Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Asleep at the switch

I suddenly realized that, yes, Wednesday is nearly over and I have not posted Slang-o-rama! I am definitely asleep at the switch this week. That is, unprepared; lacking alertness; inattentive...

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... at least, that is how Heavens to Betsy and Other Curious Sayings, by Charles Earle Funk, defines it.

According to Funk, this "American expression" relates to the railroads and is almost literal in meaning:

It dates from the time when railroad switches or turnouts were thrown or turned by levers operated by hand, either by switch-tenders or brakemen. In a freight yard especially, where it was the duty of the switch-tender to shunt cars to the proper tracks, alertness was an essential. Lack of attention gave rise to the charge that he was asleep at the switch.

Curious to see if I could find out more (first appearance of this idiom, perhaps?) I turned to the internet. In Idioms in the News - 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples by Peter Bengelsdorf, I found the following passage:


Well, now I had to chase down the poem itself. I found "Asleep at the Switch" here, on the site Poetry Nook (which unfortunately is littered with annoying ads).

I also found a reference to an 1897 ballad by that title, which again references Hoey's poem.

I even found a video of a reading of the poem on YouTube, with some great old-time piano music in the background... 

I hope this sudden flurry of activity and research will absolve me from being late with this week's post!

It's already Wednesday??
Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Ultracrepidarian

 Ultracrepidarian is a "lost word" that I'd be tempted to fling about on occasion. The Little Book of Lost Words by Joe Gillard defines it as "a person with opinions on subjects beyond their knowledge" and dates it from the 19th century.

Let's see if we can narrow down the first appearance of this seven-syllable obscurity.

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According to Word Histories, ultracrepidarian can also be an adjective, in which case it's defined as "expressing opinions on matters outside the scope of one’s knowledge or expertise" (which certainly makes sense). The Word Histories post gives a detailed rundown on the word's origins and first appearance:

...This word was specifically invented to qualify the English poet and critic William Gifford (1756-1826)... The son of a glazier, Gifford served an apprenticeship to a shoemaker before... attending Exeter College, Oxford; he was, from 1809 to 1824, the first editor of The Quarterly Review
With reference to the fact that William Gifford had been a shoemaker’s apprentice, ultracrepidarian alludes to the remark "ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret", "the cobbler should not judge beyond his shoe"**, attributed to the painter Apelles in response to criticism from a shoemaker, in Naturalis Historia (The Natural History – 77), a vast encyclopaedia of the natural and human worlds by the Roman statesman and scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79). This anecdote is the origin of the proverb let the cobbler stick to his last. (The word ultracrepidarian is from Latin ultra, meaning beyond, and crĕpĭda (from Greek κρηπίς [= krēpís]), denoting the sole which served the Greeks, and the Romans who adopted Grecian habits, as a shoe, a sandal.) 
The word ultracrepidarian was first used as an adjective qualifying the noun "critic" by the English writer and painter William Hazlitt (1778-1830) in A Letter to William Gifford, Esq. (London, 1819):  
...Your overweening self-complacency is never easy but in the expression of your contempt for others; like a conceited mechanic in a village ale-house, you would set down every one who differs from you as an ignorant blockhead; and very fairly infer that any one who is beneath yourself must be nothing. You have been well called an Ultra-Crepidarian critic. 
In 1823, James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), English poet, journalist and critic, published Ultra-Crepidarius, a satirical poem on William Gifford.

Whoa! Sounds like William Gifford pissed off some highly literate people in his day. According to his bio in Wikipedia, that indeed appears to be the case. 

So, go ahead, and fling that word around. There are plenty of ultracrepidarians in today's world as well. (If the shoe fits...)

"A pair of shoes" by Vincent van Gogh (1887)
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27368228

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** If you want to know more about this phrase, click here (Wikipedia is your friend)



Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Caught flat-footed (and NEWS FLASH!)

With the 4th of July holiday on Sunday and a "day off" from the virtual cubicle farm on Monday, I am caught flat-footed with the sudden appearance of Wednesday and (yikes!) the need to drum up something for Slang-o-rama! 

So first, caught flat-footed, and then, a bookish news flash!

