Our editor has a list of words which he thinks are overused and which he wants us to reword if possible. One of these is iconic. An article I was subediting today had it, and I mentioned it to him. He said something to the effect of “Oh, ‘iconic’ is the cliché du jour”.
du jour is French for ‘of the day’, especially soup du jour, the soup of the day. It is perfectly good French, but may be overused in French restaurants in English-speaking and is a cliché anywhere else. In fact, Google Ngram Viewer shows that the most common noun du jour is the plat, plate. Other nouns are the point (daybreak), plats, mode (the fashion of the day), ordre (agenda), menu, compter (‘the count of the day’, Google Translate couldn’t translate in its entirety but a French-speaking friend informed me it means ‘as of the date’, ie ‘as from the date that the goods were purchased’) and naissance (birth, daybreak again). All of which shows that the French phrase really hasn’t penetrated into English.
Last weekend I got a card for our new local library and borrowed a book about language and the DVDs for the tv science-fiction series Firefly, which I have read small amounts about over the years but never seen. The series mixes futuristic science fiction with wild west settings, as the outer planets and moons of a complex solar system (or an inter-related group of solar systems; it isn’t fully explained) were terraformed to a basic level but the settlers are otherwise expected to fend for themselves.
In one episode the lead character unexpectedly finds himself married by local custom to a young woman who may or may not be what she seems (semi-spoiler: she isn’t). At one point she refers to “my sistren” in “the maiden house”.
On the other hand, dictionary.com says “An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; origin uncertain” (but being an Americanism doesn’t stop it being “from Scottish”). The first dudes were “excessively concerned with clothes, grooming, and manners”, which hardly describes Bridges’ character; partly because of this movie, one would now expect a dude to be rather scruffy and laid-back.
The five contemporary examples and three of the historical examples are unexceptional, thought we might have to think for a moment whether the writer means a ‘fastidious dude’, a man from an Eastern US city vacationing on a ranch, a ‘scruffy dude’ or just ‘any dude’’ll do.
The two others caught my eye, not for dude, but for something else in the sentence:
I allow you to—er—ornament my weir-pole, and ’tain’t every dudeI’d let do that. Cape Cod Stories [1907, short stories, scroll down to The mark on the door] Joseph C. Lincoln Having a dude puncher on our range kind of stirred up my emulosity. Out of the Depths [1913, a western novel, scroll down to chapter XXI] Robert Ames Bennet
My wife and I are in the process of selling one house, buying another and moving. While writing comments on Facebook, I noticed that its spell-checker was red-underlining removalist. (Pages for Mac and WordPress do, too.) Dictionary.com lists removalist as “Australian”, which surprised me. I asked my North American friends on Facebook, and they said they would only use mover but would understand removalist in the context of moving house. (By the way, moving house or just moving are both reasonably strange things to say. One student once told me that she’d spent the weekend “moving my house”.)
Some of my Facebook friends also mentioned packers. I have been doing most of the packing myself, and we won’t be paying specifically for packing (the removalists may do some incidental packing). Many years ago I attended a party for a friend whose company was relocating her to Melbourne. She said that the company was paying for the move, including the packing. Later in the evening, someone else commented on the lack of cardboard boxes around the apartment. I said “Kerry and Jamie are coming tomorrow morning”. She looked puzzled, and so were my North American friends when I told that story on Facebook. Anyone not from Australia is welcome to guess my meaning before I update with the answer. [edit: Kerry Packer was then Australia’s most powerful media owner. Jamie (now known as James) was being groomed as his successor; his interests are more broadly commercial]
One of my Australian friends mentioned a play (later a movie) by the Australian playwright David Williamson titled The Removalists. Given that there is only one actual removalist in the play/movie, it is possible that there is a double meaning in the title.
The free sample today was a product of mini jelly beans in 10 colours and 20 flavours, each colour being either a delicious one or an utterly disgusting one. There’s no way of telling which is which. Before Forrest Gump’s mother’s box of chocolates, Excalibur’sMerlin said “Looking at the cake is like looking at the future, until you’ve tasted it what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late.“
The pairs are: Caramel Corn and Mouldy Cheese Strawberry Banana Smoothie and Dead Fish Ba-na-na and Pencil Shavings Juicy Pear and Booger Buttered Popcorn and Rotten Eggs Chocolate Pudding and Canned Dog Food Futti-Frutti and Stinky Socks Coconut and Baby Wipes Green Apple and Minion Fart Peach and Barf
(You decide which are meant to be the delicious ones and which ones the utterly disgusting.)Continue reading →
One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.
The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder(indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”. Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials.Continue reading →
A few days before Christmas 2009 a colleague at the college arranged for all the students to join together and watch a video of the movie Love Actually. Towards the end of the movie, the character Joanna (Olivia Olson) sings the song All I want for Christmas is you, which a) is not really about Christmas – it might as well be All I want for any occasion is you, b) I am likely to have in my head all day now, and c) you are likely to have in your head all day now.
After the movie, a student said to me “She was singing ‘Is you?’. Should that be ‘Are you?’?”. I said (I paraphrase) no, because she was singing about “All I want for Christmas”, not about “you”. “All I want for Christmas” is singular, even if “All I want for Christmas” is “five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and partridge in a pear tree”. The singularity or plurality of the gift(s) doesn’t affect the the form of the verb. On the other hand, if we invert the sentence and say “You _ all I want for Christmas”, then “you” determines the form of the verb.
Also late in the movie, the character Jamie (Colin Firth) travels to Portugal to make a declaration of love to Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) … in very bad Portuguese. A student from Brazil was sitting in front of me (maybe he was the one who asked the question afterwards), and he cracked up completely during that scene.