NYT Mini for Sunday, January 17

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium-Challenging

Theme: None

Word of the Day: AGITA

To the Editor:

In Anna Quindlen's Aug. 17 column advocating a Presidential bid by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, I stumbled on a sentence: "He communicates the agita of the immigrant child who simultaneously sees the dream gone wrong and believes it can come true." Surely someone had blundered with that fourth word -- an unintentionally apocopated form of "agitation," perhaps?

And then I recognized in agita the word that had started out in Tuscan as "acido" (pronounced AH-chee-doe and meaning, in this context, stomach acid), had got roughed up a bit in southern Italian dialect so that it came to be pronounced roughly like AH-jah-dah and, as far as I know, made its United States media debut about seven or eight years ago via a New Haven sportscaster. Referring to a favorite team's blowing a substantial lead before it managed to squeeze by the opposition in the game's final moments, the sportscaster reached for his colloquial Italian to chide the team for having given him a bad case of "agita."

The word, unrelated to any Italian cognate meaning agitation, can be used in three senses: (1) acid indigestion or heartburn, as in "No, thanks -- health food gives me agita"; (2) the gastrointestinal afflictions we experience while fretting over an outcome that means a lot to us, such as whether the Internal Revenue Service will notice that $13,000 deduction for work-related expenses; (3) the plunge in stomach pH caused by having to deal with an exasperating or otherwise unpleasant person, as in "You know what? You give me agita!"

It's a philological shame that the image of corrosive gastric secretions underlying the word is being diluted by the spelling you have endorsed. I therefore propose a way of pouring the acid back into agita: Let's spell the word acida (the terminal "a" instead of "o" being a concession to the word's more immediate provenance in demotic southern Italian), continue to pronounce it AH-jah-dah and italicize it as a foreign word. (I think most people who are aware of the word -- has it invaded Idaho yet, I wonder? -- still regard it as an exotic term, about as naturalized into English as Brioschi into the pharmacopeia of mainstream America.)

The folk-etymology spelling of agita appears to have misled Ms. Quindlen into associating the word with agitation. Isn't preventing mistakes of this kind a strong litmus test of a proposed new spelling's usefulness? PETER D'EPIRO Alpine, N.J., Aug. 19, 1991

D'Epiro, Peter. "'Agita' Spells No Relief in Any Language." (letter to the editor) The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Sept. 1991. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.

Can I do that? Can I just copy and paste an entire letter to the editor from the NYT site? I guess we'll find out!

So AGITA was a new word to me, and I was surprised to learn it isn't based on on "any Italian cognate meaning agitation" [2D: Heartburn]. So surprised I looked it up, and now I'm even more confused because Google thinks it is. So who knows. On to more important matters.

SONAR is pretty great [1D: A school might be found using it]. Not only do we get the (thankfully untelegraphed) wordplay on 'school'; we also get a nice ambiguous syntax that clouds the exact meaning of the sentence. Is said school to be discovered in the act of "using it", or will it be located via the process of "using it"? Turns out it's the latter, and the school is of the aquatic persuasion. So the answer isn't "common core".

X-RAY [8A: Picture of health?] is also nice, a clue which it seems like has almost certainly been used before, though I don't recall ever seeing it. I immediately thought it might be SCAN or somesuch, but X-RAY is much tighter.

We have a nice pair of classic screwball comedy references in MARX [5D: Any brother in "Duck Soup"] and NUTTY [3D: Like a professor played by Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy]. I'm ashamed to say I've only seen the latter Nutty Professor film.

Ok, can we get real for a second? Now I know—as I'm sure you do—that the Wikipedia page for Jerry Lewis specifically says he is NOT to be confused with Jerry LEE Lewis, but yet, here I exist, doing just that. Why do their names have to be so similar? At this moment, after skimming both their Wikipedia pages and googling for several minutes various versions of the phrase "What is the difference between Jerry Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis", I've already forgotten again which is which. All I know for certain is that one of them seems to have been a total creep, so my apologies to the other one for that.

I haven't even talked about Comic SANS yet [1A: Comic ___ (typeface)]. There it is, right at one across. I'm going to assume that rather pedantic clue was chosen intentionally, as a commentary on the perennially ubiquity of that much-maligned font. Yeah, that's right, comic sans be all up in your puzzle. Comic sans don't give a FUCK. What you going to do about it?

MOGUL is a nice word [5A: Tycoon]. Wait, what? I thought moguls were the non-magic people in the Harry Potter-verse?

And the Weasley brothers are Harpo, Chico and Zeppo, right?

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Helvetica Neue of CrossWorld