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mike pope's Web log

Published: Friday, October 21, 2016 8:20:56 AM

Last Build Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2016 23:55:45 GMT


Friday words, 2016-10-13

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 23:55:45 GMT

Friday words! We had a hiatus last week due to work, so much of it. But we're back, with extra wordy word fun.

The first new-to-me word is a word that's common enough, but that I saw used in a new way. Here's the cite where I found it, which appeared in an article in Wired about Google's new Noto font:
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:

One of the design goals for the new font is that it has glyphs for so many characters that when designers use the font, users should never see the little tofu box, no matter what language the text is in.

The scope of the "everyone else" who uses tofu in this sense is perhaps generously imagined here, but it's not untrue that people in the Unicode community use it. There aren't a huge number of references, but there's an Adobe blog entry (I think it is) from May, 2016, and another blog entry on the Keyman site that both use tofu with this meaning. And then there is the fact that Google itself says that the name "Noto" conveys the idea of "no more tofu."


Friday words, 2016-09-30

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:32:22 GMT

Today we have our final Friday words for September 2016. As if that were significant.

The first new-to-me word this week is Droste effect, which refers to a kind of visual recursion. A picture here is worth a couple dozen words:


Note that the woman in the picture is holding a tray that has package that shows a woman holding a tray that has a package that …

You probably noticed that the image here has "Droste" splashed across it. Droste was (is?) the name of a chocolate powder product from Holland. So it's an example of a specific instance of the phenomenon becoming the name of the phenomenon. (Is there a name for that?)

As sometimes happens, I was familiar with the concept without knowing that there was a word for it. I remember being fascinated by this idea when I was a young lad, because I had some … thing … that had this type of recursive image on a package logo. Whatever—I learned this word from an article on that addressed itself to some linguistic ideas that have recently been in the news, including linguistic recursion.

As an aside, at work we use a lot of video conferencing, and it's easy for people to get into a video version of the Droste effect—for example, when someone shares their screen which shows the meeting, which shows someone sharing their screen, which …

And on to surprising etymology. Recently I was looking into how words that are acceptable can become tainted (a process referred to as pejoration). In my wanderings I encountered idiot [more]

Friday words: roundup

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 10:30:28 GMT

Every 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).

As a quick reference for you and for me, here's a list of everything I've posted.


Friday words, 2016-09-23

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:58:17 GMT

Boy, 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 GMT

Here 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 GMT

Here 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 GMT

When 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 GMT

It'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 GMT

Friday 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 GMT

As 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 GMT

Friday again! I had to skip last week because I took a wee trip to Canadia to drop my bride at the Vancouver (BC) airport.[1] 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 GMT

Hey, 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 GMT

Friday 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 GMT

Always 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 GMT

Whoa, 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 GMT

In 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 GMT

Friday 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:

Friday words, 2016-05-27

Fri, 27 May 2016 10:56:49 GMT

Friday. Friday before a (US) holiday weekend. The only thing better than that is that it's Friday Words day.

This week one of my friends introduced me to bus factor. I've understood the concept, but didn't know we had a word. Bus factor is used in business (especially software, I guess) as a measure of how well information is dispersed on a team. To put it another way, it's a measure of how much it would impact a project if a given person on the team were to be hit by a bus. (impact the project, get it? You're welcome.) If the bus factor is high, the impact is yuge; low bus factor, low impact.

(image) The term has been around for a while, since at least the 90s. It's also been expressed as a truck factor and with the somewhat less violent lottery factor. As in, if the individual were to win the lottery and decide not to continue working on your project.

Note to self: strive to achieve a non-zero bus factor.

For etymology today, the word kibosh, which is used overwhelmingly in the expression put the kibosh on. This came up in conversation this week—specifically, in an instant-messaging conversation, so the first question was how to spell it. That having been established, it was wondered whence came this word.

All sources agree: origin unknown. The word appeared in written sources in the 1830s (as "kye-bosh" in Dickens), recording the speech of lower-class Londoners. On the World Wide Words site, Michael Quinion has, as usual, a thorough exploration [more]

Friday words, 2016-05-20

Fri, 20 May 2016 09:31:38 GMT

It's Friday … word day! In order to clear some of the ever-growing backlog of new-to-me words, I might try doing two words on every Third Friday. Let's see how that goes.

(image) New-to-me word #1 this week is gene-whiz science, a term coined by the writer John Horgan. He uses this term to label the popular idea that individual genes are responsible for all sorts of individual behaviors—that there's a "gene for that." In the Scientific American blog he says:
Over the past several decades, geneticists have announced the discovery of "genes for" virtually every trait or disorder. We’ve had the God gene, gay gene, alcoholism gene, warrior gene, liberal gene, intelligence gene, schizophrenia gene, and on and on.

None of these linkages of single genes to complex traits or disorders has been confirmed. None! But gene-whiz claims keep coming.
I would be surprised if such a self-consciously clever word actually got traction, but I did like it nonetheless.

New-to-me word #2 this week is web brutalism. This refers to a design aesthetic for web pages that's deliberately anti-design conscious. To quote Pascal Deville, who apparently coined this phrase: "In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today's webdesign."

I got this term from an article in the Washington Post [more]

How we talk about our favorite music through the years

Wed, 18 May 2016 23:51:18 GMT

Inspired by a Facebook thread today.

