Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Update Report - Halfway Through D (and I'm taking a break)

A not very accurate visual depiction of how I will spend my break ...
(photo from Pixabay)

Halfway Through D!

Well, in all honesty I'm perhaps 1/3 of the way though D. But it's happened. After almost two years of uninterrupted blogging, I have decided for the first time that I need to take a break. I've blogged in sickness and in health; from the snowy peaks of Transylvania to the sun-kissed streets of Barcelona; most recently, I have even blogged directly from the delivery suite at our local maternity hospital (with my wife's blessing, I quickly add). But I'm afraid there is a limit - and that limit has arrived in the form of a 9lb bundle of milk-supping, sleep-sapping, time-grabbing joy. It's wonderful, it really is ... but my word is it exhausting! Therefore, I've (very reluctantly) decided to take a break from Lexicolatry for maybe a month - at least until he's settled into a day and night cycle. After that, when my eyes aren't burning in my head and I'm able to read again, I will pick up my journey where I left off, and I do hope you pick it up with me.

In the meantime, if you haven't already, do join the Lexi Facebook group and Twitter feed - I'll still be posting interesting things on these, and it's on these I will also announce when I will resume. It's been an exciting year - Lexicolatry was again a finalist in the Blog Awards Ireland, just pipped at the post in the Arts & Culture category by the very excellent Headstuff. Readership for Lexi has continued to grow, and it's as fun and exciting to write as it was in the very beginning, so thank you! Thank you all again for your readership and comments. Do keep an eye on the various Lexi groups, and I shall see you in a month or so.

Cheers!

Eddie
Email: eddie.lexi@gmail.com
Twitter: Lexicolatry

Monday, 27 October 2014

Dinosaur - The Terrible Lizard That Isn't

The T-Rex
(photo by David Monniaux)

DINOSAUR

Noun. Mid-19th century.
[from modern Latin dinosaurus, from Greek deinos 'terrible' + sauros 'lizard'.]

An extinct terrestrial reptile, frequently of gigantic size, of a group which was dominant in Mesozoic times,
some having pelvic girdles like lizards (order Saurischia) and others like birds (order Ornithischia);
figurative. something that has not adapted to changing circumstances, a clumsy survival from earlier times.

For proof, if ever proof were needed, that neither dictionary definitions nor etymologies provide the definitive facts of a matter, one need look no further than the word dinosaur, a word coined from Latin and Greek meaning 'terrible lizard' by the brilliant but thoroughly objectionable Sir Richard Owen . And, yes, I personally am prone to fall into the well-actually-the-dictionary definition-is or well-originally-such-and-such-a-word-meant way of thinking, but it's very often completely and utterly wrong. In this case, dinosaurs aren't (and never have been) lizards; cupboards are nearly always (and always have been) more than boards that hold cups; and women don't generally retire to their boudoir to sulk.
Sir Richard Own
(I'm reserving his story for the word 'git')
Oh, and just in case anyone cares, my favourite dinosaur is and always has been the triceratops.

Do please leave your most prehistoric comments in the box below.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Digerati - The Digital Literati

Photo by Daniel Bagel

DIGERATI

Noun plural. Late 20th century.
[Blend of DIGITAL and LITERATI.]

People with expertise or professional involvement in information technology.

I used to think that being a blogger meant I could rightly call myself a member of the digerati, but the words professional and expertise rule me out entirely.  Ah well. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

D'you Mind if I Didgeridoo?

Photo by Graham Crumb

DIDGERIDOO

Noun. Also didjeridoo, didgeridu. Early 20th century.
[Aboriginal of imitative origin.]

A long tubular wooden musical instrument of the
Australian Aborigines which is blown to produce a resonant sound.

Didgeridoo makes Lexi just because I like the sound of the word and the sound of the instrument, which makes sense as it's apparently a word of imitative origin. If you're not sure about the didgeridoo, then maybe Adèle and Zalem will change your mind. Enjoy!


Do please leave your most austral comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Diddums - Aww! Did It Hurt?

I don't know what's happened here, but saying 'Diddums!" will make it worse
(photo by La Fine Soltanto)

DIDDUMS

Interjection & noun. Late 19th century.
[from did 'em, i.e. 'did they' (sc. 'tease you' etc.).]

(A form of address to young children and jocularly to adults) expressing commiseration or endearment.

I nearly got into a fight over the word diddums once. I was cycling with friends through a rather rough estate in Oxford (yes! Oxford has rough estates), and I took a corner a bit too fast on my BMX and skidded off, skittering across the tarmac in a dramatic but very painful fashion. I was back on my feet, wincing at my torn 501s and bleeding leg, when a boy in a leather jacket taunted me from across the street: "Aww. Diddums! Did you hurt yourself? Did it hurt? Aww! Diddums!"

