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Newsletter 829
27 Apr 2013


1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Carbon bubble.

3. Facinorous.

4. Career versus careen.

5. Sic!

6. Copyright and contact details.

1. Feedback, Notes and Comments

Scrumptious Most of the comments on last week’s issue concerned my notes on this word the previous week. Several readers argued that in mentioning scrumping, I should also have included scrumpy, a once local but now widely-known term for a rough form of cider (in the UK cider is always alcoholic). This is also from scrump, a withered apple. Scrumpy was cider given to workers at haymaking and harvest time; often crudely made on the farm from windfalls and other unselected apples, it was a beverage that, in the words of one old farmer to me in Herefordshire nearly 40 years ago, needed three people to consume it: one to drink it and two to hold him up while he did it.

Others found words that seemed to be related. Mike Page recalled, “When I were a lad in Lincolnshire, if one were especially hungry, one would ask the chip-shop owner for some scrumps, in addition to one’s order. These were bits of batter that had fallen off the fish and cooked to a crisp. The chip-shop owner kept them separate and doled them out to the favoured without charge.” John Howe remembers them by the same name from his Welsh valley childhood of the late 1950s.

Ed Vanderkloet commented from the other side of the Atlantic: “When I moved to Newfoundland 4 years ago I learned that part of the local cuisine is something called scrunchins (or scrunchions), which is commonly served with cod. It is diced salt pork, pan fried. When visiting friends ask me to describe it, I tell them to imagine bacon without the red and pink parts. I haven’t acquired a taste for it so I wouldn’t use the adjective scrumptious to describe scrunchins, but I’m sure others would.” This seems to be an accidental similarity of form, a relative of scrunch or crunch, since an old name for the dish is cruncheons.

Goose is cooked “An explanation I heard,” wrote Charlotte Bulmer, “was that the goose is an old smoothing-iron, heated on the stove. When the goose is ‘cooked’, it is far too hot to be used. Another false folk etymology?” Almost certainly, though goose is an old name for a tailor’s smoothing-iron (from the shape of its handle), which is ancient enough to have been mentioned by Shakespeare.

2. Carbon bubble

A report published on 18 April accused stock markets of over-valuing the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves. It argued that at least two-thirds of the reserves will have to remain underground, and hence be valueless, if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The prediction came from Professor Lord Stern at the London School of Economics in a report entitled Unburnable Carbon 2013, a follow-up to a report published two years ago. He suggested that fossil-fuel reserves were being valued by speculators on the assumption that governments would take no action to reduce carbon emissions or that the speculators would get enough warning to bail out before prices crashed.

With the dash for gas effectively boosting an already overblown carbon bubble, it’s up to the gas industry itself to decarbonise the supply to safeguard its place as a primary global energy source.

Oil and Gas News, 17 Apr. 2013.

The term carbon bubble began to appear in 2009 among warnings of overheated speculation in carbon credits. These permit industry to burn fossil fuels and so emit the carbon dioxide that is the main contributor to global warming. It became linked to speculation in the value of the underlying fossil fuels themselves in 2011:

Fund managers are pushing for listed energy companies to take restrictions on carbon emissions into account when they report oil, coal or gas reserves in the wake of research that argues the potential bursting of a “carbon bubble” could hit share prices.

Financial Times, 17 Jul. 2011.

The bubble part of this newish term has meant something fragile, unsubstantial, empty or worthless since the end of the sixteenth century. It started to be applied to some commercial or financial scheme that wasn’t all it seemed with the infamous South Sea and Mississippi bubbles of 1720. The image is of intense speculation inflating values followed by an abrupt collapse and failure like a bursting bubble. Since then we’ve had lots of bubbles, such as the US stock-market bubble of the 1920s that led to the 1929 crash. The term has become much more widely used in recent decades, such as in financial bubble and commodities bubble. The past decade alone has given us dot-com bubble, banking bubble and housing bubble among others. In a bubble economy a national economy is inflated by a financial boom.

3. Facinorous/faˈsɪn(ə)rəs/ Help with IPA

Welcome to another in my occasional series of obscure insults for unpleasant people. This one isn’t to be wielded lightly — if you hurl it you’re saying your opponent is immoral, grossly criminal, extremely wicked, vile, atrocious, heinous or infamous.

The word comes to us from Latin facinorosus, criminal or wicked, whose base is facinus, a deed, especially a bad one.

It is most commonly to be found in works of the seventeenth century. Shakespeare employed it in As You Like It, though its known history predates him by 50 years; it appeared first in a work by one of the sources for his history plays, the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall. The latter was fond of richly uninhibited adjectives, in this case describing the wickedness of the Yorkist aggressors in the Wars of the Roses.

