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Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2004 / 4 Kislev 57645

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

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Consumer Reports

'Ball the jack'; Nazis | Dear Editor:

Could you please tell me what it means to "ball the jack''? I've heard it used in a couple of songs. Does it have anything to do with truck driving? Where did the phrase originate?

— D.F., Lakeview, Ore.

Dear D.F.:

We are certain that many a trucker does "ball the jack'' down the highway, for the phrase means simply "to go fast.'' Although one source claims it derives from an identical logging expression, its probable origin is from railroad terminology, in which the expression means "to gain speed.''

"Ball'' is probably a shortened version of "highball,'' which is the railroad term for a signal to the engineer that he may proceed at full speed, and is also used for a fast train. The term "highball'' developed from an early railroad practice in which the go-ahead signal given to an engineer was the raising of a metal ball to the top of a pole. The verb "highball,'' meaning "to go at full speed,'' also developed from this practice.

"Jack'' is railroad slang for "locomotive.'' The origin of this term is uncertain, but it may be related to other kinds of machinery that are called "jacks'' or that have names in which another word is combined with "jack,'' such as "jackshaft.'' To a railroader, then, "ball the jack'' means "to bring a locomotive to full speed.''

The expression also caught on outside of railroading circles, and is used generically to mean "to move fast'' or "to hurry.'' It is certainly used in connection with truckers, but it can also describe a person moving at high speed. For example, we have in our file this description of the sluggishness of a Missouri farm worker: "As one farmer unfortunate enough to depend on Ed's exertions during the haying season summed it up, `Ol' Ed ain't much for ballin' the jack, but he wouldn't be a bad worker, only he gets kinda fidgety in the middle of the week lookin' for Sunday to sneak up on him in both directions.'''

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Dear Editor:

It's generally believed that the word "Nazi'' is an acronym for "National Socialist.'' But I remember reading many years ago the obituary of a Bavarian wit and writer - apparently a kind of Art Buchwald of his time - who was said to have dubbed the fledgling National Socialist Party "Nazis'' when the party first appeared in the 1920s, "Nazi'' being a Bavarian slang word meaning "jerk'' or "buffoon.'' The party itself used the acronym "Naso,'' so "Nazi'' was apparently some kind of Bavarian pun. Can you confirm this story?

— O.V., Trenton, N.J.

Dear O.V.:

The writer whose obituary you read was undoubtedly Konrad Heiden, a German-born biographer of Hitler, author of "Der Fuehrer: Hitler's Rise to Power'' (1944) and other books. Heiden may not have been the Art Buchwald of his time, but he was a serious and widely read opponent of Nazism for many year. We are aware of his claim to have coined "Nazi'' in the 1920s, but we have seen no evidence that substantiates his story.

The earliest recorded example of "Nazi'' is from 1930. The acronymic explanation of its origin, which traces it to the "Na'' and "zi'' of the German word "Nationalsozialist,'' is now recognized as incorrect. The true origin of "Nazi'' appears to be as a shortening and respelling of the longer word, based on the German pronunciation of "Nati-,'' in which the "t'' is pronounced like "ts.''

Our files contain a letter dated 1932 from the German Embassy in Washington confirming this derivation, and it is simple and plausible enough to have now won general acceptance as correct.

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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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