Word of the Week! Paroxysm

Mount St. Helens EruptingThis term is one I do not often use, yet it simply “looks right” on the pages of literary work. Characters experience a paroxysm of grief or anger.

Where did it come from? It resembles, at first glance, no other words we use regularly, even in academic settings, except “paradox.” The OED, as usual, has an answer. The word has Latin roots, but it came to English in the 16th Century via Old and Middle French, for the “onset of an illness.” Though I avoided COVID, right before the pandemic I got really ill: I’ll never forget the onset of symptoms of what seemed like influenza. I lay shaking abed with fever and chills.

If that’s not a term fit for the sudden onset of bad things, which is usually how we employ our word, I don’t know what else would quite fit.  Our word can describe outbursts in nature, too: an Oklahoma tornado or the violent eruption of Mount St. Helens.  That type of volcanic activity would, however, be the opposite of an ongoing and relatively gentler Strombolian eruption, using a word covered here before.  The slow torture of human-caused climate change does not constitute a paroxysm, though individual weather events can.

The only positive use of the word that comes to mine would be a paroxysm of laughter. I hope we all have a few of those this summer with friends and family, after the grim months we all have endured.

If you have words or metaphors you would like covered, send them my way at jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu.

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

Image of Mount St. Helens blowing her top courtesy of Wikipedia.

Metaphor of the Month! Compass Rose

Compass RoseSummer means a time for me to read a book about the sea. I’ve written about this habit before, a strange one for me, as I really dislike the US East Coast beaches south of Maine. Give me a rocky shore near mountains and deep blue water, please, not sandflies, crowds, and blistering heat.

On such a coast as I prefer, a compass rose would come in very handy for a mariner. It’s the often fanciful symbol of a compass on a map. In the image above, one is set in concrete. In each case, the image provides both reference and aesthetic pleasure.

I ran across this term in Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel The Cruel Sea, an often terrifying account of escort duty during The Battle of the Atlantic. The first ship crewed by many of the main characters is Compass Rose, and I began to wonder why a cartographer’s symbol that looks only faintly like a flower might have earned that honor.

At GISnet, Bill Thoen notes a 13th Century origin for the term, stemming from (pun intended) the resemblance the design to a rose. There was also a device called a “wind rose” for determining the direction of wind, “but the 32 points of the compass rose come from the directions of the eight major winds, the eight half-winds and the sixteen quarter-winds.”

I’m no sailor, so I’ve never heard of half or quarter-winds. Now I have. Thoen’s entry takes us further back than does the OED, which has an earliest recorded use of 1527, describing the symbol as “The roses of the windes or pointes of the compasse.” I like that notion of the roses of the wind, though soutwesterly winds in my part of the world are more like damp blankets. I prefer the west wind or a stiff northwesterly, thank you.

As metaphor, compass rose shares lots of floral company with a host of other similes and metaphors such as “fresh as a daisy,” a downcast “wallflower,” and Virginia Woolf’s famous (and often apt) comparison of academics to hothouse flowers.

May your gardens be full of flowers this summer. If you have any words or metaphors to add, contact me at jessid-at-richmond-dot-edu.

image: Compass rose in concrete;, Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, MD, courtesy of Margaret W. Carruthers at Flickr.

Word of the Week! Monadnock

I have long enjoyed climbing Old Rag mountain near Madison, VA. It provided me with a then-new word, when someone called it a monadnock. Since summer hiking weather is here, let’s explore what, at first glance, seems a Native-American word.

Our word comes from Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, whose origin (thank you, Wikipedia) “Loosely translated. . .means ‘mountain that stands alone.’ ”  Over time, that peak figuratively crossed the Atlantic, so alpinists all over the world refer to such lonely peaks as Monadnocks.

As metaphor, the word has real power. I’ve heard people of strong character called “mountains,” but the OED has an excellent example by W.H. Auden, in 1947, “O stiffly stand, a staid monadnock, On her peneplain.” Auden just gave me another word I’ve never encountered; a peneplain is a level area formed by erosion. The poet knew his geology, all the better to frame a monadnock.

Get out and climb a peak this summer (if you can beat the crowds, post-COVID). I’ll save Old Rag for the off-season.

The blog will continue occasionally all summer, but 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 Fuji, one of the world’s most famous monadnocks, by Kawase Hasui.

Word of the Week! Resolution

Resolution SignAfter 30 years working for the university, I’ve seen many instances of what we’d call “resolve” among groups of students and faculty. But never before in my career here has there existed such a profound sense of resolution. We resolved to make it through a pandemic year and stand up for the rights of black students on campus, by challenging a tone-deaf decision to retain names of buildings honoring a segregationist who supported eugenics as well as a slave-holder.

I’m proud of our determination, or strong wills, or resolve. So where did the word “resolution” get this meaning? It was around a long time before The OED notes its first use in 1594 meaning as “firmness or steadfastness of purpose.”

Of Franco-Latin etymology, the term has instances from medical or chemical parlance dating back another 200 years. I refer you to the ample description of the word origin at the link above.

