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Published: Sunday, March 26, 2017 10:15:43 PM

Last Build Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:28:53 GMT


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]

Let's learn apostrophe rules!

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 00:26:07 GMT

Apostrophes. People get 'em wrong all the time. Right? Some people feel that this is because writers just aren't applying the lessons they should have learned in school. (Can we say "lazy"?) For example, here's a comment that appeared recently on a Facebook thread:
Apostrophes aren't actually very hard at all. They are stand-ins for missing letters. If you can extend "they're" to "they are" then it gets an apostrophe. Plurals never get them. This is literally first grade punctuation.
So I went back to first grade to refresh my memory about apostrophe rules. Here's what I learned!
Use an apostrophe to indicate a missing letter, like can't or didn't or ain't.

But don't use an apostrophe when you're just taking out a space! Just letters. Don't write do'n't.

Don't forget won't, which is a contraction for … wo not? Side question: What's ain't a contraction for?

And 'tis.

If you're contracting and, don't forget to use two apostrophes: rock 'n' roll, peaches 'n' cream, Bang 'n' Olufsen.

Use an apostrophe if you're combining a pronoun or noun and a verb, like she'll and there's and who's and Fred's and I'd've and they'll and Mike'll and y'all'd've.

Add apostrophe plus s to the end of a noun to indicate possession: dog's breakfast, pedant's delight. (Question: In dog's, what letter does the apostrophe stand in for? Answer: Shhh.)

Yes, add apostrophe plus s even if the noun ends in s, like the boss's red tie, Texas's Board of Education, and Davy Jones's locker.

And even if the final s [more]

Friday words, 2017-02-10

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 19:06:28 GMT

Of all the things that happened this week, waking up to 8 inches of snow on Monday was about the least expected. What with this being Seattle in February and all. On the other hand, what is expected is words on Friday.

The new-to-me term this week is another law: Brandolini's Law, to be exact, which says that "the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it." Alberto Brandolini made this proclamation, labeling it "bullshit asymmetry," in a tweet about 4 years ago:

I don't remember exactly where I got this from, but there's a great blog post by Guillaume Nicoulaud (I think! attribution is hard to come by on that blog!) that first labeled the aphorism and credited it to Brandolini, who's an Italian software developer.

The blog post takes a few pains to note analogues, like "a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on," variously attributed to Twain or Lincoln or Einstein or Gandhi, like everything else on the internet. (Actually, the post attributes it to Spurgeon. Or Swift.) Commenters on the blog also note similar observations, like the Gish Gallop (a.k.a. "proof by verbosity") and "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit." None of these seems to quite capture essence of what Brandolini is getting at, though.

Me, I reckon this all might be an excuse for me to buy the book [more]

Friday words, 2017-02-03

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 07:43:19 GMT

Friday words for the beginning of February. Or "Febuary", if you, like me, are a fan and practitioner of liquid dissimilation.

(image) Today's new-to-me term is vertical farming, which I learned from an article in the New Yorker recently. This almost seems like a self-evident term until you ponder what exactly it might mean. Terracing? Growing things on a wall? Growing some verticals? (Huh?)

According to the article, the term has a precise definition:
It refers to a method of growing crops, usually without soil or natural light, in beds stacked vertically inside a controlled-environment building.
As it says, the plants aren't in soil; instead, the roots are sprayed with a nutritious and delicious liquid via fertigation (fertilize+irrigation), another term I learned from reading about all this.

Per the NYer article, the term vertical farming was invented (at least, in this sense) by Dickson Despommier, Ph.D, who wrote a book in 2011 called The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century.

People who are involved in vertical farming are super-excited about it and talk fervently about the potential of this technique to revolutionize agriculture. I guess we'll know that vertical farming is a success when someone invents a retronym like "horizontal farming" or "land farming" for what we otherwise today know as just "farming."


Friday words, 2017-01-28

Sat, 28 Jan 2017 08:49:01 GMT

Friday words! Our last installment for an eventful January 2017.

(image) The new-to-me term this week is economic moat. This refers to a competitive advantage that is not easy for others to overcome. A textbook example of an economic moat is a patent your company owns—not only do you have a competitive advantage, but your competitors cannot use your process or widget. But it can also be something like a brand with a high recognition factor—for example, it doesn’t matter how delicious your soft drink is if you're trying to compete with Coca-Cola.

