World Wide Words -- 21 Nov 09

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Nov 20 14:07:04 EST 2009

WORLD WIDE WORDS         ISSUE 666        Saturday 21 November 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: Slipshod.
3. What I've learned this week.
4. Review: Macquarie Dictionary.
5. Sic!
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B. E-mail contact addresses.
C. Ways to support World Wide Words.

1. Feedback, notes and comments
BULL IN A CHINA SHOP  The correspondence about last week's piece, 
which was copious, divided neatly into two classes. One told me 
about a 2007 edition of the US television program Mythbusters that 
put bulls in a mocked-up china shop. The animals proved to be quite 
nimble at avoiding bumping into shelves or breaking anything. The 
other group told me that equivalent expressions exist in several 
other languages - Russian, Latvian, Polish, Dutch, German, French, 
Hebrew, Italian and Spanish - all of which feature the elephant 
instead of the bull. The last two, however, prefer to place him in 
a glassware store rather than a china shop. In Dutch you can also 
say "like a horse in a china cabinet". English is the odd one out 
in using the homely bull. There's probably a story in there, if one 
could only tease it out. Daniel Szoke suggested that the idea may 
have come from an Aesop fable, which is probably associated with a 
Roman version of the simile, "like a donkey on a roof".

EMOTIONAL ANIMALS  Last week, Christopher Joubert wrote that he had 
added the fish we had been discussing, the Sarcastic Fringehead, to 
his "list of animals with names suggestive of emotion", mentioning 
the Depressed Mussel and the Blushing Snail. Mike Turniansky wrote, 
"Mr Joubert can add the Melancholy Woodpecker of western Africa and 
the Greedy Olalla Rat of Colombia and Venezuela." Several readers 
noted the Pacific Black Duck, mentioned in the same issue, might be 
added if we look beyond the immediate geographical reference. Linda 
Doggett wrote, "I am not sure if bugs count on the list of animals 
but I have always been fond of the Confused Flour Beetle."

2. Weird Words: Slipshod  /'slIpSQd/
In the beginning, around the middle of the sixteenth century, there 
was the word "slip-shoe", about which there is nothing mysterious. 
It was simply a shoe that one could easily slip on or off, one that 
English speakers even then also called a slipper.

A little later in the same century, a person who wore a slip-shoe 
began to be described - naturally enough - as "slip-shod". Within a 
few decades, however, it began to take on the negative associations 
that have remained with it down the generations. A person who was 
described as slip-shod was wearing shoes that weren't suitable for 
polite company because they were literally down at heel, shabby, 
over-loose or untidy.

Our modern meaning of some activity that was lacking in care, badly 
organised or slovenly came about in the nineteenth century. Writers 
were the first to suffer its disopprobrium, with critics describing 
what they felt was "slipshod English", and the wider sense grew out 
of this. 

We have completely forgotten the connection between "slip-shod" and 
those comfortable sixteenth-century slip-on shoes, whose shabbiness 
and unfashionableness has bequeathed the language a useful term.

3. What I've learned this week
MORE VERBING NOUNS  Courtesy of Neill Hicks: "I placed a telephone 
order and told the clerk that if I was not at home the delivery 
driver could just leave the item. 'Okay, we can PORCH it for you, 
then?' the clerk asked. I agreed that the purchase could be PORCHED 
and that any future orders could also be PORCHABLE." It's yet 
another good example of the flexibility of English, whose lack of 
inflections means that a word can readily switch between serving 
several different roles in a sentence. Many people object to such 
creations and decry them as a fault, but I think it's a feature, a 
splendidly useful one. 

Not all readers agree. Peter Duce reported, "It made me splutter 
into my coffee when I heard an American parent refer to her child 
as having been CONSEQUENCED for bad behavior." Bob Scala likewise 
dislikes such forms: "Here in Tucson, Arizona, I regularly see a 
sign outside an office building which reads, 'If you OFFICED here, 
you'd be home now.' It almost causes me to drive off the road 
whenever I see this language abomination."

