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Archive for August, 2003

Some Customs We Can Dispense With

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

Bailey’s sez:

FREE-Bench, is that estate in copy-hold lands, which the wife hath after the death of her husband, for her dower, according to the custom of the manor: different manors have different customs, as in the manors of East and West Embourn, in the county of Berks, if a customary tenant die, his wife shall have for her free bench all his copy-hold lands, dum sola & casta fuerit [while she be single & chaste -d.]; but if she commit incontinency, she forfeits her estate: but if she will come into court riding backwards on a black ram, with his tail in her hand, and say the following words, the steward is bound by the custom to restore her to her free-bench.
  Here I am,
  Riding upon a black ram,
  Like a whore as I am;
  And for my crincum crancum,
  Have lost my bincum bancum,
  And for my tail’s game,
  Have done this wordly shame;
  Therefore I pray you Mr. Steward,
  Let me have my land again.

Best Hold Music Ever

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

HLS hold music is hot stuff. It’s Freddie Freeloader right now, the beautifullest song on good ol’ “Kind of Blue”. When Erin got back to me, I asked her to put me back on hold!

The More Things Change…

Monday, August 25th, 2003

Old-school crop circles, from Bailey’s of course:

   FAI’RY Circle, or FAIRY Ring, an appearance pretty frequently seen in the fields, &c. being a kind of round, supposed by the vulgar to be traced by fairies in their dances. There are two sorts of these rings or circles; one of them is about seven or eight yards in diameter, being a round bare path about a foot in breadth, having green grass in the middle; the other is of different sizes, being encompassed with a circumference of grass, much fresher and greener than that in the middle.
   The philosophers suppose these rings to be made by lightening, and this opinion seems to be confirmed, in that they are most frequently found after storms, and the colour and brittleness of the grassy roots is a further confirmation.
   The second kind of circle they suppose to rise originally from the first, in that the grass that had been burnt up by lightening, usually grows more plentiful afterwards; some authors say, that these fairy rings are formed by ants; these insects being sometimes found travelling in troops therein.

OED sez these are caused by “certain fungi”. Basically the rings seem to come about because of the underground spread of mycelial webs from a central point. Among others, the fairy ring toadstool (also called mushroom, champignon) can spread in this way. But if fairies are your theory, the presence of mushrooms in these circles is unlikely to surprise you or change your thinking about the rings’ origins: everybody knows the two go together.

Olde School Arithmetick

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

From Bailey’s:

ARITHMETIC, is iconologically described by a very beautiful but pensive woman sitting, and having the numeration table before her, her garment of divers colours and strewed with musical notes, on the skirts of it the words, par & impar (even & odd) her beauty denotes that the beauty of all things result from her; for God made all things by number, weight and measure: her perfect age shews the perfection of this art; and the various colours, that she gives the principles of all parts of the mathematics.

Dyadic ARITHMETIC, is that where only two figures, 1, and 0, are used.

Specious ARITHMETIC, is that which gives the calculus of quantities, by using letters of the alphabet instead of figures.

[“But algebra is beautiful, not specious”, you cry — well, “specious” originally meant beautiful — inspect the first syllable. -D.]

Strike that!

Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

I mentioned my strike tag problem to Dave Winer yesterday, and now it is gone. Woo hoo! It is certainly nice to have the developer next door. Thanks, Dave.


Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

No more decadent dictionary stuff, read this instead, I know, I keep linking to him, but reading real voices is some heavy shit, it’s worthwhile. He points to others.

Because You Asked: Moxy Etymology

Tuesday, August 19th, 2003

I’m unabashedly fascinated by the search terms people who’ve gotten to this site have used (there may be recent ones here). I wish I had better access to the logs so I could set up Jim Flanagan’s nifty tideghost script. But I guess I can set that up for some other site somewhere…

Anyways, some poor sap got dumped here by a search for “moxy etymology”. This sort of search, I’ve learned, is generally not the greatest way to get decent information on a word, but I view it as a Cry for Help — a Request by the Internet that a Pedant somewhere, be he never so sciolistic, hold forth.

“Moxy” is a fairly recent word, mainly American, meaning something like “spunk, hoo-ha, bravado, get up and go, sass”. Stuffy ol’ OED calls it slang and insists on spelling it “moxie”, which spelling the Dictionary of American Regional English also prefers. So does google. And Merriam Webster. Hmm…

It comes from Moxie (trademark 1924), a soft drink. It showed up in its modern meaning pretty quickly. DARE and OED have this quotation from 1930: “Personally, I always figure Louie a petty-larceny kind of guy, with no more moxie than a canary bird.”

