Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Whalemeat again

At the weekend a story that has been around for many years... poked its head  above the parap... no, wrong metaphor in the circumstances... surfaced again: the Earth has a [proposed – not everyone agrees. although the arguments strike me as pretty sound] eighth continent.

The Independent seemed utterly convinced, going for the indicative (There is"):

Zealandia: There is a previously unknown, submerged continent around New Zealand, say scientists

The Guardian, not atypically, went for the mangled idiomatic phrase (here):

Zealandia – pieces finally falling together for continent we didn't know we had

Surely,  things "come together" or "fall into place". I wonder what falling together involves. The British National Corpus notes 13 instances (run the search here), but they are all just juxtapositions of a verb and a preposition – not a brand-new phrasal verb.
Which reminds me – that song I was going to write about sentences changing horses in mid-stream
...I must go and give some thought to a song inspired by David Crystal's IATEFL keynote on 'blends' (or as he said, to give it the $10 word, anacoluthon). It is based on the song sung, but not written, by the Beatles – Anna; the lead-singer sings 'Ana-' and the backing singers join in, to move the tune to the relative minor, '-coluthon'.
It's still on the back-burner (a pretty crowded one).

The good ol' Beeb (... and how DARE that clown [the incumbent, if that's the mot juste, of the Presidency; perhaps encumbrance ...] accuse them of inaccuracy?) took a more measured view, going for the question

Zealandia: Is there an eighth continent under New Zealand?

... although under is not quite right, unless Europe could be said to be under Switzerland.

Just a week earlier, a horribly sad drama had played out on New Zealand's Farewell Spit (which takes the unintended irony prize for nominal determinism). As that report says:
The reasons for beachings remain a mystery. Explanations range from marine noise pollution to suicides, and NASA is even investigating whether solar storms could mess with whales’ navigation. But geography could certainly be a factor, considering several known stranding blackspots share characteristics.
This site considers the possible interference of magnetism:
Animals are known to figure out direction over long distances from the Earth's magnetic field or the direction of the sun. For instance, researchers of tiger sharks and thresher sharks recently said cues from Earth's magnetic fields may [sic. "be", probably] what enables those sharks to orient themselves and travel spot-on toward a far target.
See more here
<digression type="amateur_forensic_typography"> 
Perhaps the author wrote the one word  "maybe", as I'm afraid many people do. The desk-editor marked it with a "/" to signify the word-break,  rather than use the standard symbol:

Then whoever edited the final text (in the old days it would have been a compositor, but now it's more probably an unpaid intern) misinterpreted the – perhaps slightly misplaced – "/" mark as a deletion.

(Reading it back for sense was above their pay-grade.)

But this blog avers with unconvincing certainty that the problem is something to do with air pressure.
But whales [sic scientists will not [sic – oh now I get it, it's them durn "experts" again]  tell you that barotrauma in the air sinuses of mass stranded whales and dolphins causes echo-navigation system failure. They know for a fact [ !!! my emphasis  this is the unmistakable sign of a bar-room know-all ] that the air contained in odontoceti cranial air spaces serves underwater to bounce, channel, reflect, isolate, send, and otherwise direct the returning echoes these animals use to navigate and find their food.

Oh dear. With "writing" of this lamentable calibre, no wonder people are confused.  The "writer" must want people not to understand.
In other words, nobody knows. And I haven't found even speculative finger-pointing at, say, micro-waves or underwater cables or any other man-made techno-pollutant. Plastic waste is the the closest candidate, but there's nothing high-tech about simple suffocation Note, this is not an Official Rumour. I don't want to start well-meaning environmentalist fanatics demonstrating against the coastal siting of cell-towers or anything of the kind..

But certainly, to judge by the noise my computer makes when I get a text (SMS), it seems to me that it's at least worth considering the possibility that something man-made (not land forms or solar wind or any of those other inanimate scapegoats – Not me guv) might have something to do with it.

Meanwhile the horrific and pathetic regular beachings go on, with  well-intentioned volunteers working around the clock to keep stranded whales alive until they can be refloated, just to see the disoriented beasts turn round and beach themselves again.