WOTY TIME  Language purists might feel similarly about a term that 
has just been chosen as Word of the Year by the New Oxford American 
Dictionary. It's UNFRIEND, a verb meaning to remove a person as a 
"friend" on a social networking site such as Facebook. Christine 
Lindberg, who is senior lexicographer for Oxford's US dictionary 
programme, was quoted as saying "Unfriend has real lex-appeal." She 
wrote in the Dictionary's blog: "It has both currency and potential 
longevity. In the online social networking context, its meaning is 
understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an 
interesting choice for Word of the Year." For more, and to discover 
some other terms that were considered (including "hashtag" and 
"intexticated"), go via

You will also find some forceful complaints about TEABAGGER, which 
the editors define as "a person, who protests President Obama's tax 
policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations 
known as 'Tea Party' protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party 
of 1773)." Complainants point to a sexual slang meaning of the term 
and suggest that Oxford's inclusion is "insulting and demeaning to 
members of the Tea Party movement", as one person wrote. It's very 
silly, but good fun to observe from the sidelines. The term more 
often used for members of the group is TEA PARTIERS.

Twitter has a similar form to "unfriend", which I also encountered 
this week: UNFOLLOW. This is from the Twitter concept of members 
who "follow" others by regularly reading their postings. If you 
cease to do so, you "unfollow" them.

Oxford wasn't the first to announce its annual choice. First out of 
the trap was the Webster New World College Dictionary, which has 
chosen DISTRACTED DRIVING for its Word of the Year. It refers to a 
consequence of using digital devices such as mobile phones while on 
the move. The publisher's site said, "CrackBerry users beware, lest 
a charge of DWD (driving while distracted) or DWT (driving while 
texting) stain your record, not to mention endanger yourself and 
others." It noted an interesting grammatical point: "As with drunk 
driving, it is not the driving that is drunk or distracted, but 
rather the driver. The target of the modifier 'distracted' has been 
changed. Called _hypallage_, this twist is frequently seen in 
poetry, but as terms like 'restless night', 'juvenile detention 
center', and 'careless remark' attest, such semantic inversion is 
not limited to the heights of language use."

On Thursday, a third Words of the Year set popped up from Merriam-
Webster (not to be confused with the other Webster). This was a 
list of the words most often looked up during 2009 up by visitors 
to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and the Online Thesaurus. 
At the top was "admonish". What provoked this was the outburst "You 
lie!" by Representative Joe Wilson during President Obama's speech 
on healthcare to a joint session of Congress on 9 September. For 
this, he was formally admonished by the House. Peter A Sokolowski, 
Merriam-Webster's Editor at Large, wrote, "While this particular 
story wasn't very important in the context of a year's worth of 
news, it triggered enormous interest in this word." The remainder 
of the top ten are even more inconsequential: emaciated, empathy, 
furlough, inaugurate, nugatory, repose, philanderer, pandemic 
and rogue.

4. Review: Macquarie Dictionary
Rooted in the colloquial English of transported convicts, modified 
by contact with native languages and more recently by the creations 
of other regional Englishes, Australian English has always been in 
a class of its own.

Historically it wasn't well served by lexicographers, some of whom 
seem to have shared a common nineteenth-century prejudice that such 
uncouth colonial variations on the English language were corrupting 
its purity. That began to change when James Murray worked hard to 
include Australianisms in early fascicles of what was then known as 
the New English Dictionary. The first local work, Austral English, 
was compiled by Edward Morris and published in 1898.

After that, Australians had to wait until the 1970s before works 
such as the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary and the Heinemann 
Australian Dictionary were addressed to them, though they were no 
more than modified editions of British dictionaries. Even the 
Macquarie Dictionary, first published in 1981, was a local version 
of Hamlyn's Encyclopedic World Dictionary of 1971, itself based on 
a Random House dictionary dated 1947. In the decades since, the 
Macquarie Dictionary has evolved into a genuinely local dictionary 
of Australian English and is now the standard authority. 

