Published: Sunday, December 11, 2016 2:45:40 AM
Last Build Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 09:00:35 GMT
Fri, 09 Dec 2016 09:00:35 GMTI seem to have picked up the cold that's been slaying the ranks at work, bah. But the words must go on! Albeit with reduced energy.
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:19:34 GMTFriday words! Here we are in December, which etymology tells us is the tenth month. Ahem.
Fri, 25 Nov 2016 16:20:48 GMTBlack Friday! Be sure to take advantage of our door-busting specials on words!
Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:51:49 GMTFriday words! I observe belatedly that I've passed the one-year mark on this little exercise. And apparently there are still words out there that are new to me.
Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:17:43 GMTI just spent about a week in Austin, TX. I was hoping for some fun dialectical exposure, but it seems that most of the people I interacted with weren't actually from Texas. Still, there are always new words, aren't there.
Fri, 04 Nov 2016 09:45:25 GMTHappy Friday, words peeps. After last week's catch-up opus, I'm going to keep this one short (for me), even tho my collection keeps growing.
Sat, 29 Oct 2016 12:38:08 GMTBoy, it's been some kinda weeks—we're gearing up for the annual conference at work, plus my wife and I cleared and vacated the house for five days so the floors could be redone. The words keep coming, tho, even if they have to be squeezed in late. Hence a larger edition than normal today.
… like political correctness, but the right-wing version of that. Like if you say that there is no flood of immigrants coming across the border, well, that is just out of bounds. That's not something you say. You are not patriotically correct.The earliest reference to patriot correctness that I found was from 2011, in a piece where the author (Tim Wise) says "[something] that we might label 'patriot correctness.'" I would not be surprised if there are earlier cites. When I searched for this term, I found that it's also known as conservative correctness, which Michael Fauntroy says he coined in 2004.
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 23:55:45 GMTFriday words! We had a hiatus last week due to work, so much of it. But we're back, with extra wordy word fun.
Something funny happens when your computer or phone can’t display a font: A blank rectangular box pops up in place of the missing glyph. This little box is called .notdef, or “not defined,” in coder lingo, but everyone else just calls it tofu.Perhaps you've seen this. Here's an example in a jokey context:
Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:32:22 GMTToday we have our final Friday words for September 2016. As if that were significant.
Sat, 24 Sep 2016 10:30:28 GMTEvery Friday, more or less, I add a post here that talks about a new word and an etymology. The new word is only warranted to be new to me; it's pretty rare that the word is new-new, and in fact it might be quite old. For the etymology, I focus on word origins that are surprising (to me) or delightful (to me).
|9 Dec 2016||thagomizer||infant|
|2 Dec 2016||Trumpgrets||quicksand|
|25 Nov 2016||Thucydides Trap, autolysis||butter|
Friday words, 2016-09-23
Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:58:17 GMTBoy, Fridays seem to be coming at me with ever-greater velocity. Is it that summer is gone? Oh, well—it just means opportunities come around seemingly faster for contemplating words.
(image) The new-to-me word this week is striminal, a mashup of streaming and criminal. This term is attributed to Gabriella Mirabelli, who runs Anatomy Media, a marketing agency. Mirabelli was quoted in an article that reported that 61% of people aged 18 to 24 get streaming content from unauthorized sources—i.e., that they're not paying for it—and 63% of them use ad blockers. Mirabelli doesn't like this behavior.
I'm generally ok with people taking a stab at a new word, but I don’t love striminal. It fails the test of being "semantically transparent," which is one of the criteria proposed by an article in The Guardian about what makes a good portmanteau. To my mind, if you hear "striminal," you can guess that it's some sort of criminal, but it seems unlikely that you could work your way back to "streaming." Would stream-inal work? Maybe, but that word ain't no beauty queen either.
Bonus new-to-me word: A couple of weeks ago, one of John McIntyre's "In a Word" columns introduced me to the word hebdomadal, which is a pretty fancy way to way "weekly." This uses the stem heptá, which means "seven" in Greek and is related to Latin septem, as in September, and, well, seven in English.
