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August 10, 2018

World Wide Words:search "music"


Dec 4, 1999 ... Q From Paula Nigro Brown in the USA: Do you know the origin of face the music? A It was originally American. The first known examples are all ...
Sep 29, 2012 ... Today, a 'hootenanny' is most commonly a folk-music entertainment, but it has had many other senses.
Mar 13, 2010 ... Unless one is immersed in the pop-music scene, genres can come and go before you've noticed them. This one appeared in the summer of ...
Jun 21, 1997 ... Most of us are involved daily with music in some form, whether we make it ourselves, hear others making it, or are invigorated or oppressed ...
Jan 5, 2013 ... We recognise this mainly for a note in music, which is itself a figurative extension of its original sense of a hook. It derives from French crochet, ...
Jan 29, 2000 ... The vampire to vamp connection (as in Theda Bara) is straightforward, but how on earth did it come to have something to do with music?
Oct 22, 2014 ... This grandiloquent word for a rather fine garment was the accidental invention of one of the most famous music-hall artists of Victorian times, ...
Jun 20, 1998 ... A music-hall song, The O'Hooligan Boys, was first mentioned in a London newspaper, The Era, in October 1891 as forming part of a new ...
Sep 23, 2008 ... sept(i)-. Seven. [Latin septem, seven.] A septet is a group of seven people playing music or singing together; septuplets are seven children born ...
Aug 16, 2014 ... In the seventeenth century, English gained corybantic to describe any unrestrained dancing and music making. In 1890, Thomas Henry Huxley ...
clipped from Google - 8/2018


Nov 14, 2009 ... ... programme 60 minutes found that there's a lot of money to be had representing famous dead people — everybody from Elvis to Einstein.
Oct 25, 1997 ... Part of this response has been due to a figurative usage which dates from the seventies in phrases such as Elvis clone, and from the eighties in ...
Dec 1, 2007 ... ... horrifying let them point out that Elvis Presley will get more 'mazoola' this year than all of the presidents of our five top universities combined.
Feb 21, 1996 ... Elvis Presley: “I'm in love, uh, a' Marsha Cook” (Mike Levon); A dismal-sounding Irish travel firm: “Grey Day Holidays” (heard on radio there by ...
Jan 30, 1999 ... ... followed by angst bunny (a young woman with black clothes and lots of body piercing); Preslyterianism (a cult of Elvis Presley in the South), ...
Feb 26, 2010 ... ... Times for 16 August 1981, a photo of which he sent with his message: "After his death at the age of 42, Elvis Presley became a living legend.
Nov 23, 2007 ... ... New Mexico, in November 1956: "If these commentators want something which is really horrifying let them point out that Elvis Presley will get ...
Nov 6, 2009 ... ... many newspapers reported a survey that showed that Yves Saint Laurent earned more last year than Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley.
... woman with black clothes and lots of body piercing); 'Preslyterianism' (a cult of Elvis Presley in the South), and 'bililoquy' (a conversation with one's alter ego).
From Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK  Sat Jan  9 03:42:50 1999
From: Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK (Michael B Quinion)
Date: Sat, 9 Jan 1999 08:42:50 +0000
Subject: World Wide Words -- 09 Jan 99
Message-ID: <SAT.9.JAN.1999.084250.0000.>

WORLD WIDE WORDS         ISSUE 126         Saturday 9 January 1999
A weekly mailing from Michael Quinion       Thornbury, Bristol, UK

1. Truncated mailing.
2. Weird Words: Wassail.
3. Q & A.
4. Beyond words.
5. In Brief: Food desert.
6. Housekeeping.

1. Truncated mailing
This mailing is shorter than usual and rather unbalanced in its
content because I'm in the middle of a bout of influenza. I hope
that normal service will be resumed next week.

2. Weird Words: Wassail  /'wQseIl/
A festive occasion on which toasts are drunk; the ale or wine in
which such toasts are made.

In Saxon times you would have used the original form of this word,
'was hail', to greet or say goodbye to somebody; literally it
means "be in good health". By the twelfth century, it had become
the salutation you offered as a toast, to which the standard reply
was 'drinc hail', "drink good health". ('Hail' is an older form of
our modern word 'hale', "health; well-being" and is also closely
connected with our word 'hail', "to salute, greet, welcome".) The
toast seems to have come over with the Danes; by the twelfth
century the Norman conquerors of Britain regarded it as one of the
most characteristic sayings of the country. Later, the word came
to be used also for the drink in which the toast was offered,
especially the spiced ale or mulled wine that was drunk on
Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night. In the western counties of
Britain, the tradition grew up on Twelfth Night of toasting the
good health of the apple trees that would bear the crop from which
next year's cider would be made. Pieces of bread soaked in cider
were placed in the crooks of trees, guns were fired to ward off
evil spirits, and special songs were sung:

     Let every man take off his hat
     And shout out to th'old apple tree
     Old apple tree we wassail thee
     And hoping thou will bear.

Ceremonies like these have almost entirely died out, though one or
two are self-consciously kept alive in Somerset.

3. Q & A
[The section in which I (attempt to) answer your questions. Send
your queries to <qa at quinion.com>. I can't guarantee to answer
them, or even always to acknowledge your message, but if I can,
a response will appear here and on our Web site.]
Q. Can you shed some magical clarity on 'abracadabra' please?
[Speranza Spiratos]

A. Let me wave my wand ... It's ancient, first mentioned in a poem
by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus in the second century AD. It is
believed to have come into English via French from a Greek word
'abrasadabra' (the 'c' in English seems to be a confusion with the
Greek 'c', which is pronounced as an 's'). It originated as a
secret and mystical word with a Gnostic sect in Alexandria called
the Basilidians (named after their founder Basilides of Egypt). It
was probably based on 'Abraxas', the name of their supreme deity,
but is sometimes said to have been constructed from the initial
letters of three Hebrew Words: 'Ab', the father, 'Ben', the son,
and 'Acadsch', the holy spirit. It was used as a charm, written in
the shape of a triangle on a piece of parchment worn round the
neck, and was believed to have the power to cure toothaches,
malaria and other scourges. And 'Abraxas' itself was said to have
magical powers of its own, as a word that represented the number
of days in the year, 365. This was derived by adding up the
numerical values of its seven Greek letters by a process called
gematria. For this reason, it was often engraved on amulets and
precious stones.
Q. Any ideas on the origin of 'ringer', meaning a contestant or an
athlete who is entered dishonestly into a competition? [Gord

