Word of the Week! Amanuensis

dictaphone operatorBelieve it or not, this word came up in lunch conversation with colleagues. One of them will have lectured taped for a student, yet he is concerned that his notes on the board may not be clear enough to someone not physically present. “You need an amanuensis,” I said. Word-snob that I can be, it’s good to be in company that didn’t need a definition. One even said “I want one just so I can say that I have an amanuensis.”

So what is this Latin-sounding word? The etymology shows that, technically, it means “belonging to a secretary,” or one who writes thing down for someone else. I’ve thought of it in that sense. The OED notes that this person takes dictation. That’s not very common any longer, on campuses or in offices. The term is nearly as hoary, with the OED’s last recorded instance from the year 1860. Like palimpsest, another Word of the Week, our term now mostly appears in Humanities courses, and it appears in historical contexts.

That history shows us how social change, with women no longer as willing to enter typing or dictation pools, as well as technological change, from dictating devices to AI, doomed the profession and the term. Siri might be my imperfect amanuensis, and she’s getting better at it with each upgrade. It’s noteworthy that Apple lets us pick a gender and generic accent (US/UK/Australian) for this small precursor to artificial intelligence.

So is our word going extinct, like a stenographer’s pad or the manual typewriter? That the OED has no usage frequency bar may provide a clue.  Once voice-to-text applications become good enough, I suspect we’ll need a new word. The Latin-derived amanuensis just sounds a bit prissy for the 21st Century. Care to nominate a new word? Or invent one? Let me know.

Though we’ll take a short holiday break, we’ll publish this blog until classes resume in January. Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image of an amanuensis working a wax-cylinder Dictaphone machine courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Kluge

klugeJoe Hoyle in our Business School wanted to know more about this word, also spelled “kludge” (and pronounced “klooj”) on occasion. A kluge, involving how we connect to campus services from off campus, delayed this post. It’s one of the worst kluges in how we use technology. But more on that in a bit.

I’ve always thought of kluges as dangerous, makeshift repairs such as the one pictured. Yet there is more to it than that. The Atlantic ran a story, “The Appropriately Messy Etymology of ‘Kluge’ ” that shows how murky the term’s origins have proven. At the same time, the usage remains clear: a kluge means an ad-hoc solution, usually technological, with hardware or software. It gained currency in the era of computer science. A kluge is the opposite of an elegant solution.

The piece in The Atlantic cites other kluges in our daily lives, such as the bolted-together labyrinth of the US Federal tax code. I’d add the Interstate System, where no matter how many lanes we build, it never quite works and can grind to a halt after a single breakdown. That’s why I avoid Interstate travel at all costs, going by US Route or train.

I-95 Mixing Bowl

Yet no advanced part of our transit system merits the word “kluge” more than certain airports. Newark springs to mind, as does O’Hare. Yet Heathrow is my favorite kluge of all.

No matter how often it gets a facelift or wonderful new terminal, it remains delightfully or maddeningly (depended on your departure time) “higgledy-piggledy,” to use a British term. I’ve gone up a flight of stairs at Heathrow, down a hall, turned 180 degrees, down a flight of stairs, all to end up in sight of where I began. If that is not a kluge, I do not know what is.Heathrow Hell

Shall we then get a ruling from that most UK of authorities on vocabulary, the OED? As fate has it, another kluge–the way we establish security online: a labyrinth of passwords, VPN connections, dual-factor authentication, casting of spells and praying to dark gods, so-called “secure clients” delayed me. It took two days to consult the OED online, then publish a notice of this post to Spiderbytes, our campus e-mail list.

I finally got through the decidedly klugey process to the OED; the entry there notes that our word as slang of recent origin, for a system improvised, lashed together, in the end “forming a distressing whole.’ ” That’s I-95, Heathrow, or my password list.

The earliest example of our word comes from 1962: The word ‘kludge’ is..derived from the same root as the German Kluge.., originally meaning ‘smart’ or ‘witty’… ‘Kludge’ eventually came to mean ‘not so smart’ or ‘pretty ridiculous’.

