A couple of items of linguistic interest in today’s NYT Magazine:
1) William Safire’s column investigates the odd but pleasing word wackadoodle, an insult (comparable to kook(y) or nutjob) which he traces back to a 1995 use in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I plan to use it whenever it seems appropriate. He also, impressively, refuses to take the bait offered by a reader who deplores the phrasing “I approve this message” (rather than “approve of”); he writes:

The O.E.D. makes clear that in both the sense of the 1380 “to pronounce to be good” and the 1413 “to confirm authoritatively,” the verb stood alone; no of followed. In the 17th century, the construction approve on appeared, followed by approve of. For reassurance, I turn to Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, who concludes that “for the two most relevant meanings of approve, the verb without preposition is both the earliest form and the one that continues through to the present.”

2) Virginia Heffernan passes along the sad news that the OED will not publish a paper version of the new revision. I can understand the decision, but still—what happens when the internet collapses, hey? What price your fancy websites then?


  1. I’m not sure if I’m missing something at “Wackadoodle”. Isn’t there an old expression “wacky-doodle-doo”, used as a kind of ironic comment on what someone has just said?
    “I just bought me a new car.” “Well, wacky-doodle-doo, good for you”.

  2. Never heard it myself. (I’ve heard “Whoop-tee-doo.”) Do you have a geographical location for it?

  3. Well, I’m pretty sure I heard it many years ago in Australia. Perhaps it was a family thing…

  4. Well, I’m pretty sure I heard it many years ago in Australia. Perhaps it was a family thing…

  5. Drew Smith says

    It’s definitely older than 1995:
    Fears Grounded in an Age of Terror
    Newsday (Melville, NY) – April 23, 1986
    Author: DENIS HAMILL
    “Don’t buy airline stock. If you own any, sell now. We have seen the future and it is Khadafy. I hate to give this wackadoodle his due, but he has the whole world scared tripless.”

  6. Where would one go to obtain a (reasonably priced) copy of the OED?
    I still want Ordbog over det Danske Sprog too, but I don’t really have room for it. At least that’s online too now (they outsourced the typing to China).

  7. My mistake. The expression is “Wacky doo!” Sorry!

  8. Richard Hershberger says

    As is typical, it took about two minutes of research to antedate Safire. See http://groups.google.com/group/comp.sys.pen/msg/7161cc881d706e98, a usenet post from 1994. There is also a post from 1993 with someone using it as a nym, but that as context-free as uses come.

  9. Richard Hershberger says

    As for the approve/approve of non-issue, in my ideolect they don’t mean the same thing. I might personally approve of a commercial by my favored candidate, but I did not approve it. Approving the ad implies some affirmative act leading to the ad being created and broadcast. Approving of the ad just means it meets with approbation.
    Is my sense of this distinction unusual?

  10. marie-lucie says

    I am not a native English speaker, but it seems to me that Richard’s usage is standard.

  11. That’s funny; I’ve never had to deal with the word “whoop-tee-doo” in print before, whatever the spelling, but I was a bit nonplussed when I saw what you wrote, language hat. I seem to have assumed the second syllable to start with a “d”, although I pronounce it as a tap that could equally be spelled with a “t”. I would guess (perhaps I go too far) that you also have a tap there – would you be surprised by the spelling I find natural, “whoopdedoo”?

  12. No, I could equally well have spelled it that way. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually written it out before.

  13. I agree with Meesher about the “d”, but I’d definitely spell the second syllable “dee” — not sure about hyphens.
    And I agree with Richard about “approve” versus “approve of”. The preposition makes a difference, as in “meet”/”meet with”.

  14. mollymooly says

    I understood the NYT piece to say, not that OUP has said there won’t be a hardcopy OED3, but rather that OUP has not said there will be. Since the revision will take another 20 years, I woouldn’t fret yet.

