Watch what you teach — it may last. 

Rosie Right

Never underestimate the power of a fine teacher. Rosie had lunch recently with an old friend, Molly Talcott Dodson, and not coincidentally the conversation turned to words. Mrs. Dodson told Rosie about Miss Dorothy Hood, her St. Catherine's middle-school teacher, who not only inspired her students to study enthusiastically, but also gave them a word game: Try to make a list of English-language nouns that came into the language from the names of people or places.

Some 50 years later, Molly Dodson is still interested in this exercise and, indeed, while studying for a master's degree at Hollins several years ago, turned in a paper with some of these nouns and an explanation of their origins. Here are a few:

"Canary— from insula Canaria, one of the Canary islands, so-called because of its large dogs (from the Latin, canis, meaning dog). Hence this word has come to mean 1) a lively old French dance, (2) a wine made on the Canary Islands, (3) canary bird, a small finch native to the Canary Islands, and (4) short for canary yellow, a color reddish-yellow in hue of medium saturation and high brilliance.

"Tawdry - from St. Audrey's Fair. At the fair of St. Audrey, formerly held in England each year on St. Audrey's Day, Oct. 17, a variety of things such as trinkets, toys, laces and the like were sold. The name, St. Audrey, shortened to tawdry, was used to designate the sort of things one bought at this or any other fair: for the most part cheap, gaudy items without taste.

"Grog — named for its originator. Admiral Vernon was known to the English navy in the 18th century as 'Old Grog,' from the gorgeous coat he wore in foul weather. He became more famous for his order, issued about 1749, to water the rum rationed to sailors. This diluted mixture was promptly dubbed grog after its originator, and the word has since been applied to intoxicating liquor in general.

"Panic - from the mischievous god of the ancient Greeks. In Greek mythology there was no greater troublemaker among the pagan deities than Pan. His abrupt appearance among the timid wood nymphs inspired frantic efforts to escape. He was suspected of inspiring human beings with unreasonable terror. So the Greeks imagined that sudden, contagious fear must have been inspired by Pan, and to denote this fear they created the word panicos. Modern English has taken the word in the form panic."

Cheers to all good and inspiring teachers everywhere.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (355-9089) or e-mail rmail@richmond.infi.net

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