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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner


Mar 13, 2018

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

Let’s take a look at the meanings of some miscellaneous terms and phrases:

Earmarked: Something that has been set aside or distinguished in some way so that it won’t be used for another purpose. This comes from the practice of marking the ear of a sheep or other animal for ownership. Sheep and pigs were once commonly identified with dabs of tar or paint on their ears, hence “earmarked.” Years ago, when I visited the Lake District in England, I noticed sheep with dabs of red and green colors on their ears. I was told this was a way of marking expecting and non-expecting ewes.

Eavesdrop: To listen or to overhear. (Sometimes I mess it up and say “easedrop.”) The “eaves” is the overhanging edge of a roof, and with rain running off, it was called the “eavesdrop” (dripping eaves). The place between the edge of the eaves and the wall of the house was a great place for snoopers and peepers to listen under a window in the old days, and these scoundrels became known as “eavesdroppers.” Nowadays, we can eavesdrop indoors by listening to someone in another room, or do it electronically without even being there.

Eleven, Oneteen ... Twelve, Twoteen? We have thirteen (three + ten) and fourteen (four + ten) — why not “oneteen” and “twoteen?” Well, the first part of eleven implies “one” (an old spelling was “onlevene”) and the “twe-” of the number twelve indicates “two.” But, what about the “-leven” and “-lve” parts? It is generally thought that these endings meant “left over” or “remaining.” Hence, eleven would mean “one left over” and twelve would mean “two left over.” This would imply the common maximum of counting was ten, or when you ran out of fingers.

Is “half empty” the same as “half full?” If you say so, but you are playing with oxymorons – figures of speech that have a seemingly self-contradictory effect. Other examples include “cruel kindness” and “jumbo shrimp” ... or the “fast lane” in a grocery store. A container can’t be empty and still have something in it. To be correct, you could say “half of the container was empty.” The same is true with half full. Sure, we use these terms as being understood to mean that part of the container is empty/full, but it’s sort of like saying “half dead.” Then there’s “half wit,” though I’m not so sure about that one.

Italics in the Bible (KJV): These are not included for emphasis, but to indicate that words were inserted by the translators in order to make meanings clearer. Take for example I Kings 13:27, which reads, “And he spake to him saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.” To a modern reader, to give “him” emphasis might be a bit misleading as to who got saddled.

What’s the difference between a “coffee klatch” and a “coffee break?” Well, there are some implications, other than cream and sugar. A "break" implies an interruption in work – a period of semi-relaxation where you get caffeinated up for the next stint of your work shift. Of course, there may be a bit of conversation along with this, and the break extended. The "klatch" in coffee klatch is a German word meaning “gossip.” Klatchen means to "chatterbox." So, you get the gist. I guess you could have a "coffee klatch break.” I really don't know, as I don't drink coffee. I tried it once when I was young, and then again 30 years later to reinforce the memory that it tasted terrible, even with all the additives to kill the taste. However, I know about you coffee addicts ... my wife is one.

Lazy Susan: A revolving stand with trays for food and snacks. “Susan” was once the general name for a maid, like “Jeeves” being the general name for a butler. The “lazy” part might imply the maid was too lazy to pass the food around, or maybe that the rotating trays were for folks too lazy to pass things around. Take your pick, but they are quite convenient gadgets that have been applied to a bunch of other applications.

Lukewarm: Not too hot, not too cold. But who’s Luke? The term actually doesn’t have anything to do with a person, like “Cool-hand Luke,” but rather “luke,” or “lewk,” originally meant “trepid.” Here’s a biblical reference from Revelations 3:15-16 (KJV): "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot ...”

Stung to the quick: Quick, in this case, doesn’t mean speedy or fast, but is an older word meaning “living.” In religious notation, you may have heard about “judge the quick and the dead” (I Peter 4:5). Quicksilver, the old name for mercury, was termed so because the liquid moves as though seemingly alive. Likewise, quicksand will swallow you like it’s alive, and we refer to the sensitive area under the fingernail as the quick. So, when we are “stung to the quick,” we are stung deeply, or hurt to the living tissue.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): The only reason people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory. —Anonymous

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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