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I, For One, Do Not Welcome Our New Ancient Greek Overlords:

My use of the term "lion's share" to mean the great majority drew this comment:

Still, the fact remains that the Soviets and Soviet soldiers bore the lion's share of the European war's casualties,...

Eugene, you seem to love words and [idioms], so please forgive a minor bit of pedantry. Your statement is not true.

"The lion's share" means the whole thing.

Others have made similar assertions.

I'm all for pedantry, but I'm also pedantic about what "not true" and "means" mean. As I understand it, the term "means" means (where English idioms are concerned) what the words actually convey to typical English speakers (or, in writing aimed at an educated audience, what they convey to typical educated English readers). It doesn't mean "what the phrase meant in the original literary source from which it is borrowed." Really, that's not what "means" generally "means," either according to usage or according to any prescriptivist definitions of what "means" means. Even if one is a prescriptivist, there is no established prescription of the English language that phrases with literary origins have to perfectly track the meaning in the original source.

And "lion's share" apparently means, and has for centuries meant, "the largest or principal portion," to quote the Oxford English Dictionary (is that authority enough for you?). The first source the OED gives is Edmund Burke, in 1790, "Nor when they were in partnership with the farmer ... have I heard that they had taken the lion's share." (I checked the book itself, and it confirms the OED's understanding of Burke's meaning.) Other sources, cited in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.

The OED does not even give "all" as a definition. The same is true for the Merriam-Webster and the Random House. The only definition I could find that included "all" as an option was in the 1913 Webster's, but even it included "nearly all" and "the best or largest part" as alternative definitions.

Now if you find departures from the original historical referent to be annoying or esthetically displeasing, that's fine. I sometimes have that reaction myself. (Note, though, that apparently there are different versions of the fable, in some of which the lion gets everything, and in some of which the lion gets almost everything but not everything.)

But please don't pretend that the meaning supposedly given by an Ancient Greek 2500 years dead is what the phrase actually "means" in our language and in our time. Or if you want to use "means" in what strikes me as the highly nonstandard meaning of "should mean because I believe a literary allusion may only be used in the sense supposedly used by the original author," please make that clear, and defend (even assuming the propriety of prescriptivism) why that is a defensible prescription for the English language.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. I, For One, Do Not Welcome Our New Ancient Greek Overlords:
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
You're absolutely right. If we insisted that the earliest meaning of a term was the correct meaning, "myriad" would mean "10,000", "deer" would mean "animal", and "honcho" would mean "squad leader".
5.8.2009 2:04pm
Guest14:
You decimated that argument!
5.8.2009 2:06pm
Downfall:
You decimated that argument!

You bastard. The lawyer in the office next to me asked why I was laughing so hard. I have no idea how to even begin to explain.
5.8.2009 2:09pm
Marc W:
Correct. Similarly, Antisemitic means anti-Jewish, despite the linguistic roots. So saying that, say, Hamas isn't antisemitic because Arabs are semites is simply obfuscating the issue. Similarly one need not be literally afraid of homosexuals or homsexuality to be a homophobe. And, as I argued with a coworker recently when he didn't like my description of a pastry, a dessert need not be crescent-shaped to be a croissant.
5.8.2009 2:09pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
I didn't read all the comments in the earlier entry, but it occurs to me if you include the word 'share' in an idiom, there must be another party that has another share, no matter how small.
5.8.2009 2:10pm
PubliusFL:
And "meat" would still refer to food in general, so vegetarians would have no choice but to eat it!
5.8.2009 2:10pm
geokstr (mail):
And "is" would mean...hmmm...not sure any more. Can a Constutional lawyer help me out here?
5.8.2009 2:12pm
geokstr (mail):
And the new meaning of the word "racist" is "any word or concept that could possibly disagree with a president".
5.8.2009 2:14pm
Whadonna More:
IIRC, EV railed against the apparent majority misuse of "the exception that proves the rule" to describe exceptions that do no such thing. If the lion's share of readers believe exceptional exceptions "prove the rule", then that's what it "means" no more, no less. Irregardless.
5.8.2009 2:14pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
And the new meaning of the word "racist" is "any word or concept that could possibly disagree with a president".