The term is attributed to the investor Warren Buffet. The financial press loves this quote, omg: "In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable moats." But finding the actual source is surprisingly difficult. The best I could do was this, from the 1986 Chairman's Letter, where Buffett says the following:
The difference between GEICO’s costs and those of its competitors is a kind of moat that protects a valuable and much-sought-after business castle.
As an aside, I'll note that Buffett is justly famous for the approachability of his writing about financial matters, and the Letters are surprisingly good reading.

So. Got a little off track there, sorry. On to etymology. This week's word came up in a discussion online about which term is preferred, couch or sofa. During the discussion, someone mentioned that sofa was a borrowing from Arabic. And sure enough! The origin is listed as the Arabic word soffah.

The first cites in English (1625) use the word sofa to refer to a raised platform that's got carpets and cushions on it.


Friday words 2017-01-20

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:25:22 GMT

Friday! Meaning it's time again to share some words. For new(-to-me) words today I've got two that I harvested in 2016, but that might have some contemporary relevance, you decide.

(image) The first is outrage porn, which is media (I think we want to stay from the word news) whose purpose is primarily to stir outrage. Entire TV networks seem to be devoted to this, and of course anyone who's got a political opinion can get an endless stream of outrage porn on their Facebook feed. The term is credited to Tim Kreider, writing in 2009 in the New York Times. (FWIW, he doesn't use quotation marks, which are often put around new terms. Just sayin'.) Using the word porn in this compound is clever; as Michael Austin notes, outrage porn "provides all of the sensations of a strong emotion without incurring any of the costs."

Part two of our related terms this week is rage profiteer. This term is slightly more recent—2014, it looks like? (A variant is rage farmer.) As you might guess, this is someone who …
… pretends to care passionately about certain causes but in fact thrives on regression, controversy or bad news because it gives them an excuse step into the limelight.
This definition is courtesy of Ryan Holiday in The Observer, who has written multiple times about these related phenomena.

Just reading about these terms makes me tired. So let's turn to something more fun, namely word history.


Friday words, 2017-01-14

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 08:48:46 GMT

I missed last week due to being at a linguistics conference, but while I was there I picked up another batch of language-related terms:These are well known to real linguists (I presume), but new to me.

Anyway, those aside, it's time for another Saturday edition of Friday words (oops). Oh, and PS, Happy New Year!

The first new-to-me word this week (leaving aside the list above) is wikidrift, which defines a situation I am all too familiar with. This is the practice of (or game of, if one does it with intent) following links in Wikipedia from article to article. The drift part alludes to the notion of moving further and further away from the original starting point. A supposed outcome of unlimited wikidrift is that one eventually gets to the topic on philosophy.

(image) My second term for this week is white-labeling, which came up at work recently. This is not a new term, and I'm a bit surprised I'd never heard it. (That I know of.) To white-label [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-31

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 13:41:56 GMT

Friday words! On Saturday! Another leap Friday, I guess. I should note also that I deliberately skipped last week, because it was Christmas and all the new-to-me words were just so bleak that I seemed like a downer. But things are looking up today.

Speaking of which, the new-to-me word today is supertentorial. This is a medical term, but that's not the most interesting part. So, first, the tentorium cerebelli is a bit of dura mater[1]—tissue—that separates the lower and higher parts of the brain. That is, it separates the cerebellum from the cerebrum. Supertentorial, where super is "above," means something that's occurring above this divider, like a tumor.

(image) Already we've learned something new! But wait, there's more. I was listening to a podcast on The Allusionist, where Helen Zaltzman was talking to Dr. Isaac Siemens about, among other things, doctor jargon. Along the way, he talked about jargon that medical people use to hide what they're saying from civilians. One of those was this word supertentorial, which doctors will sometimes use to mean that it's all in the patient's head. ("The condition appears to be supertentorial.") My wife, who's also in the medical field, totally confirmed this. Of course, this strategy backfires if the patient happens to be a native speaker of Latin.

For etymology, I actually have a (belated) holiday term of sorts. At the specific request of one my kids, for Christmas dinner every year I make flan for dessert. Flan is a kind of custard, which in the Spanish style has a dripping caramel crown:


But whence [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-16

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 06:08:10 GMT

Things you might not know: December 16 is Beethoven's birthday. Things you probably do know: today is Friday, so it must be another day for words!

