Gendarme, Socialism, and More: It’s Last Week in Words


1. Words New to Me: Gendarme

1280px-France_in_XXI_Century._Air_policeA few days ago, I came across the word gendarme in The Oxford Book of Death. Here’s the context:

Aversion to death is necessary to the survival of the species, rather in the spirit of the French proverb to the effect that fear of the gendarme is the beginning of wisdom.

The what is the beginning of what? The context here doesn’t help. So I hit the dictionaries. Here’s what I found in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:

1. A member of a body of soldiers especially in France serving as an armed police force for the maintenance of the public order.

2. Police officer.

And the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

I. (Chiefly plural) In the older French army, a horseman in full armor, having others under him; later a mounted trooper. Now historical

2. A soldier, who is employed on police duties, especially in France

2. figurative: Projecting pieces of rock, which are called gendarmes; apparently from their … stopping travelers 1883.

Okay, so gendarme = French police office, sometimes on horseback. And the word’s etymology? Partridge’s Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English explains it like this: Middle French-French gendarmes (plural): gent, people + de, of + armes, weapons.

Now I get it: Fear of the people of weapons just may be the beginning of wisdom.


2. What Does “Socialism” Mean?

This is the question asked by a recent article in The Fort Worth Star Telegram and, depending on where you get your news, the answer could be everything from a government that tosses people in gulags for no reason to healthcare for all.  I won’t deprive you of the joy of reading that piece. Instead, I thought I’d hit you with some dictionary definitions of the word so you can judge for yourself. That said, it should be clear to anyone with a solid head on their shoulders that the socialism called for by some of our more progressive legislators does not include the government taking over the means of production.

1. Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means production and distribution of goods. 2 a. A system of society or group living in which there is no private property. b. A system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state. 3. A stage of society  in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done. – Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.)

1 a. A social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are owned collectively and political power is exercised by the whole community. 1b. The theory or practice of those who support such a social system. 2. The building of a material base for communism under the dictatorship of the proletariat in Marxist-Leninist Theory. – American Heritage Dictionary

A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be regulated or owned by the community as a whole; policy or practice based on this theory. Socialism has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state Communism, and social democracy; however it mainly applies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market…. – Oxford English Reference Dictionary

An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled substantially by the government rather than by private enterprise, and in which cooperation rather than competition guides economic activity. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains the dominant influence over the economy; others insist on an abolition of private enterprise. All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists. – Dictionary of Cultural Literacy


3. Is the Term Paddy’s Day Offensive?

800px-Vasnetsov_RazvlechenieAccording to the website Irish, “every March 17, a minority of people complain that the term “Paddy’s Day” is offensive.”

I have no doubt that this is true, but I have never heard anyone use the phrase “Paddy’s Day” in place of  St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m an active participant in the day (my daughters are Irish dancers). Nevertheless, here’s the argument/rationale:

It seems that some people see the “Paddy” in “Paddy’s Day” as derogatory, connecting it with “Paddy Wagon,” or “Plastic Paddy.

“However, to those who say “Paddy’s Day” and see no problem with it … “Paddy” in this case is simply the logical abbreviation of the Irish word Pádraig.

According to Wikipedia:

Pádraig (Pádraic or Páraic) is an Irish male name deriving from the Latin Patricius, meaning “of the patrician class,” introduced via the name of Saint Patrick. Patrick is the English version, via Old French.

Diminutives include Páidín (Anglicised as “Podge” and “Paddy”); the latter Anglicisation is often used, sometimes pejoratively, as a term for Irish people as a whole.

Okay, so there is some relation between Paddy, Pádraig, and St. Patrick, but I still think “Paddy” sounds stupid and would never say it. That said, I don’t expect this kerfuffle to end any time soon. As noted by Irish Central, this article from 1994 (!) article from the Baltimore Sun, this debate has been raging for a while.

For more about St. Patrick, check out this previous Butter Lamb post: Facts and Legends about St. Patrick.


4. New Words: Hangxiety

I came across the following from the website

I didn’t see the original article, and I’m not sure who the singer Charlotte Church is, but it seems she wrote an article in for the Guardian in which she vowed to never again experience “hangxiety.”