This quote captures part of the vibe of “moxy” for me — the word’s got moxy. It wouldn’t surprise you to see it in an old gangster film, or in hard-boiled fiction. In 1955 the Publications of the American Dialect Society note “blows his moxie” as a kind of cant equivalent of “loses his nerve”.

Stuffy ol’ OED doesn’t deign to dirty its feet in the bogs of moxy’s history before the soft drink, but DARE’s got a bit more moxy, and points out the existence of a precursor to the soft drink — a patent medicine named Moxie, developed around 1880 and once advertised as a “nerve food”. Actually, maybe I’m being a bit hard on OED. They do have a nice early quotation which refers to this patent medicine and tickles at the edges of our modern “moxy”: H.C. De Mille in 1890: “Young man, you’ve got nerve enough to start a Moxie factory.”

Holy Crow! I just looked around a bit and Moxie is still around! And a trillion people have already written THIS SAME ESSAY, only with more knowledge behind it. What a drag, the internet clearly already knows all about this. “And deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book.” Go here, everything there is much better than this.

Let’s just finish this up. Why name a patent medicine Moxie? According to DARE, it is after a Maine plant, some sort of evergreen variously called moxie, moxie berry, moxie vine, moxie plum. This makes sense, given that the founder of the Moxie company was from Maine… The moxie plant in turn DARE reckons to perhaps be called after an Algonquian base, “maski-“, meaning “medicine”.


Monday, August 18th, 2003

I’ve answered the pressing question: did the Lexicon Balatronicum steal its etymology of “dildo” from Bailey? The answer is yes.

There’s a wonderful, amazing etext of Nathaniel Bailey’s Universal Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. It consists of scans of the pages, served out with a system called “djvu“. This requires a plugin to work (and will make Mozilla fail spectacularly — don’t do that), but it’s well worth it.

There is only one tiny problem, which is that the online edition is from 1772, after a couple other editors had mucked with the book (Bailey died in 1742). Johnson’s Dictionary, which everyone goes on about being better than Bailey, was published in 1755. People claim that Bailey’s has the juicy words, including our versions of “cunnus” and “futuo”. But this one doesn’t have them! I’m afraid the evil influence of Johnson, who was too much of a tight-ass to even let “dildo” into his, scared the later editors into vitiating this Bailey.

But, really, no biggie. Non-obscene words can be fun to look up too.

Chagrined & Bewildered®

Sunday, August 17th, 2003

From the Turkish saghri, a rough-surfaced leather. We call this material “shagreen”. It was the French who started using it metaphorically for “that which frets or worries the mind” (OED), and when we followed suit we adopted their spelling too.
In deserto.

Defending Dilettantism

Saturday, August 16th, 2003

I have recently been called a “dilettante”, an appellation I accepted with mixed pleasure. But I’ve converted this feeling to full-on unadulterated pleasure by means of my patented method of twisting meanings. Here’s the precept of this method: only the vulgar concern themselves with the “meaning” of a word. A word does not have a “meaning” in itself — there’s just a social arrangement concerning what one should understand it to mean. As the social arrangement changes, the meaning changes.

The application? “Dilettante” is in itself not a negative word. It’s the Italian present participle of dilettare, to delight. So a dilettante is literally someone who is taking delight in something. This is a word we dilettantes can reclaim, as expressing one of the best things one can do. If you’re a dilettante, you’re not just working on something for money, or recognition — you’re working on it because you love it. An obviously similar case could be made for amateur.

OK, we’ve justified our actions: now we get to have fun. Dilletare comes from the Latin delectare. This comes straight into English as “delect”, but nobody uses that one. But in old French we see delectare becoming delitier – let it hop over the Channel and presto! the English word “delite”, spelled “delight” by the vulgar. These words are kissing cousins with “delicious” as well.

But back to the Italian – do we get anything else of interest from dilettare? I am so glad you asked, because according to the Lexicon Balatronicum, the Italian diletto comes into English in another form, viz. “dildo”. This etymology may have been stolen from Bailey — I gots no copy so I can’t tell. In any case, Richard Burton, as learned and sloppy a scholar as anyone, borrowed it for his translation of the “Arabian Nights”, so it’s good enough for me.

The Lexicon Balatronicum also mentions that another Italian word for “dildo” was passatempo. Unfortunately there’s no record of English “pastime” or its loser variant “pastance” ever taking on this meaning. Oh, the snickering I could have done!