Friday words, 2016-09-16
Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:14:52 GMTHere we are on Mexican Independence Day. Sadly, although there are words a-plenty today, none of them relate to this important date being celebrated by friends and family. Still, let's proceed ...
Oh, by the way: Strong language this week.
I got the first term for this week from Virginia Hefferman's book Magic and Loss, an extended essay about the cultural impact of the internet. I'll just use a cite from the book to showcase the word and define it:
What we did at Yahoo! News, which the staff called "retroediting," would make the New Yorker staff blanch: we'd post something as soon as the sloppiest draft was ready and edit it after it was available to readers.(image) There are a couple of things I like about the word retroediting. One is that it describes a process that's very familiar to me, as anyone might guess from reading my blog entries or Facebook posts, ack. I've also worked in shops where this approach to editing has been flirted with. He said (im)passively. I also like the word because if someone had asked me to come up with a name for this editing protocol, I would have gotten stuck on post- or after-, and would probably never have stumbled on retro-. This prefix means "backwards," which to me is not an obvious way to describe this after-the-fact process. But I like it. As an aside, I also kind of like the image of the editors at a place like The New Yorker getting the vapors about this protocol.
The book also taught me another term: hyperlexia [more]
Friday words, 2016-09-09
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 13:43:11 GMTHere in Seattle, we made an extremely sudden transition from summer to fall (or autumn, for you Old World English speakers). But changes in the climate do not affect our interest in words!
The first new-to-me word for today is calligram, which refers to a piece of text in which the writing or typesetting creates an image that echoes the meaning of the word(s). The word is a mashup of calligraphy with -gram as we also see in telegram and diagram. I got this from an article that provided a gallery of 40+ calligrams by the designer Ji Lee. Here's an example so you get the idea, but you should check out the link to see the many excellent examples.
The word calligram is not new; it goes back at least to the 1930s. And as an art form, calligrams have been around a long time. For example, Islamic calligraphers have been doing beautiful calligrams for centuries using Arabic script to form pictures, as in this example:
On to more grounded things. I got the next new-to-me term from an interview with Seleta Reynolds, who's the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was talking about bicycles and "vehicular cycling"—the idea that bicycles should be integrated with, and treated as, traffic alongside cars. In her discussion, she noted that this has ended up being embraced primarily by MAMILs [more]
Friday words, 2016-09-02
Fri, 02 Sep 2016 06:56:29 GMTWhen shopping for school supplies this week, don't forget to pick up a set of Friday words!
The new-to-me word this week is gongoozler, which through some mechanism I no longer recall I got from Joss Fong on Twitter. In its most general sense, this term refers to a spectator who stares at an activity. It also has a related sense of someone who "enjoys watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom," this second definition from the infallible Wikipedia. (Whose article on this term includes the subheading "Aspects of gongoozling.") Compare trainspotting.
(image) I believe the connection here is that canal-watchers do a lot of staring. Indeed, the OED says that both gawn and gooze are dialectical terms in the UK for "staring vacantly." Satisfyingly, one of the examples in the OED (from 1986) refers to someone gongoozling at a giant outdoor screen, TV being a sort of obvious candidate for the use of this term. For what it's worth, the earliest recorded use seems to be from 1904.
One of the cites in the OED is this: "Pronounced slowly and with the proper emphasis, ‘gongoozler’ merits a very high place in the vocabulary of opprobrium." Again, one might compare how trainspotting is used. Even then, though, I speculate that someone whose activity is being gongoozled, and who is opprobriuming the gongoozler, might prefer that to the more active spectating implied by kibitzing.
Friday words, 2016-08-26
Fri, 26 Aug 2016 22:28:15 GMTIt's Friday again (kind of barely), meaning it's time for another batch o' words. I must note that I have been enjoying these later days of summer—not just because of the weather (that too, of course), but because we're seeing the last days before school buses and student-bearing minivans again clog the streets. However: words!
(image) The first new-to-me word this week is sickboating. This term refers to an attempt among certain politicians or partisan media commentators to suggest that Hillary Clinton is ill in some way—epilepsy, dementia, something. I got this term from an article in Esquire. Almost all of the references I can find point back to this article, although the article itself uses the term without quotation marks. The whole story started only a few weeks ago, so perhaps this really is a brand-new term.
