Soupçon

September 30, 2009

The word means a very small quantity of something, and I never saw it before reading Bob Sloan’s mystery, Bliss Jumps the Gun.  Since then, I’ve seen it several times.  It is a French word and pronounced Soop-sawn because of the little cedilla below the c.  It took me damn forever to figure out how to put that into the text box.

I tried to find the value of this word, why someone would use it instead of, let’s say, iota.  The O.E.D. had an interesting take.  The define soupçon as a suspicion or suggestion of something.  How poetic.  While an iota may be a small amount, a soupçon is so minuscule that it is not even visible, merely the slight hint of its existence is left.

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Whitsunday

September 29, 2009

Whitsunday is another name for the feast day of Pentecost, celebrating when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples of Jesus and granted them tongues of fire, blessing them with the strength to spread the word of God.  I’m having a hard time finding when and where this phrase would be commonly used over Pentecost.  I came across the term in Lawrence Block’s compelling mystery novel, The Sins of the Father.

Whitsunday is obviously a shortening of White Sunday.  The O.A.D. suggests that the name comes from the white robes of the newly baptized.  The O.E.D. points out that the whole week following the holiday was known as Whitweek, with Whitmonday, Whittuesday, and so on and so forth.


Pastiche

September 28, 2009

A word I have seen too often to not remember the definition to it. A pastiche is a work of literature,art, or  music that is almost entirely composed of motifs taken from other sources, a Frankenstein of creativity if you will. There doesn’t seem to be anything inherently negative about the word, although I do not think you would use it to signify a creative mix of ideas.  It does seem to be used for parodies or homages, as well as just intellectual influence and plagiarism.  What I didn’t know before researching this is that it can also be used as a verb.


William Safire R.I.P.

September 27, 2009

The New York Times just announced that William Safire passed away.  While I couldn’t agree with his politics, his column, On Language, for the New York Times was priceless.  He will certainly be missed.


Excoriate

September 25, 2009

A word that has both a figurative and literal meaning.  Figuratively, it means to harshly censure or criticize someone.  Literally, it means to strip off the skin of something.  The latter what it translates to from Latin as well, and it is also why this word caught my eye.

When I started training for First Aid, they gave me this book of how to handle various scenarios.  I found myself able to handle the CPR and even the broken bones, but punctures proved a little harder.  In particular, the whole process of dealing with an impaled eyeball was particularly difficult for me.

When I reached the end of the book, however, I hit the really extreme cases.  Nothing bothered me more than something called degloving.  It is exactly what it sounds like, when the skin of the hand is excoriated right off, sometimes turned inside out in the process.  If you are brave enough, here is a picture of a finger partially degloved by a wedding band.  ONLY LOOK IF YOU FEEL YOU MUST! IT IS AWFUL!  This sort of thing haunted me for weeks, but I always found myself drawn back to the pictures.

Actually, thinking about this now makes me ill.  This is worse than my pessary post.


Andover Workhouse Scandal

September 24, 2009

My wife asked me tonight if the idea of bone-crushing labor was a reference to the English workhouses of the 19th century.  On of the jobs reserved for the poor was to crush and grind bones into fertilizer.  Although it turns out that the phrase has nothing to do with such labor, it did turn me on to this more interesting event that took place in 1846.

In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in England to help create a standardized workfare system in England.  According to Wikipedia, the work was meant to be miserable, so as to discourage the able-bodied from relying on the government dole.  Workhouses sprung up all over England to provide bone-crushing labor opportunities (both literally and figuratively).

In 1846, the House of Commons opened and investigation into the Andover Workhouse.  Conditions in the workhouse were beyond deplorable; female workers were sexually abused, and paupers were locked in the mortuary as punishment.  One revelation was that the workers would fight over scraps of decayed meat that were rotting on the bones they were meant to be grinding.  One reform of this investigation was that the process of bone crushing was banned in the workhouses.


Bobo

September 23, 2009

When I first read David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise, I rushed the word flexidoxy up to the top of my list with this entry.  It wasn’t that the word was so important, but that it was a library book that I would need to return and it didn’t seem worth it to take notes when I could just write the entry.

The most important word from the book was one whose meaning I could remember without the book in front of me.  Bobo.  An invented abbreviation of bohemian bourgeoisie.  Brooks’s whole premise is that the new American elite is this odd combination of two forces that were polar opposites in the old America.  Now, Burlington, VT, crawls with a wealthy elite dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

The book is full of wonderful observations, but one stands out for me as a teacher to the Bobos of New York.  He offers the best explanation I’ve ever heard as to why the parents of my students are so obsessed with college.  The new elite, Brooks writes, is laden with anxiety.  While the old elite could rest assured that the family name would be enough to leave their legacy, the Bobos know they live in word were a name cannot ultimately trump ability.  Their children will not inherit their status simply because they share a genetic code.  Therefore, they put an enormous amount of pressure on their kids to repeat their success.  The children internalize it and become one with the anxiety as well.

Brooks credits this anxiety as the reason for their success, but it comes at a cost.  The students I now teach will never be able to see school as anything but a test for them to reach the next level.  It is too ingrained into their upbringing.