Our term still resonates well today. We “hereby resolve” in official documents; we sign documents that constitute “a resolution.” In fact, we act in a real-life drama that resembles the “climax or denouement of a play, novel, or other narrative work, in which plot elements are brought to a conclusion,” as The OED entry explains.

Things are not fully resolved on campus, but I’m confident that we’ll see a full resolution of the issues before us next year. It felt quite good to be part of something in a small way historic nationally, but on campus, momentous indeed.

The blog will continue occasionally (I’m writing a book proposal) all summer, but 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 Picpedia.

Words of the Week! White Supremacy

protestor in MinnosotaIt’s an ugly term now, but at one time, it meant something more condescending than violent, though often violence got justified by the perceived superiority of one race over others.

We have bandied this phrase about a great deal this year on campus and outside the campus gates. In my post I’m not so much pointing fingers as I am exploring a question: where and when did these words first get paired? When did they first acquire a negative connotation rather than a patronizing one?

As usual, I begin with the OED. a first recorded usage appears in the 1824 publication Emancipation, nine years before that occurred in the British Empire. I lack enough context to judge the nature of the quotation, “It may be too late by any means, however wisely and honestly attempted, to reduce them to order and obedience under White supremacy, or even among themselves.”

Presumably, the author writes about those soon to be emancipated. If that were the context, it is condescending: what would come to be called “the white man’s burden” for the recently enslaved becomes one of making these people docile and obedient. That presumes they are less civilized than the author of the piece.

On the other hand, the next OED example casts white supremacy in a negative light. In Thirty Years in India, H. Bevan writes that “The security of our empire in the East would be greatly strengthened if..our functionaries would abandon, or at least conceal, those notions of White supremacy, which are frequently absurd, and always offensive.”  The quotation dates from 1839.  Certainly, by the 20th Century, our term became associated with hateful ideologies.

Who first coined the phrase remains obscure, though I’m certain scholars have unearthed that first instance and its growth afterward.

Bevan had a more modern vision of what we today decry, than did others of the era. Today our term has a nearly universal association with hatred, bigotry, and fascism, excepting those extremists and terrorists who view it in a positive manner.

So where will our term go in the future, as both Europe and the United States become majority-minority societies? We shall see.

As always, 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 protester courtesy of Lorie Schaull at Flickr.

 

Writing Consultant of the Year, 2021: Annalise Mangone

annalise mangoneOne of the author’s most difficult decisions every April is to announce which of our Writing Consultants has been selected for our award.

2021 was not, however, a difficult year, as our recipient Annalise Mangone received nominations twice last year, from both a faculty member and a writer she assisted. This year, she received two more, from different faculty and student recommenders.

Annalise trained with me well before the pandemic and she was an anchor in my training class and frequently demonstrated her intellectual curiosity beyond the job of Writing Consultant. She participated in events sponsored by the Center, including fiction readings off-campus by writers of science fiction and fantasy who came to campus for my class, Reading SF & Fantasy.  During the early part of the pandemic, she often dropped in for my “wine and whine” evening Zoom office hours, an event aimed at bringing some coherence back to a scattered workforce anxious about ongoing events on and off-campus.

When working with students at the Center or in classes, she proved her mettle as an enthusiastic helper. I asked her to describe her time among us, and she noted, “In terms of what I recall most about UR, it has always been how kind and encouraging the faculty have been. In all of my classes, my faculty have been truly devoted to making sure that we are learning in interesting and effective ways, and especially this year have been supportive of all of my many research interests and endeavours.”

That British spelling works well and it stands as Annalise wrote it. She will be completing an MSc program at Oxford in Anthropology next year. I am both jealous and disappointed in one regard: when I finally walk the upper reaches of the Thames Path in a few years, ending it at Oxford, Annalise won’t be there to give us a tour.

In terms of her work with writers, she notes that “I always say that I love being a class Writing Consultant because it gives me the chance to ‘audit’ courses that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience, and I think that curiosity has guided my course of study in anthropology and leadership. I love exploring the many different theoretical frameworks of the field as well as carrying out my own research into topics like stress management in extracurricular clubs or chaplaincy and spirituality in Richmond area hospitals.”

That sort of passion for learning makes Annalise stand out even in a year with many other strong candidates for the award. We wish her every success in the wide (and finally, opening!) world beyond our campus gates.

Word of the Week! Recalcitrant

Stubborn man in suit, arms crossed

Hat tip to Robyn Bradshaw for nominating this fancy way of saying “obstinately disobedient; uncooperative, refractory; objecting to constraint or restriction.” That’s the OED’s first definition for a word that comes to us from smack-dab in the Age of Reason, with a first recorded use of 1797.

In terms of our current campus debate, a refusal to listen to petitions, votes, and common 21st Century sense marks that recalcitrance of one side or both, depending upon your perspective.

I side with our Black students, so my bias should be clear as to who is not listening to reason. Yet the word proves a useful alternative to ones such as “stubborn,” “close-minded,” “pompous,” “megalomaniacal,” “arrogant,” “disdainful,” “disrespectful,” even “self-righteous.”

There are other rude synonyms I will skip, as I’m fond of the Age of Reason and fonder still of being politic about these matters. What I say aloud and in private are of little concern here.