/Smashes geokstr with a steel chair/
5.8.2009 2:15pm
scotus_ant:
snap! OhHHHHH SNAP!
5.8.2009 2:16pm
Guest14:
IIRC, EV railed against the apparent majority misuse of "the exception that proves the rule" to describe exceptions that do no such thing.
What do people mean when they say that something is "the exception that proves the rule?" From context, it seems to mean roughly, "let's just ignore that." Is this right?
5.8.2009 2:19pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Whadonna More: I'm pretty sure you don't RC; I don't recall ever blogging anything that rails against that phrase.
5.8.2009 2:26pm
Tammy Cravit (mail):

What do people mean when they say that something is "the exception that proves the rule?" From context, it seems to mean roughly, "let's just ignore that." Is this right?


According to Wikipedia, the original meaning of the idiom was that the presence of an exception proves the existence of a generalized rule in cases not described by the exception. For example, if you say, "it shall not be unlawful to kill another human being in self-defense", that statement implies that a rule exists that, generally, killing another human being is unlawful. Of course, other exceptions might also exist.

However, I think that in common usage, this aphorism is frequently misunderstood and misused in the name of rhetoric.
5.8.2009 2:28pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I must disagree with Marc W. about the similarity of the issue raised by EV with the misuse of the word "homophobe." That word is much more newly-coined than the ancient language usage of the "lion's share" phrase. It was adopted by gay rights activists to use as a slur against anybody who opposed gay marriage, legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and other policy matters which have nothing to do with being "afraid" of gay people. But the purveyors of the word wanted to label their political opponents in a particular way, and they chose that word to do it. They do indeed intend to imply that anybody opposing them is merely afraid of gay people and gay sex. That they have chosen to use the word does not require the rest of us to acquiesce to its use or accuracy.

Similarly, the pro-choice crowd need not acquiesce to the label "pro-death," applied to them by some anti-abortion activists.
5.8.2009 2:32pm
D.R.M.:
Yeah, the OED is authority enough for me. Just don't quote any modern Merriam-Webster pap.
5.8.2009 2:32pm
MikeS:
That rather reminds me of this famous philosophic dialog on the meaning of meaning and the means by which one means to mean:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master -- that's all.'

- From Chapter VI, _Through the Looking Glass_ by Lewis Carroll
5.8.2009 2:33pm
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
Not knowing a dictionary meaning, I would estimate a term's meaning from context and the plain meaning of the words.

If a dead zebra was lying there, a lion would eat his fill and then walk away from whatever is left. Hence a "lion's share" would imply taking all you could, but not necessarily all, of something offered.
5.8.2009 2:46pm
Simon P:
Wow, Eugene. You sound like you're a lot of fun at parties.
5.8.2009 2:47pm
Jay:
Actually, that Wikipedia entry (apparently relying on Fowler) indicates that the supposed common misunderstanding of "the exception proves the rule" is actually correct, dating back to the original Latin. Pedants typically insist that "prove" means "test," such that the expression should only be used for exceptions which somehow put the rule on trial by suggesting it's invalid.
5.8.2009 2:47pm
Tammy Cravit (mail):
@PatHMV: That's why, despite being in a same-gender relationship and generally supporting that homosexuals and heterosexuals be on an equal footing legally, I tend to dislike the use of the word "homophobia". It is, like other recently-coined words (such as "feminazi" or "activist judge") too often used as a weapon to demonize those of differing viewpoints.
5.8.2009 2:48pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Laguage evolves. Meaning has both spatial and temporal locality. Yawn. Sapir-Wharf. Will this post end the pedantry? Not likely.
5.8.2009 2:58pm
jer:
1) did the speaker communicate an intent?

2) can the listener contextualize the intent of the speaker based on the communication?

if so, the "meaning" is perfectly cromulent.
5.8.2009 2:58pm
geokstr (mail):

Joseph Slater:
And the new meaning of the word "racist" is "any word or concept that could possibly disagree with a president".

/Smashes geokstr with a steel chair/

Damn you, Joseph Slater. I guarantee everyone in this arena that I will end your career in a steel cage ladder match at Obamamania IV.

(Available only on Pay per View. Call now 1-800-867-5309.
Major credit cards, TARP funds and earmarks accepted.)
5.8.2009 3:00pm
cathyf:
What is amusing to note is that the etymology of etymology is a clever lie.
5.8.2009 3:06pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Simon P: You do, too.
5.8.2009 3:07pm
KeithK (mail):
I tend to dislike much of the shifts in word meaning caused by common usage. These shifts often remove the fine distinctions of meaning, leaving us with a bunch of bland synonyms. A perfect example is "decimate". Most people use the word to mean "to cause great destruction or harm", a meaning akin to devastate. It's so much cooler to have a word that specifically means killing or destroying a tenth part.
5.8.2009 3:09pm
Dan Weber (www):
We all owe Orin the lion's share of the beer.
5.8.2009 3:10pm
rosetta's stones:
Whoa, that's a carcass surely devoured proper.


"I am Volokh, hear me roar!"
5.8.2009 3:18pm
geokstr (mail):

jer:
1) did the speaker communicate an intent?

2) can the listener contextualize the intent of the speaker based on the communication?

if so, the "meaning" is perfectly cromulent.

You don't really embiggen the understanding of this issue with a statement like that.

:-)
5.8.2009 3:19pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
These days the only way I can really conjure the feeling of being back in a college dorm is reading the comments on select posts on the VC. Carry on, carry on.
5.8.2009 3:19pm
pintler:

It's so much cooler to have a word that specifically means killing or destroying a tenth part.


If you're not hung up on the exact fraction, you could try 'duodecimate' or 'octomate'.
5.8.2009 3:21pm
cognitis:
Keith:

You and I are in concord. Most people accept unquestioningly and without any discernment diction from CNN or MTV. You provided an apt example with "decimate", a practice adopted by desperate Roman generals to resuscitate their soldiers' morale. Another apt example is "destroy", which Romans used to mean "tear down"; since Media have used "destroy" as "annihilate", they have now "coined" the word "deconstruct" to be used as "destroy". Cicero used "destroy" correctly in the pursuant:
aedificium idem destruit facillime, qui construxit
or he destroyed (destructed) the same edifice that he had contructed; Cicero clearly used by design "destruo" and "construo" as the trope antithesis. Anyone who uses "deconstruct" is a illiterate pretentious windbag.
5.8.2009 3:24pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
And the new meaning of the word "racist" is "any word or concept that could possibly disagree with a president".

/Smashes geokstr with a steel chair/


Damn you, Joseph Slater. I guarantee everyone in this arena that I will end your career in a steel cage ladder match at Obamamania IV.

(Available only on Pay per View. Call now 1-800-867-5309.
Major credit cards, TARP funds and earmarks accepted.)


/With apologies to those who missed the original joke/

EVERYWHERE I GO, people ask me, "Why? Why did you smash Geokstr?" Well, I'll tell you why! Because I'm SICK of listening to what the STUPID FANS at the VC think! And Geokstr, at Obamania IV, I'm going to teach you to SMELL-L-L-L, what BARACK is cookin'!

Call your pay-per-view provider NOW, operators are on duty.
5.8.2009 3:26pm
MarkField (mail):

Damn you, Joseph Slater. I guarantee everyone in this arena that I will end your career in a steel cage ladder match at Obamamania IV.


Two men enter, one man leaves.
5.8.2009 3:34pm
Marc W:
@PatHMV: Interesting point (about the word "homophobe"). I'll have to give that some thought. As to your abortion example, similarly those in the pro-life camp need not aquiesce to terms such as anti-Choice.

@TammyCravit: I view "feminazi" and "activist judge" as being very different. I believe the former was coined by Rush Limbaugh. Correct me if that is wrong. Now, there are some things that I support him on. This is not one of them. On Godwin's Law-type grounds. At any rate, clearly the word is meant to demonize the opponents (though he is also attempting to be humorous about it -- not saying he's succeeding. Just that he's trying), by raising the specter of something that is unquestionably negative. As far as "activist judge" is concerned, I believe the idea being conveyed is that the judges are being activist. Not that activism is generally a bad thing, but that it doesn't have a place in the judicial role. One can agree or disagree with the arguments, but I don't think it's the same kind of demonization by association with something unquestionably negative.
5.8.2009 3:38pm
Some dude:
Tracy Johnson (www):
I didn't read all the comments in the earlier entry, but it occurs to me if you include the word 'share' in an idiom, there must be another party that has another share, no matter how small.


I think using 'share' does imply that. So when "lion's share" is meant to mean the whole thing, it is being deliberately ironic (or whatever).

When I hear people use "take it 'to the hilt'" I wonder if they would still say it if they thought for a moment about what that means.
5.8.2009 3:41pm
teqjuila jack (mail):

And "lion's share" apparently means, and has for centuries meant, "the largest or principal portion," to quote the Oxford English Dictionary (is that authority enough for you?).


I agree with the meaning of "lion's share" being a portion rather than the whole - with the iplication being of an overwhelmingly major share.

