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Published: Thursday, November 23, 2017 6:09:43 AM

Last Build Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2017 21:30:05 GMT

Mind the gap

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 21:30:05 GMT

I find it harder and harder these days to ride as a passenger when other people drive. Some of that is just part of getting old. But it's not just that; as I've noted before, learning to ride a motorcycle has helped make me a better driver.

One tactic I've worked on is how much space I leave between me and the driver in front of me. To my mind, most people follow too close. You really don't want to do that. Here's why.

Note: If you want the tl;dr, skip to So what do I do?

Speed and distance

Let's start by examining what sort of distance you're covering when you drive, because it might be more than you think. At 10 mph, in 1 second you cover about 15 feet. At 70 mph, in that same 1 second you cover 103 feet. Here's a graphic that illustrates this ratio.

(image)

An accepted measure of a car length is 10 feet. This means that if you're going 60 mph, in 1 second you will travel 9 car lengths. Even small differences in speed result in significant differences in how far you travel—the difference between driving at 60 and at 70 is that in 1 second at 70 you will travel an additional 15 feet (88 vs 103). More than one car length.

Braking distance

Let's imagine that for some reason you have to slam on the brakes. Alas, physics tells us that you cannot stop on the proverbial dime. The faster you're going, the longer it takes to get to zero mph.

There's no standard chart for stopping distance for cars. Cars weigh different amounts and they have different brakes; for example, newer cars have anti-lock brakes a.k.a. ABS [more]

Friday words, 2017-11-17

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 06:51:45 GMT

I just realized that I missed the second anniversary for Friday Words; I made the first post under that name on October 29, 2015. Somebody asked me the other day whether it's hard to find terms. Perhaps surprisingly, not very. Once you start listening for new(-to-you) terms or start to wonder about etymologies, it's more a matter of keeping up.

Speaking of new-to-me-terms. Facebook Friend Doug introduced me this week to the, uh, colorful term Cletus safari. Aside from the cleverness of the construction, I was interested in how the term manages to be a kind of double insult.

A Cletus safari is the kind of news article in which the writer makes an expedition from some enclave of sophistication—New York City, let's say—to go talk to the exotic folk out in the hinterlands to get their take on an issue of interest. Those of us who read the failing mainstream media have undoubtedly seen a hundred articles like this in the last year, in which still-surprised journalists go talk to voters in counties that voted for Trump to try to suss out what is going on with these people.

(image) Cletus is a not-flattering term for a rural denizen—one definition in Urban Dictionary has it as "Also can be synonymous with hillbilly." (That's one of the more neutral entries for the term in that dictionary.) The word is actually a traditional boy's name, but by a kind of onomastic metonymy can be used to refer to people who might use such a (currently unfashionable) name, i.e., them rednecks. Compare Billy Bob [more]

Friday words, 2017-11-10

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 23:39:01 GMT

Between the semi-annual change for daylight saving time and Twitter's rollout of the 280-character limit, it's been a week of much grousing. As a respite, let's think instead about words.

A couple of new-to-me terms this week. The first is, for a change, very recent. I saw it in this headline:

(image)

I'm not finding any other references to this, so it's possible that the headline writer invented the term. The article itself doesn't use the term as such; instead, the headline seems to point to this closing paragraph of the article:
Moore will be the highest-profile politician to face accounts of sexual molestation on the campaign trail since the Weinstein revelations. Breitbart, the conservative website operated by erstwhile Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, worked with Moore’s campaign to publish a story denying the accusations and characterizing the story as a smear. On the other hand, several Republican senators, including majority leader Mitch McConnell said that if the allegations are true, Moore should end his campaign. What will they do if he does not?
So what does the Weinstein test mean here? I can see it two ways. One possible take is that it refers to how a person's tribe reacts when unsavory revelations come to light. Does the tribe close ranks and protect the accused, or does it condemn and cast them out? Alternatively, it can refer not to a test of how (in this case) the GOP will react, but how the GOP will be tested in the face of these accusations. Please send your votes, along with a crisp dollar bill, to me here at Friday Words. Haha. Or if that doesn’t work for you, maybe just leave a comment.

[more]

Friday words, 2017-11-03

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 20:35:04 GMT

It got cold quite suddenly today, although it's true that Seattle has a different range of "cold" and "hot" than other parts of the world. Which is to say, we're weenies about both hot and cold. Be informed, therefore, that wordery will be coming to you from warm, inside locations until further notice.

Today's new-to-me word is one that Michael Quinion calls "a word of singular shyness," meaning you're not going to be finding it often. The term is chrestomathy, which refers to an anthology or collection of readings. The word has the connotation that the collection is for pedagogic purposes, especially for learning a language. Thus on Amazon you'll find A Coptic Grammar: With Chrestomathy and Glossary. But the term can also just mean any collection of readings, so you'll also find WEREWOLF! A Chrestomathy of Lycanthropy. (The author of this latter clearly likes the word chrestomathy, because he also has a chrestomathy of voodoo.)

