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Published: Sunday, September 24, 2017 8:13:24 PM

Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 11:00:54 GMT


Friday words, 2017-09-22

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 11:00:54 GMT

Equinox was a couple of days ago, meaning that up here in the northern hemisphere, today is shorter than yesterday, and tomorrow will be shorter yet. Best not to think about that, tho, and to think instead about words.

(image) I ran across today’s new-to-me word on a social media feed and thought that it had to be something from The Onion. But no. The word is scrotox/scrotoxing, which refers to a botox treatment for that man’s special area that begins with scro. As with botox treatments elsewhere, this is done for, you know, aesthetic reasons. You can read more here, and if you're curious, you can see some before-n-after pictures (NSFW, right?).

I guess I'm old enough to remember when botoxing became a thing, and how very odd it seemed that people were deliberately being injected with a substance that was related to botulism. And then to do the same for a man's special area, whoo.

But I digress. Scrotox is of course a portmanteau: scrotum + botox. As has come up a few times here before, this is what various of us variously call a telescoping or recursive or second-order blend; botox is itself a portmanteau of botulin and toxin. (Gah. See preceding paragraph.)

The meaning of scrotox is pretty clear from the word itself, which per some researchers is a characteristic of a good blended word [more]

Noogling around with words

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 22:26:08 GMT

Some weeks ago I joined Google as a technical editor. During orientation my first week, I learned a lot about configuring my computer and about my healthcare options, which is to say that it was a lot like joining any new company. Something that was not specifically on the agenda that week, but that was of keen interest to me, was an introduction to a whole lot of new vocabulary.

Companies tend to develop their own lexicons. In my years at Microsoft, I become fluent in Microspeak (blue badge, a-dash, S+, little-r me). A stint at Amazon taught me another batch of terms, including 6-pagers, dogs not barking, bar raisers, frupidity, and undifferentiated heavy lifting. Right from my start at Google I started writing down terms, and I'm still going. Here I'll list some terms I like.

We should probably start with the company name itself, a story that some people don't know. Google is (it has been reported) a misspelling of the word googol, a term in math for 10 to the 100th power.


Friday words, 2017-09-15

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 23:03:35 GMT

This week we're coming to you from the the desk that I've finally managed to install and configure in my home officenook. I trust you'll appreciate the beneficial effect that this has had on this week's words. Speaking of which.

By now, everyone has probably heard the term mansplain. According to a couple of dictionaries, to mansplain is to explain something in a "condescending or patronizing" manner. Obviously (altho if it's not obvious, there's also this piece on the Merriam-Webster site), the term invokes the idea of a man explaining something to a woman. Some people specify that mansplaining specifically involves the man explaining to the woman something she already knows. And as noted by various folks (example), there's been some semantic broadening, such that people sometimes use mansplaining to mean anytime a man explains something, sometimes not even specifically to a woman. (Someone has coined the term critique drift for this type of semantic broadening.)

As I say, you already know all this. I bring it all up again because not long ago I ran across an interestingly related term: ladysplain. Here's where I saw it:

Friday words, 2017-09-08

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 21:17:34 GMT

Four-day workweeks are great, but boy, Fridays do come upon one suddenly. Not that I'm complaining. And there's no shortage of words. So.

(image) Today's new-to-me word is stylometry, which I ran across in an article about Satoshi Nakamoto, the exceptionally mysterious creator of Bitcoin. Stylometry is the study of individual style in text or music or art, often involving statistical analysis. It can be used to study individual creators or to contrast multiple ones. It tends to become newsworthy when it's used to unmask an anonymous or pseudonymous creator; an example that many people might remember was when stylometric analysis was used to determine that the author "Robert Galbraith" was actually J. K. Rowling.

The word is older than I would have guessed. The OED's first entry is for 1945. The Ngram Viewer appears to record instances as early as 1898, although those might refer to a slightly different thing. (It would be astounding if I were able to find an example that antedates the OED.)

