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Alaskan Range: Archaic Expressions And Bizarre Spellings

...Thanks to rampant abbreviating, today our language is rife with archaic expressions and bizarre spellings, viz. the word "twelfth." I always have to stop and work my way through the spelling of "twelfth," invariably stumbling over that "f" someone stuck in there...

Greg Hill undertakes another deliciously discursive disection of the English language.

That dusty old philosopher Thomas Hobbes once claimed "Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others."

Old Tom didn't get around much, for how does his theory account for the laughter of people on carnival rides, or the way babies laugh at their mother's approach? Cf, please, American musician-philosopher Quincy Jones, who said "I've always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, 'Ain't that the truth.'" "Cf" is the literary abbreviation for the Latin "confer," which meant "compare" or "consult." Its usual lair is the footnote, where "cf" is followed by an author and title with varying views to those of the author in hand. Think of "cf" as an editorial "Oh yeah?" assertion that's a useful informational tool, and not used just to show off.

Showing off is when authors start tossing in a "viz." or two. According to the Online Etymology Library www.etymonline.com, viz. is short for "videlicet," a Latin term meaning "namely, to wit." Videlicet is relatively recent Latin, being coined in 1464 by someone who contracted the phrase "videre licet," or "it is permissible to see," into "vi-et", with the letter "z" being the Latin shorthand symbol for "et" word endings. Early in Roman history the letter "r" and "z" were pronounced similarly. "Z" was removed from their alphabet around 300 BCE by the Censor Appius Claudius Caecus, the fellow who built the first Roman aqueduct and the Appian Way. "Z" was reintroduced into Latin later, but it remained obscure enough to be used as a printer's symbol 15 centuries later when Renaissance scholars began using a Zorro-like flourishes in their handwriting to indicate the "-et" word ending.

Thanks to rampant abbreviating, today our language is rife with archaic expressions and bizarre spellings, viz. the word "twelfth." I always have to stop and work my way through the spelling of "twelfth," invariably stumbling over that "f" someone stuck in there. The Old English are to blame since they abbreviated the Germanic word for the number twelve, "twelefta," and into "twelfta."

Like their modern counterparts, those Old Englishmen celebrated "twelftan niht," or "Twelfth Night." The twelfth night after Christmas is the eve of Epiphany, and it's a traditional time of festivity and merry-making. It's also the apex of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol. Probably of French origin, the poem was first published in England in 1780, but its oral tradition has been traced back to 1500s.

The Pennsylvania-based PNC Financial Services tracks the annual inflation of the cost of buying all the gifts included in "The Twelve Days" carol. Their estimates are based on Mid-Atlantic prices, rather than Alaskan, so their pear tree comes from a Philadelphia nursery, the price of turtle doves and French hens is supplied by the Cincinnati Zoo, and the National Aviary in Pittsburgh estimates the cost of swans and geese. Due to their unpredictable breeding cycle, swans are the costliest item on the list, after the dancers, who come from a Philadelphia dance company and the city ballet.

Shipping is the killer. PNC says that buying all the Twelve Days items at one time cost only $21,465.56 in 2009, a $385.46 increase over 2008, mostly due to rising gold prices and pay raises for milkmaids and dancing ladies. PNC also makes a "True Love" estimate for buying a partridge-in-a-pear tree twelve separate times, buying two calling birds eleven separate times, etc. (another Renaissance timesaver). True Loving costs $87,402.81. And it doesn't factor how much these gifts ultimately will cost the poor recipient.

Consumer Reports, an excellent place to find out about hidden costs, is one of the hidden treasures at your public library. Read the latest issue of Consumer Reports online by going to our library's website http://fnsblibrary.org, click on "Articles and Databases," then click MasterFile Premier, a database with jillions of up-to-date magazine articles. Type in your subject and "Consumer Report" in the "Publication" space, and there you are. It's one reason our community receives more financial benefit from its library than it invests into it. Hey, when it comes to public libraries, ours has no cf.


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