E-MAGAZINE 685: SATURDAY 10 APRIL 2010
We’ve all come across a pride of lions, a flock of sheep, a swarm of bees, and a gaggle of geese. Such collectives are part of our common language. Other fairly well-known cases are a parliament of rooks, a murmuration of starlings, and an exaltation of larks. There are so many, and so popular a subject, that they’ve generated a sub-genre of humour — a catalogue of librarians, an enumeration of accountants, a descent of relatives, even a wunch of bankers, as well as that hoary old joke about the essay of Trollopes/jam of tarts/anthology of pros.
This is a rare example of the word appearing outside a list:
Hark ye! only last week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of having seen a covey of pheasants in the wood. One such speech would have been the ruin of a young Squire at the court. How would you have said it, Nigel?” “Surely, fair sir, it should be a nye of pheasants.”
Sir Nigel, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1901. A covey, as any countryman of the time would have known, is a group term for partridge, ultimately from Latin cubare, to lie down.
Another term from the same source for a brood or nest of pheasants is nide. This, too, has long since become a general collective:
The farmer informed us that the game was very plentiful; and when we entered the first stubble field, we saw a nide of fourteen pheasants run into the hedge row.
Memoirs of Henry Hunt, Esq, by Henry Hunt, 1820.
2. This week
Chexting A humorous piece mentioning this word came from Reuters on April 1, so I was suspicious of it. But it had been recorded in Urban Dictionary back in November 2006 and it had appeared in various publications the previous week in response to a “report” by a PR company, so the Reuters article was more probably a tongue-in-cheek follow-up than an April Fool joke. Chexting is said to be a blend of cheating and texting, a close relative of sexting, and refers to text messages sent between lovers who are cheating on their spouses. The Reuters article noted, “But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re safe. If you’ve sexted and chexted, you might soon be ‘exted’ by your spouse.” Ouch. There’s also brexting, I’m told, from the same source, which is breaking up a relationship by means of a text message. I suspect that both terms are already past their sell-by date.
Transcreation This word appeared in a blog in MediaPost on Monday and I flagged it because it was unfamiliar. A quick search showed that it’s common in international marketing, whose practitioners must not only translate material into another language but also get across the spirit of the original. The MediaPost piece described transcreation as “the process of rendering creative ideas so they resonate in other idioms and cultures”. It’s clearly enough a blend of translation and creation. It’s most used in the US, in discussions about converting English advertising into Spanish.
3. Questions and Answers: Tacky
[Q] From Tom Crain: I was looking for the origin of tacky when I came across your site. I was hoping to find validation of my conclusion (based on nothing but my experience of living in the US for 63 years) that it may have come from quilting. By comparison to a handmade quilt, the workmanship of a cheap quilt made by the process called tacking may be considerably below standard. It is tacked together; therefore it is tacky by comparison. Could this be the origin?
[A] It’s an interesting suggestion, Mr Crain.
In the sense that you mean — something exhibiting poor taste and quality — we don’t know its ultimate origin for certain, though the chance of its being related to the embroidery sense of tacking seems remote. We might instead guess it’s related to the other sense of the adjective — for something, such as paint or varnish, that isn’t quite dry and so is still slightly sticky. There’s no evidence for that, either.
In your sense, tacky is firmly located in your own country. It appeared first around 1800 as a noun, variously spelled as tackie or tackey. The earliest example is this:
At some places, you are thus asked, in local phrase, to truck or trade for a horse, a cow, or a little tackie, a term which signifies a poney, or little horse, of low price.
Communications Concerning the Agriculture and Commerce of America, by William Tathan, 1800.
The link with horses might lead to the idea that it has something to do with tack for horse harness, but the one can’t have led to the other, not least because tack in this sense dates only from the 1920s (it’s an abbreviation of tackle).
Web sites about the breed sometimes suggest that tacky is from an English word meaning “cheap” or “common”, but it’s the other way round — the adjective tacky in this sense certainly derives from the name for the horse. The link seems to have been the assumption of a lack of breeding, since the horses weren’t considered to be of high quality (one writer called them “scrubby”). Later in the century, tacky became a term for a “poor white” inhabitant of the southern states.
The adjective, enlarging on this sense of “ill-bred”, began to be written down in the 1860s and has been in use ever since, although the full flowering of its popularity came only in the 1970s and 1980s. It has since spread throughout the English-speaking world:
In the glitzy, and often tacky, world of casinos, Sydney’s Star City is the ultimate ugly duckling.
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), 3 Apr. 2010.
In large part, its renewed popularity came from ticky-tacky, a term derived from it in the 1960s for cheap or inferior materials. It was invented by Malvina Reynolds in her song Little Boxes, about poor-quality suburban housing in California, which is best known in a version by Pete Seeger: “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky, And they all look just the same.”
• “On 12 March,” belatedly communicates Graham Mackie, “our local newspaper, the Peeblesshire News, carried a job advert for a part-time position in the admin department of the local health centre. It stated that “a knowledge of medical termination would be of benefit but not essential”.
• Jerry Fox was left uncertain how to proceed when he looked up the maintenance contract for the lawn sprinklers at his place of work. One sentence read, “The property owner shall call and schedule an appointment between the months of April and May.”
• “Leonardo da Vinci accused in car accident”. Though this headline appeared on BBC News on 1 April, Bill Wanlund is sure it wasn’t a prank. It referred to a man on trial for extortion related to The Madonna of the Yarnwinder.
• Norman Berns reports that the weight-loss site fatsecret.com has word of a curious beverage: “Zwiebelkuchen is an onion pie from Germany, usually served with new wine that’s very similar to a quiche.”
5. Copyright and contact details
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