E-MAGAZINE 675: SATURDAY 30 JANUARY 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Nauts I missed one term for spacefarers. Marc Naimark e-mailed from Paris to tell me that there’s also spationaut. This is the official term of the European Space Agency and is a slight modification of French spationaute (from espace, French for “space”). The term goes back at least as far as the flight of Jean-Loup Chrétien on the Russian Salyut 7 in 1982.
So ... as Mark Lee queried my use of this form last week: “Every profession has its jargon, but especially one so influenced by government bureaucracy as is British teaching.” He commented, “I’ve been taught so can substitute for as in negatives, but the context is clearly positive. Shouldn’t it be ‘... as influenced by government bureaucracy as is British teaching.’”? That’s an interesting point. I wasn’t aware of that rule for the so ... as construction (clearly my teachers were far too permissive in their views). My references say it evolved, like so many rules, from the writings of eighteenth and nineteenth century grammarians. However, in the past century, opinion has relaxed and so ... as can now be used in positive contexts without being criticised, although its use has greatly declined overall. One work, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, sarcastically calls the so ... as negative rule “one of Miss Thistlebottom’s hobgoblins”. The same source comments that the so form has survived particularly in cases when it is used for emphasis, as it was in my example.
Lifelong native Several readers objected to the mild mockery of this phrase in the Sic! column in the last issue. For them, it has a specific meaning — of a person who was born in a place and has always lived there, as opposed to one who was born in a place, but for a period has lived somewhere else. Sharla Hardy put it like this: “I was born in California and live there, but I spent seven years living in Ohio and a couple in Michigan. So I may be a native, but I’m not a lifelong native.”
Reboot Several readers suggested the origin of reboot for the sense of recreating a franchise lay not in Hollywood but in comics. They also argued that a reboot is not the same thing as a remake. Anton Sherwood explained, “With a reboot, the originator of a franchise discards much of the burden of the pre-existing canon. I gather that this usage originated in comics, particularly applied (in retrospect) to DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths of 1985, which was followed by a new origin story for Superman. Since then, there never was such a thing as Red Kryptonite, for example.”
With this word, you may be at one with Google — whenever I searched, Google asked if I meant adjust. No, adust is a distinct word, with no link to adjust. Nor is it linked to dust, though one sense is relevant — it can mean “scorched or burnt”. At one time it could also mean “gloomy or melancholic”. These two very different senses suggests there’s a story to be told.
The four humours, 1574, by Leonhart Thurn-Heisser, a writer on exorcism
For the other meaning, we have to turn to the medieval medical idea of the four humours of the body — blood, phlegm, choler and black bile. If the humours were kept in reasonable balance the body ran smoothly, but if they became seriously disordered, illness resulted. Excess heat in the body, or heated emotions such as rage, caused combustion of the humours. This led to the body becoming hot and dry, accompanied by thirst and by a black or burnt colour of the blood. Though any of the humours could be affected, combustion of black bile in particular led to melancholy adust (adjective placed after the noun), in which depression alternated with fits of rage.
The link between adust and melancholy led to adust taking on its other sense of gloomy or depressed, though that died out during the nineteenth century. This is among its last appearances:
His complexion was of the kind which used to be called adust — burnt up with inner fires; his visage was long and somewhat harshly designed, very apt, it would seem, to the expression of bitter ironies or stern resentments.
The Emancipated, by George Gissing, 1890.
3. What I've learned this week
Tunities Two weeks ago, I mentioned crisitunity. A relative came to light this week: tragitunity (tragedy + opportunity). It was used in a feature article about Scientologists who have travelled to Haiti to offer survivors their unique approach to spiritual first aid.
Greener grass The term sector envy appeared in the Guardian last Saturday. The article claimed that it was invented by IFF Research, which recently carried out a study of workers in the private and public sectors in the UK which found that public-sector employment is seen as more attractive. The expression isn’t new. My earliest sighting is in Public Administration Review for March/April 1996, which claimed that sector envy went the other way, putting “private-sector organizations on a pedestal.”
Enough! we cry That 1996 article also included administrationist, a mouth-filling minor horror that even then was a couple of decades old. It’s a nice example of unnecessary word-length inflation. On a whim I searched around and also found administrationalism and its agent noun administrationalist. Can antidisadministrationmentism be far behind?
A few bob short of a pound Thanks to Ernie Freeman, I heard of a minor linguistic spat over a TV advertisement by McDonalds in the UK. It promotes the Pound Saver Menu and begins, “the pound, also known as one bob”. It isn’t. A bob, in “old
The two opening frames of the TV ad
4. Questions and Answers: Southpaw
[Q] From Lance Schulz: I just recently discovered your site, and love it! Here’s one I’ve always wondered about — why are left-handed baseball pitchers referred to as southpaws? And, why aren’t right handed pitchers called northpaws?
