Friday, February 8, 2008


Temporary friends or slow learners are words that share both a related meaning and a similar sound, but despite all painstaking efforts no linguist has yet been able to unearth matching roots. In fact, it seems these words have nothing to do with each other. Grange and range, farm and pharmacy, parochialism and paraocchi (Italian, "blinders horses wear to keep them looking straight"), warlock and war, hear and ear, lacerate and lachrymose, jewel and Jew, "more or less" (indicating flexibility) and moralless, sol and soul, friend and fiend (you know what I mean amica my nemica?), Jesus and Zeus, Erinys and Erin, woman and womb, noise and annoy, are all examples of temporary friends. The couplets may be working in tandem with each other now, and hence have come to look and sound the same (as friends often do), but whether they are actually cut from the same stone is a matter hotly debated. For example, though the healthiest pharmaceuticals may currently come from the farm, though Jews may be major players in the jewelry trade, and though the Irish in Erin run hot blooded like Erinyus, this is not to say things always were or will be this way. The optimistic etymologist calls temporary friends "slow learners" instead because he believes these words are in fact inherently related and, like twins separated at birth, have just taken some time to reunite. A strong case made by the believers of slow learners (over temporary friends) is that currently Western etymology can only go as far back as Proto-Indo-European (and even our reconstruction of that is wanting). These linguists propose that if we were to go back even further we might find these slow learners in fact intact with the similar sounds and roots missing now. Following this train of thought, we may also find other words once believed to be from the same Proto-Indo-European root to have different paths before. Like prodigals, the coming-of-age transformations of slow learners is a never ending saga.

Sissy = one who says yes to anyone and everything, a "si si"-er.

-- Chris Leo

Tonigh first seemed like one last desperate attempt to preserve the old English spellings from the rapid transformations text-messaging is tearing into our language, but after sitting with it for a bit I've become a full convert now. Noah Webster, linguistic American patriot, removed as many 'u's from American English as possible to distance our breed of English from the Queen's. Now it is the kids of the UK themselves who haven't got time for extraneous 'u's while ripping out texts -- when "International English" takes root for good, it may be the impatient phoenetics of text messaging that lays the law.

I received a "meet tonigh?" text-message from the sometimes River Plate's contributor, Giorgio Grappi, and in keeping with my typical immature character responded with "Tonigh? Non so, but c u 2nite for sure". Then before heading out for the night I gave my email a final safety check and found quite an intelligent escape rebuttal from Giorgio, proof that spite and the rewriting of history (because this is obviously a dodging lie) can on occasion work for the greater good: "Chris, when I said 'tonigh' I thought you of all people would know I meant 'to + nigh' and understand that I was inventing a time frame between the evening and the night -- the nigh, as in near, night. See you in the nigh night? Baci".

-- Giorgio Grappi, Chris Leo

Traubocare, the autooverbrimming induced from wine drunk, has several feasible roots, though “trauben” (“grape” in German) + “trabocare” (“overflow” in Italian) is the most likely. “Trans” or “trauma” + “bocare” (“to mouth” in Italian) or “karo” (“to care for” in Proto Germanic) also form arguable cases. The theory for the first is that the inexperienced ears of Roman legionnaires in Germanic posts would confuse “trauben” for “trocknen” (“hard, strong” in German) when attempting to order wine in a land of beer and malts and therefore receive an unsuspectingly fortified glass at their table instead. In the idioms of inebriation, most languages have words like traubocare that accurately describe the spinning state as one of movement. “He’s on his wayn” (from the Ethiopian word for “wine”) is the stage right before that tipping point. “He’s gone mad”, drawing from the Proto-Indo-European meaning of mad as “wet, dripping” was once common in Middle England and even now still intuitively appears when one’s had too much. Similar is the South African “He’s off to Soweto” which takes the South West Townships acronym apart and restresses it to sound out so wet o. “Shebeen here, but now she’s gone” comes from the Irish “seibin” (“small mug”) and is another way of saying “she’s talking to the spirits”. One who stagnates in Newyorkese wastes a night getting wet (from the Proto-Indo-European stag for “dripping”) with the boys solely for shits and giggles. It’s common knowledge that “three sheets to the wind” means someone is so far “out to sea” they’ve already hoisted their third mast, but what many don’t realize is that the “mast” metaphor precedes the sheet metaphor (consistent with the chronology of a healthy night) and was brought back by British sailors returning from India. “Mast” in Urdu means “intoxicated like a frenzied male elephant in heat”. One theory on the root of “testes” has it coming from the Greek “parastatai” which were twin supports for a ships mast. If this therefore renders a “mast” a “booze provoked hard-on”, every woman should have a right to administer “litmast” tests before committing. The "lit" from "litmus" comes from the Middle Dutch “liken”, which unsurprising means “to drip”.