Facinorous remains too rare for most people to have ever encountered it, though it occasionally and unexpectedly surfaces:

Some people called this man wicked. Some called him facinorous, which is a fancy word for “wicked.”

The Slippery Slope, by Lemony Snicket, 2003.

4. Career versus careen

Q From Wendy Magnall: Career appeared in two quotations in your issue of 6 April, the first about bathwater sent “careering” away, and later in the more common sense of a long-term occupation. The first seems related to careen, and I have even read criticism of the use of career in its place. I wonder if you might sort out the two words and explain the strange relationship between them.

A I’m with the traditionalists on this one, because I learned the meaning of both words umpty-flump years before the arguments began. Careen has always had the sole meaning for me of turning a ship on its side for cleaning, caulking or repair (it comes from the Latin carina, a keel). Career meant a person’s employment path through life, with a side sense of rapid and uncontrolled headlong movement.

The pair has provoked dissent in the US in the past half century or so, most of it disapproving of the way that careen has to a large extent usurped career in the movement sense.

Career began life in English linked to medieval knights competing in tournaments. This involved riding horses at great speed in short bursts while nimbly changing direction. To describe this, English writers borrowed the old French carrière, a racecourse. It’s from late Latin carraria via, a carriage-road, from carrus, a wagon (the source of our car and cargo). So the rapid movement sense is the original one. By the seventeenth century it had started to be applied figuratively to any continuous course of action, and by the early nineteenth century was being used for the course of a person’s professional life or employment.

The traditional sense of careen does also imply movement, though only from side to side. It was applied by obvious extension to a ship heeling to one side through the action of wind or wave. It was also used for vehicles on land rocking from side to side or even overturning:

They were attempting to drive faster than Mike Binder and in making a short turn at the Edgarton the buggy careened so as to throw them all out on the stone there.

Appleton Post-Crescent (Wisconsin), 17 Aug. 1861.

Accidents involving vehicles tipping over would often have been due to excessive speed. This would have confused people about the true meaning of careen, though the close similarity in spelling between it and career probably helped. The growth of the sense of speeding out of control is for good reason connected to the introduction of the motor car:

Pennell did everything in human power to regain control of the vehicle where it careened toward the chasm. The brakes were tightly set, the power indicator pointed “reverse” and the track of the wheels in the soft earth on the ridge between the street pavement and the quarry showed that the wheels were turning backward when the ponderous machine sped forward to destruction.

The Lowell Sun (Massachusetts), 12 Mar. 1903.

By the middle 1960s, when the critics started to object to careen in this sense, the shift had already gone too far to be influenced by rational argument and has since become accepted in the US by many authorities — a usage note in the American Heritage Dictionary says that “it is by now so well established that it would be pedantic to object to it.” It’s notable that you have come across criticism of career for an uncontrolled movement — it confirms that for many Americans the shift is now complete, with careen the only word to use in that sense and with career restricted to employment.

Reference works sometimes say that this careen usage is limited to the US, but it has now spread to other English-speaking countries, including the UK:

Candy-coloured visuals burst with colour and detail, and the 3D version makes excellent use of the eye-popping format in stomach-churning action sequences that careen up and down undulating race tracks at dizzying speed.

Bristol Evening Post, 8 Feb. 2013.

5. Sic!

• “I think something sinister is going on here,” Greg Balding remarked about the Wikipedia entry for handedness: “Left-handed people are more dexterous with their left hands when performing tasks.”

• Erin McKean submitted this from last Monday’s Printing Professionals Executive Briefing: “It’s unfortunate that the paper industry gets the stigmata that it is bad for the environment.” Not stigmata, I suspect — more likely paper cuts.

• Jack Bottomley sent the current issue of Powys County Council’s free newspaper for residents, Red Kite. The council advertised their pest control services and added, “Rice, mice (indoors) and cockroaches treatments are also available from the council.” You’ve got to watch that pesky pestiferous rice.

• “But possibly not in that order,” was Paul Braithwaite’s comment on a Guardian article of 21 April: “In Brooklyn, New York, an off-duty police officer used her department-issued Glock 9mm handgun to kill herself, her boyfriend and her one-year-old child.”

• Carol Bates reports that in an article about abortion issues in the Tampa Bay Times of 21 April, it was stated that it was illegal in the state of Florida to terminate a pregnancy after 24 months. If not illegal, then certainly unnecessary.

6. Copyright and contact details

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