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August 22, 1999 - Listener Questions - 2002-02-05

INTRO: This week VOA's Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble answer some listener mail.

MUSIC: "Oh Mr. Postman"/B'witched

RS: Our first letter comes from a listener in Assela, Ethiopia.

AA: Teddy Solomon would like to know the distinction between some easily confused words, and how to pronounce them.

RS: The four words he's talking about are spelled: l-o-o-s-e, l-o-s-e, l-o-s-s and l-o-s-t.

AA: L-double-o-s-e is pronounced loose. It's the opposite of tight. A loose screw may fall out...

RS: And if you don't put it in your pocket right away, you may lose it. Lose is spelled with one o: l-o-s-e.

AA: And, if there is a hole in your pocket, the screw might fall out. When you look for it, you'll discover you've lost it, l-o-s-t, lost.

And if you need that screw to put something together again, you won't be happy about the loss, l-o-s-s, loss.

RS: Now, a Chinese listener named William asks this question by e-mail: What is the meaning of the phrase "mess about"?

AA: In American English to "mess around" has several different meanings. Wasting time is one meaning. Quit messing around, a teacher might tell a rowdy class.

RS: To mess around can also mean to be romantically involved with someone, and can also refer to an extramarital affair.

AA: From Chittagong Medical College Hospital in Bangladesh, a Doctor Azad asks for a copy of Wordmaster. "I will be very delighted and will remain ever grateful to you," our listener writes.

RS: The easiest way to get a copy of our script each week - and to hear our broadcasts on VOA News Now - is on the Internet, at the VOA home page. That address is

AA: Now for a medical-related question. Eighteen- year-old "Reza Sheikhi" in Tehran would like to know whether the longest word in English is the medical name of a lung disease suffered by coal miners. "If so," he says, "would you please try pronouncing it on the air?"

RS: The word is spelled p-n-e-u-m-o-n-o-u-l-t-r-a- m-i-c-r-o-s-c-o-p-i-c-s-i-l-i-c-o-v-o-l-c-a-n- o-c-o-n-i-o-s-i-s. Forty-five letters! And it's pronounced -

AA: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

RS: That's a mouthful!, but, is it the longest word in the English language?

AA: The dictionary folks at Merriam-Webster put it this way. They say it's the longest word in English that is used often enough to merit entry in the dictionary.

RS: Next we have this question from Bertrand Gall of Tournefeuille, France: He asks, "Why do you call New York City the Big Apple?" AA: We contacted the New York Historical Society and found this explanation in the Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by Kenneth Jackson.

RS: According to the Encyclopedia, the nickname "The Big Apple" was first popularized in the 1920s by John J. Fitzgerald, a reporter for the Morning Telegraph, who used the term to refer to the city's racetracks. He had heard it used by black stable hands in New Orleans in 1921.

AA: In the 1930s, black jazz musicians used the name to refer to the city and especially Harlem as the jazz capital of the world. But by the 1950s, the nickname had dropped from usage and was largely unknown. Charles Gillette, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau revived the term Big Apple as part of a publicity campaign for the city in 1971.

RS: Bertrand Gall in France, we hope that peels away the mystery of the Big Apple!

AA: We owe a big thank you to everyone who's written to us recently. When you write to us, please remember to include your full name and address so we can send you a VOA souvenir.

Our address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547 USA, or send e-mail to

RS: Next week, all aboard for some railroad lingo.

With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "New York, New York"/Frank Sinatra