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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2003 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

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

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Consumer Reports

"Hoosegow,''; why the little finger is called the "`pinkie''; difference between "lady'' and "dame'' | Can you tell me the origin of the word "hoosegow,'' meaning "jail''? Does it come from German? — B. K., Greenbelt, Md.

Dear B. K.:

"Hoosegow'' actually comes from the Spanish word "juzgado.'' In Spanish, the letter "j'' is pronounced like the English letter "h.'' "Juzgado'' literally translates to "court'' or "tribunal'' and is the past participle of the verb "juzgar,'' meaning "to judge.'' It comes originally from the Latin "judicare,'' also meaning "to judge.''

In English slang, the use of "hoosegow'' originated in the American Southwest, where it was apparently adopted from Mexican Spanish in the late 19th century. The first published use of the word in English dates to 1909. In addition to its usual "jail'' sense, "hoosegow'' has also had some use as a slang reference to an outhouse.

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Dear Editor:

I am a reading teacher who works with first and second grade children. Recently, the question was brought up of why the little finger is called the "pinkie.'' We hope that you will have the answer for us. — S. R., Kingston, R.I.

Dear S. R.:

More than likely, "pinkie'' originated from the Dutch word "pinkje,'' a diminutive form of "pink,'' meaning "little finger'' in Dutch. A diminutive form denotes something small, cute, or dear. Different languages use different endings for diminutive forms.

The '-je'' ending in Dutch is equivalent to the endings "-y'' and "-ie'' in English (as in, for example, "deary,'' "doggie,'' and "birdie''). Dutch "pinkje'' thus means "cute little finger'' and was probably used with very small children at first.

We can't say definitely when the Dutch first started using "pink'' and "pinkje'' to mean "little finger,'' but the Scots started using "pinkie'' that way a couple hundred years ago. Scottish immigrants then brought it to America around the mid-1800s.

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Dear Editor:

For our 25th wedding anniversary some years ago, my wife and I toured Europe. Our guide in England was very pleasant and knowledgeable about English history, but when I asked her the difference between "lady'' and "dame,'' she just laughed. She never did give me an answer. My wife thinks I made a faux pas. What do you say? — W. F., Jamesburg, N.J.

Dear W. F.:

Maybe your tour guide laughed because she knew how complex it would be to answer your question. "Lady'' and "dame'' have been used as titles for a variety of women in a variety of situations, and their uses may often seem to overlap. Sifting out archaic, obsolete, and dialect uses, however, reveals significant distinctions in current usage.

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"Lady'' is used as an alternate and less formal title for a marchioness, countess, viscountess, or baroness. For example, the "Marchioness of X'' could be referred to as "Lady X.'' The title "Lady'' is also used with the first names of daughters of dukes, marquises, and earls, as in "Lady Jane, the daughter of the Duke of W.''

"Lady'' is also the title of the wives of knights, and it is used with the wife's married surname. For example, if Jane Smith married the knight John Doe, she would become "Lady Doe.''

Women who are themselves members of orders of knighthood are known as dames. Their rank is comparable to that of the men of the order who are known as knights. As a form of address, "Sir'' is used for knights, but women keep "Dame.'' Thus a knight and a dame of the Order of the British Empire could be addressed or referred to as "Sir John Doe'' and "Dame Jane Smith.''

So far so good, but there is a complication. The wives of knights who are not themselves members of the order can also use the title "Dame.'' "Dame'' is used with the first name and surname, the same styling as used for the women of the knighthood themselves. Jane Doe, wife of the knight Sir John Doe, would be "Dame Jane Doe.'' This use, however, is usually reserved for legal documents and funereal monuments.

This may not explain the reaction of your tour guide or quell your wife's concerns, but at least it answers your question.

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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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