December 27, 2009


A rugby scrum image
scrum noun


1. Rugby an ordered formation of players the forwards of each team push against each other with heads down and the ball thrown in.
2. British informal: a disorderly crowd —The New Oxford American Dictionary

Scrum is an abbreviation of scrummage, a variant of scrimmage, "a confused struggle or fight." Scrimmage was at one time also a variant of skirmish, "an episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting." Skirmish traces back to Old French eskirmir, a derivative of a Germanic verb meaning "defend." —Online Etymology Dictionary

Though a scrum these days in rugby is an "orderly formation" of players pushing against each other just before the ball is put into play, the word's earlier forms signified confrontations that were confused, irregular, or unpremeditated — put bluntly: spontaneous fights.

This posting centers on scrum, not as a rugby formation, but as "a disorderly crowd" or as the OED phrases it, "a confused noisy throng (at a social function or the like)."

Scrum in this latter sense appears with increased frequency of late in American publications, notably in the New York Times, wherein it appeared no fewer than 15 times during the past 30 days. Each of the example sentences employ scrum to convey the notion of "disorderly crowd" or "confused noisy throng," but also an added piece of localized information, which I will call a contextual entailment, a necessary or inevitable part or consequence of the situation described. After each example sentence, I've added what I think is the operative contextual entailment. If the reader thinks that I've misidentified any of the entailments or that the words I've chosen could be improved, I'd be delighted to read any comments you care to share using the Comments widget at the bottom of the posting.


BlogTalk: Palin Enters, and Quickly Tries to Exit, the Scrum on Obama's Birthplace.—NYTimes, The Caucus Politics, Reader's Comments, Dec. 25, 2009.

Contextual entailment: political disagreement

But the brief scrum set off [the attack upon Pope Benedict XVI] in the Vatican assault involving security officers. —NYTimes, The Lede, The New York Times Blog. Dec.25, 2009.

Contextual entailment: physical attack

There may be reveling elsewhere in the city, and an oversize scrum clogging Times Square just a few blocks away, but Ms. [Mariah] Carey's performance is certain to be this night's true spectacle. —NYTimes, Music, by Ben Ratliff, et al., Dec. 24, 2009

Contextual entailment: raucous dancing

The closest my siblings and I ever come to religion is at Christmastime: we always liked to go to church to sing carols. We overcompensated for out lack of piousness with a deafening coral volume; we can make "Angels we Have Heard on High" sound like a scrum of Panzers. —Henry Alford. NYTimes, Fashion & Style, Dec. 18, 2009.

Contextual entailment: sound of World War II German tanks

Rhetorical intent: hyperbole in the service of humor

With "The Lady in the Tower," inserts herself into the scrum of historians eager to interpret Anne Boelyn's story. —Janet Maslin. NYTimes, Books. Dec. 17, 2009.

Contextual entailment: scholarly argumentation

As the brand that is Tiger Woods goes pop and accusers scrum over notoriety, [here are] a few thoughts on the hidden costs of fame. —New York Times, Week in Review, Times Topics, Dec. 13, 2009.

Contextual entailments: speculating and probably some jabbering

The pioneer in the all-news TV format loses viewers' interest in the political scrum between Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left. —Bill Carter. NYTimes, Times Topics, Oct. 27, 2009.

Contextual entailment: conflicting political biases
Here is an on-the-ground description of a scrum of reporters who were following Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson in the early days of the 2007 primaries.

At this point in the political season news bureaus which might have been saving their travel budgets have had to start sending print reporters, television reporters, still photographers, videographers, producers and sound people on the road to cover the campaign.When they gather around a candidate it is called from rugby or Australian Rules Football or something.Here’s an example: The candidate [Fred Thompson] is barely visible in the middle.

The scrum is an interesting being because the still and video guys need to have a direct view of the candidate. The sound guys have their microphones on long booms and just need to keep it somewhere near the top of the candidate’s head. The TV reporters are always mindful of “the shot” and will try to keep themselves between their camera and the candidate. Print reporters don’t care as long as they can hear – or, at least, get their voice recorders somewhere in the vicinity of the candidate’s mouth.
Source:, where Rich Galen gives a Republican "take on politics, culture and general modern annoyances." The excerpt comes from a posting titled "At the Fair," published August 19, 2007.
Scrumskrum! —sounds about right for a word that means disorderly, noisy, crowd. The keen-eared Roy Blount Jr. in Alphabet Juice describes the vowel in scrum as the "sound that comes from deepest down — the grunt vowel, the dull thud vowel, the vowel we may utter when punched in the stomach — . . . the flat u-sound: uh." Attend to the scr sound for a while, and some rather rousing words come to mind: scrape, scour, score, scream, scourge, scrunch. Note, too, the rum words scum, thrum, and drum, and one can concluded that the sounds of scrum resonate robustly with the word's rambunctious intention.


December 16, 2009


By Brdwaybebe

sanguine adj.

Oxford English Dictionary:
Of persons and expectations, etc.: Hopeful or confident with reference to some particular issue. Earliest citation: 1673.
New Oxford American Dictionary:
1. Cheerfully optimistic
2. (in medieval medicine) having a predominance of blood among the bodily humours, supposedly marked by a ruddy complexion and an optimistic disposition.
ORIGIN: Old French, ‘blood red’, from Latin sanguis ‘blood’.

Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus:
Synonyms for sanguine:
1. he is sanguine about the advance of technology. Optimistic, bullish, hopeful, buoyant, positive, confident, cheerful, cheery; informal upbeat. ANTONYM: gloomy.
2. archaic: a sanguine complexion. ANTONYM: pale.
ANTONYMS: pessimistic, morose, gloomy, somber, pale, pallid, wan.
Headline, New York Times, November 24, 2009:

Fed Sanguine About U.S. Recovery, Worried on Jobs

Federal Reserve officials are increasingly confident in a durable recovery for the US economy, even though they do Business...

Distinguish carefully between sanguine and sanguinary.

Although sanguine and sanguinary sprang from the same Latin root —sanguis, "blood" — the words then moved on, each following its own compass. Sanguine, towards good health and ruddy complexions. Sanguinary, towards bloodshed and butchery.

Take care not to interchange the words in your discourse, or, as Brian A. Garner puts it in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage, 1998), do not "confound" the terms:
[S]anguine, in the sense "optimistic, confident," is sometimes confounded with sanguinary (= [1] involving bloodshed; or [2] bloodthirsty—e.g): "Unfortunately, not all the members of the administration's environmental team appear to share thesanguinary [read sanguine] views of Hunt and Howes on the future of clean water." "Water Quality Advancing to the Rear." Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) 3 Jan. 1996.


Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von: German philosopher, polymath, and mathematician. (1646 -1716)

Gottfried Leibniz

From "Best of All Possible Worlds," Wikipedia:

The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" was coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work Essays on Theodicy, concerning the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. It is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.

Critics of Leibniz's postulate argue that the world contains an amount of suffering too great to justify optimism. While Leibniz argued that suffering is good because it incites human will, critics argue that the degree of suffering is too severe to justify belief that God has created the "best of all possible worlds."

Voltaire satirized optimism in his novel Candide [see below], in which the eternally optimistic character Dr. Pangloss remains optimistic, even when his situation is excessively dire, to a point where his optimism appears irrational.

Dr. Pangloss: Voltaire's caricature of Leibniz in the satiric novel Candide (1759).

Jean Francois Marie Aroute a.k.a. Voltaire
Dr. Pangloss is identified in Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature as "the pedandic and unfailingly optimistic tutor of Candide, the protagonist of Voltaire's novel Candide, a satire on [Leibniz's] philosophical optimism." The Encyclopediaaptly adds that "[t]he name Pangloss — from the Greek elements pan-, "all," andglossa, "tongue" — suggests glibness and garrulousness."

Pangloss's glibness is evident already in the book's opening chapter, as Voltaire's ironic narrator tells us that Pangloss
proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause and that in this best of all possible worlds, My Lord the Baron's castle was the best of castles and his wife the best of all Baronesses. "Tis demonstrated," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise; for since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches. . . . [A]nd as pigs were meant to be eaten, we eat pork all the year round; consequently, those who have asserted that all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that all is for the best." (1)

Illustration by Rockwell Kent.
The novel concludes with Candide — now wisely divested of his naivete after a relentless series of physical, mental, and emotional traumas — realistically asserts "we must cultivate our gardens," as he listens respectfully — but without spiritual assent — to Pangloss's optimistic disquisition on the pain, death, and upheaval that have rent lives of the central characters.
[A]nd Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: "All events are linked up to this best of all possible worlds; for if you hand not been expelled from the noble castle, by hard kicks in your back side for love of Mademoiselle Cunegonde, if you had not been clapped into the Inquisition, if you had not wandered about America on foot, if you had not stuck your sword in the Baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the land of Eldorado, you would not be eating citrons and pistachios here." • "'Tis well said," replied Candide, "but we must cultivate our gardens." (103)
Candide, Jean Francois Marie Aroute de Voltaire, Barron's Educational Series, New York: Random House, 1963.

