MooT - the game of etymology, semantics, and grammar


MooT was reviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education, click HERE to read the review.

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The story of MooT






It was purposely coined in 1870 to be
the antonym of the word synonym.
What word is it?



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Answer: antonym


The word antonym derives from the Greek anti, opposite, and onym, name.

It was coined in 1870 by C.J. Smith to replace the word counterterm because Smith felt it was more etymologically appropriate.


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Got it, actually. It seemed too easy, but then it went along with a basic rule of mine: no matter how easy or obvious something is, someone did it first. I'm surprised it was that recent, but antonym is obviously the antonym of synonym.

Joe Horton, Birmingham, Alabama
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It's pure Greek to me - and a far better counterterm than "counterterm" which migh be a term used by clerks at the counter in shops.

Carl Sukkot, Denmark
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This just seems like a really weird question. You have the answer in the question, which makes me feel like it must not be the answer. I wracked my brain and could not think of another answer. I don't know I was not really very happy with this whole set up.

diane de rooij, seattle
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This was the easiest I've seen. You almost got me by using it in the clue. I eventually convinced myself that using it in the clue didn't remove it from the domain of possible answers.

Dean Phillips in Montana

Yes, using the answer in the question is one of my favourite things. It's especially fun during live games when people who are trying (desperately) to figure out the answer keep saying the answer out loud to each other over and over again — and no one clues in. I really enjoy that.
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Would it not be better to replace "antonym" in the question with "opposite" or "antithesis"

? I'm not sure that putting the answer in the question is fair. It's a basic rule of setting crosswords than a clue does not include the answer.

I rejected antonym out of hand for that reason and came up with "contronym."

Greg Felton, Vancouver

Note that "contranym" is a word that can mean two opposite things. For example, the word "cleave" can mean both "to join together" and "to break apart.".

You can read a more complete definition of the word's meaning and history at the "Online Dictionary of Language Terminology" (ODLT) here.
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And the synonym of the word antonym is antonym. Hmm...

Fred Perri, Rhode Island

Actually no. However, according to the COD, the antonym of the word "synonym" is "antonym" .
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Because you used the word "antonym" in the question, I assumed it was not the answer.

John-Christopher Ward

Sorry about the trick, but I do that sometimes just to keep people on their toes.
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Would "counternym" or "contranym" have worked?

Joe from Longmeadow

No. "Contranym" is incorrect. For example, the question asked for the specific word that was coined to replace "counterterm". That word was "antonym," thus it is the only possible correct answer.
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I am not so sure that antonym is the antonym for synonym. Antonyms are simple one-to-one relationships between two opposite words (up-down, good-bad, etc.).

A synonym is a word that is one of a number of words that refer to the same thing, but the opposite of this would be a word that is one of a number of words that refer to different things - basically, a noun, or some such thing.

I think the difficulty is in applying the words each other, as "opposed" to other words; that is, they are not each other's opposite, but function only in reference to other words.

Jeff Kelland, St. John's
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Is it possible to be a bigot
without being a racist?



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Answer: yes


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a bigot is an "obstinate and intolerant believer in something,"
whereas a racist is someone who believes:

(1) that some races are superior to others or
(2) human abilities are determined by race or
(3) is antagonistic or discriminates against other races.

Thus if you are an obstinate and intolerant believer in the propositions that:

(1) all races are equal,
(2) no one should ever be discriminated against, and
(3) human abilities are not determined by race,

you are a bigot but not a racist.


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Bravo! Well done. But there’s a subtle error here: Logically, since the criteria for diagnosis are either/or, so should the logic for diagnosis of bigotry.

So, if you’re obstinate and intolerant if you believe that all races are equal OR no one...etc. then you’re a non-racist bigot.

(You’re probably also a fool, but that’s not where you seemed to be heading with that line of reasoning.)

Joseph Horton
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I consider the second definition overly narrow; a person can be bigoted about age, sex, economic status, ability, body size, religion, sexuality, etc.

Dana Britomaris
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I disagree. Bigotry is a pejorative word, regardless of what the root of the word suggests or even original / previous meanings. Nowadays it is decidedly negative.

If one is "intolerant" of racism, that does not make the person intolerant in the sense that the word is normally used.

The matter can be avoided by choosing a different word: I do not accept racism as a viable position--for example.

Gloria Gannaway
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There are interesting differences, which may be subtle or important or both, between and among intolerance, racism, tribalism, conjecture, suspicion, estimate, conclusion, opinion, preference, bias, prejudice, and bigotry.

One important difference, I suspect, involves preference, bias, prejudice, and bigotry. The first three are, in descending order, amenable to new information and change accordingly. Bigotry is not.

Apposite quotations: "the scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof."
"He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave."

I don't think the question is properly framed:
1) and 3) are proper subjects for factual discussion once the semantics are resolved.
2) is just wrong, since it is foolish not to discriminate against rapists and murderers and cheaters and liars. Someone who obstinately believes that is more of a fool, I think, than a bigot.

Jim Whiting
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The answer to the original question is clearly yes.

However, like most of the other commenters, I think that obstinately believing in equality is not bigotry. It seems that bigotry nearly always (?by definition?) involves a sense of superiority. Thus a slave who believes that they deserve to be a slave because they are inferior is probably not a bigot.

But the original answer is yes, because one can be bigoted about so many other things besides race--I agree with Dana Britomaris.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA
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Bigotry and racism are complicated topics and are well beyond what can be covered in posts like this.

Nevertheless... Bigotry has nada to do with "what" you believe; it has to do with "how" you come to believe it and whether you are open to opposing views.

Every racist is a bigot; not every bigot is a racist. "I wouldn't vote Democrat if Jesus himself were on the ticket" is bigotry; it isn't (necessarily) racism. I would add that neither is a positive trait. Best to avoid both.

Joe Maher, Charlotte
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It sounds like a bigot is someone who believes in something obstinately and intolerantly, even if what he/she believes in is a good thing....so, like, would we would be considered bigots if we intolerantly were against child abusers.

Leslie, Ontario

Well, yes. According to the COD, any "obstinate and intolerant believer in something" is a bigot.

So, by that definition, if you obstinately and intolerantly believe that child abuse is wrong, you are a bigot.

The key point is that based on the COD's definition, it doesn't matter what the belief is or how true or beautiful or good that belief is, it's the way you hold that belief that determines whether or not you are a bigot.
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This is a great example of how an over-reliance on logic and a too rigid adherence to official definitions leads us to absurd conclusions. We all know what a bigot is, whether the COD does or not.

Ramsay, Indiana
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Hi. Some friends of mine and my husband’s love to play games. They introduced us to MooT a couple of years ago. We always play both Moot and MetaMooT when we get together.

We no longer live near each other, so those occasions are fewer now. I've decided that now it's time to get my own games. And I’m sure I’ll want your UltiMooT, when you’ve completed it. [It's done. You can order it here: https://mootgame.com/secure/how_to_get_ultimoot.html

Regarding playing your games, we love the challenge and the reward when we figure out one of the highest level questions. It’s a bit disturbing, though, how often we are unsure of the correct meaning of the words we use, so we learn as we play.

We’ve also invented a three person version, where one of us reads the question and the other two work together to answer. All three of us take turns reading the questions and we use three markers on the board to keep our individual scores. And to make it more interesting for the questioner, he or she can earn the points by proffering the correct answer (without penalty, should their answer also be incorrect), as long as it’s not a yes or no or a either or question. It has to be a question where you provide the original answer.

My friends and I have had lots of fun playing this way when we’re missing a fourth. We’ve never played with just two people, it’s much better with teams.

Your games have provided my friends and me with many hours of pleasure. I can’t wait to introduce your games to some select friends and family members. Not everyone is Moot Material! Many thanks to you for Moot!!

Margaret, Oregon

Thanks very much Margaret. I’m so happy to hear that you and your friends are getting so much enjoyment from MooT. That makes my day.
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I found out about Moot via Anu Garg's weekdaily "Word a Day" offering. (Yes, I know that "weekdaily" is not a word, but it should be!) While I fancy myself a word buff, I am clearly not in your class or Arg's.

I ordered Moot as a gift for my granddaughter, who is graduating with honors in English later this month and is an avid reader and writer and plans to go on to become a language teacher.

As for myself, I am a superannuated deflatulator (yes, another invention, but "old fart" is still less than couth!) now living in what they no longer call an old folks' home. After reading some of the Moot reviews, I am tempted to get a copy for myself and try to interest some of my fellow inmates at our "senior living facility" in Mooting, but I already find it a challenge just to find someone to play a round of Scrabble occasionally. (But who knows? After all, temptations are there to be eventually yielded to, right? Maybe some day ...)

In any event, it is a pleasure to encounter someone (like you) who is enthusiastically dedicated to doing his "thing". (Or, these days, should it be "their thing"?) Keep up the good work!

Theodor ("Ted") Polk, California
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Interesting thought. So a bigot is just someone with a cement mind. That being said, it naturally follows most likely there are bigots and racists in both camps. We have lost sight of hating the idea and not the person.

Ray, Arizona
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The responses are fascinating. No one wants to be a bigot because they've already made up their minds that bigotry is a bad thing -- no matter the definition of it. But what if some forms of bigotry are good? I for one would be bigoted against nazis, klansmen, etc., and that bigotry strikes me as virtuous. Who disagrees with that?

Joe Horton , Birmingham, Alabama
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What piece of head gear
was named for a village
near Sebastopol?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the balaclava


The woolen head covering was named for the village because a Crimean War battle was fought near there in 1854.


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Hi, Placing Sevastopol in Russia is problematic,especially to the Ukrainians, but also to the UN, Europe ,Canada, etc. Was that done because the word was coined during the Russian period?

Cheers, Deane Hutchinson.

Yes. I forgot that Ukraine was its own country. Thanks for the heads-up. I fixed the question by removing the word "Russia" from it.
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And all the while, I thought it was a sweet dessert pastry.

Fred Perri, Rhode Island
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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say balaclava. It’s the only Russian headgear I can think of besides the furry one with the ear flaps that I can’t remember the name of.

Now, whether Balaclava is a village near Sebastopol is another issue. It may be. But first, I would need to know exactly where in Russia Sebastopol is located. (As if that would help!) So. Balaclava. Final answer. Now I’m going to the link to check my answer.

Dave Brummitt, Vancouver
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A balaclava for dessert ! I prefer baklava any day ! Indians, particularly Bengalis, are very attached (no pun) to the balaclava, which they know as a monkey cap.

At the first hint of winter they lovingly take it out, and we in Delhi recognise Bengali tourists by it !

Narayani Gupta, Delhi
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Balaclava I got it but I "accidentally" cheated. I knew that Sebastopol was somewhere Russian. There is a Sebastapol in California, but we don't call small towns in America villages, so I knew it had to be European. After banging my head against it for a good bit, I searched for a map of Sebastopol, to discover it is in the Crimean Peninsula, and before I could unsee it, I saw the town of Balaclava.

Though I failed to produce the correct answer on my own, I did get great benefit from the results of the research. I lived in Romania, on the Eastern border of Ukrania for 7 years, returning to the US only recently. I wanted to visit Ukrania, but the American embassy in Bucuresti said it was not all that safe for Americans because of the conflicts, so sadly I did not get to go. I was unaware we were so close to the Crimean area of dispute. Thank you for a fruitful trigger to do research.

Carolyn Blake - Denver, Colorado
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[UltiMooT] Arrived today. How wonderfully hand wrapped.

I have not had the heart to open it, knowing that this might be the last one. My fellow word nerds and I shall savour opening it at game time on Tuesday morning.

This past Tuesday was my 77th birthday. Our coffee shop was closed for remodelling, so we met at the home of two of our group, and had birthday donuts, complete with candles, coffee and conversation. ….

We’ve enjoyed going back thru MetaMooT, and are so glad you didn’t sell your soul to Milton Bradley...or worse Tyco, Mattel, or worst Hasbro!!!! The more we play the more we appreciate your sense of humour, if not the COD, often referred to as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, especially if we don’t agree with the definition.

And so, …, our thanks for bringing a rather disparate and unlikely group together to discuss words, tell stories, and learn to appreciate each other even more. We are better, more informed people because of your passion, and hope that UltiMooT might become PenUltiMooT ….

April Mullins, Maine
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CAROLYN BLAKE (above) avers that "we don't call small towns in America villages." I am behind in my email and am just catching up with it this evening...having come home from the annual Newbury, Vermont Village Meeting. Small towns are called by that name all over upper New England.

Sydney Lea., Newbury, VT
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Is it true that there are only
two types of people:
activists and
quietists?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, those who are active in pursuit of a cause are activists, whereas those who spend all their time in devotional contemplation are quietists.

Thus, for example, someone who plays video games 24/7 is neither an activist nor a quietist.


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This seems like a self-evident answer because the law of the exclused middle does not apply. It's like asking if there are only two temperatures hot and cold when there are plenty of examples of neither, such as warm and cool.

Greg Felton, Vancouver


It seems to me is that the question is really asking whether the terms activist and quietist are equivalent to, say, A and not-A. An example of the latter would be: There are only two types of people: activists and not activists.

In my question, the answer is no because activist and quietist only represent two of the many places on a continuum of behavior.

I don’t agree because to ask the question as A or non-A would be to ask it as “activist or non-activist”. As it’s presented it is “A or B?”

I don't think you understand me or perhaps I was unclear: To me: The question really is whether the relationship between the terms "activist" and "quietist" is the same as the relationship between A and Not-A. And the answer is no.

Oh. OK. I see what you mean.
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I gave the original Moot game to my daughter’s family last year for Christmas. They do not play the actual game but instead use the cards as a dinner table activity.

Their daughter (age 14) considers herself a linguist and her parents, while not college graduates, are self-educated and value the nuances and proper usage of the English language. He is a native of Scotland.

They have used the cards so much that they have them memorized and begged me to order the next set. I heard about Moot from Anu Garg’s word-a-day emails.

Kathleen Kowalick

That’s fantastic. I love hearing stuff like that. I hope they have many more years of dinner-table fun with MetaMooT. And when they are ready, there is the final and last edition of MooT called "UltiMooT" (the hardest one of all) that they can try out.
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From an Intro to Philosophy college class (the Professor was trying -- and succeeding -- to yank our chains): There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think that there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don't. I am one of the latter.

Joe Maher, Charlotte NC

Actually, the two types of people in the world are those who think they are the latter and those who think they are the former. I'm the latter so I'm the former.
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I think the example you chose regarding those who play video games 24/7 is an inaccurate and poor example. Some who play video games are surely activists as there are many contests and competitions and therefore those who engage in this play are surely activists.

Ron Guberman, New York
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Wow--I didn't know the word quietist!

(In fact, neither does my computer when I type it, the program underlines it as a misspelling.)

Dana, Santa Rosa, CA

That's how the OED spells it. In my books, the COD always trumps a spell-checker.
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I had to think on this a while because the word quietist is new to me. I decided NO.

First, I don't think it's possible to say there are 2 types of people in the world.

That aside, a quietist would have to be the opposite of an activist, for the response to be yes. And as best as I could discern what a quietist might be, someone who pursues quietude, it's not an antonym of activist.

Carolyn Blake, Denver CO
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,
it was — purportedly — coined from
the French phrase lieux d'aisances, places of ease,
and it still denotes a place of ease.
What one syllable word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: loo


A loo is a lavatory. The term purportedly derives from French lieu d'aisances, and was picked up by British servicemen in France during WWI. However, according to the OED, the etymology of the term is "obscure," i.e. no one knows where the word comes from.


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I came across MooT at a camp called "Alpine Lakes High Camp." We had played through a handful of games people had brought and shared, and were just rummaging through the house's games, when we saw the box for your game. The three of us proceeded to become completely engrossed by the questions and spent the better part of five hours quizzing each other back and fourth.

I found out that a few of my friends share my amateur interest in etymology and had a great time with it. I am getting my friend a thank-you gift for being a supportive friend and thought, what better gift than a game that we both can enjoy.

Keep doing what you are doing, I think there is a very good chance I will be getting the Metamoot in the near future for the other friend. Thanks!

Jay Sutton, Seattle
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I guess "Skip to my lieu d'aisances" just didn't have the right ring to it.

Fred Perri, Rhode Island

It rings for me. I like it.
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Can I play another person on line with this game?

Dr Jim Dohn @ aol.com

No. It's not online. You have to play it face to face with real people. And you have to drink beer while you're playing it. That's in the rules.
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Heard it frequently during my RAF days. Never knew the origin. Thank you!

Don - Texas
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A lieu d'aisances does not have an "x". So -- loos. Or toilets.

jim whiting, Portlant Or

Thanks for the heads-up. Correction made.
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Euh... I'm French and, forgive me, I can't see the link between loo and lieux d'aisance. Or, is loo the English deformed pronunciation of lieu(x), which is difficult to pronounce. But I feel very happy because it is only the second time I instantly find a word (sob) and I believe it's only the second time I find a word, period.

dominiquemellinger at yahoo.co.uk
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My understanding was that loo was introduced in the 1950s as part of the entirely spurious distinction between usages that were 'u' ('upper-class') & 'non-u', proposed by Nancy Mitford---originally as a joke if Wikipedia is to be believed, but taken semi-seriously by some.

Lavatory, indeed, was u, as opposed to the non-u toilet; but loo caught on as an acceptably u abbreviation for lavatory.

Other pairings were napkin (u) / serviette (non-u); drawing-room (u) /lounge (non-u).

What rubbish! I don't remember hearing loo before the mid-50s, when I was in my teens, & when indeed the u/non-u distinction became a bit of a talking-point. The monosyllable used in my family was bog.

Janet Rizvi, Gurgaon, India

Thanks for the info. According to the OED, the "etymology is obscure" i.e., no one really knows where the word comes from. Thus all is speculation — and your speculation is as good as anyone else's.
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"...and it still denotes a place of ease." Ease, you say. Well, that's pretty subjective, isn't it? Not that it's my personal experience, but as Leonard Cohen sang (and one wonders what he spent all his time doing in his Tower of Song and whether it had a throne room), "I ache in the places where I used to play."

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

My guess is that Cohen is probably singing about a different play area.
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Got it once I looked up the meaning of the french expression. The etymology may not be solid, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Juanita Seguin
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I got it wrong. I thought it might be "den." … I lived with an English lady and heard her say loo all the time. How did I miss that?

Carolyn Blake, Denver

These questions are hard. Since the game is meant to be played by groups of 3 or more people on a team, I have to make the questions fairly hard, so it's not a surprise if you get it wrong.
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What about the British expression "gardez l'eau", when residents of homes bereft of toilets threw their dirty water from the upper storey onto the street below? There wasn't even a proper drainage system in the city of London those days!

Prasan Wilfred, Indore, India
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The word loo comes from the French habit of emptying chamber pots from the night before over the balcony and on to the street. The tosser would yell out "garden-l'eau" or watch out below for the night water (urine) !! English people still call the toilet room the loo, or water closet, a place where we all relax, especially our bowel. Hope that helps.

Ray Ginnever, Auckland , New Zealand
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This was the normal word in my upper-class Southern British family when I was very young (1940s) -- (other than "bikehouse", which was a euphemism for "loo", derived from a back porch which housed a lavatory as well as spare bicycles.)

Tom Priestly, Edmonton AB
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When it entered English it meant
"to place in physical servitude."
Now it means "to place in emotional servitude."
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: enthrall


The word enthrall derives from the Old English thrall, serf or slave.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, when it entered English in the 17th century, the word meant "to reduce to the condition of a thrall."

Now it means "to ‘enslave’ mentally or morally ... to captivate, hold spellbound, by pleasing qualities."


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What famous birthplace’s name means
"house of bread" in Hebrew?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Bethlehem


The name derives from the Hebrew beit lehem, house of bread.

Note that Biblical scholar William F. Albright claims that the name has meant different things over the years: Temple of (the God) Lakhmu in Canaanite, House of Bread in Hebrew and Aramaic, and House of Meat in Arabic.


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It's the “famous birthplace” that provides the clue. How many famous birthplaces with a Jewish origin are there? Bethlehem, of course.

Hugh, Roberts Creek, BC
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Got it immediately. I learned a little Hebrew half a century ago, courtesy of a folk-dance friend's old textbooks. His parents gave him a tour of Israel for high school graduation, and he loved it so much he ran away from the tour group at the last minute; his parents had to hire a private detective and fly him there to retrieve him.

Dana/Santa Rosa, CA
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"Beth" or "beit" is a fairly high-profile Hebrew word, even for those who don't speak the language. Synagogues are often called Beit or Beth Something-or-other. (My community has a Beth Israel; Beit Hamisdrash is a term commonly used for a place of religious study.)

Meanwhile, Beth Eliza (House of Eliza) is the crypto-Judaic name for the House of Windsor, whose current monarch is Elizabeth. Naaa, just kidding for the last example, but I'm sure you can find stuff equally ludicrous on conspiracy-theory sites.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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We would like to congratulate you on the creation of MooT! It is our favorite game, and we have introduced it to many people, and I'm glad you are still handcrafting them. We can appreciate the research, humour and perseverance you must have in order to get this game to market.

We were given a copy of the original MooT game many years ago by a friend who bought it in a games shop. The copy we just bought is a gift for my brother in Alberta. We find MooT makes an excellent graduation gift for humanities oriented graduates.

Linda Sharp at gmail
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Also the Bait-ul-Hikma, the House of Wisdom (8th - 13th century) of the Abbasids in Baghdad, which was engaged in a massive translation project to render writings from Greek and Sanskrit into Arabic.

Professor Narayani Gupta, New Delhi
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What English word
initially denoted
"a vendor of fancy goods
made in Milan"?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: milliner


During the Renaissance, the Italian city was famous for fancy goods, ribbons, and bonnets. Now the term denotes someone who makes or sells women's hats.


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I got it, first guess and in about five seconds. Either I'm getting smarter (unlikely) or that was a particularly easy question. What do you think Mr. Moot Guy?

Dave Brummitt, Vancouver

It is an easy question, but it seems to me that you are also getting smarter.
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Thank you. I bought 5 of the original for family and friends and now my son and I decided we definitely need this one [MetaMooT].

We have had hours of delight and conversation stemming from that delight. It is a wonderful game that becomes a shared memorable experience every time we play. Nancy

Nancy McMurchy, Mexico
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Got it! My widowed grandmother, in 1920, opened a millinery store with living quarters for her 5 kids, her father, and herself upstairs.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Northern California
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What substance gave
us the word
shinola?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: shoe polish


The original Shinola was a brand of shoe polish. Recently, I heard some TV commentators who used shinola is a synonym for shit, which in fact means that they don't know shit from shinola.


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How I knew the answer... https://youtu.be/Cly1JNCxlro

C.J. Bertran, Las Vegas, NV

Excellent. Thank you. Everyone needs to see that video.
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My friends and I do enjoy playing MooT. We meet most every Tuesday morning at the local (independent) coffee shop, Dastardly Dick's, here in Eastport, Maine.

We are as diverse a group as this little island in Fundy Bay can produce - men and women ranging in age from 12 to 85. Often people walk into the shop and get pulled into the game after initially saying something like, "Oh no; I'm not smart enough to play."

We play in a collaborative style, i.e. We discuss the question and come to a consensus. Despite, or perhaps because of this method, we have some lively discussions, not all of which are related to the question at hand.

We have now worked our way through most of the questions in the first set, so we are looking forward to MetaMooT.

By the way, we ran out of blue cards first, while there is still quite a pile of yellow cards. Is that die loaded?

If you are ever visiting Atlantic Canada, stop by on a Tuesday morning and join the fun.

Warning: we do not always love every question. There is often a cry, especially from one person to "tear up that card."

Barbara Barrett, Maine

Hi Barbara: As far as I know, the dice are not loaded, but they are probably not perfect.

If I’m ever in Maine again, I’ll make a point of dropping by on a Tuesday morning. But I won’t tell you who I am, so when I get all the tough questions right (cause I wrote them!), you guys'll think I’m some sort of itinerant linguistic savant.
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It pays to be 85 years old I answered that one in a split second!

BJ Gilles, Evansville In

Finally, the aging process pays off.
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"And that's why their shoes don't shine," which is, I believe, the requisite follow-up.

However, online dictionaries do seem to accept "shit" as a meaning of "shinola," even though they also curiously cite the expression "can't tell shit from shinola," which criticizes those who think shinola is shit.

By the way, the -ola in "canola" comes form the Latin for "oil"--"oleum."

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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We have been playing Moot (the original) for many years and enjoying it very much. We have a few sets of friends who enjoy it equally, so we occasionally pull out the long blue carton and play a few rounds. I believe we have worked through all of the cards, and so were overjoyed to learn about MetaMooT.

As to how we learned of MetaMooT: my wife is from Vancouver and we spend much of every summer there. I believe she bought the original Moot at a bookstore there (Chapters?) many years ago. I happened to be Googling (should that word be lower-case?) a few months ago to find out more about the origins of the game, and came across your web page. I quickly ordered the new game. Thank you for providing us with hours of enjoyment and education. We look forward to many more. And yes, feel free to contact me for feedback -- although I may be slow in replying.

John Owen, Charlottesville, Virginia
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Nice that someone remembers the saying about not knowing shit from Shinola.

Bob Tank, Coupeville, WA
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If you go to Detroit, you will find a company by the name of SHINOLA. It manufactures and markets a range of campy items. My son in law from Chicago bought a pretty nifty watch/timepiece when was vacationing in the renaissance city, south of Lake St. Clair.

Larry Glynn
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This one I knew! My mother used to use it as a synonym [for shit]. And I later found out it was a shoe polish. It still exists in some Central American countries.

Jake, Utah
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You are going to laugh, I have never actually played the game. I came across it while looking for either a translation of a word or searching for the meaning of a word. One question led me to another and I found Wordsmith A.Word.A.DAY.

Right as I opened the page I noticed the highlighted add for MooT-the semantics and Etymology game. It’s always hard to think of gifts to give my husband after so many years of marriage. Moot, seemed to be a perfect present. I gifted it about 3 years ago and it wasn’t until this past Christmas that he opened it and played with the family. I have the Christmas gathering every year and we always struggle in thinking of knew things to do while able to spend time together.

MooT was a hit!! So, I decided to get one for my nephew who was quite interested and had a grand time playing it. I was in the kitchen most of the time but enjoying their laughter.

It’s a wonderful game that brings people together. Thank you, I will make sure my nephew knows how to contact you in case his friends are interested in getting a game for themselves. Be safe.

Jacqueline Liffrig
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I knew the answer immediately even though I generally use Esquire or Kiwi brand shoe polish. In fact the TV commentator is correct since "Not knowing shit from Shinola" was a common expression, and probably still is? regarding ignorance of a particular subject.

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok, Thailand
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It's said this originated in WW11 Army barracks. … Another term like this is, "He doesn't know whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass."

Nick Adams
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I recall Steve Martin's one-liner where, at the end of an apparently abusive "phone call" he says, "I do, too! Shinola is a shoe polish!" Then he began his monologue.

Mike Scullin, Alpine, NY
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Lovely explanation. I think one must be over 60 to understand it. Do I still have a tin of Shinola? Probably not. Thanks.

Bob Sweet, Long Island
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It's the black stuff people put on their skin under their eyes. I was told that it was to deflect sun from the eyes while trying to catch a baseball or whatever. Also makes good warpaint.

Pat Ritchie, Delaware
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Yes, I'm old enough to remember both the polish and the meaning of the spinoff word. Shinola was the nominal (noun) equivalent of the action "to shine someone on," to fool or deceive someone with fancy fast talk, to spin a tale, especially for the purpose of selling something.

Susanna Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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I got it too, BJ! Old fartresses of the world unite.

Martha O'Kennon
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Being British, I never heard of Shinola, but it sounds like it's used euphemistically.

My nanny was too God-fearing to say 'Oh my God,' so instead she said 'Oh my giddy aunt.'

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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Way too easy for senior citizens! Shinola was a delightfully aromatic wax for shining shoes, and vigorous buffing was needed for a perfect shine.

Sally Frame, Bethlehem
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Shinola — which could refer either to a tacky product or acceptance of a phony story — came from the idea that the act of shining shoes was akin to "shining one on," that is, putting an attractive spin on a thing for a deceptive purpose.

Implied also was the dazzling speed at which the false story was put forth, so that the foolish mark's now shiny head might also spin. This usage goes back at least to the 1950's.

Susanna Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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What art form's name
means "pictures run amok"
in Japanese?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Manga


Manga is the name of a type of Japanese comic strip.

The term derives from the Japanese man, random or uncontrolled, and ga, picture or sketch.


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

Email address (e.g., Bob@ottawa.ca):

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I played MooT at a dinner party this weekend and it was the first game I really enjoyed.

I read a lot and love the challenges in this game. The discussions that ensued were hilarious. English is quite confounding.

Thank you. PS I have recommended it to several friends, and I know one bought it right away.

Gail Rutherford, Prince Edward Island
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And it seems that Hentai means "perverted" in Japanese. I personally don't know the difference between Manga and Hentai, but I think Hentai is a type of Manga. Anybody?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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I immediately thought of origami but I guess I don't know my Japanese!

GEORGE RUSSO

Origami means "paper folding" in Japanese - from ori, folding, and kami, paper.
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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,

are all beings entities?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


According to the COD:

(1) "anything that exists or is imagined" is a being,

(2) whereas anything with a "distinct existence" is an entity.

(3) It follows, then, that an actual or imagined being that has an indistinct existence is a being but not an entity.

A possible example of something that has an indistinct existence is Schrödinger's cat, an imagined being that is both dead and alive at the same instant.

If anyone can think of another or better example of "indistinct existence," please let me know.


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I dislike the question because the ability to answer turns solely on specific knowledge of the specific wording of the COD, as opposed to general knowledge of the language and words. I have no issues with using the COD as the rule for the game, but this one is a bit too "lawyerly".

W. Thomas, Louisiana

Thanks for the feedback. I actually like this type of question — even though it might seem too lawyerly — because it does make a distinction between words that otherwise would seem to be exact synonyms.

Is there any difference between the words "entity" and "being" or are they just interchangeable. Before I wrote the question, my gut feeling was that there IS some difference between a being and an entity, but what is it?

Well it turns out — according to the COD (or at least according to the lawyerly interpretation that I squeezed out of it) — that there is difference between those two words: an entity is a "distinct being."

This strikes me as a very useful distinction.
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I am not sure about your syllogism above. I think it hinges on the meaning of the word "distinct" (and what the lexicographers meant by "distinct").

You've taken it to mean something like that which can be clearly seen or, something which is, for lack of better words offhand, truly real.

I take the lexicographers to mean by "distinct" that which can be distinguished from or differentiated from something else. Two very different meanings!

Thus Schrodinger's cat--whether dead or alive, whether or not its very existence is nebulous--is distinct from Smith's cat. In other words, using this definition of "distinct," even if Schrodinger's cat is an entirely imaginary being, it is an entity because it's distinct from Smith's cat.

(Now, for my statement to be true, I have to concede we would all have to agree that imaginary cats can be spoken of as having existence. As you can see, your question opens up all sorts of cans of worms.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.

Ok. Good point. Then how about this as an example of an indistinct entity: the pantheistic God, i.e., the version of God where God is everything and everything is God.

I don't know. In a world where there is nothing but God, there's nothing left to distinguish him from. One of our assumptions about a world in which the idea of "distinguish" or "distinct" exist, is that there are things to distinguish.

Hi Jack, you’ve got to remember that we’re talking about words here. The concept "Pantheistic God" perfectly fits the definition of something that is a “being” but not an “entity.” That’s all that matters in the universe of discourse created by this particular MooT question. Cheers
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I am with Jack O. from Vancouver (vide infra), in that I affirm his interpretation of "distinct." This is, however, as the Brits used to say, a nice question, and reasonable people (also vide infra) may disagree about the answer.

Sydney Lea
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Since the definition of entity depends decisively on the definition of distinct, you should define distinct.

Dan Martin, Colorado

The COD defines distinct as:
(1) (when followed by "from") not identical, separate, individual; different in kind or quality, unlike.
(2) clearly percepticle, plain, clearly understandable, definite.
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Not sure if a Raggedy Ann Doll fits into this discussion - she (?) is not really a being, but is it really an entity? Now that I am 86 - must admit that some of these determinations are beyond me!

Myrna Marcus, Ottawa
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Wouldn't any fictitious character qualify as a being, because s/he can be imagined whereas s/he, having no distinct existence, would not qualify as an entity? No wonder Hamlet agonized over the question of whether to be or not to be!

Jude, Gibson's Landing
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Schrodinger's cat is a thought experiment. Is a thought experiment a being?

L. Wittgenstein, Vienna

Schrödinger's cat is an example of something that is imagined, and that imagined thing is used by the thought experiment.
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Hmmm. I answered yes, under the assumption that all beings exist. You include imagined beings. Which isn't, to my mind, a being, but rather an IMAGINARY being, which isn't necessarily a being at all.

I have an uneasy feeling here: Is fake news news? We seem to have been catapulted into an era where the prevailing answer is yes. And that's at the heart of what ails us. Fake news isn't news, and imaginary beings aren't beings.

Jack Chomsky, Columbus, Ohio

It's important to stress that it is the "Concise Oxford Dictionary" — not me —— that gave as one of its definitions of "being" : "anything that exists or is imagined."

You may not like it, but that is how they defined it — and with MooT, the COD (9th edition) is the boss. Cheers

Yeah, I thought about that wrinkle. But I think it’s a pretty stupid definition. Wouldn’t “anything that exists” have been way better? “Or is imagined?!!!!” It’s sort of like defining left to include right. In this case, I think they would have been better served to be more Concise!

The way they create these definitions is that they survey usage, usually written usage – i.e. they try to find out how people actually use the word – and then they try to capture these usages in their definitions.

So when you say that something is a “stupid definition,” it seems to me that what you are really saying is that the definition is not what you mean when YOU use that word, and that you disagree with those others who use it in that unexpected way.

Fair enough. We’re all entitled to our opinions about language. But (I repeat) the rules of MooT are not fair. To play it, you must accept that the COD is the final arbitrator, and you will only get your points if you figure out what that final arbitrator believes. Cheers

I understand the rules of Moot and have always respected them, but I still have to maintain that a definition that takes in its opposite or the entire rest of the universe is a poor choice.

Again, being -- anything that exists. This makes sense.

Being -- anything that exists or is imagined. Kind of takes the meaning out of being.

If that's what usage is, words start to be meaningless, or have such a broad meaning that they don't mean anything.

Which, again, is kind of where we find ourselves in public conversation these days. Which isn't the fault of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, but I hate to see them fall into the same trap. Thanks.
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I like it, but it's a little weak that it's hard to come up with more than one example.

Logically it works, but in actual language usage it looks like a distinction without a difference.

I would vote to use it if we can come up with an example that did not require such specialized knowledge.

Chris Miller
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Excellently argued. (Other indistinct beings might be the Cheshire cat when only the smile remains, the Holy Ghost, or I guess most fictional characters?) I'm probably going off the beam. Don't mind me. Great question, though!

Daphne Sams, Vancouver

Thanks. I like those examples. The Holy Ghost is definitely an indistinct being.
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I have no difficulty with an "imagined" being, such as the Cheshire or Schrodinger's Cats. The imagination calls such beings into existence, from non-existence.

(Have you ever heard of the Kitsilano Magpie? Neither had I before I just coined the name, creating this remarkable bird from thin air. Try not to imagine an elephant... made you look.)

But if that is so, the defining feature of a being is that it can be distinguished from other beings, or from nothingness. Even the most abstract beings, such as pi, the Spirit of '76, and the colour blue only have meaning if distinguishable from their absence, or by contrast against other concepts (e.g., 12, a zeitgeist, or happiness).

All beings that exist or are imagined must have "distinct existence", and thus be entities. I think "indistinct existence" is an oxymoron (and distinguishable from "uncertain existence", e.g., Schrodinger again.)

Paul, Vancouver
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It might a Schrodingerian thought, but either the cat exists or it doesn't. If it exists, it's an entity. If it's only an imaginary thing, it's a being, according to your dictionary.

But that really stretches the definition of a being: Charles Dickens was an entity, but now that he's indistinct (as in decomposed) he joins his novel's characters as being just...a being?

But by that definition, a door is a being, as is a photon since they both exist. And the Blob from the 50s Steve McQueen movie is a being since it was imagined. Biases are beings since they're imagined.

Best take: this is not a particularly good Moot question since the definition leads into the realm of strongly unintended consequences. And wrong consequences.

Joe Horton, Birmingham, al
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Sounds like 2 different people made those 2 different definitions. Can we not say "an imaginary entity?"

I mean the Enterprise had run ins with the crystal entity, right? So there was a fictional/imaginary entity.

The use of being and entity are interchangeable for the most part, at least in the common parlance.

I know the question asked specifically about the COD but who says the COD is the be-all and end-all? It's not. Webster has several definitions for being. It just seems to me like trying to make a distinction between to the two words is a bit futile. (resistance is futile?)

Doug Lindauer, Tennessee

I'll repeat it again: In MooT the COD is the be-all and end-all. It's like the net and the lines in tennis: Its definitions create the limits that allow you to play the game. Thanks for the feedback.
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OK, so for me, as an atheist, a deity would be a being--an imaginary being--but not an entity, right?

Dana Bellwether/Santa Rosa, CA

According to the definition, anything that is imagined is a being, whereas anything that has a distinct existence is an entity. The question is: Does the deity have a distinct existence? What do you think?

Yes, according to the above definitions.
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Excellent question. Is it simpler to contrast abstract with concrete nouns? Hunger exists, has being, but is not an entity.

Greg Felton @ shaw
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I've always thought of a "being" as something with life. Definition 1 means a rock is a being. Wow.

Jeremy Busch, Geneva, NY

By this definition, things that exist are beings. A rock exists, hence it is a being, and it is also distinct, so it's an entity too.
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God.

jffriesen Vancouver
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Possibly a vampire or werefolf …. Are they mythology, legend fiction or in fact real? Thus surely indistinct.

Malcolm Donaldson, Brighton
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Religious figures, like Jesus or the Buddha. A "being" for those who believe, an example of indistinct existence because of being dead and alive at the same time and, to the non-believer, an imagined being.

Steve La Falce, Flagstaff, AS
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How about a unicorn? Much less abstract and more widely known than Schrodinger's cat.

Gary Forbus, Dallas TX
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The "Deep State"

Dick Snyder @ ieee.org

Good example. It has the same amorphous quality as the "Holy Ghost" .
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I think unsolved mathematical problems make a good example - when they're finally proven (e.g. Fermat's Last Theorem) they go from beings to entities!