A. The origins are moderately obscure. It is US slang, dating from
the latter years of last century, originally in connection with
horse racing. A horse of better class than that permitted was
entered fraudulently into a race, with bets being placed on it by
those in the know. The word has spread its associations quite
widely since, and can now refer to anything which has been
tampered with in order to deceive, such as a motor vehicle. It may
be connected with an old sense of 'ringer' for a counterfeit gold
sovereign sold at fairs, because a good way to tell if such a coin
was genuine was to drop it on a hard surface and listen for it to
ring (a real one didn't). By the way, it seems not to be linked
with the Australian sense of "something especially good" which
comes from sheep-shearing.
Q. Please can you tell me what 'mullered' means and how old it is.
I have only heard it in the last few months. Some people use it in
engineering to mean damaged, but it seems to mean drunk too.
[Richard Bolingbroke]

A. It's a relatively recent British slang term, so far as I know,
certainly only dating from the nineties. I've not come across it
in the sense of "damaged", but only that of "intoxicated", either
by drink or drugs. It has been said to be a variant form of the
older word 'mulled', with the same meaning, which presumably
derives from the sense of a drink that's has been made into a hot
spicy concoction.
Q. I am trying to locate the origin of the word 'pretty' and its
early usage. It apparently had a different meaning in early
English that is unrelated to the way we currently use it. [Barbara

A. That's correct. It is first recorded in Old English, when it
had the sense of "trick, deceit". Then it disappears from the
recorded language for some centuries, turning up again in the
1400s in a variety of meanings, none of them exactly equivalent to
the Old English form. It could mean "clever, artful", or
"something ingeniously or cleverly made". And it could be applied
to a man, as "brave, gallant, warlike", which weakened down the
years until it was used in the eighteenth century in the phrase "a
pretty fellow", meaning a 'swell' or a 'fop'. But the word also
existed in a weakened sense, very much like our modern 'nice' -
pleasing or satisfactory in a vague sort of way. In this sense it
was applied, in rather a condescending way, to young women as a
reduced version of 'beautiful'.

4. Beyond words
Supposedly from a catalogue produced by the Swedish furnishing
firm IKEA, quoted in the BBC radio programme, _News Quiz of the
Year_: "It is advisory to be two people during construction".

5. In Brief: Food desert
The move of retailing away from the inner cities has left some
parts of them without easy access to fresh foods at reasonable
prices, 'food deserts' in fact.

6. Housekeeping
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  Do *not* send subscription requests to these addresses.

WORLD WIDE WORDS is a weekly newsletter on language, copyright (c)
Michael B Quinion 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduction in other
online lists in whole or in part is permitted provided this notice
is included. Reproduction in paid-for media or Web sites requires
prior permission from the author. The World Wide Words Web site is
at <http://www.quinion.com/words/>.

From Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK  Sat Jan 16 03:49:48 1999
From: Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK (Michael B Quinion)
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 08:49:48 +0000
Subject: World Wide Words -- 16 Jan 99
Message-ID: <SAT.16.JAN.1999.084948.0000.>

WORLD WIDE WORDS        ISSUE 127         Saturday 16 January 1999
A weekly mailing from Michael Quinion       Thornbury, Bristol, UK

1. Notes and feedback.
2. Turns of Phrase: Phytoremediation.
3. Topical words: The e- prefix.
4. Weird Words: Furbelow.
5. Q & A.
6. Beyond words.
7. In Brief: Oxytherapy.
8. Housekeeping.

1. Notes and feedback
DEAD AS A DOORNAIL. Following up my piece before Christmas about
this phrase, Donna Tarkowski wrote about a note by John Ciardi in
his _Browser's Dictionary_. He suggests that a medieval door-nail
was not a nail as we know it now, but something more like a rivet:
an iron rod that was fixed between metal plates on each side of
the door and hammered into place. This was said to be dead because
it was immovably fixed in position.

PHONETIC SYMBOLS. Time for one of my regular reminders that the
pronunciation symbols used in these mailings employ a form of
plain text transcription of standard IPA symbols. The key is too
long to include in mailings, but is available online or by e-mail.
See the Housekeeping section at the end for details.

RINGER. My reference to an Australian sense of that word in a Q&A
reply last week prompted several subscribers to write. The sense
of "something supremely good" is actually an older English dialect
meaning which is probably the source of the modern Australian term
for the highest performing shearer in a shed. And the slang term
meaning "to fraudulently substitute something inferior" seems to
have had little or nothing to do with ringing coins to test their
genuineness, as I suggested; it derives from a standard English
verb 'to ring' based on the older 'to ring the changes', meaning
to substitute something inferior. The Australian 'ring-in' with
the same meaning also comes from the same source. And the phrase
'dead ringer', another form, meaning a perfect likeness, is just
'ringer' with the intensifier 'dead' added.

IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME. Before Christmas, I wrote about this phrase
in another Q&A piece, which prompted many subscribers to say how
this translates into other languages. In German, the saying is
"Das ist mir Spanisch" (that's all Spanish to me), though you may
also hear "it's all Bohemian village names to me". The Spanish
equivalent is "It's Chinese to me". It seems that the Poles do not
quite say "It's all Turkish to me", as I suggested, but also
prefer "It's Chinese to me", though Zdzislaw Szczerbinski from
Gliwice in Poland says that they do have an expression "to be
sitting as at a Turkish sermon" for listening to something that is
incomprehensible. The Greeks like "It's Chinese to me", too, which
is also used in Hebrew and in French (Ian Simpson wrote to say
there was an advertising slogan some years ago encouraging people
to learn English: "Pour vous, l'anglais c'est du chinois?", "Is
English all Chinese to you?", though the French can also say that
it's all Hebrew, as do the Finns). Turks also sometimes say that
incomprehensible speech sounds Chinese, though they do on occasion
equate it to Arabic, as do the Italians, though to them it can be
Turkish as well. I haven't heard of a mainland Chinese expression,
but Chris Heinrich tells me the equivalent in Taiwan is the quite
wonderful "I'm a duck listening to thunder". The Danes sometimes
say "It's all Greek (or all Russian) to me" but sometimes instead
say "It's all Volapu"k to me", where Volapu"k is the name of a
nineteenth century constructed language. You will not be surprised
to hear that Esperantists use much the same expression: "io estas
por mi volapukaj^o".

PISCATORIAL POSTURINGS. Having been rude in the past about other
people's typographical mistakes, it's only fair that I should
quote a slightly surreal one of my own, which I managed to catch
before it hit the public gaze: "We can't send a gunboat any more,
but we can practise a form of Palmerstonian moral fish-shaking".

