NEWSLETTER 525: SATURDAY 3 FEBRUARY 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Receipt and recipe My comment last week about the old-fashioned use of the former to mean the latter provoked further illustrations of the survival of receipt. John Wilson noted, “It was used on British television, up to the late 1990s, on the programme Two Fat Ladies, featuring Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late Jennifer Paterson, who invariably spoke of receipts. She said this with (metaphorical) relish and I feel sure she did it for effect as a conscious statement of her background and style.” John Sweney says, “My mother, born in Iowa in 1912, still sends me what she calls receipts for various dishes, so the usage persists into the 21st century.” Douglas G Wilson confirms its long survival: “I heard it routinely in the 1960s, only from older people, true, but this was in the city, not in the hills. The Dictionary of American Regional English seems to suggest it became more-or-less obsolete around 1960. William and Mary Morris wrote in their column Words, Wit, and Wisdom in 1970, ‘Throughout New England and in rural areas in many other parts of the country, you will still hear receipt more often than recipe.’ So at least the Morrises thought it was still very widely current in 1970.”
Loonspuddery I asked last week whether anybody knew anything about the origin of this strange word. Stuart McLachlan pointed out that loonspud appears several times in a dictionary of terms created from user contributions to the message boards on the Urban75 Web site, which is based in Brixton in South London. It is defined as a derogatory term for a conspiracy theorist, which exactly fits the context of the place where I found it. The first part is obviously enough a form of loony. The second, which also appears in another word in the list, may be the slang term for a potato, used as a term of insult (though the word spudder, elsewhere in the list, has excretory associations).
2. Turns of Phrase: Slow travel
Back in 1989, slow food was created in Italy as a reaction to the increasing globalisation and standardisation of food, especially fast food (hence its name). Its aim was to preserve, encourage and promote local culinary specialities. That idea has since spread widely. Now we are seeing a cousin beginning to make headlines.
Slow travellers eschew plane travel and especially short breaks in distant places. They prefer to travel more gently, by train, bus, cargo ship, even bicycle. They want to luxuriate in the experience of a stress-free journey, not rush to a destination. That such slow travel is kinder on the environment because of its lower carbon footprint is a bonus.
For most travellers, the thought of trying to get to some long-haul destination by train or ship is daunting. It takes too long or it’s difficult to arrange and more expensive than by plane. A recent news story about a woman from North Wales who got to a friend’s wedding in Brisbane by train, bus and boat via Moscow, Beijing, Hanoi, Singapore and Darwin, taking two months, is either an awful warning or an inspiration. Most slow travellers stick to European destinations where the good rail system makes access easy.
Slow Travel is also gaining traction in other countries. “The global affliction of the hurry virus has afflicted every corner of the planet,” says Carl Honoré, the London-based author of In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.
[Time Magazine, 25 Sep. 2006]
The West family obligingly took the train to Tuscany rather than travelling by air, to test out the delights of slow travel. Two days and three hours later, they finally arrived, after one missed train, broken air-conditioning in the sleeper compartment and a couple of sightseeing stop-offs.
[The Independent, 25 Jan. 2007]
3. Weird Words: Muliebrious
I found this rare word this week in S M Stirling’s book The Sky People, though he spells it slightly differently: “The muliebrous features could have been man or woman or creature from the stories his grandmother had told.”
His spelling has been used by others but mine is that in the Oxford English Dictionary, which has just one example, from 1652. It’s not quite that rare, though one has to search around for instances. It appeared in an article, The Industrial Value of Woman (a title that would today raise eyebrows) in The North American Review in 1882, in which the author wrote of a muliebrious or over-feminine woman.
Its companion adjective is muliebral, characteristic of women or womanhood, which lacks the other’s negative implications and which featured in the magazine The World & I in 1995: “Muller and Gillis represent the vibrant and irresistible muliebral force that has been weaving its way through the dance world for the last twenty years.”
Both derive from the classical Latin muliebris, womanly, which is from mulier, a woman. The latter is also the source of the even rarer and long obsolete legal term mulier that describes a child born in wedlock and so legitimate, and of the rather more common muliebrity, womanhood or femininity.
4. Recently noted
Googlebombing is dead? Notoriously, at one time if you entered the search phrase “miserable failure” as the search term in Google, the page that appeared top of the list of results was President Bush’s biography from the official White House site. As Google ranks pages by their popularity, based on the number of external links to them, pranksters were able to manipulate the order of its results by setting up lots of links from other sites that were keyed to the phrase. This is Googlebombing. The trick doesn’t work any more — top of the list now will probably be a BBC News report from December 2003 about the Googlebombing of Bush. Google have got tired of the game and have taken their ball home. It has begun to filter such jokey results, supposedly to protect its reputation, fearing that people might think such frivolous results were its own opinion. The earliest example I can find for the term Googlebombing is from the newsgroup alt.religion.kibology (don’t ask) dated March 2002. As a result of Google’s action, the word seems likely to vanish from the online vocabulary fairly soon.
5. Questions & Answers: Salt of the earth
[Q] From Aleda and Ian Turnbull: “If someone is the salt of the earth they have admirable qualities and in particular can be relied upon. Why is this when salt added to the earth makes it sterile?”
[A] The expression is Biblical and comes from Matthew, 5:13. From the King James Bible of 1611: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
Salt has always been one of the most prized commodities, essential both for life and for preserving food. Roman soldiers were paid an allowance to buy salt, the origin of our salary. A man worth his salt is efficient or capable. To eat salt with someone was to accept his hospitality and a person who did so was bound to look after his host’s interests. The Bible also speaks of a covenant of salt, one of holy and perpetual obligation. Newborn children were anciently rubbed with salt to protect them against evil forces.
To Jesus, therefore, salt of the earth was a great compliment. To understand his comment fully, though, you have to know a bit about where Jews of his time got their salt. Some came from saltpans on the margins of the Dead Sea, but much was obtained from Mount Sodom (Jebel Usdum in Arabic), a ridge of limestone and rock salt at the south-west corner of the Dead Sea (a pillar of salt here is said to have given rise to the legend of Lot’s wife). This rock salt was the literal salt of the earth. Because the deposit’s outer layer was exposed to the elements, it became contaminated and its salt content depleted by weathering, losing its taste and value, so becoming good for nothing.
The use of salt to poison the ground is entirely separate.
• This one sounds like a joke, but Jon Ackroyd convinced me it was a genuine advertisement for a sale of Volvo cars, which appeared in the Times-Colonist of Victoria BC, Canada, on 29 January: “HURRY. THE SAVINGS WON’T LAST AND NEITHER WILL OUR CARS”.
• Lorraine Wilson was amused by an advertisement posted alongside the highway at an car dealers in Bakersfield, California: “Wanted: New and Used Car Salesmen.”
• An article on the Web site of KYW radio (Philadelphia, USA) was noted by Grace Gagliardi: “If convicted on all charges the trio could, at minimum, spend the rest of their lives in jail.” If the legal system could guarantee resurrection the prisons would be full.
• A news item on the BBC Web site on Monday, seen by Brendan Hale, seems to suggest a particularly drastic redundancy measure by the Simclar Group, which is laying off workers at two factories in Scotland: “Allan Wilson, deputy minister for enterprise, said: ‘This is devastating news for those who will lose their jobs and their families.’”