Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Katie Nuttall Language Usage #21-25

Language History Lessons: My last entries for the Language Journal. Number 22 was very surprising to me! I have really enjoyed this assignment. Enjoy!

21. On July 14th while I was sitting in Linguistics class David simply said, “We pay attention.” I must have been paying attention a little too much because that phrase stuck with me. I started thinking about the word “pay,” and all the different uses for it. We pay the clerk. He has to pay. Pay it forward. (Notice I had to use three examples!) There are also idioms associated with the word pay: pay as you go, pay back, paying its way, pay the piper, pay through the nose. But it made me think about the origin of the word pay.

Word History: Given the unpeaceful feelings one often has in paying bills or income taxes, it is difficult to believe that the word pay ultimately derives from the Latin word pāx, "peace." However, it is not the peace of the one who pays that is involved in this development of meaning. From pāx, meaning "peace" and also "a settlement of hostilities," was derived the word pācāre, "to impose a settlement on peoples or territories." In Late Latin pācāre was extended in sense to mean "to appease." The Old French word paiier that developed from Latin pācāre came to have the specific application "to pacify or satisfy a creditor," a sense that came into Middle English along with the word paien (first recorded around the beginning of the 13th century), the ancestor of our word pay. (From Dictionary.com)

Given the word history it is very interesting indeed how we use this word.

22. The Linguistics’ class went out to dinner on Thursday July 23rd. There were many conversations going on. But as I was talking with Kristy and her friend Rachel, the phrases “Sell me up the river” and “Selling down the river” came up in our conversation. It is an interesting phrase. First, it would be very difficult to go up the river and go against the current. But, what is the difference between the two? To me they were very similar, so I looked it up. This is for your “gee-whiz collection” so you’ll always know. It is also a very good lesson in history!

Sell someone down the river: to betray someone; to reveal damaging information about someone; to do something which harms or disappoints someone who trusted you, in order to get an advantage for yourself; to do something that hurts someone who trusted you

Send someone up the river: To send someone to prison. (Underworld. As done by a judge or indirectly by the police.)

Where they came from: The Origins

SELL DOWN THE RIVER: This expression arose in the U.S. in the mid-19th century and referred literally to the sale of troublesome/uncooperative or escaped slaves, as punishment, to the owner of a plantation on the lower Mississippi River - thus 'down the river'- where conditions were harsher than in the Northern slave states. The term first appeared in print in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851 and came to be used figuratively by the late 19th century.

SELL/SEND UP THE RIVER: which means send to prison, originally referred to incarceration at Sing Sing (also referred to as the ‘Big House’)—the infamous prison (PC is now ‘correctional facility’) located up the Hudson River from New York City and which, by the late 1800s, was notorious as one of the most brutal penitentiaries in the country.

23. The waitress also came to take our orders. But, she first shared the special. It was some sort of beef with vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. I then commented to Debbie, “Garlic. Mashed. Potatoes. What could be better than that?” The second I said it I realized what I had said: a combination of three. No wonder it sounded so good. Here was the triple threat being used against me. I wanted those mashed potatoes. However, I don’t think they would have sounded so appetizing though if she said, “The steak comes with a side of potatoes that are mashed with some garlic.” Word order has an impact to the ear. I wonder if restaurants have ever looked into that as a sales tactic?

24. On Thursday night, July 23rd, we were coming back from Café Lola. Steve, Debbie, Ilene, and I were sitting at a red light on Roan Street when someone said, “Let’s do a Chinese Frill Drill.” This brought back memories of myself as a teenager running around the car and changing seats. Steve mentioned how when he did a “Chinese Fire Drill” he would run and left the windshield wipers on the car in front of them. Although I think this phrase would be considered politically incorrect to use, it made me stop and think.
So…where did this phrase start? I did a little digging. I went farther then trusting Wikipedia. The best explanation comes from Random House. Hope it is enlightening for all of you who have participated in this before:

There are two main senses of Chinese fire drill. One is the broad one, 'a state or example of utter confusion'. The other, rather specific, is a high-school or college prank where a group of students jump out of a car that's stopped at a red light, run around the car, and pile back in before the light turns green. Both of these stem from the idea of a fire drill being confused and panicked.

The first sense was first used in the military in World War II. Chinese here is not necessarily a racial sentiment. Several expressions in common use in aviation since World War I, such as Chinese landing 'a clumsy landing' and Chinese ace 'an inept pilot', derive from the English phrase one wing low, thought to resemble the Chinese language or a Chinese name. The use of Chinese to mean 'clumsy; inferior' may stem from these phrases, although there were earlier isolated examples which were based on ideas of the inferiority of the Chinese.

The car-prank sense is first attested in print in the early 1970s, but a number of people have reported its use in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, so it is likely that the phrase was current at the time, but simply was not written down that early.

25. On Monday July 27th, I was having a discussion with Debbie, when I used the phrase, “I was in la-la land.” La-la land? Hmmm…made me think. I also use this often when referring to students that are not paying attention. Then I thought about all the other references to this sentiment: never-never land, out to lunch, in outer space, spacey, going to your happy place, head in the clouds, and the list goes on. Many of them have to do with location. It is interesting that not being focused is associated with being in another place—since technically we kind of are. I like the references to lands; it makes it sound a little gentler to be escaping reality by going to another world.

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