E-MAGAZINE 682: SATURDAY 20 MARCH 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Tecnonymous In the Weird Words item about mononymous last week, I defined tecnonymous as “relating to the practice of naming a parent after their child”. You might not believe how many sarcastic comments came in, suggesting either that a time machine or a senior moment on my part was involved. Think of the word parent, you doubters. This shows that the naming (or renaming) occurs after the child is born. It’s used in several cultures, I’m told, including Korean:
Given the rather pervasive taboo in Korean culture against using personal names when speaking to or about adults, Koreans can resort to one of two interesting strategies: teknonymy or geononymy. Teknonymy is the practice of addressing or referring to an adult by way of that adult’s relationship to a child. Thus Mrs Kim, the ajumŏni next door, may also be Chinho ŏmŏni, or “Chinho’s mother.”
Korean Language in Culture and Society, by Ho-min Sohn, 2006. The spelling with a k is now more usual, matching the usual transliteration of the Greek word for child (teknon), from which it derives. Geononymy, the author explains, “is the practice of qualifying kinship terms with place names.”
But tecnonymy is also common in the English-speaking world. You may often hear a child, or an adult speaking to a child, refer to an adult by relational reference, for example, “Patrick’s mum”. You may feel that it would have been better to define the term as “the practice of referring to a parent by the name of their child”.
You may wish to save this adjective for a rainy day, when you can enliven the inevitable discussion about the weather by dropping it into the conversation. Do not, however, expect it to be understood, even though you’re merely referring to rain.
The hydrologic cycle has undergone an atmospheric mutation here. They don’t measure the rain in inches but in feet. A waterproofing contractor could definitely find happiness here, while rainmakers and dousers would quickly go out of business. This is the kind of place where words like pluviose, hyetal, and affusion actually belong in conversation.
Washington Post, 4 March 1990. Affusion means the pouring of water on the body, as in one form of baptism; pluviose is another adjective meaning “rainy”.
Hyetal comes from Greek huetos, rain, and is related to Greek hyei, it is raining. It means “relating to rain”. A hyetal chart is a rain chart; an isohyetal is a line on a map connecting places of equal rainfall; a hyetograph is a self-registering rain gauge; and hyetology is the study of the geographical variation and distribution of rainfall. Meteorologists, the main users of the word and its compounds, have extended the meaning to include all forms of precipitation.
3. What I've learned this week
Woof! I’ve previously had reason to mention a British form of social control, the ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order). A proposal by the government to revise the Dangerous Dogs Act (a notoriously badly drafted law from 1991) suggested a variety of methods to control potentially savage dogs often kept as status symbols by young men. One idea put forward was a dog control order, which instantly led commentators to coin the name DOGBO for it.
4. Questions and Answers: Cabal
[Q] From Taiwo Obe: Here in Nigeria, it is said that the true state of the health of the president has been shielded from Nigerians by a cabal, who are bent on holding on to power. How did the word come about?
This king had a cabal
Even without detailed knowledge of word history this should cause your mental eyebrows to rise in scepticism. The earliest known acronyms date from around the time of the First World War (the military slang AWOL, “Absent Without Leave”, is among the earliest, which newspaper reports around 1918 demonstrate was being said as a pronounceable word) and yet the source of cabal is dated on this theory to an acronymic origin some 250 years earlier.
What scuppers the idea is that cabal is known from earlier in the seventeenth century through usages linked to Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. It came into English via French cabale from medieval Latin cabbala (these days more usually Kabbalah). This is an esoteric secret Jewish system of mystical practices based on a study of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Kabbalistic teaching was based on oral transmission from a personal guide, so cabal, at first referring directly to the Kabbalah, came to mean a private or semi-secret interpretation. By the middle of the seventeenth century it had developed further to mean some intrigue entered into by a small group and also referred to the group of people so involved.
The word was indeed applied to the five ministers (in a pamphlet issued in 1673), but it was no more than a scurrilous joke based on the accident of their initials. Unfortunately, it’s a joke that has long since gone sour on etymologists, who have to keep explaining the facts, a problem compounded by historians, who continue to refer to the Cabal Ministry as a convenient shorthand.
• The Record newspaper in Bergen County, New Jersey, e-mails Jean Beidl, had an article on 10 March headlined “Officials get tough with sea lions”. It notes that wildlife officials in Portland, Oregon, are trying to “keep sea lions from eating endangered salmon, dropping bombs that explode under water and firing rubber bullets and bean bags from shotguns and boats.”
• Heather Liston came across an online advertisement for the post of Director of Development of the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. Under “minimum requirements” it listed “At least 57 years of fundraising/development experience.”
• “How strong is this man?” asks Tanja Cilia, having read a report in the Canadian CNews: “When the 36-year-old man got out of his car – carrying his wife and two kids – to talk to the three men to try to calm them down, they got out of the truck and assaulted him, police said.”
• “Apple Hires Wearable Computing Engineer” was the headline that Nick Adler came across in the New York Times online on 16 March. Suitable for dress-down Fridays, perhaps?
• Has the drive for diversity within the Aberdeen police led to its recruiting hermaphrodite officers? Susie Elins wondered this on reading a BBC News report on 16 March, headlined “Man assaulted female police officer with penis.” It has since been changed to “Man used penis to assault female police officer”, which, come to think of it, is still pretty weird.
6. Copyright and contact details
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