Wiedeman at sign uci.edu
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What cocktail-party snack's name
means "couch" in French?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the canapé


A canapé is a small piece of bread topped with something tasty (e.g. shrimp salad). Some claim that it got the name because the tasty part sits on top of the bread like someone sitting on a couch.


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___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for these and for the game itself. I play it with a group of my friends at the local coffee house, Dastardly Dick's, every Tuesday morning at ten. Lots of fun and good conversation.

Barbara Barrett, Eastport, ME

I'm glad to hear that you enjoy playing my game.

You should know that we don't always love each question, or agree with each answer, but we do always have a rollicking good time and usually learn something. We especially appreciate your Canadian sense of humour, living as we do a gull's cry from Campobello Island, NB, just across the bay.

To be precise: I have a Western Canadian sense of humour, very verbal. The Easterners are more into slapstick. That's why our House of Commons is located out there.
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I am looking forward to receiving Moot. I saw it as a link on the Wordsmith site and it appealed to me, since I have studied and use a few Romance languages and the etymologies of words interest me.

My only concern is that, once someone has played these games, the material will be known and the interest will wane. How does one avoid this?

Jim Kuhn, Washington State


Here’s the only thing I can suggest to solve that problem:

The best way to play MooT is with two teams of at least 4 players.
When you do that, you don’t use a lot of questions because the teams tend to spend a lot of time discussing them, trying to reach a consensus on an answer.
With that in mind, in my experience an average MooT game is over after about 14 questions.
As the two games you bought contain 2016 questions, when divided by 14, this mean that you can play about 144 games.
Now, if you play MooT once per month, that means that you will run out of questions in 12 years.
By that time, I will probably have finished the next edition, which – if you buy it -- will give you another 6 years of play.

When you think of it that way, it’s actually pretty good bang for your buck.
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Aha--got it! I always look forward to these and save them for desert when I see them in my Inbox. I knew there was a good explanation for the House of Commons being so far east and not more central.

I take a few cards with me when I visit a friend in a nursing home, as they're talk-starters.

Dana Bellwether/Santa Rosa, CA
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I found your etymological explanation much "tastier" than the etymological theory that it is called a canapé because it tasted like a can o' pee.

Pun Gent, NYC
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My friend Ellen Rosenberg bought one of the first MooT games quite a few years ago. We loved playing it and when she relocated to India, another friend, Joan Sharp (who teaches at SFU) bought a copy.

Now I have bought one for my daughter who has played it at Joan's and I know she and her friends will enjoy it as well. Thank you for the personal touch.

Carol, Vancouver
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We had such fun playing our new Moot game for the first time. We waited until we had a serious group. It was with old College language profs! (spanish & french) — can't get any more serious players than that! We LOVED IT!

Gretchen Ehrsam, Seattle
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We had a lively email exchange a handful of months ago. I can't remember what started it exactly, but I do recall asking you if you planned on introducing another MooT game. I was kind of chuckling at the time....I mean, easy for me to ask if you planned on coming up with another one thousand plus incredibly difficult questions, banging them out and cutting up all that card stock, boxing them with the game board and little tokens, and sending it my way!

To my surprise, you answered that, yes, you were planning to complete the "trilogy" sometime this fall. So...my wife keeps asking me, "Where's our MooT??" I always remind her that we left about half a box of questions from your first edition, at our resort in Cabo San Lucas! Boy, was that a shock when we came home and realized THAT snafu!

Anyway, just touching bases. Whenever (if ever) you get the third edition up and running, please earmark one for us! Thanks a million,

Don Hall
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It is lost in the mists of time how I first heard about MooT, but I have been receiving the words for a number of years. I suspect there was an affinity with book orders, since I have purchased titles like "Sister Bernadetts's Barking Dog" (on diagraming sentences). I look forward to playing this with my grown grandchildren, some of whom have acquired the love of arcane meaning.

Jean Bell @ AOL

Thanks Jean. I hope you and your grandchildren have many years of fun playing my game. I’d love to hear about what you guys think of it.
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According to Isaac Asimov,
the word epistle
is to apostle
as what word
is to missionary?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: missive


When discussing New-Testament letters in his Guide to the Bible, Asimov writes: "These letters are referred to as epistles (from a Greek word meaning "to send to"). The word is closely related to apostle (who is "sent away"). The relationship is the same as that of missive [a letter] to missionary ."


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___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hi Mootguy: Thank you for letting me know that the games have been sent; can not wait until I can play along with friends and family.

I heard about the game through my brother-in-law when he brought the game down to the family cabin. We spent hours and hours laughing, debating, and learning together.

He heard about it from his father that has been a fan of the game for years. I was just down at the cabin for Thanksgiving and the old Moot game came out again. I was reminded how awesome the game is and that i need to get it! I appreciate your hard work and dedication to hand crafting the games and please feel free to contact me in the future for feedback.

Jason, Chilliwack, BC
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My guess was "stationery", the paper on which a letter is written.

epistle : apostle :: stationery : missionary

I agree his semantics are closer, but my phonetics are closer.

Izzy Cohen, Petah Tikva, Israel

In the end, it IS a matter of opinion, but the question is about Asimov's opinion, so "missive" has to be the correct answer.
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I thought it might be missionaress— on the theory that an epistle is the wife of an apostle.

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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SUCCESS! Always a welcome surprise when I'm able to get one of these right. (It doesn't happen very often). Thank you :)

Farishta Wahidi, Toronto

Congrats. I know that these are very difficult questions.

When I test them out, I usually test them on several teams of 4 or 5 players per team and sometimes neither team gets it. So if you can get one of these right on your own, you're doing well.
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I sort of liked missal or missile just for the rhyme and meter.

Leslie Harman
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What man's name
means "man"
in Hebrew?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Adam


The Biblical name Adam means "man" in Hebrew. It derives from the Hebrew adamah, ground or soil (literally: the one formed from the soil).

Similarly, the word human derives from the Latin humanus, human, which in turn derives from humus, earth, ground, or soil.


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___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I write on behalf of a house of MOOT addicts. We faced a question: “What word was abbreviated to coin the word hussy?" Then we faced the answer you provided: “Housewife...... A woman who lacks character is a hussy”

In South Africa, where English is often not spoken well, the word “character” caused an uproar. We felt that this came too close to suggesting that housewives lack character...... dangerous language, that. Does not go down well in Mzantsi Afrika.

On another card … the word “Africaner” or Africaans” (I forget which) is used. No, man....... no such words. It’s “Afrikaner” and “Afrikaans” because of the Germanic etymology.

Also, in case this comes up in your questions in future, please note that in written isiXhosa the continent must be spelled as “Afrika” and not “Africa”, which is exclusively in written English. The “c” is a click -- like the sound made when you say “tut tut” as you listen to Donald Trump.

To complete the clicks in isiXhosa, “q” is the noise you make with your tongue to imitate the sound of a cork coming out of a wine bottle, and “x” is the noise you make with the tongue against the inside of your cheeks to make a horse “gee-up”.

I’m trying to learn isiXhosa. Try this officially-recognised (by teachers) tongue-twister:

Iqaqa liziqikaqika kuqaqaqa lide liqhawuke uqhoqhoqho
(“the skunk rolls itself in the couch grass until it breaks its windpipe”).

Mervyn Bennun, Cape Town
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And does Eve mean woman?

Anne, Vancouver

Purportedly the name "Eve" derives from the Hebrew "Hawwah" , a living being.

But according to Robert Alter, the author of "The Five Books of Moses" (2004):

"Like most of the explanations of names in Genesis, this is probably based on folk etymology or an imaginative playing with sound. ... In the Hebrew here, the phonetic similarity is between "hawah" , Eve, and the verbal root "hayah" , "to live."

It has been proposed that Eve's name conceals very different origins, for it sounds suspiciously like the Aramaic word for "serpent."
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I got this not from being such a word nerd, but from Bible study.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA

Congrats. Whatever works.
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I wish we could like or upvote excellent comments. There are lots of them.

Joe B San Antonio, TX

You're free to repost these on Facebook, if you wish. Then people could do that.
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Gives more meaning to "dust to dust", I'd say.

Jeremy Busch, Geneva, NY
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As a Jew, I knew the answer to this question. But thank you for the info regarding the derivation.

Before every meal we say a short prayer in Hebrew that ends with the word "adamah" as we give thanks for the bread and food that comes from the soil.

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok, Thailand
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I got that one, though I have never studied Hebrew outside of the Bible. You are really making things tough for our family with the MetaMoot game. We need a good challenge once in a while.

Marilyn, Nashua

Sorry. I'm not kidding when I say it is harder than MooT. I had a bunch of linguistic hot-shots help me test the questions on that version, and they wanted tough questions.
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Adam... 'man'... or even 'man kind'... great question. But I would never have guessed it. Makes sense though, doesn't it? All these words (and names) that are so common, but we never stop to think what they mean. Well done.

Steve, Montreal
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I thought "ish" was the word for man in Hebrew.

Joey, Saint Louis MO

It is, but it's not the given name for a particular man, like "Adam" is, so it can't be the correct answer for this question. Though, you have a point. If there is a guy named Ish (and there is! Ish Kabible), I guess that would be a correct answer to the question.
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I think this is the fifth game I've ordered - and yes I have MetaMoot

Jennifer, Toronto

Thanks for paying for my children's education.

It's also a brilliant game. I'm giving it to a fancy person. Who knows - you may see more sales.

Great. More education. I hope the fancy person likes it. Fancies it, in fact.
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I heard about Moot from A Word A Day listserve. I’ve played the game with different sets of friends (I gave them copies)...but now it is time for me to own one! You are welcome to contact me for feedback.

Speaking of which, my friends and I use this purely as a socialization/learning game. We certainly don’t keep score. The best part is the discussion, which can go on for a long time before we turn the card over for the answer.

We muse and defend each individual response—and dive into our memories. Learning the answer is yes fun, but the best part is the discussion.

Thanks for creating such a wonderful game.

Best regards, Anne W. Emerick
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What extinct creature's name
derives from a Greek word
meaning "breast tooth"?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the mastodon


The word derives from the Greek mastos, breast, and odon, tooth. Cuvier gave it that name in an 1806 paper. Apparently, the cusps on the beast's molars reminded him of nipples.


RESPONSE?


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I was on the right track by blending pectoral + odon(tic), which comes up with pteranodon.

Mastos - translates to female breast. Pterna - is wing. But a wing does include part of the breast!

Might I suggest you make the question more specific, e.g., What's greek-derived word for …? That way the only possible answer is mastodon.

Lee, Calgary
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[Mootguy: Anu Garg sent me this awhile back. It's a nice plug, so I thought I'd pass it along.]

Here's an extract from a letter I received the old-fashioned way (via the postal service) from a recipient of MooT:

"I took it to a New Year's Eve small gathering of Mensa members in my area, and we hugely enjoyed it. I think we only got about half the answers right, and had a lot of lively discussions which we also thoroughly enjoyed.

"It's unusual to find a game which is that challenging for us. I don't know if you are familiar with Mensa, sometimes called 'the High-IQ Society' and open to membership of anyone scoring in the top 2% on any one of a number of intelligence tests.

Ever year Mensa conducts testing on new games, where members play and evaluate them. If you haven't submitted a copy of MooT for evaluation, you ought to consider it. I think it would get an enthusiastic response."

Anu Garg, Word of the Day
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Too easy. Mast, root for breast. Don. Dentist. Teeth, or tooth. Mastodon. The big, be-tusked, hairy terrestrial quadruped.

PS: MetaMoot is very, very challenging.

Hugh, Roberts Creek
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I decided it was (MAMM)ary + to(OTH)— leading(very inventivel I thought)to MAMMOTH!

Peter Bradford, at Yahoo

Congrats. Whatever works. I've seen that kind of intuitive, linguistic reasoning win many a MooT game.
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I figured it out right away because I am a life long student of etymology, for precisely this reason. A strong foundation in word origins allows one to ferret out meaning from unfamiliar words.

Mary Norwood, Denver
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In his dictionary, Samuel Johnson defined it as:
"A house of women kept for debauchery."
In a note he added: "The g is lost in the pronunciation."
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: seraglio


The word seraglio entered English (from Italian) in the 1580s. It ultimately derives from the name of a sultan's palace in Istanbul.

In his dictionary, Johnson also provided this edifying usage example: "There is a great deal more solid content to be found in a constant course of well living, than in the voluptuousness of a seraglio." — Norris

By the way, if you are interested in looking up other entries in Johnson's Dictionary, you can now do this online by clicking here.


RESPONSE?


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Dang. I was betting on gnunnery.

Shane McCune, Comox

Ha Ha (pause) Ha Ha Ha.
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Mozart wrote an opera called "The Abduction from the Seag lio"

Carl Abbott, Halifax

To hear the overture from Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" , click here.
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The g is lost not only in the pronunciation but on my iphone when I responded, it wouldn't print the g!! The printer substituted the g for an l repeatedly. That's why I had to split the word as Serag lio. My laptop, which I am using now, will print the complete word (seraglio)

Carl Abbott, Halifax
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I was thinking "bagnio"!

Kate Karp, Long Beach, CA
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Bagnio fits the definition much better than seraglio, Mr Johnson.

Emma Dove, Madrid, Spain


It's bizarre. The words are synonymous and they both have a silent G. What are the odds of that happening.

In his dictionary, Johnson defined bagnio as "A house for bathing, sweating, and otherwise cleansing the body."

His example citation is: "I have known two instances of malignant fevers produced the hot air of a bagnio. - Arbuthnot on Air."

To see the actual entry, click here.
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BAGNIO does seem to offer a better answer.

Christopher Quayle, Andalusia

Not really. The question actually asks (when you boil it down) is what word Johnson is defining -- and that word is seraglio, not bagnio.
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I didn't get it either. It's not bloody English!!!!!!!

Oscar Davis, Illinois

The word is in the OED, so it's fair game, and it is as a English as any other word that has entered English from another language.
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Hi - Just wanted to let you know the Moot game arrived safe and sound. We're taking it as a gift to North Carolina friends this weekend. Our 23-yr-old daughter introduced us to Moot - she purchased it as a Father's Day gift this past June. She works for an education non-profit in NYC and saw the game there.

Patricia, Ohio
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I was gonna say "grothel" but decided against it.

JP, Vancouver
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And there was silly me thinking it was a Haugh House. That I am sure as everyone knows is a 2 storey Greek revival house.

Malcolm Donaldson, Brighton
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The 's can be used to replace four different words.
For example, it can replace the is in it is to create it's.
What are the other three words?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: has, us, and does


(1) has as in it's been raining
(2) us as in let's go out and
(3) does as in What's he do for a living?.


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

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Hi, Maker of A Neat Game: I don't exactly remember where I heard about MooT, because it has taken me considerable time to decide to buy what I considered an expensive game. I had been intrigued by the sample questions, but was deterred by price.

Then I was in the middle of making a game myself (one which I had not invented, but required the making and careful cutting-out of letter tiles) and thought of you inventing and making a game by hand. Suddenly the game did not seem expensive any more.

Barbara, Montreal
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What about 'was' in some colloquial phrasings?

"Yesterday I's walking down the road when a chicken crossed it."

Not standard English, but a phrasing I've heard more than once. P.S. I love the newsletter, site + FB page. Keep up the good work.

Christopher Possanza, Seattle

You have a good point there. Colloquial English is still English, so it seems to me that "was" is also legitimate answer.
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Hi: Just want to let you know that we got our Moot game and love it. I discovered a copy of Moot on the shelf in my office (I work at an after school program in the Bronx) and knew it would be a good fit for my family. I was right! The game is awesome. Thank you for sharing it with us! Feel free to contact me with any specific feedback questions. Best, Micah

Micah, The Bronx
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I know of three
1. Has: It's been done already.
2. As: So's not to be late, I . . . (?)
3. Us: Let's have a good time

Janet at Gmail

Nice. My answer doesn't include your number 2. So it looks like you've also found another one. So far there are now 6 words that can replace the 's.
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It was interesting to read the additional answers from people for other uses of "'s."

Of course, these all started off as elisions--i.e. where some sounds are dropped-- and then either became formalized or else stayed very much colloquial.

As for "I's walking down the road" and the substitution of "'s" for "was," that's a bit debatable. Personally, that sounds quite wrong to me--unless you insert a schwa (that is a very neutral vowel sound) between the the "I" and the "s."

Check it out for yourself and do a test: Even in the elided form, we really have two syllables, albeit faint, rather than the one syllable of "I's" pronounced as "-ize."

However, I have no argument with the "'s" in "so's not to be late." That indeed looks like a thing.

Jack Ognistoff, Montreal
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Hi, My wife and I have loved playing both of your games! It's turned into a regular event, during our end of the day Happy Hour. I read your story describing the the unbelievable amount of energy and labor, you put into these games. Wow!

Having said that: Do you plan (I sure wouldn't!) on developing a third edition?? If so...put me on the list! Thanks a million.

Don Hall @ gmail

Hi Don: Glad to hear you’re having so much fun with MooT. That’s very cool. Happy hour and all that. Warms my heart.

I AM doing a final edition of MooT, called "UltiMooT" . Thus there will be three of them, the MooT trilogy. Ha Ha.

It’s almost done, in fact. I’m going to start making prototypes in the Fall.

If you want, I can let you know when they are ready. Cheers
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According to the Partridge's Dictionary of Catch Phrases,
what industry gave us the term
cut to the chase?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Film


Silent film era filmmaker Hal Roach Sr. is believed to have coined the phrase. In that era, a chase scene would often be the film's climax.

According to the Wikipedia: "An earlier version of the phrase was Cut to Hecuba. This refers to the practice of shortening matinée performances of Hamlet by cutting the long speeches before the reference to Hecuba in Act II, Scene ii"

Then, of course, there is the feminist term cut to the mace, which refers to the abrupt termination of unwanted male (or female) advances.


RESPONSE?


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Okay, my first guess was fox hunting, as in red coats and scent dogs and horses jumping over obstacles in the field … and let's get on with it - just cut to the chase! Alas. I was wrong. Isn't the first time!

Joy Godsey, Birmingham, AL
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"Cut to the Grace." Response to rapidly cooling Thanksgiving dinner.

Dee Randall (Phoenix, AZ)
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I thought of fox hunting, getting to the exciting part..the chase!

Evelyn Stein, Beacon NY
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Or if one has a bad back, they can cut to the brace. Love mysteries? Cut to the case. Want to win in card games? Cut to the ace….

Ivy Bigbee
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We used to say "Get to Hecuba!" when we wanted someone to stop spinning their wheels and drive it home.

Gary Perrine
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According to the OED, what word was modified
to coin the fore that golfers yell before
they take a shot?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: before


The first recorded citation of golf's warning cry is from 1878.


RESPONSE?


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I guessed "afore" as in, "Look out afore!" According to MWD, afore first came into use before the 12th Century. So it was definitely around prior to 1878. Middle English, from Old English onforan, from on + foran, before. So, I guess I really got this one right, right? Half points at least, eh? What say you Mr. Moot Guy? PS What I really want to know is how insecure must a golfer be to yell, "Fore!" before striking a golf ball? Usually a golfer waits until a bad shot is hit, especially if it's headed towards other golfers, before calling, "Fore!"

Dave Brummitt, Langley

No half-points, Dave. I actually yell "fore" before setting foot on the golf course -- to warn the world.
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Did "fore" perhaps start out as a warning before every stroke? As a warning to those who went before? Then it got cut back to just those times the golfer knows something went awry.

Slava, Geneva, NY

I don't know.
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I guessed "forewarn" which makes a lot more sense than "before". In fact I believe I'm right and the OED is wrong...so there!

Mike Dixon, Winnipeg

It is good to have beliefs.
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sERIOUSLY DID NOT KNOW THE PLURAL OF NO IS NOES. ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT YES AND NO IN THE PLURAL FORM TRNSLATED INTO YAY AND NAY. WE LEARN EVERYDAY. AT LEAST HAVING STUCK MY NOSE IN THIS BUSINESS, I AM RICHER FOR THE EXPERIENCE.

MAGS, MOODLEY, DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

gLAD TO BE OF SERVICE
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How do you spell the plural of the word no?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: noes


As in "The noes have it."


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

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So do the ayes have it, or do the noes have it? We must face it either way.

Fred Perri, Rhode Island
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In response to Mr Perri of Rhode Island, "Ear, ear, sir." And to Mr. Moot: Do these sorts of puns constitute low-brow humour or eye-brow humour?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, The Great White North

They are your puns, Jack. You be the judge. Cheers
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The answer was in the middle of my faec all the time....

Malcolm Donaldson, Brighton
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It looks so wrong, but I know it's right - and am so glad you didn't say, "no's"!

Sandy Holcomb

But is "no's" a legitimate contraction of "noes" ?
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I was taught by a linguist and dictionary editor that the correct answer is nos. That's no followed by proper pluralization. The nos have it. Comments?

Mira, Vancouver Canada

The Concise Oxford Dictionary doesn't have an entry for "nos" but it does have one for "noes" . In my game, the COD is G-O-D and I submit to its will. Cheers The Mootguy
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Sportswise, which Irish surname
denotes a second chance?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Mulligan


In golf a Mulligan is when a player gets to re-take a bad shot without being penalized.

The word mulligan also denotes a type of stew made from odds and ends.

Note: Acording to the Oxford English Dictionary, the sport's term is always capitalized, whereas the cooking term is not.


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

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Is this in any way related to Mulligawny (soup)? Probably not, but thought I'd ask, because who is more likely than you to know?

Daphne Sams
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Fascinating! Is there a link between mulligan (the stew) and mulligatawny (the soup)? I fear I have never eaten either!

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK

Mulligatawny comes from Tamil "miḷaku-taṇṇi" , pepper-water. So no link.
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Darn! I really stewed over that question.

Robert Tank at AOL
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I'm so proud of myself when I get one of these, and I've gotten the last four!

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA

It sounds like you`ve gotten the hang of it. Congrats.
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Our Mulligan Soup was a poor man's soup. It consisted of potatoes, onions, hamburger, salt, pepper, and water.

Hope in Seattle

Sounds good to me. No additives.
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Sportswise! You really used that only marginally existent word on this site! My god, the asylum is finally being run by the inmates.

Harry McPeak, St. Paul, Minnesota

Actually, the asylum is being run by the Oxford English Dictionary.

"-wise" is in fact a widely used colloquial form with a very clear meaning and its own entry in the OED. My rule is if the OED uses it, so can I.

For example, here's the OED's entry under "-wise" followed by its citations:

"3 b (ii) Used in the same way but with the sense: as regards, in respect of. colloq. (orig. U.S.)."

1942 E. R. Allen in J. J. Mattiello Protective & Decorative Coatings II. viii. 252 It should be noted that there are two types of hydrogen atoms positionwise.

1948 Sat. Rev. 6 Mar. 16/3 Plotwise, it offers little more or little less of what-happens-next interest than may be found [etc.].

1958 Spectator 10 Jan. 37/2 John Robert Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford‥in twelve TV performances, was the greatest, successwise, among the aristocrats.

1958 Times 5 Sept. 11/5 An ill-disciplined, over-paid, frustrated youth, whose life chances have been vastly improved moneywise without commensurate social adjustment.

1961 Far East Film News (Tokyo) Apr. 5/1, 1961 so far has been UA [sc. United Artists] all the way prize-wise with this company taking an even dozen Oscars.

1976 J. I. M. Stewart Memorial Service xii. 184 These were a gentle racedesperately worried over the grim state of the market job-wise.

1981 Gossip (Holiday Special) 24/1 Acting-wise, I like Katharine Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Judy Garland and, of course, Marilyn.

Big deal, big deal. There's all sorts of silly stuff in the OED. This wouldn't be the first time. Thanks for getting back to me. I've always felt like I was sort of slumming when I used "-wise". Now I shall -wise with reackless abandon.

Harry McPeak, St. Paul, Minnesota

Enjoy the reckless abandon.
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On the question of soups & stews: Mulligatawny is an English soup with origins in Indian cuisine. The name originates from the Tamil words millagai / milagu and thanni and can be translated as "pepper-water".

My recipe has a base of chicken, vegetables, a green apple, tumeric, the requisite black and hot red or green peppers which are smoothed out with coconut milk. It is fragrant and redolent of the smells and tastes of SE Asia.

When I looked it up, Mulligan stew is a dish said to have been prepared by American hobos in camps in the early 1900's or a "community stew" put together by several homeless people by combining whatever food they have or can collect.

That, too, can also result in something surprisingly good and nourishing.

Mary, Bali, Indonesia
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One denotes a young animal,
the other derives from the name of the Roman equivalent
of the Greek god Pan.
What homonyms are they?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: fawn and faun


The word fawn— which denotes "a young deer" — derives from the Old French faon, young animal.

Its homonym faun derives from the Latin Faunus, the name of the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Pan.

Note that the words are both

homophones ("words pronounced the same as another word but which has a different meaning - the words may or may not be spelled the same") and

homonyms ("Words having the same sound, but differing in meaning.") (OED)


RESPONSE?


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Hi. My name is Natalie and I possess cigar box #32 of MooT. It belonged to my eldest sister, Suzanne, …

I live in Peterborough, Ontario, and play MooT with a specific group of friends after dinner from time to time.

Over the years we have whittled this group down from people at dinner parties accidentally caught in the crossfire to people who are truly delighted by etymological questions. It includes people who work in construction, owners of bars & restaurants, a bookkeeper, a real estate agent... and I work in social service design.

I have no idea if you wonder who plays your game, but I think I would, if I had made a game. It was only recently that we bothered to google Moot and discovered we had one of 60+ cigar box versions and that Moot is on the market.

My sister gave mine to me because she knew I would love it and she described it as an early prototype. I have always felt that we are still testing the game. (Feedback: we love the answers that explain the etymology of words and get frustrated when they only give definitions!)

Upon (partially) discovering your identity, I have been wanting to write and tell you about our little group of committed Moot players - to close the loop or something. Yours, Natalie

Natalie, Peterborough, Ontario
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Those are homophones, not homonyms.

Scott, Beacon Hills, CA

Thanks for the feedback.

The OED (my ultimate source for word definitions) defines "homonyms" as: "Words having the same sound, but differing in meaning." "Faun" and "fawn" have the same sound but differ in meaning, so they satisfy that definition.

In addition, they are also homophones (a word "pronounced the same as another word but which has a different meaning - the words may or may not be spelled the same").

I used the word "homonym" in the question because it is the term that more people are familiar with.
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I got that one thanks to Guillermo del Toro's film Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del fauno)

Andy, Ho Chi Minh City
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You're right--it's tough. Had to look up Pan's, uh, jurisdiction. Nothing to do with the pipes, for which I knew him best.

Joe Horton, Alabama
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Being word-a-holics, we’re looking forward to this game. We heard about it through an email we received. I believe we’re on the email list due to our AWAD subscription (we LOVE AWAD!).

Enjoyed reading the Story of Moot, including the whole game-industry thing (yikes!).

Glad you decided to go ahead and sell them on your own.

Especially happy to FINALLY have the word “indolent” spelled out in a memorable way! What is it about that word?? I have always vaguely mixed it up with the word “insolent”, so thanks for straightening that out for us.

Karen & Alan, Shoreline, Washington
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By the way, Fauna happens to be Faun's (or Faunus's) sister. I suppose Flora is some sort of distant cousin. I suppose they neglected her and didn't include her in the genealogy because she's in a vegetative state.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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Totally defeated for a change and far to obscure for me. I would love to know the % of regulars who got this one?

Malcolm, Brighton

I have no way of knowing how many get it right. There's about 13k people who get these questions. I'm not even sure how many read them.
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Faun is also well known to anyone who's come across Mr Tumnus in The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Julie - Hampton UK
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I am a Latin teacher and my passion is etymology. I began receiving your emails some time ago, sometimes know the answers to your puzzles, and once sent in a correction of a Latin typo.

My children are all etymologists as well. I purchased the game for my daughter’s family with whom I will spend Christmas. She will love it.

My son-in-law, who complains regularly about the amount of etymology discussed at the dinner table, may not. Contact me and I shall let you know how it went.

Dorothy Stewart @ att.net]
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I actually got this one! (Which is amazing since,as a "newbie", I get less than 80 percent of them.) It seems to me that your definitions of homophones and homonyms are really the same thing. Isn't "having the same sound" and "pronounced the same" redundant? The significant difference is that homophones are spelled differently. Homonyms are spelled the same, as well as having the same sound. And isn't that just one word with multiple meanings?

Kitty in Pennsylvania

Good point. Maybe some linguist out there can give us a more precise distinction.
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I got this one!!! That's made my day.

Eva-Marie Perissinotto, Western Australia
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I got this one right away. Not because I have a deep knowledge of etymology, but because I confused these spellings for years and had to keep looking them up.

Shane McCune, Comox B.C.
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I thought a homonym (the same name) always has the same spelling, vs homophone (the same sounds, but different spelling)?

Tania Cape Town, South Africa

According to the OED, "Words having the same sound, but differing in meaning" are homonyms. Those guys are where I go for definitions.
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Is a lever a
type of fulcrum?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


The fulcrum is the point where the lever is placed to give it purchase. Thus levers work with fulcrums but are not fulcrums.

The word fulcrum means "bedpost" in Latin. It derives from the Latin fulcire, to prop up or support.


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Just a thought: "...give it purchase" may be the wrong phrase; the "fulcrum" is the point about which a lever rotates (a lever is not actually a "lever" until it rests on a fulcrum). The fulcrum allows the lever to do what levers do; it's not the point that gives the lever its "purchase." More properly, that "purchase" is supplied by the business end of the lever. A lever may have a proper fulcrum and still not be able to get "purchase" on what the user is trying to move.

Joe Maher, Charlotte
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Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. (Archimedes)

Elizabeth Hill, Australia
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If you place the tip of a pole againts the ground to move something, you could say the tip of the pole is also the fulcrum... but I suppose you could as easily claim that the whole earth is your fulcrum. Sigh.

Johnny Rojo
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Live and learn, even at 90!

Sally, Bethlehem, PA
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No, the lever is the bar, plank, whatever, balanced upon the fulcrum, a point usually at the center of the lever, allowing the "machine" to do work.

Carolyn Blake, Aurora CO

Nicely defined. Thanks
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I thought it was: "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I'll move the world." I don't remember hearing anything about a fulcrum.

Katie, San Pedro
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I got one! I finally got one!!!

Sandy Holcomb

Well done. That was a tough question. When I tested it with the hotshot MooT players here in Vancouver (the ones that I test all my questions out on), both teams got it wrong.
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The parenthetical distinction of this question being a toughie dimmed my hope of knowing the answer, but the Greek to Roman synaptic cobwebs delivered. Regarding homophones and homonyms, I believe homophones are words that sound the same regardless of spelling, and homonyms are words that are spelt the same regardless of how they sound. There/their - homophones. Tear(rip)/tear(cry) - homonyms. Bridge(span)/bridge(card game) - both. Faun and fawn then are only homophones.

Thom Miller - Tiny, Ontario
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OH MY GOSH I GOT IT!! I'd like to thank The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. :)

Tracey, Langley BC
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This was easy! The baby deer was the clue :)

Oh and I googled the differences:

HOMONYMS are words that sound alike but have different meanings.

HOMOPHONES are a type of homonym that also sound alike and have different meanings, but have different spellings.

HOMOGRAPHS are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.

Maryann, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Thus according to that definition, fawn and faun are both homonyms and homophones, but not homographs.
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When cats
are being herded,
are they cattle?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


Any group of two or more large ruminant animals with cloven hooves - e.g. cows, bison, and buffalo - are cattle.


RESPONSE?


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I've been playing an old 1980s copy of Moot for about a decade at my good friend's cabin on Galiano Island. The cabin is actually co-owned by Alan Twigg of BC Bookworld and I suspect he's the one who brought the game up there? That's only a guess, but it seems likely.

In any case, it's the old version in the brown box with yellow, red, green, and blue cards along with hand typed instructions. It has seen a great deal of use! More often than not we have simply taken turns asking each other questions pulled at random rather than actually scoring a game, and it has been great fun. In this sense we use it more as a conversation and debate starter rather than as a means of competition.

We always make a point of playing when someone new is at the cabin for the first time. At this point, Moot is an integral part of our Galiano cabin experience. … My girlfriend is a big fan, and so I'm ordering her a copy for Christmas to keep here at the house. The cabin copy will remain vintage. Moot and Moot memories have a special place in my heart. Thank you for all the debates, laughs, and bewilderment.

Matt @ Galiano
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One can't "herd" cats (or otherwise organize them). I don't even know is there is a noun of multitude for cats.

Oscar Davies, Jerusalem, Israel
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It's a clowder or pounce of cats, according to my friend, Google!

Alison at gmail

And a group of people who make up collective nouns is called ….
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The reason a group of lions is a Pride is that felines are too proud to EVER be herded!

Kitty (yes, that is my given name), Pennsylvania
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My (9 indoor-) cats objected to the question even being asked. Harrumph! Where did harrumph come from, he wondered as he typed it?

Dr. Terry M. Gordon, York, PA

The word "harrumph" means "to clear your throat to express disapproval." It was coined via a word-formation process called onomatopoeia, i.e. by imitating the actual sound made when harrumphing. Its first OED citation is from 1936.
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No they are NOT cattle ..... and they as sure as hell are NOT GAME!! From a livestock veterinarian in South Africa.

Tod Collins, Underberg, South Africa

MooT's the name of the game. No one is claiming that cats are game.
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How on earth does one herd cats?

Elissa Forsythe at Yahoo

I use a team of Border Collies.
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I believe cats should be seen and not herd.

Fred Perri, Rhode Island
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A group of cats is called a clowder or a pounce. A group of feral or wild cats is called a destruction.

Elizabeth Hill

And a group of totally hip cats is called a "bongo" .
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A lion is a cat. I imagine we will know what an assembly (group, community, gathering, accumulation -egad! I realllly don't want to use the wrong term here, nor do i care to scroll up to mirror the phrasing of the original post - herd!) of lions is.

Joe Barfield
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Wow, that was a really dumb question....and a yes/no to boot. I love this site, but am sad that it's only like once a month or every 6 weeks, and that there's no more music, though I read why and understand. Disappointed with this months question, and you didn't even give the real answer as to what a herd of cats is which is a clowder, clutter, or glaring.

Karen Zukas, Boston, MA.
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What about "chats" (French for "cats")? If "des chats" are being herded, are they chattel?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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No response because everyone has covered it beautifully...and laughably, too. The responses to this one are the funniest I've ever read here at Moot. Thanks to all for making me laugh out loud!

Jimmy Dean
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a clutter of cats - from a poster at my vet's office ... an ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a murder of crows

Nan, nowhere New Jersey
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No, cattle are animals that are raised to serve human needs. No way do cats serve humans!!!

Carolyn Blake Aurora CO
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My sister introduced me to your game. She lives in Vancouver and she and her girlfriend had a toystore in the east end called Its all fun and games. We've played it many times over the years. I want to give two as presents and get one for my house.

Jennifer, Armstrong, B.C.
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The word "Cattle" comes from Latin "capitalis," "head-goods" or "property." Cats don't belong to anybody, so they don't qualify on that basis, either.

Richard, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia
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When you read the answer to this question,
you will learn the meaning of the phrase a posteriori.

Is this an example of a posteriori knowledge?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: yes


Knowledge gained through experience is a posteriori knowledge, whereas knowledge gained through reasoning is a priori knowledge.

In Latin the former means "from what comes after," and the latter means "from what is before."

These two terms along with others — such as a fortiori (even more so), reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity), and ceteris paribus (other things being equal) — belong to the philosophical vocabulary invented by Cicero and led to Latin superseding Greek as the primary philosophical language in the West.


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Dear MootGuy: I will credit myself with a half-correct answer. I know what "a posteriori" knowledge is, but I failed miserably to figure out that the answer played off the question.

You really are far too clever for me as usual.

However, if I get one full MooT answered correctly plus a half credit on another MooT, I will order a game.

On a related matter, are you sure your public is demanding an even harder version of MooT?

Dan Miller, Chicago

Hi Dan: Sorry to trick you, but that’s how I get my kicks.

Still, keep in mind that this question is a toughie and, in a proper game situation, would normally be fielded by a team of three or four players; they would be alert to possible tricks and would probably spend quite a long time mulling it over.

I know this because I test these questions live on groups of extremely wary people before I either put them in the game or send them out to my mailing list.

By the way, I DO sell a quite a few MetaMooT games, which suggests that there are some who want a tougher version.
Cheers The Mootguy
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Love Moot. You have the perfect method for leading us into the world of "You don't know what you don't know" and opening the doors for us.

Don callerone at Hotmail
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Thank you for this extra knowledge on semantics.

Christopher Dawes - Bangalore, India
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But what if you already know the meaning of a posteriori? Then there is nothing to learn.

Alec Bamford, Bangkok
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I teach a priori and a posteriori knowledge to students in the tenth grade every year, but I, like Alec in Bangkok, wonder whether the answer changes if you already knew the answer.

Fred, Islamabad

I think you're right. It does change the answer if you already know the meaning of a posteriori.

However, the question itself assumes that you don't know it by stating that "you will learn the meaning."
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I don't agree. If I knew the answer before looking, then I gained no knowledge. Therefore, I did not acquire a posteriori knowledge. Maybe the question needs to be reworded.

Greg Felton,. Vancouver

[See above response]
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Father Jessup's Intro to Philosophy class at the University of Scranton, September 1974: a priori and a posteriori. The following reflects what else I recall from that class...

[Large blank space]

Keith J. Boyle, Neptune, NJ
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Nicely done but for a typo. Ceterus (Nom. masc sing.) should be ceteris (Abl. Neuter, pl.)

Dorothy S. Stewart, Cedar Par, TX

Thanks. I'll fix that.
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I had to look up the word, after which I could answer your question. It's always fun to see the questions pop up in my inbox...makes a somewhat dull day much more exciting!

Jonathan, Portland, Oregon
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and what kind of knowledge is that which is acquired from gaining information about the meaning of words on the Moot- site. Since it is the experience of learning new words, is that a posteriori?

Myrna Marcus, Kingston, ON

All learned knowledge is a posterior knowledge.
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Had to be "Yes," since "a priori" knowledge is a fancy term for a guess.

BTW: Descartes is at his local pub very late one night, and the barkeeper says, "How about it, Rene? One more for the road?" Descartes says, "I think not"--and disappears.

