schlimazel or shlimazel (SHLI-mah-zuhl) noun

Someone prone to having extremely bad luck.

[From Yiddish, from shlim (bad, wrong) + mazl (luck). A related term is Hebrew mazel tov (congratulations or best wishes).]

A schlimazel can be concisely described as a born loser. No discussion of schlimazel could be complete without mentioning his counterpart: schlemiel, a habitual bungler. They go together:

A schlemiel is one who always spills his soup, schlimazel is the one on whom it always lands.

A schlimazel's toast always falls butter-side down. A schlemiel always butters his toast on both sides.


faire long feu

Certaines locutions ont fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Faire, ou ne pas faire long feu? Là n’est plus la question. Maurice Rat tranchait: "On a tendance aujourd’hui, où l’origine de la locution n’est pas comprise, à ajouter à tort la négation, croyant exprimer la même idée […]. C’est proprement dire tout le contraire de ce que l’on veut dire" (16). Faux, ce commentaire! La vérité est sans doute dans le Nouveau Petit Robert: "Faire long feu se dit d’une cartouche dont l’amorce brûle trop lentement, de sorte que le coup manque son but" et signifie au figuré "ne pas produire son effet, échouer". Il n’est pas vrai que ne pas faire long feu exprime la même idée; évoquant l’image d’une bûche qui "ne tient pas le feu", l’expression signifie "ne pas s’attarder". Ces deux locutions sont claires dans leurs contextes; l’une, plus ancienne, est surtout littéraire, l’autre est plus usuelle dans le langage parlé.


travail (truh-VAYL) noun

Painfully difficult work; agony, anguish; the pain of childbirth.

verb intr.

To work strenuously, toil; be in labor.

[From Old French travailler (to work hard), from Vulgar Latin tripaliare, (to torture with a tripalium). A tripalium was a three-staked instrument of torture.]

Travel also derives from travailler, with reference to the hardships of a journey. The first recorded use of travel (as travelen) was in the 14th century, when anyone venturing on a journey could expect to face many hardships, even if not encountering a three-staked torture device.

Travail and travel derive from Indo-European root *trei-, meaning three. Less obvious words in this family include trammel, sitar, trivia, trivial, troika, trivet, testify, testimony, testament, attest, contest, detest, and protest. These last seven words derive from Latin testis, with reference to a (third party) witness, also the source of the word for the testicles that bear witness to male virility. One more word in the *trei- family is triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number thirteen.


octothorpe (OK-tuh-thorp) noun

The symbol #.

[The symbol # is derived from a shorthand way of writing lb, the abbreviation for the Latin libra (balance), just as $ is a shorthand way of writing US. Octothorpe is an alteration, influenced by octo-, of earlier octalthorpe, probably a humorous blend of octal (an eight-point pin used in electronic connections) and someone whose last name was or ended in "thorpe", and whose identity is subject to speculation. It may be James Edward Oglethorpe, an eighteenth century English philanthropist, but more likely it is an Olympic athlete, Jim Thorpe. In the early 1960s, Bell Labs introduced two special keys in its innovative touch-tone telephone keypads, "#" and "*", for which it needed fresh names. Having eight points, "octo-" was an obvious first element. Since the engineer involved in introducing this innovation was active in a group seeking the return of Jim Thorpe's medals from Sweden, he whimsically added "-thorpe", creating octothorpe. (Jim Thorpe was disqualified because of his professional status, but his medals were restored posthumously.) The "#" is also known as a pound sign, crosshatch, number sign, sharp, hash, crunch, mesh, hex, flash, grid, pig-pen, gate, hak, oof, rake, fence, gate, grid, gridlet, square, and widget mark.]


doyenne (doi-EN) noun

A women who is the eldest or senior member of a group or profession.

[From Late Latin decanus (chief of ten), via Old French deien and Middle French doyenne. Her male counterpart is a doyen.]

Another word derived from decanus is dean, which originally referred to a chief of ten men, then leader of ten monks and, finally, to the administrative head of a cathedral or college. A few other non-obvious ten-based words are decussate, intersected or crossed to form an X; dicker, probably from Latin decuria, parcel of ten, with reference to the bundle of ten animal hides Caesar's legions used as a unit of trade; decimate; decibel; and the names of currencies used in various countries, including the qindarka (Albania), stotinka (Bulgaria), and dinar (various Eastern European and Mid-Eastern countries).