Boycott

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Southern Baptists threatening to stop patronizing Disney because of its policy towards Gays. So what else is new?

Back in the 19th century, Irish peasants mounted an organized campaign against the hated agent of an absentee British landlord to protest his exploitive policies. They refused to work for him,  intimidated his servants, destroyed his crops, drove away his stock, and threatened his life.

In the course of being interviewed by an American journalist, the  parish priest, thought “ostracism” an insufficient word to describe the approach, suggesting instead the name of the hated agent himself. The man who thus became identified forever with such a policy was Charles Cunningham Boycott.

Some consider a boycott of Disney to be nothing less than Mickey Mouse — “small,” “petty,” “inferior,” “trivial,” and “childish,” stemming from the mid 30s when the Ingersoll watch company marketed a watch with Mickey  on the face. It never kept the time properly and was always breaking down.

As to the boycott, it’s probably less Mickey Mouse than just plain goofy.

Word Origin Comics: Is Life a Bummer or Are You Simply a Bum?

Is the bum about to make a comeback? Hey, a bum by any other name would still smell— or wouldn’t he?

“I am a worthy cause,” said Jack. “No. You are a bum,” said the man.”

― Janet Schulman, Jack the Bum and the Halloween Handout

“Stenchgator, the Great Unwiped Bum… was listed in the Bumper Book of Bums as the stinkiest bum in the world. Most bums only registered one or two points on the Rectum scale, but Stenchgator came in at a nose-bruising 9.8 points.”

— Andy Griffiths

When I was growing up, my mother would always say, ‘It will go on your permanent record.’ There was no ‘permanent record.’ If there were a ‘permanent record,’ I’d never be able to be a lawyer. I was such a bum in elementary school and high school… There is a permanent record today, and it’s called the Internet.

— Alan Dershowitz

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That Sucks!

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When it comes to politicians espousing their causes, words fail. So here’s a few: Humbug! (1825), meaning “stuff and nonsense,” with roots in the 18th century as a hoax or fraud  Hogwash! (1440), a common term for kitchen refuse, slop fed to swine. Balderdash!, a meaningless jumble of words from adulterated wine made by combining the leftovers from several cups. And for their just deserts, Applesauce! (1929), “nonsense, flattery and sweet talk” — from the common practice in boarding houses, serving an abundance of applesauce to cover up the tastelessness or paucity of the main dish. Beneath the superficial sweetness there being only mush.

It’s so much  cock and bull  (1700), as implausible as old fables in which cocks and bulls are represented as talking with each other. And  tommy-rot! (1884) —  foolish utterances from Tommy, “simpleton or  fool.” plus rot, “worthless matter.” And at the very bottom, poppycock! (1865), from the Dutch pappeka, “soft dung,” , originating with the Latin pappa, “soft food,” and cacare, “to defecate.” Thus accounting for all the pap we’re asked to swallow and all the other EXPLETIVES DELETED! 

Word Origin Comics: Surrounded by Sycophants? Isn’t It Time You Learned Who They Are?

“Should a writer have a social purpose? Any honest writer is bound to become a critic of the society he lives in, and sometimes, like Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut or Leo Tolstoy or Francois Rabelais, a very harsh critic indeed. The others are sycophants, courtiers, servitors, entertainers. Shakespeare was a sycophant; however, he was and is also a very good poet, and so we continue to read him.”

—- Edward Abbey

“Sycophants learn from dogs.”

—- Toba Beta
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“In his essay, Agastya had said that his real ambition was to be a domesticated male stray dog because they lived the best life. They were assured of food, and because they were stray they didn’t have to guard a house or beg or shake paws or fetch trifles or be clean or anything similarly meaningless to earn their food. They were servile and sycophantic when hungry; once fed, and before sleep, they wagged their tails perfunctorily whenever their host passes, as an investment for future meals. A stray dog was free, he slept a lot, barked unexpectedly and only when he wanted to, and got a lot of sex.”

—- Upamanyu Chatterjee

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Sequences

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It’s always fun following a word’s progression through the language. Take the Latin sequi, secut-, from which many things follow — sequels, things sequential, and those consecutive, from com, “together,” and sequi, “follow”. This not only created real consequences, things following (with them); but also made them consequential.

Sequi, “to attend” or “follow” mutated into the Old French suitte, “attendance” or “act of following.” As a sout, it was  “attendance at court,” making for the syutor (1290), a frequent visitor there, later a suter, an “adherent” or “follower” and the suitor (1586) who courts or follows after a woman. From the livery or uniform worn there came a set of clothes worn together, our first suits (1400). Making them suitable (1577) “agreeable” or “convenient,” was their appropriateness to the occasion. Other things suitable included a suit of cards and a grouping of rooms following in close proximity, the  suite. Following things legally into the courts made for both legal suits and the right to sue via the Old French suer from the same sequere. The lack of any real follow-up ends with a logical fallacy, a non sequitur, “It does not follow.”