Dana, Santa Rosa, CA
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When I was a math grad student, we learned "a fortiori".

If x belongs to a set of which all the members satisfy a requirement, then x satisfies it a fortiori, i.e., by inheritance.

At least that's what I recall we learned!

Martha O'Kennon at Albion.Edu
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Thanks for giving me the origins of the words a priori and a posteriori. I've always wanted to know this.

Funny enough, I have asked many 'academics' what a priori means and I typically get a response like, "it means before." That answer never satisfied my curiosity. Thanks to you I now know!

Dr. Lee Tasker, Calgary

Author of the blog Disability Matters
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What pasta-type's name means "little ribbons" in Italian?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: fettuccine


The word fettuccine is the plural of fettuccina, which means "little ribbon" in Italian.

Note that the word linguine derives from linguina, which means "little tongues" in Italian.


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Hmmm.... If you look up the translation of "ribbons" into Italian, you get "nastro," "little ribbon," "nastrino." (https://www.google.com/#q=little+ribbon+in+italian)

Only under nomenclature of pastas do I find "fettucine." (http://garrubbo.com/pasta/) Looks pretty weak to me. You've done better. ;-)

Joe Horton, Birmingham AL

The problem with your logic is that "nastrino" is not the name for a pasta in English (or in Italian as far as I know), so it can't be an answer.

However, "fettucini" is the name of a pasta in English, and, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word does mean "little ribbons" in Italian.

This means that it is the only possible answer to the question (that I know of so far). Cheers
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Got it! I knew that the suffix cine is a diminutive, so I extrapolated the correct answer, as when I make fettuccine they are about the size of the silk ribbons I use for embroidery.

Carolyn Blake
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Fettuccia in Italian is anything ribbon shaped, such as binding used by people who sew, as in bias binding.

Sue Webster, Rome, Italy
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Got it! I knew it had to be one of the "ina"s, and I knew "lingua" is "tongue," so that pretty much left "fettuccine."

Dana, CA
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According to English idiom,
which two-syllable given name once denoted
"excessive prudishness in speech"?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Nelly


As in the term nice-Nellyism, which denoted "excessive prudishness in speech."

The term derives from the name Nice Nelly, which in the 1930s denoted the stereotypical prudish woman.

In addition, language that is marked by the excessive use of euphemism used to be called nice-nelly language.

Both of these terms — as well as prudishness itself — have become obsolete.


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England and United States: two nations separated by a common language — attributed to various individuals, including Shaw and Wilde among others. But whoever said it, got it right. I've never heard of the word. and I was on a roll until this question.

Dan Miller

I believe that this term used to be commom in the US because almost all of the OED's citations for it come from American sources. Here they are:

1936 New Republic 28 Oct. 337/1 Perhaps, it is true, as charged that the British press is displaying a brand of Nice Nellyism in refusing to mention the subject [sc. the divorce of Mrs Simpson, later Duchess of Windsor].

1942 Sun (Baltimore) 17 June 10/7 Mr. Adams accused the editor [of a new book of soldier songs] of Nice Nellieism in dealing with the songs.

1947 Sat. Rev. (U.S.) 15 Feb. 9/2 It takes more than nice-Nellyism in the name of patriotism to obliterate that spirit.

1952 New Yorker 18 Oct. 159/1 Mr. Pyles attributes much of the nice-nellyism that blighted polite speech and writing during the nineteenth century to Webster's Puritan prudishness.

1956 N.Y. Times Book Rev. 30 Sept. 2/2 None of the words which Ned Sheldon‥found so obnoxious seems to me acutely distasteful, with the exception of ‘funeral parlor’, which carries nice-nellieism to the nth degree.

1960 I. Wallach Absence of Cello (1961) 174 ‘Experience’, as absurd a nice-Nellyism for copulation as she could conceive.

1973 Saturday Night (Toronto) Oct. 15/1 The public had been made comatose by the greyness of Mackenzie King and the nice nellyism of Middle Powermanship.

I remember in my youth (born in 1934; I am now 82) that people used the phrase Nervous Nelly, meaning someone excessively cautious and careful. I do not recall the term Nice Nelly.

Dorothy S. Stewart
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Amongst the Royal Air Force chaps, an anxious pilot (me) was known as a Nervous Nelly.

Don Callerone at Hotmail
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Nelly is also a term for a gay person with exaggerated feminine behavior.

J Carlos Deegan at earthlink.net‘
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Originally, it was a nautical term
describing a block and tackle where
the blocks are very close together.
Now it describes anything crammed full.
What hyphenated word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: chock-a-block


The term was coined by combining chock — which means "close up against" — and block, a set of pulleys.


RESPONSE?


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I was thinking jam-packed, as in a jam clear for fixing a line. Not sure whence that comes.

Joe Horton.
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I got it! That's one in a row.

Dan Miller
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I was recently introduced to the game while on a weekend trip (to the Oregon Coast). What a fun game! Immediately I went online and ordered the game. I look forward to many game nights with Moot.

Marty Hope
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I got "chock-full." Do I get partial credit for that? And don't forget, Mr. Moot Guy, that in this "modern era" everyone gets a prize, not like when we went to school!

Dave, Langley, BC
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I'm familiar with "block AND tackle," but I cannot visualize fishing tackle having anything to do with a "block." What is a block as it relates to fishing tackle? I'm getting more confused by the second!

Diane, Seattle

A block is a set of pulleys. A set of blocks with a rope threaded through the pulleys is called a tackle. I hope this helps.
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To Diane: Tackle just means any kind of lines, ropes, pulleys, etc., not just fishing tackle. Hopkins even uses it to mean any kind of specialized gear, and the same meaning is found in modern UK usage, in which it's roughly analagous to the more slangy "kit."

Jon Paul, Vancouver
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I first heard this term on a shrimp boat in the bayous of SE Louisiana. The hold was literally overflowing with shrimp and one of the Cajuns working with me said it was chock-a-block full.

Ken Kafoed, Harahan, Louisiana
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Got it! Always a tiny triumph :)

Marc MacKenzie, Edmonton
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And if you're the type to collect tchochkies, then your mantelpiece will be chock-a-block with bric-a-brac.

Rae, Detroit
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My wife's mom always referred to the symptoms of severe sinus congestion as 'chock-a-block'.

Perry McBride, Shreveport LA
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Originally, it was another name for the festival of the Epiphany.
Then it came to denote a type of thin, transparent fabric.
Now it is often used as a female given name.
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: tiffany


The word derives from the Old French Tiphanie, Epiphany, which in turn derives from the Late Latin Theophania, another name for the Epiphany (from Greek theophania, the manifestation of a god).

It became popular in Old French and Middle English as a name given to girls born on Epiphany.


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What is the fabric? I came up with Daphne, (Diaphanous).

Greg Felton, Vancouver

OED: "2.2 A kind of thin transparent silk"
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Good question. I never knew that "tiffany" referred to a fabric, let alone to the Epiphany. I was, however, pecking around for another word derived from the Greek "phanos," but could only think of "diaphanous," which didn't seem right.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

The fabric IS diaphanous, thus a Tiffany wearing tiffany is probably an epiphany.
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I'm so glad to know that! From something so ordinary, "Tiffany" has suddenly become wonderful and deeply meaningful!

Mike Aparo, Connecticut

I'm glad I added meaning to your life.
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I also immediately thought, "I know this one!!" and leapt at diaphanous and Daphne.

Martha Nichols, Bellvue, Colorado
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From a French expression
meaning "to half sell a duck,"
it denotes an absurd story
circulated to test people's credulity.
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: canard


The word canard means "duck" in French.

According to the OED, the sense "hoax" derives from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié (to half-sell a duck) because "it is clear that to half-sell a duck is not to sell it at all."


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A better translation of the French might be "to sell half a duck," which makes more sense (at least to me), even in English.... I can't quite get my head around "half-selling" anything.

Joe Maher, Charlotte NC

The translation is taken directly from the OED entry for "canard" .

It seems to me that "to sell half a duck" is in fact to make a sale, whereas to "half-sell a duck" is to make no sale at all -- and that's why it is a canard.

Ah, well. The "vendre... etc." is, I suspect, an idiomatic expression, and idioms rarely make literal sense.

If the OED says the appropriate translation is "half sell," well, who am I to argue? But still, I'd like to hear from a native Frenchman.

There are many Francophones on the mailing list. Perhaps, they will rise up and speak truth to the lexicographic powers.
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Yes, half-selling a duck makes perfect nonsense (and canard) !

Whereas selling half a duck would just be a bit of a small sale (selling just a half and not the whole) but perfectly normal and therefore highly uninteresting.

Whereas the first one is the equivalent of selling a knife to which the blade is missing.

In French, un canard is also a nickname for the newspapers:
'Je l'ai lu dans le canard' (I read it in the newspaper).
'Il lit le canard tous les matins' (He reads the newspaper every morning)
'Il est vraiment nul, ce canard !' (This newspaper really sucks).

Dominique from Nancy, France
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I almost always know the answer, and this one especially thrilled me when I silently said to myself the answer on reading the question.

Suhail Nazir Khan,Kashmir
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So the absurdity is that "selling" is a binary choice. One either sells or doesn't sell, there is no half-selling. A similar absurdity is in the expression "a little bit pregnant".

Nancy B, Virginia
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It is also a sugar lump soaked in a coffee or alcohol. A false note in music or song. An enterprise poorly managed and in financial difficulty, a satirical newspaper (Le Canard Enchaine).

Arlette Rinaudo, New york
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It would make more sense in English to say "to sell a duck by halves."

If you were going to describe selling half of a duck, moitié would come before canard, as in "vendre une moitié d'un canard," and hopefully it's implied in that case that the bird is already dead and dressed.

Also, merci to my French profs for being the reason I got this one.

Suzanne Nixon, Salem OR
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Are all anachronisms retro?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, that which imitates something from the past is retro, whereas that which is not of the time-period that it is placed in is anachronistic.

Thus something from the future that is placed in the past (e.g. an iPhone shown in a movie portraying a Napoleonic battle) is anachronistic, but not retro.


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This one was too easy. The better question would be the converse: Is everything retro anachronistic? The answer is "no," but it requires more thought.

And another thought re anachronisms: how about a slide rule in 2001? Would that have been anachronistic? Have you tried to buy a slide rule lately? You can get them from ebay--and I have, but elsewhere it's kind of a reach.

Joseph Horton

What's the reasoning for your answer?

Think of it this way: A computer aboard the Santa Maria would have been plainly anachronistic. Similarly, a sextant in my plane would be as well. The latter would be retro, to--it might work for navigation (if I knew how to use one, which I don't). but it's not anachronistic since it would be effective (in the right person's hands). The converse isn't true: Columbus' iPad on the Santa Maria would be, at best, a cutting board--totally anachronistic, in that they would have had no clue what it did.

Read Michael Crichton's novel, Timeline. Someone going back in time returns from the Middle Ages with a pair of bifocals. Isotopic analysis shows that they're from that time period: not possible since old Ben Franklin wouldn't be alive for another few hundred years. That's an anachronism.
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I concur. Anachronisms can be past or future. Many of the video games combine medieval themes with space travel. It seems to have appeal to the children.

Fred Speno, Dallas, TX
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I almost never find the answer. Oh it does not feel good :-(

Dominique from Nancy (France)

Perhaps, it will feel better to know that even native English speakers have much trouble answering these questions :-)
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Is there any logic to which comments get posted and which do not?

My feedback to the jot and tittle question was my first interaction with the creators of the site/game and it was extremely disappointing not to see it [posted].

I'm just curious what the selection rules are so that maybe I can comply with them should I get excited to write back again in the future.

Dessi, Syracuse NY

There's no particular policy. Everything is arbitrary.
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'Ana' is Greek for "backward" and 'Kronos' for "time," so retro by definition, but "out of chronological" order in use.

C.J. Bertran
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C.J. Bertran: "ana" as a prefix means "out of" or "separated from" as well as "in back of," and if something it anachronistic it is "out of [its] time," hence the way a cell phone at the battle of Waterloo is anachronistic but not retro.

Yet a 1958 Ford Fairlane Skyliner in mint condition sitting in my 2016 driveway would not be anachronistic either. Rather, that would be a dream.

DPBF, Chicago
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My thought was that an anachronism is something which is out of its place in time. Therefore, a catapult throwing rocks in a futuristic (or current-day) film would be anachronistic, just as a wristwatch in the medieval times would be.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA, USA
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Sometimes certain styles are simultaneously retro and futuristic: I'm thinking of Buck Rogers, or ,more up to date, the steam-punk retro-futurism. In these cases, they're both retro and futuristic — and anachronistic.

Jack Ognistoff, East Vancouver
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This is a strange one. 'Anachronism' is commonly used to designate both prochronism and parachronism (etymology be damned) and 'retro' is kinda... a different semantic category, commonly implying an aesthetic property that 'anachronism' doesn't. Er...

Bob Jones, Ottawa


For those new to the terms: A prochronism is something from the future placed in the past (Achilles pulls out a machine gun and wastes Hector).

Whereas a parachronism is its opposite: Something from the past placed in the future (The Buddha makes a surprise appearance on Jimmy Kimmel).

It seems to me that the question is straighforward: Does this adjective (retro) apply to all instances of this noun (anachronism)?
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What Bob Jones is getting at (although I'm not sure how it poses a problem for the question) is that the anachronistic refers to anything out of its time, whereas the retro, although it's out of its time and hearkens back to the past, only refers to art, fashion and style.

That's what he means by semantic categories, I think.

I still don't understand his cavil, though: Retro things are a subset of the larger set of all things that are anachronistic. Therefore, not all anachronisms are retro.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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No. An example of a non-retro anachronism would be an actor holding a cell phone in a classic Sherlock Holmes production, or a cowboy saying, "groovy!"

Carolyn Blake, Aurora CO
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What is the dot in
the letter i called?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the tittle


The dot in the letter i is called the tittle, and the part below the dot is called the jot, hence the phrase jot and tittle, every little detail.


RESPONSE?


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And what about the dot in the letter j? If it is not also a tittle, or is not called anything, I hereby submit we call it a jot dot.

Fred Perri, Scituate, RI
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I do miss my brain but your questions help me regain a bit of it. For which I thank you.

Don Callerone at hotmail
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I guessed jot, thinking tittle would be the line crossing a "t." What IS that called?

Dana, Santa Rosa, CA

According to the Wikipedia, typographers call the line that crosses the "t" and "f" either the "cross stroke" or the "cross bar" .
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My grade 3 primary school teacher used "jot and tittle" to refer to details typically missing from my written work.

Hugh on the Sunshine Coast
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I guessed Fred, but tittle does sound better.

Jonathan, Portland, Oregon

However, it turns out that the dot in the i in the name "Wilma" is called "Fred," but only in that particular case.
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The expression not one jot or tittle comes from the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus said,

"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18)

Pastor Jim McCombe, Kitchener Ontario
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I signed up for the weekly MooT game email some time ago and had been debating whether to get one or not for quite a while. Once I read your comment: "and attempt to put out another set of 1008 questions before the meteor arrives", I was sold.

I hadn't realized you make them by hand, a big plus in my book. I'm a firm believe in The Meteor, too. I'm looking forward to playing the game.

Jonathan at Gmail.com
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I wonder if the English term "jot" in this expression comes from the Hebrew "yod", which refers to the smallest letter (consonant) of the Hebrew alphabet?

Michael Martens, Dallas, TX, USA

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "jot" derives from the Greek "iota" , which denotes the letter i. This letter does ultimately derive from the Semitic alphabet, and I believe is cognate with the Phoenician and Hebrew "yodh" .
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Calligraphers use "jot" to indicate a mark over the "i" that is not a dot, but a small diagonal mark. (Yes, to 'crossbar' for line on t and f.)

Brilliant, Mr. Martens, for bringing out the heritage of ij/iota in Hebrew yod.

J as a distinct letter was born in the Middle Ages, out of double-I at the end of some Latin plurals (singular=us). The second i was often "pulled down" by the scribe's hand, making a tail. Then later, J was needed as a separate letter to represent sounds in several Euro-languages not found in Latin. Initial I and J were still interchangeable, thus: Iesu=Jesus.

Susanna M. Lundgren
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jot comes from the Hebrew jod and represents the y consonant sound in English. The dot (tittle) is under the consonant in Hebrew and represents the short i sound or ee sound in English. Unless I have them backwards!

Janice Sipherd, UT
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Excellent question! and equally excellent responses! But it begs the question: why is the dot in the 'i' in the name 'Wilma' called 'Fred'?

Lav Kanoi, India

This is a reference to the 1960's American TV show "The Flintstones" (a modern stone-age family). Fred Flinstone's wife was named "Wilma" .
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Love it! Many years of learning and teaching English, but neither tittle nor jot came up in this context. Thanks!

Victoria Andrews, Carmel Valley
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The Greek text of Matthew 5:18 (alas, nobody has a record of Jesus' spoken words in Aramaic or Hebrew) says that what shall not pass away is "iota" (essentially the letter "i," as already noted in the comment stream and probably referring originally to the small Hebrew letter "yod") or "keraia" (usually translated as "horn," and probably referring to small marks or flourishes in the text of the Torah).

Steve, White Bear Lake, MN
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Jot is English for yodh, the smallest Hebrew letter. It looks like a cross between an apostrophe and a malformed I or j.

Tittle is a cantillation mark, and in pointed Hebrew its presence or absence makes a vital difference in meaning.

Nancy Charlton, Portland OR
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What word originally denoted
the cavalryman's fire-breathing musket,
then eventually came to denote the cavalryman himself?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: dragoon


A French soldier mounted on horseback is called a dragoon.

Originally, the word - which derives from the French dragon, which means "dragon" - referred to the musket: not only could it kill you, it breathed fire.

Eventually, the word came to denote the cavalryman who used the musket.


RESPONSE?


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Cavalry man. Check your spelling.

Barbara Berelowitz

Thanks for the feedback. It keeps me on my toes.

Actually, the word "cavalryman" is an entry in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. The word is defined as "a soldier of a cavalry regiment."
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Really? What about fusilier?

Howard Bellin, New York

Good point. But the question pertains to cavalrymen.

Though the derivations demonstrate the same phenomenon (the type of soldier is named for the weapon used), the word "fusilier" (as well as "musketeer" ) relates to infantry, not cavalry, so this make "dragoon" a more precise answer.
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Interesting etymology! I know there's a good pun to be had somewhere in there with "dressed in drag," but I'll skip that and get to the linguistic part.

I can see how the sound of the French pronunciation of "dragon" gets transformed to "dragoon." The French pronunciation of the "-on" would be rather similar to an "aw" sound (as in "brawn" or "dog", but very nasalized).

Because of the longish duration of that French sound and also because of the fact that syllable is stressed in the French word, it sounded somewhat like "-oon" to the Anglo ear.

"Oo" is a long vowel sound in English. Add to that the fact that the French sound is made with the lips slightly rounded and drawn forward, which again finds its rough equivalent in the English sound "oo." (...in case anyone wonders about that sort of thing.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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To answer your question [I asked him how he heard about MooT]: a colleague of mine was visiting a friend of hers (she and I worked at the Embassy in the UAE) at the US Embassy in Vienna, I believe and apparently there are a few in the community who played it and she got a chance to play it for the first time.

Knowing me well, she thought I'd really enjoy it, particularly in this self-entertainment culture in Sudan.

Once the game gets here (probably in a month--it has to clear Sudanese customs), I'll arrange a game night and see how it goes and let you know.

Rachid, Sudan
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I ddin't know dragoon was a word. That is how good I am at this game.

Vaughn, St.Paul

But now you know it. That how it works.
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A dragoon is more properly a mounted infantryman (one word); the use of the word for cavalry should be deprecated, in spite of the common usage by many organizations. Mobile infantry would be the true modern equivalent.

Tom Smith
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The Dragoon (not just a French soldier but of many other nations) was originally an infantry soldier for whom the horse was a means of rapid transport in the field.

The Dragoon often fought on foot, using infantry drill and tactics, and using the short musket often dubbed a "carbine"; as opposed to a Hussar or a Lancer who normally never left his horse and fought with a sabre or a lance.

Adrian Scott, Somerset, UK
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Purportedly, it got its name because its shape
suggested that it had been "turned on a lathe."
Which vegetable is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the turnip


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word's first syllable probably derives from the word turn because the vegetable looked like it has been turned on a lathe.

The second syllable derives from the Middle English nepe, which itself means "turnip."

Note: Click here for the ODLT definition of the term syllable.


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

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Any MooT question that I can solve this quickly is too easy. All the same, it feels great to solve one.

Dan Miller, Chicago

Perhaps you're getting better at it.

Maybe. As soon as I solve three in a row, I will buy the game.

I'm rootin for you. Cheers
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Really? [imagine hearing a raspberry....] No sale on this one, big guy.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama

The question and answer are based on information found in the "Online Etymology Dictionary" . You can find it here. You should take your complaint to them.
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On Robbie Burns Day, the meal will include "neeps". Misshapen vegetables?

Karen Riehm, Toronto
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Interesting. I have to admit I've only ever eaten turnips in the Scottish dish neeps 'n' tatties-- so perhaps modern Scots neep and Middle English nepe are related.

Jordan McCollum, gmail
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The elation I feel when I get one of these right...alas, not experienced as often as I'd like. As always, a pleasure :)

Maryam Wahidi, Toronto
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As "turnip" has been my nickname for 35+ years, I enjoyed this question.

Glad you hear that you enjoy my questions — even if it is for unintended reasons.

Mike Turniansky
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I thought "neeps" came from "napus" — Latin for a tumshie (in Scotland) or turnip. Anyway, known here as "swedes", always welcome on Rabbie Burns nicht wi' chappit tatties (mashed potatoes).

Stuart Hudson, Wellington NZ
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After searching the dark corners of my mind my mind over baseball bats, machine-milled metal parts, and well turned lady's legs, I gave up. Good work!

J. Carlos Deegan @ earthlink
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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,
how do you spell the plural of the word no?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: noes


As in "The noes have it."


RESPONSE?


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Yea! I won the bet! Besides, nos. can be confused with the abbreviation for numbers.

Dee Randall, Phoenix
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Maybe the COD spells it that way, but I've also seen nos. And according to The Professor and the Madman, dictionaries are supposed to chronicle usage, not dictate it. Of Course, I think it was Andrew "Stonewall" Jackson who said something like "it's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word." ;-)

Joe Horton, Birmingham
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I’m looking forward to receiving the game and trying it out on my hipster board-game-loving daughter and her hipster friends. …

Nancy Nelson, New York

Thanks. I hope that you and your hipster daughter have tons of fun playing MooT with her hipster friends.

Actually, there is a "special hipster edition" of MooT available that comes with tattooing equipment and a stencil. In this version, if a hipster team challenges a yes/no question and gets it wrong, they all have to tatoo the MooT logo on their arms.
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Noes?? No es razonable. The answer should be no's (like do's and don'ts.)

Claudia de Secundy, MIT.edu

Perhaps, it is unreasonable, but it is indisputable that "noes" is what the lexicographers at the COD believe is the plural of "no" .
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The "e" lengthens the vowel, so it is necessary, albeit inelegant.

There is no justification for an apostrophe since there is no possession or omitted letter.

For the same reason, there should be no apostrophe in plural forms of years, e.g.: 1980s not 1980's.

Greg Felton, Vancouver
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Claudia, no tienes razon. The apostrophe on don'ts is not for any plural. It is because of the contraction from do not. An apostrophe should never be used to make a plural. …

Evelyn Degnen, Guernsey, UK
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My immediate response was noes but as that looked odd, so I started to think laterally. Could it not be argued that in the example you give, the context is Voting as in a Referendum? In that case, should it not evolve to "nays" as in parliament they speak of "yeas and nays." Then again there are positives and negatives, or affirmatives and. Negations (if that is a word at all!)

Ruth M. Kennan-Fairlamb, Merrivale, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


You have a point. But ultimately the question is phrased According to the COD. Thus, it is in fact asking you to figure out what the COD people have concluded.

By phrasing it this way, I'm trying to make sure that there is just one correct, indisputable answer.

And it is indisputable that "According to the COD", the plural of the word no is noes.
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Looking forward to arrival of MooT. And promise to protect it. Words (and how we all use them) are pretty much my most favorite thing — so thought MooT would be fun to try. I have not done particularly well with the online questions. But have learned a lot.

Anne @ Comcast

I hope you have years of fun playing MooT. The best way to play it is with two teams of 3 or more players. The idea is to have a discussion. Glad to hear that you will “protect” MooT.

I'm aware of that description and consequently have not ordered it before. But I finally decided we need it anyway — even though we lack the numbers of people. Each team is likely to have one human and one poodle. …. If we can draft more Homo sapiens, we will. …

There’s a way for two people to play as a team against the game itself; that way you get the discussion thing happening. The other way would be for you and your friend to play against the poodles. I've heard that they're very intelligent dogs.

Hah hah. We will try both.
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Moot Guy, health be with you, I appreciate being appreciated. I sure love your stuff. I am working my way down your e-mail and enjoying your work and the responses you get from the word mavens.

I am 80 years old and still learning. I think my interest in English came from having two peckerwood, Appalachian type parents who spoke near Elizabethan English in a modern world. My wife will always nail me when I lapse and say, "I clumb a tree."

There is a fine reprint of an archaic book called "Lost Pearls of the English Language" by McCauley (?) which I think that you would enjoy . . . if you can find a copy. It explains the former use of 'clumb' as a lost form of the preterit tense.

It also defines darth as coming from death and decay. Hence, the villain Darth Vader of the Star Wars movies. Ya gotta love it! We will meet again when the apricots bloom. God be with you.

World Class Word Monger Hugh

Thanks for the info about the book and "drarth" . There could be Moot questions lurking there. I'll check it out. Cheers

[Note: Click here for the ODLT definition of the term "preterit tense" .]
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Thank you so much, I love your game!! It really is my favourite to play and I thoroughly enjoy introducing new people to the joys of playing Moot. Again, thank you.

Kristina P @ gmail
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Our family has been playing it together for years, at every occasion when we all gather. It was introduced to us by my brother Ted …, who ordered it after hearing a CBC radio interview.

We occasionally take issue with you, and also think "now that would make a good Moot question". Should we send them to you? Thanks for such a terrific game. You can be sure I will be circulating the new questions to relatives.

Catherine, Toronto
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In response to Ruth's message below, the corresponding usage in the British Parliament is

"The ayes to the right, 300. The noes to the left, 301. So the noes have it."

Right and left refer to the physical lobbies through which MPs must pass in order to cast their votes. …

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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When it was coined, it denoted clothing in which
"a horse or a man in training is exercised to produce profuse sweating."
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: sweater


Its first OED citation is from 1828: "A craving, strong horse, going along in his sweat, loaded with sweaters."

(from Sporting Mag. XXIII. 104)


RESPONSE?


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___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I was sure it was Lululemon.

Mark Nissen, Vancouver
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I love your game. It is clever, original, at times-highly erudite, certainly challenging, and varied in its format. I am a retired teacher of AP Literature (30 years) and gifted students. I'm sure they would love it as well. Have you tried marketing it to gifted programs around the country - at conventions, Mensa AG's, that kind of thing? …

Dr. Rosemary Timoney, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
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Kinda easy one, don't you think? So easy I almost didn't get it. Also considered sweatshirt and sweatsuit.

Joe Horton, Birmingham
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That's either awfully strange wording from the dictionary or else an awfully strange situation it refers to. Who is exercising the man in training to induce his profuse sweating? Is the trainer having him run around a circus ring? Why does he want the the man to sweat so? Is this some sort of cruel Dickensian fat farm?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

Don't blame me. Blame the OED.
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I ought to have known "sweatshirt" was too obvious, and besides, "sweater" makes more sense as "something that makes one sweat," just the way a "blusher" is something that makes one (appear to) blush.

Dana, Santa Rosa
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I did come up with sweatsuit. Sweater is, however, a simpler and more precise answer. I prefer to keep it simple (although it is both a noun and an adjective).

Alley Babel
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Good, I was running through Latin and Greek roots, but of course, sweater fit the bill.

J Carlos Deegan, Ventura, CA
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I could never have come close to guessing the word to be "sweater", since I grew up knowing a sweater as clothing worn to insulate the body in cold and flu-inducing weather. Never thought someone would rather not prefer to wear light clothing or to go bare bodied while performing an activity that generates internal heat to a fat-incinerating degree. Of course, I'll blame it on my lingual up-bringing...

Mark Usen, Nigeria
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Well, I often ponderated in passing why they are called sweaters. Although...going out in public in some gift sweaters was often enough to cause a sweat to break out, so I suppose my question would have been answered if I hadn't been so busy blushing.

Pink Wasous, Keyport, WA
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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,
what are the two plurals of the word it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: they and them


When it is the subject, they is the plural
(It wants its dinner --> They want their dinner).

When it is the object, them is the plural
(e.g. I bought the shoe, yes I bought it --> I bought the shoes; yes, I bought them).

Note that its is the possessive form and it's is a contraction.


RESPONSE?


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What about "the its in that sentence should have apostrophes".

Anne, Vancouver

That's a good point. I'm not really sure if that usage of "its" is actually a plural of the word "it" . Maybe somebody else can come up with a good argument either way.
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I also took the literal approach, that is, thinking of the word as the two letters I and T, not as a pronoun with different pronouns as plurals.

Shane McCune, Comox B.C.

It sounds like the question should be "What are the three plurals …?"
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I misread it as asking for possessives--which you plainly didn't ask--and got two.

I had to think about they and them--they seem like people (even though I just used "they" as a plural of it).

As for "its" sure: how many its can you use in one sentence? So there's a third plural.

Joe Horton, Birmingham
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Shouldn't the answer be These and Those? They and Them usually refer to people.

C. B. Secundy, Cambridge, Ma

Good point. However, according to the COD, "these" is the plural of "this" , and "those" is the plural of "that" ; neither is the plural of "it" .
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What about "ifs, ands, and buts... and its"?

Candace, Prescott
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Dear Mootguy:

I'm quite excited to know my MooT game is on its way! I have been on your mailing list for years,guessing (often wrong, occasionally right) the answers to your Moot Questions and discussing them with a particular Speech Language Pathologist colleague who happens to be a polyglot, and now with my son-in-law too, who has a very 'linguistical' sense of humour.

So this year I decided that a group gift, for our family, of the MooT game would make Christmas Day a debating day instead of everyone fighting over one large crossword!

I will read them the Moot Story before our first game, and we will all treasure the 'made by your own hand' aspect, as most of us create our own special things from woodwork, to fine art and even wordsmithing.... Merry Christmas & Thanks.

Wendy, Ladysmith, BC
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Years ago I was a patient in the ENT ward of Walter Reed General Hospital and I met a Lt. Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard who told me the Coast Guard Academy explanation of the origin of the 1960's Hippie rebirth of the use of the ancient derogatory term "Fink."

He said that back in the 1850's, in the days of wooden ships and iron men, that sailors whose ships docked in San Francisco would often jump ship and go hunting for gold. Most of these sailors failed to find gold and wound up "on the beach" without money, job, and means to get back home in the East.

These down on their luck sailors would register at Fink's Maritime Hiring Hall in San Francisco for half-cruises back to New England for half wages. Any such sailors were held in contempt by the full time crewmen on the return voyages and were referred to as "Fink's men", which quickly was shortened to "Finks".

It is a small transition to see the word Fink being passed from sailors to longshoremen and then into the American prisons where the term "Fink" came to mean some convict who would rat out other convicts to the warden or guards for favors or benefits. The Hippies used it in that latter context.

This is a seamless story that may be specious, but it sure rings true. What do you think?

Hugh Odom, Word Maven

Hi Hugh: The OED says that the origin is unknown. I let them do my thinking.
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I think the question should have been phrased:

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, what are the two forms of the plural of the English word "it"?

Gintautas Kaminskas, Canberra

Actually, I'm leaning towards rephrasing the question as: What are the two plurals of the "pronoun" "it"?
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I saw Moot advertised on the Word a Day page and bought it, hoping my grandchildren might enjoy it (and profit from it). Two nights ago, my three grandchildren and I played it with passion for two hours, until we were exhausted.

I am a Brit but they are US and aged nearly 15 and 13. They were therefore at a slight disadvantage because it really has an English weighting. But we played in a friendly way with lots of useful arguments, lots of failures, a few successes ….

At the end of the evening, they announced that they would take Moot home to New York with them and keep it until the youngest had done her SATs! They saw the value it has for that test. And I saw the youngest crouched over the slips with the questions we'd worked on, committing the questions and answers to memory. So, a big success. Thank you Mootmen and Mootwomen!

Yoma, verizon_net
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I’m a huge fan of your game and got mine in Vancouver in the early nineties. I’d like to know whether today’s version of Moot has different questions than the version I have.

There also seems to be MetaMoot available with apparently all new questions.

Should I get both to be able to enjoy Moot well into the future? Best regards,

Mr Markku Perälä, Oulu Finland

Yes. MetaMooT does have different (and more difficult) questions. Also, I would highly recommend that everyone buy a copy of both MooT and MetaMooT (and copies for their friends and family as well).
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Got it right! I taught conversational English for years to Romanians who have no "it," so I had to explain it many times.

Carolyn Blake, Aurora CO

Wow. That's cool. For some reason, I'm pleased that the Romanians have no "it".

Yes, it makes for interesting translations...only he and she. "The computer, he...."
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What instrument's name means "sweet song" in Latin?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the dulcimer


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word is said to ultimately derive from the Latin dulce, sweet, and melos,song.


RESPONSE?


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A good friend of my partner's is Quebecois, but lives now in New York. We visited about twelve months ago, and had a rather rainy weekend in the Catskills; about 8 of us.

Most of our afternoons were filled with Moot and red wine by the fire. It was awesome. My partner and I spend entirely too much time lying in bed and reading trivial pursuit cards to one another. Having been together for nearly two years, we are just about to finish our second time through the full set. So this [MetaMooT] is going to be her Christmas present! I am so looking forward to many more questions like ‘Is a dead disco dancer defunct?’!

Ned, Victoria, Australia

I would look forward to that question, too. Cheers
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I got it! Four years of high school Latin, thank you Fr. Welzbacher.

Dan Miller, Chicago

It's great when all that hard work finally pays off in a big way.
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Got it! I've never played one, but I did have a bowed psaltery once--impossible to keep tuned. Mostly just do woodwinds now, especially the flauto dolce (think about it before you look it up) and the regular flute. But also sax.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama

Follow-up: If you ever get a chance to see one, look at a ranket--I think that's the Renaissance bassoon. It's a smaller than a small trash can and has twelve--yes twelve--finger holes. Each index finger does double duty and each other one has single. A really strange affair which, amazingly enough, sounds like a bassoon. Double reeds in those days were played without lips touching the reeds. Indeed. You blew into a chamber within which is mounted the double reed. Like a trumpet, you increase presume in the chamber until the reeds start to vibrate. No way to use vibrata since you don't have direct reed or wind control. Things have improved since the Renaissance.
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Believe me, if you've ever been to a bar with a bunch of hammered dulcimers, you wouldn't be saying their song was so sweet. (Just in case you're tired of all the banjo jokes.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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That was the easiest one so far... ditto what Dan from Chicago said, Having had Latin in high school sure makes it easy to guess a lot of words!

Alison King, Anchorage
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Well, I got this one in a flash, mostly because I know the word for sweet in Spanish and French. Then I thought about melos and in a minute I remembered "melody" in English. I suppose the hard part of this question is knowing that there is an instrument called the dulcimer.

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok
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The word muleteer is to mule as what word is to camel?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: cameleer


The word muleteer — which denotes "a mule driver" — derives from the Middle French muletier, mule driver.

The word cameleer — which denotes "a camel driver" — derives from the Latin camelarius, camel driver.


RESPONSE?


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Makes sense

Borma, Florida

It's always a good thing when words make sense.
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So does a cameleer get his camel at a camelot?

I can hear the jingle now:

"In short there just is not/ A more convenient spot/ for purchasing used ungulates/ Than here at Camelot."

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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Would that make a 1-woodeer a golf ball driver?

Fred Perri, Scituate, RI

It's a stretch.
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Thanks for two new words, though I don't anticipate that I'll be using them.

Sally, Bethlehem, PA

If we ban fossil fuels, these words might make a comeback.
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I guess the same goes for one who drives a racket.

Greg Felton, Vancouver
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Good heavens - a word that actually makes sense! Knew muleteer but racked my brain for the camel. I suspect both are equally stubborn...

Pink Wasous, Keyport, WA
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A fun word from Birmingham England (world famous for angling the English language): Corsetier - an usher in a theatre. Using the local idiom / pronunciation : yer caw sit 'ere, but yer can sit 'ere

John Allen, Upper Hutt, New Zealand
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The derivation given for muleteer needs a slight revision, I feel.

The French for a mule is 'mule' and/or 'mulet', both from Latin mulus.

The French suffix ier often became eer in English, but also 'one concerned with' as in mountaineer, electioneer.

Many of our agent nouns derived from French retain the -ier form, such as croupier, rentier, sometimes with a change of stress, such cashier. But there is no sense of the mule being small in muletier, and the mules being driven would always have been adults. I think you can best correct this by simply deleting the words 'little mule.'

Roger Cooper

You're right. Thanks for the info. I'll make the change.
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What words were combined
to coin the word doff— as in "doff your hat"?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: do and off


The word doff was coined as a contraction of the phrase do off, preserving the original sense of do meaning put.

Similarly, don was coined by combining do and on.


RESPONSE?


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I do oft don and doff a Dorfman at yon door . . .

George Maurer, California
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I love this word nerd stuff!

Elissa Forsythe, Boston, MA

"Word nerd." Hmmm. Personally, I think that language buffs are not exactly nerds - they're aficionados.
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Well, I guessed "dip" and "off", since doffing my hat requires just a quick nod of the head and lift of the hat (or a sweep of the hat with a dip of the knee if I am feeling particularly historical). Did not know the original meaning of "do". So down the rabbit hole I go tracking how the meaning changed.

Pink Wasous, Keyport, WA
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Ha! I guesed "Don your fedora."

Jan, Bangkok, Thailand
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Derived from the name of a roman orator,
it denotes a European guide who explains
antiquities to sightseers.
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: cicerone


The term derives from Cicero, the name of the great Roman orator.

According to the OED, the term was "apparently originally given to learned Italian antiquarians, whose services were sought by visitors seeking information about the antiquities of a place; subsequently usurped by the ordinary professional ‘guide’."

Purportedly, the guides were so called because they never stopped talking.


RESPONSE?


