or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How to Handle a Woman

"Malva" is not a particularly common name, and yet I have known two women called that. Pretty, isn't it? I hadn't ever thought about what it might mean until I saw on a container of some European skin product yesterday the following three words in English, French, and Spanish respectively: mallow/mauve/malva. And there's that light bulb! We start with the Latin "malva" (which it still is in Spanish and also Italian), which came into French as "malve" (where it remains in German), where it eventually evolved into "mauve", for the colour of the flowers of the mallow plant, and got softened into Middle English as "malwe" and then "mallowe".

(Parenthetically I will note that a great many people--try Googling the term and see how appallingly many hits you get--think there is a candy called a "marshmellow". There isn't, of course; the correct word is "marshmallow", because the roots of mallow which grows in a marsh--"marrysh mallowe"--were used to make the confection and also in medicines. "Mallow" and "mellow" have no etymological connection at all. I'd have thought "mellow" was somehow related to Latin "mel", "honey", as in "mellifluous", but the OED says it's actually related to "meal", as in ground grain. I suppose they'd know.)


Another light bulb: A few days ago I stumbled across the Spanish word "agata", meaning agate-stone, and I thought, "Hey! Doesn't that look like 'Agatha'?" And so it is. The root of both is the Greek "agathe", "good". I am, however, unsure about what makes agate so good.


I was looking for a way to tie all this up and I swear I just now realized this, right this second: Agatha Christie's second husband's last name was Mallowan. Related to "mallow"? Don't know, but it's close enough for me.

(Postscript: it's 9:20 p.m. local time and I just stumbled on a BoingBoing post about--guess what?--marshmallows! Some kind of weird synchonicity is going on here. Or it's just an interesting coincidence. It's all good.)


Blogger Tony Pius said...

Ran across this usage error at Nerve.com this morning, and it absolutely sets me free, so I thought I'd come here (where I'd be assured of a sympathetic hearing) and complain about it:

 This is Rebecca, twenty-nine, who graduated from the University of Kansas after a history similar (if more robust) than mine.

My handy-dandy rule for dealing with parenthetical text:

1. Take out the parentheses. Read the sentence.

2. Take out the parentheses and everything inside them. Read the sentence.

Only if the sentence works both ways should it be released into the wild. Here, what is clearly wanted is "a history similar to (if more robust than) mine."

Why do people have such a hard time deploying parentheses? Are they truly that difficult to use?

Thursday, July 21, 2005 3:03:00 PM  

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