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mike pope's Web log

Published: Sunday, July 23, 2017 4:35:55 PM

Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:49:06 GMT


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.)


Friday words, 2017-05-12

Fri, 12 May 2017 13:34:18 GMT

I was seduced this week by a couple of bright, dry days into sanding the deck in preparation for refinishing it. Ha. It's pouring down (again). Perhaps I'll try again next month. But that does give us time for some words!

(image) The new-to-me word this week is haptic. It's an adjective that pertains to the sense of touch and perception of motion, and has had this meaning since the 1860s. The word took on a slightly more specialist sense with the invention of touch interfaces for computers. This included things like "force feedback" game controllers. However, haptic feedback was not just for entertainment. A downside of fly-by-wire systems—that is, systems controlled digitally rather than directly—is that they don't provide the direct feedback that mechanical systems do. Thus many digital systems added haptic feedback to simulate what an operator might feel via a more direct control mechanism.

Today, of course, anyone with a cellphone knows all about haptic interfaces.

(image) Ok, let's turn to word origins. Today's term is one that everyone knows: karaoke. That's Japanese, obviously (?), but it has a fun multi-language origin that I only recently learned. Just to review, karaoke is a kind of entertainment in which people sing along to recorded accompaniment that is missing a vocal track. Which is why the origin is interesting. In Japanese, kara means "empty." The oke part is the fun part—it's a shortening of okesutora, a term that, if you sound it out, might suggest its meaning and origin—it's a Japanese rendering of the word orchestra [more]

Friday words, 2017-05-05

Fri, 05 May 2017 08:34:58 GMT

Happy Friday, people of the words. Seattle keeps ratcheting up the volume on a record-breaking winter of rain; yesterday we had actual thunderstorms and lightning and stuff. Drenched we might be, but .

Also, Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I learned today's new term recently from Facebook Friend Ben: curb squatting. In the usage I saw, this refers to efforts by homeowners to keep parking spaces in front of their houses—that is, parking spaces on a public street—clear. Some owners have taken to creating their own No Parking signs that look a lot like the city's:


This is a thing in some of Seattle's neighborhoods where parking is tight and where, apparently, people feel like they have a right to the space in front of their house. The city, for its part, has been clear that this kind of curb squatting is not legal.

There is a kind of related phenomenon whereby people put out plastic chairs days in advance to stake a claim to a spot—again, on public street—along a parade route. (The most extreme version I've read about was when someone put out chairs in January that claimed spots for a Fourth of July parade.) However, I have not yet heard that referred to as curb squatting. Hint, hint.

(image) [more]

Unpainting hinges

Sat, 29 Apr 2017 15:01:35 GMT

In the realm of home improvement, few things irritate me as much as people who paint over light switches and door hinges. One or more previous owners of our house engaged in this practice. Grrr. (<— see? I'm irritated) Since we're now doing some painting of our own, it seemed like it was time to deal with this.

I went looking online for non-toxic ways to remove paint from hinges. A technique that several people recommend seems promising: you throw the hinges, water to cover, and a little soap into an old crockpot and soak overnight. Alternatively, you can use an old pot on a low burner. That sounded fine, but our steady de-accummulation of stuff means we don't have old pots (let alone old crockpots) stashed in the garage.

So I improvised. I put the hinges in some empty cans with some dishsoap, and then poured boiling water over them and let them stand till cool, maybe 10 or 15 minutes.


It seems to have the desired effect, namely to soften the old paint:


I scraped a lot of this paint off with just my fingernails. You could use something else, but remember that brass is quite soft. A wooden scraper of some sort would be ideal.


For stubborn paint, I repeated the process, and when I got impatient with repeated soakings, I used a brush. You need something pretty stiff (not an old toothbrush), but again, not too hard (no steel brush). This brush worked great for me:


Friday words, 2017-04-28

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 19:01:30 GMT

I've spent some quality time editing tech materials these last few weeks, which involve terms like event bus, Inversion of Control, and the Retry pattern. Such terms all make sense for the intended audience, but we like to concentrate here on words that are interesting to, you know, civilians. So let's have a look.

Today's new-to-me word actually came from a post on one of the editorial Facebook groups I follow. Jake Poinier a.k.a Dr. Freelance asked whether, without looking it up, we knew what the word zemblanity means. Not me, dang. So of course a body wants to find out.

Well, fun. The easy way to define it is to say that it's the opposite of serendipity, in a very precise way. Where serendipity refers to an a) accidental b) good outcome, zemblanity refers to a b) bad outcome that is a) not accidental—an "unpleasant unsurprise." Sad! Somewhat to my surprise, Urban Dictionary has a couple of good examples, like this one:
He knew that something was wrong, but still he decided to ask. The answer to his question confirming his thoughts. She was dead. It was pure zemblanity.
UD also provides a definition that suggests more clearly the inversion of serendipity: "The inevitable discovery of what we would rather not know."