So perhaps the new continent should continue to keep its head down, as it were.  Being out of the way of man-made interference seems to me like a reliable survival strategy.

Time for bed.


PS And here are a couple of clues, with a certain thematic coherence.
  • Herd, by the sound of it, of erzast wildebeest? Stuff and nonsense! (4, 4)
  • I'm Trump, starting to peter out, confusingly – totally unrehearsed. (9)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Phrasal verbs and intonation

The British National Corpus reports 666 instances ...
(just click on that link and watch while the search unfolds)
... of run in – a (suitably) devilish number – and devilish it is, for students of ESOL at least.

I've written before (here) about phrasal verbs:
...I hadn't realized, until I started to  teach ESOL, what a big hurdle phrasal verbs were. Try Googling English Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. You get (or at least I get – Heaven alone knows what customized search algorithms are at play) over 500,000 hits. That's a world of pain for ESOL students; who have to remember not only apparently-paradoxical meanings but a range of syntactic oddities. And to make things worse, we English-speakers keep inventing new ones....

(If you're new to this blog, you might want to have a read [and on the subject of problems for ESOL students, what about "have a read"?]
Phrasal verbs are a huge problem, even if you consider only the ones that are listed in the thousands of  dictionaries and web-pages and other lists of all kinds, but as I said in that excerpt we English-speakers keep inventing new ones. And a mis-reading on the news just now alerted me to a new one.

Intonation was the tell-tale slip (as it often is). The newsreader said [of a rugby player,  voicing over a bit of VT] "Here he is, running in a try". But run in, except in the context of internal combustion engines isn't usually a phrasal verb. It is very commonly (in most if not all of those BNC hits I mentioned earlier – here's one of the first of those 666: "...if we allow it to run in the way the government have in mind...") a prepositional usage; the verb run and the preposition in just happen to fall together.

So the voice said (or, to give him his due, he bailed out as soon as realized that the words in a try were not a meaning-bearing unit [or semanteme, as I regret some linguists feel it necessary to say]):

 ... as he would have said if the words had been

Here he is, running in his Nth race.

He didn't know that in the world of rugby (I only have experience of Rugby Union, being a feeble effete Southerner, but I don't see why it shouldn't also be used in the world of Rugby League) run in is a transitive phrasal verb – referring to an easy, almost unopposed try (which, for our American readers, is not unlike a touch-down  – with the possibly counter-intuitive difference that it involves TOUCHING THE BALL DOWN).

The correct intonation would be one introductory phrase of three words, and then running in his Nth try in a separate and continuous rising and falling curve:

In a phrasal verb, both the main verb and the preposition (often, for clarity, called a particle in this context) usually (if not always – though I'll have to think about that) belong in the same intonational curve; by starting a new intonational curve at the onset of the preposition the speaker disrupts the meaning of the phrasal verb. But you can't get the intonation  right  if you don't understand the context. And phrasal verbs are readily created in specific contexts.
<autobiographical_note date_range="early 1971">
This puts me in mind of my days down and out in Barcelona. I didn't speak Spanish and hadn't done it at school; I had an O-level grammar book (not aimed at self-study), and was reading it. My daily budget extended to a copy of La Vanguardia (so not that down and out), which I scanned diligently. Articles in the sections dealing with international affairs, current events, politics and so on were not too difficult to make sense of: the vocabulary – with, on the face of it, "harder" vocabulary – was often guessable on the basis of cognates in other modern languages and/or Greek or Latin-based etymology.

Not so the sports pages  – and not just in sports I knew nothing about, such as handball, pelota, or (though the word sport is questionable in this case) bull-fighting. Even, say, reports about football (aka soccer) were a closed book to me. The words and the syntax associated with them was just not the same as you get from books.
Anyway, the point is this: phrasal verbs are, in the case I have looked at, just the prompt for the recognition of a problem with intonation. (Or vice versa. Often, in language teaching, a problem in one sphere points to a problem in another. So there's a lesson for teachers here: if you hear a problem, don't be satisfied with just "fixing" it – when you think about it, you might find that it's a symptom of another problem.)

Enough for now...


