World Wide Words -- 15 Aug 09

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Aug 14 12:43:46 EDT 2009

WORLD WIDE WORDS          ISSUE 652         Saturday 15 August 2009
Sent each Saturday to at least 50,000 subscribers by e-mail and RSS
Editor: Michael Quinion, Thornbury, Bristol, UK      ISSN 1470-1448       US advisory editor: Julane Marx
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1. Feedback, notes and comments.
2. Weird Words: Cunicular.
3. What I've learned this week.
4. Q and A: Bully pulpit.
5. Sic!
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B. E-mail contact addresses.
C. Ways to support World Wide Words.

1. Feedback, notes and comments
ARISTOLOGY  Many readers were misled by the start of this word into 
thinking it might have a link with "aristocracy". my dictionaries 
say that the two "aristo-" elements come from different roots: 
"aristocracy" is from "aristos", the best, while "aristology" is 
from "ariston", breakfast or lunch. It would seem to be one of 
those accidental similarities of language.

Max Coltheart, Lesley Beresford and Gordon Andrew all told me about 
another sighting of the rare term "aristologist", in Australia. Mr 
Andrew explained: "When my wife and I were courting, our favourite 
restaurant was the Uraidla Aristologist, in the town of Uraidla in 
the Adelaide Hills. The part-owner, Michael Symons, was a food 
commentator and critic who wrote the definitive book on the history 
of Australian food, One Continuous Picnic. The restaurant has since 
closed, which is a great loss. But anyone who dined there knew what 
'aristologist' meant."

ALLERGOLOGIST  Following my mention of this word in the "What I've 
learned ..." section last time, several contributors to the World 
Wide Words group on Facebook queried where it might be in use. The 
word turned up in an article about allergies in the issue of New 
Scientist dated 1 August. The full quotation is: "'The proportion 
of severe reactions is higher than for peanut,' says Montserrat 
Fernández Rivas, an allergologist from the San Carlos Clinical 
Hospital in Madrid, Spain." On checking through my sources again, 
it's noteworthy that many appearances refer to allergy specialists 
in non-English-speaking countries such as France, Austria and 
Russia. The earliest example I've found, in the New Yorker in 1952, 
refers to Finland. It may be that the word isn't used by English-
speaking specialists, but is a translation of terms used in foreign 
medical cultures. The pronunciation causes problems, too: the first 
"g" ought to be soft, since the word is from "allergy", but "g" 
followed by "o" is hard in English.

2. Weird Words: Cunicular  /kju:'nIkjUl@(r)/
This is where I recently came across this very rare word:

    If it was hard being a small boy in a time of rapid 
    change, it was a doubly hard burden to be a meter-tall 
    rabbit cursed with human sentience and cunicular 
    [Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross, 2003. It would 
    take too long to explain the background to this 
    Carrollian image (the rabbit does have a waistcoat, but 
    no pocket watch is mentioned).]

It's better known to biologists than to SF authors. It simply means 
"rabbit-like". It derives from Latin "cuniculus", rabbit (itself 
taken from Green "kyniklos"), which is also the source of the old 
English name for the animal, "coney" or "cony". The Latin word 
could also mean a burrow, an underground passage, or a military 
mine. Variations on it appear in systematic scientific names - an 
American owl, to take one example, is formally known as Speotyto 
cunicularia because it lives in burrows.

"Cunicular" has occasionally been used in botany and medicine for 
various kinds of tubular formation. Apart from that, sightings are 
extremely rare.

3. What I've learned this week
DEADLOCK is too familiar to warrant comment, but this week I came 
across LIVELOCK. It's a jargon term in computing for a state in 
which two processes each continually change their state in response 
to changes in the other without either doing anything useful. A 
close analogy in MEATSPACE (a charming term for the real world) is 
two people meeting in a narrow passage who dodge about trying to 
get out of the other's way but succeeding only in blocking each 

Those of us outside the US who read the Doonesbury cartoon strip 
know all about the rise of BIRTHERS, those opponents of President 
Obama who hold that he wasn't born in Hawaii and so is ineligible 
to be president. Now that term has spawned DEATHERS. It has been 
traced back to an article on at the end of July, in which 
Christopher Beam coined it for those who believe Obama's health-
care reforms are a cover for a secret plot to kill off the old and 
the sick.

