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Last Words - Tweaking with Pique
by Alec McEwen

FLOPPY REFERENCES: Oxford Writer's Shelf (OWS), a new software package from Oxford University Press, contains five authoritative reference texts: Minidictionary; Guide to English Usage; Minidictionary of Quotations; Dictionary for Writers and Editors; and Conversion Tables. Package versions are available for either PC or Macintosh computers, at $140 each.

OWS comprises five floppy disks, an installation guide, and a user manual. By offering more than 40,000 entries with corresponding definitions, the Minidictionary is more useful than the spelling checkers on most word processors. Prospective users should be warned, however, that the definitions are designed with British writers in mind. Baseball, for example, is defined as an "American ball-game resembling rounders." Yes, but what is rounders? Fortunately, the Minidictionary defines that too. Although somewhat limited in scope, Quotations provides 4,000 aphorisms from 900 authors that could brighten an author's work. Guide to English Usage can help settle agonizing questions, such as whether to write shall or will, or how to distinguish between deprecate and depreciate. The remaining texts, like the others, are electronic forms of traditional printed reference sources.

The first in a planned series that will include a Science Shelf and a Language Shelf, OWS is a computer accessory, not a substitute for a good knowledge of written English. It brings language assistance to the word-processing environment. For those who don't like to be surrounded by a clutter of encyclopaedic volumes, OWS presents a neat and tidy alternative.

MOLLIFY. A Southam News report in the Calgary Herald claimed that "some native leaders may be mollified about being left out" of the constitutional discussions on Senate reform. It is more likely that those leaders who experienced shock or humiliation by their exclusion from the talks were horrified or mortified. Or they might regard the proceedings as nullified by their absence. Mollify means to soften, literally or figuratively, as with an emollient.

NOT AT ALL. Alberto Manguel, in a Saturday Night review of gay literature, denounced sexual stereotyping by observing "all transvestites are not homosexual and all homosexuals are certainly not transvestites." Taken literally, this repetitive assertion would mean that there is no such thing as a homosexual transvestite. A sharper editorial pencil might have rephrased the statement by shifting the words not and certainly not immediately in front of the respective all.

TWEAK, PIQUE. The announced intention of Winnipeg-based United Grain Growers Ltd. to offer shares to the public has "tweaked the interest of its competitors," according to a Financial Post report. Since the verb tweak means to pull sharply or to pinch lightly, in either a contemptuous or a playful manner, it may not accurately describe the reaction of rival wheat pools. Perhaps they will feel tugged in a similar direction; meanwhile their curiosity is merely aroused, or piqued.

MORTGAGEE, GARNISHEE. A Financial Post writer mistakenly reported that tenants of Toronto's Aetna Centre were instructed to send their rent cheques not to the landlord but to an insurance company, the building's first-mortgagor. A mortgagor is a person who borrows money by way of mortgage on property; the mortgagee is the lender to whom repayment is due. Mortgage, a French derivation meaning dead pledge, was so named because once the debt was paid to the mortgagee, the gage or pledge became dead. Conversely, under the old common law, the failure to repay in full by the specified date also terminated the pledge and allowed the mortgagee to seize the property in satisfaction of the debt. Garnish has two current meanings: to furnish or embellish, and to warn. In law, the verb garnish means giving a

creditor's notice to a third party, such as an employer, attaching money owed by that party to the creditor's debtor. The process is garnishment; the person receiving the notice is the garnishee. Perhaps to avoid possible confusion with garnish as an act of decoration, the verb garnishee emerged at the end of the last century to signify an issued warning that wages or other money must be paid to the person named in a court order.

PUISNE, PUNY. A radio announcement that an "associate justice" of the Supreme Court of Canada was retiring after only two years in office provided further evidence of terminology borrowed inappropriately from American institutions. Whereas US Supreme Court judges, except the chief justice, have the title of Associate Justice, their Canadian counterparts are known as puisne judges. Puisne, a spelling variant of puny, with which it rhymes, originally meant born later, from the French puis ne. Puisne judges are those of lower rank, without excluding the possibility of their being physically feeble as well.

WHO'S WHOSE. A letter m the Candian Association of University Teachers Bulletin describes Mount Saint Vincent University, where the male writer teaches, as an institution "who's primary mission 'is concerned with the education of women."' Ah, the benefits of higher learning.


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