World Wide Words
from Michael Quinion of the U.K.
Feedback, Notes and Comments
Vacaday. In the last issue, I rejected this possible conflation of vacation and holiday as being silly. Peter Armstrong pointed out that real life disagrees: “A vacay-day is already a commonly used term among many working people here in California and I imagine elsewhere. It comes from filling out one’s online time sheet, and designating a day off as a ‘Vacation Day’.”
Manual. Comments were prompted by my thoughts about the use of manually for operating something with the foot. Michael Tremberth noted: “Organists are accustomed to the directions manualiter for passages to be performed with only the hands on the manuals, and pedaliter for passages to be executed similarly with the feet on the pedal board.”
“I recall an alternative,” Ian Williams wrote from the UK, “used when a piece of equipment that is supposed to act automatically fails to do so. In that case, the only option is to fall back on more primitive methods and perform the operation handraulically. Being a software engineer, I came across this also in the context of the failure of automatic code generation to do its job. Is it just me or has anyone else come across the concept of handraulic engineering?”
Searching throws up Handraulic as a trademark of an emergency hydraulic starting system for diesel engines, originally designed in France. The first recorded reference I can find is in the Shipbuilder and Marine Engine-builder of 1950, announcing that the UK firm Berger Fuel Injection had gained the rights and were selling it under the Handraulic name, trademarked the same year. The devices became widely popular (they’re still being made and sold by a successor business) and the name became well known. The evidence suggests that handraulic and handraulically derive as informal terms from the trademark. This is the earliest I’ve found:
An examination of the present information and the way it is obtained, handled and displayed, shows that none of it is yet in a form which enables it to be handled automatically. Information handling is, in other words, at present entirely “manumatic” or “handraulic”.
Sicced. The last issue included a Sic! item from the Guardian. A more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger message came from one of the staff at the Readers’ Editor office, saying that they had corrected the story and would have done so much earlier had anybody told them about it. Subeditors: a vanished breed.
Oxford Dictionary Quizzes. Last time, I mentioned four quizzes set by the people at Oxford Dictionaries to test visitors’ knowledge of the vocabulary of four regional Englishes. I wondered how well natives would succeed with the quiz for their own language. Ada Robinson wrote: “I did all four of the Oxford Dictionary quizzes. I’m from far western Canada (Victoria, BC), and wasn’t surprised I did worst on the Australian test. However, I did better on the British and American tests than I did on the Canadian one! A number of words in the Canadian quiz were unknown to me — I suspect they are eastern Canadianisms. There’s a lot of prairie and muskeg between BC and Ontario.”
A British reader encountering this word would be likely to think of the county of Shropshire, whose name is thus historically abbreviated. Somebody who lives there is a Salopian. It might not look it but Salop and Salopian are indeed connected to Shropshire. It’s in part the result of a split a thousand years ago between the Old English and Norman-French names for the county town of Shrewsbury.
My recent reading of John Warren’s The Nature of Crops has thrown up a quite different sense of salopian, one which the Oxford English Dictionary notes only as a one-off invented word dated 1822. The link is with a foodstuff that has been spelled salup, saloop and salep as well as salop.
The main ingredient was the powdered root of orchids, boiled in water to make a thick starchy drink. In Britain the usual source was the early purple orchid, at the time so common in meadows and pastures that it was harvested in bulk. The first use of the roots was medicinal, to correct various internal problems. It was also thought to increase fertility in men and act as an aphrodisiac, because its twin tubers resembled testicles.
The orchid was once known as dogstones or dog’s cods for this reason. Salop comes from the same idea: it has been traced via Portuguese and Turkish to the Arabic khasyu ‘th-tha‘lab for an orchid, literally fox’s testicles.
Salop became fashionable in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a restorative drink, which at a shilling an ounce was much cheaper than the imported coffee, tea and chocolate drunk by more prosperous classes. A recipe:
Take a Quart of Water, and let it boil a quarter of an Hour; then put in a quarter of an Ounce of Salop finely powdered, and let it boil half an Hour longer, stirring it all the while; then season it with White-wine and Juice of Lemons, and sweeten it to your Taste; drink it in China Cups as Chocolate; ’tis a great Sweetner of the Blood.
The concoction (usually under the name saloop) was sold by street vendors in most English cities and also in specialist shops; it was usually flavoured with sugar and milk rather than wine and lemon. Charles Lamb wrote grandly in 1841, “Palates otherwise not uninstructed in dietetical elegancies sup it up with avidity”.
It became so popular as an early-morning pick-me-up by workmen before beginning their labours that English orchids couldn’t meet demand and supplies, thought in any case to be of superior quality, were imported from Turkey and India (countries where salop continues to be consumed under related names).
Later, salop was applied to a similar drink, made from sassafras bark imported from North America:
Passing on, in our way towards the Foundling Hospital, we perceived a groupe of wretches, male and female, round a kind of cauldron filled with an infusion of sassafras, well known by the name of saloop, which they seemed to drink with the greatest avidity.