Politics aside, the term is linguistically interesting in a couple of ways. It alludes to swiftboating, a term invented during the 2004 American presidential-election season to refer to the smear campaign mounted against John Kerry, who had served in the US Navy on a so-called Swift Boat, a fact he touted as part of his campaign. During the election season, Kerry was attacked via an orchestrated effort (supposedly by other Swift Boat veterans) that sought to discredit Kerry's service. This type of political smearing quickly became known as swiftboating.
In sickboating, we see boating breaking further away from its original sense of the actual boat and taking on more clearly the semantics of "smear campaign." This is reminiscent of the way that gate [more]
Friday words, 2016-08-19
Sat, 20 Aug 2016 12:56:23 GMTFriday words! Only today they happen to be on a Saturday. That's how it goes sometimes.
(image) For this week's new-to-me word, I have wind throb, which I learned just a few days ago from an article (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal. This refers to the "wub-wub-wub" noise that happens when you open only one window while driving fast in a car. The more technical name for this phenomenon is Helmholtz resonance, but good luck getting far with that term at your next dinner party.
Fun fact: per the article (and a slew of others that appeared this week), wind throb is more of a problem with latter-day cars because they are designed to be aerodynamically tight. Certainly I've noticed that it's more of a problem with my 2015 Maserati than with my 1973 Dodge Dart. (Yeah, right.)
(image) For surprising etymology this week I have two! The first is the word geyser, referring to a hot spring that sends up a plume of water. Give a moment of thought to the word, and you'll observe, I believe, that its meaning doesn't seem to be obvious, nor does it have cognates. That's because geyser has an unusual source (haha): it comes to English from modern(-ish) Icelandic (!), not exactly a historically rich source for English vocabulary. Geysir [more]
Friday words, 2016-08-12
Fri, 12 Aug 2016 17:44:00 GMTAs we know, F is for Friday, and also for, um, filology. Wait, no, that's philology. Whatever, let's look at some new-to-Mike words.
(image) The first new-to-me word is drunkorexia, which refers to "behaviors such as skipping meals or exercising heavily to offset calories from a heavy night of drinking, or to pump up alcohol's buzz," according to the page on the NBC website where I saw this. I looked for other sources, and many of them also have this dual definition, where avoiding eating is done either to offset the calories in alcohol or to enhance the effects of drinking. Anyway, I find cites going back at least to 2010. Apparently I'm not in college anymore, or I probably would have known this term.
(image) A second new-to-me term this week is Liebig's Law. This is actually quite old, and I knew of the concept, which is also sometimes referred to as the law of the minimum. But I didn't know there was a name for this. (Of course there is, duh.) Liebig's Law states that the expansion of a system is capped by the availability of the scarcest critical ingredient. For example, on a broad scale, life on earth cannot expand indefinitely; at some point when you chemically build living systems, you'll run out of a critical ingredient. (If I remember right, that's phosphorous, but don't quote me on that.)
Friday words, 2016-08-05
Fri, 05 Aug 2016 10:57:18 GMTFriday again! I had to skip last week because I took a wee trip to Canadia to drop my bride at the Vancouver (BC) airport. So today I'm just going to have to have to compensate with Extra Words.
The first new-to-me term this week (er, fortnight) is faxlore and a related term xeroxlore, which I got from the linguist Gretchen McCulloch (again). These refer to stuff—jokes, cartoons, funny stories, etc.—that are (were) distributed via fax machine and photocopiers, respectively. (I like this in the Wikipedia article: "compare samizdat in Soviet-bloc countries.") Obviously, these aren't yugely useful terms anymore, but I think the reason I seized on them was precisely that I am old enough to be able to remember faxlore and xeroxlore examples taped to colleagues' office doors or pinned to cubicles, and can remember the smeary look of a cartoon that had been copied from a copy of a copy. And! I lived through the transition when the exact same material stopped being sent around in hardcopy, so to speak, and started circulating as emails. Exact same.