The new-to-me term this week is scrollytelling. This describes a way of presenting information on a webpage that lets users scroll around, dynamically revealing parts of the story. A good example is a page in the New York Times about climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park:

Update 19 Dec 2016 I found an even better example of scrollytelling, a viz that shows maritime traffic around San Francisco Bay:


The term scrollytelling is yet another portmanteau (a theme lately, it seems), which of course blends scrolling with storytelling. I got this term by reading a document at work, but once I went delving, I found that it's so well known that there's even a company named Scrollytelling that offers "a full-service storytelling agency and worldwide storytelling platform." Ok, then.

Bonus term: steppers. This is a different take on storytelling, where you, well, step through the story in discrete parts. A somewhat cranky blog post [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-09

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 09:00:35 GMT

I seem to have picked up the cold that's been slaying the ranks at work, bah. But the words must go on! Albeit with reduced energy.

The new-to-me word today is quite delightful. I'll do this a little backward, which will make sense in a moment. First, what is this thing—that is, what's the name of the collection of spikes found on the tail of a stegosaurus?

Apparently this particular, um, feature of stegosauruses has not been formally labeled. However, in some circles, at least, this collection is called a thagomizer.

Fun-sounding name, eh? That shouldn't be surprising, as it turns out, because the term was invented by the cartoonist Gary Larson in this very panel:


Thagomizer doesn't appear in the usual dictionaries, but it's in Urban Dictionary and in Wikipedia. Baby steps on the way to full lexical respectability.

As an aside, I got all this from an article in Mental Floss about Gary Larson. This is merely one of eleven "twisted" facts! Go read about the others!

(image) For etymology today, we have infant. This one was interesting to me because the word uses a prefix that's quite common (namely, in-), but I'd never grokked that. Anyway, infant [more]

Friday words, 2016-12-02

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:19:34 GMT

Friday words! Here we are in December, which etymology tells us is the tenth month. Ahem.

Today's new-to-me word skirts a politically hot topic, but let's stick here with words. The term is Trumpgrets, a portmanteau of Trump+regret(s). The context, which got a splash of attention this week, was a Tumblr blog that posts tweets from people who seem to report regrets about voting for Trump.

(image) The word Trumpgret follows the idea, if not the pattern, of Regrexit, a term coined for people in the UK who seemed to regret voting for Brexit. Note that Regrexit is a double portmanteau—regret+Brexit; Brexit in turn is a mashup of British+exit [from the EU].

I personally find the word Trumpgrets a little awkward. The pattern is morphologically valid, but perhaps it’s the p followed immediately by the g that makes it ever so slightly difficult to pronounce. Whatever.

Anyway, Brexit and then Regrexit seemed to have kicked off a spate of blending, including Brexhausted, Brexodous, and Bremain, as rounded up on the Language Log. It would not surprise me to find people experimenting with more Trump-based blends, though of course with Trump we don't have the -ex- part to play with.

Update, 3 Dec: Once I started keeping an eye out, I found more examples of Trump-based blends. So far, I've got Trumpcast (Trump+[pod]cast [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-25

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 16:20:48 GMT

Black Friday! Be sure to take advantage of our door-busting specials on words!

(image) The first new-to-me-word today is pretty politically wonkish: the Thucydides Trap. Thucydides was a Greek military commander who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War, which pitted Athens against Sparta in the 5th century B.C. Inspired by the nature of this conflict, the political scientist Graham Allison coined the phrase Thucydides Trap in 2012 to describe the inevitable (?) conflict that will occur between a rising state (historically, Athens) and an established power (Sparta). I was reading a couple of articles about China this week (example), and Thucydides Trap appeared in both of them. You will undoubtedly be able to deduce which modern states correspond to Thucydides's players.

(image) For a second new-to-me word, and on a tack more appropriate for a cooking-focused holiday, I recently learned the word autolysis or autolyze. This refers to a biochemical process in which tissue breaks down—autolysis literally means "self"+"breakdown." I ran across it while perusing some holiday recipes, and discovered that it's a term and technique that shows up a lot in instructions for making different types of bread. In that context, an autolyze period is one in which you let a dough rest to allow it to break down some of the starch.


Friday words, 2016-11-18

Fri, 18 Nov 2016 13:51:49 GMT

Friday words! I observe belatedly that I've passed the one-year mark on this little exercise. And apparently there are still words out there that are new to me.