Now, I've never been one that's easily moved to anger, but that really got me. In fact, I would go so far as to say it enraged me! And suddenly I found myself sizing up to a boy considerably bigger and older than me, with the standard chest-shoves and shoulder-thrusts and back-and-forths: "C'mon then! Yeah! You wanna 'ave a go! Let's go then! Yeah? C'mon! 'Ave a go then if you think yer 'ard enough!"

Anyway, my point is this: diddums, whilst it may sound like a mild enough provocation, actually has the power to infuriate the mildest of souls. Fortunately, we both tired of the histrionics and parted ways, hurling insults as we went, without it actually coming to blows; I then went home (as I had really, really hurt myself) where my Mum patiently picked the bits of gravel out of my leg ... and possibly kissed it better ... I don't remember exactly.

Seriously, though, I could've 'ad him, I could.

Have you ever got into a testosterone-fuelled brawl over the word diddums?
(I say testosterone, but I was about 8, so that wasn't it in my case)

Do please leave your most sympathetic comments in the box below.
(It really hurt! There was blood and everything! And my favourite jeans!)

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dictionary - A Few Words (On Why I Love It)

My secondary school made us read dictionaries as a punishment. Seriously. Talk about rewarding bad behaviour!
Photo by Caleb Roenigk

DICTIONARY

Noun. Early 16th century.
[medieval Latin dictionarium and dictionarius), from Latin dictio(n)-.]

Branch I
1(a) A book explaining or translating, usually in alphabetical order, words of a language or languages,
giving their pronunciation, spelling, meaning, part of speech, and etymology, or one or some of these. E16

1(b) obsolete. The vocabulary or whole list of words used or admitted by someone. L16-E18

1(c) An ordered list stored in and used by a computer; especially a list of words acceptable to a word processor. M20

2 A book of information or reference on any subject in which the entries are arranged alphabetically. M17

Branch II
3 figurative. A person or thing regarded as a repository of knowledge, convenient for consultation. E17

The smallest dictionary I own
(and one of my favourites)
I've loved dictionaries for as long as I can remember. As a child and into my twenties, I was in the habit of always carrying a dictionary around with me, just in case I came across a word I didn't know. At my wedding, my best man gave a speech in which he said he hoped a dictionary would fall on my head; later that night, he tried to sneak into my room to take the Collins Dictionary I had stashed in my luggage, lest I take a dictionary with me on my honeymoon. Yes, I really like dictionaries, and it seems I've developed a bit of a reputation for it.

People often ask me why I love dictionaries so much. Specifically, why dictionaries? Why not, say, encyclopaedias? Or books generally? I do love encyclopaedias, and I am a bibliophile, but it's true that I have a particular affection for the dictionary, an affection quite distinct from my love of words and language. Dictionaries, you see, are unique; they are singularly fascinating works of unfathomable human endeavour and investigation; dictionaries are windows, offering knowledge and the promise of knowledge. With the dictionary, one can peer into the future as well as one can peer into the past.

For anyone that's unconvinced about the beauty of a dictionary (and I do get a lot of unconvinced looks when explaining my love), I would encourage, nay, challenge you to sit down with a good dictionary and read it for twenty minutes. It doesn't even matter which dictionary. Obviously I'm rather loyal to the Oxford English Dictionary, but there are numerous quality dictionaries out there: Collins, Merriam-Webster and Chambers to cite a few of my favourites. Sit down, take that time, and read it. Perhaps you could look up that word or phrase you've always wondered about. Why do we say someone is about to get their just deserts?  If one can be disgruntled, can one also be gruntled? Or, like me, you could just relax and read away, allowing the pages to lead you wherever they may go. However you approach it, I've no doubt that you will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe ... just maybe ... you'll get hooked like me.

My desk. Looking unusually tidy. And with only two of my dictionaries present.
Do please dictate your most lexical comments in the box below.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dick - Well Spotted

This was not a pleasant picture to find
(photo by Chuck Coker)

DICK

Noun. In sense 2, uncapitalised. Mid-16th century.
[Male forename, playful alteration of Richard from Anglo-Norman Ricard, Latin Ricardus, whence Richard (of which it is used as a familiar abbreviation).]

