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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 2004 / 17 Kislev 57645

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

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Consumer Reports

'Fly off the handle'; why the words 'left' and 'right' became associated with the political connotations of 'liberal' and 'conservative'; 'review' and 'revue' | Dear Editor:

Can you explain the origin of the phrase " fly off the handle,'' meaning " go into a state of sudden and violent anger''? What " handle'' are people talking about?

— D.A., Danville, Ill.

Dear D.A.:

The handle in the phrase " off the handle'' is the handle of an ax. In the pioneer days, axes were handmade, and the ax-heads were often crudely fitted to the helve. Thus it was not uncommon to hear of, or even see, the head of an ax flying off as the woodsman chopped away. This sudden flying off of the head of an ax and the danger that it caused eventually came to suggest the danger or trouble that comes when people suddenly lose their tempers.

The first documented use of the phrase " off the handle'' is from 1825.

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Dear Editor:

I often wonder why the words " left'' and " right'' became associated with the political connotations of " liberal'' and " conservative.'' Can you explain how or why this happened?

— M.T., New York City

Dear M.T.:

" Left,'' " right,'' and the associated terms " leftist,'' " rightist,'' " left-wing,'' and " right-wing,'' developed their political meanings from the seating arrangement of legislative bodies in continental Europe. The members who hold more conservative views than the other members generally sit on the side of the legislative chamber to the right of the presiding officer. Similarly, the members holding more radical views sit on the left side of the chamber.

The origin of the practice of seating legislators this way may stem from the custom of seating honored guests to the right of the host at a formal dinner or gathering. Members of the legislature who were nobles would have been seated to the right in recognition of their titled status. The nobles, in general, held the more conservative views, so conservatism became associated with " right'' and liberal views became associated with " left.''

Dear Editor:

Can you explain why a certain kind of show can be called a " review'' or a " revue''? Why are there two different spellings?

— G.J., Newport, R.I.

Dear G.J.:

" Revue'' has only one meaning: " a theatrical production consisting typically of satirical skits, songs, and dances.'' That also happens to be one of the many meanings of " review,'' as in " she performed in a Broadway review.'' " Review'' acquired this sense from " revue,'' which was the name given to these shows when they first became popular in Paris during the 19th century. The shows were - and often still are - intended to satirically review current events; hence the name " revue,'' which is simply the French word for " review.'' Perhaps because of this etymological connection, usage commentators are generally tolerant toward the use of " review'' as a synonym (or, if you prefer, a spelling variant) of " revue,'' although some critics explicitly reject the use of " review'' for " revue.'' Others consider " review'' acceptable but prefer " revue.'' So, apparently, do most writers and editors. Our evidence shows that " revue'' is appreciably more common than " review'' in this sense.

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11/17/04: 'Ball the jack'; Nazis
11/11/04: 'Catachresis'; 'kick the bucket' and dying; ballots
11/03/04: 'Divers' meaning 'different'?; 'The audience brought the house down'
10/25/04: 'Notorious' as a compliment?; 'and' as first word in sentence; 'yeoman' and 'yewman'
10/20/04: 'Shaggy-dog story'; 'tawdry'; 'Shawnee'
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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