Commentary: What’s in a Name?

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I ran across a very interesting website that digs up the names of things that I thought had no particular name.

One such example: The day after tomorrow is called “overmorrow.” Another example is the rumbling of a stomach is called a “wamble.”

Because I missed breakfast today, my tummy is wambling like crazy.

I also never knew that the prongs on a fork are called “tines.” To that I say, why not just call them prongs or fork “ thingamajigs”?

Here’s one for you. The space between your nostrils is called a “columella nasi.” Now if I were in charge of such things I would simply call it a “snotbar” (sorry about that) and eliminate the Latin altogether.

They say that physicians have the absolute worst handwriting. Well, I take umbrage with that. I would nominate myself as the clear winner in that category.

And it’s not that I try to make my cursive writing legible. I do try to form my letters the way that Sister Irma taught us in first grade. But it’s just a hair above illegible and the way in which an abstract painter like de Kooning signs his name.

The term I would invent to cover those of us who have declared war on legibility is “sloppiwrit.”

There is a name for that little plastic table inside of the middle of a pizza box. Its proper name is a “box tent.”

Considering how many pizzas that most of us have eaten in our lifetimes, it probably should have a more glamorous name other than “box tent.”

I’ve got it. Let’s call it a pizza saver. (Or how about: “Do not eat. This is plastic”?)

I’ll guess that most of us never heard of an “aglet.” But according to my sources it is that little plastic coating at the end of a shoelace.

Don’t you wonder who coins these names and further yet: Why don’t we ever hear of words such as aglet or overmorrow used in common conversations?

I suppose that it’s possible that English scholars, tucked away in 18th-century stone buildings, need stuff to research.  And then they apply descriptive names to what they feel makes sense. But who knows?

It’s said that most jokes originate in prisons created by inmates with little to do. Maybe, just maybe, they are included in popular dictionaries by scholars who add to the cover of their wordbooks “More New Words Included.”

So, the creators of the newest dictionary brag about the fact that their book has more words in it than The Encarta College publication.

Our good friend David Shirey, formerly of Canfield, who once wrote art criticism for Newsweek and The New York Times and other well-known publications, is a walking dictionary of rarely used words.

His vocabulary is so extensive as to make us mortals embarrassed to the point of needing our computers to decipher exactly what David is talking about.

Those of us of a certain age might remember a television program called “The $64,000 Question.” You might recall that a very smart contestant would enter an isolation booth where he would be asked questions to earn anywhere from nothing to up to a grand total of $64,000.

Perhaps the spelling of a single word drew the most attention. That word was antidisestablishmentarianism and was the talk of the country. But we also would eventually find out that the questions were rigged and the show was taken off the air.

But what remains of that television program is a phrase that has never been forgotten. To this day you’ll hear in conversation that a certain question, such as “is there life on Mars,” is the $64,000 question.

One of the most interesting people in the cultural history of the world must be the brilliant American writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, who was a close friend of Pablo Picasso.

In fact, one of Pablo Picasso’s best-known portraits is the one he painted for Stein that now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

One of the great contributions of Gertrude Stein is her style. Not only did her words have meaning but they also were chosen for the way that they sound.

In this regard, her best-known line is “Rose is a rose is a rose.” She loved the repetitive sound of the word “rose” the way Picasso’s cubism relies upon the repetition of visual forms.

I’ll catch up to you in the overmorrow and please don’t step on the box tent if you don’t mind.