Archive for February 19th, 2011

February 19, 2011

Bailiwick

Another of those words that when I heard it the first time (and the second and the third) had no idea what it meant.  It is a strange word that sounds like nothing else I know.  Like with many of such words over time one develops a feeling for what they mean and how to use them to a point were I can use it correctly but still can’t define or translate it.

Filling in tax forms - not my bailiwick, pic: dangerousintersection.org

Okay, to end the suspense: bailiwick – as used in general language means a persons area of skill, knowledge authority, work, or expertise.

Here is an example:

“Sorry, I can’t help you with your taxes, filling in tax forms is really not my bailiwick.”

One from my own experience:  “I can’t help you with your swollen joints, I am a biologist, medicine is not my bailiwick.”

The origin for this one is known: the Middle English bailliwik(e) means “district under the jurisdiction of a bailiff (sheriff’s deputy)”.  That word derives from bailie (or bailiff) + wik(e) “village, district.”

February 19, 2011

Urban legends

Every once in a while you hear a story that goes something like that: “This happened to an  aunt of a friend of a friend of mine, after not washing her hair for three days she found dozens of spiders nesting on her scalp ….”

A classic urban legend: the alligator in the toilet, pc: halloweenforum.com

You have just been told an urban legend.  The definition I found on answers.com is rather good and comprehensive so I am just quoting it here instead of reinventing the wheel.  An urban legend is “an apocryphal (erroneous, fictitious), secondhand story told as true and just plausible enough to be believed, about some horrific, embarrassing, ironic, or exasperating series of events that supposedly happened to a real person.”

Urban legends are universal and seem to be playing into some deep psychological need to deal with deeply routed fear, like the fear of creepy animals infesting your body.

Despite its name urban legends don’t necessarily originate in cities or urban areas, the expression – or its alternative – contemporary legend (not used in conversation, more of a technical term)  are used to differentiate those stories from older legends from pre-industrial times.

A good selection of urban legends (albeit with annoying pop-up ads) can be found here.