Prototypical faxlore cartoon
Number 2 new-to-me word this week (er, fortnight) is depave. The literal meaning of this word is obvious: to remove concrete and asphalt. But I was interested in its use as the name of a movement that promotes this practice both for aesthetic reasons and for the practical benefit that it helps alleviate problems with runoff and flooding [more]
Friday words, 2016-07-22
Fri, 22 Jul 2016 10:49:25 GMTHey, it's Friday again. So soon! Fortunately, we have the consolation of words.
Today's new-to-me term is conformist distinction. I got this from a FiveThirtyEight podcast in which Tom Vanderbilt was discussing his new book on taste, You May Also Like. In the podcast, Vanderbilt was discussing "tokens of identity" by which we project ourselves, and the dual desire to fit in but also have a unique style. This, he says, is conformist distinction, apparently a term from psychology. (I don't find hits on this using normal-Google, fwiw.) As he summarizes the term, "We all want to be like each other, more or less, but with a little twist."
Here we all are, showing our distinct style while conforming to hipster fashion
(image) For unexpected etymology this week I have a term that's actually timely: candidate, as in someone running for office. This one came up when I was reading about Roman senatorial elections in Mary Beard's SPQR.
The tl;dr on the word is that it means "clothed in white," referring to the white togs (er, togas) that candidates wore. A little bit of delving, what the heck, tells us that candidate shares a root with candid (something that, arguably, candidates often are not), which means "white" and "shining" or "glistening." In fact, the first definitions in the OED (in historical order) for candid [more]
Friday words, 2016-07-15
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 11:00:03 GMTFriday again?! I missed last Friday due to visitors visiting, but we're back today!
For today's new-to-me term, we have Null Island. This term isn't entirely new to me; I learned it when I started work at Tableau, but it came up again recently. Null Island is a jocular name for latitude 0, longitude 0—where the prime meridian meets the equator. This happens to be a point off the west coast of Africa:
The name Null Island alludes to the fact that in many systems, a null (missing data) is interpreted as a zero. In our software, for example, if you're creating a data visualization that involves maps, we use 0 for any missing latitude or longitude information. Thus you might be surprised to find in, say, your sales analysis that you appear to be making sales in the Gulf of Guinea. Whoops. (In our software, you can click a button to remove null values from your analysis.)
There's an article in Popular Mechanics that describes the issue. This article goes on to note that computer systems often have trouble with people whose last name is Null (and there are many such people). Someone has (of course) created a website for The Republic of Null Island. Buy the t-shirt!
(image) For etymology, I got to wondering about cattle rustling. I was listening to a Planet Money podcast ("Cow Noir [more]
Friday words, 2016-07-01
Fri, 01 Jul 2016 15:04:57 GMTAlways good to start a holiday weekend with a few words. (Holiday offer good in the U.S. and Canada only. Words offer good anywhere, anytime.)
(image) The new-to-me word this week is ratting, a verbed form of RAT, which stands for "remote access Trojan." A RAT is software that's installed on a computer to let someone control it or spy on the user; ratting is the installation of such software. By ratting, a hacker can log your keystrokes (thus capturing passwords), use your camera, monitor your microphone, and engage in other nefarious activities. I got the term from an article in The New York Times that encourages people to cover their cameras when not using them. (I do this.)
I should note that RAT can also stand for "remote access tool," and that there are legitimate reasons for letting someone control your computer. For example, it might be a way for a tech-support engineer to help you resolve a problem. But in the more sinister version of RAT and ratting, the purpose is malicious.
The term RAT is not new; I see references at least as far back as 2002. It's even spawned variants—a particular RAT for Android phones is referred to as an AndroRAT. The verb ratting is somewhat newer, and the NYT article still has it in quotation marks to signal its newness. I find a reference to the verb in Wired from 2013.
Fun fact: ratting [more]
Friday words, 2016-06-24
Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:30:14 GMTWhoa, Friday again! And what a Friday to wake up to. (Linguistic angle: a trending hashtag on Twitter today is #regrexit.) But anyway, on to the words!
