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1. The National Day of Prayer

David Domke is Professor of Communication and Head of Journalism at the University of Washington. Kevin Coe is a doctoral candidate in Speech Communication at the University of Illinois. They are authors of the The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America. To learn more about the book check out their handy website here, to read more posts by them click here.  In the post below they consider the effect of our National Day of Prayer.

Today is the National Day of Prayer. In modern American politics, that means one thing: the God strategy will be in full effect.

Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1981, politicians—especially U.S. presidents—have gone to unprecedented lengths to signal their support for those citizens who rely heavily on religious cues to make voting decisions. The National Day of Prayer is a perfect day to send such signals.

Here’s what to expect. President Bush will issue a proclamation extolling the virtue of prayer. Most people will pay little attention. They’ll go on about their lives, praying or not as they see fit.

A small but politically important cohort, however, will see Bush’s proclamation as a crucial show of support for their religious beliefs. And these are the people to whom Bush is speaking.

The targeted audience is organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This organization was first headed by Vonette Bright, wife of Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, and has been chaired since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. The Brights and the Dobsons are iconic figures among religious conservatives, and their connection to the National Day of Prayer has given the event a decidedly conservative and Christian character.

Consider that those who sign up to volunteer for the National Day of Prayer Task Force have to affirm this statement of faith: “I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God.” Volunteers must also pledge that the activities they organize “will be conducted solely by Christians,” though “those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend.”

In a more inclusive form, a National Day of Prayer wouldn’t be an altogether disagreeable gesture. Many Americans are prayerful people, and presidents have been consistently proclaiming national days of prayer since the 1950s.

But like most aspects of presidents’ public religiosity these days, the National Day of Prayer has become a kind of political weapon. It hasn’t always been this way.

Presidents since Reagan have been far more eager than their predecessors to issue proclamations celebrating religion. Leaving aside the two standard National Day of Prayer proclamations that presidents have long issued each May, the growth in religiously oriented proclamations before and since Reagan is astounding. In fact, our examination of the more than 6,000 proclamations from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush revealed a more than five-fold increase in the per-term average since 1981.

And this is only one part of a broader trend. Compared to their modern-era predecessors, presidents since Reagan have invoked God and faith much more often, merged God and country with more regularity and greater certitude, and substantially increased their trips to speak to religious audiences (with conservative groups like the National Association of Evangelicals getting a heavy proportion of these visits). They’ve even upped their references to Christ during Christmastime.

In all cases, the goal has been the same: signal support for people of faith. If goal itself is innocuous, the outcome has been anything but. Presidential religiosity has become narrow and partisan—and people have noticed.

In response to the National Day of Prayer Task Force’s hostility to non-Christian volunteers, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State issued a statement saying the event had been “largely hijacked by the Religious Right and is being used as an opportunity to promote a far-right religious-political agenda.” Meanwhile, Jews on First, another religious watchdog group, is promoting an alternative: the “Inclusive National Day of Prayer.”

An inclusive National Day of Prayer is a start. But what the nation ultimately needs is a presidency that offers a more inclusive brand of public religiosity.

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2. Wienerhuahuas Will Inherit the Earth: The Blend-y World of Dog Breed Names

Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, is our guest blogger this week.  Check out his past OUPblog posts here.  In the post below Peters ponders dog names.

I think the breed of my dog gives him a bad name: People make a definite who-cut-the-cheese-face when they hear rat terrier.

Maybe it sounds too much like rat terror, two legitimately heebie-jeebies-provoking words. Or perhaps it reminds people of rat bastard, ratfink, and rat-f-word-er. Some concerned citizens may even believe my little dog really, truly is the world’s first half-rat, half-pooch, all-unholy hellbeast in existence.

But at least he’s not a rat-poo. If Monkey (yes, that’s his name) were the joy-bundle produced by a poodle and a rat terrier, -rat-poo is just one of the unappetizing things he might be called. Word blending is a full-time sport in the world of dog breeding, where words are grafted together as quickly and haphazardly as unlike dogs.

Any two breeds might spawn a blend. Some recent designer breeds, as they are known, include Cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frise), beagador (beagle and Labrador retriever), Jackabee (Jack Russell terrier and beagle), Maltipom (Maltese and Pomeranian), and Yorktese (Yorkshire terrier and Maltese). Most go by more than one blend: the Yorktese is also called Malkie or Morkie . By the way, I stand behind the capitalization in this paragraph with semi-certainty, but there’s hardly any caps consistency in the bajillions of words written about dogs. If random-ish use of the big and little letters burns your toast to a five-alarm crisp, you should stop reading now and lie down somewhere soft instead.

