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Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2004 / 7 Tishrei, 57645

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

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Consumer Reports

'Redux'; 'elan'; 'swan-neck' | Dear Editor:

Could you explain the meaning and origin of "redux''? I have often read of something being "redux,'' but have never understood the meaning or known the correct pronunciation of the word.

— L.C., Roswell, N.M.

Dear L. C.:

"Redux'' is an adjective meaning "brought back.'' The word, which rhymes with "sea ducks,'' derives from Latin "reducere,'' meaning "to lead back,'' and has been in use since at least 1660. Usually the adjective is placed after the noun it modifies, as in statements like "For a moment it seemed like the same old nightmare - Martina redux, choking up, beating herself.'' In fact, "redux'' can be applied to almost anything from movie heroes to technological projects to politicians.

Until quite recently, this word was used very rarely, though John Dryden and Anthony Trollope had each included it in the title of a work, and it was absent from most dictionaries. But after John Updike used it in 1971 for "Rabbit Redux,'' the title of the second in his series of novels about Harry "Rabbit'' Angstrom, the word caught on, and contemporary dictionaries now routinely include it.

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Dear Editor:

Is there a word which means "having a beautiful neck''?

— L. D., Mechanicsburg, Penn.

Dear L. D.:

We have found your type of question, one asking us to find a word to fit a given definition, to be among the most difficult to answer. The best we could come up with is "swan-necked,'' which means, as you might have guessed, "having a long, slender neck.'' The swan has long been admired for the grace of its neck, and the term "swan-necked'' can be traced back to medieval England and the Norman Conquest.

Upon the death of King Edward in January 1066, Harold II seized the English throne. Prior to his defeat at the hands of William the Conqueror less than a year later at the Battle of Hastings, Harold arranged to marry Eadgyth, sister of two of his rivals, the Earl of Mercia and the Earl of Northumbria. Eadgyth was renowned for her beauty and especially for her graceful neck, and she was known as "Swanneshals,'' or "swan's neck.'' Later historians referred to her as "the swan-necked lady.'' Thus, the term "swan-necked'' has come to be a complimentary term meaning "having a long, slender neck.''

If "swan-necked'' doesn't quite suit your purpose, we can also offer a more learned-sounding coinage, "callitrachelar.'' We formed this word by combining the prefix "calli-,'' from the Greek word for "beautiful,'' and "trachel-,'' from the Greek word for "neck.'' Other words using the prefix "calli-'' include 'calligraphy,'' meaning "beautiful handwriting,'' "callimomidae,'' the name of a large family of brilliantly iridescent moths, and "callipygian,'' a discreet word for "having shapely buttocks.'' We have never seen "callitrachelar'' in use, though, so you would probably do better to stick with "swan-necked.''

— — —

Dear Editor:

I am confused about the meaning of the word "elan.'' I had seen it used to describe the French soldiers of World War I, and always understood it to mean "guts'' or "courage.'' My friend tells me, however, that it means "style'' or "chic.'' Can you clear this up?

— C. V., Caldwell, N.J.

Dear C. V.:

"Elan'' means "vigorous spirit or enthusiasm.'' The word is borrowed from the French, and originates from the Middle French "eslan'' meaning "rush'' or "dash.'' Traced back to its beginnings in French, this word comes from the verb "lancer,'' meaning "to throw a lance.''

In French, "elan'' can mean "rush,'' as in "a rush of troops,'' and it can also describe the enthusiasm with which such a rush might be made. When "elan'' began to appear in English around the mid-19th century, however, it carried with it only the second sense.

As "elan'' gained greater use in English, it came to appear in a variety of contexts from politics to sports. It now seems to be especially favored by those writing about the arts and fashion, which is probably what led your friend to equate it with "chic.'' For example, a recent advertisement described the latest fashion trend as being celebrated with "elan.'' The fashion industry's use of "elan'' is by no means exclusive, however. We have also read of a hockey team "knocking out teeth and bashing skulls with a cheerful elan that even Genghis Khan would have admired.''

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12/31/03: The past tense of "plead''; Is "old adage'' redundant?; Where did "lounge lizard'' come from?
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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
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