Your name and location (e.g., Bob Jones, Ottawa):

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___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cicerone is also the name given to a learned expert in beer -- as sommelier is to an expert in wine

Bob Brink
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Which instrument
was Tin Pan Alley's
tin pan?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the piano


Tin Pan Alley is a nick-name for the song-writing business. The name derives from tin pan, US slang for "a cheap tinny piano."


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Some pianos were tinny and cheap, others not so tinny. These tinny pianos were often used for honky tonk songs and those tunes were literally beaten out by those pianists. Still, all was good fun. I learnt piano for 9 years when I was a young girl and I also liked the fast moving songs. My favourite piece was the Turkish Rondo.

Merilyn, Queensland, Australia

Click here for a street piano rendition of the Turkish Rondo (jazzed up).
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In New York City, the Brill Building on Broadway is associated with Tin Pan Alley. The Brill Building housed the offices of music publishers and is the place where many of the most popular songs were written in the mid Twentieth Century. Here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brill_Building

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok Thailand
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What forensic procedure's name means
"a seeing with one's own eyes" in Greek?



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Answer: autopsy


Anything that relates to crime detection is forensic.

The word autopsy — which entered English in the early 17th century denoting "an eye-witnessing" — ultimately derives from the Greek autopsia, a seeing with one's own eyes (from the Greek autos-, self, and opsis, a sight).

Its use in the sense "dissection of a body to determine the cause of death" is first recorded in 1670s.


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Got that one right for once! But regarding your proposed distinction, the word "forensic" seems to have changed its meaning to yours in only the last half century or so. Probably that is because of its correct, but unexplained, use by crime science writers.

In so doing English has been robbed of a useful word. Strictly it does not have anything to do with crime or detection. "Forensic" is derived from the Latin "forum" = (in this sense) law court and simply means anything to do with all law courts (not only criminal courts).

Dick, Surbiton, UK
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I was going for ipse oculi, as in seeing the sybil with one's own eyes. Never thought of autopsy as that, but you're right, of course.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabam

Thanks for the feedback. I especially like the "but you're right, of course" part.
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Joe Horton > ipse oculi is from Latin, not Greek, which is what threw you off, I guess.

Mike Scullin, Alpine, NY
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I grew up, so to speak, with 'autopsy' whilst in med-school a number of moons ago. As bright-eyed, bushytailed second year student, seeing with mine own eyes a corpse lying on the dissection table for the first time, was quite a humbling experience!

Ann Hiemstra, Stilbaai, South Africa
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Not to be confused with "autipsy," from the Greek for "seeing double with one's own eyes."

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.

Similarly, "au-shucksy" , the (Canadian) phenomenon of feeling embarassed when alone.
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WooooHooo! Got this in one! I love the way MooT challenges my brain and gives me info on the etymology of words.

Pink Wasous, Sequim, WA
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Could we make up a German version: augenselbst [eye itself]? On second thought, that sounds more like something akin to "navel-study."

Susanna M. Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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What element got its name because
it was — at the time — newly discovered?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: neon


The name was coined from the Greek neon, the neuter of neos, new.

It first appeared in print in an 1898 article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which was written by its discoverers, Ramsay and Travers.


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My first thought was neodymium... and I'm a chemistry teacher!

Bo Curtis, Salt Spring Island

According to the Internet, the name "neodymium" derives from the Greek νέος διδύμος (neos didymos), which means "new twin." It was so called because it was isolated from a material named “didymium.”
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I was thinking straight, but got it wrong. Looking for an element starting with NEW, all my senile brain could muster was NEODYMIUM?!?

Ilan, Haifa
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So was neodymium: "The name neodymium is derived from the Greek words neos , new, and didymos, twin."

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama

Seems to me, the more I think about it, that both answers — "neon" and "neodymium" — are legitimate answers to the question the way it is worded.
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According to English idiom,
which surname indicates authenticity?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: McCoy


That which is authentic is the Real McCoy. The phrase purportedly derives either from (1) the Scottish phrase real Mackay or (2) the whiskey distilled by A. and M. Mackay of Glasgow.

The phrase became popular during Prohibition to describe properly distilled liquor.


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Dear MooTguy - Yes, you may contact me for feedback.

Let me give you a bit of background. I am one of a group of 9 people who get together every 2 weeks or so to play games. The group was started in 1978 by Fredrick Minn, and it continues to the present. I am the only surviving member of the original participants. Fred died in 2007, and he left his collection of games, including Moot, to me.

When Fred first purchased Moot, it quickly became and continued to be a favorite of the group, even as the group composition changed. Currently, we use Moot as an end-of-the day session-closer. The group is on the third round through the cards. Because of changing group membership, repetition has been possible. We do not play against each other, but rather all of us against “the board”. If we answer correctly, we get the value of the die roll. If we do not get it, the board gets the roll multiplied by 5 or 6, depending on how many people were able to attend that game session.

We had a session yesterday, and for the first time, I mentioned that there was a letter in the box to Fred from … [you], dated Nov 16, 1990, refunding 1 Canadian Loon, an overpayment by Fred due to an error in a Wordways article. (Are you, by any chance, that person?)

In any event, someone asked if there had ever been an expansion set to the game, and I said that I was not aware of one, but an iPad was whipped out and a search was made. Hence my order, today.

By the way, the letter requested notification of any disagreement with answers. There are a few with which we have disagreed over the years. Are you still interested in such comments? Of course, since our version of the games dates to 1990, you may have already made some modifications to the original set of cards. … Thank you for a wonderful game.

Irene Borgogno, Ambler, PA
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I grow my english from your beautiful new words!

Ernest, in Nairobi kenya!
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Truman?

Faith Ruben

If so, then the antonym of "Truman" must be "Nixon."
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Truman isn't an idiom, either, so it doesn't really answer the question.

Deb, California
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The product of A&M Mackay of Glasgow would be whisky and not "whiskey".

David, Beijing

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, both spellings are acceptable — the "ey" is more common in Ireland and North America.

No. The e is only used for Irish Whiskey and Bourbon. Scotch never has an e.

David, Beijing

Ahhh! I see. Thanks for clearing that up.
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My first, and only guess, was McCoy, as in the "Real McCoy." That's the best I could come up with. I thought it was too easy so it must be wrong! Not sure of the origin (and I can't see or remember any connection to the McCoys of the "Hatfield & McCoys") so I'll happily accept what's on line. Although, I would have liked a bit more info on the "real McKay." Whiskey I get!

Dave B, Langley

The info I printed was all there was in the Oxford English Dictionary. Any other etymological info you might find on the Internet (except for the Online Etymology Dictionary) is almost certainly junk — at least, that's my rule of thumb.
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And there I thought it had to do with the Hatfields. Thanks!

Joe Horton Birmingham, Al.
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What about Truman? Perhaps that's not English -- or perhaps you could indicate Scottish idiom?

Lucy Ferriss, Connecticut

Not bad. There is an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word "trueman", which it defines as "A faithful or trusty man; an honest man (as distinguished from a thief or other criminal)."

However, that is not quite the same thing as "authenticity", which is what the question asks for.
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I was thrown by "English surname" to conclude "english idiom", and I always regarded "the real McCoy" as an Americanism. That is certainly why my powerful brainz did not come up with it.

Steve, The Internet
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My understanding was that McCoy made a system for lubricating industrial machines. If it was not the "Real McCoy", then you could count on the machine breaking down.

Stabes, Haddon Heights, NJ
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Once it meant "causing someone to lose their way in the wild."
Now it means "causing someone to become confused."
What word is it?



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Answer: bewilder


According to the OED, to bewilder originally meant to "to cause to lose one's way, as in a wild or unknown place." Now it means to "to confuse in mental perception, to perplex, confound; to cause mental aberration."


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Dear Moot- the phrasing of your question is ungrammatical. It should be : "Once it meant causing someone to lose *his or her* way in the wild." The word "someone" is singular and thus "their" in the sentence, which is plural, is incorrect. Grrrr! I really like Moot nonetheless.

Janis Donnaud

Perhaps, I was subconsciously imitating Oscar Wilde: “You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”

Should he have written: "You don't love someone for his or her looks, or his or her clothes, or for his or her fancy car, but because he or she sings a song only you can hear."?
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In response to Janis Donnaud and her dislike of "their" - to my knowledge, "their" IS grammatically correct when one is referring to a person or persons of unknown number and/or sex. And as you point out, "their" is much less clumsy (and perhaps less politically correct? Maybe that's part of the problem?) than "his or her".

Mary Leibold, Germany
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Traditionally when the gender was not known, using 'his' was the default. It is only since we have all become politically correct that we began using 'their' I find it more than annoying and I agree with Janis. Let us not change the basic conventions because of some misguided attempt at being politically correct. BTW I am a feminist but do not get ups set at these things.

Kathryn McCusker
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Good one. I had "disorient" given the directional and mental meanings. Would not that also work?

Greg Felton, Vancouver

Not really. It doesn't satisfy the etymological aspect of the question, i.e., disorient didn't ever have the meaning "causing someone to lose their way in the wild."
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Including the root word in the definition may have made it a bit too easy. If this ever gets published in the game, maybe "lost in some outback," or some such.

Dana Bellwether/Santa Rosa, CA
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I guessed disorienting, but bewildering is by far the prettier answer. Giving myself half points and a spoonful of ice cream anyway.

Daphne Sams, Vancouver
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Interesting. "Disorienting" would have the same (stated) meaning, but actually means something else.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama
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This is a good one. I guessed "befuddled," but of course "bewildered" is correct. The question reminded me of my mother's reading for years the word "misled" as "myzled." She thought it sounded like being confused, so it made sense to her until she read it aloud and was corrected (unfortunately, I think).

Katherine Grimes, Ferrum, VA
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Hmmmm. "Orienteering" is the practice of finding one's way in the wilderness.

Karen Clark, Toronto

But it is not the practice of causing someone to lose their way in the wilderness.
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I got this one without being bewildered.

Nita, Bombay, India
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Oh, wait, I know this! Um, bewitched? No, that's not right. Bothered? No, that's not it either. Damn, I'm wild again, beguiled again ...

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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"They" as a singular pronoun dates far back before political correctness reared its head. It can be found in the works of Jane Austen, for example, and nearly everyone uses it in informal speech. (Hilariously, many people who are otherwise quite happy grammar nazis use "they" in informal speech and don't even realize it.)

It surprises most people that "you" (then spelt "eow") began as the 2nd-person plural in Anglo-Saxon, and gradually displaced "thou" (then spelt "thu") as the singular. The reason(s) for the plural-to-singular shift are not entirely clear, but the change must have been widespread vocally before it started showing up in the written records of the day. But the plural-pronoun-to-singular-pronoun shift has precedent.

Bear in mind, moreover, that this is straining at gnats and swallowing camels, since multitudes of solecisms in one generation become perfectly acceptable a generation or two later.

1. Almost no one but Mr. Rogers would answer "Is that so-and-so at the door" with "Yes, it is he." The whole of English grammar is shifting to a post-linking-verb-accusative structure, without anyone batting an eye.

2. A thousand years ago, the English feminine and plural 3rd-person nominative pronouns got swapped out for the Norse: fem. "heo" --> she; "hie" --> her; plural "hie" 'those guys' and "heo" 'those girls' both became "they."

3. The (frankly silly) rule about not ending sentences with prepositions arose on in the 1750s as an artificial attempt to make English more like Latin. English has no such prohibition, and it never has. The last words of the Venerable Bede (d. May 735), for instance were "Berath me husl to" "bring to me communion" which, in Old English, ended with a preposition because that was how it was said. (Note that in Latin, a pre-position CAN'T come after its object, but English isn't Latin, and has always made use of post-positions, as in "Shut him up!" or "The factory closed down.")

4. Everybody seems to hate "a whole nother" despite having no trouble with "apron" (originally "napron"), "adder" (originally "nadder"), and their ilk, including "auger," "nickname," "umpire," and "humble pie" (originally, "nauger," "ekename," "noumper," and "numble pie").

Here's one nobody seems to know (or to care about), even though it's in the Chicago Manual and other grammar treatises as a rather strict device: When you talk about a word as a word, it's supposed to be in italics, not quotation marks, so why haven't we set up our computers to allow that? I shouldn't have to put "apron" in quotation marks, but in italics, when I speak of it as a word rather than using it to communicate.

It is shameful to have to admit it, but our beloved grammatical rules are most often used, not to assist in communication (which is the only "correctness" there is to language), but to divide people up into classes, so we can dismiss them or demonize them or denigrate them as "snobbish," "common," "low," "snooty," or what have you. A dismal, but inescapable truth, unfortunately.

The purpose of grammar is to aid in communication, not to shackle it. There is nothing wrong with the rules---as changeable rules---but there seems indeed to be something wrong with us, given the way we use them.

I'm sorry to talk so much. I was an English Teacher, a Linguist, and a lawyer for many years. I guess I just revert to type when I'm speaking.

Scott M. Ellsworth, Utah

Thanks very much for the interesting info. Cheers
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Mary from Germany was correct in stating that the plural pronoun is incorrectly use as a singular; however, she is incorrect with her usage of "his or her" as those two words refer to two people, as in "John or Mary." "His" is the correct non gender specific singular possessive pronoun (other than "one" which Americans shun).

David Silverman, Antalya, Turkey
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When you claim that nostalgia
isn't what it used to be,
are you being nostalgic?



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Answer: no


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word nostalgia denotes either:

(1) a wistful or regretful memory of a past time, (2) a sentimental yearning for the past, or (3) severe homesickness.

In this case, the question makes a claim about nostalgia, but it is not an act of nostalgia itself.


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Veeeery debatable this one. When I (emphasis on the I) say that "nostalgia isn't what it used to be", I am expressing precisely "a sentimental yearning for the past".

Ilan, Haifa

Actually, I don't see where the sentimental yearning can be found in the question. Maybe I'm happy that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Or does the use of "isn't what it used to be" always imply a sense of sentimental yearning?

For example, what if I said "Stalinism isn't what it used to be." Now, it's definitely very true that Stalinism isn't what it used to be, and I know that — at least in my case — I'm definitely not feeling a sentimental yearning for the days when it was what it used to be.
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But aren't you speaking about a regretful memory of a time when nostalgia was different from what it is now?

Ian J, Toronto
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You're channeling Yogi Berra!

James Stewart

Actually, Berra said, "The future ain't what it used to be" or something like that.

However, your feedback provoked me to look into this further. I discovered that the title of Simone Signores' biography is "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be" , so I'm channeling Simone not Yogi.
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So maybe the answer should be "it depends" -- is the speaker expressing regret, satisfaction, or simply making an observation? In general, I feel the first would be the most common usage. "Things ain't what they used to be" is almost certain to be true, but is most likely to be used as an expression of dissatisfaction.

Ian Johnstone
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Look, if we're wistfully claiming that nostalgia is not what it used to be (a perfectly defensible claim to argue these days), then it is being nostalgic, isn't it? Am I missing something?

Peter Zelchenko, Chicago

But the word "wistful" appears nowhere in the question. All that is made is a claim.

True enough. I guess my thought was that when someone says "X sure isn't what it used to be," it's usually wistful. At least that's been my experience. I'm too lazy to look it up but I guess the -algia comes from pain and I think it used to mean homesickness.
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I agree with the definition as it's a statement of fact! Nostalgia used to mean homesickness. For the great majority of modern uses, nostalgia is used in the context of yearning for the past (not necessarily of home) and therefore [the meaning/usage] of nostalgia isn't what it used to be!

Sarah, Hampshire UK
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Indeterminate. The phrase, "isn't what it used to be," does imply a memory of a past time, so it is an act that could possibly be nostalgic. More context is needed to know if wistfulness is involved.

Esmeralda S, New Hampshire
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I agree with most of the people here claiming that "isn't what it used to be" generally indicates a yearning for the past. The Stalinism example is out there, for sure, but if someone were actually to say that, I would think they were an old-time Stalinist wishing to go back to those good old days of the gulags. Make it "nostaligia has changed a great deal in the past 50 years," and you've got a better claim to non-nostalgia.

Lucy Ferriss, Connecticut
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You're being ironic — a la Groucho or Yogi. It's almost, but not quite a malapropism.

Joe Horton, Birmingham, Alabama
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Martin Lewis produced a print titled "The Old Gray Mare" (ain't what she used to be) that featured people looking at a dead horse.

CUW, Cleveland
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It's context, isn't it? You can't hear the person's inflection so you don't know if she's happy or sad or rueful or angry. In any event, absent of knowing the context, if I had said this, I would definitely be nostalgic by saying it.

diane, seattle
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I disagree with the answer being debatable. Seems clear to me. A key component of the definition of nostalgia is a yearning for the "happiness of a previous time or place." A statement claiming that "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" does not imply that. More like a statement of fact.

Dave B, Langley, BC
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I think it depends on how it is said: "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be", said wistfully or yearningly, is indeed nostalgic.

If the attitude of the speaker is pride in the progress nostalgia has made, scornful of what it used to be, then it isn't.

David Taffs, Oregon
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The implication of saying something "isn't what it used to be" is wistful — that the thing isn't as good as it used to be.

Dana Bellwether/Santa Rosa, CA
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It's all too funny. Thanks for postin this one!

Nanette, Jersey
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OK, there are two things going on here:

"X isn't what it used to be" is, on the one hand, a proposition with truth value (as a logician might say); on the other hand, it's also an idiom with a certain "pragmatic" use (as a linguist would say).

As the former, it simply means that X is in some way different than it used to be; as the latter, it always means X is not as good/charming as it used to be and always casts a wistful on the past.

To use another similar example, let's say that someone was looking at an old Chevy and said, "They don't make 'em like they used to." Mr. Spock (a logician and an alien) would simply be puzzled, arch his eyebrows and perhaps ask for disambiguation; a human being, on the other hand, would instantly get that this was a comment on the good ol' days.

Ultimately, what I'm getting at is that insofar as "ain't what it used to be" is, as they say, a "thing" in English--and I mean by that something that already exists in its entirety and has a customary use--it for sure means "nostalgia." However, insofar as it could be an collection of words that has just been thrown together for use on one occasion, it could have the meaning you ascribed to it. But I think most people are looking at it as a "thing" in English-- a set expression.

Let me boil it down even further. Obviously, a sentence has a meaning, taken in isolation from the world in which it is used. Thus the sentence "Do you have a light?" is a question that asks if the interlocutor has a lighter or match on his person. (Spock would reply "yes" or "no" and leave it at that.)

Howevever, language is something we use in the real world, a tool to get things done, whether that be to effect a desired outcome or express a sentiment or"¦ Thus, when we ask, "Do you have a light?," we almost always use it to mean "Could I use your lighter or matches, if you happen to have some?"

So is it possible that "ain't what it used to be" means simply "different now than it was before"? Yes. Is it likely? No.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, BC

Nicely argued.
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This is a response to the person who brought up Mr. Spock. If you watched the prequel to star trek by jj abrams, you might say, mr spock isn't the way he used to be in the future.

martha o'kennon
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In Greek it means "rules of the belly,"
whereas in English it denotes
"the art of eating and drinking well."
What word is it?



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Answer: gastronomy


The word derives fromt the Greek gaster, belly, and nomos, arranging or regulating. It was coined by Joseph de Berchoux (1762-1838) as the title of poem on good living.


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I've just learned another meaning for "nom." I've always thought that, e.g., astronomy meant NAMING the stars, etc. Thank you--a whole new English word history.

Dana Bellwether, Santa Rosa, CA
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Thanks for posting an easy one, at last I scored a hit!

Gayatri Mumbai, India
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Got it immediately. Looks like those years of high school Latin and ancient Greek are still knocking about the brain somewhere.

Stephanie, California
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According to American idiom,
which surname denotes "intense desire"?



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Answer: Jones


For example, "Smith was jonesing for a cigarette."

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the sense 'intense desire' or 'addiction' probably arose from the earlier use of Jones as a synonym for 'heroin.'


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I actually knew the answer from only "According to American idiom, which surname". :-)

Rae, Detroit
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Just a little critical note: "Denotes intense desire" strongly suggests (or does it even denote?) that the surname you're looking for acts as a noun, so I was looking for a noun. "Jones," however, always acts as a verb when used as an idiom. (Actually, its behaviour is a bit weird for a verb: It only seems to appear as a present participle in the continuous aspects (e.g. is/was/will be jonesing). You probably would never find it without the -ing (i.e. The following would be wrong: "I jones/he joneses for a cigarette."))

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

According to Merriam Webster, the word "jones" is a noun that denotes "a very strong desire for something or to do something." You'll have to pursue your arguement with them.

I stand corrected. I've never heard it used as a noun before.
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"I gotta basketball jones" ---- Cheech & Chong

Ali, California
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I have heard it used as a noun, as in "I have a jones for" or "to satisfy his jones" --- but not often. I think the noun use might not be as current as "jonesing for".

Wim Lewis, Seattle
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I could have got this one when I was a little kid, after hearing "Basketball Jones" by Cheech and Chong.

Ray, Trondheim
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It originally denoted "bull-fighting devotees."
Now it labels any devotee.
What word is it?



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Answer: aficionado


The word derives from the Spanish aficionado, amateur, but it entered English specifically denoting "a devotee of bullfighting." It has since then generalized to label a devotee of any sport or pastime.


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Wow, the answer passed through my brain as a possibility, but I rejected it, as I did with the scant other options I came up with. I guess I was expecting something with "toro" in it, or something similar. This was one of the few MooTs where I caved in and just looked at the answer. A real good one!

Jackson Shelton, Mamaroneck, NY
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Thank you, Hemingway. I finally got one after a dry spell

Scott, Calgary, AB
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Of all the answers that ran through my mind, aficionado wasn't even in the ballpark (bullring?)! Excellent stumper!

Pink Wasous, Sequim, WA
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In olden - Hindu Indian [of SE Asia] way - the married couple are called 'man of the house and the woman of the house'.. He is 'the man of my house' 'she is the woman of my house'...

Veda B R - India
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Its name literally means
"the place beyond the forest."
What part of Europe is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Transylvania


Transylvania was first referred to in a Medieval Latin document as ultra silvam, beyond the forest. Eventually, this was substituted with the alternative Latin prepositional prefix trans, which means "on the other side."


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I knew it was Transilvania. I am an American lucky enough to be living in Romania right now and I have been to the Transilvania area many times - spectacular! That is the Romanian spelling. Pronounced Trahn seel vahn yah, with a rolled R.

Carolyn Blake in Barlad, Romania
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I thought the answer might be Hyperborea, as that would be beyond the boreal forest, but 'borea' refers to the land of the north winds, and nothing to do with the trees.

Marc, Edmonton
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What pugilistic term derives
from the name of an annual Irish fair?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: donnybrook


The Donnybrook Fair was an annual event held in County Dublin until 1855. It was so renowned for its drunken brawls that its name has come to denote "a drunken brawl."


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What word is both
the synonym and the antonym
of the verb separate?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: cleave


To separate something from something else is to cleave it. In addition, to join something to something else is also to cleave it.


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"In addition, to join something to something else is also to cleave it."

I think that the usage in this sense is that something cleaves ~to~ something else, not that you cleave them.

Another opposite is moot: debatable vs already decided. I suspect that this one came from people who didn't know better thinking it was the same as "mute". But "cleave" is sui generis.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama

In this particular case, I believe the question works because the OED allows a usage without "to". Here's the pertinent OED entry (please note the 1979 example):

6.B.6 trans. To attach to. arch. rare.
1958 T. H. White Once & Future King iii. xxviii. 460 He didna cleave importance tae it, but told the people for its worth.
1979 A. Fraser King Charles II ii. vii. 98 The real theme of the coronation—to cleave the Scottish people to their young King.

Thanks for the excellent feedback, as usual.

So, the question becomes what a dictionary is. According to The Professor and the Madman (which details the birth of the OED, and is a must read for you--it's good, quite good, really), a dictionary chronicles usage, but doesn't dictate/allow it. If something--or some usage--is both archaic and rare, as above, it's kinda on its way out, if not already gone. I suggest that it means that it's no longer used sans "to." Both of the examples you cited used "to." But when we get down to that degree of minutiae, I think we're singing from the same hymnal.

Joe Horton Birmingham, Alabama
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How nice to get one of these. It's been a long time, and this is one of my favorite listserves. "Cleave" is perfect. It's somewhat like the one I came up with: "cut." You can cut a cattle out of the herd or cut butter into flour and baking powder.

Dana Bellwether/Sebastopol, CA
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I agree with Joe Horton, and I think you missed his point. Your question, in fact, still works: "Cleave" is both the antonym and synonym of "separate."

Your explanation, however, is wrong: To cleave something (with only a direct object as a complement) can only mean to separate it into two.

Here’s a fuller explanation: There are three subcategories of the verb “cleave” here:

Cleave something (transitive verb: verb + direct object)

Cleave to something /someone (verb + prepositional phrase)

Cleave something/someone to something/someone (ditransitive verb: verb + direct object + prepositional phrase

In your explanation, you said that “to join something to something else is also to cleave it.” Not so. For this meaning of “cleave,” the prepositional phrase “to something/someone” is an OBLIGATORY complement, not an optional one. (In other words , using your example, if you “cleave the Scottish people,” you’re bisecting them; if you “cleave the Scottish people to the king” or if “they cleave to the king,” they bond with the king.

Contrast this with, say, “hit the man with a stick," where the prepositional phrase “with a stick” is optional—-take it away and “hit the man” still means the same thing.) If you don’t have the prepositional phrase “to…”, cleave just reverts to its meaning of “separate.”

To summarize, while “the OED allows a usage without “to”,” that particular usage doesn’t mean “join.”

(By the way, the OED entry you gave doesn’t demonstrate the usage without “to,” but rather the “cleave something/someone to something/someone” usage.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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I once gave a speech on the word "cleave." Do you think Beaver Cleaver's name was chosen because of this strange word.?

Katherine Grimes, Virginia

Could be. I read somewhere on the internet that there was a team of etymologists working on the "Leave it to Beaver" series.
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I think "to group" works too...

Brent, Napoli

I think you're right. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, to disperse an ensemble into a set of groups is to group and to form separate things in to a harmonious whole is also to group.
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What word was contracted to coin
the Goody in the phrase Goody Two-Shoes?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Goodwife


The name Goody is a shortened form of Goodwife, a 16th century equivalent of Mrs.

The phrase Goody Two-Shoes denotes a "pious person," and was derived from the title character's name in the 1766 book The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.


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I wonder what the progression of pronunciations was?

Similarly, "good bye" is an abbreviation of "God be with you," dialectically "God be wi' ye," ultimately to "good bye," (probably via "god bye"). "Wi' ye" is similar, at least visually, to "wife," which makes me wonder how it used to be pronounced. Know what I mean?

coyote at alum.mit.edu
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How to pronounce earlier forms of the word 'wife'? Good question.

The modern German is "Weib " — pronounced "vipe" with a long 'i' as in 'pipe' — yet midwifery is pronounced mid-wiff'-ery, with a short 'i.'

I read that 'housewife' was shortened to 'huzzif' with a short 'i.' So I am guessing that 'goodwife' similarly became 'goodif' and then goody.'

Sue Jackson, Massachusetts
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I should have guessed! In Arthur Miller's drama "The Crucible," all the female characters are referred to as Goody.

Jan Polatschek, Miama
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Knew that one well; turns up in Shakespeare, ironically carries over to Salem, Massachusetts, et al, where wives weren't always that good, apparently.

Susanna Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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Hi, always glad to hear from you.

BABE, CHICAGO

I glad to hear that you're glad to hear from me.
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I knew the meaning, but always thought it was "good lady", I couldn't work out the pronunciation progression from "good wife".

Leslie, midland
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ja, well known to me. nasty title; it sets my back up: the normative intent behind it seems quite clear. I say, let's be Baddies if we have to be wives at ALL!

ingridsalzmann @ gmail.com
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Following on Sue Jackson's remark: I recall that in the British Army in the 50's we were issued with a small sewing kit which contained needles and thread etc. which was called a 'Housewife' but in fact was pronounced 'hussif'.

As I type this is occurs to me that the word 'hussy' is not dissimilar although perhaps at odds with the image of a goodwife.

Malcolm Platt, Derbyshire Dales, U.K.

Your intuitions are correct. The word "hussy" — which is a classic example of a linguistic phenomenon called pejoration — was coined by contracting the word "housewife" .
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In the olden - Hindu Indian [of SE Asia] way - the married couple are called 'man of the house and the woman of the house'.. He is 'the man of my house' 'she is the woman of my house'...

Veda B R - India
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Are the cow's kin kine?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: yes


The plural of the word cow is kine; thus, the question translates to: Are the cow's relatives cows?


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Uhhh, so if I gave someone two cows in return for two horses, would that constitute "payment in kine"?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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Did not know this. … However, I think the relatives of a cow should be kine enough to accept this. Hopefully we can chew on this whilst ruminating.

Mags Moodley, South Africa
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Etymology-wise, it denotes a car
that has been cut down to size.
What car type is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the coupé


The word derives from the French carrosse coupe, cut-off carriage, which was first applied to two-door automobiles in 1908. Similarly, a coupon is a a ticket that is cut off.


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Oo-la-la, what a delightful answer! (However, IMHO, "etymology-wise" should be "etymologically," and "car-type" should be "car type," "car-type" being an adjectival form.) Thanks for a fun puzzle! Come to think of it, I've never heard of a "carrosse," meaning carriage. I'll have to look it up. Isn't carriage a French word?

Flora Riemer, New Mexico, USA

You're right about car-type, so I've made the change. I like "etymology-wise" because it gets the idea across in the fewest number of words. It is sort of acting like a sentence adverb, which is a common usage in English now.
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Better than reality TV. Can the Kardashians dance that well?

FM Bright, Colorado

In almost all ways imaginable, what Don Messer and his people were doing (great skill, very little concern about presentation) is the exact opposite of what the Kardashians and their people are doing.

That's what I loved about the video. Very genuine and enjoyable. They were obviously having a great time and not at all self-conscious. Thanks for putting it up!

Fionna Bright
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Who knew that Floyd, the Mayberry barber, could dance?

Shane McCune, Comox B.C.
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According to English idiom,
what is the busybody's surname?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Parker


The name Nosey Parker personifies all busybodies. Hence the busybody's given name is Nosey and the surname is Parker.


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I absolutely agree that the surname is Parker; however, I have always considered 'nosy' (with or without the capital) to be an adjective and not a given name.

Jim, Puebla, Mexico

The COD capitalizes "Nosy", which I would assume means that they are claiming that it is a proper noun, i.e., a name, and thus, in this case, a given name.

Followup: I don't own a COD, although I do have an oldish edition (ie, not 1920-odd) of the OED. In any case, I *am* a linguist (sense n+1 in the OED, ie a guy with a linguistics doctorate, even if it was 45+ years ago, and from MIT, no less).

OK, long story short, I take issue with your shaky logic. First of all, not all capital letters indicate proper nouns. The most notorious case here is the first word of almost any sentence, which is capitalized and wreaks havoc with automatic computer Proper Name Recognition (to coin my own personal proper noun, in this instance I'm sure not for the first time).

There are other cases, as when adjectives modify a (proper noun, hereafter PN) surname, they are in fact often capitalized. In effect, just because you see ... Ugly Jones ... in the middle of a sentence, *everyone* would take 'Jones' as a (PN) surname, while I doubt if anyone (even you) would take Ugly as a 'given name', and many might well take it as, say, a nickname, which is quite different from a 'given name', even if it is a Proper Noun, at least in some sense.

Anyway, I enjoy these questions. I usually get them right, though maybe only about 60 to 80% of the time. On another topic, btw, the parentheses are used in linguistics to mean 'optional' (eg, in rules). In the example given: (s), it could be taken to mean 'also occurs in the plural' (say, since this suffix has a bunch of meanings in English). I therefore also thought it was misleading (OK, so I got it wrong and got grumpy). Just a couple of points to consider.

Jim, Puebla, Mexico

The COD states that capitalization of an entry is used to indicate that the word is a proper noun. As the question is based on a COD entry of which both terms are capitalized, I assumed that both were proper nouns.
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I'm afraid I have to agree with Jim. As a Brit, I would use this phrase to describe soneone who is as nosy as Mr/Ms Parker.

Interestingly, "parker" may not be a surname but may describe a nosy park-keeper, according to this source http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/nosy-parker.html

Sarah, London

Here are the first few citations for the term from the OED. From these it is apparent that is was initially used as a person's name:

"1907 Picture post card (London View Co. Ltd.) (caption) " "The adventures of Nosey Parker."

"1912 C. Mackenzie Carnival xxi. 217" ‘I saw you go off with a fellah.’ ‘What of it, Mr. Nosy Parker?’

"1915 Wodehouse Something Fresh v. 163" ‘But Nosey Parker is what I call him,’ she said. ‘He minds everybody's business as well as his own.’
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Hmmm. Bette Meddler? But in all seriousness, there is more one response here. Parker might be the British version, but there is also Buttinsky or Buttinski, which I'm thinking is of North American origin. (I'm imagining a crowded New York tenement with Jewish or Eastern European immigrants hanging their clothes to dry in their common courtyard, leaning over their balconies and yelling, kibitzing, arguing... I'm sure there were a lot of Buttinskys at such close quarters.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

Someone who butts in is called a "Buttinski" . This is different than being a busybody (OED: "one who is improperly busy in other people's affairs"). In fact, you can probably be a lifetime busybody, without ever once butting in.

Of course, different dictionaries will have different definitions, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Buttinski's range of usage. Even a cursory glance at online dics yield the following: "buttinsky - an interfering person."

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

Actually, you have a good point. There are two answers to this question. However, I can fix it by changing the question to read: "What is the busybody's given name?" with the answer = Nosey.
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I don't quite agree with your distinction between "Nosy Parker" and "Buttinski" (I do agree "Buttinski" is an incorrect answer) in that the latter butts in to involve themselves in other's business that isn't any of theirs.

G. Emil Perrine
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Got this one without even having to cudgel my brain. It seems to be getting to be an archaic description since I did a quick poll to see who might know this and almost everyone under the age of 50 had never heard it. It is a phrase that seems to occur in older books and books set in an older age and is always used as a pejorative.

Pink Wasous, Sequim, WA
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In Pittsburgh, busybodies are often called Nebby Neighbors. From 'neb', akin to Old Norse 'nef' = beak. "Don't be such a neb-nose." "Those people are too nebby!"

Tom Pater, Courtenay BC
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Here in Australia the term 'nosy Parker' is replaced by 'Sticky beak', a term which means someone who sticks his/her beak into other people's business. In everyday language that has resulted in 'Let's have a sticky', meaning 'Let's have a look.'

Dick Stamp, Victoria Australia
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I'd venture to say that a nosy Parker is a busybody, and that Nosey Parker is the personification of the quintessential busybody, such that any nosy Parker could be referred to as Nosey Parker. This is kind of like the difference between uncle and Uncle. That's my uncle John. Yes, Uncle John is my uncle.

Suzanna, Moncton
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Isn't the Parker surname derived from the King's guardian of a forest or a park; that is, the royal official who protected the King's forest game from poaching, and also collected wood fuel tax payment from those who paid to collect "all the wood within their reach" in the King's forests?

And in that latter case gave us the expression of "by hook and by crook" for those who used a shepherd's staff to gather wood higher on the trees beyond their normal reaches.

Hubert M. Odom
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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,
when you act on behalf of Rob,
are you acting on the part of Rob?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


According to a COD usage note, that which is done on Rob's behalf is done by someone other than Rob, but that which is done on the part of Rob is done by Rob.


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True enough--but, on the other hand, if you act on half of Rob, you act on his part.

But seriously, folks, the use of "on the part of" to mean "on behalf of" is one of my lexical bugaboos. You hear it all the time in the media.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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So you would say, e.g., "I don't need any help with this; I'll do it on my own part" or, "I'm not going to do that for her; she can do it on her own part"?

Dana Britomaris, Santa Rosa

Here's the example that the COD uses to show how the two work:

(1) "A long struggle on behalf of the strikers" (the struggle is being carried out by people other than the strikers)

(2) "A long struggle on the part of the strikers" (the struggle is being carried out by the strikers)
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Perhaps you have the excellent (and very heavy) American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, 2011. Under behalf there is a long and interesting "usage note" dealing with the differences between on behalf of and in behalf of. I grew up instinctively using these two expressions "correctly" but the Panel of Experts of the Dictionary is now recognizing that on behalf of is "supplanting" in behalf of and doing double duty. Well, it is interesting to watch "correct usage" slip and slide.

Kibbe Fitzpatrick at MSN.com
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Its name derives from
a Latin word that means "to pull."
What vehicle-type is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the tractor


The word derives from the Latin trahere, to pull.

According to the OED, the sense of "an engine or vehicle for pulling wagons or plows" is first recorded in 1896, from the earlier term traction engine (1859).


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I always assumed that tractor and tractable shared a Latin root, something about cultivation/domestication. And I suppose they can both be tracted, er traced, back to trahere, to draw.

But the Online Oxford American says tractable's proximate Latin source is tractatus, "from tractare, to handle, the frequentative of trahere."

Shane McCune, Comox B.C.
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Attracted by an old tractor, the farmer decided to buy it after long tractations with its seller. Up to that day his plough had been tracted by a horse.

Nanon Gardin, Paris
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The first one that I was very confident about BEFORE I read the answer! I LOVE these questions! :-)

Deb Parrish, Florida
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Yes! I was attracted to the problem, but I would not be distracted from its solution.

Lav Kanoi, India
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"Train" also derives from trahere.

Steve Wallace, Atlanta (formerly Toronto)

When did Toronto change its name to Atlanta?
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The principal parts of the verb are these:

Traho: I pull (1st person singular present active indicative)

Trahere: to pull, active present infinitive Traxi or trexi, I forget which, 1st person active present perfect

Tractatus: past participle.

The first and fourth forms are the source of Latin verbs taken over into English. Dictionaries can no longer assume people know this, so they give only the p.p. from which the looked-up word is derived.

Nancy Charlton, charltonwordorder1 at gmail
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What English word initially denoted
"a vendor of fancy goods made in Milan"?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: milliner


During the Renaissance, the Italian city was famous for straw works, fancy goods, ribbons, bonnets, and cutlery. Now the term denotes a person who makes or sells women's hats."


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Yes! Guessed it while the page was loading :) . I've long wondered about the etymology of this word, but never when I was close enough to a computer to bother looking it up. (What? Dictionaries? Pshaw.)

Jordan, Utah
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So who makes and sells men's hats?