1 A man, a fellow; a lad. Frequently with qualifying adjective. M16

2 The penis. coarse slang. L18

Yes, yes ... you're thinking: "Oh Lexicolatry! Again covering the bawdier words of the English language!" For one moment, however, roll your eyes back into the forward position and consider with me why dick is an interesting word, and whether it's actually rude at all. Well, in the right (or wrong) context, yes, of course it's rude; the OED specifically labels it as 'coarse slang'. Its rudeness is curious, though, in that it's not absolute; unlike many other swearwords, there are occasions when we suddenly shift backward 400 years, to a time when it wasn't rude at all, and you could bandy dick about willy-nilly without a care in the world.

Take the phrase Tom, Dick & Harry, for example, meaning 'anyone'; I could use that phrase in the most polite of company without so much as making a nun blush. Detectives have been called dicks, and an old person might complain of having a dicky heart. And if I described someone down the pub as a clever dick, it would elicit little more than a wry smile - just imagine if I threw that out on a Saturday night without the qualifying word clever. And as for that most delicious of English desserts, does anyone even think of anything untoward when served a delicious bowl of steaming spotted dick? Well, actually, yes, they do; even the straightest of laces can't help but smirk when that one's plopped on the table.

Do you know of any other non-rude dicky terms?

Can you use them without smirking?

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Dichoptic - Wide Eyes

Photo by Kevin Collins

DICHOPTIC

Adjective. Late 19th century.
[Greek dikho-, from dikha two, apart + OPTIC.]

1 ENTOMOLOGY. Of the eyes: widely separated.
Of an insect: having such eyes. L19

2 Involving or pertaining to the presentation of different
(not merely stereoscopic) images in the two eyes. M20

Apparently, you can tell a lot about someone by how far apart their eyes are, though I doubt that applies in the worlds of flies and hammerheads. I like the word dichoptic, and I want to use it more often, or even once at all, but I can't for the life of me think when I'm going to have that chance.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dice - A Plural to Die For

Some dice.
(photo by Ross Websdale)

DICE

Noun. Middle English.
[Old & modern French dés. See DIE noun.]

1 Plural of die. ME

2 A game or games played with dice. ME

A die
(photo by Kolby)

DIE

Noun. Plural in Branch I dice; in Brack II dies.
[Old & modern French , plural dés, from Latin DATUM.]

Branch I
1(a) A small cube whose six faces are marked with from one to six spots,
used in games of chance by being thrown from a box, the hand, etc.,
the score being decided from the uppermost face;
a cube with different markings, or a solid with a different number of faces, used in the same way. ME

1(b) figurative. Chance, luck. L16

2 A small cubical segment, especially of meat, etc. for cooking. Usually in plural. LME

Branch II
3 A cubical block. M17

4 An engraved stamp for impressing a design on some softer material
as in coining, striking a medal, embossing paper, etc. L17

5 Any of various devices for shaping bulk material, especially:
(a) an internally threaded hollow tool for cutting a screw thread;
(b) a part into which a punch is driven;
(c) a block with a hold through which material is extruded;
(d) a hollow mould into which material is forced prior to solidification. E19

6 A toy. Scottish. E19

Thanks guys!
(though I still feel a bit guilty about this)
I seem to like dice, having previously used them to illustrate the words bone, cleromancy and determinism on this blog. I also remember the exact moment that I learnt the proper singular noun is die, so I would like to thank Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone for their book Scorpion Swamp (which I wasn't allowed to read), and their proper use of die and dice. And yes, I do know that most people just use dice, and I know that when I use die it sounds irrevocably pretentious. But it is die. Look, it says it right there in the OED. It's one die; two dice. So there.

Do please roll out your most cubical comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dibs On This Word!

Toy cars: the source of countless dibs claims between brothers
(photo by Ronelle)

DIBS

Interjection & noun. N.American. Mid-20th century.
[Probably related to DUBS interjection & noun.]

(Demanding) a first claim or option. (Followed by on)

Growing up in Britain, the phrase de rigueur to stake first claim on something was bagsy, as in: "Bagsy this seat!" or "Bagsy first go!" This is a 1950s corruption of bags I, as in "I bag this." In North America, the equivalent expression is dibs, as in: "I call dibs on this!" Different dictionaries give different explanations as to its origin, with some suggesting it's related to dubsdab or division, while other saying it's from dibstones, a playground game since antiquity. Whatever the truth, no one seems to have first dibs on a verifiable etymology, and the legal standing of calling dibs or bagsy has (to the best of my knowledge) never been tested in a court of law.

Do you call dibs, bagsy or something else when staking your claim on something?

Do please bag a comment below.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Diaspora - The Scattering

Photo by Lisa Nail

DIASPORA

Noun. Capitalised and uncapitalised. Late 19th century.
[Greek, from diaspeirein disperse; formed as dia- across + speirein sow, scatter.]

