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Jewish World Review June 3, 2004 / 14 Sivan, 5764

Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Edition

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'Surrounded on three sides'; sleuths | Dear Editor:

I remember being taught that it is wrong to say that something is "surrounded on three sides" because "surround" means enclosed on all sides. But I often read and hear people describing things that way. Is it a mistake or not? - L. B., Miami, Fla.

Dear L. B.:

It's true that some people criticize expressions like "surrounded on three sides" on the assumption that a thing can't be surrounded unless it is completely encircled or enveloped. Those same critics also dislike "surrounded on all sides," "completely surrounded," and similar expressions, which they regard as redundant. But either a lot of people don't know about the criticism or a lot of people don't care about it, because, as you have noticed, these expressions are common in standard speech and writing - far too common, in fact, to be regarded as errors. There is abundant evidence of their use in literature as well. Henry James, for example, in his novel "The American" (1877) describes "a graveled court" that is "surrounded on three sides with closed windows."

Dear Editor: I've always thought "sleuth" an odd word. Can you tell me its origin? - N. H., Skokie, Ill.

Dear N. H.:

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A Modern English sleuth is a detective, but in Middle English the word "sleuth" meant "the track of an animal or person." The word was a borrowing from Old Norse "sloth." After the 15th century, "sleuth" was seldom used except in compounds like "sleuth-dog" and "sleuthhound." These were terms for a dog trained to follow a track. "Sleuthhound" was used specifically in Scotland for a kind of bloodhound used to hunt game or to track down fugitives from justice. We find mention of the legal importance of the sleuthhound in John Bellenden's English translation of Hector Boece's Latin "History and Chronicles of Scotland" (1536): "He that denyis entres to the sleuthound...sal be haldin participant with the crime and thift committit." (He that denies entrance to the sleuthhound...shall be considered a participant in the crime and theft committed.)

The sleuthhound, originally a Scottish animal, gained fame far beyond the bounds of its homeland; it became a symbol of the eager and thorough pursuit of an object. According to Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell in her "Life of Charlotte Bronte" (1857), "The West Riding men are sleuthhounds in pursuit of money." In the 19th-century United States, the metaphoric "sleuthhound" acquired a more specific meaning and became an epithet for a detective. This new term was soon shortened to "sleuth."

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05/18/04: 'Of the first water'; horses and horseradish; more
05/06/04: 'Historic' v. 'historical'; 'prestigious' = 'trickery'?; 'can of corn' as sports phrase
04/27/04: Derivation of 'bozo'; 'elt'; 'spill the beans'
04/21/04: Meaning of "budget'' in the word "fussbudget''; "bleeding hearts''; "skycap''
04/01/04: "Thin red line''; "doak"; "level playing field"
03/22/04: "King Canute"; "vodka"; "Cheese it. The cops!''
03/16/04: "Carrot and stick''; "hue and cry''; Where did the term "flea market'' originate?
03/09/04: Going "haywire"; "close, but no cigar"; "mahatma"
03/01/04: "Roundheel'' and "well-heeled''; "milquetoast"; "sick as a dog''
02/26/04: "Charley horse"; "`Foolproof''; "cracker-barrel''
02/17/04: "Dunce''; titles "Mr.'' and "Mrs.''; "under the weather''
02/10/04: "Turnpike''; "dead reckoning''
02/02/04: "Mutt"; "lobby" in its political sense; "procrustean bed"
01/27/04: "Decimate"; "duende"; a dessert "junket"?
01/14/04: Is "MacGuffin" related to all the "Mac" and "Mc" words we've been hearing about recently?; "afghans" and "Afghans"; "since Hector was a pup"
01/09/04: Confused about the word "hearsay"; "Burgle"; "waiting in line" or "waiting on line"?
12/31/03: The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
12/15/03: "Ostracize" and "oyster''?; Where does the "mentor'' come from?; "jeopard''
12/02/03: "Karats'' and "carats'' — meaning of and difference between; why apostrophe in "'cello''?; "hell-bent for leather''
11/18/03: "Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame''
11/13/03: 'Take it on the lam'; 'decorum'; 'you look like the wreck of the Hesperus'
11/03/03: Origin of "hypnosis"/"hypnotism"; "all right" or "alright"; emote
10/28/03: "Blue plate special"; how to use "hoi polloi''; "Peck's Bad Boy''
10/20/03: Who was the person the artist who first used "silhouette" as an art form?; why are they called migraine headaches?; origin of "keep one's shirt on"
10/13/03: "Grey'' in "greyhound'' has nothing to do with the color?; "at loggerheads''
09/29/03: Where does the word "karaoke" comes from?; people or persons?; "synecdoche"
09/23/03: Using "eke'' correctly; fedora; why do we call an especially flattering biography a "hagiography''?
09/10/03: Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
08/25/03: "Cheesy''; "hold a candle''
08/11/03: "Halcyon days''; Why isn't "sacrilegious'' spelled "sacreligious''?; "red light'' and "green light'' as expression — which came first, the inaction or the signals?
08/04/03: "Votive'' candles; "cosmeticizing"; "potluck''
07/28/03: Why ‘debt’ has a ‘b’ in it; "south moon under''; why "Rx'' is used for prescriptions
07/21/03: "Romance" & "Rome"?; punching & clocks; "conversate"
07/14/03: "Lukewarm''; Where did we get the word "wig'' for a fake head of hair?
07/09/03: Why doesn't "Arkansas'' rhyme with "Kansas''? ; "Catawampus"; "Jimmie Higgins work"
06/30/03: "Foozle"; author who wrote an entire novel without using a certain letter of the alphabet?; "kith and kin"
06/23/03: "On the fritz"; "knuckle down''
06/17/03: How did "lazy Susan'' come to be used for the rotating tray?; woolgathering'' as synonym for "idle daydreaming''; "in harm's way''
06/09/03: "Clotheshorse"; a god named "Ammonia"?
05/29/03: With kid gloves; "receipt'' = "recipe''?; from soup to nuts

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