Words & Stuff

i: Words Within Words (Reader Comments)

(last updated 1 September 1997)

Dominus ("a careful user of constructions like `firefighter,' `letter carrier,' and `chairperson'") quite rightly points out that the "huperchild" joke has no basis in etymology; that is, the letters spelling "man" in "human" and the letters spelling "son" in "person" have no relation to the actual words "man" and "son." In other words, "human" and "person" can in no way be considered gender-specific words the way words like "fireman" and "chairman" are. I didn't intend to imply that the words "human" and "person" are sexist; nor did I intend to ridicule non-gender-specific constructions, which I'm a great admirer (and user) of. As Dominus adds, "Making those joke changes would make as much sense as changing `supersonic' or `reprimand'."

So perhaps I should also explicitly clarify the fact that creating an Inword clue has nothing to do with the derivation or meaning of the original word; the substitutions are based entirely on strings of letters. For instance, "elsewhere" could be turned into "elneedlehere (1)" by substituting "needle" for "sew," even though the word "elsewhere" has nothing to do with sewing.

I'm afraid I'm not going to print any more comments on the sexist-language aspect of this column. Feel free to send 'em to me if you wish, though; I intend to eventually address the topic of gender-neutral language in a future column. In the meantime, I shall endeavor to avoid starting out columns with potentially inflammatory comments on unrelated subjects. Sexism and gender-neutral language don't really have anything to do with the game of Inword.

Dominus goes on to ask a question I don't know the answer to, so I'm opening it up to readers: "Are there even any compound words in English at all that include `son' in the way that `sportsman' includes `man'? ... Of course, words like `grandson' and `stepson' don't count."

In answer to which, Thida Cornes suggests "whoreson" as well as "all the '-son' last names like Johnson, Peterson," and so on. She also provides some idiomatic phrases that use "son": "son-before-the-father which means plants whose flowers appear before the leaves," "son of a bitch," "son of toil," "native son," "son of man."

Here are some clues that we never did figure out from Geoff's original Inword list; though they're not reader comments as such, I figured they made more sense here than on the answers page. I'll fill in answers to these as I receive 'em (with names of answerers) or come up with 'em:

sevtreenight (2)
seventeen
howeverpound (1)
stop mmine smeagre (1, 1, 1)
speak more slowly (Stacey Kraemer)
tapeipcurve (2)
megoffighte (3*)
inroadamloft (2)
dbroomey (2*)
dwhiskey, dale (Joe Robins)
dedistanced (1)
deranged (Stacey Kraemer)
crystic (2*)
temuch (2*)
kpshunn (2*)
fvaceil (3*)
headmasterap (2*)
deanap, dearest (Stacey Kraemer)
desplegunched (2*)
desparate (unfortunately a misspelling. How about "descurlunched (2*)" instead?) (Joe Robins and Mya Rorer)
dechess (2*)
ldrunk (2*)
stickds (2*)
elequal (1)
eleven (Joe Robins)

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>