NEWSLETTER 630: SATURDAY 14 MARCH 2009
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Oh, Belgium! My silly mistake of the week was geographical. Paul Gretton was the of many first to point it out: “Many Dutch people would be overjoyed if the fine city of Antwerp were in fact in the Netherlands. Unfortunately it’s in Belgium, a very different place. Much better beer, for one thing!” Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw commented, “I was surprised to discover Antwerp has again become part of the Netherlands. Being Dutch myself, I was under the impression that we ‘lost’ the southern part of the Netherlands to Belgium centuries ago and never regained it.”
To compound my error, another Sic! item referred incorrectly to the town of Middlesborough. It’s Middlesbrough. Andrew Haynes wrote, “As a journalist I know that it’s an easy mistake to make. To my knowledge Middlesbrough is the only place of significant size with a name that ends in -brough rather than the more usual -borough or -burgh, though a number of small villages and suburbs have that ending. For some reason, almost all are in Yorkshire.” Confusingly, the Middlesborough near the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky is sometimes spelled that way as an alternative to Middlesboro and my spelling checker marks Middlesbrough as wrong.
Carrot and stick There seems no end to the interesting things to be said about this expression. Jan Freeman devoted her column in the Boston Globe last Sunday to it, quoting me but adding some other early examples.
2. Turns of Phrase: Great Recession
This term for the fine financial mess we’re all in has begun to appear worldwide following a widely reported speech by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on 10 March: “I think that we can now say that we’ve entered a Great Recession.” Note the capital letters.
This follows a period in which writers had been casting around for a suitable term. William Safire recorded several in his On Language column in the New York Times on 9 February, including global economic crisis, credit crunch and market crash and wrote of other possibilities that “Slump is too cheerful and depression too alarmist, especially when capitalized. Economic Armageddon is panic-stricken, though the combination of four-syllable words nicely fills the mouth.” He also noted the rise of Great Recession.
Catherine Rampell wrote about it in the same paper the day after Mr Strauss-Kahn’s speech, illustrating her comments with a chart taken from the Nexis newspaper database. This showed that the term caught on in December 2008, a landmark usage appearing on the US Federal News Service on 5 December: “Some economists are already calling this ‘the Great Recession’ because they fear it may be longer and deeper than any recession in recent history.” An early example was in a prescient article by Jesse Eisinger in Portfolio, dated April 2008: “The next president will take office during what may well come to be known as the Great Recession.”
Ms Rampell notes that the term isn’t new and had been used for the earlier downturns of 1974-75, 1979-82, the early 1990s and 2001. Hundreds of examples are on record that refer to these and other dates. It’s a puzzle why commentators should keep returning to it, though the desire to be reporting on a great catastrophe is innate to every journalist and superlatives sell papers. The difference this time is the stimulus given to it by Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s speech. It is probable — at this stage we can be no more definite — that the current crisis will become the definitive Great Recession and that the next will need some new term.
Just as the “Great Recession” ratchets up unemployment, the Rudd Government is making it less attractive to employ labour.
[The Australian, 12 Mar. 2009]
We may well be in the grip of a “Great Recession” but there was at least one very small piece of good news on the economics front on Tuesday.
[Daily Telegraph, 10 Mar. 2009]
Lacking independence or originality of thought; unthinkingly following another; servile.
The adjective started out simply enough in the seventeenth century to refer to a person who was inclined to follow a leader; almost at once it took on the idea of slavishly or unreasoningly following the ideas of other people. It’s unusual but still around:
I could discern omens of nothing newer than the old fate of the sequacious: to be for ever at the mercy of the exploiting proclivities of the bold and buccaneering in their bullying and greed.
Prelude to Waking, by Miles Franklin, 1950
Other senses you may very occasionally come across are of a thing that follows another with logic and unwavering direction of thought or form, or of musical notes that succeed each other with unvarying regularity (Coleridge described “long sequacious notes” in a poem). I’d guess this is the sense meant in this rare modern example:
When she closed her fingers around it, the shapes flared briefly once more, and she saw that they were indeed runes: inexplicable to her, but sequacious and acute.
Fatal Revenant, by Stephen R Donaldson, 2007.
To call writing non-sequacious is to say that it lacks logic, that it jumps about from one topic to another and that it’s replete with non-sequiturs. That word is appropriate, since both sequacious and sequitur are from the Latin verb sequi, to follow, from which we also get sequel and sequence. The immediate source of sequacious is sequax, following; sequitur is the third-person present tense of sequi, meaning “it follows”, though it so often doesn’t that we mainly use the negative.
4. Recently noted
How short is short? In 2003, I wrote about the use, becoming common even then, of the nano- prefix in the figurative sense of a very small thing. A new member of the group has just surfaced: nano-break. It suddenly appeared in the travel press in Britain in the middle of February for the shortest of short mini-breaks — just one night away from home. The word, you may not be too surprised to hear, was coined by a PR firm reporting on a survey that suggested demand for one-night getaways had risen by 29% compared with the same time last year.
5. Questions & Answers: Give one's eye teeth
[Q] From David Aslin: “Why on earth would I even dream of giving my eye teeth for something? And why are they called eye teeth — they cannot see! This is a significant topic for me, as my father lost his eye teeth at the age of around 40, and I have just completed extensive oral surgery to prevent the same happening to me. So eye teeth are indeed valuable, at least to me!”
[A] Your second question is the easy bit to answer, so I’ll do that first. The pointed long teeth — also called canines because they look a bit like those in dogs — are called eye teeth because the pair in the upper jaw lie immediately below the eyes. Originally, only the upper pair were given the name but later the pair in the lower jaw also came to be called eye teeth.
The first question is less simple. If only you were asking about cut one’s eye teeth or cut one’s teeth, I could respond at once by pointing out that the eye teeth are among the last of a baby’s first set of teeth to appear and so to cut them (have them emerge from the gums) implies that babyhood is effectively over. To say that somebody has cut his eye teeth means he’s wide awake and isn’t easily fooled. If you’re cutting your eye teeth (or just teeth) on something you’re gaining experience in a situation you’re new to.
These suggest that eye teeth are especially valuable, because they figuratively embody hard-learned skills and one’s experience of life. To lose them would cause one to be severely hampered, not merely in eating but in everyday affairs.
Do I look like a fool? Barton’d give his eye-teeth to put the halter round my neck with his own hands.
The Story of Kennett, by Bayard Taylor, 1866.
• Kate Bunting tells us that the blurb on the DVD of the Channel 4 TV drama A Very British Coup says the hero “finds himself caught up in a no-holes barred battle for control of the country”.
• A circular that Daniel Utevsky received from Harrington’s of Vermont, a mail order source of smoked meats, included this offer: “Boneless smoked duck and peasant. These are lean, moist and smoked to perfection.”
• An article in the Orange County Register of California on 12 March about the police pursuit of a suspect surprised Keith Underwood by including the line, “Shelby weaved through traffic as patrol cars and a helicopter pursued her inside a 1995 Saturn.”
• Thanks to Jim Sandrik I now know that on the same day the Chicago Tribune reproduced an item from the Orlando Sentinel that reported on an emergency on the space station: “According to NASA, a piece of a spent satellite motor was within stinking distance of [the] station.”