VINEGAR(R)OON.

The Daily Growler’s latest post talks about the creatures that inhabit the Southwest: “the coyote, the bobcat, the puma, the Gila monster, the vinegaroon…” Hold on, said I, “vinegaroon”? Not in M-W, so I tried Wordnik, and there it was, cited from the Century Dictionary: “1. A corruption of vinegerone.” And vinegerone is “The whip-tailed scorpion, Thelyphonus giganteus: so called on account of the strong vinegar-Iike odor of an acid secretion noticeable when the creature is alarmed. Also called vinaigrier and vinegar-maker.”
Now, the interesting thing is that when I checked the physical AHD (since it’s not online anymore) I found the following entry:

vinegarroon also vinegarone n. A large whip scorpion (Mastigoproctus giganteus) of the southern United States and Mexico that emits a strong vinegary odor when disturbed. [American Spanish vinagrón, from Spanish vinagre, vinegar, from Old Spanish, from Old French vinaigre. See VINEGAR.]

Even though, when a human looks at a physical dictionary, the entry is obviously what is wanted, the search engine would ignore it because of the extra -r-. (I wonder how the spellings migrated from the century-old Century‘s vinegaroon/vinegerone to the AHD’s vinegarroon/vinegarone?)

Comments

  1. Hmm. I also would have spelled it with one R.

  2. Also: a “whip scorpion” is not a true scorpion. It’s a vinegarroon. Wikipedia even said so.

  3. Noetica says:

    I wonder if they really do contain acetic acid (the acid of vinegar). Formic acid is the simplest carboxylic acid; acetic acid comes next. Formic acid is so called because it is copiously present in ants (Latin formica, “ant”). It’s injected when they sting you.

  4. If formica means ant, how come it’s the trade name for plastic laminate?
    Answer: There is no answer. According to Wiki, there’s no connection:

    Formica was invented in 1912 by [...blah, blah, blah ...] The mineral mica was commonly used at that time for electrical insulation. Because the new product acted as a substitute “for mica”, Faber coined the name “Formica”.[citation needed]

  5. Vinegaroons spray a mixture of acetic acid and caprylic acid. The latter is the eighth in the series of carboxylic acids and is also found in coconuts and breast milk.
    Mind you, I didn’t even know the term “carboxylic acid” until a few minutes ago; I’m getting all of this from wikipedia. By the way, the sixth in the series, caproic acid (whose name could be confused with that of the eighth) is found in — you guessed it — goat fat.

  6. I’d never heard of caproic acid before now.

  7. Could the extra r have come from the Spanish as well? In Spanish, the single r is pronounced closer to a d, but the double r is rolled. The r doesn’t have to be doubled when it is the first letter, since r is also rolled if it is at the beginning of a word. I have never seen an English dictionary that distinguished a rolled r in pronunciation, so I don’t know how you would find that out.

  8. Could the extra r have come from the Spanish as well?
    As you can see from the Spanish forms quoted in the etymology, Spanish has a single r.

  9. Finally a subject where I might have outshined (shone? shin?), and somebody has already outdone me with WP (back in my day that used to mean WordPerfect …).

  10. Is it Thelyphonus giganteus as in the Century Dictionary or Mastigoproctus giganteus as in the AHD ?
    We must have an expert on arthropods/Chelicerata somewhere !

  11. janes'_kid says:

    What is the difference between the AHD which is “not online anymore” and the ‘American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language’ which is online under then Yahoo banner?
    American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

  12. Is it Thelyphonus giganteus as in the Century Dictionary or Mastigoproctus giganteus as in the AHD ?
    In an American context, it’d be Mastigoproctus. Thelyphonus is S.E. Asian, but maybe that’s where the name originated.

  13. I meant through pronunciation, since English doesn’t differentiate rolled r, and it would be an area of confusion for speakers of English. Something like the way j and g pronunciation changes for Arabic jeem in different regions. (sorry, my computer’s not working right and I can’t use the character map) Or like the way Pedro, South Dakota is pronounce PEE-dro.

  14. What is the difference between the AHD which is “not online anymore” and the ‘American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language’ which is online under then Yahoo banner?
    No IE and Semitic appendices. But don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what’s there!

  15. @Sili: It’s “outshone” if you like irregular past tenses, otherwise “outshined”.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    It’s injected when they sting you.

    Which only happens in Australia. In civilized countries, some species are capable of spraying it at you.
    Australia is, of course, also the home of enormous numbers of enormously venomous snakes, the killer jellies, and “the Giant Queensland Stinging Tree (it won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it had)”. “Someone’s trying to tell you you’re not supposed to be there!”