There must be a better way for getting to content behind a paywall or password gate than our current kluge: Iris scans? Blood sample? Replacing the kluge we currently use to identify ourselves online should be on the to-do lists of every major software company.  Go ahead: invent it and you, not Elon Musk, will be teh first to land a big silver passenger rocket on Mars.

We’ll continue the blog through exams and the holiday break, so please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

top image courtesy of the Facebook group “Bikers and Riders.” Do not try that at home. Mixing Bowl I-95 kluge courtesy of Richard Layman at Flickr.

Word of the Week! Giblets

gibletsVegetarians and Vegans beware: I’m going to focus on meat this week before Thanksgiving.

I came up with our Word of the Week while slicing liver to dehydrate as doggie treats for our farm’s enormous livestock guardian dogs. Our two Anatolians, one at 100 pounds and the other pushing 200, eat a lot, but they earn their treats by keeping predators away from our chicken run and the flock.

Next week, I will have to deal with giblets as I prepare to roast our turkey (not Turkey–that home of  Anatolian dogs and worth its own entry here).  We humans have hearts and livers, but what on earth is a “giblet,” anyhow? You may have had them in gravy and half-wondered, or perhaps you did not wish to know.

The OED provides an etymology dating to “Old French gibelet, apparently a stew or ragout of game.”  In modern usage, only one meaning survives and as a plural, as those “portions of a goose taken out or cut off before cooking, the liver, gizzard, etc., with the pinions and feet.”

So giblets are whatever gets left over, things we Americans rarely eat. Supermarket turkeys often do not include them today, though once they were always frozen deep in the carcass of the fowl. Incidentally, giblets need not be from a turkey. For years I considered them some sort of bizarre internal organ particular to turkeys. Thus being raised a city boy!

Metaphors that have died out attest to wider use. The OED entry notes that until the late 19th Century, a “giblet” could be anyone or anything no longer of value: a leftover.

Now you must excuse your writer. I’m off to the butcher shop to get a 5-pound bag of chicken feet. They too get dehydrated for the dogs, so they protect the other chickens instead of licking their chops while they watch over them. If I’m very lucky this hunting season, I’ll be adding a deer’s heart and liver to the dogs’ menu. They never cease rewarding me for their treats, a good thing: the male is a lot bigger than I am!Anatolians

Whether you’ve stuck with me despite your upcoming Tofurkey feast or whether you, like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, eat “with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls” I wish you all a delightful Thanksgiving, the last non-commercial holiday on our calendar.

I suppose Black Friday does not count, though that too merits a post.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Word of the Week! Bellwether

Sheep in snowRobyn Bradshaw with UR Catering suggested this timely word. I heard it employed in reference to our recent Virginia election. A quick Google search of “2019 Virginia election bellwether” reveals that the term has become overused to the point of cliche by journalists. Though bellwether is a metaphor, I’m not going to post this as one; the original term has been so lost from our daily experience that the word seems a linguistic oddball (a word worth its own post).

But what, anyhow, is a bellwether? Literally, it’s the leader of a flock of sheep, the one with the bell. That dates to at least the 15th Century, but it’s not very kind to my native state. Neither is the definition of “wether”: a castrated male sheep.

Ouch. So let’s get figurative here. The OED records the earliest metaphorical use also in the 15th Century, simply as a leader. In those uses, the bellwether was a person, not an event. I cannot recall, in US usage, that nuance. Today we mostly use the term in relation to elections, sometimes stocks, though an entry at The Grammarist provides a few other fine examples from American English. However one employs the term, it generally means an indicator or predictor of something likely to happen more broadly, later.

Watch your spelling on this one. I have long misspelled it “bellweather.”

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

“Sheep in Snow” courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

Word of the Week! Dilly-Dally

Dilly Dally imageHere, thanks to Professor Bill Ross of Mathematics, we have a noun and verb (no variation in forms, there) apt for this time of the semester. Whatever you students (and faculty) do, now is not the time to dilly-dally.

