Saturday, 20 September 2008

naprons, neologisms and an elegance efficiency

On Radio National today a well-spoken man repeatedly said, 'And that's a whole nother issue.' He'd probably be surprised to listen to a replay of the program and hear his mangling of the word other.

Yet his accidental changing of a common word echoes a historic process. A woman tying an apron around her waist doesn't think about napkins or napery, because the n has migrated from the article to the noun and hidden the etymological relationship between the three words.

The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories tells the story of this word-evolution and also of the transformation of nadder(serpent) into adder.

When we speak it's often hard to distinguish the boundaries of words. My mother’s elderly friend invariably stopped eating before her plate was empty, wiped her lips neatly with a folded serviette and announced, ‘No more for me, thanks. I’ve already had an elegance efficiency.’ This idiosyncratic turn of phrase died with her, unfortunately.


Pica said...

Fascinating, though I would find it hard to take a death nadder seriously.

parlance said...

Yes, I reckon you could easily escape it while it was naddering around your feet.

Jonathan said...

I actually just Googled the saying "elegance efficiency" after hearing my mom (75 years old, lives in Nebraska) say it. I asked her about where it came from, and she claims it's from an old movie starring Shirley Maclaine.

parlance said...

Jonathan, that's so interesting! Are you sure your mother didn't just mishear it all those years ago?

I reckon the original phrase might have been "an elegant sufficiency', which my own mum used to frequently say.

You've really got me wondering where the saying came from. I had a look around and there's one answer at

And there's a similar explanation at