PS: A crossword clue:

  • Weight of the Holocaust – he doesn't believe it. (6)

Update: 2017.02.11.14:15  Added PPS

PPS And another:
  • Leaders of other teams interrupt scrum – for keeping balls in? (7)

Update: 2017.02.13.15:15  Added PPPS


Added a clarification, in the main text, in blue, and yet another clue:
  • Average quantity? Much more important than that! (9)

Monday, 6 February 2017

The coolness of Purcell

In my last post I wrote that my use of art in a particular context depended on "an overly etymological understanding of the word art". I've been thinking about this with a certain amount of self doubt, and have found that my use of the word etymological was dubious.

Etymology (the word) is developed ultimately from the Greek adjective ετυμος (there may be a diacritic or two there – we didn't do them at O-level ).  It means true or real. A calque...
<recently_provided_gloss date="2017-01-17" skippability="max">
To form a calque the receiving language borrows the format that the donor language uses to construct a typically two-part compound, but not the word itself. It translates each element of the compound using a native word: for example Latin omni- + potens, Old English æl- + mihtig (whence our almighty), Spanish todo- + poderoso. [Incidentally, that bunch of examples isn't supposed to suggest a series of any kind; its just a bunch of examples.] ...
...used by Cicero was veriloquium (says Etymonline); sadly there's no English borrowing *veriloquy.

But what of art? There's nothing particularly real or true about the meaning I was referring to.  Etymonline says this:
art (n.) Look up art at Dictionary.com
early 13c., "skill as a result of learning or practice," from Old French art (10c.), from Latin artem (nominative ars) "work of art; practical skill; a business, craft," from PIE *ar-ti- (source also of Sanskrit rtih "manner, mode;" Greek arti "just," artios "complete, suitable," artizein "to prepare;" Latin artus "joint;" Armenian arnam "make;" German art "manner, mode"), from root *ar- "fit together, join" (see arm (n.1)). In Middle English usually with a sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c. 1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. Sense of "cunning and trickery" first attested c. 1600. Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s. Broader sense of the word remains in artless... More here
So the words "Meaning 'human workmanship' (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c." hit the spot, but of course the meaning kept developing; the meaning I had in mind was not original (not that that matters, as I keep emphasizing, and as this blog argues – it was just one of many stops along the way).  A rolling word gathers dozens of meanings. In  fact, even stops is the wrong image – meanings are more like a river (which has different general characters at different points of its passage, but which at any moment can take on any new meaning or nuance of meaning, depending on context).
See a bigger one here

My reason for making the assumption that human workmanship was the original sense was the text of one of Purcell's pieces that my choir will be singing in – oo-er – less than four weeks: Come Ye Sons of Art. When I first sang this piece (with another choir) I realized that sons of art weren‘t people like Constable (Junior) and his school-chums, assuming (stupidly) that this sort of art was the original meaning. Offshoots like artless and Bachelor of Arts should have saved me from leaping to this conclusion.

In that choir, our MD was a music teacher, and in one concert we sang part of Dido & Aeneas – possibly the sailors' chorus "Come Away, Fellow Sailors" where they...

...take a boozy short leave of your nymphs on the shore
And silence their mourning with vows of returning

But never  intending to visit them more.

(Age-old sailor behaviour – ‘doing a "Bobby Shaftoe"', as mentioned before.)

Etymonline notes boozy as dating from 1719, and OED is one of its sources. So – unless Etymonline is missing a trick – Nahum Tate's libretto of Dido & Aeneas, written in the last years of the previous century, was putting a pretty untried neologism in the mouths of the sailors. 
Anyway, Dido. We  were singing from a set of scores borrowed from our MD's A-level set. And in the margin next to the marvellous descending ground bass at the beginning of Dido's Lament the previous owner had written

‘Purcell, you are so cool‘.

Well, he is. Come and hear, on 4 March at Reading Univeristy‘s Great Hall.


PS And here's a clue:

  • The pathologically dependent, in for a penny,  accuses. (7)

Friday, 3 February 2017

'I'm in a bit of a rush' said Tom...

