Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Hippie DictionaryMy latest Tribune language column:
On The Hippie Dictionary.
temp link/perm.preview

As a blond-haired Dutchman who can't dance, I was glad to see that "groovy" comes from the Dutch word "groeve," meaning pit. More on the legacy of Dutch in English here from LL.

- The journal Daedalus has some fascinating etymology on words for happiness:

It is helpful to look for a moment at the principal word in ancient Greek for happiness, eudaimonia, one of a constellation of closely related terms that includes eutychia (lucky), olbios (blessed; favored), and makarios (blessed; happy; blissful). In some ways encompassing the meaning of all of these terms, eudaimon (happy) literally signifies ‘good spirit’ or ‘good god,’ from eu=good and daimon=demon/spirit. In colloquial terms, to be eudaimon was to be lucky, for in a world fraught with constant upheaval, uncertainty, and privation, to have a good spirit working on one’s behalf was the ultimate mark of good fortune. Even more it was a mark of divine favor, for the gods, it was believed, worked through the daimones, emissaries and conductors of their will. And this, in the pre-Socratic world, was the key to happiness. To fall from divine favor-or to fall under the influence of an evil spirit-was to be dysdaimon or kakodaimon-‘unhappy’ (dys/kako=bad), or more colorfully, ‘in the shit,’ a not altogether inappropriate play on the Greek kakka (shit/ turds). 2 In a world governed by supernatural forces, human happiness was a plaything of the gods, a spiritual force beyond our control. When viewed through mortal eyes, the world’s happenings-and so our happiness-could only appear random, a function of chance. ...

In every Indo-European language, the modern words for happiness, as they took shape in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, are all cognate with luck. And so we get ‘happiness’ from the early Middle English (and Old Norse) happ-chance, fortune, what happens in the world-and the Mittelhochdeutsch Glück, still the modern German word for happiness and luck. There is the Old French heur (luck; chance), root of bonheur (happiness), and heureux (happy); and the Portuguese felicidade, the Spanish felicidad, and the Italian felicità-all derived ultimately from the Latin felix for luck (sometimes fate). Happiness, in a word, is what happens to us. If we no longer say that we are kakodaimon when things don’t go our way, we still sometimes acknowledge, rather more prosaically, that “shit happens.”

- I wanted to do a column on wise as a suffix, but it didn't go anywhere. But Geoff Pullum was good enough to do a search for "-wise" in the Wall Street Journal between 1987 and 89.

My guru-level Unix skills enabled me to compile this list with
a single one-line command. (I deleted words that are obviously not
grist to your mill, like "wise" and "unwise", and also "all-wise",
"clockwise", "crosswise", "lengthwise", "likewise", and "otherwise".)
There were 24 left, including variants with and without hyphen:

clematis-wise media-wise
composition-wise money-wise
heartwise penny-wise
PR-wise pennywise
streetwise people-wise
tax-wise percentage-wise
weatherwise pricewise
anotherwise recreation-wise
bloomwise retail-wise
coastwise street-wise
cost-wise streetwise
inflation-wise vitamin-wise

Of course, some may be false hits; for example, "vitamin-wise" just
might mean "wise to the value of vitamins in a healthy diet".

Here's the American Heritage Book of English Usage on wise as a suffix, and here are some recent instances from Lexis.

One other thing: I read once that writers should practice re-writing famous lines to see the kind of elbow grease it takes to polish good sentences. It gave the example of how the beautiful "There are times that try men's souls" could have emerged from the banal "Soulwise, these are trying times."

- Ever since Jon Stewart said in his commencement speech (at William & Mary) that "'terror' isn't even a noun," I wanted to do a column on President Bush's phrase war on terror. How can you wage war on an emotion? But as usual, Geoff Nunberg closes the case: "Terrorism may itself be a vague term, as critics have argued. But terror is still more amorphous and elastic, and alters the understanding not just of the enemy but of the war against it," he wrote earlier this month in the NYT. He suggests that sloppiness of words leads to sloppiness of policy. "Even if Mr. Hussein can't actually be linked to the attacks of Sept. 11, 'terror' seems to connect them etymologically."

- One thing I didn't hear in the freedom fries nonsense last year but did read recently in John McWhorter's The Power of Babel: fry is a French word (see the top right of this page). So should it have been "freedom frees"?

- LL on the syntactically sketchy phrase share divergent views.

- The history of d'oh.

- From the Trib: "In a matter of hours, the Illinois Republican Party's search for a replacement for U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan went from Ditka to bubkes."

- One company-wide e-mail update I receive always contains this verbless sentence: "As always, any problems or questions, let me know."
(Somewhat relatedly, see the WP on management-speak).

- The Trib did a story on people named Kerry Edwards.

- Safire's column this week is on a word I hadn't heard: gobsmacked

Last week's column and inflections

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