Wilkins McCawber: The kindhearted, incurable optimist in Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield.

Mr. Micawber & David Copperfield
Drawing by Kate Beaton

No matter how daunting an impending difficulty may be, Mr. Micawber keeps reassuring David that "something will turn up."


...........Phlegmatic ..... Choleric................

.........Sanguine ..... Melancholic.........

The Humors, a time-honored method of classifying human personalities, identified four types of personalities (then called the humors or the temperaments): sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic.

Although the imaginatively speculative and intellectually inconsistent theory that founded the four temperaments has been long since surpassed by modern theories that focus, instead, on the traits of introversion and extroversion and on Type One and Type Two Personalities, the original temperaments of choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic are still in our dictionaries, still part of our public discourse. The following paragraphs from the essay titled "From Character Analysis: The Four Temperaments" by the History Hoydens of Hoyden Books provides lively explanations of these ever-useful descriptors of human traits, quirks, and foibles.
Around the year 450 B.C. Hippocrates determined that four temperaments, derived from humours dominant in the human body, were responsible for a person’s behavior and the way they looked at the world; and therefore, there were four basic types of people:
The Choleric (liver)
The Sanguine (blood)
The Phlegmatic (phlegm)
The Melancholy (bile [kidneys])

A stable person would have all four temperaments or humours in balance.

Someone who was sanguine was the sparkling blithe spirit of the bunch, thrived in company, and enjoyed the spotlight. Their home lives tended to be happy and they were faithful in their relationships. Yet one of sanguine temperament also had the tendency to be shallow, enjoy peripheral relationships, go along with majority decisions regardless of his own convictions, and therefore his ideas could be changeable. These days we might call him a flip-flopper. In fact, many politicians these days might indeed be ruled by this humour.

A Phlegmatic was a stable sort who lacked the vibrancy of the sanguine personality to the point of appearing passionless, although he did form warm relationships (as opposed to antagonistic ones) with others. He was contemplative and tended to take his time to consider a situation, which lent him the appearance of seeming detached because he did not allow his own judgment or preferences to cloud a situation. Like the sanguine temperament, a Phlegmatic will go with the flow, but for the sake of tradition, rather than expedience. This was the temperament capable of detailed analysis: the writer, forensics specialist, or judge.

The Choleric was a zealous type, quick to anger, and impatient and disgusted with those who don’t see things his way or who he sees as less intelligent than himself. With him it’s all or nothing, his way or the highway. They are leaders and achievers. But the Choleric can also be tender toward someone who has been maligned or injured—as long as that person is on the Choleric’s side. The Choleric is as intimidating a personality as he is an inspiring one, a leader who still manages to divide; the type who champions a cause he thinks will benefit all, yet who often ends up alone because of it. We’re back to politicians again; I’m sure you can think of a few snarling pit-bull types. Being a New Yorker, a native son who used to have a really bad comb-over comes to mind. So does a certain lame duck and his duck-hunting Vice.

The Melancholic is both an idealist and a doubter with little use for rules. Nothing he sees on earth meets with his approval; consequently he seems permanently disappointed, and in fact, a Melancholic’s downfall is despair and depression. His awareness of what the real world is like pains him because he knows it will never live up to his ideals for what it should be. He is slow to form relationships, but when he does, they are lasting ones (as long as they don’t end in disappointment). Injustice or personal harm to himself or one he loves can set him off like a cannon. Nearly every character John Wayne played, and hard-boiled noir detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade fit this description.

Character Analysis: The Four Temperaments,, 30 Jan. 2008.


For your consideration, here are three words that also stem from the root sanguis, "blood." The Common Base Form (CBF) for each of these words is sang:
Consanguineous refers to kinship, to being related by blood and ancestry.

A person exhibiting sang-froid (in French, literally, "cold blood") is composed and imperturbable. (The robbers carried off he heist with complete and incrediblesangfroid.) Antonyms — disconfiture, uneasiness, agitation, nervousness.

Sangria, a cold drink make of red wine, fruit juice, sugar, soda water, and fruit slices, is so called because of its bloodlike color. [san-gree'-uh]

—Bob and Maxine Moore. From the Roots: Growing a Vocabulary. New York: New Chapter Press, 1993, 149.
May your lives during the New Year of 2010 be enriched with sanguine expectations and correspondingly rewarding fulfillments. —Bloggin' John.


1737 words