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Month: October 2012

draw, draws, drawn, drew, drawer, drawers – withdraw – drawls

One of my favourite examples of a word with an awful lot of meaning wrapped into four letters:

Draw.

It seems simple enough. As in when we draw a picture right?

Let’s think about it. This meaning of the word seems to stem more broadly from to draw, as in to draw out. Say when we go to the nurse and she takes some blood, she will draw it out, or more simple put, draw some blood. To draw, in this sense, suggests something that comes out, perhaps painfully, or even carefully. If one has ever tried to draw, as in art, one can well sense why it is such an appropriate word.

However draw can also refer to something that goes in. That is to draw in, or draw near. To draw, in this sense, means something along the lines of a pull, or an invisible force. So we could say I was drawn by the wondrous light display, or while I was swimming at the beach the rip drew me under.

So draw then, broadly speaking, can have the meaning of being pulled from something or being sucked into something else. Back to the nurse we could saw that they drew blood from your arm and it was drawn into the syringe.

So we can have, in the sense of pull out from something:

  • to draw a weapon;
  • to draw a picture;
  • to draw one’s life blood.

And in the sense of being sucked into something, (curiously usually in the past tense):

  • drawn into a rip;
  • drawn by the light;
  • drawn by her love for me.

Okay. Simple. Right?

But what about drawers, as in furniture? Is it a variation of to draw? As in draw out. We draw out our drawers, so we call them drawers? (Is this also where we get drawers meaning underpants, because they come from drawers?) Possibly.

But what about drawer, as in the withdrawer in a financial transaction? There could well be a third meaning here. To draw, as in to draw from, or draw on. Unlike to draw out which has a sense of difficulty, to draw from has that same sense of pull, however this time with ease, or least from a larger source.

So we might have then:

  • to draw from the bank;
  • to draw on your reserves;
  • to draw a blank. (to try and draw from a larger source, but fail)

Withdraw then is a tricky one for the prefix with- means against. Withdraw, means then against the draw. Draw in this sense meaning to be sucked into something else. So withdraw then is to take something back against the prevailing paradigm. A meaning our banks might not be so happy about. Of course common usage would have us simply use withdraw to mean, to take from, and that is entirely appropriate and correct.

Of course, a drawl is a particular way of speaking with longer vowel sounds. Particularly, a Southern Drawl or an Australian Drawl. There is no particular close relationship between these word forms.

Finally. Draw is not a word that causes confusion, for good reason. For despite it’s mixed usage it is exactly that usage and context that guides us. Something to remember in all our writing.

Orgin
Middle English drawen, dragen, from Old English dragan; akin to Old Norse draga to draw, drag

Really finally, if you made it this far perhaps give your brain a break and try http://www.drawastickman.com/

Which one swooped? Fowl, foul or fell?

Fowl

A FOWL is a bird, like a pheasant, a chicken or a duck.

One tends to picture a Nineteenth Century English countryside with English gentlemen blasting the skies with their shotguns, hounds yapping at their heels eager to collect dead birds; That or fond memories of childhood. See Danny the Champion of the World.

They are not a swooping bird so much as a bird that gets swatted at.

Foul

An adjective meaning abhorrent or disgusting.

So we have;

  1. A foul deed;
  2. A foul stench; or,
  3. A foul play;

From where we get the noun, foul, meaning, in turn:

  1. To make shocking to the mind. As in, we all thought the bloody murder was foul;
  2. To be smelly, or on the nose. As in, your armpits are foul, go wash them; or,
  3. An illegal or unfair play. As in, the batter stuck the ball but it went off field and was a foul.

And Fell?

  1. Fell is the past tense of fall, sure, as is, I fell on my arse and broke my tail bone;
  2. It is also the verb, to fell, that is causing something to fall, as in, the lumberjack fell the tree causing it to fall;
  3. But perhaps most interestingly, it is an adjective meaning dangerous, wicked, cruel, or deadly, as in, the murderer spiced my drink with fell poison, upon which I did fall to the ground.This last meaning is little used and can most clearly be thought of as the nominative of felon, ie. when naming something particularly felonious. So for example we might say, of the felons that escaped prison, only one, a notoriously fell man, remained at large. 

