Monday, December 26, 2011

Wildest Words

WARNING! Some material in this blog may not be suitable for younger or more sensitive readers.  Reader discretion is advised.

The Oxford English Dictionary is pretty much the gold standard for word usage, and when it admits new words to its hallowed lists, we’d better pay attention.  Three especially useful words for the flâneur’s vocabulary cropped up during the past year in an addendum to the OED, and just in case you’re not familiar with them, I’m here to call them to your attention and, what is more, explain them.

In alphabetical order, the first is bahookie. This is defined as “informal” for a person’s buttocks, Bahookie is Scottish in origin, first appeared in the 1930s, and is derived from blending behind and hough. Hough is an alternate spelling of hock (Old English hōh (“heel”), which can mean a part of the body extending from the tarsal joint some distance up the leg.  One hopes, of course, that one’s bahookie is callipygian.

Next is crunk, a type of hip-hop music characterized by shouted catchphrases and electronic dance music elements, such as prominent bass sounds. It can also refer adjectivally to a person who is full of energy, synonymous with “pumped up.”  Crunk originated in the 1990s and speculation varies as to its origin.  It may be an alternate past participle of crank, describing a condition that is “cranked up.” Or perhaps it is a portmanteau blend of crazy (or chronic or crack or coke) and drunk. One source says the word originated when comedians Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter devised an all-purpose swear word that could get past TV censors.

Finally, kiddies, let us consider twonk, another newbie in the OED.  It is “British informal” for a “stupid or foolish person.”  Scholars believe it is a combination of the words twit or twat and plonk.  Twit has been used since 1528 (long before Twitter was ever dreamt of).  It means a foolish person and stems from Old English ætwītan, meaning “to reproach.”  Twat, as you doubtless know, is extremely vulgar slang for female privy parts.  It is of obscure origin, the OED says primly, and was first noted in the seventeenth century. Plonk is British slang for cheap wine (probably a corruption of the French blanc).

An interesting literary sidelight about the word twat is that Robert Browning used it (by mistake) in his otherwise decorous Pippa Passes:
                        Then owls and bats,
                        Cowls and twats,
                        Monks and nuns, in a cloister’s moods,
                        Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!           
Browning thought the word meant a nun’s headdress, based on his misunderstanding of an anonymous bawdy satirical poem of 1660 called “Vanity of Vanities,” in which these lines appear:
                        They talk’t of his having a Cardinall’s Hat,
                        They’d send him as soon as an Old Nun’s Twat…
It is also notable that both Browning and his misinterpreted source pronounce twat to rhyme with bat and hat, although the customary modern pronunciation rhymes it with hot.

That old twonk, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, is well known for sitting on his bahookie and cranking out crunk clerihews like the following observations about Victorian poets:

            Robert Browning
            Was always frowning,
            Looking for his glasses,
            So he could see if Pippa Passes.
            Alfred Lord Tennyson
            Loved the taste of venison,
            And he often had a hunch
            That there’d be a haunch for lunch.           

            To use a loaded word like carnal ’d
            Be a stretch for Matthew Arnold.
            But he learned to overreach
            On Dover Beach.

            William Ernest Henley
            Wanted to be frien’ly,
            But his friends said, “You tricked us
            Into reading that Invictus.”           

            Gerard Manley Hopkins
            Always said “nopkins”
            And pronounced “napery”
            To rhyme with “foppery.”
            Algernon Charles Swinburne
            Loved to feel the gin burn
            His throat as it warmed him—
            But it never reformed him.

            Dante Gabriel Rossetti
            Liked to eat spaghetti,
            Because when he was little, he
            Learned his family came from Italy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Little Christmas Rewrites

Lyricists have to work hard, especially when it comes to Christmas. A favorite song this time of year is Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” with its heart-warming lyrics that cheered up cute little Margaret O’Brien when Judy Garland sang them in Meet Me in St. Louis.  The original lyrics by Martin, however, were not all that heart-warming.  In fact, Garland and director Vincente Minnelli objected that they were downright depressing.  The original lyrics were:
             Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
             It may be your last,
            Next year we may all be living in the past.
            Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
            Pop that champagne cork,
            Next year we will all be living in New York.

