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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2004 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 57645

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Consumer Reports

'Shaggy-dog story'; 'tawdry'; 'Shawnee' | Dear Editor:

Where did the expression "shaggy-dog story'' come from?

— M.A., Peoria, Ill.

Dear M.A.:

There are two basic kinds of shaggy-dog stories: a long-drawn-out circumstantial story concerning an inconsequential happening that impresses the teller as humorous but the hearer as boring and pointless, or a similar humorous story whose humor lies in the pointlessness or irrelevance of the punch line.

Of course, such stories have probably been around since language began, but they weren't known as shaggy-dog stories until about 1946. (That, at least, is the date of the earliest example we have of the term used in print.)

It appears that shaggy-dog stories got their name from one such popular story, or perhaps more than one, which featured a shaggy dog. The trouble is that there isn't much agreement as to just how the original story goes. Here's a sort of abridged composite based on three versions we've heard:

A man in London (or Scotland) is looking to buy a very shaggy dog (or he's lost his own). He advertises in the London Times, and a man from New York (or Montreal or Australia), after searching high and low, believes he has found just the dog. After enduring a long and complicated journey, the man arrives with the dog, only to have the man who advertised slam the door in his face, muttering "Not that shaggy!''

Dear Editor:

Could you please explain the origin of the word "tawdry''?

— H.B., Hillsboro, Ill.

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Dear H.B.:

It's a complicated story. There was a queen of Northumbria in the seventh century named Etheldreda who renounced her husband and her royal position to become a nun. As the abbess of a monastery in the Isle of Ely, she was renowned for her saintliness. Tradition has it that she died from a swelling in her throat, which she attributed to a judgment on her fondness for wearing necklaces in her youth.

Following her death, a shrine was dedicated to Etheldreda, who eventually became known as St. Audrey, and it became one of the principal sites of pilgrimage in England.

Every year on October 17 a fair was held in St. Audrey's honor. Sold at these fairs were all sorts of cheap trinkets, toys, and jewelry, as well as a type of necklace called "St. Audrey's lace.''

By the 17th century, this name had become shortened to "tawdry lace.'' Eventually, "tawdry'' came to be applied to the various other cheap articles sold at these fairs and so developed a noun sense of "cheap showy finery,'' as well as the more familiar adjectival use to mean "cheap and gaudy in appearance and quality.''

Dear Editor:

I have always liked the sound of the Native American name "Shawnee'' and have named my daughter after it. Where did the name come from? What does it mean?

— D.M., Staten Island, N.Y.

Dear D.M.:

"Shawnee'' is not just an individual's name; it is the name of an entire tribe. At times in their history the Shawnee have been an extremely scattered people, but they seem to be originally from the Ohio River Valley. The advance of white settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries drove the tribe westward, and the Shawnee eventually settled in three separate groups in Oklahoma. "Shawnee'' is also used to refer to the Algonquian language spoken by this people.

The word "Shawnee,'' pronounced as it looks, comes from a word in the Shawnee language, "Shaawanwaaki,'' which literally means "people of the South.'' (Ohio is not now considered part of the South, of course, but it may have been so designated by other, more northern pre-Columbian Algonquian people.) Since the white settlers' first contact with the Shawnee, many variant forms of their name have appeared in English, including "Savana,'' "Shaweno,'' and "Shawnese,'' which was eventually superseded by "Shawnee'' on the assumption that "Shawnese'' was the plural "Shawnees.'

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10/12/04: 'Busted'; differences between 'iterate' and 'reiterate'; 'the rain has quite abated'
10/04/04: 'Hat trick', 'rubber game' or 'rubber match'; source of 'spin doctor'; 'trope'
09/22/04: ' Redux'; 'elan'; 'swan-neck'
09/08/04: 'Adam's apple'; 'You sure lucked out'; 'the lion's share'
09/02/04: 'King's shilling'; 'Stockholm syndrome'; 'amid the alien corn'
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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