... Swiftly. <bou_boum_and_indeed_tsh>

The topic of Tom Swifties was broached in this week's Museum of Curiosity (starting at about 14'30"). The Tom Swifty is an amusing ... form (I nearly wrote "art form", but to say that would be to depend on an overly etymological understanding of the word art; wordsmithery would be nearer the mark.

This mention of Tom Swifties reminded me an online community I used to be a part of. It was based on a 1980s bulletin board system – ahead of its time (in those days) called variously Notes, Notes 11, VAX NOTES, and ultimately (marking DEC‘s nod to UNIX – ULTRIX) DEC Notes.

The halcyon days of NOTES are detailed in an article published in Knowledge Management magazine (which explains the abbreviation used in the text – KM). It's pretty long, but this gives a flavour:

...The ability to find a subject matter expert quickly and get the answer to a question or assistance in solving a problem, is a key KM priority. It saves time (and money), enhances customer relationships and ensures that knowledge transfer happens to the right person at the right time. And yet we also know that tools are not the whole answer. Even the best tools will not give you a return on investment unless the employees of the company are committed to helping one another.

Employees of Digital Equipment Corporation worked in an environment that got this combination of technology and culture about right, back in the 1980s. The technology was a simple collaboration tool called Notes... that ran on Digital’s worldwide network, supported by the company’s VAX/VMS... software development tools group. Among the people who worked at Digital during that time, the nostalgia for that tool and the culture it enabled (and that enabled its success) assumes Camelot-esque proportions.

More here
Notes was what in Reading UK was known as a midnight hack, and in the USA a skunk-works project (done in the engineers' "own" time – not that they had any [in the eyes of the corporate lawyers: the contract of employment was referred to by one wag as "a certificate of brain donation" my own very late name for it – the staircase for this bit of esprit has been grinding away {must have been an escalator} for about thirty years – is a writ of HABEAS MENTEM]). It was a vehicle of creative collaboration between users of DECnet (the internal network used by over 100,000 employees).
The midnight hacking did not stop with DECnotes. In the mid-'90s a US engineer (whose name escapes me) wrote a PC client to run on Windows NT (maybe other flavours of Windows too); this was just a client – the server ...
<explanation type="more egg-sucking">
At the time (and possibly even now...yes) the client/server model was a common and very useful system for designing software. We normal punters usually aren't aware of it – anything we get to use is a client. But if you use an app on your mobile phone you already know what a client looks like. The server is the beefy code running somewhere Out There, supplying services as required by the many clients.
...still had to run on a VAX or ULTRIX machine.  I wrote the online help for this client (volunteering, of course, in a way that exemplified that ability to find a subject matter expert quickly – through Notes).

I don‘t know if  later, in the unfortunate but inevitable jargon, this PC client was productized.
I was told that the Project Manager wanted to enhance it so that it could handle, in addition to text, all sorts of other media. Her bosses said No, she took the idea to Lotus, and the rest is herstory.  I can't vouch absolutely for this story, though this extract from a user suggests that it might be true:
Len Kawell wrote Notes-11 (his LinkedIn profile says that this work was done “in his spare time”) and later worked with Ray Ozzie on Lotus Notes. Notes-11 was then taken on by Benn Schreiber and Peter Gilbert as a “skunk works” project within DEC Central Engineering and resulted in VAX Notes

More here  (my emphasis)
Anyway, apart from being used for work-based collaboration, there were Notes files devoted to leisure interests. As that memoir goes on to say, 
...[I]n August 1989, some 10,355 VAX Notes conferences were active inside DEC, 390 of which were dedicated to employee interests such as “Good restaurants in the South of France”...
One of these employee-interest conferences was called JOYOFLEX, and harboured various sorts of discussion about language. A note in this conference was my introduction to Tom Swifties.
The Tom Swifties in this note had a twist: the punchline had to be the name of a language (but after a few weeks some latitude came into it – a contribution of mine, referring to the UNIX variant SCO and the name of the dialect spoken in Liverpool, was "'I prefer UNIX' said Tom, a Scouser". No...? SCO-user. Ah well. Some fell on stony ground. This one's less contrived: "Pass me the f...ing spanner' he called in French."