The dispersion of Jews among the Gentile nations;
all those Jews who live outside the biblical land of Israel;
(the situation of) any body of people living outside their traditional homeland.

In growing up, I was most used to hearing (or reading) the word diaspora in relation to The Diaspora, the dispersal of the Jewish people into the Roman world and beyond after the sacking of Jerusalem in the first century. Consequently, the word took on a negative connotation - that of a people forcibly pushed from their homeland.

However, while diaspora can be (and perhaps more often is) used to describe such hardships, it is also now used in a more positive sense, with regards a people who have spread abroad, retaining their connections to their homeland and enriching the cultural diversity of wherever they settle.

"Thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth."
Deuteronomy 28:25, the Biblical origin of the term

An example of this is the Irish Diaspora. During the 1840s, millions of people left Ireland and spread all over the world, driven by the Great Famine in the most brutal of circumstances. However, those with Irish heritage maintain strong and proud connections to their ancestral home, and for such a small nation Ireland punches well above its weight culturally.

Such identity, integration and enrichment is reminiscent both of the indomitable nature of the human spirit, and of the word's root of scattering, or sowing; with the dispersal comes the opportunity for new growth, something that peoples the world over have achieved time and again in the face of the most horrendous adversity.

Do please comment in the box below. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Diaper - The American's Nappy

Is it a diaper or is it a nappy?
(photo by Miss Messie)

DIAPER

Noun and adjective. Middle English.
[Old French dia(s)pre from medieval Latin diasprum from medieval Greek diaspros, adjective, formed as DIA- + aspros white.]

A1 noun. A kind of textile, since the 15th century a linen or cotton material woven
so that it consists of a pattern of small diamonds, each filled with some device. ME

A2 noun. A towel, napkin, etc., of this material;
(now chiefly N.American) a baby's nappy (originally made of diaper). L16

A3 noun. A geometrical or ornamental design in which a panel, shield, etc., is covered by diamonds;
any space-filling geometrical pattern. M17

B1 adj. (Made) of diaper. LME

B2 adj. Having a pattern of diamonds, diapered. LME

Here's an Americanism I absolutely loathe: diaper. Go on: say it in a really whiney, overblown (over here) American accent: Diaper! Somebody change that diaper! Gotta get me some new diapers! Urgh. It really is the height of unsophistication. The British English nappy is just so much more refined.

Well ... except ... it's not. Now don't misunderstand me - I truly detest the word diaper. But my reasons make absolutely no sense whatsoever. For one thing, diaper isn't a newer, cruder version of nappy at all - diaper was originally a rather expensive fabric, one that eventually came to be used in the 15th century for making baby's nappies. And its linguistic origins? It's a seasoned traveller indeed, arriving to modern English along the veritably prestigious lineage of Middle English, Old French, medieval Latin and medieval Greek.

And what about nappy? Well this is where any notion of linguistic superiority just falls apart, as nappy is an abbreviation of napkin; or rather, less an abbreviation and more the sort of baby-waby cuddly-wuddly kiddy-widdy talk that I really hate: "Aww! Does our widdle booby-boo need his nappy-wappy-napkin changed?" Bleugh. Clearly, there's no sophisticated Britishness in nappy - it's just faux baby-talk piffle that popped up at some point in the early 20th century.

So I think we've all learned something here. Firstly, don't just assume that, because a word is American, it's younger than its British counterpart; and don't assume that because something is younger it's better. And don't assume that because something is British English its roots are more prestigious. Still, having said all this, diaper still sounds intolerably uncouth to my refined British ears, so I'm sticking with the British version (and that, ladies and gentlemen, is one nappy I will never change).

Ah, the internet! Font of advice for all idiots on all things ...
Do you say diaper or nappy or something else?

Do please leave your most changeable comments in the box below.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Diana - The Goddess of Hunting

Diana the Huntress
Guillaume Seignac ((1870-1924)

DIANA

Noun. Also Dian; (sense 3) diana.
[Latin, the Roman moon goddess and patron of virginity and hunting, whence also Old & modern French diane.]

1 The moon. poetical. LME

2 A young woman with the chastity or hunting skill of the goddess Diana. L18

3 More fully Diana monkey.
A tropical W.African tree monkey, Cercopithecus diana,
with a crescentic white mark on its forehead. E19

"Of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this:
a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age."
Earl Spencer speaking at the funeral of his sister Diana Princess of Wales (1961-1997)

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Do We All Speak in a Dialect?