            No good times like the olden days,
            Happy golden days of yore,
            Faithful friends who were dear to us
            Will be near to us no more.

            But at least we all will be together,
            If the Lord allows,
            From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow,
            So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Martin at first refused to change the lyric, but at last he was persuaded to make the song more upbeat.  The Hollywood moguls also thought invoking the Lord was too overtly religious, so Martin’s new lyric was:


            Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
            Let your heart be light,
            From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

            Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
            Make the Yuletide gay,
            From now on, our troubles will be miles away.

            Here we are as in olden days,
            Happy golden days of yore.
            Faithful friends who are dear to us           
            Gather near to us once more.

            Through the years we all will be together,
            If the Fates allow,
            Until then we’ll have to muddle through   


            So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.  

In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" for his album "A Jolly Christmas." Martin's new line—"Hang a shining star upon the highest bough"—is now more widely known than the original.

Yet another lyrical change was in store.  In 2001, Martin, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, wrote a religious version of the song:

            Have yourself a blessed little Christmas,
            Christ the King is born,
            Let your voices ring upon this happy morn.  
            Have yourself a blessed little Christmas,
            Serenade the Earth,
            Tell the world we celebrate the Savior's birth. 

            Let us gather to sing to Him
            And to bring to Him our praise, 
            Son of God and a Friend of all, 
            To the end of all our days. 

            Sing hosannas, hymns, and hallelujahs, 
            As to Him we bow, 
            Make the music mighty as the heav'ns allow, 
           And have yourself a blessed little Christmas now.
So take your choice—depressing, uplifting, or religious—but since Martin died in March of this year, at the age of 96, there probably won’t be any more versions.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who is not yet 96 but hopes to be, spins out new versions of his stuff with alacrity, hoping someday to get it right.  So far, he hasn’t.

            I’m a songwriting miracle
            Whenever I wax lyrical--
            A versifying Merlin,
            To rival Irving Berlin,
            When I wave my wand, I’m
            Up there with Stephen Sondheim.
            Oh, yes, I find my art
            Compares to Lorenz Hart,
            And songs spun from my web
            Are like those of Fred Ebb,
            And snappier and shorter
            Than ditties by Cole Porter.
            And, sure, my grammar’s fine,
            Just like Oscar Hammerstein.
            You see—I’m in my prime!
            There’s no name I can’t rhyme!
            For example: Ira Gershwin….
            Well… maybe I’d better not give up my day job.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Subordinate Claws

An earlier effusion from the Bard of Buffalo Bayou dealt with an amorous oyster and a scallop that was playing hard to get, so now it’s time to examine two louche and lustful lobsters—Lobster Newburg and Lobster Thermidor, to name names.
The two dishes are pretty similar, consisting usually of butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs, paprika, and Cayenne pepper—and, oh yes, a little lobster meat, if you’re lucky.

Lobster Newburg (or Newberg) was created in 1876 when a sea captain named Ben Wenberg asked Charles Ranhofer, the chef at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York, to recreate a dish he had enjoyed in South Africa. After adding a few culinary touches of his own, Ranhofer put it on the menu as “Lobster à la Wenberg.”

But one night Wenberg got into a drunken brawl at the restaurant. Owner Charles Delmonico banished him from the premises and removed the dish named for him from the menu.  Patrons complained so loudly, however, that Delmonico restored the lobster dish—but rearranged the letters in Wenberg to read “Newberg” on the menu.

Lobster Thermidor, which adds Gruyère cheese and mustard to the Newburg ingredients, was devised Chez Marie, a Paris restaurant, in 1894.  It honored the opening of Victorien Sardou’s play Thermidor, which took its name from the eleventh month of the French Revolutionary calendar. Corresponding to July-August in the Gregorian calendar, Thermidor means “gift of heat” in Greek.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou does not regard heat as a gift, especially when the heat is on, as it is in this little ditty:

            A tough New Jersey mobster,
            Said, “I want some lobster, 
            Lightly steamed wit butter--
            It makes my tummy flutter
            Just thinkin’ of my favorite food in all da woild.”       