(image) This week I'm inspired by a conversation at work about baseball, which yielded two new-to-me terms. The first is Mendoza Line. Mario Mendoza was a baseball player who played for various major-league teams in the 1970s and 1980s. One year when he played with the Seattle Mariners, he finished the season with a .198 average, well below the league average of .270 that year. In Mariner lore, it became a joke that someone who was hitting poorly might fall below the "Mendoza Line"—i.e., below .200. This term spread in baseball, especially via the ESPN show "SportsCenter."
The cool thing is that it's gone beyond baseball to refer generally to a threshold for mediocrity. For example, an article about movie revenues used it this way:
A sub-$2,000 per theater average means that it likely cost more for the studio to make and ship the physical print of the movie than their share of the box office. It is the Mendoza Line of box office numbers and regardless of the reviews, there's nearly no way to describe the film in positive terms.There's more detail in the Wikipedia article, should you be curious.
In the same conversation I learned another term: Eephus pitch (or Ephus pitch [more]
Friday words, 2016-06-17
Fri, 17 Jun 2016 09:07:10 GMT(image) For new-to-me words this week I have a couple of acronyms/initialisms. The first is SLAPP: "strategic lawsuit against public participation." This is the practice of filing a lawsuit as a weapon, or as one definition puts it, "a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition." A colleague introduced me to this term a few weeks ago, and as happens (frequency illusion), I've seen it multiple times since then. Not a new term at all (legislatures have passed anti-SLAPP statutes), but a useful addition to the vocabulary for anyone who follows the sausage-making of local policy, gah.
Oh, I should mention that SLAPP feels like a backronym—an initialism whose constituent terms were selected in order to make a word. Someday I'll look into that.
(image) Another relatively new-to-me (tho not new) initialism is HiPPO: "highest paid person's opinion." I heard this in a Planet Money podcast about A/B testing, in which they contrasted the value of empirical testing with the traditional decision-making process that's based on the gut feel of the most senior person in the process, i.e., on HiPPO. Not that [more]
School's out ... forever?
Mon, 13 Jun 2016 00:32:31 GMTIn September 1991, my son stood in front of the Hartwell village school outside Northampton, England, clutching his Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox. He was a "rising 5," ready to start the academic journey for our kids' generation.
This last Saturday we celebrated two graduations—one for my wife's older daughter, who just finished college, and one for her younger daughter, who just finished high school. In between, my kids went through high school and college (my son for two degrees), and my wife got a master's degree, and her kids went through high school and one through college, and my daughter-in-law finished not only college but medical school. (Me, my only matriculation was to take some extension classes.)
It occurred to me this weekend that for the first time since that day in 1991, no one in the immediate family is in school or is planning to be. After two and a half decades, our lives are no longer organized around the rhythm and protocols of school. We won't need to plan vacations around school breaks. There are no more report cards, or late-night homework sessions, or parent-teacher meetings, or term papers, or end-of-semester projects. No more emails and phone calls and texts from the school. No more permission slips. No more back-to-school shopping. No more standardized tests or SATs or GREs or board exams. No more college catalogs. No more tuition.
It's not as if there's no more school for anyone. My son now teaches high school, so of course his life is very much organized around school. And the likelihood is strong that the family's break from school won't last very long; the youngest has no college plans at the moment, but that's likely just to be a gap year (or years). And you never know which of us might decide that a little graduate school, or a little more, might be fun.
Friday words, 2016-06-10
Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:08:15 GMTFriday words again! I had a little hiatus last week due to some heads-down on a hackathon project for work, followed by an outing to view Whit Stillman's new Austen movie, "Love and Friendship." If you like Austen, you should see that. And then download the source book, Lady Susan, from the Project Gutenberg site (free! get the Kindle version!) and read it—it's short and fun.
(image) Today's new-to-me word is mathwashing. This term struck me first for the construction—it's built on the pattern of greenwashing, which in turn comes from whitewashing. In this pattern, -wash means "conceal flaws."
The term also interested me because we're in an era that's nominally "data driven." For example, Amazon is a company that famously uses data for decision making. (Full disclosure: the company where I work, Tableau, is in the data visualization business.) But the technologist Fred Berenson suggests in a piece about "data worship" that just because there are numbers involved doesn't necessarily mean something is objective. Here's his explanation of mathwashing: