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October 31, 2002 - Listener Mail - 2002-10-30

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": October 31, 2002
Re-broadcast on VOA News Now: November 3, 2002

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER, we catch up on some listener mail.

RS: The first question is by e-mail from Paul, an English learner in China. He wants to know which is a better name for a hotel: "Hotel California" or "California Hotel."

AA: Paul asks, "Is there any subtle difference? Under what circumstances shall I put 'hotel' before the name of a place?"

RS: For answers, we check in with Tom Cullen, associate dean of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

CULLEN: "If I were a single property, I would choose 'Hotel California.' I also would like, I would certainly like, to get the tie-in with the song."

MUSIC: "Hotel California"

RS: That song is "Hotel California," the big hit from 1976 by the Eagles. It's about a strange hotel where -- to quote one of the lines -- you can check out [anytime you like] but you can never leave.

CULLEN: "If I were building a hotel in China, 'Hotel California' would only be a good choice if what I wanted to indicate was here is a place where you're going to get American-style furnishings and comfort. Otherwise someone might say, 'Why would I stay in a Hotel California in China?' Now, having said that, there is a Hotel California in Paris and it does extremely well and has its own niche. So they do exist around the world."

AA: So now what about the second part of Paul's question about hotel names: When should "hotel" come first? Tom Cullen in the Hotel School at Cornell University says the answer may depend on the "brand" of hotel, especially if it's part of a chain, like Holiday Inn or Hilton. The question is, how well is it known?

CULLEN: "If the brand is well known, then normally the brand name will come first, followed by the word hotel. If the brand name is not well known, then the thinking is that the customer is searching for a hotel and wouldn't recognize the brand name and so then the name 'hotel' would traditionally come first. Historically this is partly due to the ease of locating a hotel name in a telephone directory. So if you were looking for a hotel, you would look under H. And if you were looking for the Hilton Hotel, you'd look under H as well, but in a different part of the H's."

AA: Now on to a musical question from Sebastiao Albano of Lavrinhas, Brazil. He's a teacher of Portuguese and a VOA listener since the 1970s. His question is about a song by the late Frank Sinatra.

MUSIC: "My Way"

RS: "In the lyrics of 'My Way' Sinatra says: 'The record shows I took the blows.' What is the meaning of 'to take the blows'? I suppose it is slang, right?'

AA: Right, Sebastiao -- "to take the blows" is slang, although we don't hear it used very much anymore. It means to take the punches, the way a boxer takes the blows. Metaphorically speaking, it means taking what life has to give.

RS: Sebastiao told us that every week he waits for Wordmaster. So the least we can do is answer another question of his! Here it is:

AA: "The other day, an American friend, seeing a photograph of me, wrote me and said I am a 'dead ringer' for a certain American actor. That expression made me curious. I suppose it means 'to look like,' right? If so, as I have never seen any film with the actor she mentioned, the only thing that comes to my head is: 'Poor guy, how did he manage to be an actor?'"

RS: Sebastiao is right about the meaning. We looked up "dead ringer" in the Dictionary of American Slang, by the late linguist Robert L. Chapman.

AA: It says "dead ringer" was in use by 1891. Quote -- "an exact duplicate, especially a person who is the double of another: from , meaning 'precise, exact,' and , meaning 'substitute, especially fraudulently,' an early-19th-century slang term for gambling."

RS: And, you know, "dead ringer" is such a useful expression, it's still going strong in American speech.

AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Mail your questions to us at VOA Wordmaster Washington DC 20237 USA. Or send e-mail to

RS: You'll find our programs on our Web site. That address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "My Way"