World Wide Words -- 12 Nov 05

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Nov 11 14:03:02 EST 2005

WORLD WIDE WORDS        ISSUE 467         Saturday 12 November 2005
Sent each Saturday to at least 25,000 subscribers by e-mail and RSS
Editor: Michael Quinion, Thornbury, Bristol, UK      ISSN 1470-1448       US advisory editor: Julane Marx

1. Feedback, notes and comments.
2. Turns of Phrase: Dark tourism.
3. Weird Words: Esculent.
4. Noted this week.
5. Book Review: Roger's Profanisaurus Rex.
6. Sic!
A. E-mail contact addresses.
B. Subscription information.
C. Ways to support World Wide Words.

1. Feedback, notes and comments
APOSTROPHES  Several subscribers tut-tutted over the inclusion of 
"student's" in a piece last week, when it clearly should have been 
the plural possessive "students'". But the text was taken from the 
Australasian Business Intelligence magazine. I don't like to alter 
the text of direct quotations.

CATHERINE WHEELS  In listing varieties of fireworks last week, I 
omitted to give the origin of this one, which caused some puzzled 
queries. The original was an heraldic design, a wheel with spikes 
jutting from its rim, which referred to the legend of the martyrdom 
of St Catherine, supposedly in the fourth century, by being broken 
on a wheel (the story says the wheel broke and she was eventually 
beheaded). The firework, a rotating wheel, takes its name from the 
design and the legend. But I can't help with the reason why another 
firework, the Roman candle, should have that name.

RUDE WORDS  I've long been saddened by nannying software designed 
to ensure that nobody shall ever receive an e-mail that contains 
anything that could sully the mind of a neurotic nineteenth-century 
old maid. It is so common for newsletters to be bounced because 
they contain standard English words - such as last week's, which 
some subscribers didn't see because it contained the phrase "person 
of either sex" - that I mostly just roll my eyes and move on. But 
last week's missive was rejected by one system because it was said 
to include the name of a well-known drug for treating erectile 
dysfunction. As it didn't, I investigated further; the offending 
word was "specialist".

2. Turns of Phrase: Dark tourism
This term has been around at least since 1996, when it appeared in 
a special issue of the International Journal of Heritage Studies; 
it gained wider public notice in 2000 through the publication of a 
book with the title Dark Tourism by Professors Malcolm Foley and 
John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian University. Dark tourism is the 
visiting of sites of tragedy, such as Auschwitz and New York's 
Ground Zero, or historical battlefield sites such as Bosworth and 
Gettysburg, or trips to Whitechapel to the home turf of Jack the 
Ripper. Profs Foley and Lennon point out that the custodians of 
such sites have responsibilities both to their visitors and to the 
victims commemorated there to tell a truthful and rounded story. 
This is not always possible in an excursion that may have been 
designed as entertainment rather than remembrance and in which 
voyeurism and exploitation for commercial or propagandistic ends 
may distort the message.

* From Midstream, 1 May 2005: When you visit the United States 
Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, you are engaging in 
what specialists call "dark tourism" - travel to a site associated 
with atrocity or public tragedy.

* From the Observer, 23 October 2005: "Dark tourism" sites are 
important testaments to the consistent failure of humanity to 
temper our worst excesses and, managed well, they can help us to 
learn from the darkest elements of our past.

3. Weird Words: Esculent 
Fit to be eaten; edible.

We seem rather to have fallen out of love with this word. You can 
find examples widely distributed in older literature, since it has 
been in English since the seventeenth century.

This is from the Milwaukee Advertiser of May 1838: "The common or 
garden asparagus, is one of the luscious esculent vegetables, with 
which tables can be furnished during the spring and early part of 
the summer." We might well expect to find it in Mrs Beeton's Book 
of Household Management of 1861. She does not disappoint us: "Among 
esculent vegetables, the Lettuce, Salsify, Scorzonera, Cardoon, and 
Artichoke belong to the family." It's also in the Journals of Lewis 
and Clark, in which Meriweather Lewis notes on 30 April 1806: "Many 
of those plants produce those esculent roots which form a principal 
part of the subsistence of the natives." You can also turn it into 
a noun. This is from a publication of 1921 by the English seedsmen 
Sutton and Sons: "Although the Cardoon is not widely cultivated in 
this country, it is found in some of our best gardens, and is 
undoubtedly a wholesome esculent from which a skilful cook will 
present an excellent dish".

The word comes from Latin "esculentus", from "esca", food, which 
derives from "esse", to eat. Related words from Latin include 
comestible, edacious, edible, and obese.

4. Noted this week
WRISTBAND GENERATION  We're currently experiencing (some would say 
enduring) an election among registered members of the Conservative 
Party in Britain to choose a new leader. One of the two candidates, 
David Davis, sought this week to counter perceptions that he was 
attracting only the core party vote by saying, "I want to win the 
wristband generation for the Conservative party." He went on to say 
what he meant by the term: "This is the generation who wears the 
Make Poverty History wristbands. They display their intolerance of 
racism with their white and black bands. The blue bands have raised 
money to highlight awareness of bullying."

5. Book Review: Roger's Profanisaurus Rex
Contributed by Jonathon Green, author of the Cassell Dictionary of 
Slang, the new edition of which will be reviewed here next week.


