Thursday, May 19, 2005

Muley's Lexicon #1

Another of Muley's unorthodox hobbies is searching for obscure or defunct words and phrases and finding out their meanings.

I plan to start sharing a bit of what I've found with you. Here, then, is the first installment of "Muley's Lexicon."

DEAD SEA FRUIT (n) I found this word, which apparently isn't used much anymore, by browsing through my huge dictionary at home that weighs more than some people I know. The word isn't in any of the "normal" desk or student dictionaries I have seen.

The quick definition of Dead Sea fruit is "a thing that appears to be, or is expected to be, of great value but proves to be valueless." It refers to a fruit, the apple of Sodom, that was thought to grow on trees beside the shores of the Dead Sea. It was beautiful to look at, but fell to ashes when touched or tasted. Kind of like a lot of things in the modern world, don't you think?

Here's the word used in two quotes:

“Ambition is a Dead Sea fruit, and the greatest peril to the soul is that one is likely to get precisely what he is seeking.”
(Edward Dahlberg)

“Power? It’s like a Dead Sea fruit. When you achieve it, there is nothing there.” (Harold Macmillan)

HOBSON'S CHOICE (n) I've actually heard this one used recently. A Hobson's choice is the choice of taking what is offered or nothing at all. One of the most famous examples was provided by Henry Ford, who is supposed to have said something to the effect that his Model T car would be available “in any color so long as it’s black."

That's what a Hobson's choice is –– a choice by definition only. Another way of of saying it is "take it or leave it," or "my way or the highway."

Who, you might ask, is Hobson? He was Thomas Hobson (1544-1631) an Englishman who kept a livery stable and required every customer to take either the horse nearest the stable door or none at all. That's supposedly how the term originated.

Look for more interesting words in the next installment of Muley's Lexicon.

Quote of the day:

"I really am one of those I-don't-know-anything-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like people. If there's no pleasure for me in it, I feel no obligation to a work of art. I cherish certain paintings, books, and films for the pleasure of their company. When I get no pleasure from an author, I feel no duty to consult him. My interests and enthusiasms are pretty wide; and I do keep trying to stretch them wider. But no strain. No. I am, indeed, quite shameless, as you say, about not straining to encompass what doesn't truly speak to me."

--Orson Welles
from This is Orson Welles

1 comment:

Jan said...

Would you be so kind as to enlighten us on the etymology of ketchup/catsup?
Thank you.