As a bonus today, here's a technical term that I recently learned: slugify. This refers to turning a set of words into a string that's suitable for use in a URL. For example, slugification turns "Friday words Sep 8, 2017" into "friday-words-sep-8-2017". The process converts words to lowercase and removes punctuation and uses special characters (often hyphens) as word delimiters. The "slug" part of slugify comes from slug [more]

Friday words, 2017-09-01

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 08:04:34 GMT

Happy September, y’all. In the US, of course, it’s Labor Day weekend, which is the symbolic end of summer. It’s been an eventful one for us, that’s for sure. And of course there are words.

The new-to-me term today is old, and I would be surprised if it’s new to a specific subset of my friends.[1] The word is psychomachia, alternative rendering psychomachy, a term with a literary history. It refers to a “conflict of the soul” (Greek, as you’d guess—psyche: “spirit/mind/soul”; makhe, “battle”). As I encountered the word, it was used to refer to a battle between good and evil within an individual, and especially for an artistic representation of this conflict:


Or to use the example that Facebook Friend Jan posted, and which she later mused might be taken as a representation of psychomachia:


The word was used as the title of an allegorical poem written in the 5th century about a rumble between virtues (with virtue-osic names like Hope and Chasity) and vices (Avarice, Lust, and other names that have not, as yet, been used for the children of celebrities). And when I say "rumble," I ain't kidding—the poem literally describes a set of gladiator-style engagements:

Friday words, 2017-08-25

Sun, 27 Aug 2017 13:52:06 GMT

Order is slowly emerging after the move. ("Chaos is a ladder"—Bran on GoT) Instead of writing about words these last couple of days, I've been working (gasp!) and assembling a desk in my new home officenook. I assure you my tardiness this week is not for lack of interest or for lack of words, oh, no.

(image) In the annals of new to me this week, we have a word I learned from Facebook Friend Deb: amathia. This is a pretty rare word; you won't find it in many dictionaries. It's a Greek term that shows up in The Republic, where Socrates uses it to refer to ignorance. Some people gloss it as a "willful ignorance"—a refusal to understand something, which distinguishes it from ignorance based on, say, lack of experience or exposure. Another gloss is "intelligent stupidity" or "disknowledge." This view is discussed in some detail in the essay "One crucial word," which was written in 2016 but has been getting attention recently.

There's a very long Reddit thread (more than 2000 comments) about this term, which includes some discussion about how this word is used in modern Greek. Not everyone agrees that Socrates uses amathia in a specific way. (For details, you can try this page [more]


Mon, 21 Aug 2017 21:11:57 GMT

Not long ago I posted something about saving your hearing via the diligent use of earplugs if you are around loud things. (In my case, a motorcycle.) I didn't note then that my problem with being able to hear clearly is not new. I've had trouble for a long time hearing conversation in loud restaurants or understanding dialog in movies.

In fact, I had my hearing tested a while ago. Paradoxically, the results said that my hearing is great in some sort of Platonic sense, as in, when tested in ideal conditions in a lab. But Dr. Ears admitted that there was nothing to be done about my filtering problem—being able to pick out from background noise the sounds I actually wanted to hear.

Hearing aids are an option, I suppose. But good hearing aids are shockingly expensive, and often are not covered by insurance. And it's not at all clear to me that they solve this specific problem of attenuating the background noise specifically.

Well, in the creepy way of modern internet advertising, which can apparently read your mind, I recently started seeing ads for something pretty new: "conversation-enhancing headphones." For example, Bose has a product that they call Hearphones. Doppler Labs (which is suing Bose over all this) has a product they call Here Active Listening headphones. (Here, hear, get it?)

(image) [more]

Friday words, 2017-08-18

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 13:44:05 GMT

I had an influx of new-to-me terms this week, to the point that I'm having trouble picking just one. Or two. As people say, a good problem to have.

I'll start with a term that is new-ish in absolute terms: Milkshake Duck. If you're hip to the meme ecosystem (meme-o-system?), you'll know this term. In fact, you'll know it if you read the New York Times, which covered it this week.

Milkshake Duck describes someone (or something, I suppose) who becomes an overnight darling on the internet, but then almost immediately is discovered to have something disreputable about them. One reason that the new term has gotten attention is that it seems to fill a need: we all recognize the idea. That said, the same couple of examples come up in all the discussion about the new term: red-sweater guy from the 2016 presidential debates (turns out he said some icky things on reddit) and some dude associated with GamerGate.

