Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sat Nov 29 17:57:03 UTC 2003

The idea of Bruce Smith all atwitter has certainly made the
linguistic part of my Thanksgiving vacation. Many thanks.


>>From: Bapopik at AOL.COM
>>Sent: November 28, 2003 8:22 PM
>>Subject: "Y'all" in today's New York Times; "Jazz" in today's NY Sun
>>    While at the TIMES site, check out William Safire's "On Language" column
>>in Sunday's magazine:
>>    Paul Ignatius of The Washington Post, who writes a serious column about
>>foreign affairs, departed from his usual style this month to
>>describe Britain's
>>Prince Charles in a recent photo as ''wearing a carnation, carrying a furled
>>umbrella and looking particularly like a twit.''
>>    He concluded his critical commentary about ''poor Prince Charles'' by
>>noting unforgivingly that ''he blew off one of the world's most
>>beautiful women
>>for fellow upper-class twit Camilla Parker-Bowles.''
>>    The word is not familiar to most Americans and is sometimes misused.
>>("Twit" is not familiar to most Americans?  Was I the only person to watch
>>MONTY PYTHON in the 1970s?--ed.)
>I'd have to agree that it's not familiar to most Americans, which is
>consistent with the fact that many Americans are indeed familiar with
>it, whether from the Monty Python shows and movies or other sources.
>For me, "silly twit" is the standard collocation, and that first
>depiction of Prince Charles with carnation and furled umbrella does
>indeed sound like a clip-art icon from those old Python sequences.
>_Twit_ is evidently a deverbal noun, with the first OED cite (in the
>relevant meaning) only as old as 1936, although there's an apparently
>related sense that goes back to 1719.  I'm not sure I see the logic
>of the separation between the OED's senses (2a vs. 2b) on this one.
>I was also wondering what kind of "misuse" Safire had in mind, but
>then my Times got hurled up onto my driveway and now I see it's from
>a reference to a Virginia sportswriter noting that Washington
>defensive end and all-time sacks leader Bruce Smith was "in a twit"
>over the fact that he wasn't in the starting lineup.  I agree with
>Safire that it was almost certainly a snit the writer was thinking of
>Smith as being in, but perhaps there's some influence from "atwitter"
>here as well.

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic,
        Asian and African Languages
Wells Hall A-740
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office: (517) 353-0740
Fax: (517) 432-2736

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