Hangxiety, it seems, is a new word for “the feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge.” Although the word is not yet recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary, it is registered in the Urban Dictionary.

There you go. Use it at will.


5. 15 of My Favorite Dictionaries

I recently came across an article from titled “15 of the Best Dictionary Apps for Your Every Nerdy Need.”

Putting aside the question as to why a site named “Book Riot” would publish an article about 15 of the best dictionary apps rather than 15 of the best dictionaries (I mean, where’s the love?!?), I thought, “Hey, since I don’t traffik in apps, I should produce a list of my 15 favorite dictionaries. So that’s what I’ve done. Check ’em out at the links provided! [Note: the links here are to, but if you can, please purchase any of these books at a local bookstore.]

The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art

A big book with a lot of beautiful art and very thorough definitions. If you’re into classical mythology and everything related to it, this book is for you. Surprisingly, I find myself going to this book a lot … and that’s okay with me.

A Dictionary of Symbols

J.E. Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols is kind of the gold standard of symbol dictionaries. Like the aforementioned Dictionary of Classical Mythology, it has thorough definitions, cool artwork, and I simply love flipping through its pages.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

This book is just freaking wild. Such a cool idea and pretty wide ranging. From fiction to myth to movies, if there’s an imaginary place you’ve heard of it’s in here.

Dream Dictionary from A to Z

Do you have crazy dreams (or even not so crazy dreams)? Do you want to know what you might be dreaming about? If you answered yes to these questions, get your hands on the Dream Dictionary from A to Z. I have several dream dictionaries, but I prefer this on because it’s the biggest, the best organized, and the most complete.

Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto)

John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins is great because it frequently offers contrary opinions about word origins, and the differences or discrepancies from other sources often ad an element of fun and mystery to the source of the words we use every day.

Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of English Language

Dictionaries like to “borrow” information from authoritative sources and, when it comes to etymology, Partridge’s Origins seems to be that authoritative source.

Wicked Words

When it comes to controversial words, there’s no better book than Wicked Words. It goes the extra mile when providing information on the controversy. It’s simply a great read.

A Dictionary of the Old West

Do you like the Old West? If you do, get this book full of Old West slang and western neologisms.

Psychiatric Dictionary

Detailed, thorough, authoritative, and all kinds of interesting.

Oxford Dictionary of Journalism

In this world of “fake news” and disappearing newspapers, this book provides some insight into how journalism works and the things reporters have to deal with and think about. It also helps if you’re interested in reporting, like I am.

Isms: A Compendium of Concepts, Doctrines, Traits, and Beliefs

There are a lot of wacky beliefs out there. This book chronicles them all. A fun read.

Oxford Companion to Philosophy

If you’ve ever wanted a big, fat philosophy reference, this is your book. It leaves no philosophical stone uncovered. An impressive work.

One Letter Words

From the dust jacket: This dictionary “illuminates the more than 1,000 surprising definitions associated with each letter in the English alphabet.

Dictionary of Modern War

Sinister in its way, this tome provides some interesting insights into a wide range of military-speak, and provides some detail on some of the weapons (missiles, etc.) that have been used over the decades.

Dictionary of Science and Creationism

A fantastic resource for understanding what the hell creationists are talking about and helpful in refuting their faulty premises. It’s also just an interesting book and is one of those dictionaries that one can’t believe exists but does.




Facts & Legends about St. Patrick

STP2Seeing that it’s Friday, I should be doing a Reference News Roundup (RNR). However, this Friday is St. Patrick’s Day, so I will forego today’s RNR for the chance to dip into some of the religion-oriented books in the ARL collection that too often go untouched.

First among these is the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, which has an entry on St. Patrick that says:

The historical Patrick is much more attractive than the Patrick of legend, the thaumaturge (i.e., miracle worker) who expelled snakes from Ireland or ‘explained’ the Trinity by referencing the shamrock, or accomplished single-handed immense missionary tasks of conversion which actually took many evangelists and several generations to accomplish.

