New Free Rice Words VII
Bill Long 2/6/08
From the New to the Obscure
I am always delighted when I run across a new word that seems to have entered our speech recently and will have a life to it. For example, taekonaut, a Chinese astronaut, was invented as the English-language term less than a decade ago. Such also is the word libero, a common term for those who now play volleyball but one that was new to me. The first announcement of the Libero player came in 1998:
"Each team has the option to register one specialised defensive player, 'Libero' among the final list of 12 players for the whole tournament."
Well, what does this defensive player do? He/she is restricted to being a back row player who may not serve, block or attempt to block. The Libero wears a different color shirt from the other members of the team. The Libero is not counted as a regular substitution. The USA Volleyball rules changed in 1999 to accommodate such a player. The Free Rice website defined the Libero as a "volleyball sweeper;" that definition confused me. But now we all know what it is.
Two words that are somewhat older than libero, but still have come into their own since the 1950s are acutance and alethic. It may just sound like "acutance" ought to mean "sharp," but it developed a technical meaning in photography: "the sharpness of a photographic or printed image; a numerical measure of this." From 1957: "The sharpness of the edge of hard lines is now becoming known by such terms as 'acutance,' 'edge sharpness.' This physical measure of sharpness was intended to correlate with the visual assesment of sharpness. This tutorial describes "acutance" as "how quickly image information transitions at an edge;" high acutance results in sharp transitions with clearly defined borders.
Alethic is a term from linguistic philosophy, which was all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s. Since linguistic philosophy tried to reduce everything to words and meanings, it is usually almost impossible to read. Alethic is a casualty of this philosophy. Well, let's go back to the 1830s, when the word alethiology was invented by the Scotsman William Hamilton. "The first part of logic treats of the nature of truth and error, and of the highest laws for their discrimination, Alethiology." Derived from the Greek word aletheia, alethiology, then was the "doctrine of truth" or "that part of logic which treats of truth." Thankfully, the word lay dormant for more than a century, until the modern philosophers got wind of it. So, in the early 1950s, the word alethic was invented to designate "modalities of truth, e.g., the possibility or impossibility of something being true." Now, this is almost gobbledygook, and so let's get to a quotation. From 1982: "A fourth modality, alethic..., can be disregarded in ordinary linguistic communication, concerned as it is with purely logical necessity ["Since he is unmarried, he must be a bachelor."]. Well, a 1997 book by prominent Anglo-American philospher William Allston, A Realist Conception of Truth, argues for what he calls alethic realism, which seems to use alethic in a different way. "The idea holds that the truth value of a statement depends on whether what the statement is about is as the statement says it is." Huh? Yes, that is what modern linguistic philosophy is all about. No wonder people have become Thomists en masse and wanted to start talking again about he existence of God. This kind of language will drive you to your knees, though some claim to understand it...
Some Possible Confusions
Some of the words are easily disposable. Munga and bouch, both of which I didn't know, are related. Munga has two meanings, the first of which wasn't intended by the Free Rice folk. It can be the "bonnet macaque, Macaca radiata, of southern India." Here is a picture, which shows the interesting thatch of long hair forming a cap or "bonnet" on the head. But our editors wanted us to know the second meaning of munga: a slang word meaning "food; a meal." It goes back 100 years, and was first called a "Mungey" in the South Pacific. From 1970: "A man has to eat. White or brown, everyone scoffs the same munga." By the way, the verb scoff has a significance which we would call "scarf" today: "To eat voraciously, devour."
Bouch, by contrast, is a historical word going back to the 15th century and meaning "an allowance of victual granted by a king or noble to his household." The phrase "to have bouche of (or in) court" means to have some kind of allotment by the king. From 1526: "For their Bouch in the morning, one chet loafe, one manchet, one gallon of ale."
Free Rice had the word mahewu, which it defined simply as a "corn drink." This web site, called Mague Number one, sells traditional "non-dairy, non-alcoholic energy giving beverages used by many of the maize consuming populations in Africa." But the list of words it uses to describe its product is "mageu, magou, mahewu, amahewu, or mawe. It boasts that if you taste its drinks you will "taste the soul of Africa." The word mague appears more frequently on Google searches than mawehu. No matter. Now you have a little insight into the drink. Maybe this will be the next "energy drink" in the US....
Certainly not the next energy smoke in the US is kat or khat (I think they were given as separate words, even though they represent the same word). It is an Arabic word that can also be written qat. This is a shrub, Catha edulis, from Arabia, where it is extensively cultivated for its leaves, which have properties similar to tea and coffee. It also refers to the narcotic drug obtained from its leaves. This article tells us that it is a slow-growing shrub that grows to between 1.5 and 20 meters tall. In 1980 the World Health Organisztion classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence, and the plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations like the DEA. A 1993 DEA rule placing cathinone as a Schedule 1 drug effectively banned it from the US, even though more than 700 pounds of khat was seized by Philadelphia police in Sept. 2007, and 400 pounds was seized in Salt Lake City in Dec. 2007. Hm. Seems still to be a drug of choice.
This is enough of a journey for today. Tomorrow will see the sun and, if life goes well, more words...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long