    In Spanish, the single r is pronounced closer to a d, but the double r is rolled.

    Both are rolled. It’s just that the single one is a trill with one contact, while the double one (and the single one at the beginnings and ends of words) has no less than four and often five contacts.
    (Amazing to listen to – it just goes on and on, like a Czech long vowel.)

    Is it Thelyphonus giganteus as in the Century Dictionary or Mastigoproctus giganteus as in the AHD ?

    Probably whichever is more recent.
    And that’s apart from the fact that, in reality, it’s whichever you like better. “Genus” is not defined. That’s called taxonomic freedom.

  17. Well, the Century is exactly 100 years old this year, so I’m going with AHD.

  18. Here is a table of synonyms; Lucas 1835 seems to be this.

  19. Also: a “whip scorpion” is not a true scorpion.
    The name is an instance of folk arthropodology. I wish I could call it folk entomology, but I like to get things right.

  20. Noetica says:

    As opposed to antomology. Or anthomology, hormigología, or any other homological formaciones.

  21. You could also enter
    define:vinegarroon
    in a google search field and get your answer that way.

  22. Caprylic and caproic acid are both rather smelly, and are jointly responsible for the characteristic smell of goats and the smell of rancid butter.

  23. That’s male goats. Our goats smell lovely.

  24. Cherie Kartchner says:

    I’ve known about vinegarroons since I was a wee tot (I grew up in the Mojave desert, and my parents were both from a long line of settlers to the deserts of what became Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, and were able to pass on the local lore).
    If you saw one of these critters in your room at night, you wouldn’t care HOW it was spelled. They are large and scary (even if they are basically harmless).
    In other words, wrt spelling, vinegarroon is the sort of word that is passed on mostly orally. Spelling is an afterthought.

  25. An excellent point that helps explain the fairly wild variation.

  26. Vinegarroon (with two r’s) is also in Wordnik, which is another online source of the (appendix-less, as far as I can tell) AHD.

  27. j. del col says:

    An excellent discussion of vinegarroons can be found in Thomas Eisner’s–Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures–.
    The acetic acid sprayed by vinegarroons is highly concentrated–84%. Ordinary table vinegar is only 5%.
    Then there are the pillbugs that produce a chemical analog of methaqualone (Quaalude) to stun their adversaries.
    J. Del Col

  28. This is some sort of non-violent bug, is it? Instead of dissolving its adversary, it’s “Here, have some ‘ludes’?

  29. Injecting someone with stun chemicals is hardly non-violent.

  30. J. Del Col says:

    The pillbugs don’t inject anything. They secrete droplets of the ‘lude analog and whatever is trying to eat them ingests the stuff.
    Now giant water bugs are another story.
    They bite and inject a potent shot of nasty steroids, including progesterone. The pain is very intense.
    J. Del Col

  31. whatever is trying to eat them ingests the stuff
    That sounds very satisfying to me from a martial arts standpoint, since the force used is just redirected back to the aggressor.
    I’m not sure what scorpions use. It probably varies with the color and toxicity of the scorpion. It’s excruciatingly painful, caused loss of sensation, but did not increase my heart rate. I had the impression the scorpion wanted to keep me around for a possible meal, but wanted me fresh without refrigeration. It also knocked out my arthritis…er, runner’s knee for several weeks, but too, that might have been the anti-venom.

  32. J. Del Col says:

    Scorpion venoms vary with the species, but they are mainly mixtures of proteins. The deadly species’ venoms include neurotoxins in the mix.

  33. j. del col says:

    An addendum to my last post on Scorpion venoms. Strictly speaking, the most toxic parts are peptides–protein fragments. Scorpions also inject a ‘pre-venom’ that prepares the way, so to speak, for the venom. The pre-venoms are loaded with K+ ions. Eisner explains this better than I can.

  34. My Hispanic students didn’t recognize either “vinegarroon” or “vinegrón”. A group from more western states (Michuacan, Durango, Guanajauto, Inguicha la planta) don’t know anything about vinegar smells, and say the correct word for scorpion is alacrán. They offer the further information that there is a plant used as an antidote, a shoulder level bush with wide leaves. The leaves have white spots and the trunk has horizontal white stripes. You crush the leaf, being very careful not to touch it since it causes redness and itching, and put it only on the sting in order to draw out the poison.
    A group of students from more central states, near the federal district, and from El Salvador say the correct word is escorpión. They do recognize the word alacrán and say it’s the same species but more dangerous, and centered around Durango. When it comes to scorpions, everyone mentions Durango.