The OED hyphenates our term, and the entry notes how similar terms, like zig-zag or shilly-shally, all express “a see-saw action.” In our case, the vacillation is between acting or not acting. The word is old, with recorded uses going back to the novel Pamela in 1740. No etymology appears at the OED. Certainly other terms for this back-and-forth exist. Send them my way.

There’s nuance in dilly-dally. This type of indecision does not necessarily stop us in our tracks, nor is it quite equal to being a slow-poke; a minor Tolkien character calls his helper a “slowcoach” in The Fellowship of the Ring. More is at stake than taking one’s time. I suppose a dilly-dallier could be purposeful, in order to come to a decision, or simply plodding. Others seem to make that call. The person dilly-dallying may not even know it.

I would say more to you dilly-dallies (a rather rare nominal plural) but we need to get busy! To work!

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image courtesy of Needpix.

Metaphor of the Month! Sisyphean / Sisiphean

Sisyphus and boulderPoor King Sisyphus! Doomed by the gods of ancient Greece to roll a boulder up to the top of a hill, only to have the task fail, again and again, for all eternity.

Students, in November does finishing the semester seem Sisyphean? Or “Sisiphean,” if you prefer that spelling (both occur and can be considered standard).  As WordPress recognizes and the OED gives us the “y version” I will continue with that one. Just be consistent when you employ the term in writing.

The lapse in studying Greek mythology disappoints me. I have a dark turn of mind in literature, so I love tales of woe, death, destruction, and crushed pride. They put many a vain schoolboy, even a little Edgar Allan Poe, in his place. Today, Sisyphus’ boulder seems stuck. The last recorded usage of our word by the OED: spelled with “y,”  2002; with “i,” 2007. With only three pips of eight on the OED’s usage frequency chart, is preserving our word a Sisyphean task?

In higher education, no. We are an old curiosity shop of language and a maker-space for new words or repurposed ones such as paradigm. So if you wish to be vivid in describing your endless, ever-repeating tasks, tell someone the work is Sisyphean.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Creative Commons image courtesy of Richard Croft.

 

 

Word of the Week! Sardonic

SardonicI enjoy a spooky post for Halloween, so this year to follow our 2018 Metaphor The Dark Night of the Soul, I have a word useful all year long.

Odd little boy that I was, I could not wait every month to grab a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmlanda black-and-white magazine covering horror films. One cover’s image stayed with me a long time: the image of Mr. Sardonicus, a man who suffers to terrible a scare that his face gets twisted into an eternal, Joker-style grin. There is nothing happy about such a fate.

But is that “smile” of his really “sardonic”? Absolutely. According to the OED Entry, laughter or a smile meets the definition if done in a “bitter, scornful, mocking” way.  That would also describe a great deal of humor in otherwise scary movies.

As one might guess, the term sardonicus provides the original for several words in Romance languages, as well as our English term, with usage first recorded in the 17th Century.

May all your goblins and ghouls bring only treats on October 31, and no sardonic tricks.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Paradigm

Copernican Solar SystemOur blog is back from Fall Break. Has Fall Break become a paradigmatic part of student life? I suspect that I just misused an honorable academic word, as many others have done, so let’s look deeper.

I learned the word from Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book,  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where the author notes:

Attempting to discover the source of that difference [between debates in the sciences and other fields of study] led me to recognize the role in scientific research of what I have since called “paradigms.” These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.

Kuhn’s 1957 book, The Copernican Revolution, does an even better job of explained one particular “paradigm shift.”  After we had a sun-centered model of our solar system established, we never really could go back.

The adoption of Kuhn’s idea in the nearly 60 years since has been astounding, from boring corporate Powerpoints to often opaque, and occasionally silly, literary theory. Before Kuhn, however, what was the status of this overly popular term?

The OED traces our word to “post-classical Latin paradigma,” meaning an example. Examples range back to the 15th Century. I’m surprised that the entry’s usage frequency is six of eight. The definitions clarify what sort or example a paradigm can be. It’s closest to Kuhn’s notion as a “pattern or model, an exemplar.” Kuhn’s own usage for science gets its own set of definitions. I hope that this sense of the word endures. Kuhn, in defining paradigms, provides us with a paradigm for academic immortality, the best any scholar can hope to have in a busy world.