Why, you ask, Milkshake Duck? This to me is actually the interesting part. The whole thing started off as a joke on Twitter in 2016 by the user "Pixilated Boat," with this tweet:

In the last year, this joke about the fickle nature of internet fame has spawned a term for that phenomenon. Of course, this is the internet and who knows how fleeting this term might be. Even so, the Oxford Dictionary people are keeping an eye on it.


Friday words, 2017-08-11

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 16:16:33 GMT

I just started a new job at a company that you’ve heard of, and one of the delights is being introduced to fun bits of corporate vernacular. I’ll have to post about that soon. In the meantime, tho, there are some Friday words to take care of.

The new-to-me terms today are pretty geeky, so I won't hold it against you if you don't fold them into your everyday vocabulary. (The way you do all the other Friday words, haha.)

The first term came up in a discussion about a slightly odd news story: the car manufacturer Mazda has pioneered a way to make more-efficient gasoline engines. Great news, right? We'll use less gas that way.

During discussion, FB Friend Jim observed that increased fuel efficiency can have a rebound effect that is known as Jevons Paradox (no apostrophe). Jevons was an English dude who observed that if the price of coal went down, people would just use more of it. More generally, increased efficiency in using a scarce resource leads not to the resource lasting longer, say, but to greater consumption of that resource. Writing in a fascinating New Yorker article ("The Efficiency Dilemma"), David Owen uses several examples; the one I liked pertained to air conditioning. When Owen was a kid, AC was rare and pretty energy-expensive. Manufacturers made AC more efficient, but it's led to an explosion in the use of AC, leading to much more energy overall being devoted to cooling down air.


[By Joost Swarte for the New Yorker]

I did warn you that this was a geeky week.


Friday words, 2017-08-04

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 07:15:12 GMT

We finally moved this week, so we're now in an apartment that—hey, here's a surprise—is furnished generously with boxes in various states of openness. And we're running back and forth and back and forth between the old place and the new one for final transfer/cleaning/craigslisting. So words are delayed this week, but are still on my mind.

(image) For a new-to-me term today, I have one that I can relate to based on our recent experience. The term is Ringelmann Effect, which is one name among several for a counterintuitive but well-attested phenomenon: adding workers to a job has diminishing effectiveness. It's kind of the opposite of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Ringelmann was a French agricultural engineer who observed the non-linear effectiveness of adding horses or oxen to a team pulling a wagon. (There's a good summary of his work in this IEEE blog entry.) Starting from that, he (and others) generalized this insight. For example, there's a version of this called Brooks's Law, named for the software theorist Fred Brooks, that goes "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later." Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a version called the two-pizza rule about productivity in meetings: "Never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn't feed the entire group."


Friday words, 2017-07-28

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 11:54:11 GMT

By this time next week, I should be living in a new domicile. Moving, it's so … fun. I can imagine some interesting and colorful words being used as part of that experience. We'll see.

Anyway. The first new-to-me word today is deadname, which has some slight relevance to events of this week. A deadname is the birthname assigned to a trans person, a name that that person no longer uses. Somehow this term passed me by during what was probably the most prominent discussion of this concept, namely when Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new identity in 2015.


Deadname is a noun, obviously, but also a verb: to deadname is to refer to someone by their deadname. Both the term itself and the practice of deadnaming are controversial in more ways than I want to be covering here. You can read more about that here and here and here and here.

I can't get a clear read on how old the word is. As noted, deadname sprang to prominence in the mainstream media in 2015, but I assume (?) that it was in use in the trans community before that. Alas, my search-fu fails me here.

Ok, on to a less charged term. During a discussion on FB this week, a Friend used the term ROFLcopter, as in "Roll On the Floor Laughing-copter." ROFL [more]

Can you hear me now?

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 12:48:36 GMT

The second motorcycle I owned appealed to me in part because of the sound: it had what people call a "throaty roar." (It was a Yamaha, but I suspect it had been engineered to sound Harley-esque.) In spite of this, I didn't really start to love riding the bike until I added an essential accessory: earplugs.

