Monday, August 29, 2016

O tempora! O mores! O copyeditors!

Three errors in word usage in the media within one week call for a word or three of stern reproof.  

Item 1: “I really believe that this is a big issue in this race—that I am the one candidate that will stand up to whomever is in the White House…” (Sen. Kelly Ayotte, quoted by CNN)

Whoever is correct since it is in the nominative case as the subject in the dependent clause “whoever is in the White House.” The entire clause, not just the pronoun, is the object of the preposition to.

Item 2: “This augers a shift in policy.” (Houston Chronicle)

It should be augur. Auger is a noun that means “a tool for boring holes.”  Its root is Old English nafu (“hub of a wheel”) and gar (“spear”). Augur  is a verb meaning “foretell , give promise of,” derived from the Latin augere, a diviner of ancient Rome.

Item 3:Nixon in China showed immense theatrical flare.” (The Guardian, as quoted in the Houston Chronicle)

It should be flair. Flare is a noun meaning “a device that produces a blaze used as a signal” or a verb meaning “burn with an unsteady flame.” It can also mean “spread out or bulge.” It is of unknown etymology. Flair, meaning “style, or uniquely attractive quality” is from the French flairier (“give off an odor”), derived from Latin fragrare.

Now that those items have been disposed of, the Bard of Buffalo would like to commit a few egregious stylistic errors of his own.

            Alas, the hordes of evil predators
            Have killed off all the copyeditors,
                        Whom newspaper bosses,
                        When beset by huge losses,
            Have sacrificèd to their creditors.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Broadly Speaking

“And she’s broad where a broad should be broad,” sing the love-starved sailors in “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. As everyone knows, broad is a rather inelegant American slang term for a woman.

An acquaintance of mine recently opined that the origin of the term was a shortened reference to “Broadway show girls.” As appealing as this etymology is, experts don’t agree. Experts don’t really agree on anything at all about the origin of the term, but here’s what I found:

In its first known usage in the early 20th century, the word was used to refer to a prostitute. The 1914 work A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang by Jackson and Hellyer defines broad  as: “Noun, current amongst genteel grafters chiefly. A female confederate; a female companion, a woman of loose morals.” But the term quickly came to mean any woman, with no pejorative connotation. In fact, this sense can be found as early as 1911, in the September issue of Hampton’s Magazine: “Pretty soon what is technically known as a ‘broad’—‘broad’ being the latest New Yorkese—hove into sight.”

Some possible explanations of its origin are:
1) It is a reference to a woman’s broad hips.
2) It stems from the transference of “broad,” meaning a “ticket” to refer to a pimp’s “meal ticket,” i.e. a prostitute.
3) It comes from the term “abroadwife,” which meant a woman living away from her husband in the 19th century
4) The word “broad” in the 18th century meant a wide playing card, especially one used in three-card monte, in which the goal is to pick the queen from three moving cards.  So the queen became known as a “broad.”

In its original meaning, referring to something of great breadth, broad derives from Middle English brood, Old English brad, and Old High German breit, all meaning “wide.”

The Broad of Buffalo Bayou,who is the Bard’s consort, finds the term broad to be demeaning to women, whom she prefers to call “dames.”

            There once was a fellow named Claude
            Who referred to his girl as a broad.
                        But Claude was rhotacistic,
                       And the girl went ballistic
            When he mistakenly called her a bawd.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

That’s No Yoke

A sermon by a noted man of the cloth in a recent Houston Chronicle article referred to the “yoke” of an egg.  For the record, eggs do not have yokes—unless, of course, two of them are joined together in the hope that they will somehow be able to pull a wagon or a plow. Yoke, meaning a wooden frame by which two draft animals are connected to each other, is a word that goes back a long way—to Middle English yok, Old English geoc, Latin jugum, Greek zygon, and Sanskrit yuga, all of which mean “join.”

Yolk, which is what every egg worth its salt has, is the yellow portion of a bird’s egg. Its origin also is Middle English, not yok, but yolke, which derives from Old English geoloca, which means, appropriately enough, “yellow.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is quite familiar with eggs, especially the rotten kind, which have often been tossed his way.

              Whenever I eat a soft-boiled egg,
              I laugh and laugh with mirthful glee.
              I always get yellow on my lap and my leg—
              And why do I laugh? ‘Cause the yolk’s on me!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Heroine Addiction

A newspaper description of an upcoming episode of the British detective series “Inspector Lewis” referred to a victim of a “heroine overdose.” At first I thought the poor soul must have had to endure too much Scarlett O’Hara or Jane Eyre or some other admirable female figure and longed for masculine role models. But then, quick as a flash, I realized that the writer meant “heroin” and not “heroine.”

The two words are entirely different, as you realize. But their origins are related. Heroine, with the final “e,” is a mythological or legendary woman having the qualities of a hero, and by extension any woman who is admired for her achievements. It is probably most frequently used to mean the principal female character in a literary or dramatic work. First used in 1609, its root is the Greek hērōinē, feminine of hērōs, “one who serves or protects.”

Heroin, on the other hand, is a brand name for diacetylmorphine trademarked by the German drug company Bayer. It was marketed in 1895 as an over-the-counter cough suppressant. Bayer’s advertising proclaimed it to be “non-addictive,” which proved to be something of an exaggeration. Like the other heroine, Heroin was also derived from the Greek hērōs, because of its perceived “heroic” effects upon the user. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou eschews heroin, and heroines eschew him.  So it works both ways.
              I get no kick from cocaine,
            As Cole Porter chose to explain.                      
                        But he'd go at full throttle
                        With a swig from a bottle
            Of Moët & Chandon champagne.