April 8, 2009

Good times with Julian Burnside while reading Wordwatching.

The trivia:

[The expression 'parting shot'] derives from an earlier, metaphorical expression and has replaced it because of their phonological similarity. The original expression is Parthian shot. By about 170 BC the Parthian region was independent of the Seleucid kingdom, and in 55 BC the ineffectual Roman general Crassus was defeated by the Parthians, who used a home-grown tactic to great effect. The Parthian horsement would ride towards their enermy and let fly a volley of arrows, then turn in retreat. Thinking the Parthians’ resources exhausted, the Romas would follow the retreating horsement. But, great horsemen that they were, the Parthians would rise in their saddles and, turning, fire another volley into the unsuspecting Romans. Thus the devastating final shot in apparent or actual retreat became known as the Parthian shot. Here lies the subtle distinction between the two expressions: a parting shot is one necessarily associated with departure; a Parthian shot may be the purpose for a feigned withdrawal.

The understated fun-making:

That great and traditional accompaniment to festive occasions in Australia, the saveloy, is a corruption of the French cervelas: a highly seasoned, cooked, and dried sausage.


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