As to the OED as an authority, well yes - but in keeping with "The exception..." allow me to note at least one bit of silliness. Sometime in the early Twentieth Century (possibly a bit earlier) the derivation of the adjective "bloody" used in a disparaging and/or profane sense was revised as referring to the Elizabethan "Bloods" aristocratic youth gang[s]. Sheer Bowdlerisation. Even restricting it to English with no reference to its earlier roots (from blut and other spellings of the word from the Continent) it had been in use ("blood[y] weather") since before the Norman Conquest (via Danish and other previous Norse invasions).
5.8.2009 4:04pm
Randy R. (mail):
Pat:"It was adopted by gay rights activists to use as a slur against anybody who opposed gay marriage, legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and other policy matters which have nothing to do with being "afraid" of gay people. But the purveyors of the word wanted to label their political opponents in a particular way, and they chose that word to do it. That they have chosen to use the word does not require the rest of us to acquiesce to its use or accuracy."

Not all people who oppose SSM and other rights are homophobic, in the sense that they hate gays, but just about all people who are homophobic are against gay rights.

" They do indeed intend to imply that anybody opposing them is merely afraid of gay people and gay sex."

No, actually not. Homophobe is used to label any person who really dislikes gay people. Bigot is it's equivalent.

Now the interesting thing is that people who hate gays have taken a word, queer, which used just mean anything out of the ordinary, and turned it into a slur against any one who is gay. Additionally, fag or faggot means a bundle of sticks, or a cigarette. Somehow, the gay haters turned that word into a slur against anyone who even resembles a gay person.
5.8.2009 4:06pm
ChrisTS (mail):
So when "lion's share" is meant to mean the whole thing, it is being deliberately ironic (or whatever).

Exactly, and that is the original point of the saying: the lion's share is all, pr as much as he cares to take. Might makes right.

I have no strong feelings about this one, but I do object when people say 'decimate' for 'destroy.' Or, 'inherent' for anything 'intrinsic.'

And, I wince every time I hear someone say "I am nauseous." What's the polite response to that? "Oh, no, really, I don't find you sickening at all"?
5.8.2009 4:12pm
ChrisTS (mail):
By the way, I am shcoked, shocked to discover that Joseph Slater is a violent man.
5.8.2009 4:13pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
The lion's share meaning the greater portion, or most probably comes from the fact that the lion is a lazy beast. His harem of lionesses do the hunting and bring the kill back to the pride (cubs, other lionesses, the lion). The lion gets first dibs at the kill. He takes what he wants. The lionesses and cubs get what's left according to their hierarchy. The animal with the lowest status gets the last.
5.8.2009 4:27pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
ChrisTS:

I blame gay marriage.
5.8.2009 4:27pm
Josh644 (mail):
" They do indeed intend to imply that anybody opposing them is merely afraid of gay people and gay sex."

No, actually not. Homophobe is used to label any person who really dislikes gay people. Bigot is it's equivalent.

It is used that way, but it's also used to imply that the person has a fear. That's why the "-phobe" suffix is used. It's a loaded term, dishonestly coined and dishonestly used.
5.8.2009 4:39pm
Arkady:

You provided an apt example with "decimate", a practice adopted by desperate Roman generals to resuscitate their soldiers' morale.


Killing every 10th man in a cohort doesn't strike me as morale-boosting, but I'll bet it gave pause to the those left standing.
5.8.2009 4:44pm
Arkady:


Evolokhate, noun, Russian-Latin: A ceremony in which the gods of ill-usage are summoned out of the body politic and vanquished.
5.8.2009 4:52pm
Randy R. (mail):
Josh: "It's a loaded term, dishonestly coined and dishonestly used."

I know, I know. But you know, that's so typical of homosexuals -- always lying, conniving, ready to play the victim, all they while they know that everyone really loves them and wants them to have all the rights they are entitled to.
5.8.2009 5:14pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Well, I guess that if a common usage of a phrase that has a different intent from the original determines what a phrase "means," then those of us who were outraged over Kelo were wrong to complain about "public use" being taken to mean "public benefit."

Vox populi, vox dei, or as Al Gore said, "One out of many."
5.8.2009 5:33pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Joseph Slater
ChrisTS:
I blame gay marriage.


Thanks for making me laugh.
5.8.2009 5:55pm
geokstr (mail):

ChrisTS (mail):
By the way, I am shcoked, shocked to discover that Joseph Slater is a violent man.