Some bloke who may or may not be speaking in a dialect
(photo by David Goehring)

DIALECT

Noun. Mid-16th century.
[French dialecte or Latin dialectus, from Greek dialektos discourse, way of speaking,
from dialegesthai converse with, discourse, formed as DIA- + legein speak.]

1 obsolete. Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of logical disputation. M16-M18

2 A manner of speaking, language, speech;
especially one peculiar to or characteristic of a particular person or class;
idiom. L16

3 A form of speech peculiar to a district;
a variety of a language with non-standard vocabulary, pronunciation, or idioms;
any language in relation to the language family to which it belongs. L16

4 COMPUTING. A particular version of a programming language. M20

Do we all speak in a dialect? I would argue that we don't, and this was the subject of a debate at a party I went to a year or so ago. It was just before my post on the word bidialectal, and I was discussing the fascinating subject of bidialectalism with another partygoer. Say what you want about us dictionary-readers, but we know how to party!

Anyway, I was discussing this with two charming chaps from Belfast, a place which, if you're not familiar with it, has a very distinctive accent and (dare I say) dialect. The debate centred on whether or not I speak with a dialect, having been brought up in Oxfordshire, England, and speaking in a very standard, slightly BBC middle-class fashion. I say that no, I do not speak in or with a dialect; my esteemed Belfast friend posited that I only think I don't, and that everyone speaks in a dialect.

The crux of my argument is this: I have never in my life met another English speaker in the world that can't understand the form of English I use. While two people from, say, Belfast, Glasgow, Cork, London, Newcastle, New York or any number of places could have a conversation that would be very difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to follow, I could never do that with another person from Oxford; we simply do not possess a unique enough vocabulary or manner of speaking to make ourselves incomprehensible to others. What's more, no one that ever meets me can ever say: "Oh you're from Oxford!" They can tell I'm from England, of course, and vaguely from somewhere in the south, but it doesn't get more specific than that. So, therefore, can I be said to speak in a dialect? By extension, does every language have non-dialectal speakers?

Any finally, may I just point out that there's no snobbery here; there's no "I speak in a superior form of English and you speak in an inferior dialect!" Rather, it's more an admission of the linguistic paucity of speaking in bog-standard English. After all, who doesn't want people to not understand what they're saying from time to time? Do please discuss.

And if you don't know what an Oxonian sounds like, here's Tim Henman, from Oxfordshire.

Do you speak a dialect?

Do you (like me) think that you don't speak in a dialect?

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Diacritic - Mark My Words

DIACRITIC

Adjective & noun. Late 17th century.
[Greek diakritikos, from diakrinein distinguish, from krinein separate.]

A adj. Of a mark or sign: serving to distinguish different values or sounds of the same letter,
as in ë, ê, é, è, etc. L17

B noun. A diacritic mark. M19

We don't really use diacritics in English, but perhaps we should. An example is my five-year-old daughter, who has learnt that the letter E makes the eh sound that one finds at the start of, say, Eddie. However, she is often tripped up by the word she, which behaves perfectly well until it gets to E, at which point that familiar letter transforms itself into a strange elongated ee sound that's usually the domain of a double-E, as in sheep, keep, weep, etc.

To avoid such unnecessary confusion, other languages use a system of diacritics, which are marks above a letter that indicate which pronunciation is to be used if that letter has more than one. For example, in Romanian, you have the letter A (without a diacritic) and the letter Ă (with diacritic); the first is pronounced ah as in map, and the second is pronounced uh as in mum. This never changes, and is incredibly useful for slow-learning foreigners like me who are clumsily trying to get to grips with the language.

However, the bizarre thing about diacritics is that English speakers often hate them! The amount of times I've heard in language classes: "Oh I can't be dealing with all those little ticks and marks and accents and things!" Guys, they're there to help us! If, when learning a language, we just take the time to learn them and what they mean, it will help us immeasurably in our pronunciation. Of course, if you really don't like diacritics, then consider Spanish, which very sensibly has five vowels with five vowel sounds, one for each, always the same. How simple is that?

Does your language have diacritics?

If you're learning a language, do you find them useful?

Do please leave your most (dia)critical comments in the box below. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Diabetes - "The Siphon"

(photo by Jill Brown)

DIABETES

Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Latin from Greek diabetes literally 'siphon', from diabaino go through.]

Either of two metabolic disorders marked by the production of excessive quantities of urine:

(a) (more fully diabetes mellitus [Latin mellitus sweet]) one in which the pancreas secretes insufficient insulin and the body in consequence fails to metabolize glucose, leading to loss of energy and accumulation of glucose in the blood and urine;

(b) diabetes insipidus [Latin insipidus insipid], a rare disorder of the pituitary gland caused by deficiency of vasopressin.