2. Turns of Phrase: Phytoremediation  /'fVIt at UrImi:dIeIS(@)n/
Though this is a cumbersome word that hasn't yet reached any of my
dictionaries, it has become a moderately common technical term in
recent years because of its environmental implications.
'Phytoremediation' is just beginning practical application after
years of research, and the word is now starting to turn up in non-
specialist areas such as newspaper articles. It refers to a
variety of techniques using plants and trees to clean up sites
that are contaminated with heavy metals such as lead or cadmium,
or with organic compounds like pesticides or solvents. In the case
of the metals, species are grown which are known to concentrate
the contaminants in their tissues; plants can then be harvested
and burnt to release the pollutant, which can often be recycled.
Organic pollutants are often treated with plants that take them up
and destroy them as part of their normal metabolic processes.
'Phytoremediation' can be a lot cheaper than conventional methods,
which usually involve removing the topsoil layer completely and
replacing it with uncontaminated soil, but it is usually much
slower. The word is a combination of the prefix 'phyto-', "plant"
(from the Greek 'phutos') with 'remediation', the action of
remedying something, especially environmental damage.

With international conferences, coverage in scientific and trade
journals, and industry and government-sponsored implementation,
phytoremediation is a significant and growing niche in the
environmental marketplace.
                           [_Environmental Technology_, Sep. 1998]

Because they also absorb and concentrate toxic metals, such as
lead, these natural collectors could help to decontaminate
industrial waste sites, a process known as phytoremediation.
                                           [_Economist_, Oct 1998]

3. Topical words: The e- prefix  /i:/
It seems that 'e-' is the new 'cyber-': a convenient combining
form, tackable at will on to almost any other word to imply the
white heat of the technological revolution. This came home to me
during the holiday break, when I discovered that a current
buzzword for online business is 'e-tail'. It's a less than elegant
coinage, even though in Britain it lacks the special resonance of
the American slang meaning of 'tail'.

More evidence came from Liz Lavallee in the COPYEDITING list; she
reported that her local newspaper, the _Potomac News_ in
Woodbridge, Virginia, had the headline "1998: A year of truly e-
mazing events". Another punning headline of a similar kind was one
I found in a British computer magazine, which referred to the 'e-
conomy'. And a look through my files reveals 63 other examples of
new words formed by tacking 'e-' on the front of an existing word,
including 'e-trade', 'e-asset', 'e-envoy', 'e-postmarked', 'e-
junkmailer', and 'e-scoop'. Most of these are nonce formations,
invented to satisfy a momentary need and not likely to be seen
again, but some, such as 'e-cash', 'e-democracy', and 'e-text',
have established what looks like a firm foothold in current usage.

The daddy of these compounds is the comparatively venerable 'e-
mail', first recorded as a noun in 1982 and as a verb in 1987. The
'e-' was at first just a convenient abbreviation for 'electronic'.
As the word gained wider currency from the early nineties onwards,
many newer users were uncertain whether the initial letter was an
abbreviation or a prefix, and whether the word should be written
with a hyphen or not. Hence the alternative forms 'E-mail',
'Email', and 'email'. It's an understandable confusion, and
especially so as writing the word without a hyphen leads to
something that looks foreign (specifically, the French word for

The debate, or possibly the confusion, has not yet wholly worked
itself through. But the growth in other words with the same prefix
has gone a long way towards settling matters, as the form has
become more common and it is more obvious that it can be stuck on
the front of a whole range of words. It is also settling down to
include the hyphen, perhaps because most of the words that would
be formed without it look very odd.

You can tell it's a live and fashionable prefix by the range of
creations using it, few of them either clever or necessary. We
don't need 'e-tail', for example, because we already have 'e-
business' and 'e-commerce'. In October a health specialist was
quoted in the _Los Angeles Times_ as saying "Everybody in this
country knows the phrase 'e-commerce', but nobody knows the phrase
'e-health'". The first half of that is questionable: despite
several years of circulation, I would imagine that a quite a large
proportion of Americans neither knows the word 'e-commerce' nor
cares what it means. But the second half seems true enough: it's
another word for the application of telecommunications to
medicine, rather more frequently called 'telemedicine' or

So it's another unneeded coinage. We shall see many more before
we're through with this fashion.

4. Weird Words: Furbelow /'f@:bIl at U/
A gathered strip or pleated border; showy ornaments or trimmings.

'Furbelows' have nothing to do with 'fur'. The word came into
English in the early eighteenth century from the French word
'falbala' for a flounce, decoration or trimming on a woman's
petticoat or dress. Though similar words occur in other European
languages - such as the German 'falbel' or Spanish 'farfala' -
nobody seems to know where it comes from, though I have seen it
suggested that it might originate in the Latin 'faluppa' for a
valueless thing. Almost from its first appearance in English, its
plural has had the sense of something ostentatious or showy. These
days it hardly ever turns up at all, but when it does it usually
forms part of the set phrase 'frills and furbelows'.

5. Q & A
[The section in which I (attempt to) answer your questions. Send
your queries to <qa at quinion.com>. I can't guarantee to answer
them, but if I can, I will reply privately first; a response will
later appear here and on our Web site.]
Q. Can you please tell me anything about the origin of the phrase
"going to hell in a handbasket"? [Brian Walker]

A. This is a weird one. It's a fairly common American expression,
known for much of the twentieth century. But it's one about which
almost no information exists, at least in the two dozen or so
reference books I've consulted. William and Mary Morris, in their
_Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins_, confess to the
same difficulty. A 'handbasket' is just a basket to be carried in
the hand (my thanks to the _Oxford English Dictionary_ for that
gem of definition). The _Dictionary of American Regional English_
records 'to go to heaven in a handbasket' rather earlier than the
alternative, which doesn't appear in print until the late 1940s.
But _DARE_ quotes a related expression from 1714: "A committee
brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr said he would give his
head in a Handbasket as soon as he would pass it", which suggests
that it, or phrases like it, have been around in the spoken
language for a long time. We can only assume that the alliteration
of the 'h's has had a lot to do with the success of the various
phrases, and that perhaps 'handbasket' suggests something easily
and speedily done.
Q. Have you any idea where 'to wit' came from? [Kirstin

A. 'To wit' is now just a fixed expression. It's a shortened form
of 'that is to wit' meaning "that is to know; that is to say;
namely", from the English verb 'wit' "to know". This was a strong
verb with past tense 'wot', as in "A garden is a lovesome thing,
Got wot". In Old English it was spelt 'witan', and even further
back it was linked with a Germanic verb meaning "to see". In the
first of these senses, it's closely connected with the modern
German verb 'wissen'; in the second it's the origin of our
'witness'. It developed further to refer to a person's
understanding or judgement or mind (hence "keep your wits about
Q. In Issue 123 you explained the origin of 'chow' for military
food. A related word puzzles me: 'mess'. [Robert L McBrayer]