Date Word(s) Unexpected etymology
14 Oct 2016tofu (typographic), isarithmictennis
30 Sep 2016Droste effectidiot
23 Sep 2016striminal, hebdomadaldebunk
16 Sep 2016
Junior highThis music is hip because the older kids listen to it.
High schoolThis music is cool because it's edgy. And deep.
College freshmanThis music is fun because LET'S PAR-TAY!
College juniorThis music is so much more sophisticated than what I used to listen to.
Early 20sAw ... remember this music from high school?
Late 20sThis music is perfect for our wedding reception!
30sShut up, you snotty teens. This is GOOD MUSIC.
Early 40sHa, you kids today don't even realize this music is a cover.
Late 40sHow did this music get on a PBS special?
50sHey, those weasels are using this music for a TOYOTA COMMERCIAL!
60sCan it be 50 YEARS since this music came out?!

Things I learned from my presentation feedback

Tue, 17 May 2016 08:23:20 GMT

At the end of March I gave a presentation at the ACES conference on "Tips and Tricks for Using Microsoft Word Styles." For years I've taught a class about Word styles at Bellevue College. My experience is that even people who use Word don't necessarily know all the ins and outs of using styles, so when the call for papers for the conference came out, I submitted a proposal. It was accepted, and I was given a 60-minute slot.

I spent a lot of time preparing for the session, agonizing about what material to include. Much of my indecision was because I simply didn't know who my audience would be. Would there be people new to styles? Were all of my tips already old hat to an audience of experienced editors? Plus I only had an hour, which I know from experience seems like a lot of time, but is nothing. (My course at BC runs 6 hours.)

I ended up presenting a quick overview, and then a lightning tour of how to apply, create, and manage styles. Along the way I threw in tips that I reckoned could be useful to even people who had worked with styles: keyboard shortcuts; tips for naming styles; style inheritance; styling TOCs; taming multi-level list styles; and more. There were about 60 people in the room.

Presenting about styles. (Photo: Lindsay Lelivelt)

I got the evaluations back recently. There was enough positive feedback to suggest that yes, it was a useful session and that people got good information from it. Big relief! A number of commenters indicated that they liked "technical" sessions, which I hope means I'll have another shot at a session like this.


Friday words 2016-05-13

Fri, 13 May 2016 11:23:45 GMT

Friday, which today is the 13th, and since it's words day, I suppose I should mention triskaidekaphobia. There, I mentioned it.

Today's new-to-me word is another one I picked up from Edward Bannat (@ArmaVirumque) on Twitter: semantic satiation. This refers to the phenomenon, which I'm sure you're familiar with, where you repeat a word out loud so many times that it stops making sense. Your brain, it gets tired, I guess. Not only is it inherently satisfying to know that there's a word for this thing, but learning the word allowed me to catch a reference in Dinosaur Comics that would otherwise have passed me by:


Pro tip: never pass up an opportunity to include Dinosaur Comics in anything you're writing.

Etymological musings this week are about the legume variously known as the chickpea, ceci bean, and garbanzo bean. Why so many names? Are they related?

(image) First, chickpea. This was originally chich-pea, ultimately from cicer, the Latin word for this plant. This orgin is reflected in the botanical name Cicer arietinum and bonus! is where the Roman name Cicero comes from. (From Wikipedia [more]

Friday words, 2016-05-06

Fri, 06 May 2016 10:59:40 GMT

Poll: the reason we love Fridays: a) weekend is near! b) time for more words. Haha.

(image) For a new-to-me word this week I have monotasking, a kind of obvious but still useful variant on/backformation from multitasking. This was the subject of a recent article in The New York Times, whose provocative title was "Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)." (As it happened, I was eating lunch when I encountered the article, so … no.) The author of the NYT piece didn't invent the term; it's in the dictionary and listed as being from the 1990s. Certainly the idea of focusing on just one task at a time is not new. I'm sure it was known to the ancients, but it's also been explored in latter days in terms of work productivity and the flow experience. Still, it's probably useful to have a term for this that we can use in lifestyle advice articles.

This week's etymological investigation was inspired by something I read in William Renquists's little book on the history of the Supreme Court. Here he's discussing his first visit to the court as a brand-new clerk:
The courtroom itself was divided by the traditional "bar"—this one of ornate brass—separating the part of the room reserved for lawyers admitted to the practice before the Court from that to which the general public was admitted.

Friday words, 2016-04-29

Fri, 29 Apr 2016 09:08:10 GMT

Freya's day again, yay. Let us as usual begin the end of the week with some wordy stuff.

(image) This week's new-to-me term is polypharmacy, which came to me via Edward Banatt on Twitter. Polypharmacy refers to taking four or five or more (anyway, "a lot of") drugs concurrently. This can happen with older people who are following different drug regimens for different problems. For example, per an article in The New York Times, 39% of the over-65 demographic are—what, engaged in? subject to?—polypharmacy. This can lead to issues, of course, such as drug interactions. But we do at least have a word for it, so that's one problem solved.

Etymology. I recently started watching the HBO TV series Deadwood, set in the Dakota Territory. In season 1, a new gambling emporium opens that features the game craps, which is new to many of the miners who live in the town ("camp"). TV drama aside, how weird is the name "craps"?

(image) There are a couple of theories about the origin of the name. A dice-throwing game that preceded craps was called "hazard," and in that game, the low throw (snake eyes) was referred to as crabs. (In craps, shooting a 2—that is, two 1's—is a loser.) The OED speculates that crabs in this sense might be related to the crab in crab apple. It's unclear why this term would have been used in the game for a low throw.