It is in this final sense that we get the phrase, one fell swoop, meaning quickly, suddenly and dangerously so.

Like a lot of these historical phrases of uncertain origin, Shakespeare is a likely candidate.

In a particularly memorable and heartfelt moment, Macduff upon hearing that Macbeth has had his children and his wife killed, cries:

“All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? — O, hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?”

Macbeth (4.3.2099-2102)

It is some startling imagery. That Macbeth like a hell hawk has swooped down and snatched Macduff’s children (the chickens) and their dam (their demoiselle, or damsel, their mother).

Usage

Perhaps this imagery is how the confusion occurs.

A fowl swoop seems only natural, that a fowl might swoop, and indeed Macbeth’s fell swoop is in imagery at least a fowl one, it is also entirely conceivably a foul one.

Further I supposed we could imagine a foul fowl swoop, say a magpie attacking you from behind .

Yes, there is nothing wrong with saying a foul swoop: a particularly horrid swoop; or fowl swoop, being the swoop made by a pheasant, however I would absolutely avoid them even when you mean exactly that, and use only fell swoop to mean something that happens dangerously and wickedly, for that is it’s meaning.

Perhaps even quote a bit of Macbeth.

References

Eastwood, K. (2016, February 16). Magpies: Avian air raiders. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2010/02/magpies-avian-air-raiders
The Free Dictionary. (2016). fell - definition of fell in English. The Free Dictionary.
Dahl, R., & Blake, Q. (2002). Danny the champion of the world (Rev. ed). New York: A.A. Knopf.

Moot or Mute point? A Mote’s Point.

A mute is someone who doesn’t speak, they are mute on the matter, indeed they are mute on every matter.

I mute the television when the ads come on. Likewise, a mute might also mute the television if the phone rang and they wanted to hear what the other person was saying, though in no way could they respond – making their answering the phone somewhat moot.

Moot

Adj. Without consequence. Of little significance.

We have:

  1. a moot idea, an idea that has no inherent usefulness;
  2. a moot desire, that does not necessitate fulfilment;
    Or more classically:
  3. a moot point, that has little bearing on matters.

A mute point, is always incorrect.

It is either the point made by a mute, in which case you’d write “a mute’s point”. This I suppose is in the world of possibility though unlikely in a rhetorical sense.

Or:

It is a point that is silenced, in which case you’d write “the point was silenced”. This expression however screams of the misunderstanding of moot. For, rhetorically speaking, points are not silenced so much as they are made moot.

Moot 2.0

Or course all of this is only half right. Or, at least, made right through common usage in the USA, Australia, and elsewhere.

The verb, to moot, past participle, mooted, its adjective moot, and noun, mootedness, all mean something quite different from the above.

The OED defines it as “subject to debate”.

We can best see this meaning when we say, the point was mooted, meaning the point was raised for discussion or argument. A moot point in this context is in fact a point that is debatable, open for question, and indeed has consequence and significance.

Why the two quiet opposite meanings?

The Free Dictionary describes how a moot was used in legal training to mean a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case, and that over time the meaning of moot shifted from being the making of an argument to the making of a hypothetical argument, or an argument without consequence.

Indeed this not the first time the meaning has shifted. Previously a moot (from the Middle English Mot or mote) meant simply a gathering, or a meeting to discuss and argue. Moot, meaning to raise for debate, stems from this previous meaning, just as moot meaning without consequence stems from the meaning of a legal training moot, being mock and hypothetical.

We see then that context is crucial, so one might say:

The point was invariably moot when God stepped out of the clouds and told us the truth;

or equally,

I mooted the point as I wanted to hear all sides of the case;

or if one was writing historical horror fiction (set in England),

The moot had gathered these last five years, and though time had blunted their fear, they were still no closer to forgetting the horrors of that day.

A Mote

A mote is a small flec of dust. It can not be mooted in any sense of the word. Though it can get in the eye of a mute. In which case it is quite annoying.

References

The Free Dictionary. (2016). moot - definition of moot in freedictionary.com. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/moot
Oxford Dictionary. (2016). moot - definition of moot in English | Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/moot