Kate

The haberdasher? A mad hatter?
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A possible answer for Kate, who asked who makes and sells men's hats: a Manhattan, of course!

Elisabeth, Elgin, Illinois
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Yes! I got it, maybe partly because my widowed grandmother worked as a milliner to support her family after her husband died.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA, USA
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Good one (especially as it was easy!) Thanks!

Jules, Hampton, UK
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It once denoted any horizon.
But now it always denotes urban horizons.
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: skyline


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word skyline initially refered to the line where the earth and the sky met.

Now, the word usually refers to "the outline or silhouette of a buildings or other objects seen against the sky."


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"cityscape" works, too.

Joe Horton, Louisiana

I don't believe that the word "Cityscape" ever denoted "any horizon."
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Hmmm - up here on the Northwest Olympic Peninsula we still use skyline in the old sense. No real cities up here and there is the constantly changing water and sky horizon line, along with the mountain peaks against the sky. Guess we are just out of step. LOL

Pink Wasous, Sequim, WA
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I wonder how recent the change was. In my home state of Virginia, "Skyline Drive" winds its way through Shenandoah National Park. The view from that road (which was begun as a Depression-era WPA project in the early 1930s) is anything but urban.

Justin, Asia

The first OED citation for the word "skyline" in the sense: "The outline or silhouette of a building or number of buildings or other objects seen against the sky" is from 1896.

But that doesn't mean that the older, non-urban sense of the word isn't still used, say, for example, in rural American. I was born and raised in a city, so my skyline has always included skyscrapers.
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This is the first MooT question I've got right in ages, perhaps because I'm a city girl! I much prefer the original meaning as it's more evocative; city buildings more disrupt the skyline than become it.

Sarah, London
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Walking around the reservoir in Central Park, in New York City, there are always tourists with cameras taking photos of both the East and West side building profiles against the sky. Lacking the natural eye candy of the Grand Canyon, cities provide a visually interesting substitute...the skyline.

Carla Wolper, New York City
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Yay! I got it immediately! I'm not native english, so it feels great.

Melissa, Serbia
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Wow - I actually got this one right away! But I have heard the obsolete reference in some fantasy novels I have read - skylining as presenting a silhouette against a light sky.

Greg, Waterloo
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Wait, I'm confused. I got the answer, but "it ALWAYS denotes urban horizons," and "according to the OED... now, the word EXCLUSIVELY refers to 'the outline or silhouette of a buildings [sic] or other objects seen against the sky,'" BUT "that doesn't mean that the older, non-urban sense of the word isn't still used." Which is it? (Judging from the Feedback so far, I'd say the OED is wrong...)

Flora Riemer, New Mexico, USA

I think you're right. I went back to the OED and it looks like I read the word "exclusively" into the definition when it doesn't really belong. A better word would be "usually", so I've updated the question. Thanks for the astute feedback.
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According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
it originally meant "to roar as a bull,"
now it denotes the making of any "deep loud roar."
What word is it?



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Answer: bellow


According to Shakespeare in the Winter's Tale (1611): "Jupiter Became a Bull, and bellow'd."


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Whoo! Got it in one! MooT is always a highlight of my inbox, thanks for lots of fun and more than a few head-scratchers!

Greg, Waterloo
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Missed it. I was guessing borborygmi [The technical name for a rumbling stomach - an onomatopoeic coinage (Mootguy)]. Bellow makes more sense.

joe Horton
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My first guess was burble (Burr bull).

Greg Felton
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In a half-somnolent state, I kind of conflated "bovine" with "bloviate" and came up with "boviate," a neologism I knew was wrong--but pleasingly and creatively so. Bully for you, everyone who got it!

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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Like the gentleman Jack O. from Vancouver, I tried to blend a root based on "bos/bovine" with bloviate, and came up with "boviate." Jack, as there are two of us, let's lobby to have it added to the lexicon!

Susanna M. Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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Oh my gosh, i was trying too hard: "Toro? Ferd?" No, just plain, Anlo-Saxon "bull."

Dana Britomaris, Sebastopol
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I got it! I only get about 20% of your questions, so it feels very good when I do.

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA, USA
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I got it right! I got it right! Ahem...I mean, jolly good!

Jonathan, Portland
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One of those occasions I got it in my first attempt. But I was not confident.

Dev, Mhow, India
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What three characters are affixed
to words to denote the concept
“and if there is more than one”?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: (s)


For example: “In that case, the dog(s) must be neutered.”


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Can't believe I got this one. And within a few seconds! Kind of a weird concept to be faced with out of the blue, and odd to see it described in a phrase. I feel proud to have a brain that can free-associate an answer like that. Nicely done on this question!

Jackson Shelton, Westchester

When I tested this question in a game situation, two teams of veteran hot-shot MooT players (7 per team) spent fifteen minutes mulling it over before someone figured it out. You have a right to feel proud. This is a very tough question.
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You puzzle us, educate and entertain us - thank you for the great quality.

don gray - TX
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When I lived in Charleston, I happened to be at the airport one day waiting for a plane. It was right before Spoleto, and several large young (20's) black guys got off the plane. From the overall appearance and way they handled themselves, it was clear that one was Da Man and the others were his bodyguards. I have no clue who any of them were. A few minutes later, old BB himself walks off the plane alone--no big deal. The contrast was telling: one took himself very seriously, one was just a regular guy. Maybe you had to be there.

Coyote --- alum.mit.edu
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Ah, but are parentheses considered characters?

Greg Felton, Port Coquitlam

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a character as: "a printed or written letter, symbol, or distinctive mark."
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The hot-shot Moot players probably puzzled over it for such a long time because of the misleading phrasing (not to blame you, if you simply lifted it from a dictionary). The "if" in the conditional clause "if there is more than one" is very strange, as it always demands a result, of which there is none here. "And there might be more than one" makes far more sense.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

The "misleading phrasing" was mine. No dictionary was involved. I don't see any reason other than how you feel to claim that the quoted "if" statement requires a result. Why does a quoted phrase in a MooT question require a result?

[follow-up] To put it another way, what does "and IF there is more than one" mean.

Put it in the sentence (there's a simple semantic test) and see if what comes out is sense or nonsense. Using your example: "In that case, the dog (and if there is more than one) must be neutered" is nonsense, at least the part we stuck in, whereas "In that case the dog (and there might be more than one) must be neutered" makes sense.

Grammatically speaking, "there might be more than one" is an independent clause, and can thus stand alone and make sense by itself. "If there is more than one" is a subordinate clause and requires a main clause (i.e. what i called the result clause) to complete it, in the same way that "When I drink beer..." or "Before I go to bed..." need to be completed to be full-fledged thoughts.

And to beat the shit out of this dead horse, another way of looking at it is that "There might be another one" is a proposition (a statement or description of reality), while "If there is another one" is not.
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As the "hot-shot team" member over whom the light bulb finally blinked, I can say with certainty that I found nothing misleading in the wording. As the question indicates, the use of (s) conveys the *concept* of "and if there is more than one," not necessarily those exact words. At least, it worked for me, and apparently for Mr. Shelton.

Shane McCune, Comox B.C.
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I see the point Jack is making. Still, I have no problem with the quoted phrase per-se; the discrepancy might be also remedied by changing the preceding wording from "denote the concept" to "complete the thought", since then the incomplete thought "and if there is more than one" would be completed by (s).

I think though that this would just muddle the whole thing and make it less elegant. I loved how it was worded. Nice and challenging.

Jacson Shelton
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Such great ideas, having to think about every word and concept (so to speak) thinking about characters and not just letters. Amazing program.

William Haresch, Fairfax
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It took a few seconds, but anyone who's been a transcriber of legal documents is familiar with the use of "(s)". It reminds me of the convoluted efforts to write in "gender neutral" terms. "Legalese" is such an unnecessary contortion of the language.

Leslie Harman, Midland, TX
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Some claim that its name derives
from the belief that it sounded a warning
when crocodiles were present.
What lizard is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: the monitor


In Latin the word monitor means "one who reminds, admonishes, or checks." Note that the largest living lizard, the Komodo Dragon, is a monitor lizard.


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FINALLY, a word I know off the top of my head! As an 11th generation South African now living stateside for the past 2 decades, I still recall the tall tales (tails?) warning us children of the monitor lizards, officially called Varanid Lizards; varanid in arabic is "to remind" ... my interpretation would be "to remind "others of the presence of a threat. Monitor being the common given name I believed referred to their habit of standing upright at times keeping watch for arising threats, monitoring the situation.

Most commonly in South Africa, everyone knew them as leggewaan (pronounced legga von) ... and were warned to steer well clear of their powerful tails which were capable of inflicting great damage to legs and ankles, even, if one were to believe the urban legend, being capable severing legs or feet with a single flick.

Also interesting to note, the word "waan" in Afrikaans (and Dutch) means illusion or Chimera ... naturally I'm sure explorers would be startled to see a reptile standing on hind legs, convinced it was some sort of illusion. They were known to be highly intelligent, creative problem solvers much to the annoyance of us farm families who kept hens for eggs to sell at market, one of their favorite foods.

I must thank you for a wonderful method of sharing a common love for words, and keeping language alive in this world of emoticons and people who live 140 characters at a time.

Theresa Campbell Naude, Lexington, Kentucky
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According to folk etymology,
what Asian building's name means
"the crown of lodges"?



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Answer: the Taj Mahal


The mausoleum at Agra, India, was built in about 1640 by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the building's name is "perhaps" a corruption of the name Mumtaz Mahal "under the influence of [the Persian] taj." Thus it has become associated with the folk etymology: taj, crown, and [the Urdu] mahal, lodge.


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I'm sorry, but it's not "probably". It is named after Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan's wife. And mahal is a palace, not a lodge. Every child growing up in India knows this just as here we all know what White House means. For example, if you're trying to keep up with the Joneses, you might say: "Look at their new house, they have built a mahal."

Anu Garg, A Word A Day
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Good one. My first guess was Angkor Wat. I'm not sure of your etymology of "Mumtaz Mahal", though, because "mumtaz" in farsi means "unique".

Greg Felton
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I'm guessing its either Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal. I'll go with the latter.

Hugh, Roberts Creek

According to the Wikipedia, Angkor Wat means "Temple City" or "City of Temples" in Khmer.
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Yipee--I got it immediately! I'd heard how deeply Jahan had grieved for his wife, so I figured that would be the kind of name he'd give her memorial.

Dana Bellwether; Rohnert Park, CA
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Although my guess turned out to be right, I cannot agree with the explanation. In Persian, Mahal means place not lodge.

Ghodrat Hassani

The reason I chose "lodge" is because that's what the OED said. Now maybe the OED is just wrong. Or maybe the other possibility is that the word "mahal" once meant "lodge" and now evolved to mean "place." Languages do change over the centuries. If I could read Persian, I would check that out in a Persian dictionary.

Followup: I checked it in three authoritative Persian dictionaries; nowhere I found Mahal in the sense of "lodge." Then again, Persian dictionaries are not as etymologically oriented as OED.

Meanwhile, I enjoy your questions, but they come in small doses! Thanks for the challenge you pose - Ghodrat
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Persian mahal must be derived from an Arabic word. From Yusuf Gursey on sci.lang: "In Arabic, from Halla "he untied", we get maHall meaning "rest area", a place where a bedouin pauses and unties his baggage. maHalla is the feminine, also in modern usage "a neghborhood".

ranjit, Philadelphia
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As always highly informative & fun! Found Moot over a decade ago and started playing it with my children. Today two have graduated: one a computer graphics/animator, the second a chemical engineer, last one nxt year is in education. Recomend it highly to all especially parents!

Brian, New York

I can't prove this empirically but I'm positive that playing MooT every day for one year adds 50 points to your IQ. It also lowers you cholesterol. Cheers
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The words the and of
are two of the four most frequently
occurring words in English writing.
What are the other two?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: "and" and "to"


In descending order of frequency, the 10 most often written English words are: the, of, and, to, in, a, for, was, is, and that.


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[The answer is] "maybe" and "no". I know this from the experience of living with my mother and father.

Mary McAlary, Sesame Workshop, Broadway New York
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I would have thought that "I" would have been in there somewhere.

Barney, Australia

It turns out, perhaps, that English speakers are not as egotistical as one might think.
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The question is about the most often "written" words. Research reveals that "I" is the most often spoken word.

David Youngblood, Georgia (USA)

It turns out that English speakers ARE as egotistical as one might think.
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The word newt labels a small amphibian.
What two one-syllable words
were combined to coin it?



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Answer: an and ewt


The word newt, which denotes various types of small amphibian, derives from the phrase an ewt. It was coined via a language phenomenon linguists call Consonantal Drift.

To view the Online Dictionary of Language Terminology (ODLT) entry for Consonantal Drift, click here.


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Fine--now what the heck's an ewt?

Bellwether, Forestville, CA



An ewt is a newt


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A good example: "An apron" started out as "a napron." We still have many vestiges of napron in English: napkin, napery, etc.

hasviolin@gmail.com
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I knew the idea, but didn't think to apply it. A.Word.A.Day has covered both a napron becoming an apron and the same phenomenon that created a newt from an ewt. Thanks!

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, Martinez, CA, USA
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An interesting bilingual example of the consonant drifting the other way occurs with the word "ounce" used for a member of the cat family. This was originally the old French "lonce" (= "lynx") but was understood as "l'once" at the time the word was being assimilated into English.

Another similar effect can occur when an "s" sound at the end of a word is mistaken as denoting a plural. The word "pea" was derived in the way from the original "pease".

Ian, Toronto
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Thank you for the great photo. I knew of newts but not that they were so colorful.

Ruth Augustine, central Sweden
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Very interesting. The same is true of "an orange" (a norange) and an apron (a napron).

Greg Felton, Port Coquitlam

Greg has written a brief essay about these terms that you can read if you click here.
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Well, everyone's right, sort of: (most of) the other examples indeed illustrate the same phenomenon. That phenomenon, however, is not the combination of two words, but the 'migration', if you will, of the end of one word to the beginning of the following one (technically, a sort of change of position of the word boundary, or a metathesis).

The word 'orange' illustrates a similar phenomenon, but in the opposite direction. The word 'a/an' is, in fact, derived from 'one' (= '1'), which comes from a predecessor similar to Latin 'unu-s' which, as often happens to frequent words, lost successive segments in particular contexts to arrive at the current situation.

I have recently observed what seems to be a loosening of the allomorph relationship between 'a' and 'an', perhaps leaving only 'a' for some people, who use phrases such as 'a interesting ...'. The standard description of the alternation is 'a' before a consonant *sound* and 'an' before a vowel *sound* (so: 'a pig', 'a one'[!!], 'a hospital'; but 'an hour', 'an excellent pig', etc.), but earlier (one hopes) generations of teachers often demanded 'an hospital' for some reason which has always escaped me.

Jim, Puebla, Mexico
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Originally, they were called U-Tote'm.
But in 1946 they renamed themselves
to reflect their newly extended hours.
What company is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: 7-Eleven


In 1946 they extended their hours to 7:00 am — 11:00 pm [I wasn't able find out what they were previously].

As of 2013 7-Eleven is the world's largest franchiser, with more than 48,000 outlets — approximately 1000 more than number two MacDonald's.


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I spent the summer of '69 in Miami, with a U-Tot'em in walking distance. Having never seen the like, it became an every day event, with cola Slurpee's, and Dad's old fashioned root beer on tap (a promotional price of 5c. all summer!).

Slick Rick, New York
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I got the answer, but I guessed, so it doesn't count.

Dan Miller

Yes, it does. It's my game. I decide.
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Wow, the "tote" part really threw me; i thought it must be something along the lines of a do-it-yourself moving service.

Dana Bellwether, Forestville, CA

According to the Wikipedia, here's how it got this name:

"The company has its origins in 1927 in Dallas, Texas, when an employee of "Southland Ice Company" , John Jefferson Green, started selling milk, eggs and bread from an improvised storefront in one of the company's ice houses. ... By 1928, a manager of one of these locations brought back a totem pole from Alaska and placed it in front of his store.

Due to the attention received by the totem pole, additional totem poles were placed at each of the locations and all the stores began operating under the name ""Tot'em Stores"" (a word play on the totem poles as well as the idea that customers toted away their purchases)."
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When I first came to the 'States & encountered 7-11, I thought the name was an allusion to good numbers in crap shooting!

Ilan, Israel

No. As you can see from the above Wikipedia information, that belief is incorrect. Please note that the Mootguy is one of the founding members of the 7-Eleven Truther movement (our motto is: "7-Eleven IS an inside job"), and it is these kinds of pernicious myths that we're trying to combat.
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I got this one. Although there was a 7-11 near us that had reduced hours that we referred to as the 7-9:30.

Nancy Baron, Mass.
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I remember U Tote'm...they had a less than p.c. totem pole as part of their sign. In different parts of the city, they co-existed with 7-11.

Maddie Dietrich
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It was easy, considering the fact that there are so few companies, that run in India at least, whose names reflect their "newly extended hours".

Suryashekhar Chakraborty, Calcutta

I didn't know that they had 7Eleven in India. For some reason, I find that information important, but I don't know why yet.
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My wife-to-be came to California in the late sixties from Minnesota, a state that 7-Eleven had not invaded yet. At an impromptu party, the refreshments were running low and around 9:30 my roommate suggested a run to 7-Eleven for beer. She didn't understand why everyone cracked up when she asked "What time do they close?"

Gary Garnier
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We had a slew of U-Tote'ems in San Antonio in the 50s and 60s. There was a generic term for what are now generally called "convenience stores" back then in S.A. -- ice house. The names of the stores -- U-Tote'ems, Circle K, et al -- were seldom used; one would say, "Let's go to the ice house," meaning ANY of the many convenience stores. Non-chain ice houses frequently had picnic tables where men would sit and drink beer in the evenings and then bring home a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk if they didn't drink up all their pay.

Rob Meurer, Studio City, CA
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In Latin ludus means "a play."
What were the farcical performances put on between
acts during medieval mystery plays called?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: interludes


The word interlude derives from the Latin inter, between, and ludus, a play.


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Strictly speaking, the medieval mystery and miracle plays didn't have "acts." In our day, the "plays" would have been called "skits." Playing time, about 20 minutes or so. When the troupes came to town, they would "play" all day, maybe for two or three. The ale and mead flowed freely, games were played, cocks and dogs were fought. Probably a little swiving went on too.

Since the plays were considered religious events, being the recreation of stories from the Bible done for the edification of the illiterate masses (in effect, just about everybody), and because the troupe needed a little time between each play to set the scene for the next one--and because they needed to keep the crowd from wander away, they played the farcical interludes.

Sometimes the farces served as send-ups to the solemnities of the Bible stories, but not necessarily. Come to think of it, some of the plays themselves were pretty farcical: the pig as baby in the Second Shepherds Play, or Mrs Noah going after Noah with a broomstick or rolling pin in Noyes Fludde come to mind.

Even the relative seriousness of "Everyman" had its moments of levity, and even today it's a bit sobering to be reminded that in the end, all friends save Good Deeds forsake Everyman.

Thanks for reminding me of them, and of the double entendre of the Latin "ludere."

Nancy Charlton, Beaverton Oregon, USA
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I've heard of Homo Sapiens also being named Homo Ludens.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

Is that because Home Ludens likes to play with himself?

I think you're thinking of Homo Lewdens. And then there's the addictive personality--Homo Quaaludens.
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The word indolent is what is called a Kangaroo word.
What four-letter word is its Joey?



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Answer: Idle


A kangaroo word is a word whose spelt form contains its own synonym (the Joey), thus the word indolent’s joey is idle. Note that to be a proper joey the word should be the same part of speech as the kangaroo word, and its letters should appear in order.


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So what does that make of the word dole (as in on the dole because of indolence?) Maybe a flea on the kangaroo?

Fergienew, Long Beach, CA
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Not knowing all the 'rules' for a joey word, I guessed 'dole,' which fails on not being a synonym and being a different part of speech.

What's the term for a shortened version of a word that names the consequence of the original word, in this case 'dole.

Gale Ward, Leavenworth, Washington (but writing from Taiwan)

Please tell me. I need to know this.
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Are you not indolent if you are on "the dole"?

Brenda Ceaser, Port Coquitlam BC

You have a point, but the phrase "the dole" has quite a different meaning than the word "dole", i.e., you need the "the" to get the synonym that you want, and that "the" is not found in the word "indolent," so it can't be part of the joey.
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In response to the comment by Brenda Ceasar, the Mootguy noted that one word had a different meaning "than" another. Is "different than" now considered a proper construction?

Richard Rosen

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, "different than" is an establish American usage now. This view is also shared by Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. Also, from a descriptivist's point of view, it's also proper English because its meaning is quite clear.
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Fantastic is not enough to describe the feeling! Lovely performance!!!

Christopher Dawes, India
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And of course, there's "idol", which would be a cynical joey...

Mary Leibold, Regensburg, Bavaria
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And if you are indolent and living in Britain, you can go on the DOLE!

Ann Hiemstra, Stilbaai, South Africa
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Very interesting - any idea how many kangaroo words exist? Could a computer program figure it out? They must be quite rare? What about a kangaroo sentence?

Peter Baker, UK (not on the dole)
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Got this one straight away - but love the thread - it provides a good read (another kangaroo word - if it's ok to have a joey word that doesn't leave out letters from the original!)

Jules, Hampton Hill

If you're allowed to do that, that would make all synonyms joeys, which makes hunting for them rather easy.
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I can see how "idle "is a Joey, but for the life of me, I cannot see how "Joey" is a "Joey" of "Kangaroo," which contains neither J, e nor y. Please enlighten me.

Win Robins, Beit Shemesh, Israel

"Joey" is what a Kangaroo's baby is called. It lives in the kangaroo's pouch, hence the analogy. No one is claiming that the word "joey" is a joey of the word "kangaroo."
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Until this week's interesting Moot posting I'd never heard of a kangaroo word, and not being an Aussie even had to guess what a joey was. Since then I've researched the concept online, and could now describe myself as a kangarooologist(the only word with three o's in succession?)

It seems more of a fun word, more akin to crosswords than serious linguistics. Be that as it may, I think those readers who suggested the word 'dole' were right, since meaning 7b for 'dole' in the SOED is 'an unemployed man' and so techically 'idle'. This makes indolent' a rare 'twin kangaroo', especially as the two joeys have different etymologies.

I've thought of another twin kangaroo: 'masculine', which produces both 'male' and 'man' as its joeys. Any more, Mooters?

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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I recently purchased an edition of MooT. I appreciated how promptly it came (I got it Friday), and was looking forward to an evening of etymological fun.

As it happened, I stopped by the bank on my way home, specifically to show MooT to a friend who manages the small branch here on Vashon. Without betraying a confidence, let me just say I learned that her son, an extraordinarily bright boy (at 16, he'll be heading to either M.I.T. or Cal Tech in the fall), was hospitalized and in a bad way. She was distraught, and I really didn't know what to do. So, I gave her my copy MooT, trusting it would provide substantive entertainment for her family during a trying time. Call it The Consolation of Philology (pacé Boethius).

Well, it has worked wonders. He loves it. I hope my telling you this doesn't seem gratuitous. I mean, I hadn't done more than unwrap your carefully wrapped package and browse cards in the P.O. parking lot! But the on-line sample questions, as well as the obvious care & thought you've put into creating MooT, was enough to convince me that MooT was just the kind of 'therapy' a bright, beautiful young man would enjoy. It seems I was right.

You've created a really special game. Again, I hope this isn't all "TMI"; but this is the reason I'd like to purchase another copy of MooT so soon. … thanks for creating MooT. I can't wait to have a copy of my own! Yours truly.

William, Vacshon, WA
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Yes!!! It's been quite some time since I have gotten one right. Regained a little hep to my step today (I was going to say "hop" but that led me to "stop"...) Anyway, thanks for throwing me a "kangaroo" bone, MootGuy! I might be your biggest fan-- well, today at least!

John Willse, Wilmington, N.C. (currently residing in Bangkok, Thailand)
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and here I was thinking 'dolt'

Steve White, Potsdam, DE
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It originally denoted devices used
to attach cloth to a wooden framework
that was used for stretching.
Now it denotes “painful suspense.”
What plural is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: tenterhooks


The wooden framework for stretching cloth was called a tenter, a word that probably derives from the Latin tentorium, tent made of stretched skins (from tendere, to stretch).

Hence, a tenterhook was a hook used for attaching the cloth to this frame. Eventually, tenterhooks became associated with the feeling of being painfully stretched by uncertainty.


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Hm, I wonder if that had any connection to the expression, "I'm on pins and needles," which also implies suspenseful (painful) waiting."

Deborah Jump, California

Doesn't sound like it does. All I could find about it is this from the Wikipedia:

"Paresthesia … is a sensation of tickling, tingling, burning, pricking, or numbness of a person's skin with no apparent long-term physical effect. It is more generally known as the feeling of "pins and needles" or of a limb "falling asleep"."
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Re Deborah Jump's response to tenterhooks: You're confusing the physical sensation of pins and needles with 'being ON pins and needles,' which thesaurus.com matches with antsy, fidgety, anxious, edgy, impatient, restless. All of which you could be if you were in suspense.

Flora Riemer
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This one I know well because so many people irksomely express it as tenderhooks, which are what a gold-digger sets into a soppy old man.

John Friesen, Vancouver
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If he were from Germany,
his name might have been Übermensch.
What super hero is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Superman


The word superman, which in English originally meant "over man," was coined as a part-for-part translation of the German Übermensch, over man. In linguistics this type of word is called a calque.



Superman's First Citing


The OED's first citation for the name Superman is from the June 1 1938 edition of Action Comics:

"So was created Superman! champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!"





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Never thought I'd say it, but this one was waaaaaay easy. I don't know when Nietzsche wrote "Mensch und Übermensch", but I'm pretty sure it was before 1938.

Joe Horton, Lafayette, La

1938 was when Action comix introduced the character Superman, Nietzsche wasn't involved.
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I doubt if the Ubermensch was an inspiration behind Superman. The Man and The Mensch are, I'm sure you know, Germanic brothers [i.e. cognates - Mootguy]; although, in this case, one is a Grim brother and the other is not.

Super and Uber are part of a Hyper word-web which all have ancient links with the Sanskrit Upara, and all mean more or less the same thing. Yet, the Superman and the Ubermensch are entirely different.

Lav Kanoi
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My first reaction was a groan, but I guess I shouldn't complain about an easy one after missing the last several.

Diane Pendergraft

It’s only easy if you know the answer, and if you know the answer it often seems too easy. Sometimes I can’t tell what is easy and what is hard. I’ll try make up for it with the next question.
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You do mean that the OED citation was for the word "superman" as a name, and not as a noun, don't you (e.g. "I'd like you to meet Bob, Alice and Superman," rather than "Usain Bolt is a superman")? The first use of "superman" in general must go back to the early 20th century, at least back to George Bernard Shaw and his play "Man Aand Superman."

I'm also wondering whether the "Superman" of the comics isn't an independent coinage, uninfluenced by the Nietzschean term and informed by a newer meaning of "super": terrific, supremely powerful or great, rather than over.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

Yes, I stated that it was the first use of the "name" Superman.

However, you are right that the first use of small-s "superman" in English does go back to Shaw.

Here's the pertinent OED entry:

"1903 G. B. Shaw Man & Superman 196" — "We have been driven to Proletarian Democracy by the failure of all the alternative systems; for these depended on the existence of "Supermen" acting as despots or oligarchs; and not only were these Supermen not always or even often forthcoming at the right moment and in an eligible social position, but when they were forthcoming they could not impose superhumanity on those whom they governed."
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Before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the first and most famous superhero, they collaborated on a short story entitled, "The Reign of the Superman." The title character in this story was actually a super-villain. In 1933, they self-published the story in the third issue of their fanzine, "Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization."

Lynn Mancini, Newark, Delaware
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Its name derives from a Tagalog word meaning "mountain"
that eventually became an English word
meaning "isolated, rough terrain."
What type of shoe is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: dockers


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word boondocks derives from the Tagalog (a Philippine language) bundok, mountain. When it entered English, it became a plural meaning "isolated, rough terrain." This led to the word boondockers, "shoes suitable for rough outdoor use", hence (probably via fore-clipping) dockers.


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Did you know that the Tagalog word bundok has also inspired the phrase, boonie stomping which I have heard used in as far distant locations as Guam and Crete? Navy people refer to walks in the jungles on Guam, and 'walking the gorge' on Crete as 'boonie stomps.'

Etymologically yours, Jimmie Ellis HMC USN Retired in Crescent City, California where the redwoods meet the sea!

Jimmie Ellis, Crescent City, California
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I've always known 'dockers' as shoes with non-slip soft soles worn on boats to protect the decks - i.e, to be worn when you step from shore to dock to yacht to dock to shore.

Jane Tye, Ottawa
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I know of shoes called 'dockers'. They are casual boat shoes, what won't leave marks on the deck of a boat and they have a style of sole that also helps prevent slipping on the deck of a boat. I can't see a connection between them and rugged terrain or mountains.

Cynthia Kammann, Baltimore
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Thanks for the question, but I believe the "boondocks" question's answer may be incorrect. I would assume that this type of shoe was commonly seen on "docks" and came to be known as "dockers," except that for here in America, I am unfamiliar with any specific shoe style being called "dockers."

When I googled the word dockers I receive no references to shoes of any kind. I had a college roommate who called his boat shoes "deckers" as shorthand for deck shoes. I fail to see how the word boondocks (commonly used to mean "in the middle of nowhere") would evolved into a name for a type of boating shoe. Perhaps you could explain further?

Keith Swain

According to the people at the OED, the existence of the word "boondocks" led to the coining of the word "boondockers" , "shoes suitable for rough outdoor use". Here's an example of this usage from 1957:

"My hacking jacket and pair of old Marine Corps boondockers.

The word "dockers" was "PROBABLY" coined from "boondockers" by the language-change process called fore-clipping. The shoes called "dockers" that I was thinking of are the ones made by the brand name Dockers. But I might have blown this question.
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"The shoes called "dockers" that I was thinking of are the ones made by the brand name Dockers." Except the brand name Dockers refers to docks, as in where you tie up your boat. That's why their brand logo is an anchor. And they're not as well known for shoes as they originally were for they're khakis and casual wear. It's an offshoot of Levi's. The shoes part of this confused me.

Rachel Kain, Livonia, MI

It's looking more and more like I botched that question. I'll try to do better next time.
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I guessed the boondocks part correctly, but didn't get as far as the dockers; maybe it comes from living in Alaska where boondocks is used somewhat commonly, but nobody wears dockers as they do down east!

Karen Lew, Alaska
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I asked the company. They replied:

"Hi, Lilia here from Levi Strauss & Co.

Thanks for reaching out to us. Dockers® is actually related to the life around boats, hence the anchor emblem that we use.

In the early days, sailors used to use pants that looked very much like our khaki pants do now so we decided to go with the name Dockers®

Regards, Levi Strauss & Co. Consumer Relations"

mscullin at htva.net

Wow. Well done — irrefutable etymological proof that I got this one wrong. That's what happens when you speculate. Thanks for the correction.
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You got the origin of boondocks right though. And we're so glad to have contributed something to the English language. You're welcome to come over to these islands and trek through our bundoks any time in any type of footwear.

Alane T, Philippines

I'll probably wear Dockers. I only purchase products that have etymologically interesting names. This is one of my carefully nurtured quirks.
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Surely it's pretty feasible that the Levi Strauss company mistakenly attributed a naval origin to the name "dockers"? (Who knows but that a Boondocker went a-sailing and brought the name along with him. The company is not notably an authority on etymology, and these double-duck attributions do occur, when the origin becomes becomes obfuscated by the mists of time, and the most obvious explanation becomes accaptable as the "correct" explanation, yet isn't. My money's on you, MooT-Guy

Ingrid S, Cape Town
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Literally, is the jot part of the tittle?



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Answer: no


The word Jot is another name for the letter i, whereas the word tittle is another name for the dot in the letter i, hence the tittle is part of the jot.

The phrase jot and tittle — which denotes "the smallest details" — derives from the King James Bible: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18)

In modern English, this becomes: "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved."

Etymology-wise, the term jot derives from the Latin jota, which ultimately derives from the Greek iota, the Greek name for the letter i.

The word tittle— which denotes a "small stroke or point in writing " — derives from the Latin titulus, inscription or heading.


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Not quite. The "jot" comes from the Hebrew name for the letter "yod," the smallest letter of the Hebrew language. See http://www.egrc.net/articles/Rock/HebrewWords/yod.html for more information.

Jill in St. Louis

My source is the Oxford English Dictionary. Mine wins.
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The double whammy of the jot and tittle (not a bad name for an English pub, methinks)and the abjad, complete with music that puts our alphabet song so deep in the shade that it's invisible, has to be one of your all-time best.

Davis Dassori, Hingham, Massachusetts
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Very interesting - thank you. I'd never heard of the phrase, jot and tittle. It explains why the letter j is called jota in Spanish too.

Alison, Spain
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Now that was very interesting! I really am going to show off at work tomorrow and impress the head of my department, who is an attorney (lawyer). Sometimes the most educated of people do not know the English language at all!

Marilyn Fourie, Brackenfell, Cape Town, South Africa
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In Greek manuscripts of Jesus's time (and later), the iota in a diphthong at the end of a word was written as a miniature subscript under the vowel it followed. So it was the tiniest mark on the page.

The titulum was a horizontal stroke over a vowel, usually indicating an abbreviation. It too was a tiny mark. Neither was insignificant (etymologically speaking), but they both were the least among the marks which preserved the book of the law.

Richard McClintock, Hampden-Sydney, VA
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Another stimulating question. j is "jot" (pronounced yacht) in German. So why the links / overlaps between i and j (iota/jota etc)?

In Dutch, as I understand it, "ij" seems to be almost the same as "y" - why? When writing by hand (does anyone still do that?) you can write "ij" by writing a "y" and adding two tittles. And there's a Spanish dance called the jota - any connection? Here's an example (Glinka's Jota Aragonesa) Keep 'em coming, Mootguy!

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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Re: Jill in St. Louis...if you read the Greek in Matthew 5:18, it uses the words iota and keraia; and the translation is either the Greek letter iota and something horn-like OR the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the top stroke of a Hebrew letter.

Given that the author was quoting an Aramaic speaker, chances are the best translation is yod and The top stroke of a letter like zayin. So both are correct but the Hebrew is more etymologically final.

Jonathan, Cincinnati

You should pass this info along to the people at the OED.
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That was very nice. Although I study the Bible I was surprised to see that was to be a subject of of the MooT

Apostolos Joannides
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I can vouch for the subscript iota being an easily missed part of Greek. It's a tiny tick mark. Rough breathing marks can be hard to catch, too. It's worth noting that by the first century, the subscript iotas were usually not pronounced. They still affected the meaning, however.

Paul Anderson, Windsor, ON, Canada
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Coined by Peter Daniels, this linguistics term is an acronym derived from what were once the first four consonants in the Arabic alphabet. What word is it?



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Answer: abjad


A type of writing system where there are graphemes for consonants but not for vowels is called an abjad. For example, written Hebrew and Arabic are abjads, whereas written English is an alphabet.

The Arabic A (ʾAlif), B (Bāʾ), Ǧ (Ǧīm), D (Dāl) were combined to coin the word abjad.


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Super! A new word--that's a rare treat! (she says modestly) So what were the first four consonants? I know the Hebrew alphabet but not the Arabic, so all i can see in "abjad" are the beth and the daled.

Dana/Monte Rio, CA
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Isn't aleph a vowel? So the term was created using the first letter and first three consonants of Arabic?

Erin, Oakland, CA

In the Arabic abjad, Alif is a consonant. Vowels are indicated by diacritics.

Interesting use of term consonant. My understanding is that in languages that use the Arabic alphabet short vowels are written as diacritics but long vowels like aleph and long o as letters. (I briefly studied a little Farsi.) I am surprised that linguists would call a long ah sound a consonant because of how it's represented in writing as opposed to how it sounds.

Erin, Oakland

Good point. I'm just going by the linguist's definition of an abjad: "A type of writing system where there are graphemes for consonants but not for vowels." As the Arabic writing system is always referred to as an abjad, the characters must therefore be consonants.
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What's with the apostrophe after linguistics? It made me think we were looking for the name of a linguist!--or maybe a school of linguistics. New word is nice.

Johanna, California

The apostrophe indicates the possessive. It's possessive because the term abjad belongs to linguistics.
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Regarding "linguistics' term," I'm with Johanna. There's something off about it. You wouldn't write "science's term," for example.

By the way, in Hebrew, Aleph is also treated as a consonant, although it can have vowel-like functions.

When you think about it, English has a parallel in W, which, although treated as a consonant, is produced with the same mouth formation as the vowel sound "oo," as in food. As in Arabic, Hebrew vowels are indicated by diacritical markings.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

I just did a Google search on "linguistics' term" and it turns out that I'm the only person earth who uses the possessive for this. But I still feel certain that I'm right and everybody else is wrong.
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I'm with Mootguy on continuing use of the apostrophe to indicate possessive: i.e., "term OF linguistics." So there are at least two of us on earth. Just because "everybody" wants to cram nouns together to stand in for traditional nouns with modifiers, doesn't make that syntax universally better or preferred.

Susanna Lundgren - Portland, Oregon
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The ODLT looks like it will be useful and interesting. But I too winced when I saw that apostrophe. Surely "linguistics" is here being used as a modifier, ie (as defined by Google) a word, esp. an adjective or noun used attributively, that restricts or adds to the sense of a head noun. Hence we may talk about "a music magazine" to define more specifically what sort of magazine we mean.

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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I'm with Johanna and Jack. It should probably read "linguistic," because it's functioning adjectivally here, not possessively.

Stephan Martins, Reykjavik
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The word with the apostrophe s attached is "linguist" not "linguistic". A linguist is a person who is an expert at linguistics in the same way that a mathematician is a person who is an expert at mathematics. It is perfectly legitimate to say " Denominator is a mathematician's term for the bottom number of a fraction" and "Denominator is a mathematical term for the bottom number of a fraction". Thus, it is perfectly legitimate to describe a particular definition as "the linguist's definition" -- one might find the use of the definite article a bit suspect, but there is, however, nothing untoward about the use of the apostrophe.

Neil, Vermont
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'I'm just going by the linguist's definition of an abjad.' Why is anybody querying this? Perfectly correct use of the apostrophe if linguist is being used as a generic word probably better to say linguists' definition since you are talking about more than one linguist but that's being pedantic.

Ian U.K.
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Abjad means "white" in Maltese.

