Thursday, 18 August 2011

supercilious attitudes

therigatha asked me to define supercilious and when I looked at the meanings, I thought at first it should only be used to refer to facial expressions or bodily posture.

The online Macquarie dictionary says:
adjective haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as persons, their expression, bearing, etc. [Latin superciliƍsus] says:
haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression. has the history and I was interested to see it comes originally from a facial expression:
Word History
Date of Origin 16th c.
The etymological notion underlying supercilious is of raising the ‘eyebrows’ as a sign of haughty disdain. It comes from Latin superciliƍsus, a derivative of supercilium ‘eyebrow’, hence ‘haughtiness’. This was a compound noun formed from the prefix super- ‘above’ and cilium ‘eyelid’ (source of the English biological term cilium ‘hair-like process’ (18th c.), whose meaning evolved via an intermediate ‘eyelash’).
However, it seems to me it can be used also in a wider sense, to relate to the tone in a piece of writing, because I came across this quote at The Acheh times:
Geoffrey Norman, regarding your article about college football and the significance of football relative to the disastrous events of the past week, I appreciated it on the whole, but found it to be slightly supercilious in tone when talking about those who might have caused the atrocities. We should be angry with them and we should demand that payment be made for the evil done, but believing we are better than they are will not only not help in achieving those goals, but it will also prove to be incorrect. —— Jan Perkins in 'Readers' Reactions to Terrorist Attacks'; ESPN
There are plenty of examples on the internet of people speaking in a 'supercilious tone', so it seems to me that since writing is a way of expressing speech, therefore it can be used for spoken or written attitudes. Here's one example, from The Man With The Broken Ear by Edmond About:
"No, sir," replied Fougas in a most supercilious tone, "I'm in want of nothing, and I'd rather die than accept anything from an Englishman! If I'm calling the conductor, it's only because I want to get into a different car, and cleanse my eyes from the sight of an enemy of the Emperor."

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

sparrowgrass, aka asparagus

As I was browsing gardening sites to check where I should plant my twenty-one baby asparagus plants, grown from seed last year, I came across a reference to sparrowgrass.

I think I prefer that name.

It's a folk etymology. It came into English from the Latin form, asparagus, but by the seventeenth century had been shortened to sparagus, after which it was anglicised to sperage. Alongside this form, some people began to call it sparrowgrass, because of the similarity to those two English words. During the nineteenth century, the folk name died out and it reverted to asparagus. All this I read on The article says grocers still call asparagus grass. I've never heard anyone do so, but I've never talked to a grocer about this plant.

All very interesting - well, to me.

But the fun part came when I looked at an ABC Science site. Apparently, many people have stinky urine after eating this plant. (Hmm, I'll have to enquire amongst my friends - close friends).

However, although we've been eating asparagus for thousands of years, and people have written about it for at least two and a half thousand years, no one mentioned the stinky wee until the seventeenth century. In the article, Dr Karl S. Kruszelnicki looks at some theories about why this might be so.

And he's written another article about the chemicals behind this stinky wee. And wouldn't you have guessed it? One of them is called asparagusic acid!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

grey or gray?

When I posted recently about Tennyson's poem 'Break, Break, Break', I referred to 'cold grey stones' in my post title.

But I did notice that the word was spelled gray in the poem:
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
So I started to wonder - as apparently many have before me - whether one spelling is preferred over the other. I thought the British and Australians used grey and Americans used gray.

It seems both are acceptable.

If you search for gray in the Macquarie Dictionary (Australian), you read: 'adjective, noun, verb. Chiefly US' and the entry refers you across to grey.

A Wikipedia entry says
The first recorded use of grey as a color name in the English language was in AD 700. Grey is the British spelling, whereas gray is the American spelling, though the latter was also in common usage in the UK until the second half of the 20th century, and the former is considered acceptable by most American dictionaries and is commonly seen in usage, e.g. in the Grateful Dead hit Touch of Grey.
A website called greyorgray - rather specific! - says
There are two acceptable spellings. Gray is used primarily in the United States and other areas that use US English. Grey is used in Great Britain and areas that use UK English.