(image) However, I got hold of the word in a roundabout way from a friend who's been reading H. L. Mencken, the American journalist from early 20th century. In poking around for Mencken writings, I ran across A Mencken Chrestomathy [more]

Library Extension for Chrome

Sat, 28 Oct 2017 14:36:07 GMT

Here's a keen thing I learned about from a Vox article: a Chrome extension named Library Extension that adds library information when you're viewing books on Amazon or Goodreads. The extension tells you whether the book you're interested in is available in one or more library systems.

Let's say you're interested in the book The ABC of How We Learn, so you look it up on Amazon. In the bar at the top of the page, the library extension icon lights up to tell you that you're on an enabled site:

(image)

On the actual page where you're viewing book information, the extension displays library information:

(image)

If you want to get the book from the library, you click the Borrow button. This sends you to the library site with the book preloaded.

To configure the extension—for example, to tell it which libraries you want to look in—you click the icon in the toolbar, then click Options:

(image)

In the options dialog, you find the library you're interested in, then click the add (+) button:

(image)

[more]

Friday words, 2017-10-27

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 23:33:06 GMT

This time next week, it'll be November. Good golly. Time sure flies when you're collecting words.

(image) The first word today is from the world of entomology (not to be confused with etymology): frass. This is another term I got from reading Mary Roach's book Grunt. (See the recent discussion of toilet palsy.) Frass is, to quote Roach, insect poop. Slightly more formally than that, it's used to describe the stuff that insect larvae (caterpillars) excrete, and also to describe the fine crumbs of wood left behind by wood-boring bugs.

What appealed to me is that frass derives from the German word fressen. Somewhat curiously, German has two words for "to eat." Essen is what people do, as in Delicatessen. And fressen is what animals do, or when applied to humans, to eat in an animal-like way. Since bugs are animals, fressen applies to them, and frass is what becomes of what they et.

According to authoritative sources like Wikipedia, frass has many ecological benefits. Just like manure in general, I suppose. On the other hand, seeing little piles of wood dust near expensive parts of your house, can be, you know, a cause of concern. At least now you'll know how to describe it when you put in that urgent call to the exterminator.

One more today. Recently I was reading about the country singer Toby Keith and ran across a term for "rap-influenced country music": [more]

Friday words, 2017-10-20

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:26:08 GMT

Now that it's getting darker earlier, I'll have less time in the evenings to not do the outdoor exercise that I wasn't doing anyway. I guess I'll concentrate on words instead.

Recently I picked up a couple of phobia-type terms:
• (image) koumpounophobia: fear (and/or loathing) of buttons. Apparently this is a thing. Per the blog post where I found the word, Steve Jobs suffered this phobia, which accounted in part for his particular sartorial style.

• trypophobia: aversion to patterns of small holes. (The Wikipedia page refers to this as a "proposed" definition; I have a thought about that later.) Examples of triggers, which I won't show, include honeycombs, soap bubbles, "aerated chocolate," and lotus pods. According to an article in The Atlantic, 16% of people experience this, and the article discusses why this phobia might be useful. I ran across the word recently in a piece about an artist who creates sculptures that, um, play with this visual stimulus. If you think you don't react to trypophobic stimuli, you might have a peek, but be prepared; the stuff is kind of grotesque.
[more]

Friday words, 2017-10-13

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 22:44:21 GMT

We were on vacation the last two Fridays, which resulted in a not-entirely-expected break for Friday Words. But we're back, and since we have a wee backlog, an extra word.

(image) The first new-to-me word is a word that you know, at least in some meanings: snipe. But unless you've had some exposure to the US Navy, you might not know that this is a slang term in that branch for a seaman who's a member of the engineering crew, as distinct from one who works on the deck crew. Snipes have traditionally had dirty and dangerous jobs involving all things mechanical. This was originally the boilers and machinery for steam ships, but now also involves the nuclear powerplant on (some) ships, as well as firefighting, electrical work, and … well, whatever keeps the ship running. You can read a little more here and here.

The word doesn't show up with this definition in standard dictionaries, but it's clearly well established as Navy slang. Why snipe? One page of perhaps dubious etymological credibility says the term originated from the name of a certain John Snipe who ran a crew that became known as Snipe's men. I guess that's not impossible.

(image) As a second term today, I have another one that I ran across in a military context. I've been reading Mary Roach's book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War [more]

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.

[more]

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:

(image)

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

(image)

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 Chastity) 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:
[more]

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]

Hearphones

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.

[more]

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. (Update:: done.) 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.

[more]

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."

[more]

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.

(image)

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.

(image)

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:

(image)

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:

(image)

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:
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[source]

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:

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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 hereEnd 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)`
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