April 22nd, 2009
Fellow colleague / curry favor
by Barbara Wallraff
Al Cannistraro, of Clifton Park, N.Y., writes: “I was surprised to see a writer whom I respect use the phrase ‘fellow colleague’ twice in a recent column on the Web site Salon.com. It strikes me as obviously redundant. I was even more surprised at how many results (none pejorative) I found for the phrase when I Googled it. Isn’t ‘fellow colleague’ redundant -- or am I wrong?”
Dear Al: No, you’re not, and yes, it is. The idea of “fellow” is built into “colleague,” and expressing it twice in a row is silly. But even Homer nods -- which is to say, everybody goofs once in a while. Much of the writing on the Internet demonstrates that some people goof a lot more often than that. So please don’t take a large number of Google results as evidence that “fellow colleague” isn’t really a goof.
James Wadsworth, of Melrose, Mass., writes: “A friend said something about ‘currying favor’ the other day, and I began to wonder how that use of ‘curry’ could possibly be right. I assume it is an Indian word. Is ‘currying’ favor to develop it, not just obtain it? Like to mix it up into a palatable dish?”
Dear James: You’re supposing that word history makes sense -- which is rarely the case. The history of the verb “curry” is even more nonsensical than average. The Tamil language of India does have a word “kari,” which gave us our noun “curry” in the late 1500s. But the Tamil word just means “a sauce for rice” and has nothing to do with the verb you’re wondering about. This “curry” came from Old French about three centuries earlier. The Old French word meant a range of things, including “to put in order,” “equip” and “brush a horse.”
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