A sad effect of getting older is that loud sounds tend to bother you more than they did in your rock-n-roll youth. Possibly I would have enjoyed the unfiltered and aforementioned roar as a 19-year-old, but by the time I got the bike, I was covering my ears for passing sirens and babies shrieking nearby. But even as a 19-year-old with perfect hearing, it would have been a very good idea to wear plugs to save my hearing.

To state the obvious, (some) motorcycles are loud. The engine can emit anywhere from 80 decibels at normal speed to 100 dB when you rev it. That's louder than a lawnmower, and well into territory where hearing protection is recommended or, depending on your work, mandated. This is loud even to people who are on the curb while a motorcycle passes. The rider, of course, is about a meter away from the source of this noise, sometimes for hours.


Why are some motorcycle engines so loud? Well, one reason is that some people are just going to want to be loud, and obnoxiousness either isn't a factor for them or is the actual point.

Some people argue that a louder bike has better performance. This is true in a narrow sense: the shorter and less obstructed the exhaust path (hence, the louder the bike), the better the horsepower, by a small degree. However, whether there are other options for increasing horsepower, or whether a rider actually needs [more]

Friday words, 2017-07-21

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:49:06 GMT

For the past week we've been living in an uber-pristine house while we stand by to vacate on short notice so potential buyers can tour the place. In addition to the many other reasons we're looking forward to selling, we're ready to relax back into our more accustomed level of slovenliness. And speaking of houses, let's turn to words.

I encountered this week's new-to-me term a little while ago, but it has relevance to us today, since we have a brief but intense interest in the doings of the Seattle real estate market. The term is hedge city, which I found in an article in the New Yorker about how China's ultra-rich are investing overseas. A hedge city is, well, "a hedge against volatility at home," to quote the article—"a giant safety deposit box for China’s elite," as Mother Jones puts it, which goes into detail about the economics of hedge cities. A different article estimates that up to 30% of the office buildings in Vancouver BC are owned by foreign buyers.

Canada has historically been a popular place for Asian buyers to invest, for whatever economic/financial/cultural reasons. A problem, however, has been that this investment in hedge cities has driven prices high—too high for local residents. Vancouver implemented a 15% "foreign buyers tax" in 2016, with uncertain [more]

Friday words, 2017-07-14

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 09:22:29 GMT

Our house went up for sale yesterday, the culmination of many months' efforts to clean, repair, repaint, restain, remove, straighten, sell, give away, and otherwise address stuff. Our final push to get ready meant that unfortunately I had to pass up last week's Friday words. On the other hand, my pressure-washed driveway is so clean you could serve dinner on it. Assuming you would enjoy dinner on concrete with exposed aggregate.

PS Happy Bastille Day! Have fun storming the castle!

Anyway, we're back. This week's new-to-me term is blue lie, a word I encountered in a blog post on the Scientific American site. We know white lie, a lie that you tell to avoid hurting someone's feelings. ("That was delicious!") A black lie, by some definitions, is one that's told for purely selfish reasons.

(image) But a blue lie? Per the article: "falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen bonds among the members of that group." Or as another article has it, a blue lie is one that is "unambiguously helpful to one group while hurtful to another." The ethics of blue lies seem to be dependent on one's point of view. Telling the bad guys a lie to protect your comrades is technically a blue lie, but one that most people would not condemn. More ambiguously, blue lies seem to be a prominent aspect of contemporary politics. (Or perhaps politics since forever.)

Why blue [more]

MS Word: avoiding taboo words and other tricky vocab

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 15:02:05 GMT

As most people discover, there's a class of writing error that spell check just can't help you with. Consider these examples:
  • We recommend that the company shit its resources for better output.
  • The event is open to the pubic.
Run these through spell check, and all is well. Only, of course, it's not.

As I recently learned, Word has a feature that can help find errors like this: an exclusion list. An exclusion list has words that are spelled perfectly fine, but that should be excluded from your documents.

The steps for creating an exclusion list are described in a great blog post by Sam Hartburn. The basic idea is that you add words, one per line, to .lex files in a specific folder on your computer. Here's the Windows location--see notes later for Mac instructions:


You can use any text editor to edit the file, including Notepad.