Diabetes gets its name directly from the Greek diabetes, meaning 'siphon', a connection made by early physicians that noted sufferers needed to urinate more frequently. In diabetes mellitus, the addition of the Latin word for 'sweet' references excess glucose in the urine; indeed, it's said that the Greeks noticed that urine excreted while in a hyperglycaemic state would attract bees and flies.

An odd quirk of diabetes is that sometimes it's a disease that's not taken particularly seriously. Its effects, however, can be devastating; prior to the discovery and clinical availability of insulin in 1922, a diagnosis of diabetes was invariably a death sentence. Even in modern times, however, if diabetes is not properly managed, the effects can be dire, including damage to eyesight, cognitive deficit, and an increased chance of cardiovascular disease and stroke; it is the most common cause of non-accidental amputations in the US, and the biggest cause of adult renal failure in the world.

What is truly terrifying, however, is that despite major advances in the understanding and treatment of diabetes, it is continuing to proliferate, particularly in Western countries. A sobering report in the British Medical Journal suggested that a staggering 1 in 3 adults in the UK might be what is termed as pre-diabetic - on the cusp of developing Type 2 diabetes, but showing no symptoms. Although the validity of the term 'pre-diabetic' has been questioned, the fact that many of us are making lifestyle choices that put us at risk of developing this terrible disease is beyond question.

Enough insulin!
(photo by Jeff Fillmore)
For further information on the different types of diabetes, click here.

If you have any comments, please leave them in the box below.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Dexterity - What's Right Is Right

DEXTERITY

Noun. Early 16th century.
[French dextérité from Latin dexteritas; also Greek dexios.]

1 Mental adroitness or skill, cleverness. E16

2 Manual or manipulative skill or adroitness; good physical coordination. M16

3 A skilful, adroit, or clever act. Usually in plural. L16

4 Right-handedness, the using of the right hand. rare. L19

It's fitting that the word adroit, previously covered in Lexicolatry, should be used so liberally in the definition of dexterity, as it too reflects the odd linguistic prejudices that left is bad and right is good. Right is also more skilful and dexterous, while left is awkward, clumsy and cack-handed. And yes, I say cack-handed intentionally, because that's exactly what cack-handed means.

Oh dear. Lefts. Rights. Can't we just all get along?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Devil - A Slanderous Etymology

DEVIL

Noun.
[Old English dēofol (related to Dutch duivel and German Teufel),
via late Latin from Greek diabolos 'accuser, slanderer' (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śāṭān 'Satan'),
from diaballein 'to slander', from dia 'across' + ballein 'to throw'.]

1 (usually The Devil) (in Christian and Jewish belief) The supreme spirit of evil; Satan. OE

1.1 An evil spirit; a demon. OE

1.2 A very wicked or cruel person. E17

1.3 (the devil) Fighting spirit; wildness. L18

1.4 (the devil) A thing that is very difficult or awkward to deal with.

2 With adjective. Informal. A person with specific characteristics. E17

3 (the devil) Expressing surprise or annoyance in various questions or exclamations.

4 An instrument or machine fitted with sharp teeth or spikes,
used for tearing or other destructive work. M19

5 Informal. Dated. A junior assistant of a barrister or other professional. See printer's devil. L17

In this post, Lexicolatry has strayed somewhat from its usual format, in that the definition of devil has been taken from Oxford Dictionaries rather than my hard copy of The Shorter OED. Why? Because, quite frankly, the definition given by my OED was a devil of a definition to type, which is just one example of how the English language has appropriated the title of 'the supreme spirit of evil'.

Unsurprisingly, devil is used in a number of expressions to say that something is particularly bad or troublesome. For example, to play the devil with means 'to cause severe damage to', and if you ever find yourself between the Devil and the deep blue sea, then you really are in a bit of a pickle (or, to use the more academic definition, forced to choose one of two unwelcome possibilities). And the end result? Well, there'll be the devil to pay and the devil to do.

However, sometimes we relegate the supreme agent of evil to something considerably less malevolent. For example, a little devil is likely nothing more ominous than a naughty child, and depending on where and when you're from could also be called a devilet or a devilkin (aww ... bless!). To play devil's advocate might even be a positive move, as one deliberately takes a contentious or opposing view in order to provoke debate or even test the strength of one's own position. But it's back to pure nastiness for my favourite devilry, with the old Irish imprecation"May the cat eat you, and the Devil eat the cat." Ouch.

