NEWSLETTER 486: SATURDAY 6 MAY 2006
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Quillon Subscribers begged me to tell them how to say this word. The OED has the French-style pronunciation , roughly “kee-yon”, but with the final vowel nasalised as in French bon. Scott Baltic, who is involved with the Chicago Swordplay Guild, says that this predominates even in the USA, though some have Anglicised it to (“quill-on”). He disagrees over one point: the quillons weren’t (and aren’t) usually cast as one piece with the hilt, but are pushed into the correct position and then hammered into place.
2. Turns of Phrase: Eco-driving
It’s really just an up-market term for fuel economy—learning to drive your vehicle in a way that minimises your fuel consumption. Among the tips are: don’t carry unnecessary loads, speed up and brake smoothly, engage the appropriate gear for your road speed, don’t leave the engine idling unnecessarily, use the engine to brake when you can, and drive at the most fuel-efficient speeds. Campaigners argue that techniques such as these can reduce fuel costs by up to a third.
The term has been around for some years. Early examples refer to Japanese schemes to encourage “environmentally efficient driving” to reduce emissions as much as to economise on fuel. It has had a fair amount of exposure in British newspapers recently as a result of European initiatives, in particular a campaign by the Dutch to reduce fuel consumption, cut emissions and improve safety through teaching eco-motoring measures to learner drivers and by including them in the theory element of the driving test. The UK Driving Standards Agency introduced an eco-safe test for new instructors in October 2005 and the skills are to be part of the theory test from 2008.
Greater encouragement and incentives for the development and take-up of technological solutions such as hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles are required and these financial incentives should be linked to an education and communication programme to encourage eco-driving.
[Independent, 4 Apr. 2006]
New for 2006 are a 30-minute documentary on Driving Skills for Life, to be broadcast this spring on public television stations, including PBS, and enhanced curriculum on the web site, notably the importance of eco-driving to personal safety and the environment.
[US Newswire, 16 Mar. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Linhay
A lean-to shed with an open front.
This is mainly an English West Country word, from the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. However, it has also been recorded in Northern Ireland and Northumberland, which suggests it derives from an ancient English word once more widely distributed. The Oxford English Dictionary tentatively suggests the Old English hlinian, to lean. Emigrants took it with them to North America, though it now survives, I am told, only in Newfoundland dialect.
It has largely been the preserve of writers about the West Country, such as R D Blackmore, in whose Lorna Doone, set on Exmoor, the word may be found a number of times: “That faithful creature, whom I began to admire as if she were my own (which is no little thing for a man to say of another man’s horse), stopped in front of a low black shed, such as we call a ‘linhay.’” Thomas Hardy used it many times in his books set in the fictional Wessex, in reality Dorset. This is in The Return of the Native: “To dissipate in some trifling measure her abiding sense of the murkiness of human life she went to the ‘linhay’ or lean-to-shed, which formed the root-store of their dwelling and abutted on the fuel-house.”
Other writers with West Country connections who used it include Eden Phillpotts, John Galsworthy and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Like Blackmore and Hardy, most felt the need to explain this dialect word. These days it seems to crop up most often in the names of self-catering cottages converted from old barns.
An older spelling is linny or linney, which more accurately reflects the way it is said.
3. Recently noted
Pass-thought Passwords are so last-century. They’re nothing like as secure as businesses would like—all too easily acquired or cracked by various means. Replacement schemes using something personal to the user are becoming more popular, such as retina scans, fingerprints or facial identification, in general called biometric security devices. Researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada are looking into an even more personal biometric that will use a person’s thoughts to authenticate their identity—a pass-thought. It might be a snatch of song, the memory of your last birthday or even the image of your favourite painting. But thinking beautiful thoughts while logging on to your bank account might prove difficult. [Thanks to Don Monson for pointing me to this term.]
Lollipop rage In the past few years, we’ve had almost every kind of annoyance at the frustrations of everyday life elevated to a type of rage. My files include air rage, bar rage, computer rage, desk rage, golf rage, noise rage, office rage, pavement rage, PC rage, phone rage, rail rage, school rage, and trolley rage—and that’s far from the full list. All are based on the granddaddy term road rage. This new one refers to those essential guardians who are formally known in Britain as school crossing patrols but who are usually called lollipop ladies or men, or unisexually lollipop wardens. Their job is to ensure that children get safely across the street on their way to and from school. They get their name from the circular yellow and red warning signs on a pole that they flourish to stop the traffic. Or not stop it, which is the reason for the term—motorists in cities are increasingly reluctant to obey the wardens, shouting abuse and in a few cases actually running them down.
Fambition Another survey, another headline-grabbing invented word. This one is family + ambition. The MORE TH>N business foresight index (that’s the official way of writing the firm’s name, trust me) has come to the not-altogether-original conclusion that today’s small businesspeople prefer to balance work, home life and quality of life rather than address themselves solely to making a pot of money and then retiring early. One reason may be that the average age of the population in the UK is increasing; older owners are more focused on home life.
Microsoftologist This ungainly term, the equivalent for Microsoft of the old-time Kremlinologist, appeared in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday, though a Google search shows others have had the same idea previously.
5. Questions & Answers: Shirttail relative
[Q] From Charles F Weishar: “I attempted to find the source of shirttail relative and similar expressions in Hendrickson’s encyclopedia and your site but have found nothing. I hear the phrase used to describe a person who is close but not actually related by blood.”
[A] That’s roughly the meaning given in the dictionaries. It’s usually said to refer to somebody who is a relative by marriage or is only distantly related, such as a fourth cousin, or is a family friend with honorary status as a relative. It’s fairly common in the USA and has been since the 1950s or thereabouts.
Getting to the bottom of it, so to speak, may be a task beyond my abilities from this side of the Atlantic Ocean. One dictionary of American slang suggests it was originally southern and mid-western US dialect. The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has examples from 1927 onwards, such as shirt-tail kin and shirt tail cousin, as well as your form, and also lists buttonhole cousin, shoestring relation, woodpile relative, and similar phrases as having essentially the same sense.
Several of these sound dismissive, with a suggestion of poverty and rural, even backwoods, character. Early DARE examples suggest that they were indeed often derogatory. One from 1945 says, “Sometimes with the implication that these are not the relatives of which one is proudest”. Shirt-tail here seems in particular to be linked with poverty. There are examples much earlier of shirt-tail boy, for a young person. A 1922 book about the Appalachians remarks, “It still is common in many districts of the mountain country for small boys to go about through the summer in a single abbreviated garment and that they are called ‘shirt-tail boys’.”
Perhaps US subscribers could fill in the cultural background?
• “I saw this today on wnbc.com,” Philip Franklin reports. “‘Bird Flu Strain Not Dangerous To People Found In N.J. Market’. I know where I’ll be doing my shopping from now on.”
• Stephen Levitas recently received an advertisement in the US mail from a life insurance company which had the following qualification in the small print: “All benefits are not available in all states.” “Unless I am missing something,” he argues, “there would then be no point in purchasing the insurance.”
• Dee Bowman, who lives in Texas, thought we might enjoy a sign she saw in a small grocery store recently. It said, “Chili con carne, with meat, $1.49.” Chili con carne, without meat: priceless.
This street sign was already in place near our home when we moved in 22 years ago. It would have been good to have proof read it before installing it!