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Even my little visual "pause" of right-facing angle brackets are a little unprepared, which is very appropriate, for caught flat-footed means caught unprepared or taken by surprise, according to Dictionary.com. The entry goes on to say:

This usage comes from one or another sport in which a player should be on his or her toes, ready to act. [c. 1900]

The same explanation appears in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. The site Idiom Origins adds that the expression is originally American, adding, "All the evidence points to its origin from being caught flat-footed or unprepared in baseball." A Wikipedia entry "List of police-related slang" has an intriguing entry on flatfoot, which expands on this possible origin:

FLATFOOT: A term with uncertain origins. Possibly related to the large amount of walking that a police officer would do; at a time when the condition flat feet became common knowledge, it was assumed that excessive walking was a major cause. Another possible origin is the army's rejection of men with flat feet, who would often take jobs in law enforcement as a backup, particularly during war when established police officers would often join up (or be forced). What is known is that by 1912, flat-footed was an insult among U.S. baseball players, used against players not "on their toes." This may have been applied to police officers sometime later, for similar reasons.
Caught flat-footed indeed!
Image by David Mark from Pixabay


---------------------------------NEWS FLASH NEWS FLASH NEWS FLASH--------------------

On July 4th I was thrilled and honored to learn that MORTAL MUSIC is a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award (WRMA) in the Maverick category.!Those of you who sport the spirit of the West, please join me as I hoot and holler and throw my hat in the air! You can see the complete list of finalists for all the categories here. Winners will be announced on October 23 at the WRMA ceremony and banquet in Ft. Worth, Texas. 

Congratulations to all the other finalists, and many thanks to the judges for all their hard work—they were apparently inundated with entries this year, which no doubt added to the complexity and time involved in reading and evaluating all the submittals.

Now, I'm off to scour the freezer for ice cream and to do a little celebrating...

More WRMA details and links on this page.






 




Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama (July 4th edition): Homerkin

Heeeere comes the Fourth of July! Time to raise a homerkin, perhaps?

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According to Joe Gillard's The Little Book of Lost Words, homerkin is a 17th century English noun meaning "a measure of beer." A measure of beer sounds like a good way to toast a holiday in the middle of a (blazing) hot summer.

But not so fast...

In a Gigglewater411.com post titled "A homerkin, anyone?" one commenter offers the following elucidation:

A homer is an old Hebrew word for a unit of measurement for liquids, equal to 10 “baths,” or approximately 55 gallons. The suffix kin is an old English addition to denote diminutive. So a homerkin is likely a unit of liquid measure equal to half of a homer; or, approximately 27 gallons.

Twenty-seven gallons of beer?? That is a lot of beer.

Let's dive a little deeper and see what else we can find.

A homerkin's worth, perhaps?
Image by Digital Photo and Design DigiPD.com from Pixabay

Homerkin shows up again in The Creature's Cookbook's "Cool Beer Glasses Perfect for Wordsmiths,Book Polygamist's "Save the Words Saturday," and The Guardian's "Move to rescue obscure words." However, it doesn't even register on the Google Ngram viewer or appear in the usual online dictionaries.

My seven-pound Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (Fully revised and updated) did list homer as "a Hebrew unit of capacity equal to ten baths in liquid measure," with a first use date 1525–35. (I also found that definition of homer in Wikipedia, here.)

-kin is defined in my Webster's as "a diminutive suffice of nouns." Well, I knew that. I'm still not certain how we get -kin equating to half, but so be it. In any case, I gather a homerkin is a lot of beer, probably more than fits your average glass or stein.

Okay, I'm thirsty now. Time for some iced tea.

Wishing you all a safe and pleasant Fourth of July!

Fourth of July, Seattle WA, 1888
By Theodore E. Peiser - Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72641975

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Weasel word

Weasel word seems like it might be a relatively new term; it just has that "feel" to me.

But, a-ha!

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The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer sheds light on my confusion. Whereas weasel out (definition: to back out of a situation or commitment, especially in a sneaky way) dates to mid-1900s, weasel word (a word used to deprive a statement of its force or evade a direct commitment) harkens back to the late 1800s.

Perhaps.

Exploring the internet, I found some disagreement over when first use for weasel word occurred. Word Histories gave a concise explanation of the phrase's origin and pinned its first appearance in print to 1900:

...It alludes to the weasel’s supposed ability to suck the contents out of an egg while leaving the shell superficially intact.

 This phrase was invented and defined by Stewart Chaplin in "The Stained-Glass Political Platform," a short story published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (The Century Co., New York) of June 1900.

ThoughtCo agreed, and added that the phrase was popularized in a 1916 speech by Theodore Roosevelt.

The Phrase Finder dipped a toe into possible 19th century use, citing none other than TR himself:

In September 1916, the New York Times published a piece in which Roosevelt refuted the notion that he had stolen the phrase from Chaplin and claimed to have coined it independently in 1879: 
Colonel Roosevelt, on his way here this morning from Portland, Me., told a Times reporter how he happened to use the expression "weasel words" in describing some of President Wilson's utterances months ago. After the expression had been widely quoted, somebody discovered that it had been used years ago by the writer of a magazine article in the Century Magazine, and the Colonel was charged with having plagiarized the writer. 
"About thirty-seven years ago." Colonel Roosevelt said in talking of the origin of the expression. "I was going up a mountain in the Maine woods in a carriage, driven by Dave Sewall. We saw an old man along the roadside. When we passed Dave Sewall said: "That there man can do a lot of funny things with this language of ours. He can take a word and weasel it around and suck the meat out of it like a weasel sucks the meat out of an egg, until it don't mean anything at all. The Colonel said the expression [weasel words] occurred to him when he read some of President Wilson's notes.

