Sunday, July 29, 2012

I need a word for this

In a recent comment here, Kathleen Kirk shared a couple of links to a website that discussed some of the most difficult words to translate, which you can find here and here. My personal favorite was mamihlapinatapei, from the Yagan language of Tierra del Fuego. It implies " a wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start". You sense that this must happen in Tierra del Fuego all the time.

But I recently realized that I need a word for a concept not yet rendered in English. It would encompass the absurd yet apparently real sense of grief you feel when they kill off a recurring character on one of your favorite television shows.

Yagan might manage it, though I have a feeling it may not be completely up to the television age. Japanese could get the tone right, I'll bet. German probably already has  word for it, but it's undoubtedly too long.

By the way, I'm not mentioning the show that has led me to these musings just in case it might be spoilerific for someone, so if you do happen to know me really, really well, mums the word.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

goody two shoes

If you're like me, you probably think this phrase needs no elaboration. It's perfect, isn't it? Everyone knows what a goody two shoes is. Like "teacher's pet", no one wants to be thought of as one. So this isn't a phrase I went out of my way to research. You could say it found its way to me. I was surfing around on the Internet Archive, which has a massive amount of downloadable text, video, music and so on, looking at what was most popular. Most of the most popular stuff was in languages I can't read, but there were a few in English, and one of them happened to be an old, old book called Goody Two Shoes. It was published in 1765 by an anonymous author, who many have thought may have been Oliver Goldsmith, though largely through circumstantial evidence. You can take a look at an 1888 version here . 

Let's clear up some misconceptions about Goody Two Shoes, whose name in the story was actually Margery Meanswell. She and her brother were orphaned. He managed to stay in shoes--poor Margery did not. When they were finally rescued by some, well, do-gooder, Margery finally acquired a pair of shoes, and a new nickname.

She wasn't called Goody because she was a goody goody, though. Many women were called Goody in her day. It was a contraction of "Goodwoman", the counterpart to "Goodman". You remember Nathanael Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown", don't you? Of course you do. And if Goodman sounds odd, think about "gentleman" and it will not seem so much so.

Here are the things Goody Two Shoes did that were so despicable. She devised a system of teaching other children to read; she foiled an attempt of robbery and murder; she rescued a raven and taught it to read (!) and she also rescued a pigeon. She did of course live happily ever after, but what other kind of ending do you want for a children's book?    

In trying to discover when the term from an immensely popular children's book had become almost entirely pejorative, I ran across an article by the sci fi and fantasy author Diane Duane, which covers much of this same ground, only more thoroughly. Take a look HERE.    

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

short shrift

I actually use this phrase more often than you'd think. Not so much in speech but in writing. There's an example tucked in here, apparently. I think it's probably because I tend to breeze through things and only later realize that I haven't given them the consideration that is their due. In any case, I seem to throw it into writing fairly often.

Of course, I haven't ever really stopped to consider what the term means in itself or where it comes from. I usually just mean that I didn't give something a lot of attention or understand its importance. But when I stopped to think about the phrase, I didn't really know what I was saying. I imagined that "shrift" was something like "scrip", that fake money circulated when more normal currency systems won't or don't work. I was wrong. Sort of.


I bet if I asked you where the term "short shrift" came into the language, you could get it right. I mean, if you guess the Bard in these kinds of situations, you hardly ever turn out to be wrong. Whether he coined the phrase or just the first to put it into writing, Shakespeare gets a lot of credit for its continued existence. Here's the quote, from Richard III:

Dispatch, my lord; the duke would be at dinner:
Make a short shrift; he longs to see your head.

It's pretty obvious that this is execution talk, but what's the shrift aspect. When I'm not thinking shrift has to do with scrip, I'm thinking it has something to do with shrouds. But no.

According to this site, shrift come from shrive, and is the penance asked by a priest in order to obtain absolution. When convicts were sentenced to death and sent immediately to their deaths, they only had time to make a short shrift, which is definitely the sense in the play.  

The Council in the Tower

 As the site mentioned says, it took a long time for the phrase to be written down again, by none other than Sir Walter Scott. but this wasn't until 1814, in his poem, Lord of the Isles, which told of the wanderings of Robert the Bruce. The above site conjectures that because the phrase has so little usage, it probably wasn't in common usage in Shakespeare's times so he probably coined it.

I find it interesting that in becoming more general in its meaning, the phrase has actually become quite hearty. People generally know what it means to give something short shrift, even if they don't know that its basically gallows talk.

The verb that shrift derives from is "shrive" and shrive not only means to hear confession and absolve someone of sins, it means to  assign,decree, impose penance, and comes from West Germanic *skriban, apparently one of those hypothesized languages. Anyway, it connects all those words that have something to do with writing, like scribe and script and, well, yes...scrip.

Heres a link to a beautiful old volume of The Lord of the Isles.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Espresso Book Machine

Just for fun, and because it doesn't involve any real effort on my part, I'm going to put up this short video on the Espresso Book Machine that's recently come to berth in the bookstore that I work in. There are only a few in the U.S. so far, and not that many in the world yet, so people are very intrigued and excited about it, which, in the era of Ebooks, I find rather hopeful.

In addition to Sylvie, who is named with the video and has come there expressly (espressly?) to operate the machine and be the community liaison, a few of my coworkers and even my boss wander through the back of the scene, but I won't out them here...thankfully, I myself am not in the frame.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

suet--what the heck is it?

This question came up from the last post. I know it is some sort of fatty substance, but I don't know much more about it than that. I picture it as kind of translucent but full of seeds, mainly because I think of suet as something the more compassionate among us put out for birds in winter. Wrong, wronger or more wrong than you could possibly imagine?

Let's find out.

Well, right, except about the translucent part. Suet is a very specific sort of fat. Its the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys of cattle and sheep. "Hard" being the operative word here, I think, as far as why it's used in bird feeders. It makes a sort of container for seeds, while also being a  high energy source of nourishment for the birds in itself.

I expect a lot of people will be surprised that I don't know what suet is. That's because I think suet has fallen a bit out of fashion here on the left coast over the years. Even California birds probably don't need a lot of fat to get them through the winter, after all.

But I've rectified that by watching the following video about suet pudding...for humans.No, really, I'm not a chef either, but this is one you need to see, in a slice of life sort of way:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

crab apple--a link

I just noticed that Michael Sheehan has a nice post up over at Word Mall about the term "crab apple". I suppose it might be cheating a bit to just send you on over there, but that's what I'm going to do. Before you go, though, I thought I'd say a bit about my own associations to the word, as this term is really one of the first word things I ever conjectured about.
It's not that we had crab apples lying about the place. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever met a crab apple. But when I was a very small child there was an evil cartoon character called Crabby Appleton. I always thought he was on "Felix the Cat", but apparently he was on a cartoon called "Tom Terrific". Here is his theme song:

'My name is Crabby Appleton,
I'm rotten to the core
I do a bad deed every day,
and sometimes three or four.
I can't stand fun for anyone,
I think good deeds are sappy,
I laugh with glee, it pleases me,
when everyone's unhappy!'

Not long after I became acquainted with Mr. Appleton, I started walking to kindergarten. I remember my mom walking me to school the first day and showing me the landmarks.  As it was a straight shot from the Lincoln Place Apartments where we lived, this wasn't exactly rocket science, but she did tell me to notice that the street sign said Appleton Street. Like Crabby Appleton, I said. In fact, in my memory it was Crab Apple St., but a quick map quest showed me otherwise.

Crabby Appleton, you may be a villain, but thanks for getting a girl to school anyway.

Here is the link to Word Mall on crab apples, and other forms of crabby.