A. When it first appeared in English, 'mess' meant a portion of
food. This came from the Old French 'mes', "a dish", which in
modern French is spelt 'mets'. This comes ultimately from the
Latin 'missus', strictly "to put, send" but which could also mean
"a course at a meal" (that is, something put on the table).
  In the fifteenth century, 'mess' came to refer to a group of
people, usually four in number, who sat together at a meal and
were served from the same dishes. This soon evolved into a name of
any group that ate together. For example, in warships, a group of
a dozen or so men would usually sit together at one table and were
served from the same dishes; this was one 'mess', and those who
habitually sat together were 'messmates'; the room was often
called a 'mess-room', a space that contained a set of 'messes'. By
an obvious process, 'mess-room' was itself later contracted to
'mess', so confusing the place where one ate with the groups of
people one ate with.
  At one time 'mess' could also refer to any cooked dish,
especially one which was liquid or pulpy; this is best remembered
in the 'mess of pottage' for which Esau sold his birthright in the
Bible (though the phrase doesn't appear in the Authorised Version
of 1611). The sense of a confused jumble or a dirty or untidy
state, which is the first association we have for 'mess' nowadays,
evolved from this meaning and seems to have been a disparaging
reference to such sloppy food. It is actually a very recent usage,
dating only from the nineteenth century (it's first recorded in
_Webster's Dictionary_ in 1828).

6. Beyond words
In a report in last Monday's _Guardian_ about a proposal by the
Tesco supermarket chain to open their Hastings store for a special
nude shopping evening: "Naturists would undress inside the store
and *redress* before they left". Good heavens, what would they
have been doing that they needed to offer redress?

7. In Brief: Oxytherapy
A weird-sounding technique in which sufferers from cancer, AIDS or
multiple sclerosis are treated with ozone in the belief that it
provides relief. A common method is 'autohaemotology', also called
'autohaemotherapy', in which blood is removed from the body,
ozonated and put back.

8. Housekeeping
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* A key to the pronunciation symbols used in these mailings is
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WORLD WIDE WORDS is a weekly newsletter on language, copyright (c)
Michael B Quinion 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduction in other
online lists in whole or in part is permitted provided this notice
is included. Reproduction in paid-for media or Web sites requires
prior permission from the author. The World Wide Words Web site is
at <http://www.quinion.com/words/>.

From Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK  Sat Jan 16 05:48:44 1999
From: Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK (Michael B Quinion)
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 10:48:44 +0000
Subject: World Wide Words -- 16 Jan 99 (correction)
Message-ID: <SAT.16.JAN.1999.104844.0000.>

> A key to the pronunciation symbols used in these mailings is
> available online at <http://www.quinion.com/pronguide.htm>.

Whoops. No, it isn't. The correct address is:


Sorry for any confusion.

Michael B Quinion     <words at quinion.com>     Thornbury, Bristol, UK
       World Wide Words: <http://www.quinion.com/words/>

From Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK  Sat Jan 23 04:15:57 1999
From: Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK (Michael B Quinion)
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 09:15:57 +0000
Subject: World Wide Words -- 23 Jan 99
Message-ID: <SAT.23.JAN.1999.091557.0000.>

WORLD WIDE WORDS        ISSUE 128         Saturday 23 January 1999
A weekly mailing from Michael Quinion       Thornbury, Bristol, UK

1. Notes and feedback.
2. Turns of Phrase: Business theatre.
3. Topical words: Bluestocking.
4. In Brief: Paramotoring.
5. Weird Words: Octothorpe.
6. Q&A: Groovy; In cold blood; Shiver my timbers.
7. Beyond Words.
8. Housekeeping.

1. Notes and feedback
WOT ROT. As several subscribers gently pointed out after my Q&A
item on "to wit" last week, 'wot' is the *present* tense of a
variant form of the verb, not the past tense. And the quotation
from T E Brown should have read: "A garden is a lovesome thing,
God wot", not "Got wot". Apologies.

BUSY, BUSY. In the past week World Wide Words has been mentioned
in the LINGUIST list, the Scout Report, Net-Happenings and several
other online newsletters, and was chosen as a Web pick by _USA
Today_. As a result, World Wide Words has 750+ more subscribers
today than it had this time last week. Partly as a result, the
volume of e-mail has gone up substantially and I am way behind
with replies to enquiries.

2. Turns of Phrase: Business theatre  /'bIznIs ,TI at t@/
This seems to be a common term of trade in the exhibitions field
in North America, dating from the late eighties at least, which
has also been spotted in Britain. It seems to be a jargon term not
well known outside that business. The need to make an effective
impact at business presentations to dealers and customers has led
to the techniques of the more high-tech end of modern theatre
being applied to sales pitches and promotion. Take a line through
the average new car launch: complex stage sets, vast lighting
grids, high-powered sound systems, actors, dancers, the whole
theatrical experience applied to the business of persuasion. So
it's not hard to see how the phrase 'business theatre' (less
commonly 'business theater') came to be applied to this approach,
even though much of the conference organisation, exhibition
creation, and event management that's lumped under the name is
considerably more modest than these relatively infrequent set-

It's not like a business theatre show, where you're going into a
ballroom, or a stadium show, where you're on a playing field. It
was a chance to build conventional scenery, and showcase it.
                       [_Theatre Crafts International_, Apr. 1995]

As creative director of Spectrum, a company which specialises in
'business theatre', Elliott has vast experience of designing
exhibitions, conferences and live events all over the world ...
                             [_Independent on Sunday_, Sept. 1998]

3. Topical words: Bluestocking  /'blu:stQkIN/
Some eyebrows have been raised recently through Amanda Foreman's
decision to pose naked for the February issue of _Tatler_
magazine, albeit semi-modestly behind a large pile of her new
book. She has just spent five years, as she said in the magazine,
"cooped up in libraries" writing the biography of Georgiana,
Duchess of Devonshire and decided "why not have some fun now?".
Georgiana was one of the more flamboyant women of the eighteenth
century, and researching her seems to have affected Ms Foreman

In a strained bit of wordplay, Cayte Williams commented in the
_Independent on Sunday_ last weekend: "It comes to something when
Britain's top bluestockings start whipping off their suspender
belts". Leaving aside the shaky fashion notes, 'bluestocking' is
getting to be rather an old-fashioned pejorative description for
an intellectual woman.

What is especially odd about the term, though, is that the first
bluestocking was a man. He was a learned botanist, translator,
publisher and minor poet of the eighteenth-century named Benjamin
Stillingfleet. He wrote an early opera and also published the
first English editions of works by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus.

