NEWSLETTER 541: SATURDAY 26 MAY 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
NEET Several readers pointed out that this abbreviation is also known in Japan. Rupert Smith noted, “I think it’s in much greater common currency there than here as I’ve never heard it spoken in England, but I have heard it used on Japanese TV. It’s a more pejorative expression in Japan where a high level of emphasis is placed on being productive: a ‘Shakaijin’, literally ‘member of society’, is someone in stable employment and it’s often used in the same sense as adulthood (the implication being that until you get a full-time job you’re not an adult).” Some readers suggested it might have been created in Japanese since it was known in that country before my quoted date of 2005. I’ve since found it in a British government document of December 2002.
Blag Chris Church followed up last week’s item on this word: “Sorry to add further confusion but in Pennine Yorkshire — and even further afield for all I know — ‘blagging’ meant collecting blackberries. We all thought Regan and Carter [main characters in The Sweeney television series] were getting very overexcited over such an innocuous pursuit.” And Andrew Massey corrected me: “I rather think that the specialist robbery unit of London’s Metropolitan Police is still officially called the Flying Squad, and not the Central Robbery Squad. If I’ve read the Met Police’s Web site correctly, the name was only changed to Central Robbery Squad between 1978 and 1981, and it has since reverted to its original form.”
Bad translations Mr Massey added a comment on another item: “I agree with you that mocking translations from other languages can swiftly pall. But there are occasions when a literal translation, achieved with a dictionary but no knowledge of idiomatic speech, can add real charm to the language. I treasure my copy of an Italian guide book to Mount Etna in Sicily, bought in 1974. We learn that during an eruption of Europe’s biggest volcano, ‘The lava, during the exhaustion phase, loses the bright red colour of fire owing to the attenuation of the alimentation, becomes denser and runs slowly producing a characteristic noise recalling the lament of the pool.’”
2. Turns of Phrase: Ecotherapy
This term appeared very widely in British newspapers last week. Mind (the public name of the National Association for Mental Health), published a report to coincide with its Awareness Week. It argued, with support from academic studies, that outdoor, “green” exercise — conservation work, gardening, or just a walk in the park — helps people’s mental and physical health and “offers a cost-effective and natural addition to existing treatments”.
The idea behind undertaking such activities is not new: a scheme by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, called green gym, focuses on physical health improvements through environmental work.
The term appeared in the USA in the early 1990s as an accompaniment to ecopsychology, contending that action on behalf of the environment could take people out of themselves and lead to emotional health, a similar concept to the earlier ideas of Edward O Wilson encapsulated in the word biophilia. The term became more widely known through Howard Clinebell’s 1996 book Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth.
[Mind] Chief executive Paul Farmer said: ‘It is a credible, clinically valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than antidepressants is extremely limited. We’re not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened.’ If it was prescribed as part of mainstream practice, ecotherapy could potentially help millions, he added.
[Daily Mail, 14 May 2007]
Ecotherapy is gaining ground as a serious way to help people stay healthy. Just walking the dog, stroking the cat or even swimming with dolphins could help you cope with stressed-out modern life, according to researchers at the University of Leicester.
[Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough, 24 Apr. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Twitterpated
This lovely term appeared, in a slightly different form, in the article Sex in Space in Wired magazine on 18 May: “How do you handle love, sex, romance, heart-break, jealousy, hurt, unrequited longing, crushes, loneliness and twitterpation when you’re 18 months away from Earth and perhaps unsure whether you’ll make it back?”
One stimulus for its current popularity is its appearance in the film Bambi II (following on its invention in the original Bambi of 1942, in which Friend Owl says to Bambi, “Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.”) The Oakland Tribune remarked when the film first came out that “‘Twitterpated’ is perhaps the best adjective coined by Hollywood since the pixilated sisters were invented for ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.’”
It also shows signs of becoming accepted, at least in the short term, as a mildly derogatory term for those obsessive communicators who use the online site Twitter to tell their friends every small thing they’re doing with their day.
