Issue 208, page 4

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From Hans in Norway:

Thank you for great waffle explanation. Just what I needed!

This is an enigmatic message, isn't it?

From Andrew Charles:

Belated I know, but I'd like to add to Daniel's comment on daftar in Issue 206. Firstly it is not uncommon for a word borrowed by one language to be quickly adopted by most related languages. If there is any reason to adopt a word it is probably shared by all these languages. Secondly you have to take into account not only linguistic history, but the history of book-making. By the time the first paged books (or codices) were produced in the 1st century, Hebrew was already primarily a liturgical language (as are several other Semitic languages today), only incompletely understood by contemporary Jews, so it is unlikely to share a native Semitic word for "page" with Aramaic (the common Semitic language in Palestine at the time) or modern Arabic. The Hebrew is most likely to be a more recent borrowing from Arabic after the revival of Hebrew as a colloquial language, but more research would be required to confirm this.

Quite a lot of dogs in Words to the Wise in Issue 207. I have to dispute your explanation for the development of the mastiff breed (not the word itself) and other large heavy dogs of Eurasia. The American Kennel Club and other sources do make reference to the mastiff first encountered by Julius Caesar in Britain, but there were already several other similar breeds of large dogs, many of which would now also be called mastiffs. The near Asian molossus war dogs adapted by the Macedonians (by crossing with a short-haired Indian breed) and later Romans is the forebear of a number of large European breeds. The Romans apparently crossed their own molossoid dogs with the larger British mastiff, finally resulting in breeds such as the mastino, or Neapolitan mastiff. Molussus dogs brought to the Alps by the Romans were crossed with native breeds to produce the Saint Bernard, and other molossoid-type dogs were developed into the various other Swiss mountain dogs. Another molosser, the Dogue de Bordeaux, may be descended from earlier Gallic dogs established at least as early as the British Mastiff. The Tibetan Mastiff on the other hand at most shares a common ancestor with the English mastiff and molossus while other large mountain dogs such as the Great Pyrenees and Anatolian shepherd dog apparently have their own independent history, perhaps even older than that of war dogs such as the mastiff and molossus. Of course without comparative DNA studies the history of these more ancient breeds remains largely speculative, and even mythical.

For Curmudgeons' Corner, the misuse of I and me (and he and him) is just another step in the loss of declension in the English language. This is nothing new. We have already lost thou, thee and ye to the all-encompassing you. Meself, thouself and youselves have already been supplanted by the grammatically incorrect myself, yourself and yourselves (himself, herself, itself and themselves alone preserve the correct objective case). Curmudgeon Linda perpetuates this now standardized error herself. Those few nouns such as meadow which still possess both nominative (mead) and oblique cases (meadow) have merged into a single form in common use. Such grammatical structures are no longer taught or understood, so is it any wonder people misuse their last remaining bastions?

From Al:

While I agree with most of your corrections to the PBS program "Says You", I think you came up a little short on greased skids. There is a host of phrases linked with the elimination of friction, and many of them employ a lubricant. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology puts the word "skids" back to the XVIIth century and thus probably predates skid road. Certainly skids have been used to support the movement of large loads all the way back to the pyramids and Stonehenge, the Egyptians used a slurry of flour and milk to grease their skids and the druids probably used animal fat, emulsified with leaf material and water, and we have the Anglo-Saxon scid or wood splinter for braking a wheel. Given the widespread use of ramps, slipways, stone sledges, etc., it is unlikely one will be able to pin down a nautical, logging or construction origin.

What I find interesting is the variety of usage: to grease the skids - means to make things easier ... the skids are greased means that some misfortune is imminent, and if you continue on this course you will experience an exit on a slippery slope. I suspect that greasing one's palm and crossing the palm with silver is a mixture of the two, although a person with a greased palm may be somewhat slimy.