Poodle crosses—known and spelled as poo Xs—seem to be the mainstay of the genre. The beginning of the trend may have been cockapoo, which is modeled on cockatoo and first found in 1960, in an OED citation that mentions some less successful synonyms for this cocker spaniel mix: cockerpoo and poocock. (Can’t imagine why that last one didn’t catch on). Peekapoo dates from 1968 and refers to a mix of a poodle and a Pekinese, with the spelling reflecting the influence of peekaboo. Other words of this type include bichonpoo, jackapoo, maltipoo, pugapoo, and yorkiepoo. Their success probably has something to do with poo’s propensity for churning out high-sugar-content words such as kissy-poo and cutesy-poo since at least 1932. That reminds me of a girlfriend I used to call poo-poo. Um, I didn’t really do that. Moving on now…

There’s a whole -oodle wing of the poo X estate—including labradoodle, golden doodle, schnoodle, and scoodle, which breed a Labrador retriever, a golden retriever, a schnauzer and a Scottish terrier with a poodle—but there’s even more fun to be had with poo. I’ve seen the cockamamie word cockapoopoopoo coined in honor of a dog that’s three parts poodle and part cocker spaniel. On a message board, poothusiasts debate whether poopoopoocock or poocockapoopoo would be a more fitting name. A 1979 Among the New Words column from the journal American Speech turned up cockapopso (cockapoo/Lhasa apso mix) being used back in 1971 in TV Guide. And in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, after observing that Jed the shih-tzu and Bella the cockapoo would make beautiful puppies if they weren’t residents of West Neuterstan, one of my fellow dog owners guessed that this never-to-be offspring would carry the title of cocka-shih-poo, a name triply appealing to the less mature minds of our time. Not surprisingly, cocka-shih-poo has been coined by others, along with something-or-other-poo and Australian schnauzer-doodle-whatever-poo.

On my dictionary of nonce words, Wordlustitude, I’ve mined a Chihuahua-centric blend trend that makes your humble guest blogger giggle like a guest schoolgirl: beaglehuahua, poodlehuahua, rathuahua, and wienerhuahua are all real words found in secluded kennels of the Internet. Because I’m not the only citizen who finds -huahua to be a highly amusing suffix, I’ve even spotted an example of chimphuahua, a beast I pray will remain a fanciful furball in the dark imaginations of scientists and humorists.

Dog people may have perfected word-blending but they sure didn’t invent it. Blending is a common word-making strategy that gave us smog, triathlete, beefcake, middlebrow, and popsicle. But some subjects are more blend-friendly than others, and if all this blending reminds you of anything, it may bring to mind an area of equally questionable conjugality: celebrity couple nicknames. Brangelina and Bennifer are made by the same process as labradoodle and puggle, and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) is an awful lot like minpin (miniature pinscher).

Word-blending mania is also a staple of shippers—single-minded fans who obsessively support an actual or potential coupling on a TV show. Rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans created dozens of blends, like Spuffy (Spike and Buffy) and Bangel (Buffy and Angel) in honor of the two major vampire-boinking romances of the Buffster’s career, and Buffyheads didn’t stop there: they made up name-splices for every two characters with pulses and names. More recently, fans of other cult shows like Lost play the same game. Lost fans who think Jack and Kate are non-barf-worthy support Jate; if they prefer Sawyer and Kate, Skate is the term. If they just hate Kate, as many fans do, Khate is in their hearts, while fans who think Jack has a savior complex larger than a Midwestern state call the pompous doctor Jackus.

But I doubt the combined armies of Jackus, Jesus, and Scooby-doo could save us from a future of infinite breed blend names. Since teacup and mini dogs are breeding like microscopic rabbits, perhaps the nanohuahua is inevitable. I’ll make room in the hamster cage.

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3. Pakistan – Podictionary Word of the Day

Although places like Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and Turkistan have had their names for maybe a thousand years and tend to be in the same general part of the world as Pakistan—that is, sort of north and west of India—Pakistan is a made-up name that hasn’t been around even 100 years.

The maker-upper of the name was a fellow named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali who is identified as “a student at Cambridge” in 1933 according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

But looking elsewhere I see that this Chaudhary Rahmat Ali was more than a Cambridge student. He’s reported to have been the founder of the Pakistan National Movement and I found his name confusingly similar to Chaudhary Muhammad Ali, one of Pakistan’s Prime Ministers.

It isn’t the same guy though.

The inventor of the name appears to have done so long before the actuality of an independent nation was a possibility.

He imagined that there should be an independent homeland for Muslims in India and he figured the Muslims who should hang together were from Punjab, the Afghani border region, Kashmir, and the Sindh region. So he just took the initials from those places and came up with PAKStan. The –stan fit well with the other countries in the neighborhood (it means “land of”) and as a bonus the word pak in Urdu meant “pure” so his imagined country’s name meant essentially “pure homeland.”

This etymology is backed up by other dictionaries including the Oxford English Dictionary, as well it should, since the researcher who seems to have done the definitive work on the etymology of Pakistan is a man named Robert Burchfield.

I don’t think he’s been mentioned before on podictionary and that’s a shame because it was Burchfield who brought us from that 100 year old first edition of the OED to the second edition.

He only died back in 2004.

As you know although earlier versions of the OED and other dictionaries did not include rude four letter words, current versions of all the good dictionaries do.

Burchfield was on the cutting edge of bringing academic rigor to the examination of such words.

But it was an uphill battle.

He found that his library research assistant refused to look up what she considered to be filthy words. He could hardly believe it, saying

“Against all expectations…a few members of staff had no stomach for the crudities of sexual and scatological vocabulary. I had assumed…that Homo lexicographicus was a chalcenterous species of mankind, that is, a person with bowels of brass.”


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the forthcoming short format audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.

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