            But he found it wasn’t tender,            
            And he said, “Retoin to sender—          
            You may think dat I am selfish,     
            But I gotta teach dis shellfish            
            Dat I’m de only one who gets to be hard-boiled.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Getting Your Kicks

Thirty-six synchronized Rockettes are kicking up a storm four or five times a day in the current Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.  With all that kicking, you’d think they might have been named the Kickettes—but thereby hangs a tale.

The Rockettes originated when a Broadway dancer named Russell Markert saw the John Tiller Girls in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies. Markert is said to have said: “If I ever got a chance to get a group of American girls who would be taller and have longer legs and could do really complicated tap routines and eye-high kicks... they'd knock your socks off!" He got his chance in St. Louis in 1925 when he put together a tall, long-legged, tap-dancing, high-kicking, socks-knocking-off group of precision dancers he called the Missouri Rockets.

They danced all over the Midwest and in 1930 came to the attention of New York producer and theatre owner Samuel Lionel Rothafel.  Rothafel was known as “Roxy”—a nickname he acquired when he played on a Pennsylvania baseball team, and as he ran on an iffy double, a little boy yelled “Slide, Roxy!”  When Roxy opened a snazzy Broadway theatre in 1927, he modestly called it the Roxy.

Rothafel installed the 50 Missouri Rockets in the Roxy’s vaudeville show—and renamed them—what else?—the “Roxyettes.”

In 1932, Rothafel opened the new Radio City Music Hall, and moved his dancers there, once again renaming them, this time as the “Rockettes.” Markert remained their choreographer until he retired in 1971. The number of dancers eventually stabilized at 36, and a legend was born.

The legendary Bard of Buffalo Bayou was not born, but sprang full-grown from the brow of Edgar Guest.  As hommage to his mentor, the Bard makes this poetic offering:

            Foxy Roxy,
            Full of moxie,
            Was a Broadway pro.
            His Rockettes
            Turned pirouettes
            And put on quite a show.
            Sky-high kicks
            Made fans all shout “Bravo!”
            But Roxy cried,
            “Not satisfied!
            Those kicks are much too low!

            Now I require
            That you kick higher,
            And please don’t tell me ‘no’!”
            The girls complied,
            And they all tried,
            As high as they could go.
            “Now don’t get bitchy,”
            Declared the itchy
            “I won’t relent,
            Or be content,
            Until my fortunes grow!”

            Up to the sky,
            The girls kicked high,
            But they brought Roxy woe—
            The Rockettes’ magic
            Turned sadly tragic
            When they got vertigo. 

Monday, November 28, 2011


It’s time for the Scrooges among us to begin the annual litany of “Bah! Humbugs!” that make this season of joy palatable. 

“Humbug” is a strange word, apparently having nothing to do with an insect that can carry a tune.  It means “a hoax, something intended to deceive,” or just “nonsense.” It was first used in student slang around 1750 in England, and wouldn’t you know that neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor any of the various Websters I consulted has a clue about its etymology. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word’s origin was a subject of much whimsical speculation even as early as the 1750s.

One blogger I found thinks that humbug may be derived from the Old Norse words hum, meaning “night” or “shadow” or “dark air,” and bugges, a variant of bogey, meaning “apparition” or "ghost."  In the absence of any better theories to the contrary, I’m willing to go with that.

In England, humbugs are hard candies with soft centers, usually peppermint flavored. They have been around since about 1825. They are especially popular around Christmas, so maybe Scrooge was really offering his visitors a piece of candy when he said “Humbug!”

If you’re looking for a gift for the person who has everything, you could hardly do better than a device called the “Baa Humbug,” which is available on for $11.75.  It’s a plastic sheep that poops humbug candies.  Mmmmm. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is full of humbugs, of all varieties, but soldiers on despite this infirmity.           

