Monday, February 12, 2018

February


Diane from Charlevoix asked if anyone still pronounces the first r in February. My observation is, not many people do.

People tend to take the easy way out when pronouncing words like February, which are mildly difficult to say. The Oxford English Dictionary remarks that the proximity of two r’s is one cause of the problem. This also occurs with the word library, but more people shudder when hearing liberry than when hearing Febuary. The OED also thinks that the proximate month January plays a role in making the missing r seem normal.

Physically, some gymnastics are involved when pronouncing February. Both lips are compressed when pronouncing the letter b. Then you have to pull your tongue back quickly and curl its tip upwards toward the tooth line to form the letter r. I find that it helps to ignore proper syllabication (FEB-RU-AR-Y) by thinking FEH-BREW-ARY. After all, we have no trouble asking for a brew.

The name of the month came from a Roman rite of purification. It usually involved flowing water, not beer.


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Thursday, February 01, 2018

Hoodwinked


Pete from Northport, Michigan, asked about the word hoodwink. It means to trick or deceive, and it has two components.

Hood is the obvious segment. A hood is a covering for the head, and it tracks back to 8th century Germanic words that meant a hat. Currently, we reserve the word wink to mean a quick flicker of the eyelid, but in the time of King Alfred and for a few centuries thereafter, it meant to close one’s eyes completely in preparation for sleep.

So, once upon a time, to hoodwink was to throw a hood over a person’s head to block his or her vision. In fact, before it was used on people – as in execution by hanging – it was used on falcons. A hood over the bird’s head was a device to calm the creature. Somewhere around the late 16th century or early 17th century, it took on its figurative meaning.

During the same program, Herb Lemcool called from his winter Florida home to tell us about hoodwink glasses. He associates them with the Odd Fellows Club, but a google search keeps turning up references to the Masons. The following Masonic website offers illustrations and an explanation of hoodwinking glasses once used in the initiation rituals as a symbol of darkness and ignorance:


Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






Monday, January 22, 2018

Flop


Tom from Maple City asked about the word flop. He was particularly interested in its multiple meanings.

Let’s start a little sideways. Flop is onomatopoeia, meaning that the word was formed to imitate a sound. In this case, it attempts to imitate something hitting the ground in a restrained way. It joins words like thud (a harder collision), chink and plink (metallic sounds), kerplunk, splash, or plop (an object falling into water), and splat (a soft or largely liquid object hitting the ground, such as a raw egg).

Back to the word flop. It has gone through many mutations. In the 17th century, it meant to sway loosely. By 1823, it meant to throw down; you might flop onto a couch. By 1827, it expanded to mean to move clumsily and then collide with a thud. By the end of the 19th century, it took on a metaphorical meaning – to make a sudden change in attitude or behavior; flip-flop developed as a rhyming reduplication. At the end of that century, it had come to mean to fail, like a theatrical flop.

In gaming, it referred to the first 3 cards dealt face up to be used as community cards in certain types of poker. In sports such as basketball, it means to exaggerate a push or shove in order to draw a foul.

Finally, a flop house is a cheap place to stay with few amenities except a bed to throw yourself onto, and flop sweat is a nervous sweat caused by fear of failure—fear of flopping. And if you are wearing flip flops, your loose-fitting sandals will probably make a slapping sound as you walk.

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.





Monday, January 08, 2018

Bob


A recurrent theme that both amuses and confuses listeners to Words to the Wise is the existence of multiple meanings for words. Often, words spelled precisely the same in our day have totally different etymologies, accounting for some wildly diverse definitions attached to what appears to be the same word.

Mike from Traverse City, Michigan, contributed another one last week when he commented on the word bob. That three-letter combination tracks back to many differerent sources and languages: Irish, Scottish, Old French, Middle English, an abbreviation for Robert, and onomatopoeia representing the sound of a blow or a repetitive action. Let’s just luxuriate in the following multiple meanings.

·      a cluster of flowers
·      the weight at the end of a pendulum or plumb line
·      a short  sleigh-runner
·      earrings
·      a knot of hair at the back of the head
·      a horse’s tail docked short
·      a woman’s hair style—short and even all around
·      the weight on the tail of a kite
·      lob worms connected together like a small mop to catch eels
·      a lump of clay used by potters
·      the larva of a beetle
·      the refrain of a song
·      a trick or deception
·      a blow with the fist
·      a sharp rebuke
·      a sudden jerking up and down
·      a curtsy
·      a bell-ringing style
·      an apparatus for polishing metal surfaces
·      a shilling
·      a euphemistic substitute for the word God
·      to deceive or mock
·      to strike with the fist
·      to move up and down buoyantly in water
·      to snatch with the mouth at floating apples
·      to move evasively
·      to fish for eels
·      to cut short a horse’s tail
·      to cut a woman’s hair short and even all around
·      to polish metal with a bob
·      to ride on a sleigh

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about two year’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.






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