I have learned, thanks to a question about it from Jo McRae, that 
in Australia something that's CACTUS is unserviceable, broken, or 
defunct. It derives from the phrase "in the cactus", military slang 
of World War Two, to be in trouble or to be in difficulties, as one 
would be if caught up on the spines of a cactus. As there are, so 
far as I know, no native cacti in Australia, the idea has 
presumably been imported.

On Monday, the New York Times headed a economics blog piece with 
the word MANCESSION. Blending "man" and "recession", it makes the 
point that the US economic downturn has disproportionately hit men, 
who are more likely to work in industries such as manufacturing and 
construction that are sensitive to bad times. The word has gained  
a fair bit of press usage since it first appeared back in March, 
even appearing in papers in Russia, the Netherlands and China. But 
I doubt it has become part of anybody's working vocabulary. Other 
commentators have coined HE-CESSION for the same idea.

4. Q and A: Bully pulpit
Q. We've been hearing a lot about the President using his bully 
pulpit. We know what it means, but where did the term come from? 
[S O Waife, Florida]

A. It's certainly in the news at the moment.

I wonder, though, if the meaning that I think you have in mind is 
really known to everybody? When I first came across it, years ago, 
I assumed that "bully" was in the usual current sense of a person 
who intimidates others through force and that "bully pulpit" meant 
that some person in authority was abusing his powers. This is by no 
means an uncommon assumption:

    Consider the case of the government using the bully 
    pulpit of eminent domain to effectively seize a business 
    it didn't like.
    [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 29 May 2009.]

It was a while before I realised that "bully" here had a different 
sense, one now hardly known, of something first-rate or excellent. 
Oddly, the two senses are from the same source, since "bully" was 
originally a term of endearment, from Dutch "boel", lover, and 
later became a compliment for a male companion, meaning admirable. 
Our current sense grew out of this as the word went down in public 
estimation. At one time you might have heard people say "bully for 
you!" as a way to express admiration for another's action.

Enough on the background. This is the origin:

    Half a dozen of us were with the President [Theodore 
    Roosevelt] in his library. He was sitting at his desk 
    reading to us his forthcoming Message. He had just 
    finished reading a paragraph of a distinctly ethical 
    character when he suddenly stopped, swung round in his 
    swivel chair and said "I suppose my critics will call 
    that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!"
    [Lyman Abbott, in The Outlook, 27 Feb. 1909. Dr 
    Abbott, a notable Protestant theologian and author, was 
    editor-in-chief of the magazine. The anecdote was thought 
    worth repeating in the New York Times on 6 March. 
    Roosevelt was fond of "bully" as an adjective; when he 
    returned to the US following his successful campaign in 
    Cuba in 1898, he said "I've had a bully time and a bully 

To quote William Safire's Political Dictionary, a bully pulpit is 
"active use of the president's prestige and high visibility to 
inspire or moralize." That's certainly the most common meaning, 
directly arising from Roosevelt's usage, but it's now wider in 
application than just the presidency and is used of other persons 
and also of organisations.

The term became known, though hardly fashionable, in the years that 
followed its first appearance, most frequently in commentaries on 
Roosevelt's presidency, but then largely fell out of use. It's 
notable that one newspaper archive I consulted has no examples 
between 1909 and 1958. It returned to significant use in the 
language in the 1960s, becoming widely known from about 1985. An 
early stimulus was its appearances in books about the Kennedy 
administration, such as Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days and 
Theodore C Sorensen's Kennedy.

5. Sic!
Some of these new cars are really compact, as Dodi Schultz found on 
reading an item in last Saturday's New York Times: "One of the two 
safes that Mr. Brinkmann kept in his apartment, along with his car, 
a Honda Civic, had been stolen."

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