            Hey, you smart bugs and you dumb bugs,
            Don your homburgs, all you humbugs!
            In Christmas spirit we’re immersed.
            For Christmas comes but once a year,
            Spreading lots of mirth and cheer,
            With joy our hearts swell up and burst.
            Santa with his eight reindeer
            And bags of presents will appear,           
            With nuts and candies interspersed.
            A little eggnog or some beer
            Will help us to forget the fear
            Of how much money we’ve disbursed.
            Wait! Christmas really isn’t near,
            It’s weeks before it will be here—
            Somehow I find it rather queer
            It starts around November first.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Lurkey

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a holiday that honors turkey farmers and cranberry growers.  Although the occasion is not generally observed in Istanbul, there is a connection between the land of the Turks and the gobbler that graces our tables. 

The name of the country Turkey stems from Türkiyei in the Turkish language and is formed from the components Türk—derived from Tu-kin, a name of unknown meaning that the Chinese applied in the second century B. C. to people living south of the Altai Mountains—and the suffix –iyei, which means “land of.” 

In the early sixteenth century Europeans began to import guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) from Africa via a route that came through Turkey. As a result they were sometimes called “Turkey birds.” A similar, but much larger fowl, Meleagris gallopavo, native to the Americas, had been domesticated by the Aztecs and was introduced to Spain in 1523 by the conquistadores.  From there this bird spread to others parts of Europe.

The word turkey was first applied to the bigger bird in the 1550s because the English mistakenly assumed it was a version of the same guinea fowl they got via Turkey.  By 1575, turkey was the usual main course at an English Christmas dinner.  The Pilgrims in Massachusetts possibly served wild turkey for their Thanksgiving feast, and to this very day many Americans enjoy Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving--and eat roast turkey as well.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, widely known as a turkey himself, provides ample reason for that appellation with gobbled…er, garbled…verses such as the following:

            Some think a pheasant
            For dinner is pleasant,
            And others prefer a fat goose.
            Some pulses quicken
            At hot roasted chicken
            Bursting with flavorful juice.

            Some hunters’ cartridges
            Bag lots of plump partridges
            To grace their holiday table,
            And others munch duck
            For a tasty pot-luck           
            Just as long as their jaws remain able.

            Some like a smidgen
            Of quail or of pigeon,
            If they can’t get their teeth round a squab.
            Or perhaps they’ll espouse
            A morsel of grouse
            That’s skewered and served as kabob.

            But when I want to howl
            With a fine-feathered fowl
            That makes me feel peppy and perky,
            You can have all those birds,
            I refuse to mince words,
            For I much prefer to talk turkey.

Monday, November 14, 2011

You Don’t Know Jack

A previous dissertation on “Jack-o’-lantern” kindled memories of a charming poem by the late John Updike in a collection called “A Cheerful Alphabet of Pleasant Objects,” in which various meanings of the word jack were celebrated.  It went: 


                               A card, a toy, a hoist,
                               a flag, a stay, a fruit,
                               a sailor, John, a pot,
                               a rabbit, knife, and boot;
                               o’-lantern, in-the-box
                               or -pulpit, Ketch, a daw,
                               a-dandy, of-all-trades,
                               anapes, an ass, a straw.
                                                            From The Carpentered Hen © 1958 by John Updike

Less poetic, but more exhaustive, is the Oxford English Dictionary, which devotes ten-and-a-half minutely printed columns to multiple definitions of jack, and also tells us of its etymology:           

“The actual origin is disputed.  It has been generally assumed to be the same word as French Jacques…also a familiar name for a peasant, a man of the lower orders (cf. Jacquerie).  But it has been used in English from its earliest appearance [which the OED places in 1302] as a by-name for John.  The Scotch equivalent form of the name is Jock but this has not the transferred senses of Jack.”  

Among those transferred senses, in addition to the ones Updike rhymed, are a serving-man, an attendant, a laborer, a machine for turning the spit in roasting meat, a contrivance for pulling off boots, part of a harpsichord or spinet, a small amount, a quarter of a pint, a small brick, a ladies’ man, a close-fitting garment, and a joint of mutton.  And those are just the tip of jack’s iceberg!  What a guy!