 Certainly building ways are timbers upon which ships are often built and when you see grease being applied you know that launching is imminent. More commonly and a much older practice is to haul out fishing vessels or other smaller boats on skids to clean their bottoms, store them through the winter, etc. As well, ships and boats were originally launched using spare spars that were always carried onboard in case of accident, and these like the masts, were greased with slush - the foamy stuff that comes off the top of the boiling salt pork and salt beef as it is cooked to death. (the sale of any excess of course was the prerogative of the cook who thereby provided himself with a slush fund). The spars so used were called skid beams or skids and greasing them would indicate a chance to use the boats somewhere near land. I believe farmers have been greasing their skids with manure for a very long time, so the logging origin seems a little parochial even if it played a part in the development of the phrase.

Thanks for your comments! The problem with your assertions about grease the skids is that the phrase is not recorded until, as far as we could find, 1901 (it is not in the OED, whose editors have access to many more resources that we do; if the OED editors had researched it, they might have found earlier instances of the phrase). You may conjecture that the phrase is as old as the practice of lubricating skids, but that is not necessarily so. Until we find other, older examples of the phrase in the written record, we must stick with what we know. What we know is that the earliest example of the phrase grease the skids that we have found is associated with logging. Saying anything else without written evidence to back it up is pure speculation -- for example, knowing that farmers lubricated skids with manure is of no use in ascertaining the origin of the phrase grease the skids without written evidence that the phrase was used to refer to such a practice. So we good-naturedly disagree with you that the logging origin is parochial. However, if you have come across instances of the phrase grease the skids in areas other than logging prior to 1901*, please do share them and we will be all ears (or eyes, as this is, of course, written correspondence).

It is a given that skid(s) predates skid road; skid(s) is older by several centuries. We have already discussed skid road (see that discussion via the link in last week's Words to the Wise) and we may write about skid(s) in a future issue. But last week's Spotlight was not the place for a detailed study of skid(s), and in the end, the etymology of skid(s) is really not relevant to our discussion of the origin of the phrase grease the skids other than giving us a stopping point in our search for the earliest possible date that skid(s) may have been used in a phrase (knowing the etymological timeline of the word grease would be equally important in this instance).

*We did find an earlier reference to using grease on logging skids (another bear story), this one from about 1874. However, the phrase grease the skids itself was not used in that instance.

From Bob:

Count me among those who are so happy to see you back in print that I felt I just had to send you a donation. But I also have a comment to add to Bill's observation about the correct regional term for a carbonated beverage. Here in the Boston area when I was growing up, we drank neither soda nor pop (nor, for that matter, soda pop), but tonic. With the rise of fast food chains and their homogenizing effect on nomenclature, the usage is fading away, but I still hear older locals (like myself) use the term.

I have to wonder if there's any connection to the fact that the first mass produced carbonated soft drink was a New England concoction called Moxie, an acquired taste if ever there was one. Flavored with gentian root, it was created in 1876 and originally marketed as a patent medicine (i.e., tonic) under the name "Moxie nerve food." In 1884 it became carbonated and was merchandised simply as an "invigorating drink." Though little-known elsewhere, it remains popular in the northeast to this day.

Interestingly, from an etymological perspective it is possibly the only soft drink to have entered the English language as a noun in its own right.

[Credit where credit is due - I got the historical details from the Wikipedia entry at ]

Keep up the good work!

Thanks, Bob, for the kind words and the donation!  And you are correct about the word moxie deriving from the name of the soft drink.  Read the next comment below from another Bill.

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From Bill:

Re: soda vs. pop - when I was growing up in central Massachusetts in the 50's we called them tonics. But that may have been influenced by my dad who grew up in western New York in the 20's and 30's.

From Jeff:

A few years ago, I came across Issue 78 where the word Tokoloche* was mentioned and a challenge raised for creative uses of the word. Thought you’d want to know I was inspired to name my cat Tokoloche…an apt name for her demeanor.  Thanks for the word and the fun site!

*note that the accepted spelling is tokoloshe - Eds.


Or read the last issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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