Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Not invented here

The Mysterious Origins of 10 Popular Sayings

Gosh. Mysterious. I can't wait.  
It was allegedly written (but obviously not proof-read) by 'the same expert linguists who edit the Webster’s Dictionary', so it should be pretty reliable. Unfortunately, the web-page grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shouts 'HAVE YOU HEARD OF US?'. I suspect that if you admit ignorance they put you through several more hoops. So my advice is to cross your fingers and say "OF COURSE – how could anyone not have '.   

The first of the ten is 'You are what you eat'. This was an easy one – it's a German pun: Der Mensch ist, was er iβt. It's attributed to Ludwig Feuerbach, according to my The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations - third edition - 1980 (my source of choice for this sort of information, for reasons discussed here). But the pun is such an obvious one that I'd be surprised if Feuerbach really got there first (in 1850 says ODQ3). 1826, say those 'expert linguists who edit the Webster’s Dictionary'. Maybe they meant 1825; this was the date of publication of Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du Goût. In that he wrote Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce qu tu es. Maybe this, with the help of Google Translate,  is behind the experts'  bland and meaningless

“show a man what he eats and I will show you who he is”

which they attribute to 'French and German intellectuals'. Show a man...? I will show you who he is? What rubbish these French and German intellectuals talk! Tell me when an AMERICAN first used it....
Moving on to the piece on 'a piece of cake' this site says the fons et origo was Ogden Nash. Frankly, I 'hae ma doots'; but as someone memorably said recently (just not memorably enough for me to remember the exact words) 'the effort involved in disproving bullsh*t is an order of magnitude greater than the effort required to produce it'. A fair amount of what that site says about origins is neither bovine nor fecal. But some of it is demonstrably wrong and the rest has editorial standards that don't inspire confidence. Here's one example:
....Nash isn’t the first person to use deserts as a symbol for simplicity and ease. Other phrases exist in the American lexicon such as “easy as pie” and “it’s a cake walk”. Deserts like that are easy to eat, too.
But don't you just hate that gritty feeling when the sand gets in your teeth? And those yucky scarab beetles – gross!

And in the final piece:
Quitting smoking? Are you going cold turkey? The phrase has become almost exclusively associated with withdrawal from drugs or suddenly stoping anything at all. [What, I wonder, is stoping? Dispensing family-planning information, perhaps...]
It’s origin goes back as early as [the sort of horrid solecism that doesn't inspire confidence] American colonists [of course, silly of me to imagine that anything didn't originate in the land of the free] and the role the turkey played as both a food source and symbol. In America, it went on to mean “talking the plain truth”. In 1921, when the newspaper The Daily Colonist said that drug addicts were getting the “cold turkey treatment”, it became a popular usage to define withdrawal from a substance. Something to think about the next time you’re battling an addition. [Me, I have trouble with long division. Addition's a piece of cake though.]

I'm sure this blog (my own, I mean) suffers from its fair share of typographical gremlins. But I have to admit to finding it irksome that such lazy, Americo-centric, and slapdash writing and editing  gets favorited and RTd so widely by teachers I respect.

PS Perhaps I should have tagged this as a rant.
PPS Stick at home, immersed in red wine (8)
Update 2014.06.23.10:30 – Added this footnote:
  A perhaps imperfect memory suggests to me that Kant had used it the previous century. But again, his 'er iβt nicht' seems unlikely to have been the first use of this pun.

Update 2014.08.02.15:50 – Added this PPPS (as though it were needed)
PPPS: The answer to the PPS clue: CLARINET

 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.

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

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

Freebies (Teaching resources: just over 44,100 views  and well over 6,000 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 over 2,250 views and nearly 1,000 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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