Salop stayed popular until the early nineteenth century. It is sometimes said that it fell out of favour through a growing belief that it was a cure for sexual diseases and that as a result nobody wanted to be seen drinking it. In truth, it was superseded in fashion by coffee. It was drunk in its final years only by the poorest of the working classes. Among its most dogged consumers were the boys employed by sweeps to climb chimneys, who found that the hot drink helped soften the mouth cancers from which they frequently suffered.
From my reading
- A whiter shade of pale. When I encountered leucism in some nature notes, I naturally turned to the Oxford English Dictionary for an explanation, only to find to my mild surprise there was no entry for it. It looked like a formation from the prefix leuco-, meaning white, and a quick search using my favourite search engine found this to be so, since leucism is a zoological term for the whole or partial loss of pigmentation in an animal, leaving it white or patchy.
- One-horned wonders. Unicorns are mythical beasts, except in Silicon Valley, where they are privately owned high-tech companies valued at a billion dollars or more. The term was coined by the American venture capitalist Aileen Lee in November 2013, after she had discovered that only 0.07% of start-up software and internet companies had grown so large, making them (almost) as rare as unicorns and members of what she called the Unicorn Club. But times change and unicorns of this specialised sort are no longer so rare (and more are in San Francisco than Silicon Valley). Bloomberg Business magazine has since invented decacorn for those valued at $10bn and the Canadian financial advisor Brent Holliday has coined narwhal (from the horned beast of northern waters, which has been called the unicorn of the sea), for Canadian companies worth more than C$1bn.
- Language evolves, sometimes quite quickly. In early June the veteran left-wing British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn joined the contest to become the next leader of his party. His candidature has subsequently confounded critics and attracted great public support that has moved him from outsider to odds-on favourite. Language has followed, albeit based on well-worn suffixes, with Corbynites being invented for his supporters, Corbynmania (or more informally, Corbymania) for the euphoric reception he’s been getting at packed-out meetings, Corbynomics for his economic policies and even Corbynate, to convince somebody to become a supporter. We shall know on 12 September, when the result of the election is due to be announced, whether this rush of word creation has been a predictor of success.
- The Frozen Past. I learned from the 14 August issue of Science that climate change is leading to a new scientific sub-discipline called glacial archaeology. This is the study of ancient human evidence exposed by climate change, which is causing glaciers to retreat, exposing unique archaeological finds that have remained frozen and well preserved for thousands of years. The best known are ancient human remains, such as the Ice Man, Ötzi, found in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991 and a similarly well-preserved 500-year-old “Inca Ice Maiden” discovered in 1999 in Argentina. Evidence of human activity — mittens, shoes, weapons, walking sticks — is turning up in southern Norway from the Stone Age, 7,000 years ago. The alpine regions of southern Yukon are giving up important collections of ancient hunting implements, including a 10,000-year-old atlatl, or throwing dart. Gruesomely, and oddly inaccurately, Science attached the term glacial archaeology to the bodies of modern mountain climbers which are similarly being revealed by melting ice.
- Hard strikes. Swatting, as slang for a criminal activity, has been in the news recently in the UK, explained as an unfamiliar term. It derives from SWAT, Special Weapons and Tactics, police units originally from the US that deal with armed incidents. A person swats by making a hoax emergency call to the police to say that armed intruders are at a property. The resulting call-out by an armed response team, often during the night, causes deliberate distress and disturbance for the intended victim and their family. The term swatting may go back a decade, but became noticeable in printed sources from about 2011 as a result of celebrities being swatted. The link between fly-swatting and victim-swatting makes the term particularly appropriate in the minds of those who perpetrate the hoax.
Q. From Elizabeth Ullman : In a book by Cory Doctorow, I found a reference to somebody giving the hairy eyeball to another person. This is a weird thing to do. What does it mean and where does it come from?
A. Put simply, to give somebody the hairy eyeball is to stare at them in an angry or disapproving manner. Perhaps this was the example you read:
The shanty towners were used to tourists in their midst. A few yardies gave them the hairy eyeball, but then they saw Perry was along and they found something else to pay attention to.
To eyeball somebody — without mention of hair — is an older American expression meaning to stare at somebody, specifically to do so from a short distance away in an intimidating or disapproving manner. This is the earliest example so far unearthed:
He straightened up, holding in his right hand, by its long locks, a dead head depending therefrom. Taking it gingerly, the Captain set it on the table directly before Mr. Marshall East, and arranged it squarely. … “God!” burst from the lips of the man as he eyeballed his attendant.
“Oh — well — you recognise him then.”
Hairy eyeball begins to show up in print in the early 1960s, though the saying is almost certainly older. Its first appearance, in a widely syndicated press interview with the American actress and comedian Carol Burnett, is intriguing because it has a very different sense to the current one:
With her [Carol Burnett’s sister] everything is boys-boys-boys. She’s really educated me. She was telling me about a boy looking at her and she said, “He gave me the hairy eyeball.” That meant he liked her. But if she didn’t like the boy she would say, “Oh, what a twitch!”
