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Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2004 / 16 Elul, 5764

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

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Consumer Reports

'King's shilling'; 'Stockholm syndrome'; 'amid the alien corn' | Dear Editor:

I was watching an old movie the other day when I heard one of the actors say, ``When you take the King's shilling, you march to his commands.'' Having never heard this phrase before, I am curious as to its origin and meaning. I assume it has something to do with a British army enlistee's surrendering his freedom of choice.

—W.V., Harrisburg, Pa.

Dear W.V.:

You are on the right track regarding this old, seemingly outdated phrase. According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary the ``king's shilling'' is ``a shilling whose acceptance by a recruit from a recruiting officer constituted until 1879 a binding enlistment in the British army.'' References to this payment date back at least to 1707. ``He did take a shilling, but not with any intent of listing,'' wrote one 18th-century essayist, and in 1852, the novelist William Thackeray told of ``a fellow (who) was jilted by his mistress, and took the shilling in despair.'' The designation ``king's shilling'' (or sometimes ``Queen's shilling'') is not recorded until the late 19th century. In the years since, it has continued to be a familiar phrase in British English, and it pops up in American English on occasion as well.

The meaning of the quotation you've provided is of course clear: Once you accept payment for a service, you must be prepared to provide that service or suffer the consequences.

Dear Editor:

Where did we get the phrase ``Stockholm syndrome''?

—K.V., Fond du Lac, Wis.

Dear K.V.:

The term ``Stockholm syndrome'' does not describe any actual physical condition. Instead it is used to describe an odd pattern of psychological behavior exibited by a person who has been kidnapped, in which the person develops an irrational emotional bond with his or her captor. The phrase derives from a real-life incident that occurred in the Swedish capital.

On August 23, 1973, four employees of the Sveriges Kreditbank were taken hostage during a robbery by a prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson. Olsson and his former cellmate held the hostages in the bank's vault for 131 hours. Details of what exactly took place over the course of those six days are cloudy, but before the conclusion of the standoff, the hostages actually attempted to block the efforts of the police to liberate them, and they later refused to testify against their captors. After their conviction, the victims visited the criminals in jail, and there were even reports that one of the victims later became engaged to one of the kidnappers.

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A psychologist named Nils Bejerot, who had assisted police during the robbery, coined the term ``Stockholm syndrome'' to describe the behavior of the hostages. Psychologists elsewhere picked up on the term to refer to similar subsequent cases.

Dear Editor:

Some time ago, I came across the phrase ``amid the alien corn'' in an article that had nothing to do with corn whatsoever. Is this an allusion to some story I'm not familiar with?

—C.S., Covington, La.

Dear C.S.:

``Amid the alien corn,'' which basically describes someone who is alone in a foreign land or alien surroundings, is from John Keats' famous poem ``Ode to a Nightingale,'' which in turn refers to the biblical story of Ruth. After her husband died, Ruth loyally followed her mother-in-law Naomi, speaking to her in some of the loveliest language ever written (``Whither thou goest, I will go,'' Ruth 1:16). She went to Bethlehem with Naomi and became a gleaner in the fields.

Keats meditates on the beautiful song of the nightingale, writing: ``Perhaps the self-same song that found a path/ Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,/ She stood in tears amid the alien corn ...''

This same poem is the source of other familiar phrases, including ``tender is the night,'' and ``for many a time I have been in love with easeful Death.''

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08/24/04: Guacamole = avocados?; 'bona fides' needs plural verb?; 'exact same' redundant?
08/17/04: 'Nosey parker'; where the question mark came from?; why 'wash' doesn't rhyme with 'cash'
08/12/04: 'Vexillologist'; 'fifth column'; 'Homer sometimes nods'
08/05/04: 'Spitting image'; 'eclectic'; 'spendthrift'
07/28/04: 'Trousers'; 'argosy'
07/19/04: 'Sourdough wit'; 'headshrinkers'; 'seventh heaven'
07/08/04: 'The proof is in the pudding'; 'Pyrrhic victory'
07/01/04: Origin of 'vitamin'; 'binnacle list'
06/25/04: 'Abnegate' and 'abdicate'; 'feet of clay'; 'difugalty'
06/17/04: 'Whinge'; 'whole cloth'
06/10/04: 'The devil to pay'; 'crack', as in 'a crack marksman'; 'the dog that didn't bark'
06/03/04: 'Surrounded on three sides'; sleuths
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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