A Way with Words

Train of Thought - 4 February 2019

February 4, 20190 sec
Chances are you recognize the expressions Judgment Day and the root of all evil as phrases from the Bible. There are many others, though, some of which may surprise you: the powers that be and bottomless pit first appeared in scripture. Plus, there's a term for when the language of a minority is adopted by the majority. When, for example, expressions from drag culture and hip-hop go mainstream, they're said to have covert prestige. And the language of proxemics: how architects design spaces to bring people together or help them keep their distance. All that, and Segway vs. segue, part and parcel, Land of Nod, hue and cry, on the razzle, train of thought, and a special Swedish word for a special place of refuge. FULL DETAILS Land of milk and honey, Judgment Day, and the root of all evil are well-known phrases that first appeared in English translations of the Bible. There are several less obvious ones, though, including bottomless pit, meaning an abyss, the first recorded use of which appears in William Tyndale's 1526 translation of the Book of Revelation. Is the brand name Segway starting to replace the word segue, which meaning either to follow or seamless transition? The term sign of the times, denoting something indicative of the kinds of things happening in a particular period, goes back to the Gospel of Matthew. Part and parcel, indicating an integral component is one of many legal doublets in English consisting of two words that mean essentially the same thing. Others include law and order, cease and desist, will and testament, sole and exclusive. There are a few triplets as well, such as right, title, and interest; give, devise, and bequeath; and ordered, adjudged, and decreed. The term Land of Nod, a joking reference to sleep, has its origins in the biblical Land of Nod, to which Cain was exiled after murdering his brother Abel. Jonathan Swift first used it that way in his 1738 work, A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation. The novels Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright and A Void by Georges Perec are examples of constrained writing or lipograms. Lipogrammatic writing is composed entirely with words that don't contain a particular letter, such as, in this case, the letter E. Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a puzzle that works just the opposite way: the only vowel in all of the answers is the letter E. For example, what do you call the place where you put items that you won't need for a long time, especially if you want them to be extremely cold? Smultronstalle is a Swedish word for a special place of refuge. Literally, it means wild strawberry patch. Why is the ch pronounced differently in spinach and stomach? Today, the phrase hue and cry means a clamor or uproar, but in old English law, hue and cry referred to the public outcry during the pursuit of a criminal suspect. Anyone who heard this shouting was legally obligated to join in the chase. Jason in Barre, Vermont, wonders if there's a connection between the words casual and casualty. Both belong to a family of words involving the idea of falling, deriving from Latin cadere, to fall, and its past participle, casus. From the same roots come the words cascade, referring to things tumbling, as well as cadaver, literally someone who has fallen, and caducity, the increasing infirmity of old age. The first recorded use of the phrase fight the good fight is in the Biblical book of Timothy. Tony in Reno, Nevada, says he's noticed people leaving more space between each other while standing in a queue. Is there a better term for this than personal space? The study of public spaces and the way we move around them is known as proxemics. Public spaces that tend to keep people apart are called sociofugal and those designed to bring people together are described as sociopetal. A Kazahk saying that literally translates as I see the sun on your back means Thank you for being you. The earliest recorded appearance of the phrases A house divided cannot stand and the powers that be occurred in early English translations of the Bible. Although the exact phrase a fly in the ointment isn't in the Bible, the idea of a dead fly ruining an ointment does appear in Ecclesiastes 10:1, and apparently inspired the modern phrase. When the dialect of a minority group becomes highly valued and exerts force on the language of the majority, linguists say it has covert prestige. For example, many words and phrases from drag culture and hip-hop found their way into the mainstream. Gary in San Antonio, Texas, wonders if the term train of thought, meaning a line of reasoning or narrative, predates locomotives. It does indeed, going back to the idea of train meaning anything trailing behind, like a bridal train. You might guess that an orangutan is named for its color. In reality, the name of this ape derives from Malay terms that mean man of the forest. After crossing the International Date Line, Alison from Riverside, California, wonders if there's a word for losing an entire day when traveling between time zones. We suggest deja noon and groundhogging, and offer a little ditty about time: Today was tomorrow yesterday, but today is today today, just as yesterday was today yesterday, but yesterday today, and tomorrow will be today tomorrow, which makes today yesterday and tomorrow all at once. (For those of you with a Newspaper Archive subscription, you can find it in the June 15, 1916 edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.) In Britain, to be on the razzle means to be celebrating wildly. Tim from Manhattan Beach, California, says his grandmother used to carry a brown paper bag and call it her poke sack. The word poke, in this case, means bag, making poke sack a pleonasm, which is an expression using more words than necessary to convey its meaning. This type of poke comes from French and is related to the words pouch and pocket. To buy a pig in a poke is to purchase something without carefully inspecting it. This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette. -- A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443. https://waywordradio.org/ Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

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