Tanja Cilia, malta, Europe.

You would know.

It has other meanings, too. It turns out that it is the Arabic name for the Arabic version of what Jewish people call "Gematria" , i.e. the assigning of numerical values words and phrases, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values have some sort of relationship"
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According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
there are 3 ways to write the plural of the letter a.
What are they?



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Answer: As, A's, and aes


Here's James Murray's OED definition for the letter A:

"The first letter of the Roman Alphabet, and of its various subsequent modifications (as were its prototypes Alpha of the Greek, and Aleph of the Phœnician and old Hebrew); representing originally in English, as in Latin, the ‘low-back-wide’ vowel, formed with the widest opening of jaws, pharynx, and lips. The plural has been written aes, A's, As. …"


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Your answer includes Aes but Murray stipulates aes. Presumably Aes would be used only to begin a sentence, as in: "Aes in speling semed to illude me."

Shane McCune, Comox. B.C.

Change made. Thanks for the heads-up.
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Ha! I finally got one right. Good thing, too; after all, I am an editor. My son is a fan of the Oakland Athletics baseball team (the A's). I am a fan of the Seattle Mariners baseball team (the M's). There is a friendly rivalry between the two teams (both play good, family-style basball without scandals and dirty tricks). I would presume the same questions applied to the letter M would result in ems, Ms, and M's. Yes?

Karen L. Lew, Lynnwood, Washington, USA

I couldn't find any OED info about pluralizing "M" , but the COD says that there are just two plurals: "Ms" and "M's" .
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About the plural of 'm': I think that 'ems' isn't used as the plural of 'm' (although it would make sense) because the printer word for the long dash (-- i.e., double dash) is called an em-dash, and sometimes just em.

Ruth Augustine, central Sweden
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The excellent Penguin English dictionary gives three plurals: A's, As, a's. I've never seen the form 'aes' before, and doubt whether it occurs in the latest edition of the OED, although I don't have access to that. Murray, after all, was describing 19th-century English. For the letter M, Penguin also gives three forms: M's, Ms and m's

Roger Cooper, Oxon

That quote was taken from the latest CD edition of the OED, but it was probably written 125 years ago.
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My rheumy eyes read the question wrong, of course. I saw "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 3 ways to write the plural of WORDS ENDING WITH the letter a. What are they? So, as and ae came quickly to mind, but what could possibly be the third option? Then I thought about stigmata -- the plural of stigma.

So--I'd come up with a correct answer, but to an incorrect question! Now, the question is--are there more ways to write the plural of words ending with the letter a?

Peter Bradford, Maryland

It's always good to get the correct answer, even if it's for the wrong question.
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What is the adverbial form of the noun "noun"?



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Answer: nounally


The OED's first citation is from 1871: "The sporting world employs the word nounally."

And for those of you who just can't get enough of this stuff: The adjectival form of the word noun is nounal, e.g. "The word noun is a very nounal noun."


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Or "nominally."

Joe Horton, Louisiana

You know, I think you might be right.

It's an obsolete sense, but here's what the OED says:

"nominally, adv.

As a noun, substantively. Obs.

1674 N. Fairfax Bulk & Selv. 200 — 'World, whether it be in the singular number or plural, may betoken plurally or indefinitely, and as much adverbially as "nominally" .'"
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Now that was interesting! I geniunely thought that noun was just noun and there was nothing else. One is never too old to learn!!

Marilyn Fourie, Cape Town, South Africa
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'Nominally' would also be correct from the etymological angle. The word 'noun' after all comes from the Latin 'nomen, nominis'.

El Kay
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I didn't read the question thoroughly enough and guessed 'substantively'. 'Substantive' is defined in grammar as 'relating to or functioning as a noun'. I've never come across 'nounal' or 'nounally' in my grammatical studies. But I agree with you that Joe Horton's 'nominally' is the best answer. ….

Roger Cooper, Oxford
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Hands down, the ugliest word ever to appear in a Moot question! However, I don't think it's the only answer, since the word "nominal" is also an adjectival form (semantically, and to a great degree, etymologically) of "noun"--and of course, the adverbial form would be "nominally." I guess you'd argue that the stem of "nominal" isn't "noun"--and you'd be right. But "nominal" and "nominally" are the words we (well, those of us so inclined to talk of such things) usually use when we refer to nouns adverbially or adjectivally. By the way, try saying "nounally, nounally, nounally" really quickly.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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'Nominally' is the only word I am familiar with. I don't think it is obsolete, at least not in linguistic circles, which is where I have come in contact with it.

Ruth Augustine, central Sweden
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Nominal and nominally are both commonly used in construction and architecture to refer to dimensions. For example, a 2x4 piece of lumber has a nominal dimension of 2" x 4" (size it is stocked under) but in reality it is 1-1/2" X 3-1/2" (and previously it was actually 1-5/8" x 3-5/8").

annacritt, New York
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What act embodies the organization?



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Answer: incorporation


To make corporeal (i.e., to give something a body) is to incorporate.


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But they still have no souls.

Roxanne, Vegas, baby!
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We always think of the legal term in connection with big business. However, by it's definition, any group (perhaps a church prayer group) could incorporate by creating one body with one purpose from a group of individuals. Certainly not without a soul, Roxanne.

Beth Deliberto, California
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It is the Japanese pronunciation
of the Chinese pronunciation
of a Sanskrit word meaning
"thought or meditation."
What word is it?



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Answer: Zen


The term denotes the school of Mahayana Buddhism. It entered English from Japanese, which in turn derived it from the Chinese ch'an, which in turn derived it from the Sanskrit dhyana, thought or meditation.


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I always wondered about that! The historical narrative of Buddhism and its culture is replicated in the etymology of the word. ...I also guessed right.

Madi Peru. Brooklyn, ny
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Lived in the Orient for much of my life and knew not the origin of "zen". Shame on me - thanks for brightening my day.

Don Gray
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Shouldn't that be the English transliteration of the Japanese pronunciation of the...?

Justin, Colorado

Yes, I suppose you're right -- seeing that the answer is spelled out on the web page. However, In my mind, when I pose these questions, I'm assuming that you guys'll just "say" the answer in your brain.
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: I cannot believe it - I actually got the correct answer! I am on the road to becoming a genius.

Sandra Murray Loiselle, Shawnigan Lake BC
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I knew it was Zen. The Punjabi word I am familiar with, dyan, meaning contemplation.

Carolyn Blake, Turkey
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Saying it derived from Chinese is so vague since it is a family of tongues.

Tim, Houston tx

I took the etymology directly from the OED -- "[a. Jap. zen, ad. Chin. chán quietude, ad. Skr. dhyāna meditation.]" For some reason, those guys seem to think that Chinese is sufficient, but I see the point of your criticism.
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It got its name from the coloured
strip that was printed on the side of its container.
What herbicide is it?



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Answer: Agent Orange


Agent Orange is a powerful defoliant used by U.S. military in the Vietnam War. It was so called because of the coloured strip on the side of the container, which distinguished it from Agent Blue, Agent Purple, Agent White, etc., which were other herbicides used by the U.S. military. It was banned in April 1970.


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When I was assigned to MACV Headquarters in 1969-1970 I lived in hotel quarters right across from the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) Joint Chiefs of Staff Compound in Saigon. I immediately observed that all the big trees on the compound were dead.

The story that was given to me was that some American advisor to RVNAF observed that the Vietnamese were constantly raking leaves from the year long shedding of leaves by the many big trees on the compound. That happened because there was no clear delineation of seasons in the southern area of the country so the leaves fell the year around.

The American advisor told his Vietnamese counterparts that they could save a lot of labor if they knocked all those leaves off the trees at one time which would mean just one big raking of leaves instead of many. The Vietnamese agreed and the Americans provided the defoliant which was Agent Orange.

The trees not only dropped all their leaves, they all died. The Vietnamese decided to not cut down the dead trees all over their compound; rather, they left them standing as monuments to the fact that Americans didn't always have the right answers to solve all problems of Vietnam.

Hugh Odom, Nogales, Arizona
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I got this one in about three seconds. But I suppose you'd have to be of a certain age to know this one. Count me part of that group! BTW, despite the horrors of what they call "The American War," the Vietnamese I met there, much to my surprise and delight, love America and Americans.

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok
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It derives from a Greek word meaning "magical glory"
and, though it is a Latin singular,
it is often used as a plural in English.
What word is it?



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Answer: kudos


The word kudos is a singular noun meaning "acclaim or praise for exceptional achievement." It derives from the Greek kudos, glory or fame.

It is one of those words (like congeries) that looks like a plural but is etymologically singular.

Prescriptivists claim that it should be pronounced with a voiceless "s" like pathos but people often pronounce it with a voiced "s" like sandals, which makes it seem like a plural. This phenomenon has led to the creation of the back-formation kudo for the singular.


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Did not know this. I have always been a user of the latter "sandals" pronunciation. I find it fascinating that once again, common usage has 'allowed' the back-formation 'kudo' to inveigle its way into our English language mosaic!!

Rocky Rocksborough-Smith, Peachland, B.C.
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Good question. A little quibble with your phonological terms, however: An /s/ by definition is always voiceless; if a sound is created at the same point of articulation as /s/ and voiced, it becomes a /z/. The conceptual confusion is between the grapheme or letter "s" and the phonemes which it normally represents, namely /s/ and /z/.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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Yea! I got this one. And back formations are as good as forward formations. English is a wonderfully flexible language, with roots from all over.

Heather Ebbs, Carleton Place
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Ask any well educated native English-speaker about this word and you will find they reject the idea of 'kudos' being used as a plural.

This implies a singular word 'kudo', not to be found in any standard dictionary, which would nornally have a plural 'kudoes', as in 'echoes', 'haloes', 'heroes'...There are not many four-lettered English words ending in 'o', other than those borrowed directly from Spanish in recent time, which usually do form their plurals by just by adding an 's', pronounced as a 'z'. But 'kudos' is not in that category.

If you accept 'kudos' as a plural, the next step would be to consider 'bathos' and 'pathos' also tas plurals. Whatever next, Mootguy?! I don't think this is being deterministic, it's just a question of what is the normal, useful and correct usage in our time.

As for myself, I am an etymologist, polyglot, translator, educated at the universities of Oxford, London and Tehran, and a Fellow of the UK's Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Webster's Dictionary of Word Origins has a long article on Kudos, which I could send you. It mentions that it is a cognate of 'chudo', the Slavonic root for 'miracle'. This dictionary is full of interesting etymologies and you might find it useful for your challenging questions. The etymology of 'prestige', for example, is fascinating. I bought my copy on offer in NYC a few years ago for $7.98!

roger cooper, Oxford
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This revolutionary organization's full name was the
The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists.
What was their European nickname?



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Answer: the Boxers


The Boxer rebellion was led by The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, which was a secret society founded in the northern coastal province of Shandong. Foreigners called them Boxers because the organization was originally devoted to the martial arts. The Boxer Rebellion was a nationalist uprising in China between 1898 and 1901 that opposed foreign occupation.

Jaan Pehechaan Ho



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The question was easy for me, but then I read a novel based on the Boxer Rebellion a long time ago. The video was ...WILD, I guess is the only word I can use to describe it. It's kind of a cross between Beach Blanket Bingo and "Boris Karloff Does Casablanca."

Janet Davis
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This is the video Thora Birch's character is watching in the movie "Ghost World". Thanks for the full version

Janis Rutherford, Vancouver
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Now that was very interesting, I had a feeling it had something to do with martial arts and must be from China and what a surprise to find I at least had a some idea of what it meant. It's not often I can guess something like this. Keep them rolling!

Marilyn Fourie, Cape Town, South Africa.
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It derives from a French word that means
"capable of being directed or guided."
What archaic type of aircraft is it?



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Answer: the dirigible


The word entered English in the late 19th century as a noun meaning "aircraft." It derives from the French dirigeable, which literally means "capable of being directed or guided"; it ultimately derives from the Latin dirigere, set straight.


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Dunno about "archaic"--Wikipedia says several thousand are still in operation. Maybe "early"? I once saw the word used as an adjective in a description of an (underwater) torpedo -- but I guess that use was always rare.

Steve White, Potsdam
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Which saint is a moment?



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Answer: Nick


Saint Nick is the patron saint of Christmas and the nick of time is just the right moment.

When it entered English (1483), the word nick denoted a "notch"; thus, the phrase nick of time (1643) perhaps derives from the custom of recording passing time by making notches on a stick.


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What about Saint Second ?

Nanon Gardin, Paris

Who's that?

He's a martyr who died in Egypt in 357, because he had taken care of the tomb of a Christian who'd converted him... He's certainly more of a "moment" than Nick !

Nanon Gardin, Paris

Who'd have thought that there'd be multiple temporal saints.
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Ooooh...Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto... Mmm... listening is a lovely reverie! One of our favorites. Glad I started my day with this!

Debbie Carver, Philadelphia
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A mediaeval Book of Hours always contained a 'litany of saints' with appropriate prayers for each. So that's a collection of temporal saints for you, Mootguy! Secondly, 'nick' doesn't mean 'moment'. Finally 'Nick' is a nickname, and it would seem more respectful to refer to him as 'Saint Nicholas'. I think the nickname is only used in North America. So I think Nanon Gardin's answer is the best in every way.

Roger Cooper, Oxon

You're right. Nanon's answer is better.
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The surname Cutler is to knives as what surname is to candles?



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Answer: Chandler


The first English surnames were often derived from people's professions; thus weavers became Weavers, tailors became Tailors, those who worked with cutlery became Cutlers, and those who made candles became Chandlers.


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You see the same principle in German and French. For instance, there's "Blumenauer" or Flower grower" and "Charpentier," or Carpenter.

Nancy Charlton, Beaverton OR
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"Candle" is derived, I guess, from the French "chandelle." Hence the "ch" in "chandler." By the way, here's a link to George Jones singing "Bartender Blues," a song written (for George?) by James Taylor. George sings country melismas (ornamental runs) like no other, and tugs at my otherwise urbanized heartstrings.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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A chandler is also a dealer in ships' supplies, and in my Canadian Oxford that meaning takes precedence over the candle merchant. Presumably ships at one time needed a lot of candles, but I wonder why "chandler" (or "ship chandler") became the term for a general provisioner. Ships needed barrels and food, too, but the suppliers aren't known as ship's coopers or ship's victuallers. While we're on the subject of names derived from occupations, one of my favourites is Fletcher.

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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I knew that one! Here are a couple more for you and your readers: From what professions did these surnames come? Baxter, Cooper, Fletcher

Answers: baxter = a female baker; cooper = barrel maker; fletcher = arrow maker, especially one who specialized in attaching feathers to the trailing end for stability in flight.

Meredith Mcquoid, Davidsonville Maryland
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Roadsigns to the East of Edmonton AB show "Wainwright" and whenever I see it I wonder how many people know what a wainwright made? If they know other 'profession' names like Wheelwright and Cartwright, and also Constable's painting "The Haywain," they may be able to guess... (And incidentally, do playwrights actually ply a handicraft?)

Tom Priestly, Edmonton

According to the Wikipedia, a 'wainwright is a tradesperson skilled in the making and repairing of wagons (synonymous with cartwright). The word is the combination of the archaic words "wain" (a large wagon for farm use) and "wright" (a worker or maker).'
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And there are plenty of others that you may not even realize -- Walker or Fuller, both of which meant a person who walked on damp cloth to thicken it; Turner, someone who crafts things on a lathe, Barker (same as a Tanner), Chapman (store keeper), etc. etc.

Michael T, Baltimore
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My father, may his memory be a blessing, published a book a few months before his death in September of this year. The book is a collection of 110 short articles he wrote on various topics of Jewish culture, history, religion, and language. One article is about the derivation of Jewish family names. Here's a short excerpt which you might find interesting:

"Of course, other occupations are represented as well. Because Jews could not own land or become members of the all-encompassing craft guilds in medieval Europe, many occupations are not represented. We would not expect to find a Fletcher (arrow maker) or Schmidt, but do find many Goldsmiths who performed the early banking functions. The name Wechsler or Wexler (money changer) belongs here. Kaufman (business man) was also a common and honorable occupation.

In the shtetl, though, many other occupations can be found. The butcher is represented by Metzger or by Fleischhacker, like the German-Jewish family after whom the San Francisco Zoo is named. … There are, of course, Schneiders and Schusters (tailors and shoemakers in German) and Buchbinders and Plotnicks (carpenters in Russian). There are Shers or Sherers (barbers in Yiddish), Musikants and Fabrikants (manufacturers).

An important (and much hated) man was Pachtman who collected the rents from the tenant farmers on a Polish nobleman's estate. Often, the hard-pressed peasants vented their anger not on the landlord who oppressed them, but on the Jew who collected the rents in the noble's name.

One of my favorites, though, is the name of a fellow economist, Bronfenbrenner. Bronfen, is Yiddish for that 100-proof, liquid-fire that one tips down one's throat in response to the lechayim toast. Bronfenbrenner thus translates into "˜distiller" Bronfen, of course, also appears in the name of the famous Canadian Bronfman family that made its fortune in liquor."

Joe Orzech, Seattle
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Got this one but I LOVE learning about surname derivations. My maiden name, Briggs, means "people who live by the bridge." I have always been fascinated by how much surnames can tell us (by themselves) of our family history.

Amber, Indianapolis


Similarly, as my online moniker is The Mootguy, my surname, Mootguy, means "guy who asks MooT questions."
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In Latin it means "remember, you must die."
In English it denotes anything that
warns you or reminds you of death.
What phrase is it?



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Answer: memento mori


For example, a skull impaled on a pike is a memento mori.


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If one should like a literal translation: "momento" is the present tense imperative, meaning simply: "Remember!" "Mori" is the present infinitive which means "to die." Therefore, "you must" is a bit of a lose translation or paraphrasing.

V. Stephen Vaughan, Chelsea, MA

Thanks for the feedback. I got the info from the OED (see below).

Dear Mootguy, My own personal desire to understand languages; especially the ones which I have studied, is to know them in as literal a manner as possible. Many times the literal translation allows me to create a phrase myself where a loose one does not. I find it perplexing that the OED offers such a free translation of “memento mori” and then gives a more accurate one for “memento vivere” which is a much more rarely used phrase.

Secondly, I feel that the direct translation: “remember” (that you shall – which is implied by the use of an infinitive “mori” which denotes an action not yet accomplished) “to die” is more accurate than “you HAVE to die” which to me denotes force or obligation. I’m disappointed in such a freedom taken by the OED. I had always thought of their being much more scholarly oriented.

Thirdly, I enjoy knowing that in France and in Italy one does not think: “I need”, one thinks: “I have need of, I have cold,” etc. The insight into their thinking is something I enjoy in learning, speaking or writing another’s language. For the enjoyment of your readers I do realize one need not be so literal but I felt the OED a bit too free.

My sincere thanks for your enjoyable mailings, Stephen V.



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"Memento mori" cannot be translated in a literal way, as "Remember to die" conveys the surreal connotation of someone who might forget to die and thus become immortal. "Remember you have to die" is therefore correct, although I would prefer "Remember that you will die", or "Remember that you are mortal", or "Remember that you are not eternal".

Antonio E.M. Attanasio, Lecco, Italy
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What palindrome describes a neo-god?



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Answer: deified


Here's the logic:
(i) a word that reads the same forwards as backwards - e.g. deified - is a palindrome;
(ii) that which is neo- is new, and
(iii) those who have been deified are new gods.


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I can't agree that those who been deified are new gods. The Caesars were deified over 2000 years ago, around the same time that Jesus was deified, and Siddhattha Gotama was deified about 500 years earlier. Would you call these new gods?

John-Christopher Ward, New Orleans

But the word "deified" IS the palindrome that describes gods that ARE new gods, hence it is the correct answer to the MooT question that was asked.
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The logic doesn't fit for me. Some people (e.g., Jesus) were deified a long time ago. He didn't start out as a god, just as a teacher or prophet. But he was deified later as God, with a uppercase "G". Does that mean he started out as a non-god then became a new god after he died? Doesn't make sense to me. What constitutes an "old god"?

Karen L. Lew, Lynnwood, Washington, USA

See above.
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I was thinking "Tut"

Kate, Boston

Tut tut.
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Good question! Some feedback, though: The use of "neo-" for "new" is unnecessary and superfluous in that it's already a tough question without having to ask oneself if a neo-god is a newly created god, or a new vision of an already existing god, or whatever other possible interpretation.

Secondly, the question assumes that gods are deified, that is, made into gods, BY someone, rather than coming into existence on their own. I, for one, believe that Athena spontaneously sprang from the head of Zeus.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.

The question makes no assumption about all gods. It only asks to you find the palindrome that describes those who are new gods, i.e., a subset of the set of all gods — the larger superset for all I know consisting of old gods, always gods, spontaneously springing gods, etc.
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Well if to deify something means to make it a god, then it mustn't have been a god before, right? So it's a new god. Makes sense to me.

Ruth-Helen, Sydney
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While the Ceasars were deified, that is, became gods, the term would not apply to the Buddha or to Christ, at least from the point of view of their followers. Buddhist would maintain that their founder became enlightened, etc, but Buddha did not in their understanding become a god in the usual sense of the word.

Traditional Christians, on the other hand, would maintain that Jesus was an incarnation of the eternally existing G-d, not a man who became a god, and hence "deified" is not a term which could be applied. There is an adoptionist understanding held by some, but even most of them would quibble with the idea of Jesus "becoming" a god.

W. Thomas Smith
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Replicate a letter and a priest becomes a beast. What word is it?



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Answer: lama


A one-l lama is a Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhist priest; a two-l llama is a South-American beast of burden — and a three-l lllama is a Buddhist priest that you can ride (i.e., a priest of burden).



The one-l lama,
He's a priest;
The two-l llama,
He's a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-l lllama.
-Ogden Nash

(Thanks to Angela Scheuerle of Dallas for passing on the poem. I wasn't aware of it.)


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I saw this poem in an Ogden Nash book somewhere. The poem was accompanied by a footnote from a reader saying that there was, indeed, a three-l lllama. Apparently, for Boston firefighters, a single alarm fire is relatively minor, a two-alarmer is more serious, and a three-l lllama is a very serious fire indeed.

Bob Klotz, Toronto
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Ogden Nash concluded that verse with the parenthetical explanation: *The author's attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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What about Rabbi to rabbit?

Lola MacKenzie, Boston, MA

Nice try. But it doesn't replicate a letter (lama --> llama). Cheers.
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And a primate is one without letter replication, no?

marilynsco, Internetland

Yes. The Pope is a primate in both senses of the word.
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Our priest is a pastor, and we add an "R" and turn the pastor into raptors!

Tom, Verta, and Laurie from Seattle
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What anglophones might believe is a double letter (el, el) is considered a single letter in Spanish (elle) which is the equivalent of a "y" in English. So you are actually changing a letter, not replicating one. Too stickler for you?

Karen Lane, Vancouver

No. I like sticklers. Thanks for the info.
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The double 'l' is not universally pronounced as 'y' in Spanish. Mexico, si; Castillian Spanish, no.

Johnny Rojo, Vancouver
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Etymology-wise, what Mediterranean island is the honey island?



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Answer: Malta


The name Malta derives from the Greek melita, which in turn derives from the Greek meli, honey. Note: If you said Ibiza you're wrong.


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Why would people have thought Ibiza?

Dana Bellwether; Monte Rio, CA

I - bees - A. It`s a weak joke.
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I-beez-a, eh? Ibiza being a party island, I thought you were getting at its being the island of honeys (always imagined it as the Fort Lauterdale of the Mediterranean). But , of course, you wouldn't stoop to such low humour. Actually I thought the answer was the island of Melos (now Milos), whose name is awfully close to "meli." Check out the etymology to see if it doesn't derive from "meli" as well.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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I guessed this from knowing the Spanish word for honey is miel. Malta is the closest to that I could think of. Lucky guess?

Deb Jump, California
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I suspect Malta is related to "milt" and the origin of its name is associated with the myth of the birth of Aphrodite from the genitals of Uranus.

Israel "izzy" Cohen, Petah Tikva, Israel

You suspect wrong.
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Hence, malts and hops in beer-making? As for the Perlman, doing that at the age of his Bar Mitzvah was only a little impressive. Guy has more talent than you can shake a stick at. Or shake a bow at, or.....

Joe Horton Lafayette, La.
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This one I knew! I was born there!

Acquafortis, Rome, Italy
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Douglas Harper, whose Online Etymology Dictionary you sometimes quote, writes of Malta: 'Perhaps from Phoenician melita, 'place of refuge', which I find more probable, given the island's many natural harbours and rocky terrain, than 'land of honey', which the OED does not even mention. There is scant evidence that Malta was ever famous for its honey.

Roger Cooper, Oxon

I got my info from the Wikipedia. Here's the pertinent passage:
"The origin of the term Malta is uncertain, and the modern-day variation derives from the Maltese language. The most common etymology is that the word Malta derives from the Greek word μέλι (meli), "honey".[Source: Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon] The Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning "honey-sweet" … possibly due to Malta's unique production of honey; an endemic species of bee lives on the island, giving it the popular nickname the "land of honey".[Source: "Controversy over unique Maltese bee population". Malta Today. 6 February 2008.] … Another theory suggests that the word Malta comes from the Phoenician word Maleth meaning "a haven"… in reference to Malta's many bays and coves."
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Very nice and acurate, but for your information we call our island Eivissa, and this is the right and only spelling of this isle and not Ibiza as it is being refered both here and under Franco's dictatorship which still lingers on, annoyingly (the faint "bees..." is actually pronounced, though).

Xavier Maduell, Eivissa
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I guessed this because I have a 'Canis Melitaeus' (maltese dog), and then I thought of the word mellifluous.

Ray, Turku, Finland
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In the King James Bible, St Paul and his companions are shipwrecked on an island finding out afterwards that it is "Melita."

"The barbarous people showed us no little kindness" [one of my favorite examples of the rhetorical figure "litotes"] and as they are sitting around the campfire a "viper" jumps out and gloms onto Paul's hand. The people immediately assume he is a criminal, but when he doesn't drop dead, they change their mind and worship him as a god. (Acts 28)

Nancy Charlton, Beaverton OR
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In French the word briser means "to break."
What did the French call
fragments that had broken off?



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Answer: debris


The word debris derives from the French débris, remains, waste, or rubbish, which in turn derives from the Old French de + briser, to break.


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I wonder if the translation of the word bris, the circumscision ritual, is related. It has a proto-European analog, and there have been other examples; our word for slum comes from the french word for the jewish section of France: ghetto.

Slick Rick, New York
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And, funnily enough, a "bris" is the Jewish ritual where the "moyl" breaks off part of...well, actually cuts off part of the baby boy's...oh, never mind.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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In New Orleans, débris also means meat remnants in gravy that result from roast beef kept in gravy for making po'boys.

John-Christopher Ward, New Orleans
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Two corrections to comments: Bris is the Ashkenazi pronunciation for the Hebrew word, "Brit," which means covenant and refers to the original covenant that God made with Abraham in the Bible. Also, ghetto is of Italian derivation, as the first Jewish ghetto was in Venice.

RunDMC, California
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The full name of the Jewish ritual of circumcision is "Brit milah." The wording is in the Hebrew Bible. The tradition goes back to the Covenent between G-d and Abraham. I am writing from Bangkok where the debris from the flooding is also "Biblical." (See the Book of Noah)

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok
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Originally, known as the Chinese gooseberry,
in the 1950s one of its American importers
suggested that it be renamed to improve sales.
It was and sales took off. What was its new name?



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Answer: the kiwifruit


The fruit's name derives from the word kiwi, the name of the brown flightless bird that is New Zealand's national symbol.


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Wow, I always thought it was funny that the bird had an uncanny resemblance to the fruit. I guess the resemblance was less coincidental than I realized.

Dave Mazur, Grand rapids, MI

My initial etymological guess was that the fruit looked like the bird's (fuzzy?) eggs.
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In the 1960's a competition was held in Europe to select a new name for the Chinese gooseberry, and one could vote. 'Kiwi fruit', already adopted in the US, won easily.

In Germany, 'Kiwi' even replaced the traditional name for the bird, 'Schnepfenstrauss (lit. 'snipe-ostrich')

China was never flavour of the month in those days, and 'gooseberry' was misleading. Originally the new name was spelt as two words, but they've since fused.

In British informal speech New Zealanders are often known as 'Kiwis', and this is now official in NZ itself. The bird is flightless and endangered, but under its new name the Chinese gooseberry has been flying off shelves all over the world.

'Kiwi' is undoubtedly a Maori word, of imitative origin, but the etymology of gooseberry is disputed. Some scholars trace it to the Dutch or German names (Kruisbes, Krausbeere), others to the French name 'groseille', which itself comes from the German. But the OED prefers to relate it simply to 'goose', as its rough, bristly skin slightly resembles that of a plucked goose. Take your pick!

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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"Kiwi" evidently is a word whose connotations are positive, to marketeers at least. My local supermarket sells a good sauvignon blanc called "Kiwi Cuvee". You'd think you wouldn't need to ask where it's from, but you'd be wrong. It's French.

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
it was originally a nautical term that described a beached ship.
Now it describes anything — such as a rule of
conduct — that is rigidly adhered to.
What three-word phrase is it?



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Answer: hard and fast


For example, here's an example of its primordial nautical sense taken from the Sailor's Word-book (1867): "Hard and fast. Said of a ship on shore."

Here's one of the first examples of its non-nautical sense, taken from Jowett's 1875 translation of Plato: "Who are the wicked, and who are the good, whom we venture to divide by a hard and fast line?"


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By the stars, I like the cut of your jib! No son of a gun, you...by letting the cat out of the bag! I am overwhelmed, and the devil to pay! You may overreach, but all above board, to the bitter end. You might find me three sheets to the wind and groggy, but I'll toe the line, or the devil to pay! Now I'll pipe down and see who knows the ropes.

Slick Rick, New York
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I was thinking "stick in mud," but I see that yours is the better one.

Joe Horton Lafayette, Louisiana
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That was a good one! "Fast" i can see, but "hard" i had to think about for a second. I guess a beach is harder than water, though.

Dana/Camp Meeker, California
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Funny that "hard and fast" describes something "rigidly adhered to," but that "(playing) fast and loose" describes not adhering to the rules. No doubt the latter has a different origin entirely, and it uses a different meaning of "fast."

Jack Ognistoff
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Its homonym evolved into an adjective that means
"that which is relevant to the current subject."
What nationality-name is it?



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Answer: German


That which is relevant to the current subject is germane. This word was coined as a variant of the noun german, which derives from the Latin germanus, meaning "closely related."

In contrast, the nationality-name German derives from the Latin proper noun Germanus. This word was first attested in the writings of Julius Caesar who used it to designate a group of tribes in north-eastern Gaul.

Note: Thanks to Davis Dassori in Boston for clarifying my thinking about this.


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Interestingly, Germany has a ton of different toponyms across languages, possibly the most diversity in any European nation. The Germans themselves use Deutschland (from Old High German "duit" [people], though some Germanic languages use a form of "Tyskland," which I believe is similarly derived).

English, Italian, Russian and several other Slavic languages use a form of Germany (though some languages pronounce this with a hard G--and the Italian demonym is tedesco, derived from the same source as Deutsch).

Finnish and Estonian use some form of Saksa (for the Saxons), and French, Spanish and the like use a form of Alemania (for the Alemanni people). Czech, Polish, and a few other Slavic languages, and also Hungarian, use a form of "Nemec," which apparently is believed to be Proto-Slavic for "foreigner." Not sure if any of that is germane, though ;).

Jordan, Utah
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Hi Mr. Moot, I had 2 guesses. The first was German from "germane" but that seemed too straightforward for you, and perhaps a bit too simple as well.

So I hedged my bet (with myself) with Poland from "apropos." I realize that would have been a stretch but I did give it some consideration. The term is from the French à propos, to the purpose, and means appropriate or pertinent, and France is relatively close to Poland as opposed to, say, India, but I didn't see how the word without the letter "l" could emerge into "pol" and then to "Poland."

So, I went with my first guess, Germany. Do I still get credit for a correct answer?

David Brummitt, Langley, BC
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"Nemec" in Slovene (in Czech and Polish as well, I think) is made of the stem "nem" and the suffix "-ec". The first being an adjective meaning "mute" and the latter denoting a person marked by or related to the entity, quality or activity expressed by the morphemes preceeding it. Hence, a Nemec is a mute (for he speaks not my tongue). What lovely political incorectness before its time, nicht wahr?

Ivo Poderaj, Ljubljana
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It is not a homonym if it is not pronounced the same. "Pear" and "pair," remember? Who says "the germane people do not want to support Greece"?

Judy Epstein

The homonyms are "german" and "German" . The adjective the homonym evolved into is "germane" .
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This was a provocative one; made me think of the other similar word variances, human/humane, urban/urbane, etc.

Prior to Wm. Shakespeare ("The phrase would bee more Germaine to the matter: If we could carry Cannon by our sides...",Hamlet, Act V., scene ii), whose jest may be lost on more modern humors. [Shakespeare provides the first attested use of germane in English - MooTguy] It was more apt to be describing breeding than agreeing (think non-germanating species).

Slick Rick, New York
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Ah, Hr. Moot--again you've enlightened me culturally and intellectually.

Maddie Dietrich, Milwaukee

Thanks for being enlightened.
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Etymylogical note: The Spanish words for brother and sister, "hermano" and "hermana," are no doubt cognates of "german" and "germane." The /h/ sound is very close to the /g/, and you can almost look at it as a lazy /g/. The English name "Herman" must have the same root as well.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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This was one of my first breakneck downhill etymology-rides. The german tribes were "related" to one another. A lot of English words derive from Latin, Greek, or Germanic cognates, whose meanings float from "progeny", "kind", "race", "seed, center", "of our kind" german, germane, genus, gender, gentile, gentle, progeny, grain, granulated, kernel, corn, kin, kinfolk, akin, kind, king.

I also suspect know, ken in the sense of "familiar with". I would like to add also German "Kind" for "child", but the sources are saying that comes from a different word, meaning 'womb', but then, come on, there is again a kinship.

Steve White, A Texan in Germany
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Love Zeppelin- Jimmy Page, especially. I love the Tolkien references and the mystical, magical elements of their music. And my 36-year-old son loves them as much as I do, or more. (At least we can agree on one thing!) Thank you, this is one of my favorites. Oh, yeah, I figured out German/germane.

Janet Davis, Milledgeville
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The reponses to this week's Moot certainly opened a can of worms (germs?), especially on the names of other languages/nationalities.

Jordan's post was indeed 'germane' to the discussion, and Ivo added the Slavonic name for German (Nemec). It is true that 'nem' means 'mute' in modern Slavonic languages, but a Czech etymologist has shown convincingly that its original form was 'mem',meaning 'mumble', an onomaopoeic coinage, just like the English word. 'German' may originally have meant 'noisy'.

Many languages give pejorative names to foreigners and their languages. Gallic, Galician, Welsh, all have the sense of 'wailing', which is how the Celts sounded to Romans and Saxons. Afghan is likewise a Persian word for groaning and wailing, as Dari and Pashto sound to Iranian ears.

Berber/barbarian, also onomatopoeic, was first applied to people unable to speak Greek or Latin. Natives usually refer to their languages as 'clear' and themselves as 'noble' or 'the people'. Thus Frank, Aryan, Iranian, Deutsch.

The Slavs are so named because many of them were captured in battle and sold into slavery. Jack is right about Spanish 'hermano/a' being cognate with 'germane', but Herman/n is not related. Its meaning is 'man of the army' (cf German 'Heer').

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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It derives from a French phrase meaning "to confront beard to beard." In English it has come to denote "that which is unattractive, objectionable, or irritating." What word is it?



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Answer: rebarbative


The word ultimately derives from the Old French se rebarber, face each other beard to beard — i.e. aggressively (from barbe, beard).

Note: Thanks to Shane McCune for the great question. If anyone else can think of a good one, pass it along and (if I like it) I'll send it out to the Mootlist — which now has its 10,000th member.


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This one was ridiculous! I even tried to cheat by googling "French word for beard," and couldn't come close to the answer. Maybe the French could use "rebarbative" in a sentence, but no American could. Well, maybe George Will, but no one else.

Dan Miller Chicago

Actually, George Will and Conrad Black did get this get one right off the bat — but it is the kind of word that Conservatives tend to use, especially when they're talking about their aging hippy opponents.
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P. D. James is the only author I've ever read who uses this word, and it must be a favorite of hers because it seems to appear in every novel.

Nancy Charlton
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This was an easy one for me because I came across this word in the Georgia Straight [an "alternative" Vancouver newspaper that gets almost all of its advertising revenue from Real Estate developpers] many years back. Ian Gill wrote a brilliant evisceration of the Vancouver Sun's [an non-alternative Vancouver newspaper that gets almost all of its advertising revenue from Real Estate developpers] journalistic (ahem) standards, and called it "that rebarbative idiot-child" that British Columbians are supposed to accept as their newspaper of record.

Greg Felton
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'cause, God knows, what is more "unattractive or objectionable" than a hairy man? Two hairy men, of course, mano a mano and beard to beard. Beards, prickliness and aggression: of course, we have barbed wire, barbed remarks and the barbs of arrows. One comment found online sums up this gestalt: "There is no chin under Chuck Norris' Beard. There is only another fist." Anyways, thanks for the question, Shane; I like it, since I got it right, but of course it's easier if you know French, and I think the word itself is more common in French than in English.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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I nearly got this one, knowing that Bluebeard in French is Barbe-Bleu, but it makes me wonder - were barbarians originally simply bearded men? Or is their etymology something entirely different? At my first school in Cambridge UK, the three Houses (for sports contests etc) were the Corinthians (blue), the Foresters (green) and the Barbarians (red). We were all ten years old or younger, so there weren't too many beards. Until now, I've never bothered to wonder where THOSE names came from. Can anyone spot - for example - a literary allusion?

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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DEAR Tom Empson, Cambridge UK, If I remember correctly, barbarian comes from 'barbar', how Greeks heard foreigners'¤ speech (bar, bar, bar, bar).

Ruth Augustine, central Sweden
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Reply to Tom Empson of Cambridge: Ancient Romans went clean-shaven, so of course all those unruly Goths and Franks and Celts wearing beards were dubbed Barbarians with the connotations that we know today. I'm guessing that your Barbarian House was red on account of all the spilled blood, and your Corinthian House blue for the beautiful Aegean Sea.

Susanna M. Lundgren, Portland, Oregon
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Barbarbar was what the Greeks said every other language than theirs sounded like.

