NEWSLETTER 617: SATURDAY 13 DECEMBER 2008
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Not to be sneezed at Following up last week’s comments on the possible musical associations with this expression, Martin Kuskis and James Pickford denied there were musical sneezes in Richard Strauss’s Til Eulenspiegel or in Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije but commented that a famous musical sneeze is at the start of Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János suite. Mr Kuskis noted that Wikipedia quotes Zoltán Kodály: “According to Hungarian superstition, if a statement is followed by a sneeze of one of the hearers, it is regarded as confirmation of its truth.”
This is the wrong way round for it to be the source of the English expression. But it does match a Yiddish superstition that Mordechai Ben-Menachem wrote from Jerusalem to tell us about. It’s encapsulated in the expression sneezed to the truth, which he heard in his childhood in the US. An example is in Children of the Ghetto, by Israel Zangwill:
“Of course!” said Malka in her most acid tone. “My kinder always know better than me.” There was a moment of painful silence. ... Then Ezekiel sneezed. It was a convulsive “atichoo,” and agitated the infant to its most intimate flannel-roll. “For thy Salvation do I hope, O Lord,” murmured Malka, piously, adding triumphantly aloud, “There! the kind has sneezed to the truth of it. I knew I was right.”
It’s an ancient belief, I’ve since discovered; it appears in the Odyssey, in which Penelope laughs with delight because Telemachus has sneezed to what she hopes will be the truth.
Though it’s interesting in its own right, I’m unsure of the extent to which this helps with the origin of not to be sneezed at.
Well, I’m ... “I don’t know if this can be considered aposiopesis,” writes Wilson Fowlie, “as it wasn’t used as a rhetorical device as such, but my favourite example of the phenomenon occurred when a co-worker got lost mid-thought, then got distracted in the middle of saying so. The result was ‘I just lost my train of...’.”
A stew or thick soup.
This is traditionally a dish associated with the American frontier. At one time burgoo was a meal of wild game, such as turkey, quail, venison, squirrel, rabbit, opossum, or raccoon, that was slow-cooked outdoors in iron pots; chicken, vegetables, and pork were among the ingredients that came along later. It’s linked especially to Kentucky, where it has traditionally been served during the Kentucky Derby, though the Kentucky Post lamented in 2003 that “Burgoo’s heyday is gone”.
This description of its making by John Hill Aughey in his 1905 book, Tupelo, confirms the similarity to an Irish stew:
Burgoo has a basis, as the chemist says. The basis on this occasion consists of 150 chickens and 225 pounds of beef in joints, and other forms best suited for soup. To this has been added a bushel or two of tomatoes. The heap of shaven roasting ears tells of another accessory before the fact. Cabbage and potatoes and probably other things in small quantities, but too numerous to mention, have gone into the pots... Gradually vegetables lose all distinctive form and appearance and the compound is reduced to a homogeneous liquid, about the consistency of molasses. “Burgoo ought to boil about 14 hours,” says the old expert, “we’ve only had about 8 for this, but I think they’ll be able to eat it.”
It was a sailor’s dish to start with, a very different kind of food. It was a type of porridge, perhaps seasoned with salt, butter and sugar. That makes sense, since its name comes via Turkish bulgur from a Persian word for wheat that has been cooked, dried, and crushed. When C S Forester wrote in his naval story The Happy Return about the version served up to Captain Horatio Hornblower — “The burgoo was a savoury mess of unspeakable appearance compounded of mashed biscuit crumbs and minced salt beef” — he was describing a recipe unknown to historians of maritime cuisine, though he may have had in mind a variation on the North American sense of the word.
3. Vote for World Wide Words
Spare a moment from seasonal preparations. Your continuing help is required. World Wide Words is dropping back in the contest for the 2008–09 Choice Awards, the contest organised by L-Soft, creators of the LISTSERV mailing list software on which the World Wide Words newsletter is distributed. Do vote and keep on voting (you’re allowed to vote once a day). You might put the L-Soft voting page address in your browser’s bookmarks to remind you.
4. Recently noted
Mega Monday Americans have long had Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, traditionally shoppers’ big day for getting in their Christmas gifts. Cyber Monday appeared in 2006 for the Monday after Black Friday, which was claimed to be the biggest online shopping day of the year. Last week, British newspapers widely employed another term, Mega Monday, for the day on which we’re all supposed to go mad on the Internet. However, it was linked instead to the first Monday in December. Mega Monday actually appeared last year, though my linguistic radar failed to pick it up. One report after the event said that Monday had been big online but that next Monday would be bigger. Megaplus Monday?
German WOTY The publishers of Langenscheidt dictionaries announced their young person’s word of the year (Jugendwort 2008). They chose the word Gammelfleischparty. It’s unflattering youth slang for a gathering of people aged over 30. The word may be translated as “spoiled meat party”. Gammelfleisch has been in the news this year because of a scandal involving meat packers who were supplying kebab restaurants with products past their sell-by date. The runner up was Bildschirmbräune, meaning “screen suntan”, for the notoriously pasty faces of computer geeks. The words were chosen through a poll of young people on a German Web site.