That’s a pretty bold claim, especially since the legends about St. Patrick are so neat. That said, it’s true: Patrick did lead a pretty interesting life, although there seems to be little agreement on the details, including whether or not he was the “only true apostle of Ireland.” According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, the thumbnail sketch of Patrick’s life story goes like this:

Patrick was British by birth, although the precise location of which is not known. He was the son of a town councilor and his grandfather was a priest. At 16 years of age, he was captured by pirates and forced to labor (i.e., as a slavery) as a herder. While in slavery, it is said he learned to pray and soon spent all his time engaged in the practice. At some point he had a dream in which he was told 1) he’d soon return to his homeland, or 2) he’d soon return to his parents (sources differ on this). He later escaped and found his way on a ship headed for the southeast coast of Britain. After various “adventures,” he found his way back to his family, albeit as a changed man. He began to receive training for the priesthood and became quite familiar with the Latin Bible. When his training was complete, he traveled to Rome to be ordained and then went to Ireland, where he succeeded Palladius (the first bishop of the Irish) as bishop. He set up shop in the North, established his see at Armagh, and then a school. Toward the end of his life, Patrick wrote a moving autobiographical account of his youth, conversion, and spiritual development,Confessio, and this book serves as the primary source for what is known about his life.

Of the other religious references in the ARL’s collection that mention St. Patrick, both — the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature  — both tell similar stories about the saint’s life, although both add a good bit more detail to the story.

For example, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church adds that:

1. While a slave, Patrick toiled in an ancient district of Ireland known as Tirawley, in the vicinity of modern Kilala in the north of County Mayo.

2. He made his escape to Britain from a port some 200 miles away from the location of his servitude.

3. His title, “Bishop of Ireland,” was of his own decree and, while evangelizing in Ireland, he spent his time “conciliating local chieftains and educating their sons, ordaining the clergy, and instituting monks and nuns.

4. Patrick’s Confessio may have been written in response to a serious attack on his character and career.

STP1Not to be outdone, the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature fleshes out the story even more, but in some instances, muddies the waters a bit. The book offers so much, in fact, that there is no way I can recapture it all here. Among the highlights are:

1. The dream he had during his time as a slave occurred in his sixth year of servitude and not only told him that he would find his way back to his parents in Britain, but that he would find a vessel on the coast to take him there. When he found it, he was treated harshly and refused passage. In response, he went off to pray and then someone from the ship came looking for him and treated him with kindness.

2. Following his return to his family, there is a “hiatus of unknown length in his life” prior to his studying for the priesthood. It is also not clear where he studied or who he studied with.

3. Patrick had another (second) dream in which a man named Victoricus pleaded with him to come to Ireland, and that’s why he went there.

4. Patrick began his ministry in Ireland in 432 A.D. at the age of about 43 and while his biographers say he had an easy time of converting the Irish to Christianity, but there is evidence that “Patrick and his early converts were persecuted” and that “among the ruling classes and the higher order of Druids” there was opposition to the new creed.

5. St. Patrick died near Armagh on March 17, 455 A.D. at the age of 78. The anniversary of his death has ever been held as a festive day by the Irish, not only on their green isle, but in every other part of the wide world to which wars and oppression have driven them.

As noted above, much of what is known about St. Patrick comes from his autobiography, and the the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature quotes liberally from it, which explains why its entry for St. Patrick is so much longer than the entries for this revered Irish saint that appear in the other two books. Nevertheless, the excerpts make for some interesting reading  and, for a Catholic like me, provide a little inspiration for coping with life’s difficulties.

One excerpt reads:

I was about 16 years old … and was led away into captivity…. My constant business was to keep the flocks; I was frequent in prayers. The love and fear of God more and more inflamed my heart. My faith and spirit were enlarged … and in the woods and on the mountain I remained, and before the light I arose to my prayers, in the snow, in the frost, and in the rain, I experienced no evil at all.

And another reads:

At a certain time they even desired to kill me, but my time had not come. Everything they found with us they seized, and bound myself with fetters; but on the fourteenth day the Lord delivered me, and what was ours they returned.

No wonder Patrick is the patron saint of the Irish.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the ARL!