Chris Conwell, Portland
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I am so pleased with myself because I got it right! I had seen this word some months ago in The New Yorker, made note of it and looked it up. It's rare usage and onomatopoetic sound struck me at the time and must have stayed with me. My bad French led me to barb and the English definitions led my long term memeory to "rebarbative". When I saw I was correct, imagine my pride!

Joseph Lo Giudice, Brooklyn, NY
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Just to correct the writer who says that "rebarbative" is onomatopoeic( or else perhaps start a debate?): In my understanding only words that imitate or suggest actual sounds are onomatopoeic. Thus, words such as "burp," "gargle" and "whoosh" are onomatopoeic, while words which simply somehow convey the meaning of a word through their sound, such as "geezer," "biddy" and "goody-goody" are not. "Rebarbative" may sound like its meaning, but it doesn't sound like any sound. Please correct me, anybody, if I'm mistaken.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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In Hebrew it is called Sepharad. What country is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: Spain


Hence, Jews of Spanish or Portuguese descent are called Sephardic Jews or Sephardim.

The term derives from the Hebrew Sepharad, a country mentioned in Obadiah 1:20 that has been traditionally interpreted as referring to Spain:

"And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel, that are among the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath, and the captivity of Jerusalem, that is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the South."
(Source: Jewish Publication Society Bible)


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A little research shows that Obadiah's 'Sepharad' is not necessarily Spain, although it has become the modern Hebrew for that country. The word seems to have no lingustic links with the Iberian Peninsula, whereas phonetically it is quite close to both Sparta (in Greece) and Sardis (in Asia Minor), both of which are much closer to the Jewish homeland. I'd put my etymological money on one of these, probably the former.

Roger Cooper, Oxon

True. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word derives "from Sepharad, name of a country mentioned only in Obad. v:20, probably meaning "Asia Minor" or a country in it (Lydia, Phrygia), but identified by the rabbis after Jonathan Targum as 'Spain.'"
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According to Steven Pinker,
originally, it referred to the buildup of pus in a pimple;
now it denotes a culmination of events.
What four-word phrase is it?



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Answer: coming to a head


According to Pinker, "… most metaphors are dead metaphors, like coming to a head, which people would probably stop using if they knew that it alludes to the buildup of pus in a pimple."

[Note: I wasn't able to find any other source that backed Pinker's etymology. If any of you know of one, please let me know.]


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I watched the Steven Pinker video. On the website itself, the blog described many more possible and just as credible origins for this expression. Bring a boiler to the point of steam quickly satisfies both the sense of urgency and the potential danger; this scotish phrase, "teachd beir mathair" from the online dictionary, Bhriathrachan Bheag is close. Coming to a head also implies taking control of a ship, as well as the more pleasant connotations of the frothy finish of a refreshing beverage.

Slick Rick, New York
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A pimple is only one example of an abscess that "comes to a head," or becomes liquified enough to be amenable to incision and drainage, but it's certainly the most common example. It took me a little while to get this because I kept thinking of medical terms, not lay terms. ;-)

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, MD, Concord, CA
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Well, ask any medical student -- "coming to a head" is still what they call it when a boil gets ready to burst (a pimple is just a small boil, i.e., a small infection).

Greta P., Wichita, KS
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In the "I knew the answer to this one because..." department: Having had some bad (I can hear the "Eeeuugh"s coming) boils when I was a teenager, I knew the answer to this one intimately, so I find this to be a strange example of a dead metaphor. There could be hardly any other possible etymology. The bad situation (or pimple) builds up to a head until it bursts.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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An allusion is only properly an allusion when both sender and receiver understand a cryptic unstated meaning. "It came to a head" doesn't work as a true allusion when it has to be explained to the reader.

The Steven Pinker definition probably is right on as it is definitely archaic English which still survives forever fresh in Appalachia; however I take exception to the use of 'allude' in the definition, rather 'reference' is more appropriate as the intent is direct without any esoteric indirect understanding.

My wife says, "Hubert, nobody cares", but I say, " . . . but my little dog Fala - Fala, he cares!" (And that is a true allusion which only works when you and I both know who said it and why he said it.) It is always nails on a chalkboard time for me when people misuse allude or allusion when they really mean "referenced to", or "that which you just said". The stumbling politicians in Washington and the national media semi-illiterates are infamous for misusing the words allude and allusion.

However, you might consider giving this one a shot in your word outstanding service. Consider, if my wife and I have a problem that we can't solve and have to accept as a loss, then I might say to her, "Well, we will always have Paris." THAT is an allusion. I have alluded to the words of Humphrey Bogart playing Rick in the movie "Casablanca" regarding the love between his character and that lady played by Ingred Bergman, when they both realize that the emotions they feel have no chance whatsoever of a future, then Bogart alludes to the love filled days they had in the past in Paris, and Bergman understands.

My wife would also understand that we would have to look to success in the past in view of the defeat of the present, because she has seen that movie many, many times too and for her understanding that quotation I have successfully alluded and have made an allusion. All of that. Anything less is not alluded to or an allusion. "It came to a head" could be said of the blade of a guillotine. It could also be said of a body louse that climbed too high. There are some other unseamly images it conjures in the mind. Other than that I don't have an opinion.

Yours for sesquipedalian micromanagement and semantic spearing of the literately lame.

Hugh Odom Nogales, Arizona

When Pinker reads this, he'll probably become pinker.
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Regardless of what Steven Pinker supposes, my grandmother who was raised in Halifax County, VA, in the foothills of the Appalachians in the late 19th century always used your expression to signify an abscess of one form or another growing to the point of eruption way before any political or business speech writer ever adopted the phrase. If you think of life and the more technical world that's grown around us; which came first, the abcess or the cast iron boiler? Therein you will find the derivation of your analogy.

The dialects in the coastal and mountainous regions of the South maintained many an expression from 16th and 17th century English. My grandmother even used the word "hope" (to let you know how she pronounced it) to signify the past tense of "to help" which has roots back to the Anglo-Saxon language. She would never have used your phrase to denote "sense of urgency or potential danger."

Stephen Vaughan, Chelsea, MA
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What team game's name derives from
a Balti Tibetan word that means "ball"?



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Answer: polo


The Anglo-Indian word polo derives from the Balti — a Tibetan language of the Indus valley — polo, ball; it is related to the Tibetan pulu, ball.


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What 19th-century aboriginal warrior's name
means "little Jerome" in Spanish?



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Answer: Geronimo


His real name was Goyathlay, one who yawns. After his family was massacred by Mexican soldiers, he led the Chiricahua Apache in their fight against both Mexico and the United States.


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You didn't mention that the name "Jerome" is derived from the Greek words, "heiros," meaning "sacred," and "onoma," meaning "name." St. Jerome, now the patron saint of translators and librarians, was responsible for translating the Bible from Latin into the language of his time (the "Vulgate" Bible).

I'm also wondering if "Goyathlay" is a term used in Geronimo's home locale, or is an alternative pronunciation of what many Internet sources and my Spanish-English dictonary give for the translation of the verb, "bostezar," meaning "to yawn."

Barbara Basbinah, Massachusetts
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The "aboriginal" threw me a second- then I remembered the true meaning of the word... The rest.... piece of cake.. I love this game and have shared it with other linguaphiles

Celeste Jackson , Glasgow ,KY

Sharing is always good. Keep it up.

(Followup) My kids (11 and 13) are really into the game as well. Sometimes they will take a wild guess and be right- other times- they miss by a mile- but thanks to the game- and their love of words (which comes from Mom reading) they have a vocabulary that exceeds the normal level around here(a hint- they started reading Robert Heinlien's juvenile works which most kids would never dream of because it's "too hard" but they LOVE it!)

I’m glad to hear that MooT is proving to be useful educational tool. That’s why I created the game. I wanted to improve my own vocabulary.
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As 'ino' or 'ito' is the Spanish diminutive, I assume that soemone at some stage has mispronounced the name Jeromino (little Jerome) turning it into Jeronimo?

Henry Page, England
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Geronimo's real name was Goyaale in his native language and meant 'one who yawns' -- with nothing to do with Spanish. Goyathlay is as close as English speakers could get to the Apache word. He was born of the Bedonkohe Apache and married into the Chiricajua tribe. The spelling of Geronimo is probably a 'Mejicanismo', or Mexican idiom, which doesn't always follow proper form of Spanish.

Hugh Odom, Nogales, Arizona
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Its name derives from a Portuguese word meaning "home-born slave,"
but ultimately it derives from a Latin word meaning "create."
What language-type is it?



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Answer: a creole


The word creole denotes a language that arises from continuing contact between a European language and a non-European language, especially an African language. For example, some West-African Creoles are: Aku (Gambia), Krio (Sierra Leone), and Kamtok (Cameroon).

The term derives from the Portuguese crioulo, home-born slave. Ultimately, it derives from the Latin creare, to produce or create.


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I don't think the answer is correct. While mixtures of European and non-European languages can be creoles, those are not the only possible combinations.

The word "creole" as I have heard linguists use it currently means any language that is a living combination of two previous languages spoken by youth who grow up speaking it, usually derived from a pidgin (a non-living language created by adults who need to communicate with another language community).

There is a serious theory (one that I personally believe to be true) that Middle English is a creole. The etymology of the word seems to refer more to the fact that the people speaking a creole are youth born in the new land where both languages are spoken and who have an opportunity therefore to create a living language (since adults can't do this), than any reference to slaves.

Joan Hartman

I believe that the answer to the question itself is correct - the word creole is a language type that was derived from the etymology given in the question; however, I think you're right in pointing out that my explanation of what a creole is is incorrect. What I've mistakenly defined as a creole is what is actually called "Creole English" . Thanks for the correction.
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In colonial Latin American, a Creole was a pure blooded (supposedly) person of European descent who was born in one of the colonies. These people were generally not allowed the same priviledges as people born in Spain or Portugal who were living in the colonies. The wars of independence were led by Creoles.

Doug Saldivar
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I believe a creole is the lingua franca like Haitian--French, English and probably some african words thrown in. It is an official language of Haiti; it is taught to their children, there are rules etc.

A pidgin is a way to communicate in a temporary situation as in trading posts or ports. A permanent settlement with all the groups involved never really took hold so some pidgins never became widespread where it became the lingua franca, a creole, worthy of study, rules and learning. People in some situations may still speak a pidgin, but it's not widely understood or spoken. So, in time, a pidgin will likely disappear entirely.

Shelley, Vancouver
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Pidgins don't have grammar; creoles do.

Bob, Sonoma
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It entered Middle English around AD 1200,
eventually displacing the native English term bocstaf.
What 6-letter orthographic term is it?



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Answer: letter


The word letter denotes a grapheme in an alphabetic system of writing. It derives from the Old French lettre, which itself derives from the Latin littera, letter of the alphabet.

The word bocstaf derives from the Old English bōc, book + stæf, character. Some of its cognates are the Danish bogstav, Faroese bókstavur, German Buchstabe, Icelandic bókstafur, Norwegian bokstav, and the Swedish bokstav.


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Wow. That's the kind of question I get the Moot email for! Good job, Moot Guy.

Jennifer, San Jose CA

Note that "Mootguy" is a one-word moniker. Using "Moot guy" turns "Moot" into an adjective and could provoke an existential crisis. Please avoid.
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I just know that you're going to explain why a "letter" is orthographic. Orthography is defined as a 2D representation of a 3D structure. What 3D structure does a letter represent?

Joe Horton

It's also the part of grammar which deals with spelling. For a more complete definition, click here for its entry in the "Online Dictionary of Language Terminology" .
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That would explain why the Box Tops' 1967 hit wasn't called "The Bocstaf." And why they weren't called the Bocs Tops. (Don't worry, the bocs stops here.)

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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Yes! It was the staff that led me to it, via 'stave'. I should have found the 'boc' as well, but I'm no OE expert. Good one this time -- Thanks, mootguy! (I hope the de-capitalisation doesn't provoke an existential review; although a decapitation necessarily would.)

El Kay, India
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The questions you raise are just wondeful. A real metal challenge. I am just counting down to get the next one. If you could reconsider you generosity in slaking our thirst from once a week to twice or even more, it would be sincerely appreciated. Wishful thinking, I know. Many many thanks, anyway.

Ghodrat Hassani, Tehran, Iran
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Your Martini consists of two ounces of gin
and nothing else. Is it a cocktail?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: no


According to the drunks at the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a cocktail is a (usually) alcoholic drink made by mixing various spirits, fruit juices, etc.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term is first "attested from 1806; H.L. Mencken lists seven versions of its origin, perhaps the most persuasive is Fr. coquetier "egg-cup" …. In New Orleans, c. 1795, Antoine Amédée Peychaud, an apothecary (and inventor of Peychaud bitters) held Masonic social gatherings at his pharmacy, where he mixed brandy toddies with his own bitters and served them in an egg-cup. On this theory, the drink took the name of the cup."

Note: According to the scriptwriters of Mad Men (who should know), there should be at least three different liquid ingredients for the drink to be properly called a cocktail. Thus by their definition, a Martini that consists of gin, vermouth, and an olive is not a cocktail -- and the Playboy bunny that serves it to you is not properly called a cocktail waitress.


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If it's gin and nothing else is it a Martini?

John Carver, Nanaimo BC

According to the tipplers at the Concise Oxford Dictionary, to be a Martini it must consist of gin and vermouth. Note: According to Wayne and Schuster (legendary Canadian comedians), when a Roman senator just wants one of them, he orders a "Martinus" .
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I got it right! And wouldn't the Playboy bunny be a "cottontail" waitress?

BTW, thanks for the Sia introduction. Just checked out some of her videos, & she's FAB!

Gita, Hollywood, CA
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Actually, the drink that was served in the coquetier and became known as the Sazerac (because of the cognac used — Forges de Sazerac) was a cure for Absinthe hangovers. It was dispensed in a coquetier because French Pharmacies used egg cups as eye cups.

John-Christopher Ward
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Coquetier is an egg cup? Sounds like the root is same as coquille, or a (sea)shell. Even if those pharmacists used them as eye cups.

Andrea L, Evanston, IL
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Actually, there is a way that two ounces of gin would qualify as a cocktail: one ounce of Tanqueray, a half ounce of Gilbey's, and a half ounce of Beefeater. ba-da bing!

Joseph Horton
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Excellent! Previously, I was induced to think a cocktail was a prohibition invention. The cocktail, which distiguished itself from conventional mixed drinks ("old-fashions") with the general inclusion of bitters, became popular again during prohibition, due to the poor quality of aged whiskeys.

Slick Rick, New York
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Somebody somewhere said a gentleman's cocktail contains no more than two ingredients — ice is an ingredient.

Shane McCune, Comox, BC
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cocktail: Only pure breed horses are conventionally allowed to carry a full tail. All impure bred horses are tail-chopped like a cock. Hence the name 'cocktail', ie. mixed breed: therefore 'chopped' or 'cock-tail'.

shyam pathak, Richfield, near Cleveland

Excellent stuff. Do you have a source for that etymology? Please pass it on.
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The cocktail originated at a tavern in Elmsford, NY in about 1770 where (the spine from) a cock's tail feather was used to mix drink ingredients.

Lawrence Brotmann, Pound Ridge, NY

Excellent. Thanks for the info. Can you tell me what your source for it was and I'll post it to the site?

The source of my information is "A History of Elmsford [Westchester County, NY], 1700-1976", by Lucille and Theodore Hutchinson, published in 1980, at p. 40. The cocktail mixologist was Betty (Betsy) Gallagher.

It was mentioned in Washington Irving's "History of New York" (1809) and in James Fenimore Cooper's "The Spy" (1821) as an already-established drink. Washington Irving lived in what is now Irvington, NY, about 3-4 miles west of Elmsford and James Fenimore Cooper lived in Scardsale, NY which is about 4-5 miles south of Elmsford.

Lawrence Brotmann, Pound Ridge, NY
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Originally a martini consisted of two parts gin, one part dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. The bitters were the first to go, then the vermouth dwindled to a drop or two as the martini became the drink of choice for sophisticated drinkers.

Now the pendulum swings in the opposite direction as all sorts of sickly combinations of alcohol, exotic juices, syrups, etc. are combined to become a veritable alphabet of something-tinis.

Mary McClain, Southampton, N.Y.
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I disagree. I think a cocktail is two or more ingredients; with only one ingredient having to be alcohol. A martini is gin and vermouth, which qualifies as a cocktail.

Lee Tasker, Calgary
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If my Martini consists of two ounces of gin and nothing else, is it even a Martini?

Susan Gellman, Columbus

I'm willing to call it a Martini if it's in a Martini glass and has an oline in it. If not, it's just gin. Note: After 6 Martinis, the state your in is called "Martinique" .
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According to Steven Pinker,
if a language only has two colour words,
they are always black and white;
and if it has three colour words,
what is always the third colour?



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Answer: red


Source: Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, p52


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There's an interesting paper demonstrating how the way that languages divide color space into words is related to perceptual color space: http://www.icsi.berkeley.edu/~kay/WFness.pdf

Avril, Cambridge, MA
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I guessed it would be either red or green. The world to primitive humankind was probably mostly green (although it would have been tan to a desert dweller and white to anyone North of the Arctic Circle). Where does red occur in nature? There's fire (and poison ivy), I guess. Would fire alone been sufficient to cause "red" to be the most common third color?

Peter Simon, Pittsburgh, PA

Sunset?
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Lovely clip ... wasn't Clark Gable handsome at that age? I'd love to see the full film. That was the heyday of movies.

Henry Page, England
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: I instinctively thought of red, as blood would be important across all cultures (hunting, birth, killing etc...) In Chinese and Japanese languages, the words for green and blue are conflated and/or interchangeable.

Neddy, Singapore
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Of course it's RED. Don't you remember that very old riddle, the one about the newspaper: "What's black and white and read all over?"

Alice, Delray Beach
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Red = blood. I'm a nurse so that seemed obvious to me...

Kate, NJ
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To Mr. Simon: Blood is red. Hunters see lots of it. In fact, one of my friends guessed red because it is the color of blood.

Katherine Grimes, Ferrum, VA
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I had a good idea it was red, but opted for grey, probably because there are grey areas in life, or in business, probably also refers to little grey men in grey suits, ha, ha!!

Marilyn Fourie, Cape Town, South Africa
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I am surprised at the question, as black and white are technically not colours. I did however immediately think of red. Probably because my pedant soul was angry at the question!

Malcolm Donaldson, England

Black - the absence of colour - might not be a colour, but it is certainly a "colour word." So's white.
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It has to be red because of blood. The life giving force of all mammals. In Hebrew the word for earth, blood, red and the first man all come from the root word "adama".

Rachel Darnell, Santa Fe, NM
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Note the difference depending on whether you're talking about color as a pigment versus color as light. In very broad terms, as pigments white is the absence of all color and black is the presence of every color; as light, black is the absence of all color and white is the presence of every color.

Stephanie, Boston
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I knew my BAHons in Linguistics would come in handy someday!

PS. A basic colour term is word where the term does not have another meaning. So, orange, blonde, leaf green etc cannot be basic colour terms. That does not imply that these cultures don't see other colours or don't have words for prevalent things within their communities.

In fact, if an object or action are important enough to know specifically what one is talking about, e.g. cattle in some African communities, snow in Inuit communities, these speech communities will have a single word that specifically describes the object that may or may not include colour. So, there is a word for 'freshly fallen snow', 'snow that is good for igloos', 'packed snow', and other attributes of snow that the speakers need to know. Bottom line, the inclusion of red as a basic colour term is not because of how prevalent red things are in a speech community eg. blood, but rather, the prevalence of an object makes it necessary to be more specific in the description of that object (thus, not a basic colour term).

Shelley, Vancouver

The belief that the Inuit have a multitude of terms for snow is in dispute now. Check out Geoffrey Pullum's brief essay "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" by clicking here.
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Guy Deutscher's erudite (and humorous) 'Through the Language Glass' goes into the links between language and colour perception in considerable detail.

He quotes Pinker at length, disagreeing with him here and there, and also explains why some languages don't have native words for blue: they often don't see the sky or the sea as blue, but rather as images without colour! Spanish, for example, uses the word 'azul', of Perso-Arabic origin, meaning the mineral lapis lazuli, as the colour blue doesn't occur much in nature. Russian has two words for blue depending on whether it is dark or light.

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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What two-word cliché transforms feathers into anger?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: raise hackles


The feathers on the neck of a bird — especially on male domestic fowl such as roosters — are called hackles. Roosters raise them before attacking.

This is an example of a word formation process called metaphoric extension - in which a word's concrete meaning is extended so that it becomes an abstraction.


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How about "ruffled feathers"? My feathers will be ruffled if you don't accept it as a valid answer!

Grace Nostbakken

Good point. Looks like the question has two answers, though you could argue that "to ruffle feathers" is to irritate or annoy, whereas "to raise hackles" is to make angry.
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The question needs something else to indicate that "ruffled feathers" or something similar is not an acceptable answer.

Cameron, Chattanooga, TN

You're right. Who would have thought that there would be two possible answers to this.
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I agree with the "ruffled feathers" group, especially since I always associated "raised hackles" with the upright hairs on the back of an angry dog. You know, the kind of dog that could make feathers fly!

Alison, Augusta ME

True, both birds and dogs have hackles.
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Ruffle someone's feathers or raise their hackles--in either case, they're likely to give you the bird. (According to Collins, to ruffle feathers is to cause upset or offence--which usually leads to anger. It does seem the milder expression, though.)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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That phrase also works for dogs. "Wet hens" are angry too. Must be something about chickens.

Richard McClintock, Hampden-Sydney, VA

The birds are angry because we eat them.
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Question: What three word idiom transforms feathers into good humor?

Answer: "in fine feather."

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Pasadena, Ca.
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A possible third answer to the question might be 'spitting feathers', my first thought when I read the question (meaning here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/spitting-feathers.html)

Will Bratby

My God! More bird anger. When will it end?
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'Ruffled feathers' would have made rather a dull answer, and in common usage the phrase is applied to someone whose feelings have been hurt, but who may not have reached the stage of anger.

Besides, hackles aren't necessarily 'feathers'. The word originally meant 'cloak' and was later used for other coverings, including, but not restricted to, plumage. It can also be used for the erectile hairs of a dog's back, raised when angry, and I think this is the sense here. A dog with its hackles raised is more fearsome than an angry cock/rooster, isn't it?

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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My Irish Mum used to say she was "Spitting feathers" when she was really 'ruffled' over something! Does that have some odd connection to "tar and feathering" which was sometimes a threat handed out to a mischievous child?

Wendy Russell, Edmonton
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According to linguistic corpus analysis,
the word "the" is the most frequently written English word.
What is the second most frequently written word?



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Answer: of


The word the is the most frequently occurring word in the Brown Corpus of written English, accounting for nearly 7% of all word occurrences. The next-most-frequent word is of, which accounts for slightly over 3.5% of all word occurrences.

In addition, analysis of the British National Corpus — a corpus of 100 million words derived from English texts from a wide range of sources — also found that "the" is the most frequent word and "of" second. Click here to view its frequency list.


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Hard to believe, when your response uses the word "is" more often than "of" even though the latter is the word being described. I'd vote for "is".

Jacki Sampson, Calgary

Unfortunately, votes don't count — corpus analysis is empirical not democratic.
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I'm sure a lot of people guessed "a" or "is". It was disappointing that you did not list 3rd, 4th, and 5th to see how closely one guessed. I could not make heads or tails out of the "here" list. Thanks, and keep it up.

Bart Brooks, West Vancouver, BC

Hi Bart:
The frequency (out of 100,106,029 words) is in column 1 and the actual word is in column two, thus the top 5 words in order of decreasing frequency are:

6187267 "the"
2941444 "of"
2682863 "and"
2126369 "a"
1812609 "in"

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I expected the second most frequently occurring word to have been the word and. I am ashamed of myself!

Colleen Macdonald, Toronto

Don't take it too hard. Linguistic shame is a mild and transient shame.
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I don't know about the Brown Corpus, but I do know that when I write I use another short word almost as often as I use it in speech. I wonder if I am the only I.

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.

You're right. In spoken English, the "I's" have it. See below.
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Although I did know the answer to this question, since the corpus is quite old, I expect that in the internet age, the answer is likely to have shifted. For example, it's well known that the most frequent word in SPOKEN English is "I", and it wouldn't surprise me if that has risen considerably in the written corpus, since the web is often very self-oriented. On the bright side, it's MUCH easier to analyze now than it was 40 years ago. Google implicitly has the answer.

Mike Turniansky, Baltimore

Good point. Thanks for the info. Do you know if anyone has started doing a modern analysis?

There are plenty of interesting ones here http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists

Note that in TV/movie scripts the order is: 1) you 2) I 3) to 4) the 5) a

In contemporary fiction the order is: 1) the 2) I 3) to 4) and 5) a

But in the list of all works on Project Gutenberg (which of course spans all time periods of written English) we get the more tradtional: 1) the 2) of 3) and 4) to 5) in

Mike Turniansky, Baltimore

Wow. Excellent stuff. I’ll pass that on to the mailing list.
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I would have thought "a/an" would have been a very close second since it's the indefinite version of "the"

Shelley, Vancouver
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Funny thing about "the"--English works just fine without it. Omitting it is weird to our ear because we're so used to using, hearing, reading, and writing it. There's a characteristic sound to speech from native speakers of languages that don't use it--like Chinese folks. Hebrew uses it--there it's a "ha" sound before the word: hagofen is "the vine," haeretz is "the land," etc. German uses der, die, etc.--English is pretty simple with only a single "the." Notice that this whole response fails to use "the" as an article.

Joe Horton
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,
it denotes the United States viewed as a fascist state.
What proper noun is it?



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Answer: Amerika


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the proper noun Amerika denotes "U.S. society viewed as racist, fascist, oppressive, etc. … the spelling is German, but may also suggest the KKK."


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Or - if you were a fan of Yippie and other left-krazies of the late 1960s, Amerikkka - the 'kkk' even more clearly suggestive of the Klan.

Alan Zisman, Vancouver

Excellent, using this clever technique, you can visually quantify your current level of anti-Americanism by upping the "k" ante to match your mood. For example, for those special occasions when some bizarre act of American foreign policy makes you super-outraged, you could use: "Amerikkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkka"
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Now I know why I spell Republican "Respublikan"? I thought that was the Latin spelling.

Pete Saussy , Pawleys Island, South Carolina
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Wasn't Abbie Hoffman credited with this usage first, used frequently in the ramblings of his 60's revolutionary opus, "Steal this book"?

Slick Rick, NY

Don't know. If you have any info or run into anything that confirms it, please let me know.
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[In response to the above] Covering the March rallies in Chicago, 1968, prior to the disruption of the Democratic National Convention, Abbie was quoted in Newsweek (speaking of his newly coined "Yippie Movement), "We shall not defeat Amerika by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation - a nation as rugged as a marijuana leaf." Wikipedia credits the Yippies for this usage, also.

Slick Rick
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The epitaph we assign to another reveals more about us than those whom we have named - usually how incapable of dispassionate and independent reasoning or ignorant one really is.

Tom Smith, Louisiana
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Ten years ago, I heard a Canadian band playing in a beautiful Winnipeg park. They said they had just returned from a tour of the U.S., which they referred to as "The Excited States of Hysteria."

Christine, Minnesota
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I'll note that Chicago poet Joffre Stewart popularized this in his poetry. By the way, Stewart … was the 1960 Beat Party candidate for VP of the U.S., running with Bill Smith.

Peter Zelchenko, Chicago
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: I thought Kafka coined this usage with his play of that title.

Susanna M. Lundgren, Portland Oregon

That make sense. I haven't read the play. Does he use "Amerika" to refer to the US as a Fascist state or is he just using the German spelling?

Both, but as a Fascist state, US comes off quite absurdly; it's a work of dark comedy.

Here`s what the Wikipedia says:

"In conversations Kafka used to refer to this book as his "American novel," later he called it simply "The Stoker" , after the title of the first chapter, which appeared separately in 1913. Kafka's working title was "The Man Who Disappeared" ("Der Verschollene").] The title "Amerika" was chosen by Kafka's literary executor, Max Brod, who assembled the uncompleted manuscript and published it after his death [in 1927]."

From this, I would guess they were just using the German spelling "Amerika" , and not using the term in its current Fascism-implying English sense.
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Is goat cheese a dairy product?



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Answer: yes


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, anything derived from milk and its products is a dairy product. Goat's cheese is made from goat's milk, hence is a dairy product.

The word derives from the Old English dæge, kneader of bread or female servant.


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Q: Are EGGS a diary product? They're always stored in the dairy section of a grocery store. I've been asking grocery people. About 70% of them answer that yes, eggs are dairy. (They're obviously not!)

Lucian Wischik

But if every one starts to say that eggs are a dairy product, doesn't that mean that the descriptivist Concise Oxford Dictionary has to append that that to the definition?
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Is the milk of human kindness a dairy product? Milk of magnesia?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver

[Deadpan] No. They're not derived from milk. Similarly: When you milk the system, what you get is not a dairy product.
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So the chorus of groans from milking this joke WOULD be dairy products.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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What about soy milk or breast milk?

Jean Tasker, White Rock

Soy milk and breast milk are types of milk, hence their products are, according to the COD's definition, dairy products.
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I beg to disagree about soy milk being a dairy product. It's not derived from milk. Soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc. are considered milk only by analogy. We may call Venus the "Evening Star," but it's still a planet and not a star. If soy milk is a dairy product, then why not milk of magnesia? By your reasoning, peanut butter, cashew butter, cocoa butter, etc. should be called dairy products too, because "butter" per se is a dairy product.

Surajit Bose

Good point. Thanks for setting me straight.
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It's clear that you have never enjoyed cow's eggs.

Steve Paceman, Earth

Are they brown with bits of hay in them?
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The French express different levels of formality
when talking to people by using using tu and vous.
We used to do this in English.
What two words did we use?



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Answer: thou and ye (corrected answer replacing "thou and thee")


The thou was informal and the ye was formal. The phenomenon — which occurs in many languages (e.g., German du/Sie and Spanish tu/usted) — is called the T-V distinction by linguists.

Note that a very clear and concise explanation of this can be read here: http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20000208


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Your answer at first made me cringe, and then rage, and then question all that I knew to be true. But I do believe you're mistaken.

'Thou' is, indeed, the archaic informal in the nominative. But 'thee' is also informal. It's the objective form of 'thou'. The correct nominative and objective formal pronouns were 'ye' and 'you' respectively, not 'thee'. And I don't believe that 'ye' was an alternate spelling of 'thee'.

In fact, it's important to clarify that they're quite different here, sitting on either side of the T-V distinction; however, confusingly, an unrelated 'ye' is an archaic and corrupted spelling of the, again unrelated, article 'the' (see: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ye).

'Ye' and 'you' served both as the formal singular, and as plural for formal and informal. This nice writeup corroborates:
http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20000208

This is the first time I've found a kink in your otherwise impressively impenetrable linguistic armor! I'm a big fan of these questions. Keep 'em comin'!

Jackson Shelton, New York

Well, I've been wrong before, and I intend to be wrong again. Thanks for the correction.
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I always thought "thou" was for the subject and "thee" for the object, like I/me and ich/mich

Dave, Edmonton

See apology above
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There is a French verb, "tutoyer," which means to address someone as "tu." "Tue" indicates familiarity and affection, and is used to address children, spouses or lovers, and God.

Personally, I think English lost a lot when the use of "thee" and "thou" was phased out.

"Thou" is the nominative form: "Thou are God alone"; "Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art."

"Thee" is the objective case: "Not unto Thee, O Lord;" "I clutch the, yet I see thee still"; "Little lamb, I'll tell thee."

"Thy" is the possessive (genitive) pronomial adjective: "Thy word is settled in heaven"; "...from the nunnery/ Of thy chaste breast, and quiet mind/To war and arms I fly."

And "thine" is the pronoun: "What is mine, is thine" but in the Bible and much of the Early Modern literature it is used in place of "thy" before a word beginning with a vowel for purposes of smooth articulation: "I hate thine enemies."

"Te" is more often used in place of the 2nd person plural "you" even thou it began as "thee." That was back when English had four extra letters, including "thorn," which looks like a Greek theta with one side lopped off.

Nancy Charlton, Beaverton, Oregon
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We used to use four, not two, second-person pronouns in English to distinguish between different levels of formality, namely the informal thee/thou and the formal you/ye. (And I believe thou hast been sufficiently excoriated for thine error.)

There's a great discussion of the historical development of the second person pronouns and the dropping of everything but "you" here:

http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6361Malton.htm



Ironically, it seems that the French influence was responsible for the ultimate dominance of "you." "In the Middle English and Early Modern periods, members of the expanding middle class sought to imitate polite forms of speech and to avoid those usages that would associate them with the lower classes." This meant adopting the formal "you," whose use had become prevalent among the nobility -- in imitation of the French nobility's use of "vous."

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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Actually, thou and thee are singular, and you and ye are plural - at least that's the way it always is in the King James version of the Bible.

Jill in St. Louis
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I think your answer isn't congruous with the question. "Thou" is the English equivalent of the French "tu," being singular and informal. "Thee" is the objective case of "thou." The English "you" is equivalent to the French "vous," being either or both plural and formal. I think, therefore, the answer to your question would be, "thou and you."

Char C, Minneapolis, MN
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You have regrettably compounded the confusion caused by the archaic use of "y," replacing the still more archaic letter "thorn," in place of the modern "th." The second-person singular pronoun was "thou" in the nominative and "thee" in the accusative. The second-person plural pronoun was "ye," pronounced "yee" and not "thee," in the nominative and "you" in the accusative.

"Thou" and "thee" became the informal singular form and then disappeared entirely. "Ye" and "you" (or maybe only "you" -- see below) first became the formal singular form and then replaced "thou" and "thee" entirely, leaving English in the relatively unusual position of distinguishing, in the second person, neither between formal and informal nor between singular and plural. "Ye" is related to the archaic Dutch "gij," placing it among the many words (such as "yellow") where English, before "e" and "i," has "y" and Dutch has "g." Those are real "y"s and have nothing to do with "th."

While the changes described above were taking place, "you" was coming to be used for both nominative and accusative, driving "ye" out of use. Whether that had already occurred when the plural form became the formal singular form -- i.e., whether "ye" was ever used as a singular form -- is something I don't know; but I don't recall ever reading anything in which it was used that way.

That we may have gone a bit too far as to number is suggested by the fact that we keep inventing slang or regional plural forms such as "y'all," "youse," and lately "you guys," to avoid the confusion that occasionally arises from having just one pronoun for both singular and plural.

By contrast, as formality becomes less and less fashionable, many languages that used to distinguish are adopting the informal form. The tendency is observable in advertising written in French, German, and Italian, and no doubt in other languages not known to your correspondent, who also doesn't know whether using the informal form to address a public official is still within the definitiion of the crime of "insult" and punishable by a fine, as it was in Germany as recently as 30 or so years ago.

Davis Dassori, Hingham, Massachusetts
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ye gods! (as my father used to say)--Al Green!

Mark Schafer, Mexico
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Just an interesting (well, to me) sidelight on the formal/informal singular 'you'. It used to exist in Swedish, but there was what is called the 'du reform' in the late 60s - early 70s, and now 'ni' is mostly reserved for members of the royal family. In fact, it caused quite a stir when a report interviewed the king a year or so ago using the 'du' form. It was called 'du-ing' the king. P.S. Moot Guy, I loved your response to being wrong. May I use it?

Ruth Augustine, central Sweden
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This is the only time i've disagreed with an answer. The Society of Friends started using the "thou" form even with their "superiors" because the "thou" form was informal, whereas the "you" form was formal. So i think it's "thou" (or "thee") and "you" (or "ye".)

Dana Bellwether, California
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I often met the form "thou" in Shakespeare's works. I remember my teacher told me it's a form of addressing a single person in a plural form as a sign of politness. I originate from Northern Caucasus and in many Caucasus languages there isn't any plural form of addressing a single person either, …

Zetta Ermakova, Sochi, Russia
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In Punjabi there are also two forms of you: more polite you (thousee) and one less polite (tu-nho)

Roopinder Bains, Surrey BC
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Actually, ye was "the" but due to printing press confusion the letter thorn was replaced with an itallic "y". The article "The" was changed to the phonetic "th". In most cases "thou" became the modern "you" and "thee" became "yee" wheras the article "the" was transformed to "ye". We often see this with olde English signs such as "Ye olde shoppe" which was "the old shop". The modern spelling of "the" replaced "ye" and as such the extra "e" was no longer needed on "yee" and so was dropped leaving "ye". It was the printing press and the absence of the thorn letter that transformed the formal "thou" and informal "thee" into "you" and "ye".

Brendan, New York
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The modern German equivalents are du and Sie. The verb for transitioning to more familiar discourse is "duzen", and the apparently rather delicate proposal therefor is "Können wir uns duzen?" More than once this proposal has been sheepishly made to me, in response to my having gracelessly from the onset gedutzt.



Steve White, Berlin
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I always think of this when hearing the Our Father prayer. You hear some people trying to be very proper and formal by saying 'Hallowed by Thy name' and others trying to modernise and familiarise by saying 'Your name'. It makes me smile because I know it's actually the opposite, with'Thy' being informal and 'your' formal.

Eva-Marie Middleton, Perth, Western Australia
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This is my favorite MOOT to date! Thanks for this one, Mootguy. It's interesting that the feedback on this is so varied and yet stated with such surety.

Anna von Ovonov, Oregon
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According to its Greek etymology, it literally means
"a taking together of sounds."
What language term is it?



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Answer: the syllable


The word syllable denotes a unit of speech spoken without interruption.

It derives via French and Latin from the Greek syllabe, several sounds or letters taken together (from syn, together + lambanein, to take; thus, etymology-wise, a syllable is a "taking together" of sounds).

For further info, click here to read the entry for syllable in the Online Dictionary of Language Terminology.


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I had guessed cacophony--thinking that "phone" derived from a word for sound/voice and that "caco" might share a root with "caucus." Turns out that caucus may have Algonquian roots (from caucauasu: "counselor, elder, adviser") or Modern Greek (kaukos = drinking cup). Just thought I'd share what I learned from my mistake!

Justin, Korea
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Good question. I had sympnony: from syn- "together" + phone "voice, sound"; hence, together sound or "a taking together of sound" Though I don't disagree with the answer, there may be enough ambiguity between "syllable" and "symphony" to require a rewrite.