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is no Jack Updike, but he has his own litany of Jacks:

Albertson, Armstrong, Benny, and Carson, Cassidy, Dempsey, and Black,
Nicholson, Weston, Worthing, and Heifner, Macgowran, LaLanne, Kerouac,                             
Richardson, Robinson, Carter, and Daniel, Douglas, and Elam, and Bailey,
Kennedy, Klugman, London, and Frost, Kevorkian, Leonard, and Haley,                               
Ruby, and Oakie, and Nicklaus, and Lord, and Gelber, and Sparrow, and Warner,                  
Johnson, and Jones, and Lemmon, and Lang, and Palance, and Garner, and Horner,  
Lescoulie and Handy, McBrayer, and White, and Abramoff, Yates, and Hightower, 
Higgins, and Kemp, Webb, Wagner, and Smith, and Flash, and Valenti, and Bauer,            
Russell and Trussel, Teagarden and Warden, Welch, Soo, Paar, and O'Brien,                         
And that leaves but one, to finish the rhyme, and that would be Tom Clancy's Ryan.             

These are all the Jacks whose names have come to my attention,
But there may be many others I have failed to mention.                               


Monday, November 7, 2011

Out of the Friaring Pan

In an episode of Inspector Lewis, the spin-off of the Inspector Morse detective series on TV, the highly secular Lewis refers to a group of robed clerics as “monks.”  His theologically-minded partner, Sergeant Hathaway, corrects him: “Not monks—friars, actually.”

So what’s the difference?

Well, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a friar (derived from the Latin fratres and French frère, meaning “brother”) was originally any member of a religious order who had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Some may have been confined to cloisters, where they led lives of eremitic contemplation; others participated in various public ministries. By the thirteenth century, however, friar was generally restricted to mean a member of one of the mendicant orders who had no fixed revenues and depended on voluntary offerings to support various services to the community.

Today, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are four principal orders of friars: the Dominicans (known as “Black Friars,” from the color of the mantle worn over their white robes); Franciscans (“Grey Friars” or “Brown Friars,” from the color of their robes), Carmelites (“White Friars”), and Augustinians, who wear black robes—but sorry, guys, you lost out to the Dominicans in claiming the nickname.

A monk, from the Greek word monos (“single, alone”) refers to a member of a religious order, usually Benedictine, who lives either in complete solitude (an eremite) or in a cloistered community, under a regimen consisting of prayer, contemplation, and worship, with no public ministry (unless you count producing tasty beverages like the eponymous Benedictine liqueur, yellow and green Chartreuse made by Carthusian monks, and Chimay beer brewed by the Trappists—all of which were invented to revive weary monks after a hard day’s comtemplation).

A monk is not to be confused, in most cases, at least, with a monkey, a small primate mammal with a tail, no liqueur, and a completely different etymology. Monkey originated as the name Moneke, the son of Martin the Ape in the German version of Reynard the Fox, a fable published in 1580.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou leads a semi-eremitic life, filled with monkey business, among which is the scratching of his thoughts upon tree bark. An example follows:

            A young, monastic oyster,
            Too boisterous for his cloister,
            Was smitten by a plump and shapely scallop.
            As the oyster grew much moister,
            He had an urge to hoist her
            On his shell and take off at a gallop.

            Through murky shoals he sped
            Straight for an oyster bed,
            To frolic with the luscious bivalve girl.
            “If you and I were wed,”
            The lusty oyster said,
            “We’d shuck these shells and make a little pearl.”

            The scallop was quite shocked,
            And said, “You’d be defrocked
            If you should try to take me in a tussle.
            You shouldn’t run amok,
            I’m no coquille St.-Jacques— 
            My boyfriend is a big and brawny mussel!”

            “You needn’t take that tone,”
            The oyster said. “Don’t moan—
            If you don’t want to play, then I’ll just scram.”
            So he left her all alone,
            Then he found a cherrystone
            And did a little necking with the clam.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Today, children, we celebrate (or in some cases deplore with dread and loathing) the holiday known as “Halloween” (or, if you wish to be pedantic, “Hallowe’en”). The word was first used in the 16th century, and it is too well known to mention that it derives from “Allhallows Even [Evening],” the night before November 1, the Christian All Saints’ Day, which honors the souls in heaven. (It is not to be confused with All Souls’ Day, November 2, which is for the benefit of the dear departed who haven’t yet made it to heaven but have high hopes.)