  15. Terry Collmann says

    The preposition makes a difference, as in “meet”/”meet with”.
    I have never found an occasion where “meet” needs “with” after it to give a nuance that goes further than “meet” on its own. I would be interested to hear examples where this is not true.
    “Meet up with” I can see has a slightly diferent meaning to plain “meet”, however.

  16. To me as well, “approve” and “approve of” seem to have somewhat different meanings, with the first, just as suggested above, implying a decision or action based on some authority, along the lines of “sign off on”, “authorize”, etc. “Approve of”, on the other hand, strikes me as less active, and meaning only to find something appropriate, etc., but in many cases only as a bystander rather than someone in a decision-making chain.

  17. @Terry Collmann: I think that when “meet with”‘s object refers to a person, it implies mutual planning or intent, roughly like “have a meeting with”; consider “I met a lot of interesting people at the party” vs. “I met with a lot of interesting people at the party,” or “He went to the capital, and was excited to meet the Governor” vs. “He went to the capital, and was excited to meet with the Governor.” In both cases, I think the “with” is really necessary to convey the meaning clearly. (However, this goes out the window when the object does not refer to a person, as in “His plan met with severe opposition.” I’m not sure if there’s a connection I’m missing.)
    And I’ll add my voice to the chorus regarding “approve” vs. “approve of.”

  18. “I still want Ordbog over det Danske Sprog too, but I don’t really have room for it. At least that’s online too now”
    Oooooh. Tak skal du have, Sili! Jeg viste ikke det var saadan online. Det er gratis, ikke? I had only thought to look for bilingual Danish/English dictionaries up til now.
    Of course, to use it fully, I’ll need to be able to find the Danish letters on my keyboard. I’ll be talking to my husband soon about why it is that I can’t access even extended Roman at the moment. (After that, perhaps we can discover where the Cyrillic is hiding.)
    Given the dates that it says it covers, ODS should be just the thing, should I ever decide to read Holberg again (and its availability will probably make it more likely that I will read Holberg again.) It should also be useful when I find something in H.C. Andersen that my bilingual dictionaries don’t have. Or in the unlikely event that I should make another attempt on Kierkegaard in the original. (Even when my Danish was at its best, I found that by the time I had reached the end of one of his sentences I had entirely forgotten what was at the beginning of it. If I want to read Kierkegaard, I think I’ll just find a good translation.)
    Do you happen to know a good etymological dictionary for Danish?
    Mange tak.

  19. Dalby in his Guide to World Language Dictionaries (indispensable for the committed dictionary obsessive) mentions only the Dansk etymologisk ordbog by Niels Åge Nielsen (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1966): “Highly compressed, with numerous abbreviations… Still there is room for the essential cognate forms and for occasional citations of the scholarly literature.”

  20. Well, that’s the Danish etymological dictionary that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, I don’t own it, since I hadn’t actually decided to major in linguistics (as opposed to, say, Fashion Design) until sometime shortly after I got home from Denmark and thus didn’t realize how fascinating I would soon find the book 🙁 Idiotic move on my part, since the year before I was in Denmark, I had taken British Literature in High School and discovered in that class that I was absolutely fascinated with historical linguistics even if I didn’t know the name of the discipline.
    For some odd reason, I did buy Gyldendal’s _Dansk Udtale_ (Danish Pronunciation) while I was in the country. Wish I’d bought the etymological dictionary as well. Maybe someday. Danish language books and other media have the disadvantage of costing an arm and a leg, presumably because of the limited speaker base coupled with cost of living. I would very dearly love to have the Danish TV series _Matador_ on DVD, but with the above factors, plus a weak dollar, I think we figured that it would easily cost $300 by the time we got it shipped here.
    Thank you for letting me know that you haven’t heard mention of any others. That’s useful information.
    It occurs to me to wonder if you have a Klein bottle hat in your collection? They look at least a bit silly when worn, but they’re great conversation pieces.

