Old Literature, New Words

Nothing like a great classic to bring up some words you may know, but weren’t aware had interesting multiple definitions, and a few you may not know.  I’m sure you’ll want to add these to your vocabulary, work them into your writing, and use them to win a round of Jeopardy.

First is beetling.  When I came across it in a sentence, I thought I knew the definition of the word, but its usage didn’t make sense where it had been written.  So, I went in search of the definition that would fit the sentence.

As a verb, beetling can mean:

Make one’s way hurriedly or with short, quick steps.

To use a beetle on; drive, ram, beat, or crush with a beetle.

To project or overhang threateningly.

As a noun:

A heavy hammering or ramming instrument, usually of wood, used to drive wedges, force down paving stones, compress loose earth, etc.

Any of various wooden instruments for beating linen, mashing potatoes, etc.

Any insect of the order Coleoptera, having biting mouthparts and forewings modified to form shell-like protective elytra (two-wing casing of a beetle).

As an adjective:

Projecting, overhanging.

That’s quite a few definitions for a word that sounds rather cute when you say it.  Try it this way:

But just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth, lolling red tongues, with long sinewy limbs and shaggy hair.

Now it doesn’t sound so innocent, does it?  Clearly the adjective of beetle was the one the author had in mind.

Let’s move on to prosecuting.  I don’t know about you, but I instantly think all things legal when I hear the word.  A verb all around, drop the –ing and head straight for prosecute to discover what it means:

Institute legal proceedings against (a person or organization), institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offense), and (of a lawyer) conduct the case against the party being accused or sued in a lawsuit.

See what I mean about the legal thing.  But press on a titch to find:

Continue with (a course of action) with a view to it completion.

And the archaic:

Carry on (a trade or pursuit).

Consider the sentence:

I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey.

Our character is fearful of his surroundings and the strange goings-on, so no doubt the second definition of prosecute applies here.

The last word is a fun one and needs to be worked into conversation at every opportunity not unlike the word huzzah.  Try faugh on for size.  The exclamation is used to express disgust, and I came across it in the sentence:

I am alone in the castle with those awful women.  Faugh!  Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common.  They are devils of the Pit!

You might believe the author is writing about the Kardashians, but he’s not.  The women in question are vampires, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I wasn’t going to mention this word, but lest anyone think I’ve misspelled it, nought in the sentence above is not spelled incorrectly; it’s a variation of naught.  But you, brilliant follower, already knew that.

Where Are We Going With This?

The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question.  When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention.  My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling.  Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly.  Still, something didn’t look quite right.  Or perhaps I should say spot-on.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond.  I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences.  Usually, Word catches them.  Not so this time.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journeyThis isn’t a case of a second or third definition.  In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably.  What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.

So what’s the difference, you ask?  There isn’t one.  Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences.  British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling.  No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter.  But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.

A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:

Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame.  According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.

Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings.  Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds:  he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.