[A] As it happens, northpaw turns up often enough that it has been recognised in at least one slang dictionary and has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. As you’d guess, it’s usually intended as a joke, but not always signalled as such:
In fact, the Fishers are missing left-handers entirely, as all 13 pitchers who began the year with the club are northpaws.
Concord Monitor, New Hampshire, 10 Apr. 2005.
I may not be the very best person to answer the first part of your question, as I am uninterested in any sport that runs the risk of raising a sweat, even vicariously. And as I come from a country in which baseball is almost never played, my knowledge of the game could be written in felt-tipped pen on the back of a torn postage stamp. But as this is a language question, not a sporting one, perhaps I may be allowed to discuss the matter.
The usual story about southpaw is set out in a standard work on the game:
The oft-repeated etymology of the term is that it derives from the “fact” that ballparks were laid out with home plate to the west, which meant that a left-handed pitcher faced the west and threw with his “southern” limb. This westward orientation kept the glare of the afternoon sun out of the batter’s eyes and out of the eyes of the customers in the more expensive seats behind the plate during a game.
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, by Paul Dickson, Third Edition, 2009.
Nobody conversant with the history of the game now believes this. It seems likely, Dickson comments, that the story was the invention of either the political humorist Finley Peter Dunne of the Chicago News or Charles Seymour of the Chicago Herald. Dunne’s biographer says that Dunne invented it about 1887
Lefty Grove, southpaw
Other reports suggest that the term was applied to a pitcher simply because he was left-handed, with the term being already known from elsewhere. Paul Dickson quotes Tim Murnane, a left-handed pitcher, as saying that the local newspaper in St Louis began to refer to him as a southpaw in 1876. I can’t find a reference to him in the archives of the paper that year, but another contemporary comment from the same paper shows that it was used for other players than just the pitcher. It adds support to the view that the story about the orientation of ball parks was an invention:
The following good players have been engaged: Redmond, the little gallant short stop, with his south paw, who, by the way, is the “daddy of them all,” as his record of last season placed him on top of all the short stops.
St Louis Globe-Democrat, 27 Feb. 1876.
Earlier examples, in fact, make no mention of baseball. One in the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel in August 1870 lists seven local newsboys, one of whom, James Sullivan, was nicknamed South-Paw. The OED has another, from 1848, referring to a heavy blow with the left hand (though the application of the term to boxing had to await the twentieth century). The earliest so far known is this, unearthed by Benjamin Zimmer very recently (October 2009):
“Luk here mon, and convince yourself,” said he, holding up the Tickler, in the right paw, between the ceiling and the floor, and with the south paw pointing to the “bow, vow, vow.”
The Tickler, 30 Jun. 1813. The Tickler was a comic newspaper published in Philadelphia. The speaker, Honest Bob, was commenting on the way that Yankees pronounced their Ws as Vs.
Having rebutted the tale about the orientation of ball parks, I am left with no good explanation for where southpaw comes from. Nothing in the early examples gives us a clue. Conclusion: origin unknown. Sorry.
• The recent wild weather in California was the subject of an Associated Press report which appeared in various newspapers on Monday. Karen Courtenay read it in the Boston Globe: “A team of scientists hunkered down at the California Institute of Technology to work on a ‘Frankenstorm’ scenario — a mother lode wintry blast that could potentially sock the Golden State. The hypothetical but plausible storm would be similar to the 1861–1862 extreme floods that temporarily moved the state capital from Sacramento to San Francisco.” Now that’s a flood!
• Joel S Berson reported that somebody on another list had received an automatic e-mail response in response to a message: “Thank you for your email. I am out of the office toady.” Joel wrote, “This is clearly from someone who drops the the — in my dialect, the above would have to be ‘I am the out of the office toady’.”
• The NZCity site in New Zealand, Lorna Russell reports, had this lead sentence in a report on 22 January: “Stu Jacobs, who stepped in to stop dog fight, wants owner of Bull Mastiff that started the fight put down and owner charged”. In time, it was changed to “Former All White soccer player Stu Jacobs wants the owner of a dog which attacked him charged and the dog put down.” Better.
• A sentence Ed Sundt read on the back of a gift card for P F Chang’s (a US chain of Chinese restaurants) puzzled him: “This card cannot be redeemed for cash, except where prohibited by law.”
6. Copyright and contact details
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