13 01 2012

Interesting question, by David Rowe,  in today’s online The Punch: Is it unAustralian to barrack for the other team? It derives from the old chestnut – the Bradman question – that was designed for new immigrants way-back-when and much discussed in the media.

I quote: “ At issue was the necessary national cultural knowledge for an aspiring citizen contained in the test-prepping document Becoming an Australian Citizen.  Here the reader learnt that Australians like sport and are proud of their achievements in it (especially in cricket) and that `Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest cricket batsman of all time’.”

The Bradman question has gone by the wayside, but the “nation-sport nexus” continues. At the very minimum, governments seem to think that new immigrants need formally to be advised that Australians love their spectator sports. As if that itself were not daily, and everywhere, obvious. As if, too, it’s necessary for their adaptation and acculturation (if no longer “assimilation”).

My concern here, as ever, is the use in the title of the word “barracking” and a simple pondering thought about when the term might be deployed for whatever purpose in the circus of US  presidential pre-election fever.

From where we stand now, it seems rather inevitable.


9 07 2010

Have you ever looked at a word, an English word, one with which you are familiar, one that’s long been a part of your vocabulary, and for the first time, you’ve thought – what a funny looking word! ?

This happens to me quite often, and when it does, I’m sent off compulsively to my dictionaries. The urge is to get a handle on the word and how it became an English word.

The latest example is tarpaulin.

Now, you have to admit this is a funny-looking word. Isn’t it? Try to “estrange” it by imagining this is the first time you’ve seen or heard it. It’s definitely curious, if not downright odd.

This is what I discovered:

The word entered English at the start of the 17th century, and early on had as one of its meaning, a sailor because of the tarpaulin-like clothing they wore. This makes sense when you think about sailors, water and protective clothing.

The “tar-“ comes from the fact that the material, originally some kind of canvas, was rendered waterproof through the addition of tar (or paint or wax).

The “-paul-“ comes from an Old English word “pall”,  meaning  a covering. It entered English some time before 900 AD, derived from the Latin pallium, meaning a cloak or covering,  and was extensively used in ecclesiastical settings – note our still-current “pall-bearer”.

The “-ing” at the end seems to suggest that the term entered English as a verb or gerund – “tar- paul- ing”.  For example: Come on, get ready, the roof is leaky, we have to go tarpauling.

Certainly by the start of the 20th century, the “ing” had reduced, both phonologically and in writing, to “in”, at least in American English. Once you reduce the final syllable in this way, the stress lands on the medial syllable, rendering the pronunciation something like  – tar-PAUL-en

So there you have it. It doesn’t seem so odd any more.