Identifying Political Campaign Winners Through Linguistic Features—Paul Sterr and Ken Sultant SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 4 Contents Meeting Regulations for the International Ambiguity Society/Société d’Ambigüité Internationale

Good Enough for Folk EtymologyPart XI

A. Pocryphal & Verity du Bius
X. Quizzit Korps Center for Advanced Collaborative Studies

The SpecGram Archive Elves recently made another large collection of documents available to the XQK Directorate, leaving them on our doorstep in black plastic sacks in the middle of the night. In order to avoid any more unfortunate incidents involving a cucumber, a marmot, or the Director’s favorite coffee mug, we were given the task of cataloging these documents. Going through the collection, we have found again that, while apparently lacking provenance (which the Archive Elves still attribute to a bizarre set of circumstances obscurely alluded to in editorials passim), they shed unexpected light on the origin of several well known words and phrases. Note that some entries contradict others. Etymology is like that.

Here we publish the eleventh half of our collection of excerpts.

From Culinary Mishaps from the Paleolithic to Modern Times: is said that when the butchers accidentally let some beef dry out and become excessively tough and chewy, the person who had ordered it vociferously complained, calling them “beef jerks.” But other customers actually enjoyed this new meat product, and adopted the term “beef jerk” or “jerky beef” in an act of playful reappropriation.

From The Statistics of Words and the Words of Statistics:

Asked to perform tedious and difficult analyses on the differences between the group means of a sample, frustrated students would yell things like “I wish a volcano would erupt and destroy this homework!” or “I wish an asteroid would hit the earth!” The wished-for catastrophes escalated over time, culminating in “I wish the sun would become a nova!”or as it was often written, capitalized for emphasis, “...A NOVA.” Later the space was dropped.

From The Stepmother of Invention: 300 Unnecessary Stories About 300 Unnecessary Creations:

Paul Passy also studied phonetics in the context of oral obstructions. Initial tests were done with baguettes or croissants, but subtle differences between mouthfuls rendered the data of dubious quality for scientific purposes. The switch to a uniform inedible device was less popular with all but his youngest test subjects, who loved the new Passyfier.

From Politicolinguistics Vol 3⅓:

In the early days of the White settlement of North America, the main means of carrying anything larger than a bottle of moonshine was with pack animals. Horses, donkeys, imported wildebeest and even gnus were used as beasts of burden, whose loads would also include letters between family members to update them on progress. The Fay family took to playing jokes on each other, sending spurious missives on donkeys disguised as larger animals.

The local townsfolk on both sides got sick of this. While in the East, they used to say “no gnus is better than bad gnus”, in the West, they used to say in derision “here come those Fay gnus.” The latter term became metonymic for any unbelievable missive.

From Etymologies to Die For:

As everyone knows, it is possible to jump with relative success (i.e., minimal injury) from a first, second, or third floor window. Floors four and above, however, result in almost certain termination of life. This demarcation of death is whatunderstandably solies behind the Mandarin Chinese association of ‘four’ and ‘to die’, which are pronounced the same except for tone. The number ‘four’ is produced with a falling tone, with the voice representing the falling of a body from the fourth floor. In turn, ‘to die’ is pronounced symbolically with a third tone. This perilous tone is of the low register, begins with a fall, is often accompanied by creaky voice, and only occasionally and in certain contexts culminates in a final rise.

More from Culinary Mishaps from the Paleolithic to Modern Times:

When asked by a visitor to whom the plate full of tortilla chips, cheese and sauce belonged, Miguel replied, “It’s naht yours.” This was soon reanalysed to “nachos”.

From Adventures in Flooring:

Some wit whose name is lost to history quipped that an ugly shag rug looked like “your pet got run over by a car!” Whence the term “car pet” for all such items.

From The Other History of Rome:

The general’s triumphant return was cause for celebration. The populares chanted “Eat, drink, and be Marius!” Roman speech had already acquired the Mary/marry/merry merger, which may account for the large number of joyful weddings recorded in his time. The good times would not last, and in a few years those who survived the purges would describe themselves as “sullen” (modern spelling). A later consul would attempt to win over the people with his delicious “Cinna buns”, but he was murdered, no doubt after the calorie count was published.

[For an even funnier, more informative book, check out Tim Pulju’s The History of Rome. —Eds.]

From Biological Mechanisms of Attachment:

A fitting final example is the little-known mode of copulation of the bug Lygaeus equestris. The remarkable helical genitals of these animals and the “twisting” motions involved in their mating may even offer an entomological etymology of the curious American slang for this procedure!

[Note: There’s something a bit odd about this one, we can’t quite put our fingers on it. —A.P. & V. du B.]

From A Brief History of Timekeeping:

The accuracy of Swiss clocks was legendary as far back as ancient times. The Raetians were noted for producing delicate gears with exactly the right number of teeth to make the hands spin around at the right rate. The Romans referred to the proportions of these integer-toothed gears as Raetional numbers.

From Culinary Mishaps from the Paleolithic to Modern Times yet again:

Contrary to popular assumption, the term “pied-piping” for prepositional movement has nothing to do with medieval pest control specialists with an unseemly interest in leading children astray. It actually owes its origin to a gang of prescriptivist pastry chefs called the “Piping Hot Pie Gang,” after the hot oven-fresh desserts they would throw in the faces of anyone caught stranding a preposition.

More to come...

Identifying Political Campaign Winners Through Linguistic FeaturesPaul Sterr and Ken Sultant
Meeting Regulations for the International Ambiguity Society/Société d’Ambigüité Internationale
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVIII, No 4 Contents