4. Recently noted
Enter, stage right, slowly Tony Blair’s resignation as Prime Minister and the election of Gordon Brown as his successor have created an unprecedented state of affairs. PMs usually change in a brutally instantaneous hand-over after a general election. But as Blair isn’t leaving until 27 June, and Labour MPs elected Brown unopposed, the new PM has more than a month to wait before formally taking up office. The media have had to find ways to describe his novel position, such as Prime Minister-designate. National Public Radio in the US on Wednesday called Gordon Brown prime minister-in-waiting, which has a delightfully feminine feel about it. But by far the most common term in the British media is one that’s well known in some other countries but hasn’t been used here before: Prime Minister-elect.
Isograms David Crystal’s new book, By Hook or By Crook: A Journey In Search of English, contains a note on isogrammatic place names. An isogram is a word in which each letter appears only once. After a lot of searching, he came across Bricklehampton, a small village in Worcestershire. He writes, “Its 14 letters make it the longest such name in the [English] language. Maybe there’s a place in the middle of Canada or Australia that beats Bricklehampton, but I haven’t yet found it.” Over to you ...
Twittering on Having mentioned Twitter, it may be worth citing a couple of terms that have come into being recently to describe the mini-messages that those who Twitter post on the site (“Heading out soon to do some shopping”; “Driving home excited about relaxing weekend”; “I have a slight headache”). Not all the messages are as banal as these: some are even more so. To call this Twittering is all too apt a name (curmudgeonly mutterings now over). The term for such posts is microblogging and their sum is a microblog.
Cutty Sark Much has been written this week about the fire at the historic ship of this name berthed at Greenwich. It was built to be extremely fast, originally to bring tea from the Far East, and was called a clipper because it moved at a great clip (the verb clip was applied in the seventeenth century to the rapid wing beats of fast-moving birds, as their action resembled those of scissors). The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 at Dumbarton. Its name is Scots: cutty means cut short or curtailed, while sark in Scots and Northern English means a shirt, chemise or shift, so a cutty sark was a short shirt or chemise. The name comes immediately from the garment (“In longitude tho’ sorely scanty”) that was worn by the witch Nannie in the poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. The whisky of that name was created rather later, in 1923.
5. Reviews: The Art of Punctuation / A Dash of Style
This book is published in the UK as The Art of Punctuation but in the US with the title A Dash of Style.
This, as the author is at pains to point out, and as is immediately obvious when you start reading, is not a grammar book. Noah Lukeman wants to get across how to use punctuation effectively as an aid to better writing, rather than to explain the functions of stops; indeed he omits some of them, including the apostrophe, and includes others not usually regarded as punctuation, such as paragraph and section marks.
When discussing the dash, most grammarians find it significant only inasmuch as it should not be confused with a hyphen; often it is relegated to a sign of carelessness. What a shame that is. The dash is a beautiful, striking mark of punctuation, which can enhance creativity and which is crucial for capturing certain forms of dialogue.
As the semicolon is an advanced tool, writers who overuse it are likely to be somewhat advanced, people who take chances with language and strive to make it the best it can be. This bodes well. However, since the semicolon is also a fairly formal, classy tool, writers who overuse it are likely to lean towards pretentiousness. They are more likely to write in flowery, ornate prose, and the writing is likely to be overly intricate. Simplification is needed.
Every part of Mr Lukeman’s argument is illustrated with lavish quotations from good authors and he is easy to read. Anyone who wants to improve their authorial voice will find value in it.
[Noah Lukeman, The Art of Punctuation; ISBN-13 978-0-19-921078-7, ISBN-10 0-19-921078-0; paperback, pp192; Oxford University Press, UK; list price £7.99. Published in the US by WW Norton as A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation; in paperback: ISBN-13: 978-0-393-06087-4, ISBN-10: 0-393-32980-1; publisher’s price $13.95.]
• I was at a meeting on Thursday that included a sandwich lunch. Mine was Italian Chicken, whose other ingredients included Italian pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, freshly-ground black pepper, and free-range mayonnaise. It was sad to think of those cute little mayonnaises, running around unconstrained and happy until it was time for them to join the other ingredients in my sandwich.
• James Wigmore came across a notice in a Vietnamese restaurant in Taunton, Somerset, about eighteen months ago (it has since closed, though presumably for reasons unconnected with the sign): “FOR THE TOILET PLEASE USE THE BACK STAIRS”.