The idea of the Tom Swifty, at the time, was new to me. I expected that by the time I had got it (it wasn't very fully explained, as US-based employees already had the necessary cultural background), the well would have run dry  –  after maybe a dozen or so replies. But, rather like the holiday experience of Jack Waley-Cohen on Museum of Curiosity, the idea smouldered away for weeks, amassing eventually several hundred replies.

The memory stirred up by that programme was of my favourite (though I say it as shouldn't – TISIAS)

"'Just because the bread-mix is too dry, 
surely the recipe didn't say to do that
he said in Indo-European".


Friday, 27 January 2017

Misguided missiles

The Trident test débàcle ...
(it didn't  fail, incidentally, although many commentators who should know better keep saying it did; its outcome was suboptimal but the test worked [although part of what it was testing didn't])
Find a bigger original of this,and many more images, at the NASA site.
...reminded me of the time in the early-mid '90s when, along with many other concerned citizens I wrote to Al Gore in a vain attempt to throw a spanner in the astrolabe,  as it were. Since its arrival in July 2004, the Cassini space probe has been making  enormous contributions to our understanding of Saturn and its rings. For the nearly four centuries between Galileo's observation (and mis-identification) of Saturn‘s rings in 1610 (he thought their appearance was caused by the motion of two moons), not much was added to our knowledge of the rings – what they are, what they do, what they're made of, how they were formed.... But this knowledge came at a price – not that the price was actually incurred (apart from the obvious cost of simply undertaking this extraordinary voyage). The potential cost, not actually paid, was took the form of a risk

At the time of Galileo's death in Tuscany in 1642,  there lived, a few hundred miles to the north-west in the Duchy of Savoy, the 17½ yr-old Giovanni Domenico Cassini (whose father was in fact Tuscan). Giovanni, according to Wikipedia, was
... the first to make successful measurements of longitude by the method suggested by Galileo, using eclipses of the galilean satellites as a clock.
And it was presumably this link (not his father's birthplace – that was one of mine) that led the Caltech engineers who conceived of the 10 years+ mission to observe the rings of Saturn from Saturn orbit, andto dubbed the mission Cassini.

My reason for writing to the Vice President more than twenty years ago was the inconvenient truth that the Cassini spacecraft, to perform its gravity-assisted (slingshot) bypass of the Earth involved a craft carrying 72 lb of plutonium nearly colliding with the Earth. The closer it got, the greater the 'gravity assist', so the engineers could be expected to under-estimate the risk. Cassini was falling through space, and the Earth was saying Here, here, oh please sir, hit ME. Cassini came tantalisingly close to the Earth before whizzing past. But the Earth kept on begging to be hit. This is when the slingshot effect kicked in  – the potential nuclear device turned round and had another go. (The risk would be clear to any schoolboy [or schoolgirl if they played, though in my experience at a co-educational primary school they didn't] who has played conkers in the pre-Health & Safety era and had the tethered missile loop back and give them a clip round the ear.)

NASA engineers said the risk was tiny, but many other scientists claimed the probability numbers were dubious. This gives a taste:
"Give me a break. They're making these numbers up," says Michio Kaku, a professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York, adding that by his calculations of NASA's own accident scenario, some 200,000 people could die if Cassini crashed in an urban area. "This is a science experiment, and we are the guinea pigs."

More here
Whatever the numbers, the risk was small. But the risk was there. And compare Cassini's  Earth-tickling  gravitational assist with the more recent Trident failure (involving, after all, US engineering in both cases): that missile took an unplanned right-turn somewhere over the Atlantic and had to be destroyed to prevent it crashing on the US mainland. If the Cassini vehicle had made a similar unplanned detour during its periterranean jaunt (there may be a proper word for that, but I reckon it's less effort to just make one up) future palaeontologists might have found an anthropocene/Trumpocene boundary (I know Trump missed by nearly 20 years, but in geological dates, who cares? [Besides,  I think we can safely leave it to him to merit the eponym....])

