Focusing on Words Newsletter #03

(the third newsletter of a series that was formerly presented to subscribers by the Sr. Scribe, a.k.a. John Robertson)

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The Senior Scribe is trying to find more info for his project.
Absence of occupation is not rest,
A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.
—William Cowper, "Retirement", 1782.
Auf Wiedersehen, English

The title of an article in the November 16, 1998, edition of Time by Ursula Sautter includes two views, by Germans, about the invasion of English into the German language and culture.

Some significant parts of the article include the following:

  • “No greater harm can be done to a nation,” German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote two centuries ago, “than taking away its national character, the idiosyncrasies of its spirit and its language.”
  • Many of Kant’s present-day compatriots agree, and are taking up arms against an ever-increasing number of English words insinuating their way into the mother tongue: they want Kinder instead of kids, Spass instead of fun, Unterhaltung instead of entertainment.
  • Among those battling for linguistic purism is the Dortmund-based Society for the Protection of the German Language (or V.W.D.S., the initials for its German name, Verein zur Wahrung der Deutschen Sprache).
  • “The German tongue is deteriorating into a pidgin dialect which will soon no longer be usable as an independent cultural language,” says society president Walter Kraemer, 49, a professor of statistics at the University of Dortmund. “We fight against this kind of chimpanzee language.”
  • Among others, the rise of “Denglisch”, is opposed by a physics student from Darmstadt. “The use of Anglicisms is directly proportional to the intention to obscure the emptiness of what is being said,” Bischof says. To support his view, Bischof’s private Internet homepage — or Heimseite, as he calls it — is 100% free of English terminology.
  • For Rudolf Hoberg of the Society for the German Language in Wiesbaden, the matter is much simpler. “ Germans are fascinated by English words simply because they like their international flair,” he explains.
  • In contrast to such linguistic purists as Kraemer and Bischof, Hoberg, a professor of German literature, welcomes the prevalence of English in the world and of English additions to the German language. “For the first time in the history of mankind, there is a lingua franca for the whole world,” he says.
  • Fortunately, Germany is not likely to institute a state-controlled language policy as in France, where the infamous loi Toubon, which was passed in August, 1994, prohibits the use of foreign elements in public language. “Traditionally,” says Hoberg, “we Germans have always been very liberal where language is concerned.”
  • Perhaps so, and perhaps altogether too many words — both German and English — are being wasted on the discussioin about exactly how many Anglicisms the Teutonic tongue can handle.
  • What’s in a name? That which the English call a rose, is eine Rose in German; but it smells as sweet either way.
  • Letters of interest from readers

    I mentioned this earlier but my letter apparently went into hyperorbit. The phrases involving two and tandem are not pleonasms. Tandem hitching simply requires that the hitching of a team be linear, one behind another. Any number of individuals can constitute the tandem team.

    A replacement pleonasm could be the “three-horse troika.” A troika is three horses, hitched abreast, to a conveyance.


    This is in reference to my pleonasm/redundancy list at the pleonasm page.

    For the history [of discipline and punishment], I found the following on

    Discipline Etymology: Middle English, from Old French & Latin; Old French, from Latin disciplina, teaching, learning, from discipulus, pupil.

    Punish Etymology: Middle English, punisshen, from Middle French, puniss-, stem of punir, from Latin punire, from poena, penalty —

    My interpretation is that discipline is an inflexible teaching. Punishment can be a tool to achieve discipline, but reward is another tool. Moreover, crime punishment (for example) can be hardly related with discipline.



    I am very delighted with the newsletter. I agree that the female version of an android would be gynoid or something in that area. I have recently learned the Ancient Greek word for woman: gune, gunaikos. So in English that would transliterate into gyna-.

    I was wondering how I can get my comments to appear on the newsletter. I truly love the classic languages and anxious to participate.

    Si bene valet, valeo.

    Contrasting Discipline and Punishment

    Discipline is derived from the Latin word discere which means to learn. Discipline is related to the concept of moral or physical training often involving hard work and hard knocks as we say “I went to the school of hard knocks.” We learn from the mistakes we make (except for those of us with hard heads!).

    Discipline can be imposed by others or we can be self-disciplined. We learn discipline (self-control) through the lessons of life.

    Many times, when we behave in an undisciplined matter we can incur a consequence which is like a penalty or punishment.

    Penalties for our behavior can be a natural result of our actions or given to us by our authority.

