World Wide Words -- 09 Oct 99

Michael Quinion words at QUINION.COM
Sat Oct 9 03:43:24 EDT 1999

WORLD WIDE WORDS         ISSUE 161         Saturday 9 October 1999
Sent every Saturday to 6,000+ subscribers in at least 93 countries
Editor: Michael Quinion                     Thornbury, Bristol, UK
Web: <>   E-mail: <words at>

1. Turns of Phrase: Dogme 95.
2. In Brief: E-envoy, Glitazone, Pagejacking.
3. Weird Words: Paregoric.
4. Affixia: thanato-.
5. Q & A: Watershed, Sling one's hook.
6. Beyond Words.
7. Administration: How to unsubscribe, Copyright.

1. Turns of Phrase: Dogme 95
This is a gently mischievous manifesto agreed in October 1995 by a
founding group of four Danish film directors, among them Lars von
Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. They said it was a "rescue operation
to counter certain tendencies in film today" - they aimed to break
away from what they saw as the stifling conventions of film making
that created barriers between actor and audience. They agreed to
create films according to ten self-denying precepts. Among others,
these lay down that films must be shot entirely on location with
no outside props; the camera must be hand-held; there must be no
artificial lighting and all sound must be recorded on location;
action must take place in the here and now and everything seen on
screen must actually take place (so ruling out, for example,
scenes of murder). 'Dogme' is still mainly a term of European art-
house cinema, but it's becoming known through feature films made
under these rules, such as Lars von Trier's _Idiots_ and Thomas
Vinterberg's _Festen_ (The Celebration), which won the Special
Jury Prize at Cannes in 1998. A third feature film, 'Mifune', has
just been released. The concept has been gently derided by many
critics, some of whom sound puzzled why anybody would shackle
themselves with such rules. Jonathan Romney in the _Guardian_ said
it was "playful puritanism", and it has also been called "tongue-
in-cheek provocation". The name is the French word for dogma, and
is pronounced the same way.

Dogme helped the film stay as close to reality as possible.
Because of this style, there were no props or fake blood, so when
it came to physical fights, everyone had to take one for the team.
                                        [_Toronto Sun_, Feb. 1999]

Rules are there to be broken and for this third outing under the
Dogme 95 banner, director Kragh-Jacobsen has embraced the sacred
vow of cinematic chastity with anything but monastic rigour.
                                      [_Empire Online_, Oct. 1999]

2. In Brief
E-ENVOY  This is the job title now officially given to a British
civil servant, Alex Allan, who will help promote e-commerce in the
UK through "galvanising business", pushing forward adoption of the
Internet, negotiating regulatory issues and ensuring adoption of
government policy. He will be reporting to the 'e-minister'.

GLITAZONE  It sounds like a trendy place to be seen in, but it's
really a class of drugs designed to raise the body's sensitivity
to insulin and help fight adult-onset diabetes. The third drug of
this type - brand-name Actos and generic name pioglitazone - was
approved by the FDA in July, following Avandia (rosiglitazone) in
May and the slightly older Rezulin (troglitazone).

PAGEJACKING  The newest form of online piracy, in which fraudsters
copy real Web pages to their own sites. Search engines then index
the fake pages as though they were the real ones. So seekers after
information using these search engines end up on the pages of the
fraudsters instead of the real sites they're looking for.

3. Weird Words: Paregoric
A medicine; figuratively, something that soothes.

The origin of this odd word is the ancient Greek 'paregorikos' for
soothing or encouraging words (which comes from 'paregorein', to
speak soothingly to). This derives from 'para', beside, and
'agora', literally the market place, but also a place of assembly
(the related 'agoreuein' meant to speak in public). The word moved
into late Latin in the sense of something soothing or consoling;
at one time it was used for any medicine that had that effect.
Later it was applied specifically to a tincture (a solution in
alcohol) of opium flavoured with camphor, aniseed and benzoic
acid. It was a flavoured - and usually less potent - form of
'laudanum', a simple tincture of opium. 'Paregoric' was used as a
medicine to treat diarrhoea and coughing, especially in children.
At least one of my British dictionaries marks it as historical
only, and the word seems no longer to be familiar to our
pharmacists (they call it camphorated opium tincture instead); but
it is, for example, still in the US pharmacopoeia under that name.