The story starts in the early 1750s, when a group of independently
minded women decided to break away from the stultifying sessions
of card playing and idle chatter which was all that tradition
allowed them. They began to hold literary evenings, in direct
imitation of the established salons of Paris, to which well-known
men of letters would be invited as guests to encourage discussion.

One of the leading lights of this group was Mrs Elizabeth Montagu,
a powerful and rich figure in London society (she was the cousin
of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who brought smallpox inoculation
back from Turkey). Literary and theatrical luminaries like Samuel
Johnson, David Garrick and Lord Lyttleton attended what she and
her friends referred to as conversations, but which Horace
Walpole, a frequent guest, called petticoteries. Another regular
visitor was Joshua (later Sir Joshua) Reynolds, who, to complete
the circle of associations, painted a portrait of Georgiana,
Duchess of Devonshire, in 1786.

Mr Stillingfleet was asked to attend by Mrs Vesey, one of the
group. He felt he had to decline, as he was too poor to afford the
formal dress then required for evening events, which included
black silk stockings. According to Fanny Burney, who told the
story later, Mrs Vesey told him to come as he was, in his informal
day clothes. Which he did, wearing his blue worsted stockings, and
started a trend.

Admiral Edward Boscawen, who was known to his friends as "Old
Dreadnought" or "Wry-necked Dick", was the husband of one of the
more enthusiastic attendees. He was very rude about what he saw as
his wife's literary pretensions and is said to have derisively
described the sessions as being meetings of the Blue-Stocking
Society. And so those who attended were sometimes called Blue
Stockingers, later abbreviated to blue stockings. (Another name
was the French form 'Bas Bleu', which Hanna More, another member,
used in her poem, _The Bas Bleu, or Conversation_, which gives a
lot of information about the group.)

A slightly different version of the story and of the influence of
Benjamin Stillingfleet is told by James Boswell in his _Life of
Johnson_: "Such was the excellence of his conversation, that his
absence was felt as so great a loss, that it used to be said 'We
can do nothing without the blue stockings,' and thus by degrees
the title was established".

With such a wealth of documentary evidence, you might think that
the origin of the word was established, as they might have said at
the time, beyond a peradventure (though Dr Johnson was dismissive
of that word, no doubt repeating at one of those evenings what he
said in his dictionary: "It is sometimes used as a noun, but not
gracefully nor properly"). But some works say firmly that the
tradition goes back to the 1400s, to the blue stockings worn by
the members of a society in Venice called 'Della Calza' ("of the
stockings"), which later spread to Paris, from which the society
ladies of London were supposed to have taken it up.

I've not got to the bottom of this one and it may be a false lead
(can a blue stocking be a red herring?), but even if Hanna More,
James Boswell, and Fanny Burney were all recounting a kind of
early urban myth about the circumstances, there's no doubt that
the English word was coined as a result of those conversational
evenings in the mid eighteenth century.

4. In Brief: Paramotoring
This is a newish aerial sport, which was first developed in France
and Germany in the late eighties but is now rapidly spreading
world-wide. You fly wearing a paraglider canopy that's combined
with a motorised pusher fan. It needs no airfield, as you can take
off and land almost anywhere. When you're done, you can fold it up
and put it in the back of your car.

5. Weird Words: Octothorpe  /'Qkt at UTO:Rp/
Another name for the telephone handset symbol #.

This word is just beginning to appear in the dictionaries, but
still seems mostly to be jargon of the North American telephone
business. But it is one of the few such words with a documented
history, thanks to a note that Ralph Carlsen of Bell Laboratories
wrote just before his retirement in 1995.

He records that Bell Labs introduced two special keys on the then
new touch-tone telephone handsets in the early 1960s, both of them
now standard. One of these is the symbol '*', usually known
formally as the asterisk but which Bell Labs reasonably decided to
call the 'star' key. The other was the '#' symbol. This was more
of a problem, as there are lots of names for it. In the US it is
often called the pound key, because it is used to mark numbers
related to weight, or for similar reasons the number sign, which
is also one of its internationally agreed names. Elsewhere it is
commonly called hash, but it also has lots of other names, such as
tictactoe and cross-hatch. In Britain, the Post Office, then
responsible for telecommunications, added to the plethora of names
by deciding to call it 'square', though that, too, has become an
official name internationally.

The story as told by Ralph Carlsen is that a Bell Labs engineer,
Don Macpherson, went to instruct their first client, the Mayo
Clinic, in the use of the new system. He felt the need for a fresh
and unambiguous name for the # symbol. His reasoning that led to
the new word was roughly that it had eight points, so ought to
start with 'octo-'. He was at that time active in a group that was
trying to get the Olympic medals of the athlete Jim Thorpe
returned from Sweden, so he decided to add 'thorpe' to the end.

'Thorpe' is, of course, also the Old Norse word for a hamlet,
village or farm, which is common in British place names. Another
story of its origin is that the sign was thought to look like a
group of eight fields surrounding a village. The existence of this
other story means that dictionaries usually say the word is of
disputed origin, though Mr Carlsen's note is so circumstantial and
full of detail that it is convincing.

Over the past three decades, 'octothorpe' has gradually crept into
various official publications and manuals in the North American
telecommunications system. But even so it's hardly a common word.


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6. Q & A
[The section in which I (attempt to) answer your questions. Send
your queries to <qa at quinion.com>. I can't guarantee to answer
them, but if I can, I will reply privately first; a response will
later appear here and on our Web site.]
Q. I was a product of the 60's when we used the word 'groovy'
constantly. I thought that my generation invented the word. I was
surprised to discover recently while watching the original movie
trailer for _Miracle on 34th Street_, which was produced in 1948,
that the word 'groovey' was used in one of the big graphic
headlines which scrolled over the video. I'm sure that you will
have an amusing and edifying explanation of how old this
expression is, and how it came to be? [Roberta E Richardson]

A. I'll just give you the facts, ma'am ... it's even older than
1948, I have to tell you. The first citation in the _Oxford
English Dictionary_ is dated 1937. It comes from jazz, when to be
'groovey' (the original spelling) was a shortened form of "in the
groove", meaning that somebody was playing brilliantly or easily,
perhaps like a gramophone needle slipping along a groove, or
making music as perfectly as a needle does in the grooves of a

Tom Dalzell, in his _Flappers 2 Rappers_, quotes from the _San
Francisco Chronicle_ of 13 March 1938, in which Herb Caen is in
turn quoting Bing Crosby: "In the groove means just right, down
the middle, riding lightly and politely, terrific, easy on the
ears". Mr Dalzell suggests that 'in the groove' was not replaced
by 'groovey' until about 1941, and that the latter only really
caught on from about 1944-5 for a period of less than ten years.

