E-MAGAZINE 705: SATURDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Brief reviews In the piece about the new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, I referred to it as a doorstep of a book. Many readers queried whether I meant to write doorstop. However, for at least the past 150 years in the UK we have used doorstep for a very thick slice of bread. We have recently extended that image to books, too recently for any British dictionary I have consulted to include it. I’m not entirely sure whether this ought to be classed as a folk etymology or a transferred epithet, but I suspect the former. Google, surprisingly, finds more than three times as many results for doorstep of a book as for the other form.
In the same set of reviews, I gave the title of a book as Germany: Biography of a Language by Ruth H Saunders. That should have been German: Biography of a Language by Ruth H Sanders. Apologies.
Gong farmer Hugh Blackmer pointed me to John Pudney’s The Smallest Room of 1954, which suggests a different origin for farmer in the expression — from the old verb fay, to cleanse, so making the noun faymer, one who cleanses, which became farmer through the influence of that word. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests, however, that farmer is from a different verb, the Old English feormian, of similar sense.
2. Weird Words: Ooglification
This is a truly curious word, a whimsical creation to identify a linguistic process that doesn’t exist. Nobody is ever likely to use it in real life, although it has appeared in a number of works that list language oddities. It refers to a supposed process by which an oo sound is substituted for another vowel, either to turn a regular English word into slang or to make a slang word even more slangy.
It was invented about 30 years ago by Roger Wescott, who was then Professor of Linguistics at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. It appeared in a little article in the linguistic magazine Verbatim under the title Ooglification in American English Slang. He claimed to have derived the word as an expansion of the American slang oogly, which he said meant “extremely attractive” and “extremely unattractive”. So far as I am aware, it has never aspired to the former sense, being a modified form of ugly, thus being a example of the process he describes.
Though ooglification isn't a real process in English, Professor Westcott is making a serious point facetiously. Anatoly Liberman commented in his Oxford Etymologist blog in July this year that “The vowel sound oo has the ability of giving a word an amusing appearance. Whoever hears snooze, canoodle, and nincompoop begins to smile; add boondoggle to this list.”
Roger Wescott listed a number of slang terms from the past century that share this quality. Most of his examples are either uncommon or defunct. Divine has appeared as divoon, Scandinavian is known as Scandinoovian (sometimes as Scandihoovian), and at one time cigaroot was a well known variation on cigarette, as here:
“I can ’elp!” persisted Albert. “Got a cigaroot?” “Do you smoke, child?” “When I get ’old of a cigaroot I do.” “I’m sorry I can’t oblige you. I don’t smoke cigarettes.” “Then I’ll ’ave to ’ave one of my own,” said Albert moodily.
A Damsel in Distress, by P G Wodehouse, 1919.
Game on? There has been a sudden proliferation of appearances of the word gamification in the media recently, although the word is recorded as early as 2006. It refers to the application of digital game technology and game design in areas of life outside games. Its proponents argue that everything from global-positioning software to retailing and financial services websites could become more game-like in order to attract people who are comfortable with online games and make sites easier and more pleasant to use. Retail websites are experimenting with games to gain and keep customers, multiplayer games are being tried at work to improve coordination between staff, and it has even been suggested that boring tasks such as paying taxes or checking the weather might become fun.
Twittering The fanciful language creations associated with the online Twitter system know no end. I've largely escaped the flood of neologisms, as I've retreated to the linguistic high ground to become a mildly disparaging onlooker, but one I came across this week is worth a tut-tut or two: twinterview, an interview executed in 140-character chunks.
Mid-life crises The British media have been having fun with a term linked to a report from the analysts Mintel. This pointed out the recent rise in the value of bike sales, despite a fall of some 10% in the number of cycles sold. The difference is explained in part by the MAMILs, Middle-Aged Men In Lycra, who are taking up cycling with enthusiasm, in the process spending freely on high-end cycles and all the accoutrements, especially the clothing.
4. Questions and Answers: Lo and behold
Q From Kristin OKeefe: Where does the phrase lo and behold come from? How long has it been in the language? I Googled it and saw that the first known usage is from 1808, but it seems older than that.
A It seems older because both parts of the phrase are essentially archaic. It reminds us of the phraseology of early English language editions of the Bible, such as the King James version of 1611. But lo and behold doesn’t appear in that edition (nor, as far as I can tell, in any other). But the individual words most certainly do, often close to each other:
And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Genesis, chapter 15 verse 3, King James Bible, 1611.
The two words have closely similar meanings, being commands to draw attention to an interesting or amazing event or to imply “listen carefully, I’m going to tell you something important”. Lo is a shortening of the Old English imperative form of the verb look; behold in such cases is also an imperative, from the verb meaning to keep in view.
At some point — the evidence suggests it was sometime in the eighteenth century — people began to put the two words together to make a humorously reinforced form that might be translated as “look and see”. At first this was regarded as too colloquial or irreligious to be used in respectable publications, which is why our earliest examples are from personal letters. The one you mention is in a letter of 1808 in the published correspondence of Lady Lyttelton, much later to become lady of the bedchamber to Queen Victoria and governess to her children: “Lo and behold! M. Deshayes himself appeared”.
This is earlier by half a century:
Here was I sat down, full of Love and Respect to write my dearest Friends a dutiful and loving letter, when lo, and behold! I was made happy by the receipt of yours.
In a letter by Miss N-- to the actor and playwright Thomas Hull, dated 22 July 1766. It was included in Select letters Between the Late Duchess of Somerset, Lady Luxborough, Mr Whistler, ... and Others, which Hull edited and published in two volumes in 1778.
By the 1820s, it had become common. It’s still so, though we can only utter it self-consciously as a linguistic relic. We can use it to refer to some notionally surprising event that isn’t really so surprising because it has been predicted.
• “In a local antique store,” writes Bronwyn Cozens, “I found a sweet little furniture item, carefully labelled Reproductive Cabinet. No instructions were given, nor was there any further information. One can only wonder how it works.”
• It would be all too easy to get the wrong idea from a headline on the Buffalo News website over a story dated 18 September: “Texas Man accused of shooting deputies in custody.” Thanks go to Gloria Bryant for sending that in.
• Readers of the Bendigo Weekly in Australia, Jack Lilley tells us, may not be greatly surprised to hear of yet another name change for part of the State Government of Victoria: the Weekly tells us that it’s called the “Department of Stainability and Environment”.
• The Marlin Chronicle, the student newspaper of Virginia Wesleyan College, had a story on 17 September about a snake that fell from the ceiling of an office. Cathal Woods says that the paper wrote of the person who saw it: “When she checked to see what had fallen, she dismissed the snake as a prank, thinking it was one of the other workers.”
6. Copyright and contact details
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