I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.

~~~~~

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/33844-british-american-word-spelling.html.

To Praise with Admiration

For far too long those crazy Latin-speaking people have influenced English to the detriment of high school students everywhere.  Until we can stop them, here’s some information on compliment versus complement.  No doubt the confusion started with the fact that they are pronounced alike and used to have similar meanings.  Fortunately, they evolved into separate words.

The older of the two words, complement with an E derived from the Latin complementum.  As a noun, complement means “a thing that completes or brings to perfection” and “a number or quantity of something required to make a group complete.”  As a verb, it means “to add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.”

Noun 1:  The lyrics provided the perfect complement to the music.

Noun 2:  As of today, we have a full complement of employees.

Verb:  The navy blazer complements the tan slacks for a classic look.

If something complements something else, it completes it or enhances it.  A handbag can complement an outfit, and a throw pillow can complement a sofa.  Remember the color wheel from grade school art class?  Complementary colors were those that were directly across from each other.  The contrast between them enhanced their relationship:  orange and blue, yellow and purple, red and green.

Remember:  if something complements something, it completes it.

Compliment with an I also derives from the Latin root completmentum, which explains some of the early overlap of meaning.  It was introduced to English by way of the Spanish cumplimiento, via the route of Italian and French.  You can pay someone a compliment, or compliment someone for a job well done.

As a noun, compliment means “a polite expression of praise or admiration.”  As a verb, it means “to politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.”

Noun:  George paid me an enormous compliment.

Verb:  Marcia complimented Darren on his academic achievements.

Hopefully, today’s The Weight of Words helps with the compliment versus complement confusion.  If not, blame those pesky Latin-speaking folks.

Just a Titch

No, this is not me!

I am on a roll with The Weight of Words this week.  Microsoft Word keeps telling me that titch isn’t really a word.  Every time I type it, the red squiggles instantly appear beneath it.  Since I used it in yesterday’s blog post, I feel obliged to pay homage to tiny, little titch.

I first heard titch as a teenager while trying to explain to the stylist about to perm my hair into a mass of curls that would make any teen of the ‘80s green with envy exactly how little hair I wanted removed prior to perming.  She assured me that any hairdresser would understand I wanted nothing more than the dead ends cut off if I simply told him or her to cut just a titch.  Lo and behold, to this day, her advice holds true.

Titch is informal British for a small person.  The slang originated in the 1930s from Little Tich, the stage name of Harry Relph, an English music-hall comedian of small stature.  Apparently, Relph earned the nickname because he resembled Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant.

Somewhere along the way, it came to mean a small amount, to tut-tut someone in disapproval, or a small child.

I’ll have a titch of coffee before I go.

Titch—you ate all the cake and didn’t save me any?

He’s just a titch of a thing who hasn’t grown much in the past year.

Fortunately, you will not need to expend several cans of Aqua Net to employ the word titch.

Using Vulgar Language

I’m not bragging when I say I read voraciously.  Ever since I discovered reading as a child, it has been one of my absolute favorite pastimes.  My personal library attests to this as does my activity on Goodreads.  Reading has added a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t think were all that unusual, but apparently they are.  One such word is unbeknownst.  I don’t use it all the time and I’m certainly not trying to sound haughty when I do.  It appears a few commentators do not agree with me.

Today’s The Weight of Words is in honor of unbeknownst, a humble adjective usually used with ‘to’ that simply means happening or existing without the knowledge of a specified person or persons.

Unbeknownst to my mother, my brother and I are planning a surprise birthday party for her seventy-fifth birthday complete with a cruise to Hawaii as a present.

According to one site I checked, the first known use of unbeknownst was in 1626, so yes, it probably does sound a little archaic.  But that doesn’t render the word useless or worthy of exclusion from the English language.  I used it recently in a blog post which prompted this post in turn!

Unbeknownst derives from beknown, an obsolete synonym of knownUnbeknownst has widespread usage, including appearances in the works of Charles Dickens, A.E. Housman, and E.B. White, yet despite its candid history, unbeknownst has caused a ruckus among usage commentators.  It has been called everything from “obsolete” to “vulgar.”

I’ll continue to use the word, especially since it still crops up in new writing, and unbeknownst to those who have no idea what it means, I shall talk over their lazy, empty heads.  Okay, now that did sound a titch haughty.

 

Triple Play on Words

Today’s The Weight of Words arose from a conversation I had with a Facebook friend regarding which flavor of MoonPie appealed to my palate.  I paused over what I had typed, and since I’m a writer (and it would look bad to post a typo) and a perfectionist, I took a moment to double check myself.

Turns out I used the correct spelling of palate which refers to the taste of something, one’s preference in taste, and the top of your mouth.

Her discerning palate detected the flavor of oak, apples, and honey in the chardonnay.

Banana MoonPies reign supreme on my palate!

Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth to feel the hard and soft palate.