(image) The new-to-me word today is a problem that might be the secret shame of many: precrastination. (Which, no surprise, spell-check wants to change to procrastination.) Precrastination is defined as "the tendency to complete, or at least begin, tasks as soon as possible, even at the expense of extra physical effort," per an article in The Atlantic that discusses this tendency. More succinctly, it refers to a tendency to get something over with as soon as possible. One example of precrastination that resonates with me is just parking in the first available slot, even if it means a longer walk to the store.

The word seems to have been invented in 2014, possibly for a paper in Psychological Science that studied the behavior. I saw it only this week in an ad for motorcycle gear that urged me to avoid last-minute shopping. (To my mind, they're not using pre-crastinate in its intended sense, but hey … ads.) It occurs to me that if I'm seeing a word for the first time in an advertisement, I am definitely behind the curve on that one.

For etymology, I have a follow-up to last week's word, bacteria, where I wondered if we had other words in English that shared the Greek root bakter [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-11

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:17:43 GMT

I just spent about a week in Austin, TX. I was hoping for some fun dialectical exposure, but it seems that most of the people I interacted with weren't actually from Texas. Still, there are always new words, aren't there.

The first word today is something I ran across while investigating last week's words. It struck me because we have a set of conference rooms at work where people, even people who've worked in the building a while, frequently can't figure out whether to push or pull them.

Turns out that there is (of course) a name for this: these are Norman doors. This is a door where "the design tells you to do the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do." A second definition is "a door that gives the wrong signal and needs a sign to correct it."

In this expression, Norman refers not to, like, William the Conqueror, but to Donald Norman, whose book The Design of Everyday Things is a kind of popular bible for understanding, well, the design of everyday things. There’s a blog entry on the Nielsen site by Norman himself that discusses this very issue of poor door design. Here's a video done by some folks at Vox that illustrates the problem and gets some commentary from Norman himself:

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

According to an entry for Norman doors [more]

Friday words, 2016-11-04

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 09:45:25 GMT

Happy Friday, words peeps. After last week's catch-up opus, I'm going to keep this one short (for me), even tho my collection keeps growing.

The first new-to-me term is yet another new entry in my growing collection of laws, effects, and principles: the cheerleader effect. Just from the name, it might not be easy to guess what this describes. According to the article where I learned about it, the cheerleader effect explains that "individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone." IOW, you'll look better in a group photo. Is the theory.

(image) Trying to track down the origin of this term is a little frustrating, because many sources say that it was coined "by Barney Stinson, a character on the TV show How I Met Your Mother," going back to an episode from 2008 of that show. But TV characters don't invent things, and I have not yet found something that indicates where the show's writers might have gotten the term. I mean, maybe they invented it, but if so, it would be good to get that credited.

Anyway, using the term cheerleader for the effect here is an interesting choice, in that it seems to allude to looking at (and judging the attractiveness of) groups of women specifically. For example, one source I found says that other names for this effect are the Bridesmaid Paradox and Sorority Girl Syndrome. Is there a variant of this name that is gender neutral? Operators are standing by.

(image) [more]

Friday words, 2016-10-29

Sat, 29 Oct 2016 12:38:08 GMT

Boy, it's been some kinda weeks—we're gearing up for the annual conference at work, plus my wife and I cleared and vacated the house for five days so the floors could be redone. The words keep coming, tho, even if they have to be squeezed in late. Hence a larger edition than normal today.

(image) The first new-to-me term this time is patriot correctness, which I heard on an episode of This American Life, where Ira Glass defined it as …
… like political correctness, but the right-wing version of that. Like if you say that there is no flood of immigrants coming across the border, well, that is just out of bounds. That's not something you say. You are not patriotically correct.
The earliest reference to patriot correctness that I found was from 2011, in a piece where the author (Tim Wise) says "[something] that we might label 'patriot correctness.'" I would not be surprised if there are earlier cites. When I searched for this term, I found that it's also known as conservative correctness, which Michael Fauntroy says he coined in 2004.