  21. No, I don’t, but I’ll keep my eye peeled for one! It would certainly amuse my four-year-old grandson.

  22. Try http://www.kleinbottle.com for the one side fits all hat. You can also get a get a matching set of Klein bottle hat and Moebius scarf if you prefer. (Also one side fits all, naturally.)
    If you happen to be or know a knitter, then an internet search on “Klein bottle hat” will turn up patterns. I’ve never knitted a Moebius scarf, but I know that they’re not that difficult to do, and I’m sure the internet will have instructions.

  23. marie-lucie says

    Isidora, wonderful! An experienced and creative knitter shouldn’t have too much of a problem making a Klein bottle hat according to the pictures. What a great idea! They look very warm too.

  24. They are supposed to be warm because they’re double-walled due they’re rather unique topological nature.
    I always wanted to do a Moebius scarf, but haven’t yet because I think that they are typically done on circular needles, which would be the obvious choice for continuous, one-sided knitting. Unfortunately, I abhor circular needles since I’m a self-taught knitter and immediately developed the habit of wedging the right-hand needle firmly in place since no-one taught me otherwise. I felt less guilty about this peculiarity many years later after I read an article comparing how yarn and needles are held in various countries. Apparently the Scots are in the habit of clamping the right needle firmly under the arm to keep it stationary or else lodging the unused tip of those wicked, double-pointed knitting steels in a “knitting belt.” So I’m not actually holding it “wrong” — just not Americanly. If you want to see something interesting, you should watch Indian women tension the yarn by winding a whole little miniature ball of it around the index finger and shedding a loop as necessary.(See, I’m engaging in descriptivist knitting.)
    The Klein bottle, I am nearly certain requires the use of a set of double-points, and those aren’t difficult to work with at all.

  25. marie-lucie says

    The varying diameter of the knitted cylinder for the hat would be much easier to obtain with a set of double-pointed needles, especially at the narrowest part. For a large diameter, it is always possible to use many, short double-pointed needles. The famous Cowichan sweaters of British Columbia are knitted this way.
    About holding the needles: there are regional or national variations about exactly how to hold the needles and even about which of the right or left hand is doing most of the work! So don’t feel bad about how you hold yours. Personally, I don’t like to wedge a needle under my arm – the position feels too rigid – but I have seen many women holding theirs this way. But I do it sometimes if the piece is becoming long and heavy.

  26. It makes me very happy that this thread has veered into a discussion of knitting techniques.

  27. After reading that article that I mentioned that described and showed photos of different knitting positions in different countries, I ceased to feel bad about how I was holding my knitting. The only reason I actually feel bad about my knitting position is when I discover that another position would be more functional for a particular technique, and, in those cases, the solution is to put some time and practice into learning a new position. For instance, if I ever do a Fair Isles pattern or anything else that requires yarn colors not in use to be carried across the back of the work, I’ll take the time beforehand to learn how to carry yarn in either/both hands since that will make everything a great deal more pleasant. If I eventually get around to doing entrelac or any other technique that involves extreme short-rowing, I’ll learn to knit backwards with even tension to save turning every several stitches. If I ever use circular needles again, I’ll get used to holding them differently. Otherwise I’m fine as I am.
    I don’t actually hold the right needle under my arm, and I’m not certain that I could easily. I only knit while sitting, and the butt of the needle goes into the crease where my body and right leg meet. This is occasionally an issue when I am knitting with something like size 1 or smaller double points, depending on what I am wearing. In order to avoid puncture wounds, point protectors are useful at times. This is why I wish I knew where to get a knitting belt.

  28. marie-lucie says

    It makes me very happy that this thread has veered into a discussion of knitting techniques.
    Well, thank you, LH! That’s one of the great things about your blog. We learn so much. And one never knows when little bits of expertise in areas far from one’s experience will not come in handy some day even in the solving of linguistic puzzles.
    And Isidora, you may be self-taught but you do sound like an expert, congratulations.

  29. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually written it out before.
    How often we say that! and “I’ve never had occasion to pronounce it.”
    It’s only about a year since I first used the word redolent.

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