NEWSLETTER 631: SATURDAY 21 MARCH 2009
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Timeouts Apologies to any subscriber who tried to visit the Web site last Saturday morning, UK time. The server went down and it took some hours to get it working again. My learning of this came hard upon my discovery that the e-mail edition had gone out an hour early. The server that despatches it is in the US; I forgot that US daylight saving time starts three weeks earlier than ours here in the UK. It’s hardly an epoch-making error but I hope to have got it right this week.
Till it hurts Mark Worden made the point, in reference to my piece in the last issue, that there is a welter of idiomatic expressions indicating the vastness of a person’s desire for a particular thing or outcome. People have in rhetorical outpourings offered their hair, their last penny, their shirts, their right arms, their firstborn, their last drop of heart’s blood, even their lives and immortal souls. Mr Worden says he grew up in Idaho with I’d give my left nut ....
The beginning of a sentence, line, or clause with the concluding word of the one preceding.
This is yet another term from that repository of extraordinary expressions, the field of rhetoric. An example will make the idea clearer and to give it I call upon that fortune-cookie philosopher, Yoda from Star Wars: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Understanding you are? A more sanctified appearance of the form is at the very beginning of Genesis, in the King James Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void.”
Anadiplosis derives from Greek diplous, double, from which also come diploid, diploma and diplomat (the last two from the idea of a doubled or folded paper, hence an official document). The prefix ana- is also Greek, meaning back or anew.
Do not confuse this figure of speech with epanadiplosis, in which a sentence begins and ends with the same word. A famous example is in a speech by Malcolm X: “You bleed when the white man says bleed. You bite when the white man says bite, and you bark when the white man says bark.” The extra prefix in epanadiplosis derives from the Greek preposition epi that means “upon, in addition”.
Likewise, don’t muddle anadiplosis with the better-known anaphora, in which successive clauses or sentences begin with the same word or words:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Ait is another way to spell eyot, island.
Another rhetorical term for a similar trick is antistrophe (which is also known as epiphora or epistrophe — there’s disagreement over terms), which refers to repeating a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences (“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”). Both antistrophe and epistrophe derive from Greek strephein, to turn.
3. Recently noted
Procyclicality Laurie Malone encountered this word in a recent issue of the Weekend Australian. It’s another current buzzword in the financial community and refers to forces that tend to magnify fluctuations in an economic cycle. As a particularly pertinent example, credit is easier to obtain during an upswing, which tends to overheat the economy, but harder to get in the downturning part of a cycle, dampening the economy when it needs stimulating. Physicists and mathematicians will recognise it as a classic positive feedback loop, which makes systems unstable. The adjective pro-cyclical is recorded from the early 1950s but the abstract noun appears only in the late 1980s. It’s currently more popular than it has ever been in its short life.
Copper-fastened Val Bellamy asked about this term, which appeared in an article in the online publication Spiked: “In many ways, the Diana phenomenon merely copper-fastened political and social trends that had been apparent for a decade before she died.” I hadn’t come across it in a figurative sense. For me, a thing that is copper-fastened is literally attached with copper, in particular the copper sheathing on the hull of a wooden-hulled sailing ship that prevented attacks by teredos (nasty molluscs, once incorrectly called shipworms, that bored into ships’ timbers, causing great damage); copper nails or bolts had to be used to secure it to hulls to prevent corrosion. The figurative expression, which presumably arose out of this concept, is poorly recorded. However, it’s in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which says it means “to reach a clear and firm understanding or agreement without loop-holes or ambiguity”. Around the middle 1990s, the term starts to appear in newspapers in Ireland in this figurative sense, though I’d guess it was far from new. The first example I can find was in the Irish Voice of Dublin in December 1995 about Bill Clinton: “His visit had copper-fastened the twin-track initiative launched on the eve of his arrival by John Bruton and John Major.” It appears most often these days in a political or sporting context and is still to be found mainly in Irish sources, north and south. Though it does from time to time turn up in newspapers in the rest of the British Isles, it’s almost always in connection with items about Irish affairs that we may presume are by Irish writers.
4. Questions & Answers: Jeep
[Q] From Patrick Neylan: “I was just about to chide someone for believing Jeep to be an acronym of ‘Just Enough Essential Parts’ and was about to point out, with just a trace of smug superiority, that Jeep is, of course, a corruption of the initials GP, short for General Purpose (Vehicle). Then I thought, ‘Hang on, how do I know that?’ It seems there’s a lot of dispute, with some very credible arguments against General Purpose. You don’t seem to have tackled this one. Might I suggest an investigation?”
[A] You’re right to be cautious. An etymologist who has recently investigated the matter concludes:
The word was coined in the full light of history, we have eyewitness reports (conflicting as such reports always are) of the car’s production, and we still have doubts about the origin of its name.
An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, by Anatoly Liberman, 2008. Puzzled enquiries about the origin of the name, for example, began to appear in various publications as early as May 1944.
Professor Liberman devotes several thousand words to his discussion of the various theories but comes to no very clear conclusion. With that facing me, perhaps the best thing to do would be to walk away. But it’s worth giving at least the bare bones of the controversy.
Dictionaries do commonly say that it’s from the initials GP, general purpose. This origin is disputed because only one maker, Ford, used those initials and they only meant something within its factory (G for government contract and P as a code for a vehicle with an eighty-inch wheelbase). GP never meant general purpose, which would have been a misnomer because the vehicle was designed for a specific role. A more fanciful origin is that it’s a reduced form of jeepers creepers (a euphemism for Jesus Christ), supposedly uttered by Major General George Lynch when he took his first ride in a prototype vehicle in 1939. Others point to the army slang sense of jeep for a recruit or something insignificant or unproven; however, the jeep was anything but that, with everyone marvelling at its abilities.
This leads me to an origin that’s now widely accepted as a major influence, if not the sole origin — Elzie Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theater. It’s best known for Popeye the Sailor and Olive Oyl. In March 1936 a new character arrived to great ballyhoo (adverts were placed in the newspapers that took the strip to announce his impending arrival: “You’ll laugh! You’ll howl! Everyday! Watch for Popeye and the Jeep”.) This was Eugene the Jeep, a rodent-like character the size of a small dog whose only word was jeep! (most likely a variation on cheep), who lived on orchids and had supernatural powers that let it tell the future (and disappear into the fourth dimension at need). Eugene the Jeep soon became widely known, with many references to him appearing in newspapers throughout the US.
• We’ve all heard of minis, but this is ridiculous. Nick Hewish found an item in the issue of the Saffron Walden Reporter for 12 March: “A sports car worth nearly £13,000 was stolen from a changing-room locker at Lord Butler Leisure Centre.” It transpired later in the item that only the keys to the car were in the locker.
• A local restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, reports Sharon Girard, advertises “3 coarse meals for $16.00”.
• Notices on the stalls in the busy Saturday market in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, often amuse Rita Day. Last week she came across the delightfully Harry Potterish “insulting tape”.
• Vicki Vaughn was unimpressed by the descriptions of the Timeless Treasures for sale on the My Garden Gifts site, including this one: “For those who love the aura of the tropics and the lush greenland, here’s a impressionable wall planter for the home or garden.” Wall planter: $235.00. Bad English: priceless.