Note that there are different .lex files for different languages, and in fact for different flavors of each language—e.g. English US and English GB. (It's not inconceivable that there's a way to set up a global .lex file, but I don't know. Leave a comment if you know about that.)

Once you've got your exclusion list(s) updated, close and then reopen Word. Then when you run the spell checker, Word will flag words that are part of your exclusion list:


The examples I've shown here pertain to, you know, taboo vocabulary. Another excellent use for this feature is to flag words that you often mistype but are technically spelled correctly, such as [more]

Friday words, 2017-06-30

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 08:19:42 GMT

It is the height o' the summer here, but despite that (because of it?), I and my wife, in that order, both experienced a train wreck of a cold or flu or something, and life around here pretty much ground to a halt. But things seem to be getting back on track. Including, of course, words!

I ran across today's new-to-me-word while reading on old piece by Sarah Vowell. She talks about her days in high-school marching band, which included wearing a shako. From context, I derived that she was referring to the hat, but it did send me to investigate this term.

Sure enough, a shako is a particular kind of hat, one that's conical and that has some sort of plume. Here's an example:

These days, shakos are part of uber-ceremonial military dress—honor guards, parade dress, and whatnot—and of the uniforms of marching bands, which follow military fashion. (They are, let's remember, marching bands.) Historically, shakos were part of military field dress, back in the way-before-camo days. Fun fact: per Wikipedia, shakos were developed as an improvement over earlier military hats. ("Looks great, András, but don't you think we should add a plume?")

There is of course the question of how to say this word. We get the word from Hungarian via French, so who knows, right? "Shack-oh"? "Shake-oh"? Per reputable dictionaries, both pronunciations seem to be ok.

Shako [more]

Subs in VBA: calling and exposing

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:24:13 GMT

I rassled a bit recently with a couple of dumb issues when creating some Word macros, so I thought I'd better write these up for my own future reference. To be clear, "dumb" here means that I should already have known this stuff, and I wasted time learning it.

1. Calling subroutines

I was trying to call a sub like this:
Sub SomeMacro
SomeOtherSub(p1, p2)
End Sub
Word got so mad about that SomeOtherSub call:


Turns out that when you call a subroutine in VBA and pass parameters, you do that without parentheses:
SomeOtherSub p1, p2
The parameters can be positional, as here, or named. For the latter, use the := syntax:
SomeOtherSub p1:="a value", p2:="another value" 

2. Exposing subroutines (implicit access modifiers)

Here was another kind of bonehead mistake I made. I wrote a subroutine sort of like this:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)
' Code here
End Sub
Then I tried to actually run this macro (Developer > Macros). The macro stubbornly refused to appear in the Macros dialog box. If I was in the macro editor and pressed F5 to try to launch it in the debugger, Word just displayed the Macros dialog box for me to pick which macro to run, but again, did not display the actual macro that I actually wanted to run.

Anyway, long story short (too late, haha), the problem was that the Sub definition included parameters:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)

Friday words, 2017-06-23

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 09:45:03 GMT

The days do fly by. We had summer solstice this week, meaning that the days are shrinking again. <sob> But this has no effect, it seems, on thinking about words.

Today's new-to-me word came up in passing in someone's Facebook post: odonym. I'm interested in –nym words in general, but I had never run across odonym before; indeed, the term does not appear much in easily accessible dictionaries. Anyway, odonym refers to street names, basically. Per one source, the odo part comes from Greek hodos, meaning "road," and –nym is, well, nym (synonym, antonym, pseudonym, homonym, eponym, etc.): "name."

(image) One might think that the study of street names would have limited scope, but there are actually lots of interesting things to think about in odonymy, like:
  • What the differences might be between streets, roads, avenues, boulevards, circles, courts, ways, lanes, etc.

  • The origins of street names. Broadway was, you know, a broad way (Breede weg in the original Dutch). Wall Street might have referred to an actual wall. Fleet Street in London was close to the River Fleet, long since disappeared. (For details, consult your local odonymist.)

  • Metaphors based on odonymy: Broadway (for theater), Madison Avenue (for advertising), Wall Street (for the financial industry), skid road [more]

Friday words, 2017-06-16

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:37:34 GMT

I'm a little sad that today is not the 17th, because tomorrow will be 17-6-17 in the non-US way of writing dates. Still, because it is Friday, we do have words!

