NEWSLETTER 477: SATURDAY 21 JANUARY 2006
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Wale Having survived the chorus of voices that told me that I’m an out-of-the-loop, ancient fuddy-duddy with no fashion knowledge, since everyone in the world except me has always known what the wale of corduroy is, I came to other messages asking me about gunwale, the upper edge or planking of the side of a ship (OK, so you all know that, too). This is definitely an application of wale in the sense of ridge, since it originally served to support the guns.
Chaos and confusion all around me lie It’s been EDAD week here (“Every Day Another Disaster”) as my wife describes it. Computer equipment has been failing to right and left of me and one of my mailboxes was inaccessible for nearly a week with 112 messages in it. So if you haven’t had a reply to a recent message, the reason is probably in that list somewhere.
2. Weird Words: Cenatory
Relating to dinner or supper.
This is one of 22,889 words and senses marked in the Oxford English Dictionary as being both obsolete and rare. The OED’s only record for it is from a work of 1646 by the physician Sir Thomas Browne. He’s immortalised in the OED by 3792 other citations, which include many equally rare words, such as bicipitous (having two heads); elychnious (having the nature of a wick); latirostrous (broad-beaked); stillicidious (falling in drops); and zodiographer (a person who writes about animals).
Cenatory isn’t quite so rare as the OED entry might suggest. It turns up, for example, in Camp-Fire and Cotton-Field, by Thomas W. Knox, published in 1865: “On one line of boats, the cold meats on the supper-table were from carefully selected pieces, cooked and cooled expressly for the cenatory meal.” And it’s in James Branch Cabell’s Chivalry (1921), in a passage that follows a description of a meal: “Richard was replete and contented with the world. He took up the lute, in full consciousness that his compliance was in large part cenatory.”
Cenatory is from Latin cenatorious, relating to dinner. It has a similar meaning to prandial (Latin prandium, meal), which the OED describes as “affected or jocose” and which usually appears in the compounds pre-prandial, before dinner (sometimes also ante-prandial), and post-prandial, after the meal. (“He went through dinner talking on such events of the time as usually form the subject of prandial conversation.”—The Man Who Bought London, by Edgar Wallace, 1915.)
3. Questions & Answers: No names, no pack drill
[Q] From Chris Johnston; related questions came from Mary Louise Lyman and Tony Apted: “You used the phrase no names, no pack drill in the 7 January newsletter. What does this mean? I can’t find it on your Web site or in any of my dictionaries.”
[A] That phrase bubbled up from my subconscious. I realised at once that it might not be understood, but left it in from a mischievous desire to learn whether anybody would query it.
The immediate source of the expression was my father, who served in northern France throughout the First World War. Introduced in the nineteenth century, pack drill was a common military punishment in that war, though not one he ever suffered. Rudyard Kipling gave a description in Soldiers Three in 1890: “Mulvaney was doing pack-drill—was compelled that is to say, to walk up and down in full marching order, with rifle, bayonet, ammunition, knapsack, and overcoat.” Pack drill was often required to be done at the double, at twice the normal marching pace, as Arthur Guy Empey explained in Over The Top (1917): “Then comes ‘Pack Drill’ or Defaulters’ Parade. This consists of drilling, mostly at the double, for two hours with full equipment. Tommy hates this, because it is hard work.” You may know Kipling’s poem with the lines, “O it’s pack drill for me and a fortnight’s CB / For ‘drunk and resisting the Guard’.” (CB: Confined to Barracks.)
The full expression no names, no pack drill seems to have been of First World War origin, but has survived the punishment itself. It means that if nobody is named as being responsible, then nobody can be punished, the point being that in some situation or other it’s wisest not to name the person being discussed.
4. Noted this week
Gay-adjacent Much media mockery has exploded about this term. It turned up last week in a press release from Sony Records, who as well as creating a label devoted to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered) artists, are working with Wilderness Media to launch a syndicated radio show called Twist to “target the gay and ‘gay-adjacent’ communities”. Does this, as one newspaper argued, fall into the category of “spurious demographics” designed solely for marketing purposes, or is it a coded reference to the friends and family of LGBTs, or does it mean anything at all?
My personal word of the week Are you kidding, after last week?
5. Reviews: Words, Words, Words
Heavens, is this man prolific! David Crystal has written more than a hundred books, with no cessation in sight. And he has another out next week from another publisher (who hasn’t sent me a review copy, so I can’t speak about it). When you’ve written that many, overlap in subject matter and illustration is perhaps inevitable, so that a regular reader (this is the seventh book of his I’ve read in recent years) will recognise a retread of a lot of stuff he has previously come across. All the quotations, for example, are taken from his earlier work Words on Words.
Professor Crystal’s book is a brief introduction to lexicology, the study of the form, meaning, and behaviour of words (as opposed to lexicography, which is about making dictionaries). In six parts and 33 short chapters, he covers a lot of ground, mostly at a smart trot. He discusses the size of our vocabularies, arguing (as he has in earlier works) that they are much larger than we think they are. He goes on to describe the way that we pick up language, the rise of the dictionary, where words come from, and the borrowings that form part of the modern English vocabulary. Other chapters focus on spelling, pronunciation, slang, affixes, compounding, dialect, the birth and death of words, the future of English, word games and wordplay. A final section is entitled “Becoming a word detective”, which is a collection of sources on etymology and other topics (in which World Wide Words is mentioned).
I’m not altogether sure about the audience he’s aiming at. My gut feeling is that he hasn’t quite got the level and tone right. It’s certainly not for children, despite a faint feeling that it could be repackaged as the Ladybird Book of Lexicology. But adults will find it a bit basic unless they’re real beginners. However, if you want an authoritative yet painless introduction—Lexicology for Dummies you might say—this is definitely the one.
[David Crystal, Words, Words, Words, published by Oxford University Press on 19 January; ISBN 0198614446; hardback, pp216; publisher’s list price £12.99.]
• Ken Buxton reports, “It’s fire danger time here in Australia and the Country Fire Authority impose all manner of restrictions. Their latest missive includes the following ‘Outdoor caterers may not light a barbecue or spit without permission.’”
• Chuck Crawford found a Web site which described “a temporary rest bite” in the flow of news. A Google search found dozens more cases of the same error.
• An e-mail from somebody identifying himself only as Greg pointed me to an online listing for Blackberry’s restaurant, which described dining “In a causal, family friendly atmosphere that is ascetically pleasing.” He commented, “I wondered about those last two words, but when I took my wife and mother-in-law for lunch on a day the restaurant claimed to be open, I found it closed, and went away hungry. Hence, I suppose, our pleasure was indeed and strictly speaking ascetic.”