A principal aspiration, of course, has been to record specifically 
Australian words and phrases, such as the horseracing sense of 
"blouse", an odd term that evolved in the 1980s to mean narrowly 
win a race. It's most probably from the application of the noun to 
a jockey's upper-body garment. What could be a narrower win than by 
a neck or a nose? Why, a blouse. This new edition includes many 
additional Australianisms, often regional: "nointer", a Tasmanian 
term for a spoiled or difficult child; "schnitter", "black snow", 
detritus from the burning of sugarcane fields carried on the wind; 
a sandwich in South Australia; and names for animals and plants, 
such as "bush banana", a vine of dry regions in inland Australia, 
and "marron", a freshwater crayfish of Western Australia.

Like other regional Englishes, Australian English has been heavily 
influenced by developments in American English and the creation of 
terms that reflect international issues. The current editor, Susan 
Butler (who, by the way, is another example of a lexicographer who 
has been with a project for decades: she started with the precursor 
of the dictionary in 1970) has been quoted as saying that in the 
1980s you might expect US expressions to take 10 or 15 years to 
reach Australia, but now with universal communications, they take 
only a few months.

Such trends explain several classes among the 5,000 new words and 
phrases added to this fifth edition. One records matters involving 
the environment and climate change ("carbon capture", "cap-and-
trade", "ecological footprint", "global commons"). A second set are 
terms relating to the global financial crisis ("moral hazard", 
"ninja loan", "toxic debt"). A third group is of vocabulary from 
fashion and popular culture and includes "junk sleep" (sleep which 
is too short or too disturbed to be restorative), "pimp cup" (a 
decorated glass goblet, which often has the owner's name picked out 
in rhinestones, also called a crunk cup), "scene kid" (a young 
person who likes offbeat musical styles and adopts unconventional 
dress styles), "shwopping" (combined shopping and swapping through 
the Internet), and "treggings" (tight-fitting women's jeans but 
made from a fabric other than denim).

This edition has gone electronic, with a free Web-based version 
accessible by a password presented in print copies, and an app for 
the iPhone (an "app" is a computer application, and yes, it's in 
the new edition).

[Susan Butler [ed], Macquarie Dictionary, Fifth Edition, published 
by Macquarie Dictionary Publishers on 27 October 2009; hardback, 
pp1940; ISBN-13: 978-1-8764-2966-9, ISBN-10; publisher's list price 

5. Sic!
Isthmus Magazine of 30 October discussed a public Halloween bash, 
Marjorie Van Handel tells us. It wrote, "The desire to strut your 
Sexy Noun outfit can be powerful stuff." She wrote, "Most people 
prefer a Sexy Nun, except perhaps those wild and crazy English 

We've been here before, I think, but Charles Patrick felt that the 
London Free Press of Canada put it so pithily on 5 November: "All 
pregnant women urged to get shot".

Shirley Thayer feels that, on the evidence of this line from the 
Daily Beast of 15 November, the US Food and Drug Administration is 
taking a short-term view: "The FDA is asking nearly 30 similar 
manufacturers to offer scientific proof that their products are 
safe within the next 30 days."

Child control, as practiced in Medford, Oregon: Seymour Collins 
came across this reference in the Mail Tribune of 11 November: "If 
you own guns and have children, it is important you store them in a 
locked cabinet."

She must have been a busy seamstress, says Michael Grounds. The 
Advertiser (Bendigo, Victoria) wrote on 13 November: "A Malaysian 
woman concealed half a kilogram of heroin in hundreds of buttons on 
dresses during a flight to Perth, the Australian Federal Police 
claim. It is alleged about 500 grams of heroin was sewed into 574 
buttons on 28 dresses."

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