2010 MooT mailing list questions


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What two-word cliché transforms feathers into anger?



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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.

Can´t get used to losing you (Andy Williams)




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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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Awww. That's so charming. I saw Andy Williams, thought "cheesy", clicked anyway. Thank you. Now I remember why he had such a long-running popular show back in the Stone Age of my childhood.

Double happiness because "raised hackles" (and ruffled feathers--depends if you're talking about Dad or Mom) are so common in my family (along with fraught situations and summers hotter than Dutch love), that I got to guess the answer and enjoy the music. I love this site and its unpredictable injection of joy in my life. Many, many thanks!

Daphne Sams, Richmond BC
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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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)
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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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Etymology -- corpus analysis

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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.



Tiny Dancer Live (Elton John at Madison Square)




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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. (Mootguy)
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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"

(Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)

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. (Mootguy)
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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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I've always loved Elton, his music, his heart and his voice that come from another place, another space. But I'd forgotten how beautiful his face was when he was so young. Thank you for giving me chance to hear and see him again. Some day, before I shuffle off this earthly coil, maybe I'll get a chance to see him in concert.

diane brooks, hamilton
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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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Etymology -- Amerika

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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."



Amerikan Woman (The Guess Who)




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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" (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)

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. (Mootguy)
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Etymology -- dairy product

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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.

The Bleeding Heart Show (The New Pornographers)




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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? (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)
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Etymology -- thou and ye (corrected answer replacing "thou and thee")

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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


Tired Of Being Alone (Al Green)




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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. (Mootguy)
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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 (Mootguy)
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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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Etymology -- the syllable

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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.



Sunny Goodge Street (Tom Northcott + Vancouver in 1967)




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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! Anyway, the song is pretty good. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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*Slaps forehead* of course!

Ahalya, India
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Whoaaa! No comment on the question, but the music is sure a blast from our CanCon [Canadian content] past! I saw Tom Northcott live circa 1973 at Simon Fraser University and remember many of his songs vividly. They were very studio-y, orchestral-type productions.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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Great selection! I had only heard the Joan Baez version, and I guess it never bothered me that I couldn't understand the lyrics. Today since I was already at the keyboard I decided to look them up. Now I understand why I could never understand them! Thanks for the introduction to Tom Northcott, and visual reminders of one of my favorite cities,

Gary Garnier, Los Gatos CA
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Great clip, although I did spot one anachronism: the Greenpeace logo that appears toward the end (the organization did not adopt that name until 1972). In addition to this Donovan cover, Tom Northcott also had minor hits with Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" and Nilsson's "Rainmaker." He was no hippie, though; he ran for office (unsuccessfully) in hard-scrabble East Vancouver on behalf of the right-wing Social Credit party. In 1969 he bought a salmon troller and spent a decade as a commercial fisherman. In 1980 he got a law degree from UBC before returning to music production.

Shane McCune, Comox, B.C.
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Etymology -- eponym

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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.



Epistrophy (Thelonious Monk)




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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Thanks for the Monk clip -- always a delight. I've also long been intrigued by that title, and how appropriate it is to the repetitive phrasing of the song. So I was a bit disappointed when I learned that the song (which was actually written by Kenny Clarke, though with Monk's collaboration and eventual signature elaboration) was originally called not "Epistrophy" but "Fly Right".

I don't know how it got renamed, but given that it was the theme song of Monk's band when they were playing at Minton's Playhouse, in Harlem, and given that famous club's proximity to Columbia University, I enjoy imagining some jazz-loving Columbia professor of Literature or Classics finding his way over to Minton's and, after hearing the song a few times (Monk's band played it both to start and to finish their sets), finally summoning the courage to approach Thelonious.

In my mind's ear, the professor is covering his embarrassment by reverting to his lecture-room style. Wanting to deliver a compliment without coming across as a starry-eyed fan, he mentions that song and starts holding forth on the rhetorical trope of epistrophe. Secretly flattered despite himself, and relishing the guy's pedantic tone, Monk picks up on the term and the song gets re-titled. Who knows what really happened... but that's the fantasy I like to play with. Thanks for bringing it back to mind.

David Kosofsky, New Orleans
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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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Monk lives! Finally a musical tag-along that I like…but I do like all the MooT questions, music or no music.

Syd, Newbury VT
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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.

