NEWSLETTER 563: SATURDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Frank Prain and others pointed out that anything called a knork would get an interesting reaction in Australia, where norks is slang for breasts, a term from the 1960s. It is supposedly named after Norco Co-operative Limited, a butter manufacturer in New South Wales, whose packs showed a cow with a distended udder.
Other readers pointed out that the device, under any name, has an even longer history. The spork, a spoon with prongs at the end of the bowl, dates from the latter part of the nineteenth century in the US. An even older device was used by Lord Nelson after he lost his right arm in the Canary Islands. The National Maritime Museum has it in its collection, and a picture is on its Web site. A short knife blade replaces one of the tines. It’s known as the Nelson fork; the term still turns up occasionally — a writer to the Guardian on 17 November said that her mother-in-law used a similar device that she called a Nelson. And Marcus Murphy told me that “Where I grew up — in Deal on the south coast of England, from which Nelson sailed many times — cheap variations of Nelson forks were regularly used at picnics and stand-up parties.”
To finish, there’s also foon, from fork + spoon. At least one firm sells an item under that name. It’s the same as a spork.
Marylebone Following my item last week on the Marylebone stage, John Black noted that “in the seventeenth century ‘Marylebone’ was often written as ‘Marrowbone’, by Samuel Pepys among others.” (From Pepys’s Diary, 31 July 1667: “Then we abroad to Marrowbone, and there walked in the garden, the first time I ever was there, and a pretty place it is.”) This makes the pun that I talked about last time between Marylebone and Marrowbone even easier to understand.
So many readers queried the pronunciation of Marylebone included in the piece that I did some more research in my own defence. The BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names gives four versions; the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary has nine. Neil Paknadel, who works in Marylebone Library and answers the phone using the word dozens of times a day, says he pronounces the way I do, with the final bone fully voiced. I’ve also heard BBC reporters use that form. The BBC dictionary doesn’t have it, but the Longman one does. The suggestions in the BBC dictionary reduce the final syllable to , where the is an unstressed “uh” sound (called a schwa). All of them have the first vowel as in cat (), so long as you say it with a southern English accent. Some people add a schwa before the l; some omit the l completely. So the answer to all the queries about how to pronounce Marylebone is “any way you like”. If you start with a stressed first syllable and half swallow the rest of the vowels, you won’t go far wrong ().
Hear him! If you want to hear my dulcet tones, alas not saying the word Marylebone, there’s a brief window of opportunity to hear my contribution to the BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth that went out on Monday 19 November before the new edition replaces it in the BBC Listen Again system. Scroll down to find the title of the programme and click on Listen to latest show.
2. Turns of Phrase: Mumblecore
The tiny/arty film movement known as “mumblecore” has built an entire bemused worldview out of the perspective of overeducated, undermotivated twentysomething guys who can’t commit to a declarative statement, let alone a career or girlfriend.
[Entertainment Weekly, 18 Oct. 2007]
My big complaint about these Mumblecore movies is that they are not grounded in any sort of economic reality. Nobody works, and nobody has trouble making rent while living their bohemian lifestyle.
[Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 Sep. 2007]
3. Weird Words: Kakistocracy
The government of a state by its most unprincipled citizens.
Writers down the years have found this to be an appropriate word with which to belabour their, or other people’s, political system. The American poet James Russell Lowell wrote in a letter in 1876:
What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone. Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” or a Kakistocracy, rather for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?
The first example we know of is dated 1829, in a book called The Misfortunes of Elphin, written by the English satirical writer Thomas Love Peacock. His sarcasm is ponderous and his language obscure:
They were utterly destitute of the blessings of those “schools for all,” the house of correction, and the treadmill, wherein the autochthonal justice of our agrestic kakistocracy now castigates the heinous sins which were then committed with impunity, of treading on old foot-paths, picking up dead wood, and moving on the face of the earth within sound of the whirr of a partridge.
Autochthonal refers to the indigenous people of a country (from Greek words that mean “sprung from the earth”); Agrestic has the sense of “relating to the country” (Latin ager, a field). Peacock meant by agrestic kakistocracy the English landed squirarchy who kept their tenants in line by severe punishments for offences such as poaching.
The word is Greek, from kakistos, the worst.
4. Recently noted
Slowflation We live in interesting times. Economic woes, such as record oil prices and the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, have led some British economists to create this vogue word. According to the Independent of 15 November it is “an economic environment in which interest rates have to be kept relatively high in real terms to keep inflation under control, thus stifling growth.” Those among us with long memories may recall that dread situation of the 1960s and 1970s, stagflation, in which stagnant demand is accompanied by severe inflation. Some experts seem to be using slowflation to avoid stagflation.
