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Words, May 1



Last week, we talked about a Baptist preacher calling a Jewish senator a schmuck and the ensuing controversy, intensified when somebody pointed out that while schmuck is often used to mean “jerk,” in Yiddish schmuck literally means “penis.” Irv West writes in response:

“Okay, maybe I'm leaning more toward an ‘original' meaning, rather than ‘literal', but the source of the Yiddish word is the German word ‘Schmuck', which means ‘ornament' or even ‘jewel.' I can't say for sure about Yiddish, but in German the word continues in use both as a compliment and as an ironic slur, with the Yiddish meaning.”


If you call a leg a who, how many people have puncture marks?

An odd construction involving misuse or misplacement of who has popped up a couple of times recently:

“John Doe was found shot in the parking lot at 1234 Ruff Road. Police called emergency medical personnel to the scene, who said Doe was dead.”

“Ricky Wicky was arrested in Watsup, New Zealand, on a charge of assault with a weapon after he threw a hedgehog and hit a 15-year-old boy in the leg, who suffered a welt and several puncture marks.”

A scene is not a who. Nor is a leg. It would be better to rearrange these sentences or chop them in two: “… They said Jones was dead.” “… He suffered a welt and several puncture marks.”

I'm reminded of the old story about Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly asked “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” When his companion replied “five,” Lincoln would spring his trap. “A dog has four legs. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.” This is why the North won the war.


A hedgehog seems an odd choice of weapons, too, but I suppose there are more hedgehogs at hand in New Zealand than in Arkansas. I never heard of anybody around here being attacked with or by a hedgehog. I wonder how many legs a hedgehog has. What if you count the tail?

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