But what of Trident? There is some merit in this view:

My own view (which I may have voiced before, though not in this blog, I think) is that, given the realities of the nuclear winter, it's more desirable to be vaporized by the first strike than to survive. So, given the ridiculousness of deterrence based on Mutually Assured Destruction, it's MUCH cheaper to build a massive nuclear device (big enough to  wipe out the entire population), instal it in the centre of our own country, and not spend anything at all on a delivery system. In response to a nuclear threat, threaten to self-destruct – that'll teach 'em. :-)

Duty calls.



Eppur si muove. But Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose.  In the seventeenth century the Vatican tried to suppress scientific understanding of the facts. It didn't work in the long run, though it caused a certain amount of discomfort before the Vatican's alternative facts were recognized for the hooey that they were. In the twenty-first, the Trump administration is trying a similar trick; and it will fail, eventually, in the same way. But it will cause a lot of discomfort before going down fighting.

Update: 2017,01.28.16:20 – A few typo fixes, rewordings in bold, and esprit d‘escalier in maroon.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Snowflakes and avalanches

In my days of thinly-disguised fascism I used to defend Latin in schools (which I still believe would be a good idea, by the way) by saying 'If what you think is a thought can't be expressed in Latin, it's not a thought.' I admit that this was a bit priggish, and it implied that logicality was a particular characteristic of Latin – a pretty silly implication. It's a not uncommon one, though – it rears its insidious head with respect to various languages; I've heard it said not only of Latin, but of French, of German... even of English.

But it hides a general truth about translation – that in order to translate meaningfully you have to grasp a text's meaning...
One of my few forays into  the realm of professional  translation (by which I mean I got paid for it, as opposed to having any professional training or standards or ethics or any of that good stuff) involved an article about aneurysms and arterio-venous fistulae, and I spent more time in a medical library than in a more general library with a technical Portuguese dictionary in front of me (this was in the mid-'70s, and the association of libraries with computers was yet to be made).

....(in a language possibly uniquely adapted to one area of interest), which makes it harder to translate into a language that is not similarly endowed. So it can be tempting to overlook or even ignore bits of sense

The translatability of Donald Trump's ravings has been in the news of late, in a way that I find unsurprising at best, and at worst  a non-issue flagged up by self-regarding elitists. Of course he's hard to translate; so was – to cite a more UK-based politician – John (now Lord) Prescott, of whom Simon Hoggart famously wrote
'Every time Prescott opens his mouth, it's like someone has flipped open his head and stuck in an egg whisk.'
Come to that, many politicians and off-the-cuff public speakers speak nonsense. Speaking nonsense is something that happens more and more in an increasingly unreflective world dominated by rolling news and its inevitable bastard offspring fake news (alias LIES).

On the subject of the Trump campaign, the word snowflake, used as an insult to the liberal intelligentsia (and anyone else with two brain-cells to rub together), easily disturbed and slipping 'in a moment out of life' has recently become popular. It is analogous to the rather more traditional 'hot-house plant'.

But the thing about snowflakes is that when they mount up and reach a tipping-point (or, more relevantly, a sliding-point) they start an avalanche. And that point is, we are told by 38 degrees – though I'm not sure it's as simple as that – the name of what Wikipedia calls
a British not-for-profit political-activism organisation. It describes itself as "progressive" and claims to "campaign for fairness, defend rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK".[2] In October 2013, it was reported to claim 1.9 million UK members.[3][needs update]
It goes on
38 Degrees takes its name from the critical angle at which the incidence of a human-triggered avalanche is greatest [THAT sounds more like it, though they give as a reference the same simplistic wording as the 38 degrees website gives

the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche – together we're unstoppable

] Ah well, their hearts are  in the right place. I'm keeping my head down for the next four years – the Trump era (British English /i:rǝ/, and in American English – not without irony – /ɛrǝ/). See you on the other side, Gaia volente.

PS And here's a clue:
  • Invalid given wrong sort of IUD is like a cup-cake (10)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Trumpery and Popery

Just  imagine: Trump  meeting Pope Francis; the personification of being in denial meets the personification of self-denial. What I wouldn't give to be a fly in the ointment during that conversation...