And then there is Monk. Monk is such a powerful contributor and a pleasure to listen to. A Giant of Jazz, no doubt. The group he's playing with are legendary. This is not just great music but it is important in the small and the larger sense of the forward movement of art.

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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Monk is so different he deserves his own eponymous adjective. I'm not exactly sure how to define a thelonious musician, but he would be quirky, idiosyncratic and leave lots of space in his music.

Jack Ognistoff, Vancouver, B.C.
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- lucubration

MooT Question Icon
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.



Voices Carry (Aimee Mann)




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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). (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- lesbian_vs_dyke

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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.



Puttin' On the Ritz (Fred Astaire)




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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? (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)
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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." (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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." (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- the article

MooT Question Icon
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.



What a fool believes (The Doobie Brothers)





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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. (Mootguy)
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- nepotism

MooT Question Icon
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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How delightful! I just love this song, and the images here are perfect!

Madeline, Milwaukee
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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. (Mootguy)
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Awesome! I can't wait to tell my cronies. Perfect song choice too. It has happiness in it.

Gary P., Snowy Michigan
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WOW! That was beautiful! Thanks! I never was able to decipher all the lyrics before. It is a lovely, romantic song. ...pssst....(you forgot the "S" in instrumentals)

Eileen, Sequim, WA.

Actually, I didn't make the video. I just found it on YouTube. (Mootguy)
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A great way to learn the lyrics of this song. Not being a native speaker it is always quite difficult for me to understand the exact words. By the way, it's instrumental and not intrumental!

Jos Bode, Holland

All Stone's songs should have subtitles; even people who speak English as a first language have trouble understanding Jagger's phrasing. (Mootguy)
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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! Loved the song, too.

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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- Monegasque

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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.



Strange Magic (ELO)




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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" . (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- Buffalo

MooT Question Icon
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.



It's cool to love your family (Feist)




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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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I was thinking Bellevue,WA!

Aubrey H, Lakewood, WA

And Bellevue Wings taste just as good. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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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Nice music! Sent it to my teenage son. He said he was going to post it on his facebook page. Now I am happy! Thanks for sharing.

Debbie Carver
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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? (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- biology

MooT Question Icon
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.



Don't ever change (The Beatles)

Note: It has recently come to my attention that some people think that the weekly MooT question has become too serious and cerebral. Whether that's true or not, I've decided to lighten the tone a bit by adding music. The songs chosen will be ones that I like and will have absolutely no relationship to the question.



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Wow, got it right! As for the music ...why not?! Happy New Year to you!

Alison, La Nucia, Spain
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Don't know much biology...but I do Know that I love Moot.

arthur R., Ventnor, NJ
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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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It's impossible to improve on the Moot question. Add what bells and whistles you wish, but keep the basic service, please.

Dan Miller, Chicago

The basic service will be retained. The music's for me. I've always wanted to be a DJ. (Mootguy)
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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

The question is for the mind. The music is for the body. (Mootguy)
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Love the addition of some music!

Josie, Sydney
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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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i KNEW THE WORD, BUT NOT THE MUSIC BUT I REALLY ENJOYED IT. THANKS

fergie, long beach ca
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Great idea -- how could it miss when you choose the Beatles?

Susan, Columbus, Ohio
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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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That was, for once, as already commented upon, an easy question. I love Moot and I loved the addition of the music. It will be interesting to see what you like!

Janet Davis, Milledgeville
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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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Never too cerebral. For biologic entities, all that is most fun and pleasurable resides first in the cerebrum. And thanks for the addition of music; it's even better to have several systems firing together.

Susanna M. Lundgren, Portland Oregon
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- hotshot

MooT Question Icon
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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- the ultimate

MooT Question Icon
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. (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- aitch

MooT Question Icon
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. (Mootguy)
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- prosthesis

MooT Question Icon
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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- Is Egypt part of the Maghreb?

MooT Question Icon
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.




RESPONSE?


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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- ammonia

MooT Question Icon
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. (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- sweaters

MooT Question Icon
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. (Mootguy)
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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? (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- cinephile and cineaste

MooT Question Icon
The word balletomane is to ballet
as what two words are to cinema?



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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." (Mootguy)
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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."
(Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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 (Mootguy)
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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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.
Etymology -- sexism

MooT Question Icon
It once denoted a "sequence of six cards,"
but now it labels a type of discrimination.
What word is it?



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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."
(Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
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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. (Mootguy)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"... 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
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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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Copyright 1998-2012 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.