Wikipedia (in a VERY comprehensive, detailed, and footnoted entry) offered the same explanation(s). I turned to Google's Ngram, and did find one mention from 1887 in Peterson's Magazine, right here. So maybe in the 1880s—my timeframe of interest—it could have been used in conversation. ("Maybe" being my weasel word of choice, followed closely by "could" because I like to hedge my bets.)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Aprosexia

This week's word is not really slang, but a medical term from the late 19th century that applies perfectly to today's world...

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According to The Little Book of Lost Words by Joe Gillard, aprosexia is defined as "a complete inability to focus or concentrate due to a distracted, wandering mind." I found a lovely reference to it, in the 1889 Annual of the Universal Medical Science and Analytical Index, Volume 4, to wit:

(You can read Dr. Guye's medical paper here, in the Sept. 28, 1889, issue of The British Medical Journal.) 

Whereas physicians from the past blamed this distracted state on "nasal disorders," nowadays it's ascribed to our fixation with social media, smart phones, Netflix... well, you get the idea.

Does this expression look familiar?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I'd investigate this fascinating word further, but I'm definitely suffering from aprosexia today, so I think I'll take a break and go find some chocolate to eat instead.

By Emily boston - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47278239

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Catnap (by DMcC)

Hello all... My assistant slang-o-rama-ist, the euphonious DMcC (aka Devyn McConachie), returns with another post for your edification. Enjoy! - Ann

Devyn McConachie is a designer-editor-cartoonist, currently lurking about Portland, Oregon. Were it not for her wobbly landlubber legs and love of indoor-living, she would absolutely have taken up a career as a sea-pirate. Landlocked as she is, she instead fills her days with graphic design, animation, illustration, and copy editing.
For more info and to view her visual portfolio, visit this here link
 She also has an Etsy shop (arts, hats, and cards) right here 
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As the days stretch longer and warmer, filled with buzzing of bees and rustling of leaves, I find myself more and more often nodding off in the afternoon, dazedly daydreaming of a sweet siesta... 

And I’m not alone—Ann’s office assistant, the Diva Miss Mia, is well-known for her slumbering prowess. With a snooze after every meal and regular dozes in the office, she’s always sleeping on the job. She is, undoubtedly, a master of the cat-nap.

The skilled snoozer, the Diva Miss Mia, prepares to catch her forty furry winks.

Now there’s a word! Before my eyelids droop too far, let’s see where cat-napping came from... 

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 The Online Etymology Dictionary defines the noun cat-nap (also spelled catnap or cat’s nap) as “a short, light sleep,” which was first recorded in 1823; cat-nap as a verb emerged in 1859.

As I was prowling the web for more snooze clues, I came across an interesting tidbit of research: most animals have polyphasic sleep patterns, meaning that they sleep in more than one chunk each day. And according to research by historian A. Roger Ekirch, until relatively recently, we humans were polyphasic, too.

While studying letters, legal documents, medical records, and other written miscellany from before the Industrial Revolution, Ekrich came across the terms first sleep and second sleep. From context, he concluded that these were distinct periods of nighttime slumber, each lasting three or four hours, and with an hour or so of wakefulness in between. Those wee waking hours could be used for keeping watch, telling stories, interpreting dreams, committing petty crime, and any number of other activities.

How about that—two cat-naps a day, plus time to play!

-- But is she on her first or second sleep?
The Sleeping Beauty - Edward Burn-Jones, 1870-1890

And our snoozing tendencies didn’t stop with the Industrial Revolution. Consider the classic Mediterranean siesta (from the Latin sexta, or “sixth hour”), a post-lunch doze, popular in warm climates. Or how about the Japanese inemuri, the face-planting snooze of the exhausted and overworked?

Perhaps you’ve also heard of the power nap, a 10-30 minute daylight snooze (sometimes supplemented with a strong dose of coffee) for optimized productivity and cognitive performance. Somehow, though, the term power nap doesn’t hold the same appeal to me as the luxuriously lazy-sounding cat-nap.

So although the language has changed, perhaps we’ve always been catnappers at heart. As usual, maybe those cats know something that we don’t…

Two catnapping experts, hard at work.
Sleeping Girl (Girl With a Cat) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880