Use our word carefully. I write a bit for Hemmings Motor News, and I and other readers recently sparred over misuse of the word “iconic” in regard to car designs. Now I think that some designs, say the Jaguar E-Type, are paradigms: they establish a pattern that every other maker of sports cars tries to capture.

In terms of pronunciation, remember “brother, can you spare a dime?” from the Depression-Era classic? That’s your clue.

Spare us a few words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of heliocentric solar system courtesy of Wikipedia.

An Alumna Takes Her Writing Consultant Experience to South America!

Medellin Columbia

Image and story by Meghann Lewis

My work as a Writing Consultant gave me the confidence to enter the world of teaching beyond the University of Richmond. In fact, “Writing Consultant” was the position that I listed first while applying for teaching jobs over this summer.

After a fairly lengthy application process (finding jobs in South America while still living in the States is no easy task!), I landed a job at a small English-teaching company in Medellín, Colombia, where I will work part-time as I complete a 10-month research internship in the field of public health. I’m three weeks into my new job, and I have already applied so many tactics that I used every week in Boatwright 180.

Many of my students here are just beginning to learn English, so both their speaking and writing contain quite a few errors. Although it is tempting to overcorrect these students, I make myself think back to Dr. Essid’s mantra “the Writing Center is not a fix-it shop!” I know that “fixing” each and every small spoken mistake of an A1 or A2 English language-learner doesn’t do much good.

Rather, I single out repeated errors as a means of creating teaching points that will really stick with the student—that way, they can build upon their new language skills with each lesson. Additionally, working in the Writing Center with international and study abroad students (many of whom spoke Spanish as their first language) helped me build communication skills that I use with my Colombian students.

Even though we don’t speak the same first language, we are able to have productive lessons, relate to one another, and have a good time. I am grateful for the skills that I gained from working at the University of Richmond Writing Center; I truly will carry them forward and continue to develop them wherever my teaching jobs take me!

Word of the Week! Synecdoche

Newspaper Press

Ever wondered why we say “The Press” today, when so much news is not printed? It’s an example of synecdoche. Lee Chaharyn, of UR’s Collegiate Licensing & Special Projects, nominated this excellent word. Though not part of my everyday parlance, it serves a wonderful purpose. I hope to use it; no other word quite fits its meaning.

The word reared its head not long ago. In what may soon be forgotten amid a tumult of worse news, a media event involving a Sharpie marker provided a synecdoche for how the Executive Branch of government conducts business.

Whatever you thought of that news item, it did bring a worthy word back onto stage. A 15th Century loan-word from Latin, as the OED puts it, synecdoche occurs when a “more inclusive term is used for a less inclusive one or vice versa.” Only examples suffice here:

  • Our family represents the nation. (For good or ill)
  • We need more boots on the ground. (Boots stands in for more people in that place)
  • We broke bread together. (I do hope you ate other things).
  • Society is to blame! (All of them? In a Monty Python skit, after a murderer pleads this, a detective replies “Agreed. We’ll be charging them too.”)

In academic writing, it’s wise to avoid some examples like the last. They can lead a novice writer into sweeping generalizations such as “Society supports stronger protection for minors.” I find it hard to believe that 300-million-plus Americans could agree to anything, in 2019. So qualify that claim or be ready to pile on credible evidence.

There are few alternatives to our Word of the Week. It’s not quite accurate to use “microcosm” as a synonym for synecdoche, since a microcosm works only one way, showing how something  particular can represent something general, as in “the convicted teacher’s constant drinking served as a microcosm for all the problems at the dysfunctional school.” One cannot reverse “microcosm” as one can for synecdoche, without employing the less-common “macrocosm.”

We might fall back on “symbolize” to represent how a part can indicate something about a whole, but reversing it, so “the gridlock in Congress symbolized the troubles in the Smith family” makes no sense. Mr. Smith may have gone to Washington, but. . .

“Embody” might bridge the gap, as in “the gridlock in Congress embodied so many smaller problems,” yet that use of “embody” bothers me. I’d prefer precision or a different synecdoche.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of printing press courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.