Free Rice Words and Others XIX
Bill Long 8/23/08
Telsons, Shadchans, Pongs and Pungs and Many More
You can see in the word telson the Greek word for "end" (telos). Thus, a telson is "the last segment of the abdomen or its median axis in certain crustaceans and arachnidans.." The word was coined in 1855; it is regularly in use now. Here is a picture with description of the comparative telsons of Hemimysis anomala and Mysis relicta. As the article says, the NOAA is sort of putting out an a.p.b. to try to find and prevent the spread of the H. anomala in the Great Lakes. Well, let's study the telsons, since it is impossible that I, being 2000 miles away from the Great Lakes will contribute to their effort for eradication tonight! The article says that "close examination of the telson is the key to differentiating the native Great Lakes Mysis relicta (good guy) from the Hemimysis anomala (even its name makes it sound "anomalous" or "bad"). Next time you are swimming through Lake Erie, do some comparative telson watching. The country will be grateful if you do.
A shadchan does a different kind of "watching." He (usually, but it seems that women would be better at it) is a professional "matchmaker," especially in Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish communities. Thus, he "watches" for what would be good "matches." As we are discovering in our day, people of all ages wanted to be "matched" with each other but they/we seem to have such a miserable and hard time making it happen. The proliferation of online dating sites and relationship-advisors shows that this ancient practice known to Judaism is alive and well in secular contexts. A few Hebrew words are appropriate here (you wonder why some of these are in English dictionaries and others are not..). For example, the Jewish system of matchmaking is the shidduch. This is a formalized system whereby families of prospective partners can inquire about the following: the other's character, intelligence, level of learning, financial status, family and health status, appearance and religious observance. When you get down to it, these seven or eight areas are the same ones I was taught, in my Pastoral Counseling class at a Christian seminary, to be aware of when counseling those planning to get married.
The system is meant primarily for Jewish young people from more religious (frum) families. As this article details, the word frum is derived from the German fromm or pious. A person extremely frum is known as a frummer. I was delighted to learn that some people suggest that frum is, in fact, a backronym for "fiel rishus un veinig mitzvos"--much riches and few mitzvos." Ah, I didn't know what a backronym was until tonight. It is an acronym ass-backwards or, more appropriately, bass-ackwards. It is a word which becomes an acronym after each of its letters spawns, as it were, a word which results in a descriptive phrase. "Scuba" is an acronym (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus); the above is a backronym.
Pongs and Pungs
These are not relatives of Cheech and Chong, but are quite unrelated terms. Let's begin with the less offensive of the two first: pung. A pung (Algonquian word) is a "sleigh or sledge with a boxlike body, typically drawn by a single horse and used for carrying light loads." The OED goes into more depth on etymology, but I tend to skip over every word after "Proto-Algonquian.." The Dictionary of American Regional English has dozens of quotations using pung (pp. 377-78). Here is a small picture of a pung; the Currier & Ives folk have nothing to worry about..
A pong can be a strike or beating of something (i.e., in the game of "ping-pong") but is, for my purposes, "a strong smell, unusually unpleasant; a stink." If you do an Internet Search on "pong" and "bad odor," you come up with a laundry (dirty laundry?) list of things which emit noxious odors. Someone, for example asks how to get rid of the pong of her dog. A cute reviewer of Celine Dion's perfume line calls it "Celine Di-Pong." I guess she won't be a regular user.. One can have "beer pong" or even the pong of rotten food. Enough said...
Here is where a picture actually answers your questions right away, for the OED definition leaves you a bit uncertain: "a landing-stage (taken from the Norse word for the same), wharf; esp. a waterside depot for coals brought from the collieries for shipment..." But here is a picture, and now you will never have to wonder what a staith/e is for the rest of your life. Actually, the site gives you pictures of everything you would like to know about wharf-working; the staith picture is about halfway down the long page. The word can be spelled two ways; the Collegiate bravely handles the uncertainty by not having the word; the OED has its chief entry as staith; the Unabridged's only entry is staithe.
Lazaret and Apport
The word lazaret owes its origin to the name of a Biblical character: the Lazarus of the Dives and Lazarus parable (Lk. 16:20). We recall that Lazarus was the man "covered with sores" who lived outside the door of the rich man's home. The parable is actually a beautiful example of reversal of expectations, a major theme in Luke's Gospel, but our concern here is with the word. A lazar is a poor and diseased person, usually afflicted with a loathsome disease; esp. a leper. The Italian word lying immediately behind it is lazzaro. A lazaret is a lazaretto which is a "house for the reception of the diseased poor, esp. lepers." We have the word leprosarium in English; what is the difference between a lazaret and a leprosarium? Possibly the lazaret serves others than simply lepers. In any case, it is a useful word to know, and it exposes a rich history.
We are dealing with other spiritual realities when we describe apport, for this word literally means "to carry to" and is a technical term in spiritualism to mean the production of material goods, supposedly by occult means. Apports (usually in the plural) are generally of two kinds: objects brought from long distances to join those in the seance and objects inserted in vases, bottles and other things where they normally couldn't "fit." This is suposed to be an indication of the presence of a power beyond ours that is at work. AC Doyle, a "convert" to spiritualism in 1916, actually wrote The History of Spiritualism (1926) in which he pointed out one of the more usual apports: "A number of fresh flowers and fruits, still wet, fell upon the table--a phenomenon of apports."
I think this suffices for one more day. There are still a few words left over...