The term was coined by the writer William Boyd in 1998, apparently inspired by a passage in Pale Fire by Nabokov.

But wait, there's more. Both serendipity and zemblanity are toponymic: they derive from the names of places. Serendip is an old name for Sri Lanka. Horace Walpole coined serendipity [more]

Friday words, 2017-04-21

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:58:25 GMT

It's been a long Friday, but it's never too late to think about some words!

For the first term—well, it's a pair—some folks might be surprised to hear this was a term (terms) that I didn't already know. I'm a bit surprised myself, but there you go. Anyway! The term is anarthrous; in grammatical usage, it means a noun used without an article. It's actually common in some languages to not use the equivalent of the or a/an in front of a noun. That's not English, but is apparently true in Greek. My decades of listening to native Russian speakers fail to use articles in English suggested to me that this is true also in Russian, and sure enough.

(image) In Greek, anarthrous actually means "no joint," and it's used in that sense in zoological contexts. (You might recognize the –arthrous part as related to arthropod: jointed-foot critters.) The OED has an amusing definition for anarthrous in this sense: "Jointless; or so fat as to appear so."

The no-article sense came up recently in a tweet about the odd habit in Southern California of using the word the in front the names of freeways: "the 5" or "the 10," meaning respectively Interstate 5 or Interstate 10. People outside SoCal refer to highways anarthrously, i.e., with no article. Whereas the denizens of LA and vicinities use arthrous highway names, which gives us the other word in the pair I promised—arthrous meaning with [more]

Paste unformatted text in Word

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:35:11 GMT

Another quick post about Word, primarily for my own benefit (when I forget this later).

Word has several options for how you can paste text:


They are (in order):
  • Keep Source Formatting. This option keeps the original formatting (both character and paragraph formatting), but converts it to direct formatting.

  • Merge Formatting. This option copies basic character formatting (bold, italics, underline) as direct formatting, but does not copy any paragraph formatting.

  • Use Destination Styles. This option copies the text and applies styles that are in the target document. (This option appears only if there matching styles in the target doc.)

  • Keep Text Only. This option copies the text as plain text, with no formatting.
I need the last one (paste plain text) more often than any of the others, so I want it on a keyboard shortcut. You can do this by recording a macro of yourself using the Keep Text Only option. But I realized there's an even easier way—just assign a keyboard shortcut to the built-in PasteTextOnly command.

I keep forgetting that most anything Word can do has a command. If a gesture requires just one command, you can assign a keyboard shortcut directly to it. Maybe writing this out will help me remember.

Update I added a video!

width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

Friday words, 2017-04-07

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 16:49:20 GMT

I've been on a three-week break, and this is my last Friday of vacation. But on the plus side, the hiatus ends with some words.

I have a handful of new-to-me terms today. Let's start with a term I learned from the news. US VP Mike Pence made some waves recently by declaring that as a married man, he never dines, or is otherwise alone, with a woman who is not his wife. In reading about the statement in the New Yorker, I ran across a name for this convention: the Billy Graham rule. Per the NYer article, in 1948, the evangelist Billy Graham and some colleagues were concerned about the reputation that evangelists had (in a word: sleazy), so they laid out some rules that would, as Wikipedia cites, "avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion." Among such behaviors was the notion that they should not be alone together with non-wife-type women, and this has since come to be known as the Billy Graham rule.

(image) With all this vacation time, I also had a chance to plow through my stack o' magazines. From a December 2016 issue of The Atlantic, I picked up another new-to-me term: stolen valor [more]

Friday words, 2017-03-31

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 12:49:40 GMT

After a wee hiatus due to job things and conference things, we're back for some more Friday words! Hard today for me to sit at the desk and do this because here in Seattle we have some actual sunshine.

(image) The new term today is rent-seeking. This isn't a completely new word for me—it's sort of the lexical equivalent of that person at your company that you see in the lunchroom sometimes but have never been properly introduced to. Anyway, I was reading some article and ran across it again and thought that maybe I should look it up.

You can almost (?) guess what the word means from its constituent parts. Rent-seeking refers to trying to get unwarranted economic advantage, where "unwarranted" means without giving anything in return to a specific entity or to society as a whole. Some typical examples are an industry lobbying to get import tariffs, to get government subsidies, or to try to use government regulation to stifle competition.

In my pokings-about, I found a piece that asked the same question I had: why rent-seeking? If I understand the article right, rent here refers to extra cost to do business. In this context, a tariff is a cost (rent) to your competitor for doing business in your country. To be clear, rent-seeking is generally considered something that ends up costing consumers and the overall GDP, since it's not productive use of money. There's more in the article if you're curious.

