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Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2004 / 18 Teves 57645

Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Edition

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'Stranded'; 'over;'; circulars are square | Dear Editor:

The other day, I was "stranded'' as a result of car trouble. While waiting for the tow truck, I passed the time in contemplation of the origin of "stranded.'' I didn't get very far with it; can you find the answer for me?

  —  T. C., Albuquerque, N.M.

Dear T. C.:

An old but still common word for the shore that you may have heard is "strand.'' It comes from the Old Norse word "strond,'' meaning "shore.'' In the early 17th century a verb emerged from this noun with the meaning "to run, drive, or cause to drift onto a strand,'' in other words, "to run aground.''

It wasn't a long step for an extended sense to develop from this verb: "to leave in a strange or unfavorable place especially without funds or means to depart.'' This, of course, is the sense that you are familiar with.

We hope that your car troubles have passed and you are "stranded'' no more.


Dear Editor:

I am sure that I remember being taught not to use the word "over'' except to describe the actual physical location of something, but I see it used frequently to mean "more than'' (as in "the crowd was estimated at over 50,000 people'') and my dictionary enters a definition of "more than.'' Have the rules changed or am I just mistaken?

  —  T. J., Shutesbury, Mass.

Dear T. J.:

There is a long tradition among newspaper editors that use of the preposition "over'' to mean "more than'' is incorrect. The tradition may have begun with William Cullen Bryant when he was editor of the New York Evening Post in the 1870s. No particular reason for disliking this sense of "over'' was given in the early objections, but later commentators seemed to feel, as you remember being taught, that "over'' should be restricted to senses involving physical location.

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In fact, however, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, lists more than a dozen different uses of the preposition "over,'' and many of them do not relate to physical location (as in "a big lead over the other candidates'' and "concern over high taxes''). What's more, historical evidence shows that the "more than'' sense of "over'' has been in use by reputable writers for six and a half centuries. No doubt this sense still has a few critics, but it has been recorded as a standard sense in dictionaries for many years, and there is no good reason to avoid its use.


Dear Editor:

As I was bundling up a mountain of advertising circulars for the recycling bin, I got to wondering about the word "circular.'' Where did this use of it come from? Why "circular'' when all these flyers are square?

  —  T. M., McCrory, Ark.

Dear T. M.:

The word "circular'' has been used in the sense "a paper intended for wide distribution'' for over two hundred years.

The original phrase was "circular letter,'' used to describe a letter that was sent to a circle of persons joined by a common interest. In this sense, "circle'' and "circular'' describe a shape only figuratively, of course, and are related to the verb "circulate.''

The main idea behind the "circular letter,'' then, was that it would circulate among a defined group of people joined by a common interest or goal. Thus we read of court "circulars'' and club "circulars'' in the 19th century, both of which we would probably call "newsletters'' today.

Our first evidence of "circular'' applied to a business announcement intended for customers comes in 1888, although it seems then to have referred specifically to company news sent to established customers only. By the 1920s, however, "circular'' had come to describe the mass-produced and widely distributed advertising flyer that we know today.

