23 June 2006

Etymology Part II: Going Postal

"Going postal" is an American expression referring to mental instability and violence, particularly workplace-related violence. "Going postal" is a verb, and "postal" is used as an adjective (e.g. I'm telling you, she's totally postal!)

The first incident that spawned the image of the disgruntled murderous postal worker seems to be the case of Patrick Henry Sherrill, who shot 14 employees at a postal facility in Edmonton, Oklahoma, before shooting himself. This occurred on 20 August 1986. The USPS published an extensive research effort demonstrating that the postal work is actually safer than many other occupations. (According to their report, taxi drivers are most likely to encounter violence on the job, although these are usually incidents of violence from clients rather than co-workers.)

In 1995, the phrase was popularized in the movie Clueless, and the American Dialect Society elected the phrase "Most Original" in its annual New Words of the Year list. Michael Ames' 2005 book about workplace and school shootings is titled Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond.

Etymology Part I: Knackered

I have some particular pet phrases, some of which I've been using for years without any indication that I'm using them correctly - time to find out! Being fond of K words, I'm starting with knackered.

"Knackered" is an expression (primarily British) meaning "tired" or "worn out". A knacker, I've learned, is a person who buys old horses that are too worn out to be used for work. A knackery is a horse slaughterhouse. Several online sources mention that the word is "probably of Scandanavian origin", though none offer a related Scandanavian word and the sites are probably all citing each other.

I learned a new definition too: knacker is a derogatory term in Ireland. It once referred to gypsies, and is now used to describe transient, uh, underachievers. Have not yet been able to determine where the word became attached to the gypsies - did they buy old horses? Sell knick-knacks? Steal stuff?

"Knack" (meaning trick or special skill), as it turns out, has a different root. Different source cite knakke from Middle English, cnacken from Middle Dutch, and knachen from German (the last two meaning "to crack"). A 1737 Dictionary of Thieving Slang lists a "knack-shop" as a shop where one can get tools for picking pockets.

Totally knackered by now - off to bed.

20 June 2006

What is the point?

After twelve years as a respectable member of the workforce, I am taking some time off to pursue all the interests that have built up over time. Having spent most of my life as a student, a teacher, and a tutor (and occasionally a baker and a psychiatric/medical social worker), I've been on both sides of a lot of learning throughout my life, and it's the most satisfying thing I can think to do with all this spare time. I've finally learned to embrace my inner geek!

So, I anticipate I'll find bits of joy in posting interesting material as I add it to my brain. And with any luck I'll learn HTML at the same time!