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Published: Sunday, April 30, 2017 12:20:08 AM

Last Build Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2017 15:01:35 GMT

 



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.

(image)

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

(image)

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.

(image)

For stubborn paint, I repeated the process, and when I got impatient with repeated soakings, I used a brush. You need something pretty stuff (not an old toothbrush), but again, not too hard. This brush worked great for me:

[more]



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:

(image)

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="https://www.youtube.com/embed/izK3K6sXjNI" 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.

[more]



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.

(image)
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."

[more]



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.

[more]



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.

[more]



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:

(image)

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:

(image)

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?
(image)

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:

(image)

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.

[more]



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="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yY96hTb8WgI" 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]