4. Affixia: thanato-
This combining form derives from the Greek 'thanatos' for death.
It's mostly found in medical terms, but the only one with much
circulation is 'thanatology', the scientific study of the causes
and phenomena of death, including the study of the needs of the
terminally ill and their families (someone who does this is, of
course, a 'thanatologist'). A few other words exist, though hardly
with much currency, such as 'thanatophilia', an undue fascination
with death, which is balanced by 'thanatophobia', a morbid fear of
death. 'Thanatopsis' is the contemplation of death and 'thanatoid'
is a very rare adjective that refers to someone who is apparently,
but not actually, dead.

5. Q&A
[Send queries to <qa at>. Messages will be acknowledged,
but I can't guarantee to reply, as time is limited. If I can do
so, a response will appear both here and on the WWW Web site.]


Q. What is the origin and definition of the word 'watershed'?
[Megan Dannenfeldt]

A. What it means depends on where you're standing, since North
Americans mean something different by it than do people from other
parts of the English-speaking world.

It first turns up in English near the beginning of the nineteenth
century. It was then purely a scientific term for an imaginary
line that separates two river systems. Think of it as the ridge of
a roof: which river system rainwater flows into is determined by
the side of the line the rain is deposited on. This is the same
idea as the German 'Wasserscheide' from which English borrowed the
word (what linguists call a calque or loan translation).

In English, the noun 'shed' is the English equivalent of the
German 'scheide', both of which have come down to us from the same
Old German root. The English noun derives from the verb 'to shed'.
It's an old word for a division, split or separation - a shed
could be a hair parting, for example, and could also be used for a
ridge of land separating two areas of lower country, a divide.
(These days a 'shed' is usually a simple building for shelter or
storage; this is an altered form of 'shade', and so has no link to
this other sense of the word.)

In North America, the word 'watershed' often means not the
dividing line, but the river catchment areas on either side of the
ridge, the whole land area that drains into a particular river.
How the sense shifted isn't clear. It came into use only around
the 1870s, and may have been a misunderstanding.

The difference in sense explains why Americans don't use the
figurative sense of the word as much as the rest of us do. That
refers to an important point of division or transition, as in this
sentence from the _Daily Telegraph_ in June 1999: "The Balkans
conflict is at a watershed between a diplomatic settlement and the
prospect of a ground war". This figurative usage only makes sense
if you use 'watershed' in its original meaning of a dividing line.


Q. Would you mind explaining 'to sling one's hook'? [Jo Ashburn,

A. This idiom is a decidedly informal British one, not much known
in the USA. Most dictionaries record it from the latter part of
the nineteenth century, and note that it could occur also in the
form 'to take one's hook'. Both meant to leave, or go away, though
it was often used as an urgent and impolite injunction to move on,
as in this example from the _Daily News_ of 1897: "If you don't
sling yer hook this minute, here goes a pewter pot at yer head".

Now to the difficult bit - where it came from. There are at least
two theories. One equates 'hook' with a ship's anchor, so that to
'sling one's hook' was to raise the anchor and sail away. The
other says the hook is one on which a miner would hang his day
clothes. When he finished his shift down the pit, he would change,
collect his possessions from his hook, and leave. The second of
these sounds much less convincing than the first, but the
essential early evidence isn't there to decide between them.

There's an earlier expression, 'to sling one's daniel', which had
exactly the same meaning. What a 'daniel' was nobody can say,
except to suggest that it was some form of pack, or perhaps a word
from dialect whose meaning is now lost.

We may be confused unnecessarily by 'sling' here, as it was not
uncommon for it to be a replacement for 'swing'. The phrase 'to
swing one's hook' makes sense, since 'hook' was the common short
name for a billhook or heavy curved pruning knife, as well as
other implements. But that raises its own problems, since how that
could take on the meaning of going away is less than clear.

On the other hand, that usage of 'hook' could provide an
explanation for 'to take one's hook', since it could refer to an
itinerant worker moving on to his next job. It's also possible
that 'sling your hook' meant to sling it over your shoulder in
preparation for setting out to your next job.

6. Beyond Words
DEPARTMENT OF NEAT TRICKS  From last weekend's _Independent on
Sunday_: "The Prime Minister's biography is expected to reveal
that Tom Major-Ball had a number of liaisons before he was born".

NOT JUST BUDGETS ARE SHRINKING  A recent job advertisement in the
_New Scientist_ magazine asked for a "millimetre scientist".

7. Administration
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