Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Matador: Honor by Sacrifice

I recently read The Lady Matador’s Hotel, a very disjointed story revolving around a specific time and place but with no real plot. However, I should have expected this because the author Christina Garcia writes in a very non-linear style.


The word “matador” refers to a man who fights bulls. The female version of this word is actually “matadora.” Bullfighting a male-dominated sport and the few women who have participated often face resistance and hostility from male fans. In The Lady Matador’s Hotel, the matadora is a formidable foe in the arena, and has a commanding presence in her day-to-day life as well. Many of the men in the novel view her as both intimidating and a challenge or desired conquest.


 Originating in the 1670s, “matador” is derived from the Spanish “matador,” meaning “killer” from “matar” meaning “to kill or wound” and the Arabic “mata,” meaning “he died.”


In Spain, a matador is actually called a “toreador.” This is derived from “torear,” meaning “to fight bulls” and toro “bull,” from the Latin “Taurus.”


One of the implied definitions of matador involves the idea of honoring the bull, or sacrificing it through death. The Latin word “mactare” means "to kill or honor by sacrifice", from “mactus,” meaning “honored.”


There are also several levels of bullfighters. The matador is the one who kills the bull, but he has many people who assist him as well.  A picador uses a lance while on horseback to test the bull’s strength before the matador begins. The banderillero places little flags (colorful sticks with a barbed point) in the top of the bull’s shoulder while running as close to the bull as possible.


Brave commoners (a.k.a. poor people) would also jump into the ring to show their own prowess. These maletillas or espontaneos would be taken away, but some legitimate bullfighters also began their careers in this way.
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Frenemy: an enemy who pretends to be a friend

What may surprise you about this word is that it has been around A LOT longer than you might think. In recent years, it has been used in pop culture ad nauseum, most notably in an episode of “Sex and the City.”


A combination of the words “friend” and “enemy,” the general meaning of the word is readily understood. It can describe an enemy who pretends to be a friend, or even a real friend who is competing with you for something you desire, such as a job or a love interest.


Here’s the shocker. The first documented use of the word was in 1953. Journalist W. Winchell wrote about the United States’ age-old nemesis Russia as a “frenemy.” It is speculated that this word also derives some of its meaning from the Arabic proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


Gaining traction in the past decade or so, the word “frenemy” has appeared in respected publications like Businessweek and Scientific American, as well as innumerable websites and, according to OMGfacts.com, “countless blog pages.” Looks like Wordbabble is now one of them.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Console your Video Game Console: A Study in Homographs

My boyfriend recently bought me an Xbox (the first gen one) so I could play one of my favorite games, Fable. As I planned out the task of setting the video game console up to the TV, I realized that the word “console” can also mean to “console” a friend who is upset. 

And then I started thinking about other words that followed this weird rule and wondered if there was a word for these type of words. Yes, I think very tangentially sometimes.

The English language has so many idiosyncrasies that make it very difficult for not only English language learners but even native speakers to master. It turns out that the “console” duality is referred to as a homograph.

We all know about homophones, those words that sound the same but mean different things and are spelled differently. We learn this one quickly because it leads to lots of spelling mistakes. For example, to/two/too and their/they're/there are some of the most commonly misused.

A homograph is a word that is spelled the same as another word, but it means something different and is often pronounced differently. The easiest way to explain this is through examples. For instance “wound” can refer to an injury or wrapping a bandage around the injury.

Here are a few other examples, written in some-what nonsensical sentences.
  • The bass swam to the sound of the bass.
  • He hit the bat with a metal bat.
  • She pulled the down blanket down from the shelf.
  • You will receive a fine for your fine styling of her fine hair.
  • The most minute bug can travel far in just a minute.
  • He moped when his moped refused to start.
  • She waved at the waves crashing onto the shore.
  • I need to console my video game console.
What examples can you come up with?

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