04 May 2013
1. Feedback, Notes and Comments
Career versus careen David Coe asked if there might be a lexical link between these words and carom. This is connected with games such as billiards (British readers will know the shot as a cannon). It is from carambole, which derives from the Spanish carambola. Carambole was assumed by English speakers to be carom ball and shortened. So the words have independent ancestry.
Malcolm Kronby noted that in the song I’m Still Here, from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, the line appears, “Then you career from career to career.” Martin Turner recalled a story told by the British comedian Tommy Cooper: “I was driving along, and my boss rang up, and he said ‘You’ve been promoted.’ And I swerved. And then he rang up a second time and said ‘You’ve been promoted again.’ And I swerved again. He rang up a third time and said ‘You’re managing director.’ And I went into a tree. And a policeman came up and said ‘What happened to you?’ And I said ‘I careered off the road.’”
Umpty-flumph This appeared in a piece last week. I was sure it was a slang term from my youth for an indefinite large number, a term that my wife remembers as umpity-flumph. Readers queried it, so I looked it up. It wasn’t in any of the reference works I consulted but umpty-flump does appear online a number of times in the sense I used, so my memory wasn’t at fault. Both forms must surely be variations on the fairly common US umpty-umph or umpty-ump, which date back rather more than a century and which developed around the time of the First World War into umpteen. Umpty has also for many years appeared in words such as umpty-eleven or umpty-thousand.
The OED says that umpty is a “fanciful representation of the dash in Morse code”, basing this on iddy-umpty, a military term of the early twentieth century for a dot followed by a dash. However, I’ve found examples from much earlier in which it was a nonsense syllable in poetry, for example as umpty-tumpty-tiddle-dee. The phrase “the class of umpty-five” appeared in an American magazine in July 1882 and “three hundred and umpty-five Fifth Avenue” in Life magazine in October 1884. These suggest that we should be very cautious about uncritically accepting the Morse code origin, since the second part of iddy-umpty may have been based on one or other of these older usages. There might be a link with Humpty-Dumpty, sometimes written ’Umpty-Dumpty at the time to represent uneducated speech.
One reader mentioned the British children’s TV series of the 1970s, The Flumps. My term isn’t obviously linked with it. However, one episode featured an Umpty Flump (a knowing pun, I’m sure) who was umpty in a different sense, that of feeling unwell. This began as British Second World War slang; my wife and I still use umpty to mean having a mild malaise such as an upset stomach.
This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Commenting on it, P D James wrote of Lydia Bennet that “Seen through the eyes of her sister, Elizabeth, she appears to be a vulgar, lusty hoyden.”
Though it’s still to be found, hoyden is a word that feels better suited to Austen’s time than the modern world. These days, we do not regard boisterous or tomboyish girls as a disgrace to their sex, though if we are forced into close association we may wish for a quieter life. Jane Austen would have been much less kind, because for her hoyden had a stronger sense of being ill-bred and rude. She doesn’t call the frivolous and headstrong Lydia a hoyden — she never uses the word in any of her writings — but she does say that Lydia has “high animal spirits”, which closely matches the modern sense.
Hoyden is a curiosity because it once referred to men. We may now look indulgently on hoydenish young women but male hoydens were considered to be rude, ignorant, awkward or boorish. In 1593, Thomas Nashe (on record as its first user) wrote of the hoydens of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge. Its members were exclusively male at the time, as they continued to be until 1977, when the college admitted its first female undergraduates. Why hoyden should have shifted to describe women instead of men is unclear, though boorishness and awkwardness are hardly male preserves.
The other oddity is that hoyden is a close relative of heathen, which is much older. Its roots lie in very early Germanic dialects and is related to heath. Heathens were literally heath-dwellers, inhabitants of open country, uncivilised and in particular unacquainted with Christianity. Hoyden is thought to have been borrowed from heiden, the Dutch equivalent of heathen from the same ancient Germanic source.
Theranostics is widely known within the pharmaceutical field but is almost unknown outside it. A report in 2000 said that the drugs firm PharmaNetics had invented it as a blend of therapeutics and diagnostics.
Its original sense was of a two-stage drugs package — a diagnostic test that identified patients who were most likely to be helped by a new medication, and a targeted drug therapy based on the test results. The aim was to create treatments, using genetic and other methods, which were tailored to individual patients, an area of research called personalised medicine.
With the development in the past decade of specialist techniques at the molecular level, theranostics has also come to refer to a medication that would simultaneously diagnose and treat a disease and even provide feedback about how effective it has been in each individual patient. This is still in its early stages — a researcher predicted in New Scientist in April that “theranostics will enter clinical trials within the decade.”
Other terms within the research world for it are tailored therapy, companion diagnostics and translational medicine.
Scientists had been excited about “theranostics,” where implanted devices would both diagnose and treat illnesses in people automatically, giving insulin for diabetes, for example.
New York Times, 30 Nov. 2012.