    Punishment comes from two Latin words; the Latin verb punire (poenio) which means to punish or penalize and the Latin noun poenia = a penalty/punishment. It is the idea of paying for the wrong that was done. Hence the Latin idiom poenas dare, "to pay the penalty".

    Punishment is related to discipline but not synonymous.

    As language evolves, related terms are sometimes used interchangeably as are discipline and punishment. However, I believe it is best to clearly distinguish between these two terms as your text book is doing. Looking at the phrases below, which communicates more clearly?

    I am being punished. [I am experiencing a penalty] I am being disciplined. [Am I behaving in a disciplined manner or being punished?]

    He endured the discipline. [Did he endure rigorous training or a punishment?] He endured the punishment. [He endured a penalty].

    For what it's worth,


    Just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful and educational site on the WWW. I work with a lot of people from other countries who, have asked me to help them learn the English language. This site has been extremely helpful to me.

    With all of the slang that is used, it is hard to understand, some of which I was not aware of, that I have been using (like "what's up" a man from Ethiopia said to me what is the meaning of this Laura? What do they mean what is up? The sky is up, I laughed and explained).

    Anyway, thanks for teaching me as well and others. Bless you for the effort you put forth!


    Gee, I really like this site. I prepare prison inmates to pass the GED exam. I really like my work and am planning on presenting a 40-minute talk with handouts about the value of improving vocabulary. This will be in March at the Missouri Department of Corrections Education Conference.

    I should have two sessions, with about thirty to forty participants each. The title of my little dittie is: "Don't Be a Brain Robber, Be a Brain Builder!" Catchie-huh?

    Now, I would like to know if I may use some of the material from this site and if you have some references or pearls of wisdom to suggest. I really would appreciate hearing them.

    By the way, in the field of literacy and emerging language skills, the area of corrections is doing a big job of stressing the importance of getting a GED. If an inmate wants a job above $7.50 a month, he has to have a diploma!

    Sometime in the next two years, an inmate will also need a GED to get a parole date! So far I have enjoyed my inmate students. They are so interesting, and surprisingly, they are open to using dictionaries and improving their vocabulary. Thanks for listening.

    —Sincerely, Nancy

    Hi John

    Thank you for the welcome; what fun to find your page. As a retired teacher of Humanities, I applaud the writer's efforts to present accurate information to her class. I'm sure she is an excellent teacher. I also admire your effort in trying to focus on Latin and Greek derivatives, and I'll be interested to see if you can pull it off.

    Having done no research on either punishment or discipline, I don't have any answers, but here are a few ideas I'll S.W.A.G.

    First, punishment and discipline are Latin derivatives but with radically different stems. The text is right to make a difference between them. The Latins and Greeks were clear thinkers and, therefore, meant exactly what they said.

    When they used "punishment," they meant a condition of causing pain or suffering; when they used "discipline," they meant instruction and/or education. Punishment and discipline may be used together. That is, one may cause pain or suffering (emotional, not necessarily physical), but that is largely ineffective without discipline.

    "Don't hit your sister with your fist, you'll break your knuckles" is more effective than "Don't hit your sister with your fist, because if you do, I"ll hit you." ;-)

    So, discipline takes punishment one step further; it provides instruction as to the way of the world. Experiments in child psychology appear to provide evidence showing that babies only two or three months old have a sense of how the physical world works. The essence of punishment is unpredictability. The two words probably became synonymous in the vernacular through sloppy thinking.

    Good luck with your project.

    —Best regards, Gayle

    Any idea who came up with this ridiculous sesquipedalian monstrosity [floccinaucinihilipilification]? I forgot the definition.

    Your newsletter is great by the way.

    Ok, is there a precise word for the act of "counting sheep" other than the inaccurate "insomnia"? If not, can we offer a neologism, a hybrid word combining sheep and sleep . . . Ewesomia? But that isn't pc, is it? Ewes it or lose it . . . . (to sheep perchance to dream?)

    I checked Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament in which the word for "flock, sheep, goats"; is tso’n or "small cattle". "Tso’nia?" "Tso’nasomia"? I don't know, this sounds strange . . . .

    What about the "counting" part of "counting sheep"? The same Hebraic dictionary defines "count"; as saphar, meaning "to number, count, proclaim or declare".

    So counting sheep could be combined into "Saphartsonia"?

    But what about the "sleep" connection? This is rambling, perhaps you could offer a Latin-Greek variant . . . thanks.

    —John M.

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