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CONTEXTUALLY YOURS #71 (article first published : 2006-03-8)

“Farrago” is itself an interesting word, meaning “a disordered mixture”, which is what this article is. The word is apparently Latin, and means “mixed fodder”. It is derived from “far”, grain, from which we in turn derive “farina” (meal) and “farinaceous”.

The first source for this farrago is again our morning newspaper, which continues its rugged pursuit of the wrong word whenever one is available. A recent article described a newly-appointed woman executive as “taking over the reigns” of a company; they meant “reins”, of course, but I suppose the association with a reigning queen was irresistible.

Another article, a film review, referred to a certain Mrs Henderson as the “lynchpin” of the old Windmill Theatre in London. We’re on rather shaky ground here, because Chambers Dictionary lists this as a variant of “linchpin”. But “linchpin” is well-established and preferable, deriving from the Old English word for an axle. A linchpin was the peg that kept the wheel on the axle, and metaphorically a person necessary to the execution of a plan. “Lynch” means to judge and execute somebody without the awkward formalities of a legal trial, and is apparently derived from the name of one Captain William Lynch of Virginia, who set up and ran impromptu tribunals. He died in 1820, probably unlamented. I think the distinction between the two spellings is worth preserving.

I can’t blame the papers for my next grouse - the increasing use of childish terms like “snuck” as the past tense of “sneak” (described by Chambers as “dialect or N Am colloq”) and the expression “for free”. This latter is a clumsy combination of “for nothing” and “free”, which mean the same thing, but it’s now finding its way into official literature such as a bank’s promotional material – “Get your holiday insurance for free!” – which is a little disturbing.

Crossword puzzles supply our next two items – first, two delightful anagrams. It turns out that RACING TIPSTER is an anagram of STARTING PRICE, an appropriate connection if ever there was one; and on a slightly surreal level, MANCHESTER CITY is an anagram of SYNTHETIC CREAM! Perhaps this says something about Manchester United?

The second crossword item features perhaps the most useless word in the English language. Looking up “mollie”, I was referred to “mallemaroking”. Chambers, with commendable restraint, describes this word as “naut; rare”. It means the “carousing of sailors on icebound ships”, and derives from an obsolete Dutch word meaning “a romping woman”. I sometimes lie awake in the small hours wondering how often sailors actually carouse on ice-bound ships – often enough, apparently, to bring the word into existence. There’s clearly a whole new world out there, but not for the faint-hearted.

Contextually Yours, Ulysses Online.




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