NEWSLETTER 620: SATURDAY 3 JANUARY 2009
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Round the twist Several subscribers queried this expression, used here by a correspondent two weeks ago. It’s British and Australian, meaning eccentric, mad or crazy. It came into the language some 50 years ago as a variation on round the bend; it’s first recorded in a play by Danny Abse of 1960: “I knew he was barmy. I knew that man was round the twist, sayin’ things like that.”
Sic(k)! The many subscribers who were concerned about the absence of the Sic! section from the past two issues will be reassured by its reappearance in this one. It was just a temporary malaise.
2. Turns of Phrase: Mari-fuel
So far as online records show, this word burst upon the world for the first time on 17 December 2008, in a press release announcing that European Union funding of €6m (£5m or $8.5m) had been won for the BioMara project. This is a cross-border project involving researchers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The aim is to find ways to convert seaweeds and marine algae into fuels. One hope is that it will help rural communities in these countries, who may be able to use fast-growing seaweeds such as kelp to make a locally produced and cheap fuel that won’t take up valuable agricultural land. Mari-fuel is an obvious parallel to the better-known agri-fuel, for fuels derived from agricultural products.
The development of mari-fuels could have a lasting impact on remote and rural communities by providing locally produced, relatively cheap, low impact fuel as well as serving the local public transport infrastructure.
[Daily Telegraph, 18 Dec. 2008]
Motorists may soon be driving cars powered by kelp and algae after scientists in Scotland and Ireland won European funding today for a new research project to create “mari-fuels” — the marine equivalent to plant-based biofuels.
[Guardian, 18 Dec. 2008]
3. Recently noted
Wii knee The story was first reported, so far as I can discover, in the Daily Telegraph on 19 December. One feature of the Nintendo Wii (pronounced “we”) is that it’s possible to play various active games on it using its motion-sensitive remote. Researchers at Leeds Teaching Hospital are said to have invented Wii knee for injuries suffered by people playing games such as Wii Tennis with too much enthusiasm or while out of condition, injuries similar to those caused by playing the real sports emulated on the machine. However, the Telegraph article included references only to injuries to the hand and back, not the knee. But the rhyme in Wii knee is just too good to let facts get in the way. The term is actually a little older — it appeared in an article in CNet Asia in October 2007: “Wii wrist and Wii elbow were soon followed by Wii shoulder, Wii neck, and down to Wii knee and Wii hip. Wii ailment has quickly acquired the notoriety of [the] next national disease in Japan.”
A Christmas mystery Andrea Alam e-mailed from New Jersey, having seen the repeat on Christmas Day of the 1999 version of A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Early in the film, two men come to his office asking for charitable donations:
Visitor: Is this the office of Scrooge and Marley?
Scrooge: It is, sir.
Visitor: May I press your cudiles, Sir?
Ms Alam is understandably puzzled by this word cudiles, which is the spelling that is used in the TV captioning, though I hear it more like caleels. No such word exists in the English language, of that I’m pretty sure. Dickens certainly didn’t write that line into his story. What could have been meant?
Was it a slip of the tongue by Edward Petherbridge, the actor who played the charity collector, which was left uncorrected for some reason? Did Peter Barnes, who wrote the television script, invent it to keep us guessing? (I can’t ask him, unfortunately, as he died in 2004.) A person may certainly press another’s hand, and Edward Petherbridge takes his glove off and proffers his hand to Scrooge as he speaks, but my ingenuity fails in trying to turn cudiles into hand. He could hardly have been asking to press Scrooge’s suit (though it could have done with a trip to the cleaners). My spellchecker offers cuddles and cudgels as replacements, which evoke intriguing images but no sensible solution.
A search online shows that the question has been asked several times with no response. Unless one of the actors can remember (I’ve sent messages to ask but hold out little hope of a reply) this must remain a minor mystery.
Glowing, as if with white heat.
Though only large dictionaries include it and the Oxford English Dictionary says it is obsolete or archaic, candent has retained a toe-hold on usage, largely in SF and fantasy novels whose authors delight in obscure language.
Neal Asher used it in The Voyage of the Sable Keech: “The rock blew apart in a candent explosion, hurling pieces of itself out into space”, as did Robert Asprin in his fantasy anthology Shadows of Sanctuary: “Shards punched through knife holes and widened them to let quicklime spill down in a candent stream”. Clark Ashton Smith wrote it into The Black Abbot of Puthuum: “Noon, with its sun of candent copper in a blackish-blue zenith, found them far amid the rusty sands and iron-toothed ridges of Izdrel”, and Poul Anderson borrowed it for The Long Night: “The stars were scattered about in their myriads, dominantly ruby and ember, some yellow or candent, green or blue.”
It was almost completely replaced by incandescent in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Both are relatives of candour, candid and candidate, the linking thread being the concept of whiteness. The last three are from Latin candidus, white (Roman candidates for public office wore white togas and white was then figuratively the colour of innocence and frankness). Candent is from the verb candere, to be white or to glow, and incandescent derives from the related verb candescere, to become white.
Banned words Lake Superior State University has issued its annual list of words that ought to be banished from the English language because of misuse, over-use and general uselessness. Among those to be figuratively cast out are maverick, green, first dude, carbon footprint, bailout and staycation.
6. Questions & Answers: Capitulate and recapitulate
[Q] From Qi Xiao, China: “Could you shed light on the utter disconnection between the meanings of capitulate and recapitulate?”
[A] It hadn’t struck me before you wrote, but these verbs, the first meaning to surrender, the second to state again the main points of a matter, strangely seem to have no sense in common. Recapitulate certainly doesn’t mean to surrender again. However, as their forms suggest, both derive from the same Latin word, capitulum, a diminutive of caput, head; capitulum meant a chapter or title, in general the heading of a discourse. Both capitulate and recapitulate came into English within a few years of each other — near the end of the sixteenth century — but their paths have diverged greatly.
The early users of capitulate meant by it much what the Romans did by its progenitor — the verb capitulare that was derived from capitulum — to list by chapters or headings, to enumerate or specify. In English capitulate took on the sense of drawing up articles of agreement or proposing terms, specifically to bargain or parlay to end a military conflict. Shakespeare is the first known user, in the first part of Henry IV. The king says, “Percy, Northumberland, / The archbishop’s grace of York, Douglas, Mortimer, / Capitulate against us.” By this the king means that these individuals were parlaying with him. Over the next century, capitulate moved further to suggest concluding an agreement; by the end of the seventeenth century it came to refer in particular to agreeing a surrender, the sense which it still retains.
Recapitulate, on the other hand, has stuck closely to the meaning of its Latin progenitor, actually to a late Latin derivative, the verb recapitulare. This meant to go through a text again, heading by heading. Recapitulate has always had the idea of going over something a second time, usually in a summary or more concise form.
• “In our local market,” notes Bob Bendesky, “I saw an egg box which proudly proclaimed ‘Vegetarian fed hens’. Animal rights groups may be dedicated to their cause, but allowing chickens to eat them is going too far.”
• Noreen Ramsden mentioned a notice she once saw at a farm gate near the Biggin Hill aerodrome: “Do it yourself manure £1 a bag.”
• Muddled metaphor alert. A San Francisco Chronicle story with the dateline 19 December started: “San Francisco office rents dropped 22 percent during the fourth quarter from the previous year, the largest decline in seven years, as the shrinking financial services industry flooded downtown with empty space.” Jim Tang wonders if he’s the only person who has trouble visualising the process.
• A message from Ann Jones in Auckland pointed me to the online New Zealand Herald and an article dated 1 January under the headline “Flat beer market forces innovation”. Lost its head, perhaps?