Word Origin Comics: If You Can’t Be a Dashing Figure Would You Settle for Being a Figurehead?

What’s a figurehead, Daddy?

Admiral. That part of a warship which does the talking while the figurehead does the thinking.

—- Ambrose Bierce

Dad has told me that he wished he would have showed the players how much he really cared for them, instead of always presenting himself as this stoic figurehead like he did at times.

—- Jim Mora

It’s a wonderful feeling when your father becomes not a god but a man to you- when he comes down from the mountain and you see he’s this man with weaknesses. And you love him as this whole being, not as a figurehead.

—- Robin Williams

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Teddy Bears et al

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Let’s talk eponyms today from epi, “upon” and onyma, “name”  —  words derived from the names of people. It happened to President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt while on a hunting trip to Mississippi. Members of his party stunned a bear, tied it to a tree, and encouraged T.R. to shoot it. The President refused. A cartoonist for the Washington Post depicted the event, and the story caught the fancy of the nation. The rest is history. A  Brooklyn candy store owner, Morris Michtom, fashioned a  teddy bear out of brown plush in 1902, the first of over 60 million cuddly creatures to bear his name.

Less clear cut is case of a delicious log-shaped bar made of chocolate-covered caramel and peanuts. The founder of the Curtis Candy Company named it  Babe Ruth in 1921 after President Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. But Cleveland hadn’t been president for nearly a quarter of a century, and his daughter had been dead for seventeen years. It was a blatant attempt by Curtis to avoid having to pay royalties to the Yankee slugger who was at the height of his popularity — a claim they still deny. The evidence, however, shows it, like the candy bar, to be quite nutty.

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Government for the Birds

How did politicians come to rule the roost? First of all, it’s not a roost, but a roast, referring to either a council or ruling body of that name or to the role played by the Lord of the manor presiding over dinner — carving and dispensing the roast.

For the origin of those political chickens coming home to roost (c.1810), we return to their inauguration. It began with Ancient Roman soothsayers who studied the movement and formations of birds in order to forecast the success of an enterprise. Combining avis, “bird” and specere, “to see,” they created auspicium, a “divination,” to describe the process.

When we incorporated auspicium into English, however, we were only interested in signs portending well for us — making an auspicious occasion one where the birds only flew right, were “full of good omens,” or “gave promise of success.”

Priests called augurs interpreted these auspicious signs, eventually being identified with events heralding new beginnings, making both for our inauguration and our ability to augur or “foretell the future.”

The inauguration of new public officials represents one of our more auspicious political events. We like to think that a new administration augurs well for us, but in our heart, we know better.

Temptation

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Many tempting ideas present themselves to us daily. What makes them so enticing is the burning desire they create from titionis, “firebrand,” from intitiare, “to set on fire.”  They titillate  us from   titillare, “to tickle.” When we finally make an attempt at them, we do so from the Latin ad,  “to” or “towards” and temptare,” “to try,”  “feel out,” or “test.”

A classic case from Greek mythology of one  tempting fate is the story of  the King of Lydia. Befriended by the Gods, he betrayed them, stealing their nectar and ambrosia and testing their divinity, serving them the flesh of his own son. For his deeds he was doomed to stand forever thirsty and hungry in a pool of water up to his chin. Whenever he bent to drink, the water would recede. His efforts to reach toward fruit hanging from a bough directly above, caused the wind to carry the branch away from him. His name was Tantalus, and his name would forever be linked to “provoking desire and creating expectations without fulfillment.” That’s what makes things out of our reach so tantalizing. You and I are clearly above it all, being as one with Oscar Wilde who could “…resist everything except for temptation

Word Origin Comics: How Cosmopolitan Are You?… And We’re Not Talking About the Magazine

In an age of Donald Trump, Ben Carlson, Ted Cruz and the Republican right whose philosophy and politics stress the divisions between people, we need to rescue a word from vocabulary past to better understand the moral challenge they now pose. That word is “cosmopolitan.” And it is to the cosmos and its origins to which we must turn for insights.

“Although I believe identity politics ‘”produces limited but real empowerment for its participants,” it is important to note that it contains significant problems: first, its essentialist tendency; second, its fixed “we-they” binary position; third, its homogenization of diverse social oppression; fourth, its simplification of the complexity and paradox of being privileged and unprivileged; and fifth its ruling out of intersectional space of diverse forms of oppression in reality.”

“Cosmopolitanism seeks a “we” that does not rely on the exclusion of others but, instead, recognizes and confirms each other as part of the planetary “we.” The cosmopolitan “we”is not grounded in a monolithic sameness but in a constant alterity and ethical singularity of each individual human person regardless of one’s national origin and belonging, religious affiliation, gender, race and ethnicity, class ability, or sexuality.”

― Namsoon Kang, Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love, and Solidarity in an Uneven World

Alas, the word had now fallen on sad times. Read on to follow its devolution:

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