So the mid-sixties usage, in its slightly different spelling, was
most definitely its second time around. Now, of course, it can
only be used as a deliberate anachronism or by the terminally out-


Q. What is the origin of 'in cold blood'? [Andy Cilley].

A. Think of the effect of doing something with emotion, passion or
great exertion. The blood flows to your face and you feel hot. At
a time before our understanding of the human body was as good as
it is now, it was thought that the blood actually grew hot at such
times. We still have a set of phrases in the language that reflect
this, such as 'his blood boiled' or 'in the heat of passion',
which contrast with others that describe a person whose blood is
cold or cool, so detached or uninvolved. So, an action that was
carried out without excitement or emotional involvement was said
to have been taken when the blood was cold (the exact equivalent
of the French 'sang froid'). The phrase is now usually taken to
refer to some act that might look like an act of passion but which
was actually done with cool deliberation; it's first recorded in
Joseph Addison's _Spectator_ in 1711.


Q. Please could you tell me where the phrase 'shiver my timbers'
originated? [Tad Spencer]

A. This is one of those supposedly nautical expressions that seem
to be better known through a couple of appearances in fiction than
by any actual sailors' usage. It's an exclamation that may allude
to a ship striking some rock or other obstacle so hard that her
timbers shiver, or shake, so implying some calamity has occurred.
It is first recorded as being used by Captain Frederick Marryat in
_Jacob Faithful_ in 1835: "I won't thrash you Tom. Shiver my
timbers if I do". It has gained a firm place in the language
because almost fifty years later Robert Louis Stevenson found it
to be just the kind of old-salt saying that fitted the character
of Long John Silver in _Treasure Island_: "Cross me, and you'll go
where many a good man's gone before you ... some to the yard-arm,
shiver my timbers, and some by the board, and all to feed the
fishes". Since then, it's mainly been the preserve of second-rate
seafaring yarns.

7. Beyond Words
The newsletter _Tasty Bits from the Technology Front_ this week
featured the phrase "to eat our own dog-food", which is a bit of
computer-industry jargon meaning that software developers ought to
actually use the products they develop, preferably before they
start to sell them. _TBTF_ says the phrase has now been verbed,
with a Microsoft employee reported as saying "we have to dog-food
this architecture before we release it".

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WORLD WIDE WORDS is a weekly newsletter on language, copyright (c)
Michael B Quinion 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduction in other
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From Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK  Sat Jan 30 04:05:07 1999
From: Michael at QUINION.DEMON.CO.UK (Michael B Quinion)
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 09:05:07 +0000
Subject: World Wide Words -- 30 Jan 99
Message-ID: <SAT.30.JAN.1999.090507.0000.>

WORLD WIDE WORDS        ISSUE 129         Saturday 30 January 1999
A weekly mailing from Michael Quinion       Thornbury, Bristol, UK

1.  Notes and feedback.
2.  Article: Words of 1998.
3.  Topical words: Blue moon.
4.  In Brief: Judas biography.
5.  Weird Words: Deasil.
6.  Q & A.
7.  Beyond Words.
8.  Housekeeping.

1. Notes and feedback
WORD BLOAT.  I keep trying to limit these mailings to four pages 
of text, because I know some subscribers' e-mail systems can't 
cope with longer messages. But, somehow, there's always so much to 
fit in that's topical. And there's a huge pile of answers to your 
questions still waiting to be fed through. The answer is probably 
a special mailing or two at some point to clear the backlog. Your 
views will be welcome, as always.

E-LAS: Following my piece two weeks ago about the 'e-' prefix (see 
below), I found 'elance' in a computer journal this week, meaning 
an "electronic freelance" or computer contractor. This is getting 
very silly ...

ERROR: NO ERROR.  The Corrections and Clarifications column in the 
_Guardian_ each day is regarded by many of us as the best bit of 
the newspaper, because of its clear-eyed and witty rectification 
of errors and omissions. In Tuesday's edition, the following note 
appeared: "The absence of corrections yesterday was due to a 
technical hitch rather than any sudden onset of accuracy".

2.  Article: Words of 1998
We've had the season of goodwill, of first-footing and wassailing, 
and we're now well into the season of awards for the best of 1998. 
HarperCollins in Britain has just announced the result of its 
competition to choose the word that best represents the year. This 
follows the similar award by the American Dialect Society on 7 
January, and a set of words of the year from Oxford Dictionaries 
that came out close to Christmas.

HarperCollins gave the prize to 'millennium bug', which supports 
my suspicion that British word usage is running about a year 
behind that of North America (you may recall it was the choice of 
the American Dialect Society for 1997, and it was getting a bit 
shop-worn even then). This year, the ADS has chosen the 'e-' 
prefix, which I wrote about two weeks ago. It was also voted Most 
Useful and Most Likely to Succeed, awards I am less sure about.

Oxford doesn't select one word, but instead produces a list of 
some of those which have come to prominence; HarperCollins appends 
a similar list to its winner and runners-up. ADS also provides a 
list of runners-up, and the three lists together give a picture of 
what specialists presumably think have been the most high-profile 
of the year.

The Oxford list is at the same time the longest and the one with 
fewest surprises. It makes clear it's a selection of words which 
were spotted by their New Words team in 1998, not necessarily 
words which are new. If you've been a subscriber to World Wide 
Words for a while, you will have read about many of them already. 
(Quite a number of them have come from me, it seems, directly or 
indirectly; I did wonder why my Web site logs showed such interest 
from staff at Oxford near the end of last year! And, don't tell 
Oxford Dictionaries, but I wrote about several of them in 1997.) 
So, no need to dwell overlong on 'analysis paralysis', 'portal 
site', 'biopiracy', 'black-water rafting', 'exoplanet', 'global 
distillation', 'exformation', 'gorge-walking', 'polyamory', 
'trickle-up trend', or 'waitress mom'.

Some others from the Oxford list: 'call centre' (designed to 
handle large numbers of phone calls), 'domophobia' (hostility 
towards the Millennium Dome at Greenwich), 'ecological footprint' 
(impact or damage to the environment caused by human activity), 
'euro-wasp' (a large European species becoming resident in 
Britain), 'Furby' (that toy), 'horse-whispering' (from that film), 
'rage' (in all its variations). 'superweed' (one that's resistant 
to herbicides), and, perhaps inevitably, but also rather sadly, 
'Monicagate', 'fornigate' and 'zippergate'.