You don't know the half of it, and that MarkField is just as evil. He keeps distracting the ref so Slater can hit me with the steel chair.
5.8.2009 5:58pm
dmv (www):
And philosophers of language everywhere weep in silent horror.
5.8.2009 6:02pm
dmv (www):
And I'm thinking this has stunning implications for constitutional interpretation, at least for some readers of this blog:

But please don't pretend that the meaning supposedly given by an Ancient Greek 2500 years dead is what the phrase actually "means" in our language and in our time. Or if you want to use "means" in what strikes me as the highly nonstandard meaning of "should mean because I believe a literary allusion may only be used in the sense supposedly used by the original author," please make that clear, and defend (even assuming the propriety of prescriptivism) why that is a defensible prescription for the English language.
5.8.2009 6:05pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Tammy Cravits, thanks. I agree with you on Feminazi, reserve the right to quibble over "activist judge." While I don't think the word "marriage" should apply, and I don't think that special legal protection should apply, I do oppose most private and public discrimination based on sexual orientation, but don't agree that the law explicitly should prohibit such. In government work, most employment is civil service, and thus termination or discrimination for any reason other than job performance is already prohibited.

Marc W., thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Randy R., many people do in fact use "homophobe" as an epithet against those who do not hate or fear homosexuals, but merely disagree on certain policy issues. Barney Frank, for example, recently used the word in that fashion.

As for "queer," my understanding is that gay people were the first to adopt that usage, or at least that it was initially used as an understood and fairly non-derogatory euphemism for homosexual in "polite society." I'm fairly certain that back in the 70s, at least, plenty of gay folks used it themselves. ("We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used To It!")

Can't say I know the linguistic history of "fag," though. I mean, the phallic connotations of "stick" and "cigarette" are probably responsible, but I don't know when the term was first used to describe gay people.
5.8.2009 6:13pm
geokstr (mail):

Marc W:
@TammyCravit: I view "feminazi" and "activist judge" as being very different. I believe the former was coined by Rush Limbaugh. Correct me if that is wrong. Now, there are some things that I support him on. This is not one of them. On Godwin's Law-type grounds. At any rate, clearly the word is meant to demonize the opponents (though he is also attempting to be humorous about it -- not saying he's succeeding. Just that he's trying), by raising the specter of something that is unquestionably negative.

Ok, since you invited me to do so, you're wrong, at least as to the definition of the term.

I haven't listened to him at all in years, but I did now and then in the mid-1990's, and actually heard him define "feminazis" as not the vast majority of those who called themselves feminists, but only the tiny minority of far-out radical whackos. You know, the man-haters who populate the "Feminist Deconstructionist Studies" departments at every college, do bogus research that "proves" that millions of wymyn are beaten half to death on Super Bowl Sunday, author articles that equate all sex with rape and marriage with slavery, and define sexual harassment to be pretty much anything that men do. Of course, the real feminazis then claimed he was demeaning all hersms.

As a side note, I also heard how the genesis of "dittoheads" came about. For years, all the callers would start off by going on and on about how happy they were to get on his show, how much they appreciated his giving voice to their views on the radio and how much they agreed with him on this or that issue. Finally, in the interests of not using so much airtime with this chit-chat at the beginning of each call, he told everybody to just say "ditto". Predictably, the media took the term and ran with it as proving that his listeners were too stupid to think for themselves.
5.8.2009 6:28pm
ChrisTS (mail):
geokstr: You don't know the half of it, and that MarkField is just as evil. He keeps distracting the ref so Slater can hit me with the steel chair.

How dare you slander the man who taught me how to use HTML code!
5.8.2009 6:29pm
anotherpsychdoc (mail):
It would be nice if 'decimate' would derive it's meaning from it's original context. Would the recent terrorist attacks against Shia targets in Iraq then appropriately be seen as attacks by Sunnis or others to 'decimate' the opposition?
5.8.2009 6:44pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think the post addresses a typical problem when dealing with historical linguistics. This is what the difference between dictionary and substrata meanings are. Typically historical meanings are submerged in substrata, and thus condition subtexts to their uses. Awareness of historical meanings can thus create a broader, more powerful use of the terms, but this is does not negate the accepted use.
5.8.2009 6:47pm
Sagar:
i was using the word 'gay' to mean 'happy' until someone told me it actually means ...
5.8.2009 7:02pm
luxurytwist:
Eugene, I might criticize the use of "lion's share" on different grounds. Not that it is an incorrect usage, but certainly suboptimal. Because isn't the point of the expression to indicate that the lion receives the most desirable, or first-choice share?