  35. Noetica says:

    Where I have lived for most of the last twenty-five years there are ants that we call jumping jacks, though Wikipedia prefers the name jack jumper. Ubiquitous. These sinister little critters can indeed lunge at you with a characteristic jump; but they also climb trees and drop into your hair. I have been bitten about a dozen times. They cling tenaciously, and inject a venom alleged to include a neurotoxin. I can believe it, having suffered quite strange symptoms on one occasion. The bites are excruciating, and nearly always cause serious broad swelling. Those unlucky enough to grow allergic must carry a syringe full of adrenalin (= Am. epinephrine) for emergencies.
    Where I spend most of my time these days I am relieved to find redback spiders instead: potentially deadly neurotoxic venom again, but there are fewer of them. One lay in wait in my letterbox; another under the thermostat cover for the hotwater tank.
    But don’t be put off, if you’ve toyed with visiting our wide brown land. Like Earth generally, Australia is mostly harmless. One must eventually tire of fjords, after all – and I promise you’ll love our snakes.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    and I promise you’ll love our snakes.

    A once-in-a-lifetime experience. See Australia and die… B-)
    (Oh, BTW, here’s something about one of the stinging trees. Just nettles… in tree size… and with correspondingly upsized venom.)

  37. Noetica says:

    Good point. Stinging trees. And of course of course Australian waters are among the richest in deadly cnidarians. Box jellyfish are just the beginning.
    The page David refers us to perpetuates the story that we have the most venomous snakes. Of course Australia has some full-metal military-grade reptiles, yes; but there are problems in selecting criteria. Most potent venom? Greatest quantity of venom? Most likely to attack? Most effective in delivering venom? Or, properly I think, some mix of these measures? Ah, but which mix? Pragmatically, perhaps: most likely to lead to death if encountered.

  38. nafahthi says:

    No, that page says that Australia has the most venomous snake (singular).

  39. ‘Most horrifying’ is the usual criterion.

  40. All thinks lead to death, or at least lead in its general direction.

  41. Noetica says:

    No, that page says that Australia has the most venomous snake (singular).
    Why do you say “no”, nafahthi? I said that the page “perpetuates the story that we have the most venomous snakes”. If it says that Australia has the most venomous snake, that works to “perpetuate the story” concerning most venomous snakes more broadly, ugye?
    To take another line on this, that page meant a species of snake. It said so, in fact. But there are many individuals of that species, so the implication is that Australia has the most venomous individual snakes. We could speak of the most venomous token snakes, whether or not they are all of the same type (to wit, species).
    That type–token distinction is, in fact, a further complication to add to the issues I raised concerning criteria. Seriously! “The most venomous snakes” could mean “the greatest number of (token) venomous snakes” or “snakes that are the most venomous (presumably types, though tokens could also be meant)”. But it is definitely the token snakes you have to watch out for. No one has yet been bitten by a species, even in Australia.
    We once had a clutch of token snakes (not of species, OK?) right at the back door. Tiger snakes, which are among the most common.* Frightened the wits out of our cat. God knows what they made of the cat; nor is it clear what God (if, contrary to fact, there were a god) would have made of the situation as a whole sub specie aeternitatis.**
    *The species itself is metonymically considered common, in virtue of the commonness of tokens of that type. Australians, as a type, are a deeply philosophical people. Some would say we have to be, given that annihilation lurks next to every second back door and beneath every third thermostat cover. Tiger snakes are normally small, but quite dangerous. Often enough deadly. Yet another neurotoxin is implicated.
    **Sed non sub tokenis aeternitatis.

  42. adrenalin (= Am. epinephrine)
    We say “adrenalin” in ordinary conversation to refer to the body hormone. The word “epinephrine” would be used in a hospital as the generic name of the drug.

  43. The page David refers us to perpetuates the story that we have the most venomous snakes.
    I too read the above as most modifying venomous and not snakes, as would be an alternative interpretation. Either way the meaning is similar: Australia has a reputation for snakes which the wikipedia article does nothing to dispel. I was unfamiliar with this viewpoint of Australia, but after perusing the various links to descriptions of annoying and harmful flora and fauna, I see nothing to convince me it’s a bum rap.
    tgg/nafathi/empty: All thinks lead to death, or at least lead in its general direction.
    How can “thinks” lead to death? Did you mean to type “things”? (It parses better but still doesn’t make sense.)
    Those tiger snakes are cute, but the color of the soil looks almost like an ochre color. No wonder poisonous things grow from it.

