My latest Tribune language column:
On the history of the phrase "through thick and thin," the new slogan of the floundering Chicago Bulls.
I e-mailed Steve Schanwald to ask whether this would be a "thick" or "thin" year. His response, in classic marketing-ese: "As for whether this season will be thick or thin, only time will tell. That's's why they play the games. All I know for sure is that fans who come to our games will have fun."
Here's the text, background, and translation of Chaucer's Reeve's Tale. Here's another early example of "thick and thin" cited by OED, from Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" in 1590: "His tyreling jade [a weary horse, from which we get our word "jaded"] he fiercely forth did push, Through thicke and thin, both over banke and bush" (background)
Here's the home page of Anatoly Liberman, etymologist extraordinaire. Here's an imaginary conversation written entirely in cliches involving the word "thick." Here's a sermon entitled "Through Thick and Thin."
- Wikipedia calls pages such as this one (on the Indian language of Tamil) disambiguation pages, "i.e., a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title."
- LL on LH on the new (old, actually) name of the capital of Kyrgyzstan:
Its name ... used to be Pishpek, and then became Frunze in Soviet times ("Purunze" to the locals, at least in pronunciation). Since the Soviet name was a reference to the Bolshevik political and military leader Mikhail Frunze, the post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan decided to return to the old name. Unfortunately, no one knew its etymology. I'm not completely clear why this was viewed as a problem -- perhaps local linguistic nationalism prefers etymologically transparent place names? Anyhow, it was decided to use the Kyrgyz word nearest in sound, which is bishkek, meaning "whisk to stir kumiss with". ... This story (if true) means that the name of the capital of Kyrgyzstan is a very special type of eggcorn, namely a false analysis, with a slight change in sound, created on purpose to provide an interpretation for a name that otherwise lacks one.
- Heard Letterman refer last week to the luxury personal blimp advertised in the new Neiman Marcus' Christmas catalog as a dirigible. Hadn't heard that word before; M-W defines the noun as an "airship" and the adjective as "capable of being steered," from the Latin "dirigere." Most articles I found about the catalog (including CNN and NPR) refer to the blimp as a "zeppelin," and so does the catalog itself. Here's a page from the Chicago Public Library on a "dirigible crash" in the 1920s.
- Conan, via anglais.blogspot.com: "Since Bill Clinton's operation, the number of patients complaining of similar chest pains has increased dramatically. Doctors are calling the trend the Bill Clinton Syndrome. ... Before the operation the Bill Clinton Syndrome was characterized as a burning sensation in the groin."
- LL finds that "in Thursday's debate, John Kerry's sentences were 17.7% longer than George Bush's," and that Kerry used more words (7,168 to 6,165) in fewer sentences (468 to 476). LL also challenges Kathleen Hall Jamieson on her contentions that Bush's sentences are S-V-O-period and that "words found on the SAT verbal exam should not appear in candidate's speeches." Finally: Debate fact-checking from the Wash.Post.
- The Onion: 'Ravaged' named Florida's official state adjective x
- My friend Nick coins a word at his Web site: "Corklearance: a periodic cleansing of one's bulletin board contents, often yielding year-old pamphlets."
- The Observer (via Lit. Saloon) says Carlos Fuentes' new manifesto-memoir is dubiously translated:
The strangest moment may have more to do with the translator than the author. Writing about his wonderful father ('a man of good humour, tenderness, punctuality: a good example'), he records that on the day he died, Fuentes Sr 'did two things: he tried on a new suit and he sexually harassed my mother'. Fuentes's attitudes towards women are dodgy enough, but can he really be praising Dad for cornering Mum in the kitchen? Perhaps the Spanish means something more like 'made gallant romantic advances to'.
- The trouble with headlines: This article in the Trib was about how the Baltimore Orioles were compensated for having the Montreal Expos move next door to them in D.C. The headline leaves in unclear whether they were compensated or charged: "Report: Orioles paid well for Expos' move"
- Can we drop the "-less in Seattle" headline already? This morning on ESPN, the anchor's tease said the Mariners were "manager-less in Seattle." That's miles away from clever.
- Speaking of ESPN, I thought it was incorrect for ESPN to call an analysis segment "Fact or Fiction," since the segment often includes predictions (about whether the Dodgers will beat the Cardinals, etc.), and predictions are neither demonstrably true nor false. But M-W says fiction can mean "a useful illusion or pretense." (I guess it's up to you to decide how useful ESPN's predictions are.)
• Previous column and inflections