Wouldn't the lion selecting his own share take lower number of casualties in a war, not the greatest number? In that sense, I think the expression is quite ill-suited to this situation.
5.8.2009 7:13pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
dmv: Note carefully the title of the post, which suggests (together with the rest of the post) that we should in no way be governed by the stories of a 2500-year-dead Greek, even when we use phrases based on those stories. That tells us little about whether we should be governed by the Constitution created by the Framers, and whether that Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the meaning that it had when enacted (and likewise for later Amendments). If Presidents had to swear an oath to uphold Aesop's Fables, then your analogy might make some sense.

luxurytwist: Now that's a perfectly sensible criticism.
5.8.2009 7:55pm
SpasticBlue:
Josh 644:

" They do indeed intend to imply that anybody opposing them is merely afraid of gay people and gay sex."

No, actually not. Homophobe is used to label any person who really dislikes gay people. Bigot is it's equivalent.

It is used that way, but it's also used to imply that the person has a fear. That's why the "-phobe" suffix is used. It's a loaded term, dishonestly coined and dishonestly used.


The term was coined by George Weinberg, a psychologist, who discussed prejudice against gays and lesbians as a social disease.

He describes it as "...a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for — home and family. It was a religious fear and it had led to great brutality as fear always does." Thus, Weinberg describes it not just a fear of homosexuals, but a fear of pollution from homosexuality (a la Joe the Plumber) and of the destructive effect homosexuality could have on society (a la SSM will destroy our country).

So I don't think it was dishonestly coined, and I think it's arguable that it's usage today--though not describing a medical phobia per se, but in describing someone who fears that acceptance or tolerance of homosexuality will be destructive to society--is not always off the mark. It really is in a similar category to xenophobia, which is often used to describe someone who is not medically phobic of foreigners but is merely prejudiced against them.

I agree a better word or phrase could be used. Anti-gay bigot would work, since bigot doesn't carry the medical phobia baggage, and it generally means someone who is prejudiced against something or someone. Though I don't think the other side would find that acceptable either :-)
5.8.2009 8:24pm
Hieronymous:
I am reminded of the maelstrom of change that occurred in China during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Confucian scholars, who had devoted their lives to memorizing vast tomes, were suddenly dismissed (often cruelly and sometimes violently) as "Talking Dictionaries" by more forward-thinking generations. Ah, the difference between knowledge and wisdom . . .
5.8.2009 9:04pm
Randy R. (mail):
Pat:"As for "queer," my understanding is that gay people were the first to adopt that usage, or at least that it was initially used as an understood and fairly non-derogatory euphemism for homosexual in "polite society." I'm fairly certain that back in the 70s, at least, plenty of gay folks used it themselves. ("We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used To It!") "

Yes, gays used the word "queer" as an effort to take it back. In other, the hope was that if gays use it self-descriptively, it would cease to have it power to insult. But that was only because queer was first used as in insult, as any schoolboy can tell you.
5.8.2009 11:48pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Thus, Weinberg describes it not just a fear of homosexuals, but a fear of pollution from homosexuality (a la Joe the Plumber) and of the destructive effect homosexuality could have on society (a la SSM will destroy our country).

Thus, Weinberg describes it not just a fear of homosexuals, but a fear of pollution from homosexuality (a la CMR) and of the destructive effect homosexuality could have on society (a la Clayton Cramer/John Moore).

Sorry: nasty, but excusable, I think, under recent circumstances
5.9.2009 12:08am
Randy R. (mail):
In defense of John Moore, he supports civil unions, so I would not place him in the category of Clayton. Clayton is entitled to a very special place in our hearts, and the room is exclusively for him.
5.9.2009 9:57am
docweasel (mail) (www):
"Some dude:

Tracy Johnson (www):
I didn't read all the comments in the earlier entry, but it occurs to me if you include the word 'share' in an idiom, there must be another party that has another share, no matter how small.



I think using 'share' does imply that. So when "lion's share" is meant to mean the whole thing, it is being deliberately ironic (or whatever).

When I hear people use "take it 'to the hilt'" I wonder if they would still say it if they thought for a moment about what that means."


Sort of like "Dutch treat"?
5.9.2009 12:54pm
catchy:
You've got use/mention errors here and it hurts your linguistic smackdown. quotes are required when you're referring to a word but leave em out when you're using a word.

