4.1123 Words: "Mother Of"; 1st Year Students; Children (4/124)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 4 Mar 91 19:48:01 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1123. Monday, 4 Mar 1991.

(1) Date: Fri, 1 Mar 91 02:31:56 EST (64 lines)
From: markt@umd5.umd.edu (Mark Turner)
Subject: "MOTHER OF"

(2) Date: 03 Mar 91 00:11:25 EST (21 lines)
Subject: 4.1118 Words

(3) Date: Sat, 02 Mar 91 21:14 PST (25 lines)
From: "Robert S. Kirsner" <IDT1RSK@UCLAMVS>
Subject: neutral term for freshmen

(4) Date: Sun, 03 Mar 91 09:40:04 PST (14 lines)
From: Arnold Keller <AKELLER@UVVM.UVic.CA>
Subject: Re: 4.1118 Words

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 1 Mar 91 02:31:56 EST
From: markt@umd5.umd.edu (Mark Turner)
Subject: "MOTHER OF"

"Mother of" is about to become a catch-phrase. Secretary of Defense
Dick Cheney, a man not known for verbal flair, reported to the American
Legion that the mother of all battles has become the mother of all
retreats. Radio Baghdad launched "mother of" as a threat. The White
House, hoping to humiliate Saddam Hussein, bounced it back as a taunt.
In between, this new verbal toy has saturated American slang and
American news. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw reported that for Saddam, the
mother of battles has become the mother of corners. The Washington Post
for 28 February reports that the allied attack was the mother of all
maneuvers and that General Norman Schwarzkopf's magnificent report to
the press was the mother of all briefings.

Of course, this phrase is not new at all. These quips from government
and television give a fascinating demonstration of how commonplace
concepts provide the ground for individual invention. The commonplace
cultural concept of a mother has served for centuries as a guide to using
"mother" metaphorically in English.

In DEATH IS THE MOTHER OF BEAUTY (University of Chicago Press), I
examine the metaphoric use of "mother" and other kinship terms.
Prototypically, mothers bring new things into being, hence "England is
the mother of Parliaments," "Filth is the mother of stench," and
"Solitude is the mother of anxieties." Prototypically, a mother is a
whole who contains a part that separates off in dependent and derivative
fashion, hence "Latin is the mother of Italian," and the phrase "mother
node" to describe in linguistics and graph theory a state from which
"daughter nodes" derive. Derivative nodes must be "daughter" rather
than "son" nodes because they in turn can serve as "mother" nodes.

"Mother of battles" relies on certain aspects of the concept of mother.
Prototypically, a mother is a locus of great efficacy, great power: she
has produced an awesome, dramatic, and compelling situation before and is
prototypically thought to have the power to do it again. A mother is
therefore a force to be reckoned with. A mother stands prototypically
in a superior relation to her offspring. Calling something a "mother"
can signal a comparison with other things that must be, by implication,
inferior on the scale, less daunting. In the common cultural model of
mother, a mother moved to attack in her role as mother is particularly
fierce. A mother is also an ancestor. We have a commonplace notion
that ancestors are pure in stock. They pass traits down the
generational line that become diluted and adulterated with each step.
Calling a trout a "grand-daddy trout" when it is no older than your
average trout is a way of saying that it is a prototypical trout, a real
trout, that its position in the world of trouts is at the top. The
mother of battles is pure of stock, more clearly a battle than any other.

There is a system to imagination. At times, it seems as if cultural
difference is such a barrier as never to be penetrated. But you would
not think so to hear the phrases exchanged in international
conversation. Saddam Hussein, Dick Cheney, and Tom Brokaw all think
they know what a mother is.

Mark Turner
Associate Professor
Department of English
University of
Maryland 20742.
301-405-3817 (office).
email address: markt@umd5.umd.edu.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------31----
Date: 03 Mar 91 00:11:25 EST
Subject: 4.1118 Words

For a gender neutral first-year student, I've been expecting some British
correspondent to suggest the old Oxford slang, "freshers". None of the
clash of the neologism and quite neutral.

But to insert [sic] after "fathers" in the Gettysburg Address: is it
sexist and retrograde to feel that there is something pusillanimous
about such a label? Something insecure? Some mewling yen to cock an
essentially adolescent snoot?

Let the dead bury the dead, I say. It was a principle of the ecumenical
councils of the early church that those who had died in the peace of the
church would be left alone, not exhumed dogmatically and condemned for
errors whose condemnation they did not live to see. There were
exceptions, as Second Constantinople of 553 weighing in against Theodore
of Mopsuestia and others, but that council was not widely accepted for
just that reason. If you do not like *my* language, fine, pull my chain
(and I won't complain for a monent); but let Lincoln be.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------35----
Date: Sat, 02 Mar 91 21:14 PST
From: "Robert S. Kirsner" <IDT1RSK@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
Subject: neutral term for freshmen

This is clearly a job for -NIK, which was the subject of postings a
while back. Indeed, Freshniks would seem to have a great deal in common
with Peaceniks and Beatniks, but none of the industriousness of
Kibbutzniks. But perhaps they will deconstruct just like Litniks.

If -NIK is disfavored, there is always -OID, as in "Postal made a rather
Chomskyoid remark." We could have Freshoids, Sophoids, Junoids and
Senoids. One could even apply this one to the administration. An
Associate Dean could be termed a Deanoid. And a Vice Chancellor a

Or, if THAT doesn't work, we could fall back on the diminutive: All
Freshies will report to the maleperson's gym at 9:00 for the placement
tests. Sophies should report at 11:00.

Or, we could even evoke the ZERO affix, as in "The Chair is perplexed at
your remark!". In that case, all Freshes could report to the
malebeing's gym at 9:00 for the placement test.

THERE! Another way in which L*I*N*G*U*I*S*T*I*C*S makes your life
better for you!
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------21----
Date: Sun, 03 Mar 91 09:40:04 PST
From: Arnold Keller <AKELLER@UVVM.UVic.CA>
Subject: Re: 4.1118 Words (7/188)

On words about children:

King Lear speaks of his "pelican daughters" repeating the notion that
the pelican feeds its own flesh to its young. The pelican, of
of course, merely carries fish in its pouch, but the picture of
the little birds with their heads in their parent's mouth gave rise
to the image of parents sacrificing themselves. There are variants
of this; sometimes the parent is noble, sometimes the children are
rapacious. My solution is to steal from Shakespeare--beautify ourselves
inhis feathers, as it were.