5. Questions & Answers: Cupertino
[Q] From M Nease: “In last week’s issue of your newsletter, you gave a link to an article by Arnold Zwicky at Language Log. He wrote that “there’s a remote possibility that some of the hits for aborigine on its own are Cupertinos.” What is a Cupertino — and why?”
[A] I had a feeling that this might come up. This answer is based in part on Benjamin Zimmer’s discussion of the topic, also in Language Log.
An automated spelling checker attached to a word-processing program is one of the curses of our times. In the hands of an inexperienced, over-hasty or ignorant user it readily perpetrates dreadful errors in the name of correctness. One example appeared in a piece in the New York Times in October 2005 about Stephen Colbert’s neologism truthiness: throughout it instead referred to trustiness, the first suggestion from the paper’s automated checking software. In September 2006 an issue of the Arlington Advocate included the sentence, “Police denitrified the youths and seized the paintball guns.” The writer left the first letter off identified and the spelling checker corrected what remained.
In 2000 the second issue of Language Matters, a magazine by the European Commission’s English-language translators, included an article by Elizabeth Muller on the problem with the title Cupertino and After.
Cupertino, the city in California, is best known for hosting the headquarters of Apple Computers. But the term doesn’t come from the firm. The real source is spelling checkers that helpfully include the names of places as well as lists of words. In a notorious case documented by Ms Muller, European writers who omitted the hyphen from co-operation (the standard form in British English) found that their automated checkers were turning it into Cupertino. Being way behind the computing curve, I’m writing this text using Microsoft Word 97, which seems to be the offending software (more recent editions have corrected the error); in that, if you set the language to British English, cooperation does get automatically changed to Cupertino, the first spelling suggestion in the list. For reasons known only to God and to Word’s programmers, the obvious co-operation comes second.
Hence Cupertino effect for the phenomenon and Cupertino for a word or phrase that has been involuntarily transmogrified through ill-programmed computer software unmediated by common sense or timely proofreading.
A search through the Web pages of international organisations such as the UN and NATO (and, of course, the EU) finds lots of examples of the canonical error. A 1999 NATO report mentions the “Organization for Security and Cupertino in Europe”; an EU paper of 2003 talks of “the scope for Cupertino and joint development of programmes”; a UN report dated January 2005 argues for “improving the efficiency of international Cupertino”. And so on.
Other notorious examples of the Cupertino effect include an article in the Denver Post that turned the Harry Potter villain Voldemort into Voltmeter, one in the New York Times that gave the first name of American footballer DeMeco Ryans as Demerol, and a Reuters story which changed the name of the Muttahida Quami movement of Pakistan into the Muttonhead Quail movement.
It could be worse. Leave out one of the os from the beginning of co-operation as well as the hyphen and you might be offered not Cupertino but copulation. Now that would be an error to write home about. Or perhaps not.
Snowclone is the new Cupertino To continue the theme of humorous terminology linked with contributors to Language Log, how about snowclone? My lead-in is a strained example of the snowclone “X is the new Y”, of which there are lots of examples, such as “pink is the new black”. Mark Peters has written a useful introduction to the term in his article May I Compare Thee to a Snowclone?
OED updates Revisions to the online Oxford English Dictionary went online on 11 December; a quarter of the third edition has now been published. See comments on the new and revised entries, in the range from ran (a regional term for a particular width of net or twine) to reamy (creamy, frothy) from John Simpson the OED’s Chief Editor, and Graeme Diamond, the Principal Editor, New Words.
Dictionary furore There’s been a big fuss in the UK this week over the decision by Oxford University Press to leave out numerous words connected with religion, British history and UK wildlife from its children’s dictionary, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and replace them with words such as broadband and blog. Go here for the story as seen by the Daily Telegraph and a list of the words that are out and in.
Sesquiotica This neologistic formation forms the title of a daily blog on words by James Harbeck, a Canadian editor and writer, who explains that “Sesquiotica is things sesquiotic. Sesquiotics is three times as good as semiotics. Lend me an ear and a half!”
World Wide Words updates I’ve updated or expanded several pieces on the World Wide Words Web site this week: Goody two shoes, MacGuffin, Horse latitudes, and Octothorpe. The first two have been substantially rewritten.
• Colm Osiris discovered a report on the BBC news site about a labour dispute among bus drivers and depot staff in Aberdeen, Scotland, which is disrupting Christmas shopping. Its headline is “Festive bus strike gets under way”.
• Toronto’s Globe & Mail, like many other newspapers, has a regular “from the archives” feature. James Spence found this in the 50 Years Ago section of last Monday’s column: “Prince Philip was a member of a shooting party which bagged 450 peasants in the hills around Highclere Castle, Berkshire.” James Spence speculates this “might explain the ambiguous feelings many Britons are reported to have towards HRH”.
• In the Snapshots section of the online Sydney Morning Herald on 10 December, under a picture of people who have chained themselves together, Andre Roy found this caption: “Greenpeace activists stand chained together in protest outside Japan’s embassy to demand the country halt whale hunting in Mexico City.” We didn’t know they had whales in Mexico City.