This might seem to have been a short-lived meaning, as two years later the New York Times Magazine stated firmly that to give the hairy eyeball “means that somebody was disapproving.” However, in 1972, Zoe Brockman wrote in the Gastonia Gazette of North Carolina that she had just discovered this new expression and found that it meant girls fluttering their eyelashes at boys. To her way of thinking, flirting “sounds a lot better than this hairy eyeball bit.” Her view was presumably shared, as this meaning died out in favour of the disapproving one.
It seems highly plausible that eyelashes are the basis of the idiom. They may have originally fluttered, but in the standard sense it instead means looking with narrowed eyes through the lashes in displeasure or dislike.
A house recently advertised for sale near the Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey mentioned that it had once been used by broom-squires. These weren’t the minor aristocracy of rural places that the second half of their title suggests but poor rural artisans.
They were famously evoked by Sabine Baring-Gould — Anglican priest, antiquarian and novelist — in his 1896 novel The Broom-Squire, set near the house:
At some unknown date squatters settled in the Punch-Bowl, at a period when it was in as wild and solitary a region as any in England. They enclosed portions of the slopes. They built themselves hovels; they pastured their sheep, goats, cattle on the sides of the Punch-Bowl, and they added to their earnings the profits of a trade they monopolized — that of making and selling brooms. On the lower slopes of the range grew coppices of Spanish chestnut, and rods of this wood served admirably for broom-handles. The heather when long and wiry and strong, covered with its harsh leafage and myriad hard knobs, that were to burst into flower, answered for the brush. On account of this manufacture, the squatters in the Punch-Bowl went by the designation of Broom-Squires. They provided with brooms every farm and gentleman’s house, nay, every cottage for miles around. A wagon-load of these besoms was often purchased, and the supply lasted some years.
Broom-squires were necessarily restricted to the heathlands of England, such as the Surrey Heaths of the story and the New Forest further south, though at times the brush of the broom wasn’t heather but birch twigs, strictly speaking turning their makers into besom-squires, a term that appears only rarely.
Squire is not a term of respect here. Alongside its sense of a country gentleman was a contemptuous one that evolved from its oldest meaning of an attendant on a knight, hence later merely a servant, and a lowly one at that. A close relative is the long obsolete apple-squire, which may be politely defined as a male companion of a woman of ill-repute, more accurately a pimp (we may guess the apple was a sly reference to the biblical Eve, though the Oxford English Dictionary suggests a woman’s breasts were meant). Broom-squires, often itinerant and always poor, had an unsavoury reputation not so far removed from the then conventional view of gypsies.
A footnote in The Sporting Review in December 1840 to an article about hunting over yet another heath, in Somerset, described broom-squires negatively as “A variety of the genus homo found on Quantock, living on whortleberries, dwarf-birch, &c, &c. Towards winter they frequent the lower grounds, and prey on game of all sorts, preferring that of their own killing.”
Other reports mention the rude huts they inhabited. The thatched sixteenth-century former gamekeeper’s cottage mentioned in the property advert was unlikely ever to have been the home of broom-squires. However, it makes a good story for the sales brochures.
Peter Moor sent a headline from the San Diego Examiner of 10 August: “Lost dog reunited with owner after 9 yrs speaks out.”
“Winner of the 2015 Fatuous Journalism Award?” was Grant Agnew’s comment on a reporter at Channel 7 News in Brisbane, who solemnly told viewers that “infertility is not hereditary”.
A label on the frozen slush which Brandon Callison bought read, “Warning! This product is for individual consumption and should not be re-sold after consumption.”
Channel CP24 in Toronto posted this weather forecast in its online section News You Can Use on 25 August: “Environment Canada is calling for a mix of sun and cloud and a 30 per cent chance of this afternoon.”
“That must have been worth watching,” wrote Mike Hannon of a headline on the Guardian site on 19 August: “Determined koala chases woman on quad bike.”
This sounds about as likely as the image conjured up by a caption to a picture of the Australian outback spotted by Ian Short in the SilkAir in-flight magazine: “Drift across scenic parkland and see kangaroos bounding through the bush in a hot air balloon.”
The website of the East London & West Essex Guardian headlined a story on 18 August: “Men caught on CCTV fly-tipping [illegally dumping] a fridge wanted by Croydon Council”. We must hope the council got its fridge back.
Chris Buza tells us that Tasmania Police posted a Twitter message on 12 August: “Police have received a report of a white ute [utility vehicle] carrying a ladder that may have been used to impersonate police in the Hobart area.”
Spotted by Philip Stevens in the small ads in the Saffron Walden local newspaper in Essex: “Dark Maroon high quality leather suite, 9 years old. Senior lady owner, well cared for.” Nice about the lady, but what about the suite?