  44. nullandvoid says:

    I meant to type “things”.
    It did make sense to me at the time, in a sophomoric kind of way. (Look at the big picture: This long, long road that each of us is on ends in death, and every step, every encounter of any kind, takes one further down the road. Not suggesting that, say, a chance meeting with some perfectly harmless reptile is actually a cause of death, but only that it’s a step in that direction.) Sorry for the foolishness.
    On the other hand, the foolishness led to the thing/think typo, and the typo reminds me that I have been wanting to revive a conversation about “You’ve got another thing coming.”
    To be continued.

  45. This long, long road that each of us is on ends in death,…
    Depending on your point of view, the road could also end in sex (or we wouldn’t have survived as a species) or even food, or it could just be a road. I don’t usually do philosophy, but in your case, I recommend beer. That will give you two days in a row without being morose–one drinking and one hung over.

  46. nullandvoid says:

    It is certainly just a road. The question is where it ends. If it does. My favorite Australian place-name is Useless Loop.

  47. nafahthi says:

    Noetica,
    I knew I couldn’t slip anything past you, and I don’t know why I even tried.
    Almost as soon as I had posted the comment, I spotted the loophole — the vagueness in the phrase “perpetuate the story” — through which you would justifiably slither.
    I then went on to persuade myself that the real intent behind my comment was to add the type/token issue to the ones you had already raised; but that I had done so in a lazy and indirect way by stirring it up and leaving it for you to clean up the mess.
    Another point of view would be that I was just childishly seeking attention in any form.
    By the way, I was not familiar with the terminology of “types” versus “tokens”. And I was not, and am still not, familiar with the expression “ugye”.

  48. Noetica says:

    Nafahthi, I slipped one past myself, so don’t worry. (Nor should you be concerned about neotenously drawing attention to yourself. That is among the standard options at this blog.) I wrote this:

    “The most venomous snakes” could mean “the greatest number of (token) venomous snakes …”

    But I should have included types there also. Here is a more complete story. “The most venomous snakes” could mean:

    1. the greatest number of types of venomous snakes

    2. the types of snakes that are most venomous

    3. the greatest number of token venomous snakes

    4. the token snakes that are most venomous

    Note: type may be thought to stand in for species here; but it need not. It could be a matter of genera, or even of what the Wikipedia tiger snake article calls “morphs”.
    The type–token distinction is basic but often missed. It is, or ought to be, of great importance to philosophers and linguists. As for ugye, it is Hungarian for “n’est-ce pas?” or “isn’t that so?” I campaign to have it adopted in English, since we have no native marker of that kind.
    Nijma:
    Yes, I knew that Americans still speak of adrenalin in the folk sense. And they use epinephrine not just for the drug, but for the substance as it occurs naturally in the body, in scientific contexts. Both terms, of course, are motivated by the term adrenal glands (the “at-kidney” glands, the suprarenal glands), which secrete adrenalin. Compare the pair noradrenalin[e] and norepinephrine. It is characteristic of American scientific usage to prefer a word from Greek, I think.
    Your advice to nullandvoid (alias nafahthi):
    I don’t usually do philosophy, but in your case, I recommend beer.
    As an Australian philosopher, I feel I should have a ready remark to make about that. But I do not, and will have to consider the matter carefully.

  49. nullandvoid says:

    Nijma,
    I never did much philosophy, either. Frankly, I never had the Latin for the philosophizin’.
    I, too, will have to think about that beer idea.

  50. I just posted a message about cuteness to the wrong thread — sorry.

  51. “Norepinephrine” is certainly the word you will hear in American biology courses (for the neurotransmitter), but the other words may be brand names here, sorry, but I don’t know which box that particular reference is in or I would try to tell you more. I take it that’s the Greek form. (My dictionary is in a box too, and answers.com–which I have a box for in my browser–doesn’t give the history of words.)
    The last time I checked, philosophy was all Greek too–all that praxis stuff.
    Anyone who feels their ears burning should check out Kron’s “A bad guide” website. He’s casting for “Languagehat: the Movie”.

  52. Noetica says:

    Void, you should re-post that contribution here. Just copy it over.
    A good link from that Wikipedia article is this one. See also Johan Huizinga’s classic study Homo Ludens, which ought to be acknowledged more often.
    Nij, what brand names? [Nor]adrenalin and [nor]epinephrine are perfectly generic scientific terms.
    So we’re going to be a movie? About time! OK, let’s take a look at Language Hat the Movie. … What’s this? I’m to be played by Alan Rickman? Who’s Alan Rickman? They’ll hear from my agent about this.

