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:
So I went back to first grade to refresh my memory about apostrophe rules. Here's what I learned!
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
. 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
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
. 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
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:
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
Friday words, 2016-12-02
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:19:34 GMT
Friday words! Here we are in Dec
ember, 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
. 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
in turn is a mashup of British
[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.
and then Regrexit
seemed to have kicked off a spate of blending, including Brexhausted
, 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
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
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
. 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
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="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yY96hTb8WgI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>
According to an entry
for Norman doors
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.
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
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
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
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 medium.com 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
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 2017||benevolent deception, labor illusion||stir-crazy|
|3 Mar 2017||sologamy, sequela||conundrum|
|24 Feb 2017||trilemma||tire, 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
. 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
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-
, 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
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
as we also see in telegram
. 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