Cute In a recent syndicated article, James J Kilpatrick insisted that a person who was electrocuted necessarily died. He returned to the subject in this week’s piece (I ran across it in the Charlotte Observer, North Carolina) to note that not all dictionaries agreed with him: “To be electrocuted is invariably fatal in Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, New World and Random House. In the Oxford and Encarta dictionaries, death takes a holiday. Their easygoing editors say a victim of electrocution may be merely injured. It’s a shocking act of lexicographic clemency.”
Step away from that pizza, son! Parade Magazine introduced us to a foodie neologism on 11 November. It said that some lunch plans for children in US schools allow parents to track the food their offspring are eating. Hence, nutritional wiretaps. Erik Peterson of the School Nutrition Association was quoted as saying that “70% of prepaid lunch plans allow parents to peek at their kids’ food purchases.” Some plans, Parade says, “even let parents control what their kids eat at school by preventing the purchase of nutritional no-nos, such as French fries or soft drinks.”
Nominate! Grant Barrett, Vice-President of the American Dialect Society, asks for readers’ help: “The American Dialect Society’s word-of-the-year vote — the longest-running anywhere — takes place at its annual meeting in Chicago in January 2008. The academic society is accepting e-mail nominations for the Word of the Year. We interpret ‘word of the Year’ in its broader sense as ‘vocabulary item’ — phrases as well as words. Your nominations do not have to be brand new, but they should be newly prominent or notable in the past year, and should have appeared frequently in American written or spoken communication. The vote is not a formal induction of terms into the American language, but a whimsical affair. Nominate accordingly.”
5. Questions & Answers: Mazoola
[Q] From Jennifer McKeeman: “I challenge you to find the origin of mazoola. I know it means money, but I cannot verify it or trace it back to anything.”
It may remind you of another slang term for money, moola, but the two words seem to be unconnected, though nobody knows where moola comes from. On the other hand, the experts say that mazoola, like its even rarer abbreviation mazoo, is just a variation on mazuma. That makes life simpler, since mazuma is better recorded, though likewise it’s nothing so common as it used to be. For me, it brings to mind Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade from classic hard-boiled US detective fiction. But it was around even earlier, from the very first years of the twentieth century. An early user was O Henry, who wrote it into Whirligigs in 1904: “The guys with wads are not in the frame of mind to slack up on the mazuma.”
Mazuma is one of the many words that came into American English from Yiddish. In that language it was mezumen, cash, which can be traced to the post-Biblical Hebrew mezumman, from zimmen, to prepare.
• Variety Careers online have been advertising a job with Fox Sports Net South, Mary Ellen Foley found, which was described as a “Writer/Predator”. Any unkind remarks about the suitability of such a job title for Fox News should be addressed to that network. The job is a Writer/Producer/Editor in full. Is predator a jargon term of the business, or was somebody just being over-creative with the wording? A vaguely interested editor feels he ought to check.
• “When the Chairman of Citibank left his job recently,” Scott Pollard says, “BBC Teletext announced: ‘World’s biggest bank chairman quits’.” Perhaps they couldn’t find a chair big enough.
• The curse of the spell checker strikes. “Over the weekend,” wrote Bob McGill from Houston, Texas, “I noticed a sign in my dry cleaner’s declaring they are not responsible for damage to ‘loose buttons, beads, sequence, and zippers’.”
• Seen by Richard J Levy on a notice board offering training courses at a charity in Lewisham, South London: “Life Long Learning: short courses.” Ars brevis, vita longa.
• Australia is having national elections today, Saturday 24 November. Jennifer Atkinson tells me that on 19 November, the Hobart Mercury (and, I found, the Melbourne Age) quoted the opposition Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, as saying, “Here we are six days before and nothing but a negative fuselage from Mr Howard on everything under the sun.”
• On 1 November, Dave Patron read in the Lakewood Sentinel, Colorado, about an incident at a fast-food drive-through during which a man pulled a stun gun on staff. The report noted, “The police officer found the man and his stun gun under the driver’s seat of his van.” They’re making criminals small this year.
• Ron Davis heard a reporter say on CTV News last Saturday: “There is astigmatism attached to Ontario wines.” Yes, after you’ve drunk a couple of bottles, everything goes blurry.