One of the customs of Halloween is to display a hollowed-out  pumpkin, with a carved face illuminated by a candle.  It’s called a “jack-o’-lantern.”  So today’s question, trick-or-treaters, is who was Jack?

There are several Irish myths about a disreputable old drunk known as “Stingy Jack,” who got into some kind of dispute with the Devil.  Some tales say it was an argument about who would buy the next drink, and others insist it had to do with the Devil’s climbing a tree to snatch a piece of fruit (shades of Adam and Eve!).  At any rate, the final result of the contretemps was that the Devil agreed that he would never claim Stingy Jack’s soul.

There was just one problem—when Jack died, he found that he wasn’t welcome in heaven, either.  Since the Devil had agreed not to take him, Jack was condemned to roam the earth, and, to help him find his way, the Devil gave him an ember, which Jack placed inside a carved-out turnip and used as a lantern.  The figure of “Jack of the Lantern” was used in the 17th-century to mean a night watchman, and the term was later applied to the ignis fatuus, mysterious lights that appeared over peat bogs.  

To commemorate this legend, it became customary among the Irish, the Scots, and the English to scoop out the flesh and carve faces in potatoes, gourds, beets, and rutabagas, as well as turnips.  When the Irish immigrants came to America, they discovered it was a heck of a lot easier to carve a pumpkin than a turnip, and the plentiful autumn crop became the standard for jack-o-lanterns.

The Bard-o’-Lantern of Buffalo Bayou hides on Halloween, lest he be mistaken for a ghoulie or ghostie or long-legged beastie or thing that goes bump in the night. While in hiding, he conjures up incantations like this one:

            I hope I never meet the Devil--
            That would be most alarming,
            For I can tell you, on the level,
            I think I’d find him charming.

            He’d give me power and great riches
            And a big flat-screen TV,
            And send his warlocks and his witches
            To come and wait on me.
            He’d tempt me with Champagne and gin,
            Dark chocolate as well--
            And you can bet that I’d give in,
            And wind up down in hell.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where Ya From?

People from England are English, people from China are Chinese, people from India are Indians, people from New Zealand are New Zealanders, people from Ecuador are Ecuadoreans, and people from Pakistan are Pakistanis.

Why not Englese, Chinans, Indish, New Zealandi, Pakistaneans, and Ecuadorers?

Thomas Tsoi, who teaches English to Hong Kongers at Holy Trinity College, has the answer, sort of. He has identified eight basic suffixes that indicate nationality in English (plus a few irregular ones). The basic eight are:
            -ian (Italian, Norwegian, Egyptian, Brazilian)
            -ean (Chilean, Korean)
            -an (American, Mexican, German)
            -ese (Japanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese)
            -er (Virgin Islander)
            -ic (Icelandic)
            -ish (Irish, Turkish, Swedish, Spanish)
            -i (Iraqi, Israeli, Yemeni)

The nonconformist ones include the endings of French, Argentine, Cypriot, Greek, Swiss, Dutch, Thai, Manx, Monegasque, and Seychellois, among others.

Some of these words can function as both adjective and singular noun (e.g., an American or Japanese person is an American or a Japanese); others do not (an English or Spanish person is not an English or a Spanish). 

Tsoi points out that the endings –ian, -ean, and –an are all variants of a Latin root meaning "pertaining to" and are the most commonly found suffixes in English. Which one is used depends primarily on how the name of the country is spelled.

The –ese ending comes from Italian (in which English, for example is inglese). Marco Polo and other Italian traders were the first Europeans to reach the Far East, and, as a result, the –ese ending is commonly used for Asian countries.  Why –ese is also used for some countries in Europe (Portuguese) and Africa (Senegalese) is the result of those countries’ colonial histories.

