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More From the Word Nerd: Tabby

This is from today’s A Word A Day, and I love it because it describes both cat, plain weave cloth and silk – and it stems from Arabic.

with Anu Garg



1. A domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat.
2. A domestic cat, especially a female one.
3. A spinster.
4. A spiteful or gossipy woman.
5. A fabric of plain weave.
6. A watered silk fabric.
7. A building material made of lime, oyster shells, and gravel.

For 1-6: From French tabis, from Medieval Latin attabi, from Arabic attabi, from al-Attabiya, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, where silk was made, from the name of Prince Attab. Cats got the name tabby after similarity of their coats to the cloth; the derivations of words for females are probably from shortening of the name Tabitha.
For 7: From Gullah tabi, ultimately from Spanish tapia (wall).

“I was playing whist with the tabbies when it occurred, and saw nothing of the whole matter.”
Charles James Lever; Jack Hinton, the Guardsman; 1857.

“Kay Sekimachi uses tabby and twill weaving to contrast black and beige linens.”
Stunning 30-year Retrospective at San Jose Museum of Quilts Textiles; Independent Coast Observer (California); Jan 4, 2008.

“Mayor Carl Smith suggested that tabby fence posts be used around the cemetery’s perimeter because the oyster-based concrete would better fit the island’s character.”
Jessica Johnson; Group Restoring Cemetery; The Post and Courier (South Carolina); Jan 21, 2010.

You can subscribe to A Word A Day by going to their website (you can click on it in my list of Links to the right of these blog entries). It is free, and it is amazing.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Cultural, Language, Words | Leave a comment

Deb Roy: The Birth of a Word

Come back when you have some time – you’ll need about twenty minutes to watch this TED video about communication. I love this – but then you know I am a word nerd, and I love the way concepts are born and grow.

Computers have aided language analysis and taken it to lengths that were previously inconceivable. First, Deb Roy shows – with videos, graphs and cloud analysis – how his son learned to speak his first word.

He goes from there to what I would call “buzz analysis”, taking program content from cable television and correlating it to comments on public media – blogs, FaceBook, all kinds of public forums. The results are astonishing, and a great tool to understand the national psyche and how we think and process. This is amazing stuff.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Experiment, Interconnected, Language, Parenting, Social Issues, Words | Leave a comment