March 17, 2007


factotum (fak-to'-tum) n. An employee or assistant who serves in a wide range of capacities.
• [Ety: Medieval Latin factotum: Latin fac, imperative of facere, to do: + to Latin totum, everything]The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000.


IN USE "That the trial was so fruitful and revelatory was quite a surprise. It looked like all the big enchiladas had gotten away with the outing of C. I. A. agent Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joe Williams, who, after being sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger, climbed on a soapbox and announce that a central element of the case for war was fraudulent. In the end, all the prosecutor had gotten--and only for the Martha Stewart breach of legal etiquette of trying not to get caught for a crime that seems not to have been committed--was the vice president's factotum. Only Scooter."—Wolff, Michael, "Caught in the Spin Cycle," Vanity Fair, April 2007, 138.


Factotum moved
easily from being the idea "to do everything" in Latin into "a person who is able do everything" in English—a verbal "embodiment" of sorts.


March 15, 2007


n. A shed in which firewood is stored.
t.v. Slang to practice on a musical instrument.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000

B. woodshed i.v.
Etymology: from English slang woodshed,
n.: an arduous rehearsal especially for a radio program,
from English woodshed; from woodsheds being formerly used in administering sound parental thrashings--Webster's Second

C. i.v. to practice on a musical instrument Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. March 2007).

D. On the analogy of "parental thrashings" we can easily slip to the "press badgering" of a "senior Pentagon official, Charles D. Stimson, [who] cited a list of law firms whose lawyers provided volunteer representation to detainees in Guantanamo. He publicly urged large corporations to stop doing business with these law firms. Stimson’s comments were met with almost universal rejection, including the Defense Department, the attorney general and the White House. The press has woodshedded him and Stimson apologized last week, in a letter to the Washington Post. It was appropriate that he apologize, even if the sincerity of his words is questionable--[source: to be delivered] January 23, 2007
E. woodshedding: spontaneous barbershop singing

According to woodshedder Sam Grayson, "[w]oodshedding, in its purest form, is wildly extemporaneous and impromptu. It was originally called “ear-singing” and was the prevalent means of harmonizing among amateur groups (and even some professionals) for years up until about 1950, when written arrangements became the norm. It is the barbershop equivalent of the afterhours jam session or the pickup touch-football game.
"Woodshedders do not know exactly what’s going to happen when they start to sing. This may even include the lead! For that reason, the unpredictable results can be painful to other singers or bystanders. They view woodshedding as a noisy intrusion, rather than music. Even other woodshedders may think the same thing if they’re not participating. For that reason, woodshedding should take place in privacy."----Stan Grayson "Woodshedding Revisited" http://www. March 2007) Barbershop harmony society

F. woodshedding: the tutoring of a master musician to an individual learner or a small group of learners.--B'n'J'
"In Lou Friedman's review of the LP "Essential Glenn Miller " we learn that before his Army stint, [Glenn] Miller had woodshedded under the tutelage of some of the finest swing practitioners of that era. He played with both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who used Bing Crosby as vocalist at times), famous drummer Gene Krupa, and even cut some sides with Goodman. So Miller was no stranger to the swing and swingers of that time."--Lou Friedmam

G. In American law , we learn from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsy that "'Woodshedding' is not defined in Black's Law Dictionary. As explained to the undersigned many years ago by a very senior attorney, an attorney has been woodshedded if he or she has been disqualified from representing a party by virtue of a brief consultation by an adverse party.
H. "The origin of the term is unclear, but it probably came from the term "horse-shedding" credited to James Fenimore Cooper. He used the phrase to describe the preliminary negotiations toward a bargain made in the horse-shed before or after church services at a time when contracts made on Sunday were illegal." United States Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsky United States Bankruptcy Court Northern District of California Dated June 6, 1999.


THE WORD IN USE. Re: The Firing of Seven U.S. Federal Prosecutors, March 2007
"In rating the prosecutors, Mr. Sampson factored in whether they “exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general,” according to documents released by the Justice Department. In one e-mail message, Mr. Sampson questioned a colleague about the record of the federal prosecutor in San Diego, Carol C. Lam. Referring to the office of the deputy attorney general, Mr. Sampson wrote: “Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?” Ms. Lam was one of the seven fired prosecutors."
--From ‘Loyalty’ to Bush and Gonzales Was Factor in Prosecutors’ Firings, E-Mail Shows by DAVID JOHNSTON and ERIC LIPTON,The New York Times, 14 March 2007.



Extrapolating notions and nuance from the definitions and citations above, we can conclude that, as a generalized term, "woodshedding" is a private meeting in which an authority figure or expert instructs, encourages, or repremands one or more associates or aspirants.--B'n'J'n.
Thus, in the excerpt above about Federal Prosecutor Lam, Mr. Sampson queries a colleague about whether Lam has been woodshedded about her enforcement of imigration law--meaning, Has she been instructed, "given the drill," or coached on current expectations in the Justice Department about selection of imigration cases and their prosecution?


Woodshedded is a clever conflation of two figures of speech, each involving some sort of substitution. In one of the figures--metonymy [me-ton'-y-mee]--one word is substituted for another; in the other--anthimeria [an-thi-me'-ree-a]--one part of speech is substituted for another.

Now, don't let these arcane words be daunting. They are easy to explain, understand, and observe in action. If you'll stay with me, I think you'll agree that woodshedding is a fine invention.

The word woodshedding is built upon a metomyny, which is then, in turn, transformed by an anthimeria.