So e.g.: Really, that's not what "means" generally "means,"

leave out the last set of quotes next time!!
5.9.2009 3:52pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Randy R.
In defense of John Moore, he supports civil unions, so I would not place him in the category of Clayton. Clayton is entitled to a very special place in our hearts, and the room is exclusively for him.

My apologies to John M.
5.9.2009 4:44pm
MarkField (mail):

geokstr: You don't know the half of it, and that MarkField is just as evil. He keeps distracting the ref so Slater can hit me with the steel chair.

How dare you slander the man who taught me how to use HTML code!


Slander? I was rather flattered.
5.9.2009 5:15pm
Marc W:

geokstr:


Marc W:
@TammyCravit: I view "feminazi" and "activist judge" as being very different. I believe the former was coined by Rush Limbaugh. Correct me if that is wrong. Now, there are some things that I support him on. This is not one of them. On Godwin's Law-type grounds. At any rate, clearly the word is meant to demonize the opponents (though he is also attempting to be humorous about it -- not saying he's succeeding. Just that he's trying), by raising the specter of something that is unquestionably negative.




Ok, since you invited me to do so, you're wrong, at least as to the definition of the term.



Interesting response, since I didn't provide a definition of the word. I'm aware that Limbaugh, in using the term, was limiting it to the farthest fringe. I read his first book. What I was asking foir correction on, assuming I was wrong, was my assetion that Limbaugh coined the word.

As to the rest of what I said, I stand by it. Even limiting the word to the fringest wackos of feminism, I still believe Godwin's law-type grounds are reasonable cause to object. And yes, he was demonizing the opposition, even if that's a smaller opposition than you thought I was referring to. (That's not to say your inference was unreasonable. To the extent that I did not make my point clearly, your inference was reasonable. That's why I am clarifying).
5.9.2009 6:36pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
luxurytwist said (5.8.2009 7:13pm) --
Wouldn't the lion selecting his own share take lower number of casualties in a war, not the greatest number? In that sense, I think the expression is quite ill-suited to this situation.

To me, it always means the largest share of something desirable and never means the smallest share of something undesirable. To me, the latter meaning just does not make any sense -- why would the lion want any part of something that is undesirable? And the word "share" implies desirability.
5.9.2009 11:41pm
JoelP:

Correct. Similarly, Antisemitic means anti-Jewish, despite the linguistic roots. So saying that, say, Hamas isn't antisemitic because Arabs are semites is simply obfuscating the issue


The word Antisemite was invented by Wilhelm Marr (founder of the League of Antisemites) to describe those who wished to remove Jews or oppose their influence. It never meant 'against all Semitic peoples'.
5.11.2009 9:41am
Marc W:
@JoelP: I am aware of that. When I said linguistic roots I didn't mean "original meaning of the word." I meant something along the lines of "what would logically inferred by looking only at the root(s) of the word." Sorry if I should have been clearer.
5.11.2009 11:43am
Toby:
Randy

Now the interesting thing is that people who hate gays have taken a word, queer, which used just mean anything out of the ordinary, and turned it into a slur against any one who is gay. Additionally, fag or faggot means a bundle of sticks, or a cigarette. Somehow, the gay haters turned that word into a slur against anyone who even resembles a gay person.

even the most cursory search would reveal that in the public school system (meaning boy's private schools) lower formers acted as servants for upper formers. (Forms == what in the US are grades or classes). These duties frequently included laying fires in the upper formers chambers, as central heat was not particulalry effective. This duty mught include finding the wood, or faggots to burn.

From there it was an easy step to an upper former referring to his fag, who did chores for him. Therefore a fag or faggot was a younger male subservient to a more senior male. (Think how a high school senior might refer to a 6th grader who follows him around). The older boy might be fond of, or dismissive of, or even cruel to his faggot. Faggots were of course, less developed, higher voiced (perhaps still singing soprano in the boy's choir) and might by worshipfull, or sycophantic, or resentfull, or all three.

The leap to a sexual connotation for some aspects of faggotry is not hard, but the rest of the connotations precede attaching the term to homosexuality.

I am always fascinated at how much of multiculturalism consists of focusing on trivial distinctions between people who all grew up watching the same television and attended the same schools, but is dismissive of people far away in place or time who actually did have different life experiences and cultures from us, even if they were white males.
5.12.2009 10:57am

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