But there are two metaphors where the vocabularies of rampant, bullying, exploitative, self-regarding capitalism on  the one hand and the papacy (though probably not Pope Francis in one case) on  the other intersect. The one where the present occupant of the shoes of the fisherman is presumably blameless is nepotism


Many readers of this blog won't need telling that the word is derived from the Latin nepos -otis (= "nephew"), or – in the simpler, more direct Vulgar Latin notation (explained elsewhere in this blog, passim) NEPOTE(M). Where the papacy comes in is that in the bad old days of monastic shenanigans the nephew-word (whatever it was, certainly not "Italian", which didn't exist at the time; something Italic [or come to think of it, given the context, maybe they just used Latin]) was used as an (impious, not to say impish) euphemism for what the strait-laced OED [secondary source, I'm afraid] calls "the natural son" of the Pope; born the wrong side of the chasuble, as it were.

In fact this Etymonline excerpt shows that the word was not specific to one particular relation:
nephew (n.)
c. 1300, from Old French neveu (Old North French nevu) "grandson, descendant," from nepotem (nominative nepos) "sister's son, grandson, descendant, grandchild," and in a general sense, "male descendant other than son" (source also of Sanskrit napat "grandson, descendant;" Old Persian napat- "grandson;" Old Lithuanian nepuotis "grandson;" Dutch  neef; German Neffe "nephew;" Old Irish nia, genitive niath "son of a sister," Welsh nei)....
In that respect, come to think of it, it is reminiscent of cousin in Shakespeare's day: Falstaff, as I remember, was wont to address Prince Hal as "cuz". Old English nefa, which Etymonline says persisted into the 16c, could mean "nephew, stepson, grandson, second cousin"; almost any male blood relative – so it doesn't quite work for Trump's son-in-law [not that I'm a sufferer from  the Etymological Fallacy].


The simplest and most self-evident explanation of this word is that it is an amalgam of words for bridge and make; the maker of a bridge between us miserable offenders and Heaven. There have been suggestions that there has been an element  of folk etymology in the derivation, and that something either Umbrian or Etruscan was involved; I'm satisfied, though , with bridge-builder, as was the Northumbrian monk who used the word brycgwyrcende "bridge-maker". (If you screw your eyes up you can just about see work in the middle of that calque – linguist's jargon for a loan-translation).
To form a calque the receiving language borrows the format that the donor language uses to construct a typically two-part compound, but not the word itself. It translates each element of the compound using a native word: for example Latin omni- + potens, Old English æl- + mihtig (whence our almighty), Spanish todo- + poderoso. [Incidentally, that bunch of examples isn't supposed to suggests a series of any kind; its just a bunch of examples.]

Incidentally, it's /kælk/, not /kɔ:k/ or /kɔl:k/;  I'm not sure I've ever heard it said, though – it's that sort of word.
Oops  – left a bit out. See update.


So [and that is a subordinating conjunction, if that sort of thing bothers you] these two metaphors make a (fairly tenuous, admittedly) link  between the sublime and the ridiculous. Time's wingéd chariot, though...


PS Here's a clue:

Re-recording makes Midge Ure a really legendary creator. – (8)

Updat: 2017.01.17.11:45  – Added PPS

Sorry  – I missed out a bit of the argument: what links Trump to pontifex? Given a pontiff,  together with a belief in his infallibility, you get an action verb: pontificate  – to say what must be true, on the highest authority.  In a way familiar to students of language ...
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(here I mentioned the link between glamour and grammar, as discussed by David Crystal in The Story of English in 100 Words. You can read Crystal's discussion for yourself, but I would go a bit further; as I said in that post:
...This is the root of the word glamour, which came to refer to charm or attractiveness in the early twentieth century. Crystal doesn't say so, but it seems likely to me that Hollywood had something to do with it. The progression from wizardry to smoke & mirrors to magic lantern shows to movies strikes me as a fairly likely one.
... the meaning flipped. From being a Good Thing (telling the truth, unquestionably) it became a Bad Thing (shooting your mouth off on subjects you have a shaky grasp of and expecting to be believed unquestioningly). Trumpery? You make the link.