Metonymy is the substitution of a word for a related word
, typically a cause (pen) for an effect (a page of writing), or a container (the White House) for the contained (currently, the George W. Bush Administration).

Want more examples? O.K. Think of things that have been storehoused, showcased, or shoe-horned into something else. Or of people who have been housed, sanctuaried, pilloried. . . . or woodshedded.

Woodshedding is a container/contained type of metonymy, wherein the container is the woodshed and the contained are all of the prescribed human activities that typically take place therein, i.e., instructing, improving, or repremanding--done in private.

But a woodshed is a thing--represented by a noun--and instructing, improving, and repremanding are actions--represented by verbs. Now what? How do we somehow merge verb and noun?
Anthimeria, the substitution of one part of speech for another, as in
"Such stuff as madmen / Tongue, and brain not."--Shakespeare
"Such stuff as madmen / Speak, and think not."
The noun "Tongue" substitutes for the verb "Speak," and the noun "brain" substitutes for the verb "think."
By bringing into play a suffix, -ed or -ing, our noun woodshed is transformed into "woodshedded" or "woodshedding," each a verb highly effective in expressing simultaneously image and idea.

Every time you encounter either of these verbs, I hope you will promptly and easily imagine the woodshed and the group of active learners busy within.


March 12, 2007


bruit [broot] –verb (used with object)
• to voice abroad; rumor
(used chiefly in the passive [voice] and often fol. by about): to bruit about the President's latest red herrings and question-begging epithets

"The report was bruited through the village." Unabridged (v 1.1)
bruit, bruit·ed, bruit·ing, bruits
t.v. To spread news of; repeat.
• n. 1 Medicine An abnormal sound heard in auscultation [listening to the the rhythms of the human body via stethoscope]
2 Archaic a.rumor b. A din; a din, a clamor.
ETY. From Middle English, noise, from Old French, past participle of bruire, to roar, from Vulgar Latin *brgre (blend of Latin rgre and Vulgar Latin *bragere, to bray, of Celtic origin).
--American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000.



"Three phrases, new and old, are being bruited about the world of English. If you're not using at least one, you are letting the language pass you by."--William Safire, "Vogue Words." "On Language," The New York Times Magazine of March 11, 2007.
[The phrases Mr. Safire refers to are age-appropriate, to show ankle?, and go figure.]


One might imagine the story of bruit as a fable featuring a tough, blunt, square-chested cockalorum* prancing raucously through five countries named The Celtic, Vulgar Latin, Latin, Old French, and The Middle English. Along the way, he exercises regularly a crude proclivity: the quirky urge to bray or roar or shout other cockaloric noises (however they might sound) in the faces of people who provoke him--and that means just about everybody.
With time and too many sore throats and bruises about the face, he slows down and eventually settles in a place called Middle English. Nowadays he enjoys sitting on his front porch chatting-- with his newly cultivated energetic yet civil voice--among neighbors and passers by about the news and rumors of the day--punctuating his words, on occasion, with jokes and bolts of bellowing of laughter.
*cockalorum: A little cock, a bantam; hence a self-important man, esp. a small man [From 1st COCK, perh. imitative of high sounding Latin.]--Webster's 3rd.


Bruit: a verb that resounds with meaning.


March 11, 2007


fatuous adj. [FACH'oo-us]
1. Vacuously, smugly, and unconsciously foolish
2. Delusive; unreal: "fatuous hopes"
From Latin fatuus. --fatuously adv. --fatuousness n.
--Am. Heritage 4.

Fatuous (adj.), Fatuity (n); Foolish (adj.), Foolishness (n).
Both adjectives mean lacking in judgment or common sense, stupid, asinine, silly, but fatuous [FACH you us] implies also a sense of complacency about one's foolishness.
"The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence, and common sense and act with the fatuity of idiots." (Peter Pllymley's Letters [1929], p.9.)
--Dusseau, John L. Bugaboos, Chimeras, & Achilles' Heels. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.
--The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Second Ed., for the Pilymley citation.



"Even by Washingon's standards, few debates have been more fatuous or wasted more energy than the fenzied speculation over whether President Bush will or will not pardon Scooter Libby. Of course he will."
--Rich, Frank.
"Why Libby's Pardon Is a Slam Dunk." New York Times: OP-ED, page 14. Sunday, March 11, 2007.



One day as a young man in college, I knew the benefits of my education as an English Major were beginning to take hold when
I found myself thinking that all of the jerks and jackasses on campus would be better described--apropros my advanced verbal sophistication--not by the cliched, anatomical epithet that happens to sound like "back-hoe," but with a brave new, piquant epithet.

I needed an inventive locution, one that was perhaps a syllable or two longer than "backhoe," one that spoke with just enough assonance to echo John Lyly's euphuistic melodies, and one that was seated in the bottommost ground of contempt.

Then, as if on fated cue, I happened upon the adjective "fatuous" in one of my readings. Liking its sound but not knowing its meaning, I looked up the word in Websters Second. As I warmed to its definition, I knew that I now had the opening word of my burgeoning sobriquet.

But how to end it? . . . how bring it to its extremity, to its conceptual fundament, to its bottom, . . . to its ass! I had it!

Thereafter, every jerk, every jackass, every "backhoe" I've ever met has been known within the ambit of my idiolect as a "Fatuous Ass"!

I've used the phrase only once in my life, snapping it at a guy in an argument: "You fatuous ass!" He raised his fist.

I've since decided to keep the phrase to myself--until today. Perhaps the reader might someday find the sobriquet useful. If so, be ready to duck.