Amber 2

Following up on my posting on succinic acid (which led to some discussion of the substance amber), two amber items: a musical interlude, and material about senses of the noun amber.

The musical interlude. From Aric Olnes, one of his favorite songs, “Amber”, by the band 311, video here. The lyrics as supplied by Aric:

‪take me away from the norm.‬
‪I got to tell you something,‬
‪This phenomenon,‬
‪I had to put it in a song‬
‪and it goes like.‬
‪Whoa, amber is the color of your energy.‬
‪Whoa, shades of gold displayed naturally.‬
‪You ought to know what brings me here.‬
‪You glide through my head blind to fear‬
‪and I know why.‬
‪Whoa, amber is the color of your energy‬
‪whoa, shades of gold displayed naturally.

This is about the color amber, rather than the substance amber (though these senses are obviously related).

Senses of the noun amber. In NOAD2, three senses:

[1 – the substance] hard translucent fossilized resin produced by extinct coniferous trees of the Tertiary period, typically yellowish in color

[2 – the color] a honey-yellow color typical of amber

[3 – the traffic light] a yellow light used as a cautionary signal between green for “go” and red for “stop”: the lights were at amber

Sense 1, the historical original, has auxiliary material in NOAD2:

[(Aux)] Amber has been used in jewelry since antiquity. It is found chiefly along the southern shores of the Baltic Sea; pieces often contain the bodies of trapped insects. When rubbed, amber becomes charged with static electricity: the word electric is derived from the Greek word for amber.

This is information that is usually characterized as encyclopedic rather than lexicographic. The main entry is lexicographic: it’s information about the denotation of (this sense of) the lexical item. But (Aux) is (useful) information about the thing denoted, and there is some tradition for maintaining that it’s not the business of dictionaries to supply such information; that’s, literally, what encyclopedias are for. Extremely large dictionaries (like the OED) often supply this information, however, but normally they set it off as subsidiary material (indented, in smaller print, whatever). And now that so much dictionary material is on-line, even smaller one-volume print dictionaries, like NOAD, can afford the space to include some encyclopedic information, but set off, as with (Aux) above.

A bonus. Of course there will be other senses floating around. Among these is amber in what is often called an Amber alert. Strictly speaking, the expression is AMBER alert. From Wikipedia:

An AMBER Alert or a Child Abduction Emergency (… CAE) is a child abduction alert system. It originated in the United States in 1996. AMBER is officially a backronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.

The orthographic development in Amber alert is parallel to the one in Navy Seal. Strictly speaking, it’s Navy SEAL, where SEAL is an acronym for “Sea, Air and Land” team (obviously designed to be pronounceable as a word), and the Navy insists that the acronym, for reference to members of the Naval Special Warfare community, must always be all-caps. Ordinary people understand that what they write as Amber and Seal are proper names, but they might not see the point of recognizing their (putarively) acronymic  by using all caps.


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