The Oxford list is more international in scope than either of the 
others, and so includes some words I have a feeling I should have 
featured: 'Hansonism', the political policies of Pauline Hanson, 
leader of the Australian _One Nation_ party (and the related term 
'Asianisation'); 'hoarding', which Oxford says has taken on a new 
meaning in Indian English that specifically refers to the illegal 
stockpiling of staple foods made scarce in 1998 by failed harvests 
(they also give 'ration shop' for an official open-market outlet 
in India for the sale of essential commodities); and two terms 
from South Africa: 'gravy', a shortening of 'gravy train', widely 
used in 1998, Oxford says, to refer to government corruption, and 
'muti murder', a spate of killings in Johannesburg that were 
related to 'muti' (traditional African magic).

The HarperCollins appended list is described as "words coined in 
1998", a startling assertion, as it includes 'DVD', 'heroin chic', 
'middle youth', 'mouse potato', 'grey market', 'pharming', and 
'Y2K'. These are newish terms, but I have citations for 'heroin 
chic' from 1997, 'Y2K' from 1996, 'DVD' and 'mouse potato' from 
1994, and 'grey market' from 1993, and I'm sure older examples 
could be found for all of them. They are words which achieved a 
certain prominence in Britain in 1998, but they were most 
certainly not coined in that year.

And these are the HarperCollins runners-up in its competition, in 
descending order based on the votes of readers, I assume mainly 
from Britain: 'Viagra', 'digital television', 'Millennium Dome', 
'Zippergate', 'Monicagate', 'girl power', 'Furby', 'Cool 
Britannia' and 'docusoap'. Few surprises there, except that voters 
seem less cynical about the Dome than the press, and that they 
have been heavily influenced by a certain American scandal.

So has the American Dialect Society, whose runners-up to 'e-' 
included, with what I suspect is a certain tongue-in-cheekness, 
'sexual relations' and 'is' (though it surely depends what they 
meant by that word). Also included were 'Viagra' and the various 
forms in 'rage'.

It's in the other ADS sections that choices reveal much about the 
lexical state of America (and perhaps what HarperCollins readers 
will be voting on in early 2000). In the Most Useful category: 
'senior moment' (a momentary lapse of memory due to age) got most 
votes, followed by 'multislacking' (playing at the computer when 
one should be working) and 'open source' (the source code of 
software programs available to all). In the Most Unnecessary 
category, most votes went to the entire Monica Lewinsky word 
family. Under the Least Likely to Succeed heading, votes were cast 
for, among others, 'explornography' (tourism in exotic and 
dangerous places), although 'compfusion' (a confusion over 
computers) came out on top. One other category: Most Original, won 
by 'multislacking', followed by 'angst bunny' (a young woman with 
black clothes and lots of body piercing); 'Preslyterianism' (a 
cult of Elvis Presley in the South), and 'bililoquy' (a 
conversation with one's alter ego).

What these various lists confirm, as it if needed to be confirmed, 
is that British English is heavily influenced by American events 
and culture.

3. Topical words: Blue moon  /'blu: mu:n/
Tomorrow (31 January 1999), newspapers have been telling us, we 
shall see the second blue moon of January, at least we will in 
Europe and North America. This stopped me dead the first time I 
saw the phrase a few years ago, as 'blue moon' to me only has the 
meaning of some event that happens extremely rarely, if ever, so 
matching a favourite expression of my father's: "never in a month 
of Sundays". There's nothing in any of my dictionaries or books on 
phrase origins about two full moons in one month. But the 
expression has become common in that sense in recent years in 
north America, to the extent of almost usurping the older meaning.

The idea of a 'blue moon' has been traced back to 1528, to a 
sceptical little item entitled _Rede Me and Be Not Wrothe_: "Yf 
they say the mone is belewe, we must believe that it is true". 
This implies the expression had a meaning of something that was 
absurd, very like another moon-related proverb first recorded in 
the following year "They woulde make men beleue ... that ye Moone 
is made of grene chese". Because it was absurd, saying that 
something happened only 'once in a blue moon' was the same as 
saying it never happened. And this was what the phrase meant for 
several hundred years.

Charles Earle Funk suggested in 1948 that the two expressions are 
connected, the green cheese being the freshly pressed round cheese 
that looks white like the full moon, and the blue moon the one 
just before the new moon begins to show, when rarely the Moon's 
surface, bathed only in faint Earthlight, may look blue. This is 
eminently plausible for 'green cheese', indeed it's the usual 
explanation of how the saying came about, but his explanation 
doesn't fit the fact that 'blue moon' then meant "never".

The version that most of have grown up with has a sense that has 
shifted, like the opinion of the captain of the 'Pinafore', from 
"never" to "hardly ever". This sense was first recorded only in 
1821, but is probably eighteenth-century. Various writers have 
guessed that the change in meaning came about because people 
realised that the moon can indeed look blue, because of dust in 
the upper atmosphere, say from forest fires or volcanic eruptions. 
As with Mr Funk's thesis, that hardly sounds convincing, but as so 
often there's no evidence either way.

So how did 'blue moon' get this new meaning? I'm indebted to 
Philip Hiscock of the Folklore and Language Archive at the 
Memorial University of Newfoundland, who has done a lot of 
research on this phrase, the results of which are presented in the 
March 1999 issue of _Sky and Telescope Magazine_. He managed to 
trace it back to an edition of _Trivial Pursuit_ published in 
1986; its compilers got it from _The Kids' World Almanac of 
Records and Facts_ of the year before, which probably got it from 
a radio programme in 1979 that quoted a reference to a quiz in 
_Sky and Telescope_ in July 1943, which attributed it to the 1937 
_Maine Farmers' Almanac_. And there the trail goes cold. (And, in 
any case, the _Farmers' Almanac_ article seems to suggest that the 
term refers to a second full moon within one zodiacal sign, not 
one calendar month.)

What seems clear from reports is that this "two full moons in one 
month" meaning of 'blue moon' only started to achieve much 
circulation from about 1988, no doubt principally as a result of 
the _Trivial Pursuit_ reference. So what we have is a truly modern 
piece of language folklore, and a fine example of the way that a 
supposed fact can become widely reported and accepted within a 
very short space of time. It shows also how an expression can lurk 
in the language until something causes it to bursts upon the 
public stage. 

Astronomers say that this type of 'blue moon' is actually a lot 
more frequent than the older sort. There is a month with two full 
moons in it rather more than once every three years. That's 
because, though 'moon' and 'month' are intimately related words, 
our months are all, apart from February, a little longer than the 
interval between two full moons. Much more rare is to have two 
blue-moon months in one year. This happens this year, as both 
January and March have two, whilst poor old February has no full 
moon at all. The next years in which this happens are 2018 and 
2037. Now that's what I really call 'once in a blue moon'.

[You can find Philip Hiscock's article from _Sky & Telescope_ at 
<http://www.skypub.com/>. His 1993 piece in the _Griffiths 
Observer_ is at <http://ww.griffithobs.org/IPSBlueMoon.html>.]

