Saturday, June 28, 2008

Word of the Week: onomatopoeia

This week I was at a jazz festival. Improvisational riffs back and forth between musicians have always fascinated me, as has the word “riff” itself. I know, strictly speaking, riff’s not onomatopoeic, but it is fun to say, which I think is the main reason I like the word. Anyway, given that it’s been on my mind, I thought riff would be a good choice for Word of the Week.

But, when I started writing this, I did a quick check to make sure riff doesn’t fit the definition of onomatopoeia. Turns out I was right, defines onomatopoeia as: 1 the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss), and 2 the use of words whose sound suggests the sense.

After looking it up, I realized that onomatopoeia should be the Word of the Week. After all, it’s even more fun to say than riff, which means it’s an even better reminder that words can live in our ears and mouths, as well as on the page.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Word of the Week: funk

I was at an Ontario wine fair the other day and I wanted to try a sparkling wine called “Funk Blanc de Noir 2000” from the Thirteenth Street Winery. I went up to the winery’s table and, putting my glass up, asked to try the “Funk”. The guy from the winery reached for a bottle of chardonnay. Pulling my glass back, I said, “No, I want the bubbly -- you know, the Funk.”

The guy apologized and as he poured me some of the sparkling he explained that the chardonnay is also a Funk wine. I didn’t know what he was talking about, as the label for the chardonnay simply said, “Reserve Chardonnay 2005”, while “Funk” was clearly printed in large letters on the sparkling wine’s label. He then explained that both wines are from grapes grown on property that was once owned by the Funk family, hence the reference to Funk.

The guy from the winery said that it wasn’t until he started attending such wine events that he realized consumers thought they probably used the word as a marketing ploy. That was exactly what I thought. (For better or worse, marketing is becoming ubiquitous in the world of wines just as it is in other things, hence names for wines like Fat Bastard, Ted the Mule, The Lackey, etc.)

Apparently, as a result of others’ confusion, the guy from the winery has come to realize how many different meanings there are to the word. (Indeed, lists seven meanings.) I could think of many different definitions myself, but I had never even considered Funk as a surname.

I thought funk deserves to be word of the week not because of its many definitions and possible marketing uses, but because the way the word came to my attention this week reminded me that sometimes turning to the dictionary to find out what a word “means” isn’t the answer!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Word of the Week: sorry

"Sorry" was front and centre in the lives of all Canadians this week as a result of the long-awaited official apology issued by the Prime Minister to our country's natives for the suffering caused by the residential school program.

Stephen Marche had some interesting comments on the nature of the word in his article, "Canada's national word". While I don't agree with all that Marche wrote, like the apology itself, his comments are worth reflecting on...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Word of the Week: geothermal

Geothermal is an adjective that Merriam-Webster on-line defines as: “of, or relating, to the heat of the earth’s interior”. Because it's an adjective, it can be used to modify, for example, “energy”, “power”, or even “development”, all of which are nouns.

In a recent newspaper article about Iceland, the writer explained that Iceland is considered one of the “greenest” countries because, for example, oil and coal make up only 30 percent of its energy mix.

A few paragraphs later, the writer went on to say that, “It is fitting, then, that the nation has worked hard to explore clean-energy alternatives. Iceland has long used geothermal steam to heat water and spin turbines for electricity.” Pretty interesting, I thought, so I read on. The very next sentence was this: “The only petroleum Iceland uses is in its cars, and it is exploring ways to replace that vestige of oil with sustainable hydrogen power converted from geothermal”.

No, what you just read isn’t a typo on my part -- the sentence ends with the adjective geothermal, but the noun that it is meant to modify it is, well, not very clear. Thinking that was perhaps a typo or a small slip-up, I read on, only to find this a few paragraphs later: “But though Iceland is hailed as a world leader in geothermal development, it produces less geothermal than many other nations -- including ecological bad boy the US., which pumps out approximately 3,000 megawatts of geothermal, and the Philippines.”

The way geothermal is used in this article, it seems the writer and/or the editor could use a bit of a refresher on adjectives.