Palette can be the board upon which artists place dollops of paint or a range of colors.

She mixed cerulean and cobalt blue on her palette to create a most beautiful shade for clouds.

The sunset was a palette of subtle pinks and smoky purples dashed with mandarin orange rays.

Pallet is a platform used for moving things.  It can also refer to a small bed or straw mattress.

The warehouse workers loaded the pallets with dry goods before shrink-wrapping them.

Mother made a small pallet of blankets on the porch during summer for us to sleep on.

Sidebar:  Did you know that MoonPie has a website where you can buy the delicious treats and other cool stuff!

Just Don’t Get a Ticket

As I was reading the other day, I came across the phrase speeded up.  By now you know my affinity for words and all things word related, so you’ll understand my reaction of sitting bolt upright.  Not only did the phrase not sound correct, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it used that way nor have I used it myself.  Naturally, this sent me to the laptop to check in with some of my favorite grammar websites.

As it turns out, neither sped nor speeded is more correct as they are both standard variations of the verb to speed.  In many old English reference books, the rule is that speeded works only in the past tense phrasal verb speeded up such as I had read.  What I found amusing is that I usually lean toward those archaic/dated words and phrases, but obviously not in this particular instance.

Today writers use what they think sounds best.  Speeded is often used without up whereas sped is used with up or alone.  Also, sped is more common than speeded these days which, according to some sites, makes it the safer choice.  In either case, be consistent when writing.

Operation Hailstone

While my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, and one of his best friends, Dr. Sam Feldman, joined the Army as civilian doctors to participate in the European Theater, his other best friend, Claude Willoughby, joined the Navy as a pilot to serve in the Pacific Theater.

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, Claude and his wife, Patsy, move to California after suffering a personal tragedy.  Patsy spends her days volunteering in a pediatric ward to work through her grief, and Claude obtains a pilot license to keep his mind off their loss.

You’ll find previous research I used to create Claude’s experience in the blog post Straighten Up & Fly Right.  Today’s post is in regards to Claude’s involvement as a World War II Navy pilot flying in the battle for the Caroline Islands.

Japanese troops occupied the Caroline Islands in 1914 during World War I.  After the war, Japan received a League of Nations mandate over them.  However, the League of Nations imposed restrictions on Japan between 1914 and 1933.  During this time, Japan was not able to build up the Caroline Islands for military purposes.  In 1933, Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations gave her the freedom to do just that.

Prior to the Pacific War, the atoll of Truk was built as a forward naval base.  It had five airfields, several seaplane and torpedo boat bases, and repair facilities.  During World War II, a radar station was also constructed.  It also served as an anchorage in favor over Ulithi Atoll.

The base at Truk was destroyed in February, 1944, by American airpower in Operation Hailstone, and was cut off for the remainder of the war.  The attack by the United States involved a combination of airstrikes, surface ship actions, and submarine attacks over two days.  The Japanese appeared to be completely taken by surprise.  Operation Hailstone is sometimes called the equivalent to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Several daylight and nighttime airstrikes against the base at Truk employed fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo aircraft in attacks on Japanese airfields, aircraft, shore installations, and ships in and around the Truk anchorage.  American surface ships and submarines guarded potential exit routes from the island’s anchorage with the purpose of preventing any Japanese ships from escaping.

The Caroline Islands became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States after the World War II.  The Federated States of Micronesia was formed in 1986 and gained sovereignty over the Caroline Islands.

Tell Me, What Were Their Names?

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, John and one of his best friends, Sam Feldman, go to war as civilian doctors assigned to the Army.  Their motivation is the attack on Pearl Harbor, an eye-opening event in the lives of many Americans who believed we could stay neutral in regards to the war taking place in Europe and atrocities such as those that occurred during the Rape of Nanking.

For most Americans, World War II started with Congress declaring war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, for other Americans, specifically sailors in the U.S. Navy, it started in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941, with the sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James by German Submarine U-552.

The Reuben James, a World War I Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, was part of an escort for convoys bound for Great Britain carrying war materials from the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  German U-boats (submarines) didn’t hesitate to fire on any ship in the convoy, considering them all to be fair game.  For this reason, it was only a matter of time before America became involved in a “shooting war.”

The Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk while escorting convoy HX-156.  The incident resulted in the loss of 115 of the 160 crewman, including all officers.  Although not the first U.S. Navy ship to be torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost.