4. In Brief: Judas biography
Many biographies have appeared in the past few years that presume 
to tell the truth about some relative or friend. A current British 
example is the intimate history of Jacqueline du Pre', which has 
now become the film _Hilary and Jackie_. In the current issue of 
the _New York Review of Books_, John Updike wrote: "Recent years 
in America have given rise to what we might call the Judas 
biography, in which a former spouse or friend of a living writer 
confides to print an intimate portrait less flattering than might 
be expected". Another name is 'spiterature'.

5. Weird Words: Deasil  /dEs(@)l/
Righthandwards; in the direction of the sun; clockwise.

This is a word which now mainly conjures up associations with 
witchcraft, as it's the much rarer converse of 'widdershins'. 
Trying to define it immediately runs into the fundamental problem 
of how to explain the difference between left and right (clockwise 
is fine, unless you're a clock, or one of those jokers who has one 
that runs backwards; sunwise works in the northern hemisphere 
only; just try explaining to an alien visitor which is right and 
which left, using words only). 

In immediate origin 'deasil' is a Gaelic word that derives from 
the same root as the Latin 'dexter', "right, right-handed" which 
even then could mean "skilful" (hence our word 'dextrous'). In 
witchcraft, including modern Wicca, to move deasil is to invoke 
positive qualities.

As an example of its associations, here is Sir Walter Scott, in 
_Chronicles of the Canongate_: "In the meantime, she traced around 
him, with wavering steps, the propitiation, which some have 
thought has been derived from the Druidical mythology. It 
consists, as is well known, in the person who makes the DEASIL 
walking three times round the person who is the object of the 
ceremony, taking care to move according to the course of the sun".

6. Q & A
[The section in which I (attempt to) answer your questions. I'm 
inundated with questions at the moment; hold off sending me any 
more until I've cleared the backlog!]
Q. Can you shed light on the meaning or origin of 'it's a dog's 
life'? Those of us over 50 seem to use to suggest the need to 
accept the existential fact that things are hard; but in the 
under-50 set, the idea is that dogs have it easy, and so 'it's a 
dog's life' equates to "how cushy!". [Stephen P Goldman] 

A. It certainly seems that the phrase has become more ambiguous 
than it once was, though I've not come across many examples myself 
of its use as a description of a pampered existence. Most of our 
expressions that include 'dog' are old enough to be based in times 
when dogs were not cosseted, but were kept as watchdogs or hunting 
animals, not as pets. They often weren't allowed in the house, but 
were kept in kennels, fed scraps, worked hard, and often died 
young. So 'going to the dogs', 'dog tired', 'to die like a dog', 
'dog's dinner', 'dogsbody', 'dog eat dog', and 'a dog's life' all 
refer to a state of affairs best avoided. Specifically, 'a dog's 
life' is first recorded in the sixteenth century and seems to have 
remained in the language with the sense of "a life of misery, or 
of miserable subserviency" ever since. I'd hate to lose it myself.
Q. I'm trying to find out the origin of the phrase, 'on the QT', 
meaning off the record or in confidence. [Mike Willis]

A. According to Robert Hendrickson, in _The Facts on File 
Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins_, the first reference is 
from a British ballad of 1870, which contained the line "Whatever 
I tell you is on the QT". It seems to have been just an 
abbreviated spelling, using the first and last letters of the word 
'quiet', the mild obfuscation also suggesting a meaning for the 
expression. The _Oxford English Dictionary_ has a first sighting 
from 1884: "It will be possible to have one spree on the strict 
q.t.". Mr Hendrickson points out that it also occurs in a famous 
London ditty of 1891, sung by Lottie Collins, which also 
introduced the famous chorus line "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay":

    A sweet Tuxedo girl you see,
    Queen of swell society,
    Fond of fun as fun can be,
    When it's on the strict Q.T.

Q. How did 'spoil' (go bad or rotten) come to mean to overindulge 
someone (as in 'spoil a child' or 'the kid is spoiled rotten')? 
[Richard Nixon]

A. Both meanings of the word are derived from an older sense of 
the word in English, which was to strip the armour and weapons 
from a slain enemy. (This came via French from the Latin word 
'spolium', which originally meant the skin that had been taken 
from a dead animal. So the first meaning in English was already a 
figurative one.) From here, the word came to mean the items so 
removed, booty or plunder, hence our word 'spoils', as in phrases 
such as "the spoils of war". The verb could also be used at one 
time for seizing goods by violence, to "deprive, despoil, pillage, 
or rob" as the _Oxford English Dictionary_ graphically puts it. It 
then took on a less literal meaning of depriving someone of some 
quality or distinction, and later still to impair or damage 
something to the extent that it became useless. By the end of the 
seventeenth century, this had reached the point where 'to spoil' 
could mean "to injure in respect of character, especially by over-
indulgence or undue lenience" and "to become unfit for use; to 
deteriorate; to go bad, decay", the two senses you give.
Q. What is the origin and true meaning of 'knock on wood' or 
'touch wood'? [Mike Gast]

A. To 'touch wood' is a superstition action to ward off any evil 
consequences, say of untimely boasting; it can also be a charm to 
bring good luck. The origin is quite unknown, though some writers 
have pointed to pre-Christian rituals involving the spirits of 
sacred trees such as the oak, ash, holly or hawthorn. There is, 
I'm told, an old Irish belief that you should knock on wood to let 
the little people know that you are thanking them for a bit of 
good luck. Others have sought a meaning in which the wood 
symbolises the timber of the cross, but this may be a 
Christianisation of an older ritual. The children's game of tag in 
which you are only safe so long as you are touching wood is not 
likely to be connected (an indicator of this may be that at times 
iron was substituted for wood if there was no wood handy). The 
phrase itself seems to be modern, as the oldest citation for 
'touch wood' in the _Oxford English Dictionary_ dates only from 
1908; my searches haven't turned up anything earlier. 
(Incidentally, that work doesn't have a single example of 'knock 
on wood', which is the American version of the British 'touch 

7. Beyond Words
The US magazine _Philosophy and Literature_ has announced the 
winners of its 1998 Bad Writing Contest, which "celebrates the 
most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books 
and articles published in the last few years" though "deliberate 
parody cannot be allowed in a field where unintended self-parody 
is so widespread". First prize was won by Judith Butler, professor 
of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of Calif-
ornia at Berkeley, in a 1997 article in the _Diacritics_ journal 
entitled _Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time_: 
"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is 
understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous 
ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to 
repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question 
of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift 
from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural 
totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights 
into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed 
conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and 
strategies of the rearticulation of power".