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12/16/04: 'Derrick'; 'scales falling from their eyes'; 'anthem'
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11/30/04: 'Fly off the handle'; why the words 'left' and 'right' became associated with the political connotations of 'liberal' and 'conservative'; 'review' and 'revue'
11/17/04: 'Ball the jack'; Nazis
11/11/04: 'Catachresis'; 'kick the bucket' and dying; ballots
11/03/04: 'Divers' meaning 'different'?; 'The audience brought the house down'
10/25/04: 'Notorious' as a compliment?; 'and' as first word in sentence; 'yeoman' and 'yewman'
10/20/04: 'Shaggy-dog story'; 'tawdry'; 'Shawnee'
10/12/04: 'Busted'; differences between 'iterate' and 'reiterate'; 'the rain has quite abated'
10/04/04: 'Hat trick', 'rubber game' or 'rubber match'; source of 'spin doctor'; 'trope'
09/22/04: ' Redux'; 'elan'; 'swan-neck'
09/08/04: 'Adam's apple'; 'You sure lucked out'; 'the lion's share'
09/02/04: 'King's shilling'; 'Stockholm syndrome'; 'amid the alien corn'
08/24/04: Guacamole = avocados?; 'bona fides' needs plural verb?; 'exact same' redundant?
08/17/04: 'Nosey parker'; where the question mark came from?; why 'wash' doesn't rhyme with 'cash'
08/12/04: 'Vexillologist'; 'fifth column'; 'Homer sometimes nods'
08/05/04: 'Spitting image'; 'eclectic'; 'spendthrift'
07/28/04: 'Trousers'; 'argosy'
07/19/04: 'Sourdough wit'; 'headshrinkers'; 'seventh heaven'
07/08/04: 'The proof is in the pudding'; 'Pyrrhic victory'
07/01/04: Origin of 'vitamin'; 'binnacle list'
06/25/04: 'Abnegate' and 'abdicate'; 'feet of clay'; 'difugalty'
06/17/04: 'Whinge'; 'whole cloth'
06/10/04: 'The devil to pay'; 'crack', as in 'a crack marksman'; 'the dog that didn't bark'
06/03/04: 'Surrounded on three sides'; sleuths
05/18/04: 'Of the first water'; horses and horseradish; more
05/06/04: 'Historic' v. 'historical'; 'prestigious' = 'trickery'?; 'can of corn' as sports phrase
04/27/04: Derivation of 'bozo'; 'elt'; 'spill the beans'
04/21/04: Meaning of "budget'' in the word "fussbudget''; "bleeding hearts''; "skycap''
04/01/04: "Thin red line''; "doak"; "level playing field"
03/22/04: "King Canute"; "vodka"; "Cheese it. The cops!''
03/16/04: "Carrot and stick''; "hue and cry''; Where did the term "flea market'' originate?
03/09/04: Going "haywire"; "close, but no cigar"; "mahatma"
03/01/04: "Roundheel'' and "well-heeled''; "milquetoast"; "sick as a dog''
02/26/04: "Charley horse"; "`Foolproof''; "cracker-barrel''
02/17/04: "Dunce''; titles "Mr.'' and "Mrs.''; "under the weather''
02/10/04: "Turnpike''; "dead reckoning''
02/02/04: "Mutt"; "lobby" in its political sense; "procrustean bed"
01/27/04: "Decimate"; "duende"; a dessert "junket"?
01/14/04: Is "MacGuffin" related to all the "Mac" and "Mc" words we've been hearing about recently?; "afghans" and "Afghans"; "since Hector was a pup"
01/09/04: Confused about the word "hearsay"; "Burgle"; "waiting in line" or "waiting on line"?
12/31/03: The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
12/15/03: "Ostracize" and "oyster''?; Where does the "mentor'' come from?; "jeopard''
12/02/03: "Karats'' and "carats'' — meaning of and difference between; why apostrophe in "'cello''?; "hell-bent for leather''
11/18/03: "Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame''
11/13/03: 'Take it on the lam'; 'decorum'; 'you look like the wreck of the Hesperus'
11/03/03: Origin of "hypnosis"/"hypnotism"; "all right" or "alright"; emote
10/28/03: "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi''; "Peck's Bad Boy''
10/20/03: Who was the person the artist who first used "silhouette" as an art form?; why are they called migraine headaches?; origin of "keep one's shirt on"
10/13/03: "Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
09/29/03: Where does the word "karaoke" comes from?; people or persons?; "synecdoche"
09/23/03: Using "eke'' correctly; fedora; why do we call an especially flattering biography a "hagiography''?
09/10/03: Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
08/25/03: "Cheesy''; "hold a candle''
08/11/03: "Halcyon days''; Why isn't "sacrilegious'' spelled "sacreligious''?; "red light'' and "green light'' as expression — which came first, the inaction or the signals?
08/04/03: "Votive'' candles; "cosmeticizing"; "potluck''
07/28/03: Why ‘debt’ has a ‘b’ in it; "south moon under''; why "Rx'' is used for prescriptions
07/21/03: "Romance" & "Rome"?; punching & clocks; "conversate"
07/14/03: "Lukewarm''; Where did we get the word "wig'' for a fake head of hair?
07/09/03: Why doesn't "Arkansas'' rhyme with "Kansas''? ; "Catawampus"; "Jimmie Higgins work"
06/30/03: "Foozle"; author who wrote an entire novel without using a certain letter of the alphabet?; "kith and kin"
06/23/03: "On the fritz"; "knuckle down''
06/17/03: How did "lazy Susan'' come to be used for the rotating tray?; woolgathering'' as synonym for "idle daydreaming''; "in harm's way''
06/09/03: "Clotheshorse"; a god named "Ammonia"?
05/29/03: With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts

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