As always, 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.

Recalcitrant dude in suit courtesy of Pixabay.

Word of the Week! Disaffiliation

leavingIn the prior post I discussed a word for crossings: ford. Today’s word is longer, and currently, more poignant in describing a transition. We are using it on our campus to discuss the decision by some students and faculty not to participate in uncompensated activities that promote our university.

For a time I considered ending this blog until student voices were heard about several demands, including the removal of buildings named for a slave-holder and a supporter of eugenics.

Instead, I’m going to take a different tack. As events play out on campus, I plan to affiliate this blog with words related to the long struggle for equality by marginalized people. This will keep me busy even as I work on more tangible projects to help

Disaffiliate is not a pretty word, and it rings as hollow as lots of 20th Century terms with their origins in bureaucracy. The noun form indeed comes from that era of “gray flannel suits” but the verb is far older, with the OED giving us a first recorded use of 1863. The example proves as colorful as anything else in the satirical magazine, Punch:

The wretched Lodge of Foresters who ‘continued their festivities’ after the murder, will of course be dis-affiliated by the rest of the body.

The definition of our word has not changed for more than a century and a half, to “end or remove the official connection of  to an organization.” In that regard, this post can simply end here. What, however, does the verb mean in the context of a particular institution or culture?

As always, 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 lanchongzi at Flickr

Word of the Week! Ford

Old Ford Inn, WalesI don’t mean the vehicle in your driveway: our word predates by at least 1000 years Henry Ford’s horseless carriage and all that came from it. While of little use in academic prose, the word demonstrates the history of an everyday word made nearly obsolete by bridges. You may have sat in or driven a Ford, but when was the last time you crossed at a ford, to ford a river?

Decades back (time flies) I dined in the pub of a roadside Inn in rural Wales called “The Old Ford Inn.” It’s a charmer and it’s still around. When you tour the Brecon Beacons area, be sure to stop in.

My snapshot of the sign was on film, since it proved to be the last vacation taken without a digital camera (now, my phone does that duty). I well recall an image showing a Model T Ford motorcar crossing a stream at a shallow spot: the original meaning for a ford, both noun and verb.

The term dates to the Middle Ages, and the term was also “ford” in Old English. Variants include “vord” (Middle English) and “forde.” All indicate a shallow place for crossing a river. See the OED entry for examples.

It remains mysterious how the surname “Ford” emerged. For people who lived near a ford? Or were the first fords ford-keepers, as there were smiths, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, tinkers, and leathermen? All these trades, and variants of them, became surnames when such things originated. Peter Ackroyd’s excellent history, London: The Biography discusses the emergence after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Read a bit more at the BBC about the process.

So where did Henry’s ancestors get their last name? A Wikipedia page gets beyond the shallow waters here. Whatever your last name, take a look.

As always, 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 The Old Ford Inn, Llanhamlach, Brecon. The local lamb, when it’s the roast of the day, is to die for. The same goes for any of the meat pies.

 

Metaphor of the Month! Push the Envelope

X-15 in flightAs many of  you may have, I first experienced this term in Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff. As a fan of all things aerospace, I began labeling anything new as “pushing the envelope.”

Soon it became such a cliche for me that I stopped. Now, in my current First-Year Seminar, “The Space Race,” here I am again, pushing that metahpor into young minds.

First, to understand the term, let’s forget the type of envelope once used to mail bills and letters (remember them?). Instead, we must delve ito the realms of physics, math, and engineering.

A UK phrase finder site that I’m mightily glad to have found gives a nicely succinct and technical explanation of our envelope, but for our purposes, let’s stop at this definition from the OED, “to exceed or extend the boundaries of what is considered possible or permissible; to pioneer or innovate.”  They provide a first recorded use in a 1970 aviation magazine, nearly a decade before Wolfe immortalized the term.

The boundaries, in the mathematic sense, are those set by the performance characteristics of normal flight in a particular type of aircraft. Go outside the envelope, and you won’t be flying…you will either push the envelope to a new place for that plane and others who fly it. Or, if you fail, you’ll be tumbling, spinning, breaking apart, crashing. Pilots prefer terms such as “inertial coupling” when talking to the rest of earthbound mortals. As Wolfe related, they might use “auger in” or “screw the pooch” when talking to each other, over a few rounds.

My favorite flying machine that pretty much pushed the envelope so far that its boundaries never fully were know? NASA’s X-15 rocket plane, a potential space vehicle that flew many times for research purposes but never got developed into an utterly cool and fully reusable spacecraft we might have had 20 years before the Space Shuttle. A fellow named Neil Armstrong was known for his journeys to the edge of space in one of them. Many X-15 pilots later earned Astronaut wings. Neil never went quite high enough for that, but he more than compensated on two later space missions, one involving a small step he took.

We can push the envelope in many ways today, but don’t push the envelope of cliche by overusing this one. It has escaped the realm of flight to auger into the earthbound realm of cubicle-land, becoming as “in the box” as the phrase for thinking outside it.

As always, 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 the North American X-15 courtesy of Wikipedia.