And, of course, the Devil is often used to sell stuff
Do please bedevil us with your most forked comments in the box below.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Deus ex machina - God from the Machinery

DEUS EX MACHINA

Noun phrase. Late 17th century.
[modern Latin, translating Greek theos ek mekhanes, literally 'god from the machinery'
(a kind of crane by which characters, usually gods, were lowered or swung round into view in Greek theatre).]

A power, event, or person arriving in the nick of time to solve a difficulty;
a providential (often rather contrived) interposition, especially in a novel or play.

For a contemporary example of a deus ex machina, one need look no further than the breathtaking finale of Toy Story 3 (and if you haven't seen it ... what the hell!?). Thanks to Lotso's perfidy, Woody, Buzz and all our other beloved characters are slowly slipping into an industrial incinerator; their situation is hopeless, and they have completely resigned themselves to their hellish fate, even joining hands so that together they can face their fiery end. And, yes, as a grown man, this scene always leaves me choked, begrutten and pretending I've got something in my eye. Suddenly, however, salvation arrives!  A mechanical claw, operated by the alien toys, swoops down and scoops them up! Woody, Buzz, and all of the toys are saved, and an audible sigh ripples through the audience.

Now, it's often the case that as soon as someone calls 'Deus Ex Machina!' in a film, there are ten people itching to decry: "Noo! That's not a real deus ex machina because ... etc, etc." And that's true with this scene in Toy Story, of course. Originally, a deus ex machina was a physical contraption, such as a crane, that would suddenly hoist a character into the concluding scene of a Greek play; the character was often a god, and often (as gods were wont to do in those days) he had decided to suddenly intervene in human affairs. Used well, it could provide a stunning and dramatic climax; used badly, and it could just give the impression that the writer couldn't think of a way out of the predicament he created, and had lazily decided that the gods would sort it all out. It is this interpretation of contrivance and laziness that is often used today.

However, in Toy Story 3, I would argue that this is a highly effective use of deus ex machina (and, seriously, if you haven't seen it, there's simply no way I can convey in words how brilliant a conclusion Toy Story 3 is to the trilogy - go away, sit down and watch all three, and then you'll get it). It is highly providential, and just in the nick of time. Also, the aliens that operate the claw revere "The Claaaw!" as some kind of deified, godlike being. And it is quite literally a machine that hoists in from above. Therefore, I cannot think of any better example of deus ex machina in the world of cinema. And what a shining, emotional, heart-wrenching, just-in-time example it is.
Alien toy from Toy Story 3
Do you have any favourite (or most hated) examples of deus ex machina?

Do please uplift us by leaving your most tragically godlike comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Determinism - No Chance

(photo by Daniel Dion)

DETERMINISM

Noun. Late 18th century.
[from DETERMINE + -ISM.]

1 The doctrine that human action is necessarily determined by
motives regarded as external forces acting on the will. L18

2 The doctrine that everything that happens is
determined by a necessary chain of causation. L18

I'd like to thank you for visiting Lexicolatry today; except there's no point; according to the theory of determinism, you were always bound to visit Lexicolatry. Somewhere, back in the ether of time, a causative process was started, a process that would lead unstoppably, irredeemably, irrevocably to you reading this page. According to some determinists, therefore, you cannot be held accountable for anything you do. Wow. That really is something. Oh to hell with it! I'm gonna say it anyway: thank you!


It's already been determined whether or not you're interested in a related post on biologism.

Do please leave your ... oh you're either already going to or not, so do what you want.
(except the notion of what you want is irrelevant in a deterministic universe)

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

What Are Some Other Terms for 'Detective'?

The Man Himself.
(photo by Dynamosquito)

DETECTIVE

Adjective & noun. Mid-19th century.
[from DETECT + -IVE, after elect, elective, etc.]

A1 adj. Of, pertaining to, or employed in the investigation of things 
apt to elude notice or deliberately concealed, especially of crimes;
having the character or function of detection. M19

A2 adj. [attributive use of the noun.] Describing crime and the detection of criminals. L19

B noun. A police officer or other person whose occupation it is
to investigate crimes by eliciting evidence, information, etc.;
a person engaged in detective work;
the position or rank of a police detective. M19

As a child, I was fascinated with detectives, detective work and detective fiction; it was actually after finishing The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes that I decided it was the career for me. Of continual interest, too, was the array of terms used to describe detectives, particularly those that worked (as I did) in the private sector.

My first professional introduction to this was the question of what exactly a private detective calls himself. For example, the first company I worked for preferred the term professional investigator (even though private detective was the title printed on my ID), and this was the understanding of the initialism P.I, otherwise often read as private investigator. Other terms commonly used by those working in the field are inquiry agent as a general term, and tracing agent and skip tracer for those that specialise in locating people.

