Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Greetings, we win.

Oh dear, poor marathon. I heard what was to me a new abomination this morning: trekathon.

After Pheidippides's alleged long distance run from a place called 'Marathon' [are you trying to tell me he didn't stop for a breather?], the name was adopted to name a particular sort of long race.

Bringing the news of Marathon, he found the archons[†] seated, in suspense regarding the issue of the battle. 'Joy[‡], we win!' he said, and died upon his message, breathing his last in the word Joy ... 
[†Sort of rulers. When there's one, it's a monarch; when there are a few they're oligarchs.
 ‡ In my title I've used the translation 'Greetings'. This is the translation favoured by the editors of the The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations - third edition - 1980, my favourite work of reference and provider of my first full-time job.]
Lucian Pro lapsu inter salutandum (translated by F.G. and H.W. Fowler, 1905 [in unintended welcome of my father to the world in May of that year])
When exactly did he [Pheidippides] die? If he breathed his last 'on the word Joy', did he even get around to giving the news of victory? I'm really not buying this.
Now this really is a digression
The news was νικώμεν –  or so it says in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations - third edition - 1980 –  but as it happens I know the guy who read the proofs; well know is a strong way of putting it; one had a 1-to-1 relationship with him. And I know his knowledge of Classical Greek was Best Before May 1968. It wouldn't surprise me if there should be an iota subscript somewhere in there. But it's ironic, don't you think, that his 'νικώμεν' was a pre-echo of the brand-name of a certain kind of sports footwear? One can imagine the Swoosh on his original running shoes.
Then some time in the following century the suffix '-athon'† started to be used as
...[a] word-forming element denoting prolonged activity and usually some measure of endurance, abstracted from marathon. E.g. walkathon (1931), skatathon (1933); talkathon (1948); telethon (1949).  
 More recently, it started being used to denote a charity fund-raising event (presumably by analogy with the last of those examples). So as well as telethons we had swimathons and phonathons and sleepathons and....

Meanwhile, in the ninetenth century, the Boers undertook their Groot Trek to get shot of the British. The English language snapped up this word too, to refer to a long journey. The exact nature of a trek is a matter that I discussed here a while ago:
.... I think the contributor who wrote this had a good point when he mentioned animals, though his use of 'laboring animals' was wrong; he probably meant draught* animals rather than beasts of burden.

This link (don't expect a URL, I'm just talking about an association) goes back to the root of the word, the Afrikaans trekken. Note - I'm not saying animals are always involved in a trek, or that usage should always reflect etymology; it's just that some usages, in some cases, do.
(That is, the Afrikaans trekkers had wagons)

But today I heard about the confluence of these two much-travelled words. 'Trekathons' have been around for a few years, but until I heard it on the radio this morning I had been mercifully unaware.

Time and tide... though. IA awaits.

*Which, now I come to think of it, explains why barmaids of old (as some still do, though they might prefer some more PC job description) pull pints of draught beer. {And see the update for a second thought.]

Update: 2013.05.01 A few tweaks and this thought about  labour (a thought I had last night, and should have marked Labour Day): 'labour' was used for many years to denote toiling generally. Given that, until the Industrial Revolution, most toil was indeed agricultural in nature, the source (Vulgar Latin laborare - 'to plough'; the Classical Latin was arare [whence our 'arable']), the agrarian metaphor was apt. After the Industrial Revolution a new word was needed, which in French was travailler. In France the two words labourer and travailler have co-existed. In the UK, with its predominance of industry (until the 1980s), there was no need to maintain the distinction: if you were labouring the odds were you were not doing it in an agricultural context. So the borrowed word 'travails' (usually plural) was kept for special occasions. So my objection to the phrase 'laboring animals' in this post was unfounded. As the writer's first language, according to his Profile, is English I suspect that he may be American (note the spelling of 'laboring')  – possibly from a state such as Louisiana (named after Louis XIV).  But perhaps 'laboring animals' is just the common American English way of expressing the British English 'draught animals', and a 'laboring animal' is not just having a hard time of it but pulling something – a plough maybe (or should that be plow?)

Update 2013.09.30.11:15
HeadFooter updated:

Update 2015.07.29.13:40 – Updated footer, and added this note.

The latest addition to the list of -athon neologisms is one I heard this morning during a cricket commentary: Australian readers might prefer to avoid reflecting on the circumstances that led a commentator referring to 'a swing-and-miss-athon'...

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Well over 49,300 views  and nearly 9,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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