nation that it sometimes appears in quite reputable reference works. But it isn’t true; even a perfunctory look at the history of the word shows it can’t be.
You only have to look at the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first example given there appeared in the Cornhill Magazine in January 1863. Grant was president from 1869 to 1877, so the word was in use before he took office. A further nail in the coffin of the tale might be that the Cornhill Magazine was British, not American. But using electronic archives and casting my net wide for your delectation, I’ve been able to find examples of it in US newspapers a few years earlier still, including this from The Lafayette County Herald of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, dated 15 January 1857:
In classifying the lobby members of Congress the female representatives of the ‘third house’ occupy no unimportant position. Indeed, I may say that one experienced female lobbyist is equal to any three schemers of the other sex with whom I am acquainted.
It would not be surprising to find still earlier examples. The job of the lobbyist had by then existed, unnamed, for many years (though third house, the humorous collective term for them mentioned in the piece above, is known in the US from the 1840s). The OED’s first example of the collective term lobby meaning “persons who frequent the lobby of the house of legislature for the purpose of influencing its members in their official action” is dated 1808.
The original lobby was the one attached to the chamber of the British House of Commons, in which members could meet and talk to outsiders. This sense (and function) is recorded from the middle of the seventeenth century and was adopted in Congress when it was established more than a century later.
• Arlene Roti reports that a company’s want ad in the 21 January issue of The Province, a local newspaper in Vancouver, advertised for an administrator, “Part-time, 25 days a week”. She wonder what the full-time hours would be.
• “I don’t know if this qualifies for Sic! or if I should apply for my Blue Peter pedant’s badge,” e-mailed Chris Brown. “Seen on a poster advertising a local gym: ‘Apply today and receive half price joining fee’. Does that mean that they used to pay applicants twice as much?”
• Speaking of gyms, Ellen Smithee was on holiday in Christchurch, New Zealand and was staying at a hotel across the road from an upscale health club. Its slogan was so clever that she had to forgive the apostrophic error: “In a world full of gym’s, we’re a james!”
• “The solar-powered hot water system I’ve had installed,” reports Mark Allison, “includes a ‘rectifier valve’, designed to mix cold and solar-heated water to ensure that what comes out of the tap is at a safe temperature. This model was described in the manual as an ‘anti-scolding device’. I could not help but wonder whether such a useful piece of equipment might have an even wider domestic application.”