For today's new-to-me word we turn to a narrow—though as you'll see, not unfamiliar—form of found art. Klecksography is the art of making figures out of inkblots. This was a thing in Victorian times, which I learned about when I happened to see an article about it in Atlas Obscura. Specifically, klecksography involves dropping ink on a page, then folding the page to produce a mirror image. In the gamified version of this, you add a poem.

Turning a goof into art is credited to the German poet Justinus Kerner, who used klecksography to illustrate poems he'd written. (If only I could turn my spills into art, ha.) This origin also explains the name: Kleck is the German word for "blot, (ink) stain, spot, blotch, blur."

If klecksography sounds (looks) familiar, it's because it was adapted as the Rorsarch test used in psychology.

As an aside, in reading about klecksography, I also learned the word apophenia, which means to find patterns in random things. (I already knew the word pareidolia—for an explanation of the distinction, see this blog post.)

For unexpected word origins, today I have curfew [more]

Congratulations on your success

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 16:14:36 GMT

On Facebook today, one of the editors I know, Amy J. Schneider, posted about a habit that some writers have, namely adding a kind of reflexive "successfully" to their sentences. Here's an example, which I'm sure we've all seen variations of:

You haven't just logged off. You successfully logged off. (Thankfully, you didn't unsuccessfully log off.)

I see this all the time, and it bugs me pretty much every time. Just for yucks, I did a search for "successfully" in the documentation set I’m currently working on. I found 1473 instances; here are just a few:
  • Snapshot created successfully.
  • Successfully logged into database.
  • After you have successfully created the file, …
  • Click the Check button to verity that the service can successfully connect to your job.
  • To confirm that the volume was successfully taken offline, …
  • After the device is successfully updated, it restarts.
  • Make sure the test has successfully passed before you proceed.
… and on and on and on.

(image) I ask you: is the word successfully really necessary in any of these instances? I posit that it is not. Moreover, and since I apparently am dispositionally incapable of not doing this, I ask myself "Wait, is there an unsuccessful way for this to happen?"

I reckon I could do a global search-and-destroy [more]


Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:23:17 GMT

The linguist Geoff Nunberg has an essay on NPR today in which he tells of his rediscovery of the joys of using exclamation points. As he notes …
Yet writers and editors only pride themselves on expunging the marks, never on sticking them in. When it comes to exclamation points, the only virtue we recognize is self-restraint
This is true. In my work (software documentation), we maintain a tone that is, while not entirely academic, pretty neutral. Just the facts. And facts rarely require exclamation marks.

(image) A story I've told many times: Years (decades) ago when I was learning the craft, I drafted something in which I'd included an exclamation point. My then-manager circled it and added this note: "Nix. Too exciting." I've added very few exclamation marks since then.

Technical docs have been on a path toward more friendliness, it's true. And these days especially, docs might initially be created by people who do not spend their days in the tech-writing trenches. The result is that some of these drafts can have a distinctly marketing feel to them, which of course includes exclamation points. Which I always take out.

And more than one exclamation point? Good lord. From the editor Andy Hollandbeck I learned the word bangorrhea, which is the use of excessive!!! exclamation points. The developer Rory Blyth once summed up this editorial attitude: "The use of more than one exclamation point side-by-side, in any context (except comics), is a sign of mental insanity, a marketing degree from the University of Phoenix Online, or both."


Friday words, 2017-06-09

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 08:24:54 GMT

As I've noted before, in my work I encounter new-to-me technical vocabulary all the time, and I don't generally note it here. But now and then I'll run across something that's kind of delightful. Yesterday I ran across the term embarrassingly parallel, which is, contrary to what one might think, an actual technical term.

But work aside, let's look at a couple of, you know, normal new-to-me words today. The first is stan, both a noun and a verb, which I got from the Oxford Dictionary blog. (I will note that my heretofore unfamiliarity with this term is yet more evidence that I am increasingly out of touch with popular culture.) Stan is a term for someone who is a big fan of a band, musician, or other cultural figure. It can also function as a verb; people say that they stan an artist:

The blog credits the word to Eminem, and suggests that it could combine stalker and fan, capturing a tinge of obsessiveness. But the examples I find (e.g. on Twitter) don't have the negative vibe of stalking, and instead suggest just, you know, great admiration.