Theranostics is referred to as a treatment strategy that combines therapeutics with diagnostics, aiming to monitor the response to treatment and increase drug efficacy and safety, which would be a key part of personalized medicine and require considerable advances in predictive medicine.
Biotech Week, 26 Sep, 2012.
4. Piggy Bank
Q From Jed Hartman: Many web pages claim that piggy bank derives from pygg, said to be a kind of clay. They say that in the 18th century pygg bank became pig bank and later piggy bank. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, suggest that piggy bank comes from piggy, and the earliest cites are 20th century. None of them give a really clear and definitive answer. So I figured I’d ask you. Any thoughts?
A There’s a great deal of nonsense written about the origin of piggy bank. As a typical example, this is from a book that came out just as I was looking into the matter:
The name originated from the word “pygg”, which referred to an orange clay used to form all sorts of pottery items, including jars to hold loose change, which were named after the material itself. In the eighteenth century a clever potter decided to make a pig-shaped “pygg bank” as a novelty item and that soon became the piggy bank of today.
No 1 Mum, by Alison Maloney, 2013.
As you say, other websites and publications have stories very like this. Particularly marked are the repeated references to that orange clay. They all appear traceable back to one of those Life in 1500 spoof e-mails that circulated so widely in the 1990s and which new online generations periodically rediscover. These seem in turn to have been based on Charles Panati’s book of 1989, The Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, which has no reference for the story. In turn he may have got it from How Did It Begin? by Dr Rudolph Brasch, published in 1965, who likewise gives no source. Too many people who have encountered the story have taken it at face value.
The story is false in every particular. There is no record of a clay called pygg, whether orange or any other colour. The term pygg bank is not on record and piggy bank is only a century old.
Devices similar in function to modern piggy banks are ancient — the Greeks and Romans had them. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has examples dating from the sixteenth century. Historically, they were called money boxes, though modern collectors and curators often prefer to identify them as the more generic coin banks. Most were quickly thrown on a potter’s wheel, sealed at the top and with a slot cut in the side to insert coins. As an encouragement to save, the only way to get the money out was to break them, a good reason not to make them of expensive materials. That’s also why so few have survived. Many of the V&A’s examples are beautifully made and look too good to smash; these were presumably intended as decorative presents rather than practical savings boxes (modern ones get around the problem by providing a stopper or plug that avoids having to smash the container). However, there seems to be no significant British tradition of making them in the shape of pigs.
The story may be based on a misunderstanding. In Scotland and northern England, pig — occasionally pygg, though that’s just a variant or dialectal spelling of pig — was used from about 1450 as a general term for earthenware products, including pots, pitchers, jars and crockery. The references to the colour orange in the story presumably derive from a common colour of unglazed earthenware.
The experts are unsure where this sense of pig came from. It might have been from piggin, a wooden pail (though that could sometimes mean an earthenware pitcher), or be related to prig, a dialect term for a small pitcher; it might conceivably at some point in its history have been influenced by the animal sense of pig, because a few items, such as ceramic hot-water bottles, are smoothly rounded like a pig’s body and have indeed been called pigs.
Scots named their coin banks pirly pigs, probably from the older Scots pyrl, to thrust or poke, suggesting the action of inserting a coin. The pig refers not to their shape but to the class of earthenware items to which they belonged.
We see the modern name evolving in American publications at the very end of the nineteenth century. The first form was pig bank:
The latest novelty — The Pig Bank. You have to kill the pig to get the money — 25c each.
The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 10 Nov. 1900. Thanks to Barry Popik for finding this.
May we presume from this that there was little or no earlier history of pig-shaped money boxes in the US? It seems so, from what little information on nineteenth-century ceramics I’ve been able to gather. Might the name have been suggested by the old Scots term? Probably not. More likely it came about through German immigrant influence, since money boxes in the shape of pigs are known much earlier from that country and from elsewhere in continental Europe. It’s claimed that the shape was suggested through an old idea that the pig was a symbol of fertility and frugality. (Ancient Javanese ones exist, too, but knowledge of these is less likely to have travelled to the US.)
Within a decade or so, the term had matured into the modern form:
She could see everything quite plainly now; her little room with the pink roses climbing up the wall, her box of toys, — “Teddy was up-side-down, poor Teddy,” — her desk with the piggy bank on top of it.
Dietetic and Hygienic Gazette, Feb. 1913.
These days piggy banks come in a bewildering range of shapes and styles and a direct connection with pigs is much less clear.
• Rob Crompton told us that a link on the National Secular Society’s site on 27 April read: “Don’t expect change under Pope Frances.” That would be change enough by itself.
• Rhéal Nadeau commented that journalists really ought to watch their metaphors when reporting on hospitals. This followed a headline on the Canadian Metronews site on 26 April: “Ottawa hospital nursing layoffs open old wounds, dispute over whether cuts are new.”
• Where else? The Daily Mail site, Roy Lomas discovered, captioned a photo on 25 April: “Sun shades: Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey wore dark glasses on their eyes.”
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