As a bonus new term, I'll note that the Oxford Dictionaries site just introduced me to the term pogonophobia—hatred of beards.


Friday words, 2017-03-10

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:28:53 GMT

Oh, boy, oh, boy—daylight saving time this weekend. I think I'm the only person who likes DST. Tho I will admit that it does give us one hour less for words on Sunday.

Speaking of which, what new-to-you words do we have today, Mike? Well, we have a pair that's kind of related.[1] The first term is benevolent deception. As the words suggest, this refers to a deception—lying—under what might be considered justifiable circumstances. Benevolent deception is a topic of interest in medical ethics. As Marc Agronin noted in The Atlantic:
Every clinician has encountered situations in which being too bluntly honest about a diagnosis can actually be harmful to the patient, and so we employ what is euphemistically referred to as "benevolent deception."
I actually found this term in an article about software, where it was used to refer to user interface (UI) design that deceives the user, but in a good way. Examples:
Benevolent deceptions can hide uncertainty (like when Netflix automatically loads default recommendations if it doesn't have the bandwidth to serve personalized ones), mask system hiccups to smooth out a user's experience (like when a progress bar grows at a consistent rate, even if the process it's visualizing is stuttering), or help people get used to a new form of technology (like the artificial static that Skype plays during quiet moments in a conversation to convince users the call hasn't been dropped).
(image) [more]

Friday words, 2017-03-03

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 23:52:46 GMT

It's March, but there's still talk of snow in Seattle. One of yer weirder winters in these parts. Fortunately, we have the consolation of words.

I have a couple of new-to-me words today. The first I got via Facebook Friend Brendan, who asked "Why do I never know about a 'craze' until it's over?" Well, he's ahead of me, because I didn't hear about it till he posted about it. The craze? Something called sologamy: marrying yourself. The idea is to have a ceremony that's essentially a wedding, but there's no partner. (It also has no legal implications.) As far as I can tell, sologamy does not preclude a more traditional wedding at a later time. Sologamy seems to be related to the quirkyalone movement, another new term, which is about embracing being single.

Whatever the sociology behind it—and there's a lot of commentary—it's a well-constructed word. Compare monogamy, bigamy, and polygamy, where gamy is a combining form, as they call it, meaning "union."[1]

I can't pin down how old the word is. The concept seems to be around 20 years old, or perhaps older, and was earlier also referred to as self-marriage. The earliest reference to sologamy I can find is from 2014, but the author isn't claiming he made up the term. Interestingly, I found a tweet from 2011 that references sologamist:

(image) [more]

Friday words, 2017-02-23

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 23:18:17 GMT

To start this week's words post on a personal note, I turned 60 this last weekend. People were curious if I was sad about this. Not at all, it turns out. I'm not sure exactly why I find this milestone so appealing. One thought is that instead of being an old middle-aged person, I am now the youngest old person I know. And on that note, on the to the words!

The new-to-me word this week is trilemma. As is often the case, this is not at all a new word (17th century). And as also often happens, I've known the concept, just not the word for it. It's an extension of the word dilemma, which refers to a choice between two unpleasant alternatives. Here, di is two, and lemma is a proposition. A trilemma, then, is a choice of three undesirable choices. Epicurus's Trilemma is a classic theological trilemma that goes like this:
  1. If God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent.
  2. If God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good.
  3. If God is willing and able to prevent evil, then why is there evil?
However, trilemma is also used to refer to a situation that might have three desirable outcomes, but you only get two. (In this sense, it kinda-sorta inverts the sense of dilemma.) A well-known example of this second sense of trilemma in the software business is the maxim "Fast, good, or cheap: pick two." This is also known as the project-management trilemma.

This investigation actually started when I was reading an [more]

Friday words, 2016-02-17

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 11:28:35 GMT

Friday words! Here's an interesting milestone: this will be the last words post I make while I'm still in my 50s.

Note #1! This week's new word features politics and (especially) strong language.

Note #2! The discussion might also be a little too inside-baseball; it's a word about words. Sorry about that.

So. This week's new-to-me word is also actually new: shitgibbon compound. Of late, many people have been discussing the insult shitgibbon. The word rose to prominence during a series of tweets that were posted when then-candidate Trump visited Scotland and made some statements that people disagreed with (example); it then came up again when a US legislator used it in an angry tweet. If you're interested in the rise and spread of this term, the linguist Ben Zimmer traces it in an entry on the Strong Language blog.

However, what interests me today is not shitgibbon as such, but the term shitgibbon compound. The word shitgibbon has a particular construction and rhythm that we find in other insults: scumbucket, twatwaffle, fartnugget, and many more. The linguist Gretchen McCulloch proposed the name shitgibbon compounds at the end of her deep-dive into how these types of terms can be constructed. Daniel Midgley took up this term and made an awesome chart [more]