  53. Here it is:
    I just want to point out, after a quick glance at the Wikipedia article on neoteny kindly linked for us by Noetica, that that article has a link to the article on cuteness. A quick glance at the latter suggests that there is objective evidence that baby dinosaurs were cute.

  54. They’ll hear from my agent
    What!? A few minutes ago it was James Mason; I had to google it. He keeps editing it and you can’t see the changes. There’s no plot yet, I’ve suggested some Australian snakes just for suspense.
    what brand names?
    Sorry, can’t look things up properly; I’m still moving and my drug reference isn’t in the box I thought it was in. As soon as the anti-inflammatory kicks in and I stop aching so much I’m going to finish off the job–I just checked the radar map and there should be a break in the rain soon too. My internet connection keeps getting dropped too. After the telephone people came and went today (yes, they work on the 4th) my new phone was no longer connected to the landlord’s phone downstairs, but I have to make a separate call for the broadband during regular hours, so for now I’ve piggybacked onto someone’s unsecured router that has a really low signal.

  55. EpiPens are reasonably common for (the parents of) kids with nut allergies around here.
    We used to raise axolotls.

  56. Noetica says:

    Ah yes M. Paradigmatically neotenous axolotls.
    What do you call a baby axolotl (apart from cute, like a dinosaur)?

  57. The linked article about psychological neoteny is interesting, yes, but I don’t find it all that convincing.

    A child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge is probably adaptive in modern society because people need repeatedly to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends.

    Why is cognitive flexibility supposed to be “childlike”? It sounds more like maturity to me. Children need routine and get very crabby when they don’t get it.
    The argument seems based primarily on style: “shock-haired” is good, as opposed to “balding” or “bearded” which is bad. The idea that a “youthful” appearance has some link with other (positive) characteristics is reminiscent of (yes, I’m going to invoke Godwin’s law) the methods of measuring children’s sculls with calipers to determine whether they would be allowed to live. It’s just one step further to the snarky “why don’t you hurry up and die and get out of our way” mentality that is so frequently directed towards the boomer generation on the intertubes these days.

  58. skulls

  59. I’m sure Wikipedia explains it, but as I understand it, early in the 20th century “Adrenaline” (the original name for the that catecholamine produced in the adrenal medulla) was a trademark in the US; so when a generic name was needed, they just calqued its Latin roots into Greek. In the rest of the world, the word was never a trademark, and adrenaline has always been the generic name for the substance; but US-published textbooks are so popular in biology and healthcare, even outside the English-speaking world, that everyone recognises it.

  60. Language Hat: The Movie
    You’ll find a more literary and imaginative version here

  61. David Marjanović says:

    What do you call a baby axolotl

    A larva. :-|
    Some say the word “eft” is available for salamander larvae (compare “tadpole” for frog larvae), but I don’t know how far that’s ever going to get, because the red eft is the postmetamorphic juvenile stage of the North American “newt” Notophthalmus viridescens (…as the species name says, adults are green rather than red).

  62. What’s this then? Barchester Towers? What’s a Barchester Tower? And I see I’m being cast as someone called “Mr. Popular Sentiment”. What, no rebel role? And there’s been way too much gender confusion going on with the Hatters lately, and not on my part either. Ah well, I suppose it’s a compliment to be cast at all. If Cate Blanchette can do Bob Dylan, I’m sure I’ll rise to the occasion.

  63. Noetica says:

    Yes Nij, we find remarkable fluidity of gender in our circuit of blogs these days. We must monitor the situation; but so far there is no cause for alarm. It’s traditional. Remember how things were in Shakespeare’s time, when a boy masquerading as a woman played Portia masquerading as a man. As for neoteny, don’t be put off by the looseness of some examples, or by the fact that it is a mixed and partial matter. Neoteny is a powerful idea, and well worth the temporary suspension of quibbles. Culture as child’s-play. For example:
    David, I had in mind that we should call a baby axolotl an axolittle. Or more strictly, since we might call a baby ocelot an ocelittle, an axolitt.

