Category Archives: Words Words Words

A mystery: 13

Our American Cousin, by Tom Taylor, Act II, Scene 2:

Enter, from R. 2 E., SIR E., MRS. M., … two servants in livery, carrying tray and glasses, a wine basket containing four bottles to represent champagne, knife to cut strings, some powerful acid in one bottle for ASA—pop sure. (p. 31, Samuel French ed.)

What in Fox’s name is meant by pop sure? And, unless I missed something, that bottle of acid is never used.

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DeLillo decoded

If ever there was a book that needed an explanatory wiki, it’s Ratner’s Star (1976):

He was watching her bend the edges of a paper plate someone had left on the table. Again and again she folded the plate so that a different point on the circumference of the circle touched the same ketchup speck every time, a small stain located well off-center. She kept studying the resulting creases. (p. 53)

The creases form an ellipse, as Dr. Math explains.

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Ka-chunk

Languagehat takes on the naval neologism geedunk. My post to the comment thread:

I had a colleague who was in the Navy in the 1990s; he was stationed, among other places, on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He taught me “gee-dunk” (pronounced as a spondee) as a word for a break room, a place with a coffee machine, a table or two, and a couple of vending machines. Not at all the ice cream parlor of swankier years. His etymology, or perhaps the etymology that was handed down to him, was that “gee-dunk” was the sound of working the vending machine: the sound of pulling and releasing the knob, and the ka-chunk sound of the sweet and salty treat falling to the bottom tray.

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Nom nom nom

Jawbreaker OTD. Myxomycetophagy: drawing nutrition, as in some beetles, from slime molds, both their spores and plasmodia. In Novozhilov et al., “Ecology and Distribution of Myxomycetes,” in Stephenson and Rojas, Myxomycetes (2017).

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The answer is “shoe”

Paula Poundstone nails it.

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A mystery: 10

I found some near misses online, but nothing in my unabridgeds to give a clear definition of crongle from this passage:

Hens cluck, croon, and crongle in their enclosure.

—David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (2014), p. 594



The closest match describes a person with an ample beard sufficient to shelter small animals.

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Hundslappadrifa

Icelanders strive to maintain their native language as an option for communication with computers, as well as something that its children can read and speak.

Most high schools are also waiting until senior year to read works by the writer Halldor Laxness, the 1955 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who is buried in a small cemetery near his farm in western Iceland.

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Alice blue

I was consolidating some old files of clippings and I found this gift from 1990 David: a copy of Nicholson Baker’s story, “Room Temperature.”

And yet I had always envied normal households that had (besides aluminum screen doors whose hissing pistons could be locked into the open position by moving a little ring) doorstops wedged permanently into place under the open swinging kitchen door.

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GO CAPS

TIL the New York Times does not have a rule in its style manual concerning capitalization of the titles of artistic works set in lower case by their creators.

It does call for following American capitalization rules for the titles of foreign-language works (“Così Fan Tutte,” not “Così fan tutte”); urges avoiding “fanciful” punctuation in company names (“Yahoo,” not “Yahoo!”); and calls for capitalizing only the first letter of acronyms that exceed four letters (“Unicef,” not “UNICEF”).

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Spark decoded

“Guy’s account,” said Henry, “is substantially the same as the others, with the most interesting exception that he gets Tol calls from London at between six and seven in the evening when the cheap rate is on. In his opinion the offender is a schoolboy.”

—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (1958), chap. 11

 

A slip? Tol for toll? But here it is again:

“Nonsense,” said Dame Lettie. “A middle-aged man.”

“It is simple,” said Henry, “to trace a Tol call from London to the country. And yet the police have not traced any caller to Guy Leet at Stedrost.”

And indeed, Tol was a shorthand for placing a metered call within the London exchange:

Previously, making a trunk call involved what was known as ‘delay working’ where a subscriber booked long distance calls in advance and was later rung back by the operator when one of the trunk lines became available. Obviously, the greater the demand made on the exchange, the longer the wait. Under the new ‘Toll’ system subscribers were now able to ask the local operator for ‘Tol’ for calls to exchanges within the London Toll Area. They were then connected to the Toll operator who completed the call while the subscriber remained at the telephone. Later, as more automatic exchanges were introduced, the subscriber simply had to dial ‘TOL’ to be connected to the Toll operator.

Dialing TOL was a service like dialing TIM for the time, as fans of Tom Stoppard’s If You’ll Be Glad I’ll Be Frank know. Or dialing UMP to get cricket scores?!

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Leonard decoded

This one isn’t too obscure, but Leonard’s rendering of the company name is idiosyncratic:

“You cut the wire,” Donnell said.

“Is that all?” Chris brought out the Spyder-Co knife that was always in his right-hand coat pocket. “Here, you do it.”

—Elmore Leonard, Freaky Deaky, p. 219

 

Chris handles his Spyderco knife at least two other times in the course of the book. The company is still in business. I don’t know whether its cult following was stronger in the last 80s, when this book appeared, or now. I suspect that Chris carries a Leatherman tool now.

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Something new

Kaveh Waddell sketches Adlam: a script not yet 30 years old, invented for speakers of Fulani, a language spoken by 40 million West Africans.

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Faulkner decoded: 2

… the spring weather, the spring which an American poet, a fine one, a woman and so she knows, called girls’ weather and boys’ luck.

—William Faulkner, The Town, chap. 20

Not too hard to track this one down, as it’s been decoded by other writers. It’s from Ryder (1928), by Djuna Barnes, from the “Rape and Repining!” chapter:

It is Spring again, O Little One, the Waters melt, and the Earth divides, and the Leaves put forth, and the Heart sings dilly, dilly, dilly! It is Girls’ Weather, and Boys’ Luck!

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Bleached

Oh, dear Fox, yes: Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like.’

This is what is most disturbing about “I feel like”: The phrase cripples our range of expression and flattens the complex role that emotions do play in our reasoning. It turns emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction—and even in our relativistic age, there remains a distinction—between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.

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Not letting snuck sneak past me

Oh, dear. How did this escape my notice? For many speakers, a button-down shirt now does not refer specifically to a shirt with a buttons securing the collar, but rather to any shirt with buttons down the placket.

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