Another new word for me is chapeaugraphy, which refers to a pretty danged narrow niche of performance/clowning art: doing clever and entertaining things with a hat. (Technically, with a piece of round felt with a hole in it.) This is best explained via video:

src="" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen>

(A minute or so of this should suffice to explain.[1])


Friday words, 2017-06-02

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:39:03 GMT

What could possibly be more fun than the apparently endless task of refinishing our deck? Oh, yeah … words.

Today's new-to-me word came up in an editor's group on Facebook. Someone had heard (only) a word and was trying to determine exactly what it was. Naturally, one of the editors immediately sussed it out: vade mecum.[1]

(image) In a narrow sense, a vade mecum (also vade-mecum and vademecum) is a book that you carry around with you, perhaps in a pocket, so that you can refer to it conveniently. (The phrase vade mecum means "go with me" in Latin.) In a more metaphorical sense, it means a book that you might refer to often—a handbook or guidebook, as the OED puts it, even if you don't carry it around with you. In a different metaphoric direction, a vade mecum might be anything (not just a book) that you always have with you. Examples that M-W gives of this second sense are "gold, medications, and memorized gems of wisdom."

These days, the ultimate vade mecum would have to be a smartphone, wouldn't we agree?

In the annals of unexpected etymology, today we have sneeze. Sneeze begins with sn, which seems right—we have a bunch of words that are nose-related that start with sn, like snore, snorkel, sniff, snuff, snout, and snot. (This affinity between the sn sound and nose-y stuff is an example of sound symbolism or phonesthemics.)

Update John Lawler reminds me that he's got a diagram/writeup (one of several) that shows affinities for the sn- [more]

Friday words, 2017-05-26

Fri, 26 May 2017 06:48:15 GMT

In the US, we're coming up on a three-day weekend. For us, that mostly means that much more time for home improvement, oh boy. And for words!

(image) Today's new-to-me word is not new, but it's pretty obscure: iatromisia. This refers to an intense dislike of doctors or doctoring i.e. medicine. It's a rare enough term that I found definitions for it only in medically inclined dictionaries.[1]

Since this is a medical term, of course it uses classical roots. The iatro bit is Greek for "healer," and by extension, medicine. A slightly less obscure instance is in the word iatrogenic, which means "doctor-caused," as in, you got sick because of treatment. The misia part is also Greek, a word meaning "hate," which we know from terms like misogyny and misophonia.

There's something vaguely amusing to me about a medical condition that involves dislike of medicine. ("Doctor, what is it?" "Well, you appear to suffer from iatromisia.") It also makes me wonder whether there are, or should be, similar terms for other professions. Redactomisia? Dislike of editors or editing. Hmm.

(image) For surprising/delightful etymology today, I have two. First, I watch a lot of British crime drama, and it eventually occurred to me to wonder where the word constable [more]

Friday words, 2017-05-19

Fri, 19 May 2017 14:57:32 GMT

I was being whiny to my wife about the endless non-appearance of spring here in Seattle, and then I saw some pictures of Denver and Cheyenne blanketed in snow. Maybe better I should stick with just words rather than weather-whingery.

The new-to-me word this week has some lovely linguistic properties. The word is buycott. Obviously, this derives from boycott (to refuse to interact with a company because you object to its policies), which we'll talk about in a moment.

(image) In the context I heard buycott (an episode of the "Hidden Brain" podcast), it was used to mean deliberately buying something from a company that you want to support, for social or political reasons. For example, some people went of their way to buy sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A to show support for the company's explicit opposition to same-sex marriage. This is the sense defined in Wikidictionary.

Interestingly, the Collins dictionary online has a related but different meaning. In their definition, a buycott means "a type of protest aimed at a company or country with dubious ethical standards in which consumers buy the products of another company or country." Either way, of course, the idea of a buycott is that it's a political statement manifested economically, or to put that more clearly, to vote with your wallet. (There's an app.)