  64. Several things on my mind:
    I always think that we baby boomers are collectively in a state of arrested development. How else to account for the fact that people can still make money by cranking out movies based on cheesy 1960s TV shows?
    Do we all know that
    “an eft” = “an ewt” = “a newt”?
    (What’s the name for that process again? I know if I axolotl linguists I’ll get an answer.)
    And can we please watch our language here? I believe that when we use “gender” as a word for “sex” it can be very hard on linguists. They know that that’s not what it really means, but they don’t like to go all prescriptive by saying so. I don’t like to think about the strain that that must led to.
    Last but not least, I’m still waiting for somebody to ask me whether the “p” in “pnafahthi” is silent.

  65. lead to.

  66. Noetica says:

    However, null multinomial, it is a matter of both sex and gender. Portia’s sex is female, and her gender is feminine, for example. There are those say that being a woman is a matter of gender, though being a female (of the species*) is a matter of sex.
    I of course avoid all these difficulties by famously having a neuter plural name.
    *Not the notorious “token female”.

  67. And can we please watch our language here?
    Is it true that when people start using the royal we, no one wants to have gender with them.

  68. It’s traditional.
    Slavery is traditional, torture is traditional, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is traditional. One must approach tradition with caution.
    Neoteny is a powerful idea
    I have had my doubts about descriptivism as well, being one of the non-combatants, but seeing it in action on some threads has given me a new appreciation for its pragmatic side, and for now I am willing to suspend disbelief. I suppose neoteny deserves the same. What you’ve really got there is two different things with similar characteristics. On the one hand you’ve got an inherited biological phenomenon that can be tested and dissected and subjected to peer review. On the other hand you’ve got something non-inherited that belongs in one of the behavioral camps–maybe religion or psychology, but I see you’re poking it towards the theater department. Those fields all overlap anyhow.

  69. Nij, and others,
    As far as I know, all I meant about gender vs sex is that the oldest sense of “gender” is “kind” — nothing specifically to do with maleness or femaleness or masculinity or femininity — and that I have seen more than one linguist get a bit peevish in explaining that the use of “gender” as a grammatical term has led (to the chagrin of the linguist) to the m/f use and not the other way round. But of course words do pick up new meanings; and in this case, as in most cases, resistance is futile.
    I was _not_ interested in stirring up any trouble about the language of gender politics.
    Do people know C. S. Lewis’ “Studies in Words”? His concepts of “dangerous sense” and “tactical definition” are worth knowing.
    By “people” I mean “any of you people”?
    By “we” in my earlier post I meant “we”, not “I” — I almost wrote “People, can we be a little more careful …”
    I don’t know anything about the sex life of kings. Perhaps you should ask Crown.
    I’m in favor of descriptive grammar in the almost tautological sense that I am favor of linguists studying the way people actually use language.
    I am against prescriptive grammar, too, but that’s not quite the same thing as being in favor of descriptive grammar.
    I have strong opinions about style (for example, I hate that I myself resort to so many parentheses (or do I mean round brackets — no, I suppose I really mean the thing enclosed by the brackets — oh, and I don’t know if I ought to use this many dashes, either (but in that case I can’t help it because my father loved dashes — it’s like the joke about silent p that I inherited from him — I wuldn’t stop if I could)) and semicolons (or is that supposed to be hyphenated?), so being anti-prescriptivist does not leave me without pet language peeves to exercise.
    Since nobody is taking he bait on the silent p, I will share a different joke that I’ve been saving up. Perfectly clean. A hint of rhotacism but no eroticism:
    visitor: Johnny, can I talk to your mother?
    Johnny: Nah, she ain’t here.
    v: Johnny! Where’s your grammar?
    J: She ain’t here either.

  70. Hey, empty, is the “p” in “pnafahthi” silent?

  71. Yes, the p is silent, as in swimming.

  72. Noetica says:

    Um – thank you for sharing that with us, zeroth.
    Do people know C. S. Lewis’ “Studies in Words”?
    I do. I got it when I was researching nature, φύσις, and so on, in a history-of-ideas fashion. I was then diverted into Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics, which deals interestingly with such matters (though ultimately wrongheadedly, I venture to assert). All that was a side-dish while I considered treatments of the topic within the analytical tradition, which I regard as equally unsatisfactory.
    Lewis’s work is worthwhile and nuanced, but old-fashioned in that it patronisingly omits a great deal of hard linguistic information that our contemporaries would demand. Frustrating.

  73. Lewis’ book reflects years of experience — experience of careful reading, and of teaching others to read carefully. He reflects on some of the causes of semantic drift, and on some of the pitfalls facing anyone who is trying to read an old text. Of course, before it is over he does some quiet ranting about how the language is going to hell.

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