For what others call us, there are numerous terms. Private eye is still commonly used, though often only jocularly. An old-fashioned term is dick, a contraction of detective, something I have been called many times over the course of my career, often with a cephalic suffix tacked on for good measure. Another common descriptor in literature is gumshoe, which the OED states is another word for sneaker, and thus refers to a private detective's supposed stealth.

Going back in time, an old-fashioned term for a PI is shamus, used in the 1920s and which Merriam-Webster suggests draws a derogatory comparison between the work of a church sexton and that of a store detective. An even older term is hawkshaw, which is a reference to a detective in the 1863 play The Ticket of Leave Man.

Finally, sleuth is often used to denote someone with a particular skill in detection, often in reference to amateur sleuths or armchair sleuths / detectives. Armchair sleuth can also be used for those that are so brilliant that they need never visit a crime scene to solve a case, as Sherlock Holmes says of his brother Mycroft in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. In real life, however, they're more likely to be the type that shout at the television during episodes of CSI, and assiduously follow televised court cases before concluding that the judge did it in the library with the iPad, and the prosecutor is sleeping with the court stenographer. Case closed.

Not once did I ever burst in on a naked woman with my gun drawn.
And now that I think of it, I never even had a gun.
Nuts.
(image by Will Hart)
Are there any other terms for detective where you're from?

Are there any you particularly like?

Do please prosecute your most deductive comments in the witness box below.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Dessert - A Sweet Etymology

Of course, I may just have chosen to cover dessert so I could gorge myself on photos of delicious food ...
(photo by Ralph Dally)

DESSERT

Noun. Mid-16th century.
[French, use as noun of part participle of desservir clear the table, from des- removal + servir to serve.]

A course of fruit, nuts, sweets, etc., served at the end of a meal.
Also (originally US) a pudding or sweet course.

Regular readers of Lexicolatry might be a little confused by this entry, as surely everything one needs to know about the word dessert has already been covered in the post Is It 'Just Deserts' or 'Just Desserts'? However, no! For the word dessert has its very own fascinating etymological secrets to offer us, namely in that it's derived from the French verb meaning 'to clear the table'.

"Wonderful!" you think, "but how might this gem of knowledge benefit me in any way?" Well, I say just think of the next time you're at a dinner party and the host announces: "Dessert is served!" Ah ha! How humorously oxymoronic! Just think how enamoured all attendees will be as you regale them with the etymology of dessert, perhaps followed by a second course of the desert vs dessert question, and then finished off with a history of, say, chocolate, or biscuits, or perhaps the fact that saying The Sahara Desert is, literally, saying The Desert Desert.

Armed with these lexicological wonders, you need never worry about being invited to a dinner party again.

Oh ... my ... 
(photo by Kimberly Vardeman)
Do please do us the (dis)service of leaving your sweetest comments in the box below.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Is it 'Just Deserts' or 'Just Desserts'?

Someone's just about to get their desserts! Ho ho ho.
(photo by April Bern)

DESERT

Noun. Middle English.
[Old French, from deservir DESERVE.]

1(a) Deserving, being worthy of reward or punishment. ME

1(b) Merit, excellence, worth. LME

2 An action or quality deserving reward or punishment. Usually in plural. LME

3 Due reward or punishment, something deserved.
Frequently in get one's deserts, have one's deserts, meet with one's deserts, etc. LME

Noo! Not that type of dessert. Nor that type. Rather, this is desert, as in something one deserves, pronounced with the stress on the second syllable just like the dessert of the delicious type, and not like the desert of the sandy type. Yes, that's right; were dealing with three completely separate words. And if you've been writing (or thinking) just desserts, then you're a right proper numpty. Did you know that there are even language bloggers that have been caught out by this, only to be corrected on their own blogs, thus exposing their ignorance to the world after they had put themselves up on a pedestal as some kind of authority on the subject? Now if that's not getting your just deserts, I don't know what is.

Now, to be fair to this blogger that shall remain nameless, many resources acknowledge that, while originally it most definitely was deserts and not desserts, the latter has become so common in modern English as to have become virtually acceptable. But seriously: where is the fun in that? For picky pedants and grumpy grammar goblins around the world, where is the satisfaction in shrugging your shoulders and saying: "Ah sure, but everyone says it like that!" No fun. No fun at all. So remember:

IT'S GETTING ONE'S JUST DESERTS
(pronounced as dessert, but spelt as desert)

Just desert
(photo by Ilker Ender)
Do please leave your sweetest comments in the sandbox below.