July 17, 2009


From The Shorter OED, 5th Ed.


A. Intrans. verb
1 Especially of an infant: cry feebly, whimper — Late Mid. E.
2 mew verb (as from a cat)

B. Noun
A thin cry, a whimper — Mid 19 C.

From The New Century Dictionary (1940)
mewl: To cry as a young child: as, "The infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" (Shakespeare's "As You Like It," ii. 7. 144).

Recent Use:
[Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman] lost to a man who starred in the movie "Stuart Saves His Family," as the simpering self-help guru who mewled the daily affirmation "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

From "Enter Laughing: Senator Franken's long journey," — John Colapinto, The Political Scene, The New Yorker, July 20, 2009, 28.

Al Franken on SNL, as
Stewart Smalley
Fans of "Saturday Night Live" know that the hero of the film "Stuart Saves Family" is Stuart Smalley, the
"simpering self-help guru"confected by Al Franken during his days as a comedian but who is now the junior senator from Minnesota. He defeated defeating Norm Coleman by 312 votes, finally, after a number of recounts, on June 30th. of this year.

The word is frequently used the participial form, as in Shakespeare's memorable rhyme mewling and puking.

What about mewler? Is that a word?

I got to wondering if the OED referenced a derivative noun mewler, which I would understand to mean an annoying person who tends to whine and pule (the latter of which is mewl in its "literary" mode). The OED does cite mewler but marks it as obsolete and rare.

I say we rise up to revive mewler, using it to describe whiny political commentators on cable news programs: "Did you hear those crooning mewlers from the old Wall Street complaining on Fox News about Obama's reform proposals?"

As noted in other postings, a word invented for a specific occasion or situation, such as my mewler, is known among word mavins as a nonce term.


July 13, 2009

entr' acte


1. The interval between two acts of a play, or
2. A dance, piece of music, or interlude performed between two acts of a play. (Webster 3)
Synonyms: interlude, intermezzo (Italian)

In Use:
[Film director Christian Nolan's] Caped Crusader, Christian Bale (who also starred in Mr. Nolan's entr'acte between the Batman films, "The Prestige"), recalls how "people would kind of laugh" when they heard that he and Mr. Nolan were taking Batman seriously.
The sentence comes from an article by David M. Halbfinger in the Film section of the New York Times of March 9, 2008 titled "Batman's Burden: Darkness and Death."

The article describes the swift rise of film director Christian Nolan into the "top tier of mainstream filmmakers." His work includes two Batman films,"Batman Begins," which appeared in 2005 to moderate success at the box office but to critical acclaim for the director, and Mr. Nolan's follow-up to that film, "The Dark Knight," which opened on July 18, 2008.

Stated simply, between Mr.Nolan's "Batman Begins" and its sequel
"Batman's Burden: Darkness and Death," he directed a sans-Batman entr'acte titled "The Prestige."

Film Director Christian Nolan
The New York Times Company
Copyright 2007

Given the syntax Halbfinger has initiated, it is hard for this writer to imagine a word or phrase other than entr'acte to satisfy the needs of the clause containing it. One could hardly substitute with grace and economy such phrases as "non-Batman film." "film interrupting the Batman series," "film devoid of the Caped Crusader," "departure from Batmania." Perhaps the reader knows of a suitable substitute.

Besides fitting into the syntactical need of
Halbfinger's subordinate clause, entr'acte — a term of dramatistic and cinematic jargon — rises to support the global persuasive intent of the essay, namely, to invite readers to think of Nolan's films not just as popular entertainment, but most assuredly as high cinematic art as well.

Post Script:

This posting is dedicated to my friend and former colleague Ann H., who sought me out and found me on Facebook. Good to be back in touch with one who loves English and teaching! May she and all of my readers benefit from Words Worth as it resumes publication (with a word a week).