-- Chris Leo

A Triscussion takes place when a person involved in a discussion fails at articulating her argument well yet still somehow takes the debate, as if an ethereal third voice votes in favor of a nonvolubale. Unlike discussions which break things apart (from Latin dis for "apart" + quatere for "to shake"), triscussions tie everything together. In Sardinia when four male throat singers hit a perfect pitch at once a fifth sound appears as a result of overtones. This fifth sound is believed to be the Virgin Mary come down from on High to add her approval to such faultlessness. They call her “La Quintina”, the "Fifth Lady". When I would tell the nuns “Sister, I got Jesus and I got The Father, but what’s the story with the Holy Spirit?” they’d respond with “that’s because it is impossible to understand the Holy Trinity, son.” When I complain to Laura that “potatoes are just empty carbs, can’t we eat yams instead” or “babe, you eat your cornetto con crema, but I’m opting for something with a lot less sugar and some actual vitamins” she never argues back, she simply smiles and takes the triscussion while I continue my day like a healthy frustration chafed and itchy with all sorts of reason and problems.

“tredici” is “thirteen” in Italian but translates literally to “you say three” = some things that seem like sins are in fact the holiest of them all, i.e. without Judas there would be no betrayal that lead to resurrection, and without the occasional infidelity how could I be so sure you taste so much better?

-- Marco Barone, Chris Leo

Troppocaldo is a rare and fantastic front-formation. A front-formation occurs when words are psuedo-historically elongated to expose an ancient root that in fact never existed. In the case of “troppo” (It. “too much”) + “caldo” (It. “hot”), it’s a way certain factions of the pigmentless north call things “tropical”. “Tropical” is slowed down by stretching the word out the same way they proudly pronounce “pigment” with at least two very stressed and separate syllables, “pig” + “ment” (“pig” + “men” + “t!” has been known to follow if the southern man brought some heat along north). In one element and one element alone they remind us, “tropical” needs to be slowed down and stretched out.

troppocaldo = minimally, the proper duration of the word "tropical". The subscription for the malady is a trip to the troppacanna, "troppa" + "canna" ("weed" in most Latin based languages)

-- Chris Leo

Troppopomo usually appears in question form. When Laura and I work on scripts I may say something like, "So we both agree this screenplay is about a screenplay, but what if we were to set it in the future and have it flash back to the past, which would be right now, the present? And in this screenplay that they're working on the protagonist is struggling as a playwrite, not officially making movies like us? And also not here in Bologna like we are, but somewhere similar...Ferrara? I dunno troppopomo?" To which Laura would respond, "Dai Grease ("Grease/Greece" is the way "Chris" comes out in Italian and I'm running with it), I don't wanna be poor forever!"

At least two levels of potentially troppopomo happen here at once. The first is that which Laura is responding to. The second is when, instead of responding to Laura's distress, I get caught up in wondering if there's a deeper gnosis to the way I hear her pronounciation of "poor" as "pour." Are we pouring it all out? Or did she slip into French with that pour? Was she therefore saying she didn't want to be "for" -- as in directional but not actually in a thing -- forever?
"Laura you're brilliant! Are you saying that the "from" is the "form", everything is pour!?"
"Dai Grease! Povero come la polvere, amore. Stop scaring me."

Named after the fruit related primarily to through its tappestral image amidst unicorns and lances rather than through the fruit itself, this script we hope to be our keystone is the pomogranite (pomo + pomegranate + granite), the earnings that take us out of the red are our pomodoro (pomo + gold), the beaches where we lay our heads forgetting about Le Pomme Grande (New York City) are adorned with palms (from the Proto-Indo-European pela "to spread out flat").

troppo ("too much" in Italian) + po(st) + mo(dern) = troppopomo.

If you think it feels like a dinosaur, you're right.
If you think the "pomo" part sounds a little fey, you're right.
If you have any success at all in getting your head around a word that appears as a fey dinosaur, well then I have a word for you...(oh forgive me god) the large and terrible onomasticon itself, the glossary from the age of the glaciers, the lexinivorous...THESAURUS!

-- Chris Leo

Tuttullage, tutto (“all” in Italian) + ullage (“amount remaining before a bottle is empty” in Anglo-French), is the watchful eye at the table who cloaks alcoholism under a guise of etiquette by making sure no one’s glass goes empty while no carafe stays full. “It was under the tuttullage of Signore Rosso that we were able to get Gene to divulge, but unfortunately, by the time she began Signore Rosso himself was too lit to officially witness it."

tutelage + destitute = reconstitute through fermented fruit

-- Chris Leo

A typesetter is one who believes setting things in print validates them. From the Latin “typus”, for “figure, image, symbol”, “type” can only therefore represent the something it’s discussing. A typesetter literally only believes when a type is set, a form given, a genre named. The most eloquent argument proposed passionately on a street corner is all well and good, but before it's put into print with more prints of cross-references from other prints, it is just another cockamamie theory. Typeflex takes the opposite approach. A typeflexer believes the idea at hand loses its meaning, even if in miniscule amounts, once it is set in type. The age of the internet is the age of the typeflexer, until this sentence is edited. However, like the River Plate manifesto itself proclaims, typesetting makes for excellent diaries and gives us forms from which to break from.

-- Chris Leo

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