E-MAGAZINE 684: SATURDAY 3 APRIL 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Guddling As well as the sense I wrote about, another is known to Scots. This message came from Jodie Robson: “It’s nice to see one of my favourite words, guddling, in World Wide Words this week — my friend Anne and I spent many happy hours as children guddling for the tiny flat fish that can be found in the saltings on the west coast of Scotland. But I was surprised you didn’t mention the other use of it, as something messy — as well as guddling for the fish, Anne and I spent a good deal of time simply guddling about on the saltings, doing nothing very much but usually getting wet and muddy in the process. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but as I type this, my desk is in a right guddle.”
Updates In April 2008, I wrote a snippet about an exotic name for an unusual punctuation mark, seemingly spelled comash. A piece by Frances Peck in the Canadian Language Update this month has given me the information necessary to write more about it. At the same time, I’ve updated the page about another odd punctuation mark, the interrobang.
Feeling chuffed! The message looked like spam, but it checked out. It began, “The United States Library of Congress has selected your Web site for inclusion in its historic collections of Internet materials.” I wasn’t sure whether I should I be flattered or should simply admire the breadth and inclusiveness of the Library’s selection criteria. I’ve since been told that the former is the appropriate emotion.
2. Turns of Phrase: Malvertising
Malvertising is formed from malicious plus advertising. It’s an online scam in which reputable sites are tricked into distributing bogus advertisements that link to malicious code. It has become a significant issue within the past year, with many well-known sites suffering from the problem, and it’s expected to get worse.
Malvertising is one type of what’s generically called malware (“malicious software”), which can be installed on your computer in a variety of ways. It used to arrive most often in e-mail attachments, but most users have got wise and protect themselves against it. It now infiltrates in other ways — disguised as a legitimate download or served up from a contaminated site.
Publishers have told us that malvertising is one of the biggest threats to their business, and antiquated ad infrastructure technology is largely at fault.
Business Wire, 12 Jan. 2010.
The latest threat for internet users is malvertising, the use of ad networks for distributing malicious software.
Cape Times (South Africa), 16 March 2010.
3. Weird Words: Pace egg play
Easter is the time for many traditional and modern activities in England, such as the nutters’ dance in Bacup, cheese-rolling in Stilton, the World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, bottle kicking in Hallaton, and pace egg plays in various northern towns.
The last of these is an Easter mummers entertainment or folk play, related to the tale of St George and the Dragon. It was at one time common in northern England, particularly in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Lots of local variations are known, but in the Heptonstall version in Calderdale it depicts the battle between St George and the Bold Slasher, the Saracen knight. St George is at first killed, but is then brought back to life by a mysterious character, the Doctor, and defeats his enemy. Other characters include the King of Egypt and the comic Tosspot. In some versions, Tosspot is replaced by the Fool; extra characters also appear, such as Lord Nelson, Beelzebub and Dobbin the horse. Traditionally, the mummers were working men (very rarely women), for whom it was a way to earn money from audience contributions.
The etymological connection of pace egg play with Easter is that the first word is a variation on the ancient Pasch, or Paschal, both of which are from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Pasch egg, pace egg and paste egg were all names given at various times to Easter eggs, usually specially decorated. An etymological curiosity is that pace egg play is a relatively recent term, presumably created by folklorists, not recorded before it appeared here:
In connection with Pace-egging there is the Pace-egg or Easter play, which resembles in its main features the Christmas mumming play.
Old English Customs, by P H Ditchfield, 1896.
Before then, the play seems not to have been separately named, but was subsumed within other pace-egging activities, such as another form of mumming in which performers, pace-eggers, paraded singing through the streets to collect funds. A century ago the play was still very popular in some towns:
There are no signs of the decline of pace egging as a seasonal custom. On the contrary this Easter there have been more bands of actors than for years past. The play is rather a mystery to many people, who can hardly credit that in essentials it goes back to pagan times in England.