When news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the U.S. Navy trying to determine the fate of loved ones and/or friends.  Unfortunately, most of the country ignored the sinking.  One person who did not was folk singer, Woody Guthrie, who wrote “Sinking of the Reuben James” immediately following the incident.

I mentioned the Reuben James in my novel in an effort to remember all who lost their lives during a dark time in history.  Also, in the spirit of one tagline I came across during my research, friends don’t allow friends repeat history.

Room Service

Photo by Richard Averill Smith (1935)

Funny how a tidbit of fact checking can lead to some interesting reading and a blog post.  I simply needed to make sure the hotel I wanted to feature in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was indeed open for business in 1935.  I had a pretty good idea that the Waldorf=Astoria had been built and would be available for John’s best friend, Claude Willoughby, and his wife, Patsy, to spend the first night of their honeymoon in the lap of luxury.  Still, I’ve been burned before on assuming facts for my novel, so I conducted a little research to make sure the hotel wasn’t closed for remodeling or some other detail that would prevent me from mentioning it in my book.

As soon as the fact was confirmed, I could have stopped.  After all, I simply needed to say where Claude and Patsy spent their first night and that it was a gift from Claude’s grandparents.  But it’s the Waldorf=Astoria, and the opulence drew me in.  I won’t waste your time with overwhelming amounts of useless history.  Rather, I’ll skip right to the interesting facts and secrets.

For instance, did you know how the “=” came to be the official symbol in the title Waldorf=Astoria?

The roots of this New York institution go back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the former site of his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street.  A private bathroom in every guest chamber and electricity throughout were two on a long list of Waldorf firsts.

Four years later, the Waldorf was joined by the 17-story Astoria Hotel, erected on an adjacent site by Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV.  The corridor connecting the two buildings became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels, represented by the quirky “=” the Waldorf=Astoria uses instead of a hyphen in its official logo.  In 1929 the original Waldorf=Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

The new hotel cost $42 million and was the largest and tallest hotel at the time, having 1,852 rooms and 42 stories.

And here’s some other interesting information regarding the Waldorf=Astoria per luxury suite specialists, “The Jackies,” better known as Jackie Collens and Jackie Carter.

The most requested suite is the Presidential suite.  When a president stays there, bulletproof glass is installed.

There’s an underground railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to the fourth floor of our basement.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the sitting president, that’s how they would bring him in because many people didn’t know he was in a wheelchair.

Old Waldorf=Astoria Hotel

The largest suite is 33A:  The Cole Porter.  It’s a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath configuration suite that’s about 4,300 square feet, which typically rents out on a monthly basis.  Prices start at $150,000.  Porter lived there for 25 years and wrote a number of famous songs [in the room]; one of his biggest was “You’re the Top” from Kiss Me Kate.  His piano is still in the suite, one more reason the room is so popular.

After Porter’s death in 1964, Frank Sinatra took over the lease, and he and his wife Barbara lived there until 1988.  Rumor states that they etched their initials into the bathroom door but the door was apparently removed during renovations, and its whereabouts are unknown.

President Herbert Hoover was here from 1932­–1964, and President Dwight Eisenhower stayed from 1967–1969.  He and his wife lived in suite 700R because his wife had a fear of heights.  To accommodate them, we had the elevator specially designed to open on the 7th floor.  General Douglas MacArthur lived with us from 1952–1964, which is when he passed away.  His wife continued to live here until her death in 2000.

The Elizabeth Taylor has the largest and most exquisite bathtub which can easily accommodate three people.  The pillows in the master bedroom of the Royal Suite were created to resemble the Duchess of Windsor’s pugs.  Douglas MacArthur’s master bathroom was designed with a constellation on the ceiling.

The hotel was the first to use red velvet ropes (outside the Palm Room restaurant) as a way to create order among the people crowding the entrance.  Access was granted only with a reservation, another first; the fact that it created a sense of stature and separation was secondary.  They also created rooftop happy hours.

The history-filled hotel is a magnet for guests with sticky fingers, and the items that disappear the most are teakettles, silverware, teapots, plates, and ashtrays.  Once, a candelabrum was taken.

Oscar Tschirky, who is known globally as Oscar of the Waldorf, is credited with creating the Waldorf salad.  It originally contained sliced apples, raisins, celery, cherries, and walnuts, and was lightly covered in a sugared mayonnaise dressing.  Today truffle oil has been added to the mix.

There are many other pieces of history and fun secrets about the Waldorf=Astoria, too many to include, so I’ll leave you with this article, Dear Waldorf, Mummy Stole Your Teapot Back in 1935. So Sorry.  The amnesty program wasn’t so much an effort to recoup stolen items as it was an attempt to generate attention on social media.  I’d say it worked.

~~~~~

“Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City.” Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/WaldorfAstoria.html. Accessed 7 May 2017.

Strauss, Alix. “The Secrets of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.” CNT. Condé Nast Traveler, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.

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