The endings –er and –ic are Germanic in origin are used in English for national endings mainly after the words land and island.  The –er typically refers to a person (Icelander), while the –ic is adjectival (Icelandic). (The –er is much more commonly used for residents of cities: New Yorkers, Londoners, Berliners, etc.)

The suffix -ish is also Germanic and means “belonging to.” In German, the –isch ending is very common: Italienisch, Französisch, Amerikanisch, etc.  English, which is basically a Germanic language, held on to a few of these endings. The
–ch in French and Dutch also stem from this German suffix.

Finally, the suffix –i comes from Arabic and is generally used only for Islamic countries (with the notable exception of Israel).

The Bard, who is proudly Buffalo Bayouish, is also a man of the world, as you can see.

            When The French
            Want to quench
            A really fierce thirst,
            They always turn first
            To a vin rouge or blanc--
            And who cares if it’s plonc?

            But the British,
            Who are skittish,
            Take their grub
            In a pub
            With a pint of good bitter,
            Than which nothing is fitter.
            Alas, the poor Irish,
            Whose troubles are dire-ish,
            Prefer a strong stout,
            But they’ll throw it out
            And shout, “Finis!”           
            If it isn’t Guinness.
            Now the Germans
            Will preach sermons,
            Or long, boring sagas
            About their great lagers.           
            It’s bier for those fellas,
            Both dunkles and helles.

            I hear that a Mexican
            Is so complex he can
            Dance a bolero,
            Around his sombrero,
            To prove that he’d feel a
            José Cuervo tequila.
            Of course, an American,
            Disdaining sherry, can
            Jump in his pool,
            Get nice and cool
            At his villa suburban,
            And sip Coke and bourbon.
            And as for the Bard,
            When he’s worked long and hard,
            Pushed himself to the max,
            Then he likes to relax
            With a teeny-weeny
            Dry gin Martini.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Name's the Same

Tautonyms are zoological terms for animals in which the genus and the species names are the same: Rattus rattus (black rat), Vulpes vulpes (red fox), Bison bison (American bison), and the self-explanatory Gorilla gorilla, for examples.

People can have tautonyms as well.  I’m thinking of the baritone Thomas L. Thomas, who was famous on the Voice of Firestone in the 1940s and 1950s.   Then there’s actress Evans Evans, who was in the movies Bonnie and Clyde and The Iceman Cometh

Both of them are of Welsh descent, as was James James, the 19th century harpist who composed the Welsh national anthem.  Welsh (as well as Scottish and Irish) names lend themselves to tautonymy owing to the frequent use of patronymics—given names derived from the name of the father or a paternal ancestor.

Martin Martin was an 18th century Scottish writer famous for A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland. An Irish counterpart, Henry Henry, was a 19th century Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor.

And then, there’s Lang Lang, the spectacular young pianist, whose double name is actually two different Chinese words that are pronounced slightly differently and mean “brilliant man.”

Two British writers who were contemporaries—Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) and Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927)—also had tautonymic names, but they didn’t come by them honestly.  Jerome’s father, an ironmonger and non-conformist minister, was originally named Jerome Clapp, but for reasons best known to himself, he changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome, which also became his son’s name.  The younger Jerome, perhaps to distinguish himself from his father, changed his own middle name from Clapp to Klapka; hence the middle initial K. He is best known for the comic narrative Three Men In A Boat.

Ford, whose fame rests on the novel The Good Soldier, was born Ford Hermann Hueffer, but changed it after World War I because it sounded too German.

“Mutual Problem” is a bit of whimsy by William Cole, who seems to want to challenge the Bard of Buffalo Bayou for poetic primacy. Oh well, let him:

            Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,
            'There's something, old boy, that I've always abhorred:
            When people address me and call me 'Jerome',
            Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?'
            Said Ford, 'I agree;
            It's the same thing with me.'           
The Bard couldn’t resist adding this flourish:

            Said Thomas L. Thomas to the sprightly Lang Lang:
            “Is your name pronounced like ‘bang’ or like ‘bong’?”
            Lang Lang then snorted to Thomas L. Thomas:           
            “You tell me first if you’re Comus or commas.”