It is, of course, a less-than-helpful suggestion, but non-Brits, or 
at least non-Brits who are un-imbued with the more latrinal aspects 
of British humour, had best stop here. Because this is undeniably a 
British thing, even a northern one and, if we're to be specific, 
quite probably one that relates to the Newcastle bedrooms in which, 
20 years ago, Chris Donald and Mick Kidd began putting out that 
strange and wonderful confection known as Viz Comic. A decade later 
Viz began offering, among the adventures of the malodorous Johnny 
Fartpants, the distinctly post-feminist Fat Slags and the ichthyoid 
football superhero Billy the Fish, the on-going and ever-expanding 
list of slang entitled Roger's Profanisaurus. It was, and is, not a 
thesaurus but more a glossary, and profane only in the widest sense 
of the "sacred things" it mocks, but it is, for those who love it, 
one of the funniest slang dictionaries on offer.

A first hardback collection appeared in 1997; it offered 4,000 
"coarse and abusive words and phrases ideal for use in the home, 
office and schoolroom". This new edition, the Profanisaurus Rex, 
has doubled the headword count and has left mere domesticity and 
office work for the world at large, ranking itself, quite possibly 
accurately, as "the foulest-mouthed book ever to stalk the face of 
the Earth".

"Foul-mouthed"? Abso-*******-lutely. "One of the funniest..." Well, 
humour's a debatable thing and this is definitely not the earnest, 
politically correct side of the disputation. It depends, to take an 
accessible comparison, on one's attitude to the Carry On films, 
because the Profanisaurus Rex might well be termed the Carry On of 
lexicography, a world of not merely double but multiple entendres, 
every one of them scatalogically coarse. Or it might be the Monty 
Python of the field, though more "nudge nudge wink wink" than "dead 
parrots". The world is that of the two gay Scots, Ben Doon and 
Philip McCavity - and if you don't at least smirk at that, then 
Roger's Profanisaurus will pass you by.

It is, of course, a boy thing, puerile, as some might logically say 
with cruel literalism. It conforms to the dictum of J Y P Greig, 
writing in 1938, that "the chief stimuli of slang are money, sex 
and intoxicating liquor". As to the first, perhaps not much, but 
the latter pair, separately or together, run riot. Intercourse 
(especially as practised by a "back seat driver" although not 
necessarily a "man with nice nails") and the genitals take pride of 
place, with such bodily functions as defecation, ejaculation, 
urination, vomiting and menstruation hard, as it were, behind. As 
in mainstream slang lexica, women play a substantial role, albeit 
as sluts, cockteasers, possessors of good looks - or as frequently 
otherwise - and sex objects. Liquor, with its drunkenness, 
hangovers and puking, is as popular as one might expect.

It also, consciously or not, takes the piss out of such as myself, 
who toil in the world of slang dictionaries, and cares not at all 
for such rules as that world offers. It has no problem in defining 
one word with another: "Chumley warning: the signal a gentleman 
gives to a fussy nosher to tell her that Elvis is about to leave 
the building", or "Clown's hat: A bald man in a boat. A clematis". 
(It would of course be petty-minded to complain that few of these 
synonymic descriptors are actually listed in the book. Far better 
to let one's foul mind run free.) And for those of us who work "on 
historical principles", i.e., with usage citations, the ability of 
the Profanisaurus to tease out lesser-known works and the examples 
within is wholly awe-inspiring. P G Wodehouse is especially fecund, 
drawing on such hitherto unknown short stories as Use the Back 
Door, Jeeves. Other canonical figures such as J K Rowling, Agatha 
Christie and the Jennings books get their fair share.

While some of the terms are undoubtedly part of the established 
slang lexicon, others smack of the product of a bunch of stoned 
students, out of their minds at the keyboard circa four a.m. and 
mailing their witticisms in to Viz. So while "mohair knickers" 
("large unruly minnie moo, one with spider's legs; a biffer") does 
appear in more orthodox works, others such as "nadgina: A cockney's 
pod purse which has been refashioned into a cludge at the skilled 
hands of a dextrous surgeon", or "PEGOOMHS: Post-Ejaculatory Get 
Out Of My House Syndrome", have not. And some are just too local: 
thus America's most eminent slang collector was stumped by "jazz 
mag", a term he assumed refers to music journalism. He was wrong.

As the blurb has it, it is "an indispensable work of reference for 
students of contemporary linguistics, socio-cultural commentators 
and dockers who have just hit their thumb with a hammer." Can't say 
fairer than that.

[Roger's Profanisaurus Rex, Expanded Edition, Dennis Publishing Ltd 
London; hardback, pp348; ISBN 0752228129; list price GBP14.00.]

  Amazon UK:       GBP8.99
  Amazon Canada:   CDN$31.43 
  Amazon Germany:  EUR25,50
[Please use these links to buy. See also C below.]

6. Sic!
Pat Haley's Auction House held a sale on 8 November and advertised 
it in The Age in Melbourne, Australia. Graeme Hirst learned from 
this that it was disposing of "HMV Grammar phones" for $100. Cheap 
at twice the price ...

Last Monday, Peter Ingerman was reading Science In The News, issued 
by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society of North America. It 
contained the following: "China Reports 3 Suspected Bird Flu Cases 
in Humans; 6 Million Birds Culled from Associated Press." It must 
have been hell working in their office.

Lucy Buxton in Sydney found this in the TV guide: "7.30 pm Comic 
Relief: An augural Australian event ...". Do they mean that it will 
portend some happening, or that it'll just be boring?

In the New Jersey gubernatorial election, each candidate had been 
accused of extra-marital affairs, reports David Camp. Many papers 
quoted the response of one candidate, Jon Corzine, to the stories: 
"I'm not going to comment on that kind of low, guttural politics 
going on in this state." Harsh rumours: the worst sort.

The saga of the dropped "-ed" ending continues. Paul Wiele e-mailed 
from New Hampshire: "This week, in the cafeteria at my high school, 
a sign labeled one of the items available as 'grill cheese'. I 
decided to pass on it, but wondered how they managed to make a 
metal cooking surface curdle."

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