Rochdale Observer, 14 April 1909.
It died out in the following decades, largely as a result of social changes provoked by the First World War. Today’s enactments, for example in Calderdale and Cumbria, are reintroductions of the past half century.
4. This week
Nume na’vi dictionary now exists online.
He’s behind you! A term that has become well established in its own territory but is unfamiliar outside it is photobomb. In its original sense, a photobomb is a photo in which something odd or embarrassing is happening in the background that the photographer didn’t notice. The earliest examples of the term I can find date from 2007. It has since broadened its sense to refer to what one site calls “the fine art of spoiling a photograph by jumping in on the action,” for example by pulling faces or mooning at the camera. There’s even the reverse photobomb, in which a photo, ostensibly of something else, is framed to include an oddity as a way of recording it without seeming to focus on it.
Surveying nature In this International Year of Biodiversity 14 events have been organised across the UK to find, identify and record species. A report on one of them introduced me to the odd-looking
The logo of the Bristol BioBlitz
5. Questions and Answers: Souped-up
[Q] From Peter Coatman, Melbourne, Australia: I was reading an article the other day where the writer referred to something as having been souped up, and it struck me for the first time that this is a curious phrase. I’m not sure if it’s common in the UK or the US, but in Australia it’s used to refer to something that’s been strengthened or added to, or made more impressive in some way. I’m not sure whether it should be spelt suped up. Do you know its origins?
[A] Souped-up is known both in the UK and the US and was actually created in the latter country. It’s one of the longer-lived slang terms, still widely used.
In its first sense, in the 1920s, souped-up specifically meant to modify a motor vehicle to increase its power and efficiency. The earliest example I can find is this:
Speedster, classy, souped up ... $125.
A newspaper advertisement by a Ford dealer in the Oakland Tribune of California, 21 Sep. 1924.
Souped-up must at root derive from super, as in supercharger. This term for a device to increase the pressure of the fuel-air mixture in an engine to improve its
However, there’s almost certainly a connection with the foodstuff, which would account for the shift in spelling. Soup has at times been a slang term applied to several murky liquids. If you’re a fan of American detective stories, you may know soup as a term for the nitroglycerine that was commonly employed in safe-cracking, a slang term widely used in newspaper reports of criminal activity from about 1911 onwards (it was called soup because it was extracted from dynamite by immersing the sticks in boiling water). As another application, it was recorded in Webster’s Dictionary in 1911 that soup was “any material injected into a horse with a view to changing its speed or temperament”.
It seems that supercharger combined with the racing and criminal senses of soup to make souped-up.
• “Looking in the window of a children’s clothes shop in Ripley, Derbyshire,” writes Marj Jawo, “I admired some pretty baby clothes but was surprised to see a little bonnet labelled as a Hell Mitt.” And half a world away, in Ashfield NSW, David Marshall-Martin found a similar shop advertising “Holly Communion Outfits.”
• “I picked up one of my hubby’s magazines, issue 43 of Kiteworld.” Nina Brevik says. “I opened it randomly to page 98 and found the following: ‘Davey Blair is a bit different. For starters, he’s the only rider ... who sends me pictures of the mousse he hunts with his dad for dinner.’ I agree. That is different.”
• Phil Clutts found a sentence in Monday’s Charlotte Observer that he had to read twice: “A man who authorities say is a prison escapee claims he is a Virginia man who died 27 years ago.”
• A conundrum for copyeditors from Eoin C Bairéad: “A local-history society here in Dublin just had a lecture on ‘the many Irishmen who fought on both sides in the Boer War’. How could you phrase that better without getting over-verbose?”
• “As we approach Tax Day over here,”, wrote Jim Tang from Hawaii, “certain core truths still apply, one of which is that lawyers must never speak in absolutes.” He was referring to a quote from a tax attorney in a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle on 29 March: “People who work for the IRS in most cases are human.”
7. Copyright and contact details
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