Greg Felton, Vancouver

I actually agree with you on this. The more I think about it, it strikes me that "symphony" is probably a better answer, except that it isn't a "language" term. Darn!
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The Greek root for sound is 'phon--': 'labanein indicates 'to take.' The proper answer to your question should have been 'symphony.'

Sydney Lea Vermont

I agree. Except for the fact that it isn't a "language" term, symphony is a better answer. Hey, but that's why I test these questions out online or during live MooT games in Vancouver - to make sure the duds don't get into the published board game. Thanks for spotting the dud.
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*Slaps forehead* of course!

Ahalya, India
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Is the word eponym an eponym?



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Answer: no


An eponym is a word that has been created from someone's name. For example, the word martinet was derived from the name General Jean Martinet [a Frenchman]. The general was a very strict disciplinarian, so strict that all subsequent strict military disciplinarians have been called martinets.

The word eponym was coined by contracting the word eponymous, which derives from the Greek eponymos, the giving of one's name to a thing (from Greek epi, upon + onyma, name).

For a more complete definition of the term eponym, click here to check out its entry in the Online Dictionary of Language terminology.

Note: The word epistrophe derives from the Greek epi-, upon + strophe, turning. In rhetoric it denotes the repeating of words at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences to increase emphasis. For example, When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. (1 Corinthians 13:11). In botany the term denotes the reversion of an abnormal form to a normal one.


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Eponym "goes" in the opposite direction from "namesake" and people often get the two confused. An eponym is some one or thing for which another is named, and a namesake is someone named after someone else. We run into that all the time, as people say that John Hampden and Algernon Sydney are the namesakes of Hampden-Sydney College, when in fact they are its eponyms and it is their namesake. The word needs more currency.

Richard McClintock, Hampden-Sydney, VA
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In medicine the eponymous naming of disease, abnormalities and anomolies is seen today as an archaic format. There is a movement to elimimate eponymous names to clarify the nomenclature of pathology.

John, Denver (no, no. see the comma...)
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'Eponym' is an example of what linguists call a back formation. Other examples are 'pea' (from 'peas') and 'edit' (from 'editor').

Lynn, Delaware
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In Latin lucere means "shine."
It once meant "to work by lamp light,"
now it denotes any act of writing or studying.
What four-syllable word is it?



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Answer: lucubration


The word lucubration derives from the Latin lucubrare, to work by lamp light.


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Holy Jude the Obscure! Now there's there's an ugly little inkhorn term for you! The only four syllable thingies (clearly off-base) I could brainstorm were "burn-mid-night-oil" and "e-luc-i-date." And by the way, I thought Moot's stock in trade was to elucidate more commonplace words. However, I stand edified and will henceforth dutifully lucubrate (how lugubrious and ponderous the sound!) a response rather than merely jot it down.

Jack Ognistoff, Sesquipedalia, B.C.

If you did a little more lucubration, Jack, you might have got the answer right (but don't do it too often, cause it wrecks your eyesight).
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I thought it would be e-lu-ci-date.

Don Mulholland, Saint Petersburg

To clarify or explain is to elucidate, and that which is clear is lucid.
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In french, elucubration means raving, crazy stuff, the guy probably went crazy 'cos the bulb or candle was too weak to write down his otherwise brilliant ideas !

nanon gardin, Paris France

Excellent folk etymology. Keep up the good work.
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I love Moot. When I guess correctly, I get the thrill of thinking I'm smart. When I guess incorrectly, but should have guessed correctly, I have that heel-of-palm-against-the-forehead moment (duh!). And sometimes, like today, I get to learn a brand new word. What a joy. Thanks, Mootguy!

Vesper, Los Angeles

Thanks. Good sentiment. Maintain that.
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My first thought was "lucidity" because light brings clarity & this could be associated with something being expressed clearly, bringing 'light' to, for example an argument or discussion.

Vivien Davies, Sidney, B.C.
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Is an extremely effeminate lesbian a dyke?



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Answer: yes


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the slang word dyke is essentially an exact synonym of the word lesbian. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it was perhaps coined by shortening the word morphadike, a modification of the hermaphrodite.


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Dictionary espousal or no, this question may come off a bit to some as the equivalent of, "Is a reform Jew a kyke?"

Annabelle, NYC

As far as I can tell the word "dyke" is not a slur, whereas "kyke" definitely is. However, you're right -- there is a chance that some semantically hyper-sensitive person will find a way to be offended. But does this mean that I must always be hyper-careful to make sure that there's absolutely no chance of offending anybody at all?
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Follow-up: Dear Mootguy:

My protest is not against the potential offense itself; I'm plenty offensive in my everyday life, to fellow lesbians, fellow Jews, and just about everyone else I come across. However, I take issue with the word being presented as neutral, as well as your claim that it's "not necessarily a slur."

Today that's true, but only to the extent that it's been reclaimed by the queer community (much like the words queer, nigger, et al). It originated as a derogatory term for overtly masculine lesbians, a fact that is implied by the wording of your question. For what it's worth, the etymology you cite is also disputed; you might be interested in these articles:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/455819 (an alternative hypothesis for the origin of the word)

and http://www.columbialawreview.org/assets/pdfs/106/2/Anten-Web.pdf (about appropriation of slurs by target groups).

Thanks for your response, though, and thanks for your work. I don't think potentially offensive words need be edited out of the language, I merely think they should be discussed in a more candid manner than this one was on your site.

Annabelle, NYC

Dear Annabelle: Thanks for the comments. What you’ve said is an example of the kind of thoughtful and forceful response that I am forever hoping this kind of question will provoke. Good stuff.
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There are a few noteworthy differences between "dyke" and "kyke" besides the d and the k (and by the way, "kike" is spelled with an "i"): Since "dyke" has been reclaimed by lesbians, it has been "rehabilitated" in common usage and largely stripped of its negative connotations.

While lesbians often refer to themselves as dykes (a local [Vancouver] community radio show, "Dykes on Mikes" comes to mind), Jews, on the other hand, would never refer to themselves as kikes.

The first expression might possibly be rude, while the other one is simply hateful. Secondly, "dyke" is semantically interesting and so, makes for a good moot question, since we can't all agree on whether it refers to all lesbians or just masculine lesbians.

"Kike" on the other hand has no semantic nuances: It is a derogatory word for all Jews, and not just for, say, greedy ones or skullcap-wearing ones.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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I'm confused. So is "dyke" a subset of "lesbian", or an exact synonym?

Andrew, Texas

As I interpret the COD's definition, it's "almost" an exact synonym. It differs in that it is slang, thus has a more informal quality.
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I don't like the answer. If "dyke" = "lesbian," then "extremely effeminate lesbian" = "extremely effeminate dyke," which presumably is not identical to the single word "dyke."

Jim Wood, Colorado

The logic is exactly the same as in the question: Is a very large car an automobile?
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Follow-up: I think you and I are not going to agree on this one, although I will grant you that you phrased the question in the form: "is an extremely effeminate lesbian a subset of the class known as 'dyke'?" In that sense, if dyke = lesbian, then an e.e.l. is a type of l, which is d.

However, I also agree with one of the other commenters, who said that "dyke" is traditionally used to indicate a lesbian with masculine characteristics. "Overtly masculine" I think was the phrase. In that case, is an e.e.l. an o.m.l? I think not. I also think it doesn't matter "one whit"!

Jim Wood, Colorado
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Well, in my day, a dyke was a lesbian and a bull-dyke was a very masculine lesbian. Just for reference, I went to university in the early 1960s and in those days there were gays (i.e. men) and lesbians or dykes. I think dyke was an ever-so-slight slur.

Johnny Rojo, Vancouver
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My immediate response to the question was: "No, an effeminate lesbian is known as a femme. The word dyke is synonymous with butch and refers to a masculine lesbian." But perhaps that is just splitting hairs.

Joyce, Atlanta
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I think it should be worded differently; i.e. 'feminine' rather than 'effeminate'. As I read the question, it asks whether a 'girly' lesbian is a dyke. Dictionary.com gives this definition: "(of a man or boy) having traits, tastes, habits, etc., traditionally considered feminine", and Oxford Dictionaries Online says, "(of a man) having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman; unmanly." which I take to mean the word isn't used in describing a female person.

ccrow, Maine

According to the COD, the word "effeminate" is also used to mean "unmasculine."
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Were you trying to throw us off with the term 'extremely effeminate'? Most understand the term lesbian to mean 'female homosexual'. When you add the adjectives it confuses the issue. What you are saying is technically, dyke is a loose synonym for the term lesbian, and lesbian simply means female homosexual. No stereotypes, no attributes. Therefore the answer to the question would be No. An effeminate lesbian is termed a "Fem".

Aubrey H, Lakewood, WA

The purpose of adding the adjectives IS to confuse the issue. That's what a MooT question is. The idea is to exert some pressure on the word's meaning to see if the players really know what it means.
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Glad I wasn't the only one confused by the structure of the question. I had to read the explanation of the answer twice before I understood the question. Much like Aubrey H, the addition of the adjectives made me think of a more specific answer (meaning I too thought of "Fem" or "Lipstick Lesbian"). If the question (ignoring any question of if the term is offensive or not) had been "Is an extremely effeminate lesbian still a dyke?" I would have said yes (and THEN argued about if the term is offensive ;) ). The additional adjectives made me think you were referring to a subset of the larger group known as "Dykes" or Lesbians rather than asking if the term refers to the larger group as a whole or only the more "masculine" subset.

Amber, Indianapolis
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Followup: I would argue that the logic for the question is more like "Is a two wheeled motorized vehicle an automobile?" than "Is a very large car an automobile?" Yes, a two wheeled motorized vehicle is technically an automobile, but most people are going to answer Motorcycle because that is the automobile subgroup a two wheeled motorized vehicle best fits in.

Amber, Indianapolis

But the question is a "Yes/No" question. So if the question is "Is a two wheeled motorized vehicle an automobile?" The answer is "yes." The answer "motorcycle" is not an option. Cheers.
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It has always been my impression that "dyke" referred to the more masculine lesbian in a gay relationship, while "femme" referred to the more feminine partner. As a "straight" male, however, I'm hardly an authority. Check with insiders. The vaunted OED may be incorrect.

MTC, Pasadena

All the COD does is record usage. According to their entry, it seems that many people are now using the word "dyke" to refer to any type of lesbian.
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If you do a Google search you will find that many speakers continue to differentiate between "dykes" and "femmes," the OED notwithstanding. I wouldn't be surprised, however, that another useful distinction is being washed away by vulgar usage. It has always struck me as perverse that the sloppiest speakers of the tongue, the least educated and the least intelligent dictate to the rest what a word means. Distinctions between words like "disinterested" and "uninterested" serve a useful purpose but are quickly going the way of the Dodo because of the "Ignorati." It's a constant process of "dumbing down." Tune in daytime TV to see the process in action.

Tom Clewis
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I just want to defend mootguy a bit here and say that offence is a matter of the audience, and I think it's a bit of a generational thing. I'm under 30 and my friends and I use "dyke" and "queer" and it's not a big deal - and they are lesbians. The word has been reclaimed and it loses its power.

Second - we use 'dyke' to refer to lesbians, but we ALSO use it to refer to 'butch' or more masculine lesbians. For instance, "Is she lesbian?" "Yes...and she is a bit dyke-y."

Third, the adjectives are red herrings, like you will find in a lot of MOOT questions.

Conrad in Philadelphia
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i disagree. in urban language,to me, a dyke is a super masculine lesbo with nary a female trait but the spoken word that in fact she is female....ie, not every lesbian is a dyke!

andi b, jamaica

Keep in mind that modern descriptivist dictionary-makers survey how everyone uses a word. What the COD is saying with its definition is that many people are now using the word "dyke" as a synonym for the more general term "lesbian." In linguistics this process of language change where a word gains a wider meaning is called "widening."
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The term 'effeminate' means for a male to be have traits and behaviours typically considered female(feminine). I think we agree on that.

Using 'effeminate' in your question implies that lesbians, in general, are more 'masculine' than (straight)females, in general i.e. how can a woman be effeminate if she doesn't display any traditional 'masculine' traits? I know several lesbians and they are just 'regular' gals--neither butch nor femme nor dyke.

Having said that, in my little world, dykes are lesbians, in general, butches are androgynous lesbians and femmes are more 'traditional' females. But, really, won't it be nice when these labels have gone into disuse because it is longer is necessary to define and label those around us based on a preference that is only a part of life?

Shelley, Vancouver

I lean towards increasing the number distinctions and labels because it makes it easier to make MooT questions.
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What part of speech's name means "little joint" in Latin?



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Answer: the article


In grammar the word article denotes the adjectives:

(1) the (the Definite article) and

(2) a and an (the indefinite articles),

and their equivalents in other languages.

The term derives from the Latin articulus, the diminutive of artus, a joint.

For a more complete definition of the term article, click here to check out its entry in the Online Dictionary of Language Terminology.


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It's obvious, now that you've told me. Hence articulate and articulated, the latter a favourite of mine when applied to vehicles, such as the articulated buses that started appearing on Vancouver streets a decade ago. Or the Brits' articulated lorries (semi-trailers in the U.S., formerly tractor-trailers in Canada) which can often been seen on dual carriageways (divided highways).

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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In fact, in French, "les articulations" refers to the joints (i.e. elbows, knees...). By the way, looking at articles as adjectives is a rather antiquated taxonomical approach; "some [in my experience, all] modern linguists prefer to classify them within a separate part of speech, determiners." You don't want to know why.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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This one was easy, between my English major background and medical transcription work, article was obvious!

Janet Davis, Milledgeville
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Glad to see the questions getting harder again! I pondered -around the root "arthr" as in "arthritis" but failed to get to the simpler "artic" - which btw is also a British contraction of "articulated lorry". In London (and elsewhere) we also have articulated omnibuses, but most people call them "bendy buses".

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK
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'Adjunct' - Dang! A small error.

El Kay, India

That word derives from the Latin "adjunctus" , closely connected, joined, united.
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Originally, it denoted the privileges granted to the Pope's nephew — the word nephew being a euphemism for "bastard son." What ism is it?



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Answer: nepotism


The word nepotism derives from the Italian nepote, nephew (from the Latin nepotem, grandson or nephew). It now denotes "favouritism shown to any relative."


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Bang on! I actually got it before the "-ism" clue. On those rare occasions that this happens, I'm awfully proud of myself. Thanks, for the esteem-booster!

John Willse, Bangkok
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The Italian word is "nipote" - the Latin "nepote".

Marguerite Condon, Kinsale, Cork, Ireland

Thanks for the info. However, both the Concise Oxford Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology disagree with you.
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Yay! I figured this one out! Another common word with an interesting origin I didn't know. Thanks!

Janice, Maryland
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What a great word. I remember my Latin teacher explaining nepotism to us. Never forgot!

Mimi Grosser, Cambridge, MA
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I'm with Marguerite. Nipote is the Italian word for nephew/grandson/what-have-you. It's possible that "nepote" is from a long long time ago when Latin was turning into Italian and the transformation was not yet complete?

Suzanna Scott, Chicago
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Re: "Bastard son" and nepotism. When you think of the Jong-Ils and Hassads and Husseins and and all the other despots who have handed over power to their progeny, they may not have had bastard sons but their sons sure were bastards.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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I used to teach history at a Catholic College in Manchester, NH, and when I dealt with the Borgia papacies and the Borgia Bastards, I acquainted the students with the euphemism "nepote", the origin of the very same "nepotism" that the Church reformers even before Luther tried unsuccessfully to eradicate. Thanks, mootguy, for bringing origins of commonly-used, and even infrequently-used words and terms to a wider audience.

Richard Polirer, Florida
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The word Cairo is to Cairene as the word Monaco is to what?



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Answer: Monegasque


Those who live in Cairo are called Cairenes, whereas those who live in Monaco are called Monegasgues.


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Huzzah! I knew all those hours on Wikipedia would pay off!

Jordan, Utah
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Spooky - my wife and I were just talking about this last night (following a CBC news item on Muscovites and the airport bombing) on what they call people from Halifax (Halegonians) and Glasgow (Glaswegians) and a couple more that escape me now. Wish I'd remembered this one.

Mark, Ottawa

Note that people from Paris are not called "Parisites" .
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Who decides these things? Washingtonians instead of Washingtoners or Washingtonites? or Washingtegans ?? Is it the infamous 'them" ??

South City, Beth

Which are you: a South-citier, a South-cityite, or a South-cityagesque? Who decided that? Perhaps the one that is the easiest to pronounce wins in the long-term.
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My fave: Liverpudlians. For some reason, I imagine Liverpudlians as very small people with reddish-brown webbed feet. Don't tell them I said that.

Paul Hamel, Cobourg ON
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This is from the Provencal. Beware of sources that give Monacan as the definition of Monegasque. The Monacans are a native American Indian tribe from Virginia. However with the inevitable dumbing down of civilization, this may one day be accepted.

Joseph Lojiudiche
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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,
what American city's name was perhaps coined as a corruption
of the French phrase beau fleuve, beautiful river?



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Answer: Buffalo


Because there were no buffalo in the vicinity, the origin of the city's name is hotly disputed.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it perhaps derives either from the name of a local native chief or is a "corruption" of the French phrase beau fleuve, beautiful river.

Please note that Buffalo wings were not invented by the French. They are so called because the recipe was created in Buffalo at Frank & Teresa's Anchor Bar on Main Street.


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… Indeed, in the early days of the USA, the woodland buffalo (bison) was found all the way to the east coast, so there were indeed buffalo in the vicinity of Buffalo!

Jim Roper, Curitiba

Strike one against that proposed etymology.
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That's stretching it — fleuve is feminine, in any case, so the original French would be belle fleuve not beau fleuve, so I shall have to differ on that one.

Jane, Brighton

Strike two.
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I was thinking Bellevue,WA!

Aubrey H, Lakewood, WA

And Bellevue Wings taste just as good.
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….When I first moved to Minnesota, I kept hearing the name of a town on the news. It sounded like they were saying "Mill Axe" or maybe "Milax" (emphasis on "Mil".) I couldn't find such a name on any map of Minnesota. I finally asked a coworker to point it out for me on a map. The city is "Mille Lacs," which in my world (I studied French for 8 years), would be pronounced "Mee-yah Lahk." …

Charlotte, Twin Cities, MN, USA
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Hmm, there's a town in South Dakota named Belle Fourche, which apparently means "beautiful fork (in the river)." But I was pretty sure that wasn't it.

Paget, Portland OR
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I like this etymology, whether fanciful or not.

Actually, Jane from Brighton is wrong: "Fleuve" is indeed masculine.

Secondly, it would make a plausible and classic Hobson-Jobson and thus parallel many other word formation processes: that is, if you hear "beau fleuve" said with a French-Canadian accent, it sounds a lot like "buffalo," especially with the softening and near vanishing of the final "v" sound.

However, I also found this on the net: "It is known that the City of Buffalo got its name from the Village of Buffalo which preceded it, which had taken its name from Buffalo Creek (what we now call the Buffalo River). The question then becomes, how did Buffalo Creek get its name?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.

Maybe because the bison who drank there were French bison who thought it was a beau fleuve.
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Buffalo (as in the animal) was an extremely popular name throughout eastern America (Pennsylvania, Virginia, et alibi) in the 18th century.

Richard McClintock, Hampden-Sydney, VA (near Buffalo River)
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Well, I always wondered why they called it Buffalo. And I've been to the Anchor Bar. It's really cool, they have all kinds of stuff stapled to the ceiling.

Dorothea, Abbotsford

I've always wondered why Abbotsford is called Abbotsford?
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However, Buffalo is not located by a "fleuve". "Un fleuve" flows into salt water. "Une riviére" flows into fresh water(in this case, Lake Ontario).

Ron McCowan, Toronto
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I read an account online after I googled "history of Buffalo" that it was named after Buffalo's Creek which was named after a native American Indian chief or lived near the creek and whose name was Chief Buffalo or resembled a buffalo. I think this one is doomed to obscurity….

Joseph Lobindice, New York
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In Greek it literally means "life study."
It was suggested in 1802 by the German naturalist G. Reinhold Treviranus
and introduced as a scientific term later that year by Lamarck.
What word is it?



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Answer: biology


Ultimately, the word derives from the Greek bios, life + logia, study of.


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Usually I ponder these questions for two days and finally give up on the 3rd; this took me 2.4 seconds! Thanks for throwing an easy one in every once in a while.

Jennifer, San Jose CA
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Too cerebral? Don't change, if they like "Wheel of Fortune" better let them have their cake eat it too.

Brant Ross, Regina
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I guessed zoology which also means the study of life (from another Greek word for life.)

Grace Nostbakken
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Grace is partly right. My dictionary says this of zoology:

1660s, from Mod.L. zoologia, from Gk. zoion "animal"

But going back further it says that 'zoion' means a 'living being' from a PIE root meaning 'to live, life'. Thus, botany is part of biology, but not of zoology. … It is also of interest that Lamarck, the first to use the word 'biology', was primarily a zoologist, and a precursor of Darwin as an evolutionary theorist.

Roger Cooper, Oxon
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For once, I knew the answer immediately. It was such a sudden knowing that I questioned myself! Good job! I love this game.

Aubrey H, Lakewood, WA
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Too cerebral? Isn't that the whole point? I look forward to my moot e-mails BECAUSE they challenge my brain. If Moot wasn't cerebral, it wouldn't be Moot. As for the questions being "too serious," I'd be willing to bet 99% percent of your readers are on your distribution list because Moot is fun! Interesting to note we are all now mooting the essential meaning of Moot.

Vesper, Los Angeles
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BIOLOGY is the science that studies the phenomenon of organic life. ZOOLOGY is the total of all biological sciences having as a scope the study of all animals.

Nicholaos Lekatsas-Lucas, Patras Greece
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Originally, it denoted a just-fired bullet.
Eventually, it came to denote a flashy male dresser.
Nowadays it labels any flashily successful person.
What two-syllable word is it?



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Answer: hotshot


A hotshot is a flashy, successful person. Originally, the word denoted a bullet that was hot from firing.


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English Journalists in india -- they are quite a few in number, and growing by the minute -- use "hotshots" to mean top brass. "The compaany hotshots are here in strength." means a number of top officers of the company are present.

tee chacko at rediffmail
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I have a pal who drinks peppermint schnapps with tobasco. He calls the drink a "Hot Shot". (not good for me!).

Bill Lieske - Phoenix, AZ
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What must come after the penultimate?



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Answer: the ultimate


In Latin the word ultimus denotes "that which is last or final." Hence, that which is next to last is the penultimate, and that which is last is the ultimate. In addition, that which precedes the penultimate is the antepenultimate.


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-pen- is from the Latin paene, almost.

Helena Fontaine
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… According to Mr. Addams, what comes after the ultimate is coffee and dessert at the restaurant at the end of the universe! Ultimate, penultimate...let's call the whole thing off!

Slick Rick, Nassau
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The Latin roots of the words Adult (at ultimate), Adultery (with 'otro' other), and Adulterate are also interesting.

Peter Stearns, California
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And that which precedes antepenultimate is pre-antepenultimate.

Harold Reiss
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The 'pen' in penultimate is the same as the one in peninusula. A peninsula is an 'almost-insula,' just as the penultimate is 'almost-ultimate.'

Chrysti Smith, Bozeman MT
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What about postpenultimate?

Jaci, Eagle, Colorado

That would be the same as the ultimate, I believe.
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Peter Stearns: 'At ultimate/final with other' is fanciful Latin etymology for 'adulterate', not least because 'otro' is Spanish. However it be, adultery would lead to ad ultimum finem of marriage.

Elk, Kolkata
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My ultimate mate,a well-educated professional with a Masters Degree in History always used penultimate when what she really meant was ultimate. It was one time I kept my mouth shut - the postpenultimate in self-control.

Jan Polatschek
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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,
how do you spell the name of the letter H?



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Answer: aitch


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word aitch as the "name of the letter H," hence the terms aitch-dropping and aitchless.

The OED's first citation for the term is from 1887: "Avowing himself ‘An Aitch Dropper’."
(H. Baumann, Londinismen p. xvi)


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I've always considered my Quebecois wife to be an aitchless beauty. (Do I have to explain that one to the non-Canucks out there?)

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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In Early Modern English "h" at the beginning of word was most always silent, so "an" was used before many words beginning with "h," e.g. "an house" would be pronounced "a nouse." Without this nugget of information, you can read some ludicrous things, suÍch as in the King James Bible "Jesus was afterwards an hungred" but you read "a-hungered" you have a correct and time-honored idiom.

Nancy Charlton, Beaverton OR
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Got it right, thanks to My Fair lady.

Deb Gibson, Vancouver
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Cool. I'd never seen the actual spelling for H, yet that's what I've used in the past. (Believe it or not, the opportunity has come up!)

ALC, West Michigan
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Better not tell the Aussies it isn't haitch ;)

Brian, Irvine CA
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Not all "ah-sies" say aitches as haitches.

Greg, Australia
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By the way, if you don't mind my asking, where did the name "MooT" come from?

John Sanford

When I was developing the game, I used to test the questions out at a university pub in the Vancouver area. One of the regular players who always got the yes/no questions wrong — and who didn't like my answers — would inevitably yell "that's MooT!" To honour his frustration, I named the game MooT.
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When it first entered English, it denoted the
"adding of a letter or syllable to the beginning of a word."
Nowadays, it denotes
"the adding of an artificial body part."
What word is it?



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Answer: prosthesis


When it entered English, the word prosthesis — which literally means "addition" in Greek — labelled the adding of a letter or syllable to the beginning of a word.

Eventually, it came to denote both the "the adding of an artificial body part" and the artificial body part itself.

Its first OED citation in its rhetorical sense is from 1553, whereas the first citation in its medical sense is from 1706 ("In Surgery Prosthesis is taken for that which fills up what is wanting").


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I thought "Prosthetics" Even though I'm a post-graduate in English, I would never have guessed prosthesis could mean "affix or suffix" :)

Maryann Gandikota, Secunderabad, India
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I used to refer to my second attempt at a Ph.D. thesis as my prosthesis. (It didn't take, either.)

Steve White, Potsdam
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In Modern Greek it still means "addition", and in French it only means a replacement limb or bone. How wonderful is the evolution of language !

Nananon Gardin, Paris
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Finally...! (Well, I said 'prosthetic', and I see the difference, but I'm going to overlook that...)

Jim, Dublin
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Good one! I deduced prosthesis from your clue, but NEVER would have guessed its original meaning.

Vesper Cleary, Los Angeles
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Having had both hips and both knees replaced, detectors at the airport go beserk. But are they prostheses or implants or both?

Mabel Stone, New Hampshire
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A good riddle: I thought "affix" might be the answer.

RJ Schneiderschne, Agassiz, BC
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Is Egypt part of the Maghreb?



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Answer: no


The word Maghreb — which in Arabic literally means "place of sunset" (i.e., the West) — denotes "North Africa west of Egypt" in both in Arabic and English. In modern nationalistic terms, it refers collectively to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and the Western Sahara.





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You reminded me of an art/clothing exhibit I saw a few years ago at the Jewish Museum in New York - "Facing West." The exhibit was about the Jews in Central Asia who must face west to pray towards Jerusalem. In Europe and The Americas, of course, Jews face east.

Jan Polatschek, Bangkok
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I thought the sun set over the Pacific, but maybe I'm being geocentric living in Vancouver.

Anonymous Vancouverite

It does set over the Pacific, but it also sets over the Atlantic — and if you're an Arab, the Maghreb is to the West.
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I had to look up the name to find out. And, yes, the sun always sets to the west of the people who name a place.

Dana Bellwether/Monte Rio, CA

You've probably stumbled upon one of the iron laws of toponomastics.
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What substance's name derives from
a Greek word meaning "belonging to Ammon"?



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Answer: ammonia


The word ammonia was coined by Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman. He gave it that name because he derived the gas from sal ammoniac, salt that contains ammonium chloride. These particular salt deposits were found near the temple of Jupiter Ammon in Libya, thus the name ultimately derives from the Greek ammoniakon , belonging to Ammon.


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First I thought of ammonium, but I meant ammonium chloride which is also correct, being that it is sal ammoniac (salt of Ammon)!

G. Emil Perrine, Grand Rapids, MI
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Are the questions getting easier or am I getting better?

Sheila, London (ON)

Maybe the questions are getting better.
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Only the second one I got right! All the brain cells have not yet died!

Amy- San Jacinto, California
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I'd had never heard of Ammon. But the question was so phrased that any person would reflexively guess Ammonia.I did! Thank you.

BINJALIL, India
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Nice to know. I had taken the direction of the Ammonites of biblical history. Still, knowing the deposits were from Libya would not have helped.

Randy Chapman, Ohio
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The word sal is at the root of another very common English word, deriving from the Roman practice of giving salt as wages to soldiers. Easy to guess, what!

Thomas Chacko, Yemen
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Were sweaters originally called sweaters
because they were designed to make you sweat?



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Answer: yes


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word sweater originally denoted "clothing worn to produce sweating and reduce weight." It ultimately derives from the Old English word swætan, perspire or work hard.

The OED's first citation (from the book "Unexplained Baluchistan") is from 1882: "Barja is resplendent in my rowing ‘sweater’, covered by a scarlet blanket, worn as a coat."

Note: If you're interested, you can now get intermittent MooT questions via Twitter. These won't be the same ones sent out to the mailing list. To check it out, go to http://twitter.com/mootgame


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Then, by association, a sneaker is designed to make you sneak?

Slick Rick

and a jumper is designed to make you …. Sounds like we have fertile punning ground here.
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Who knew concern with weight goes back more than a century? No wonder one-quarter of female college students have eating disorders. In re. sneakers: I've always assumed they're called that because they make it POSSIBLE to sneak.

Dana--Lakeport, CA
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And the UK version of the garment is a jersey, because they were made by knitters on the Isle of Jersey.

Karen L. Lew, Lynnwood, Washington
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This is so enlightening!!! I'm a foreign English speaker and this is something I had always asked myself!!

Nayelli Castro-Ramirez, Ottawa
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And pants make one pant.

billy on granville island

It leads to a weird mathematics: Does a pair of pants make one pant?
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In the Middle Ages, pants were often unconnected leggings, so that one required two. (The easier to pee, etc., my dear.)

Susanna Lundgren - Portland, Oregon
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What is more interesting is that SWEATER was borrowed into Russian and is pronounced SWITER so not many Russians actually know where this word is from... No sweet without some sweat!

Elena, Moscow, Russia
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I always thought sweaters were the linguistic equivalent of an upscale cousin (and thus, pone to shy away from mentioning bodily functions) to the plain old sweatshirt - which, arguably, was something you sweated IN.

Tom Portante San Francisco CA
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Re: Pants make you pant, sneakers make you sneak, jumpers make you... Gee whiz,you guys have answered my question: When I used to hear the old adage "Clothes make the man" I would always say "...do what?" On a related note, I guess it'd be fair to assume all the email writers here are wearing loafers, huh?

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver
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I would think that a rower would wear a sweater to keep his muscles warm while out on the nippy waters' as well as, to wick his sweat away from him. Wool and other natural fibres breathe, letting your body feel more comfortable in harsh environments. The synthetics of today would be ideal for losing weight since you'd basically be in a sweat box.

Shel, Vancouver
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The word balletomane is to ballet
as what two words are to cinema?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: cinephile and cineaste


Cinema enthusiasts are called either cinephiles or cineastes. Ballet enthusiasts are called balletomanes.

The latter word was coined by combining the Italian ballet, little dance, with the Greek mania, madness.


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My first thought was: cineaste. And I see that that word has more than twice as many citations in Google as cinephile.

Chuck Davis, Surrey

You're right, Chuck. It turns out that the question actually has two answers, so I'm going to change it to reflect that. Now it says: "… as what two words are to cinema."
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I figured out "movie nut." I like mine better.

Joe Horton, Birmingham, AL
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I get the origin of cinephile, but not of cineaste. Can you help?

Alison, Ottawa (right now)


It's a French loanword that was coined in imitation of the word "enthousiaste." Its first OED citation is from 1926 (Sat. Rev. 14 Aug. 42/3) "Many efforts are being made to intensify the exchanges between littérateurs and cinéastes."
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Yeah, I got one right! So Far I'm averaging about 2 a year.

Dorothea, Abbotsford

I guess I'll have to make them harder.
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Strange coincidence: this morning, before even booting up my computer, I was wondering about the male equivalent of ballerina. Unfortunately, this moot question didn't shed any light on my mental question.

Karen L. Lew, Lynnwood, Washington

In Italian the male equivalent is ballerino, and someone who is obsessed with male ballet dancers is a ballerinomame, and someone who has been permanently harmed by a male ballet dancer has been ballerinomaimed.
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I too was looking for a two-word equivalent, and could only think of movie buff, which is often heard in the UK but maybe not in the USA? For me, "cineaste" needs its final "e" to remind readers of its French origins.

Tom Empson, Cambridge UK

According to the COD, either spelling is correct. However, I agree with you that "cineaste" looks better.
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In Russia such people are called also "cinemane". It was the very easy of your questions for me. Thank you for your messages.

Tatiana, Russia, Kaliningrad

Я рад помочь
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As a speaker of Modern Greek, I had guessed it to be Cinematophile. I would assume cinephile is a truncated modernisation of that. As for the French root of the Aste suffix, I beg to differ. I believe it is of Greek derivation. An analogous example would be Egoiste for an Egotist, Pedareste for a pedophile etc Any thoughts?

Constantine, Sydney Australia
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[Again: In response to the question: How did you hear about MooT] I am a sign language interpreter, and I study weekly with a language coach. We have a group of 5 women in our class. I had never heard of the game and one night our language coach mentioned that she would love to have MooT, but wasn’t willing to spend the money for it. I’m not sure where she learned about MooT, to be honest with you. Our group all pitched in toward the game as a gift for her. I look forward to playing!

Jennifer Forquer, Rochester
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It once denoted a "sequence of six cards,"
but now it labels a type of discrimination.
What word is it?



How to order a MooT game


Answer: sexism


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word sexism originally denoted a sequence of six cards. Its first citation in this sense is from 1688.

The OED's first citation for the term in its modern sense — gender discrimination — is from 1968 (from C. Bird in Vital Speeches: "Sexism is judging people by their sex where sex doesn't matter").


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This doesn't explain the connection between six cards and discrimination. On a technical point, words have "gender"; people have "sex". There is really no need to speak of "gender discrimination" or "transgendered" people. The terms "sex discrimination" and "transsexuals" work just fine.

Greg Felton, New Westminster


According to the COD, the terms are synonymous in this sense; their example is "gender issues."
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[RE: above] I have no doubt that that's what the COD says, but I still consider "gender" to be a pleonasm that should be attacked. Strong Germanic words like the sibilant "sex" are being crowded out by generic Franco-Latin affricates like "gender" just because they sound softer. Gender also has become the cornerstone of feminist political argot, and so has already degenerated into a buzzword. That's my rant.

Greg Felton, New Westminster
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I see what Greg is driving at, but language is changing all the time, and he should accept the current non-grammatical sense of gender, which was considered 'colloquial' twenty years ago. It is gaining ground over 'sex', either as a euphemism or to avoid ambiguity with the other sense of the word. Even Greg's statement that "people have 'sex'" is ambiguous!

As regards 'sex' being a 'strong Germanic word', it entered Middle English from the Old French sexe, and that in turn derives from the Latin 'sexus'! The German for 'sex' is 'Geschlecht'. Now there's a strong Germanic word for you!

Roger, Oxon
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In modern usage, especially in medical terminology, gender is how one identifies oneself, and sex is something one does (or doesn't) do. And sexual orientation identifies what one might like to do, whether one does or not. An example might be a man (gender:male) who identifies himself as straight (orientation: heterosexual) but sometimes has sex with other men (activity: MSM).

Johanna Meyer-Mitchell, MD, Concord, CA, USA
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Two in a row! You ARE making this easier, aren't you?!

Janice, MD

They're only easy if you know the answer.
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Maybe it's just the phrasing of the question, maybe it's me, but this seems like a bait-and-switch. The implication is that the word, through some circuitous path of descent, has transformed from one meaning to the other, when in fact the origins of the sense of "sex" related to the number and that of the gender (or parts, or act, or whatever) are completely independent.

Cameron Gramarye, Chattanooga, TN, USA
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I'm with Cameron of Chattanooga on this one - the origins of the two meanings are separate; one did not morph into the other. As for "sexism" in 1688, that's the first time I've encountered the suffix -ism NOT referring to a philosophy or political stance.

Susanna Lundgren, Portland Oregon

After thinking about this for awhile, I think that I now agree with you. The two words are homonyms and can't really be referred to as the same word. However, I still think that Cameron's calling the question a "bait and switch" is a bit harsh.
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"... that's the first time I've encountered the suffix -ism NOT referring to a philosophy or political stance" -- ?

What about sadism, autism, truism, onanism, baptism, archaism, exorcism, solecism, botulism, embolism, alpinism, feminism, aphorism, aneurism, nepotism, euphuism, criticism, witticism, neologism, syllogism, catechism, euphemism, mechanism, mesmerism, solipsism, hypnotism, magnetism, metabolism, antagonism, plagiarism, narcissism, rheumatism, recidivism, pointillism, anachronism, astigmatism, somnambulism, colloquialism? --- Some of these may be philosophies, but if so, are very odd ones.

Tom Priestly
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In linguistics, "gender" refers to the grammatical consequence of sex differences, which are biological. Thus, languages that do not show changes in verb morphology according to sex differences are said not to have "grammaticalized gender".

Languages that have nouns categorized as feminine, masculine, and neuter, and that show agreement of verbs, adjectives, and articles with the gender of the noun (e.g. German) operate with grammatical gender,i.e., the grammar is determined arbitrarily by the grammar itself, and not by the biology of the object concerned. Gender is a human construct while sex is a natural given.

Anonymous Language Buff
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In defense of [The] Mootguy: he never claims that one evolved from the other or that the words are even related. The "sequence of six cards" was the working definition at the time, and we don't really use that anymore; sexism as a type of discrimination is a relatively modern term, so I'd have to say the question (and answer) is valid.

Johanna raises a good point, and I'd like to go into it, too. Sex is biological; gender is cultural. Transsexuals and transgenders express their cross-identifications in different ways. Male and female are biological terms. Man and Woman are now often considered cultural terms. An individual whose genotype and phenotype indicate female gender may identify as a man. This person's sex is female but gender is masculine/man (people often say "male" instead, so I suppose that's hunky-dory now). On that note, can anyone tell me the story behind hunky-dory?

Suzanna Scott, Chicago
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