Both terms are angry ones. They're intended to be negative, a reaction by left-leaning people to having the term political correctness [more]

Friday words, 2016-10-13

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 23:55:45 GMT

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

The first new-to-me word is a word that's common enough, but that I saw used in a new way. Here's the cite where I found it, which appeared in an article in Wired about Google's new Noto font:
Something funny happens when your computer or phone can’t display a font: A blank rectangular box pops up in place of the missing glyph. This little box is called .notdef, or “not defined,” in coder lingo, but everyone else just calls it tofu.
Perhaps you've seen this. Here's an example in a jokey context:

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

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


Friday words, 2016-09-30

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:32:22 GMT

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday words roundup

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 10:30:28 GMT

Every Friday, more or less, I add a post here that talks about a new word and an etymology. The new word is only warranted to be new to me; it's pretty rare that the word is new-new, and in fact it might be quite old. For the etymology, I focus on word origins that are surprising (to me) or delightful (to me).

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

Date Word(s) Unexpected etymology
10 Mar 2017benevolent deception, labor illusionstir-crazy
3 Mar 2017sologamy, sequelaconundrum
24 Feb 2017trilemmatire, whip (to mean car)

Friday words, 2016-09-23

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:58:17 GMT

Boy, Fridays seem to be coming at me with ever-greater velocity. Is it that summer is gone? Oh, well—it just means opportunities come around seemingly faster for contemplating words.

(image) The new-to-me word this week is striminal, a mashup of streaming and criminal. This term is attributed to Gabriella Mirabelli, who runs Anatomy Media, a marketing agency. Mirabelli was quoted in an article that reported that 61% of people aged 18 to 24 get streaming content from unauthorized sources—i.e., that they're not paying for it—and 63% of them use ad blockers. Mirabelli doesn't like this behavior.

I'm generally ok with people taking a stab at a new word, but I don’t love striminal. It fails the test of being "semantically transparent," which is one of the criteria proposed by an article in The Guardian about what makes a good portmanteau. To my mind, if you hear "striminal," you can guess that it's some sort of criminal, but it seems unlikely that you could work your way back to "streaming." Would stream-inal work? Maybe, but that word ain't no beauty queen either.

Bonus new-to-me word: A couple of weeks ago, one of John McIntyre's "In a Word" columns introduced me to the word hebdomadal, which is a pretty fancy way to way "weekly." This uses the stem heptá, which means "seven" in Greek and is related to Latin septem, as in September, and, well, seven in English.


Friday words, 2016-09-16

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:14:52 GMT

Here we are on Mexican Independence Day. Sadly, although there are words a-plenty today, none of them relate to this important date being celebrated by friends and family. Still, let's proceed ...

Oh, by the way: Strong language this week.

I got the first term for this week from Virginia Hefferman's book Magic and Loss, an extended essay about the cultural impact of the internet. I'll just use a cite from the book to showcase the word and define it:
What we did at Yahoo! News, which the staff called "retroediting," would make the New Yorker staff blanch: we'd post something as soon as the sloppiest draft was ready and edit it after it was available to readers.
(image) There are a couple of things I like about the word retroediting. One is that it describes a process that's very familiar to me, as anyone might guess from reading my blog entries or Facebook posts, ack. I've also worked in shops where this approach to editing has been flirted with. He said (im)passively. I also like the word because if someone had asked me to come up with a name for this editing protocol, I would have gotten stuck on post- or after-, and would probably never have stumbled on retro-. This prefix means "backwards," which to me is not an obvious way to describe this after-the-fact process. But I like it. As an aside, I also kind of like the image of the editors at a place like The New Yorker getting the vapors about this protocol.

The book also taught me another term: hyperlexia [more]

Friday words, 2016-09-09

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 13:43:11 GMT

Here in Seattle, we made an extremely sudden transition from summer to fall (or autumn, for you Old World English speakers). But changes in the climate do not affect our interest in words!

The first new-to-me word for today is calligram, which refers to a piece of text in which the writing or typesetting creates an image that echoes the meaning of the word(s). The word is a mashup of calligraphy with -gram as we also see in telegram and diagram. I got this from an article that provided a gallery of 40+ calligrams by the designer Ji Lee. Here's an example so you get the idea, but you should check out the link to see the many excellent examples.


The word calligram is not new; it goes back at least to the 1930s. And as an art form, calligrams have been around a long time. For example, Islamic calligraphers have been doing beautiful calligrams for centuries using Arabic script to form pictures, as in this example:


On to more grounded things. I got the next new-to-me term from an interview with Seleta Reynolds, who's the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was talking about bicycles and "vehicular cycling"—the idea that bicycles should be integrated with, and treated as, traffic alongside cars. In her discussion, she noted that this has ended up being embraced primarily by MAMILs [more]