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Of the many place names in New England transported here from settlers hearkening back to their connections in Old England, I most like that of Braintree. There's a Braintree in Massachusetts and one here in Vermont. Both of them take their name from Braintree, Essex in England. As far as I'm concerned, though, that's less than half the story. The etymology geek in me has a burning desire to know how several locations in the world are named after [according to my overheated imagination] trees growing out of skulls.

Unfortunately, the etymology geek in me will not be adequately satisfied. Wikipedia, font of all knowledge online, deems the origin of the name Braintree "obscure." Despite that, the online encyclopedia discusses several possible sources for the name, most of which support the idea that, somehow, Braintree began life as something like "Brantry" or "Branchetreu," both of which seem to mean "town by the river."

In fact, in the Domesday Book, a 1086 record of land use and taxation covering much of England, records Braintree as "Branchetreu." As far as I can tell, this appears to be the earliest record of the place name in its somewhat recognizable form. Thus it's worth looking into the sources of Branchetreu.

Branchetreu, like Braintree, breaks down into two syllables with a different origin for each: "Branche-" and "-treu." The speculation that Braintree means "town by the river" leads me to interpret the "Branche-" as equivalent to the French la branche, which is one of those words that means the exact same thing in both language. La branche in French and "branch" in English both refer to those small extensions of a tree growing up and out from the main trunk; both words also carry the same figurative meanings that denote the subsidiary parts of certain things [e.g., governments]. Therefore both words can mean "a separate smaller offshoot of a larger river." "Branche-" clearly equals "river," at least in my mind.

So what about that "-treu?" According to Wikipedia, the suffix "-treu" is equivalent to the modern suffix "-try" or "-tree," which used to mean "farm" and then expanded to mean "settlement" or "town." Apparently this appears in town names around Wales. If that's so, then "Branche-" = "River-" and "-treu" = "town," making "Branchetreu" = "Rivertown." The shifts changes in spelling and pronunciation we can attribute to the inevitable changes in language as it wends through the landscape of time.

Even though I know Braintree is basically Rivertown, the poetic images of its current iteration -- brains and trees -- will always teem in my mind. When I think of Braintree, I think of a tree in a cemetery growing out of someone's skull. More specifically, I think of an old New England family plot, full of effaced and canted stones, and an apple tree rooting in one corner, planted firmly in the pot of a dead person's skull. Or I think of another feral apple-like tree, once by a house that has long since disappeared. Short and broad, it bears the heavy burden of its fruit: bright ripe brains, swinging from their stems. Or, more metaphorically, I think of the nervous system as the epitome of a brain-tree: with the spinal cord as its trunk, it ramifies in electric branches throughout the body, with the brain at its fruiting crown.

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I really, really, really dislike Neil Diamond. All his stuff just sounds to me like a long, soulful whinge, which is attractive to some people, but not me. I could handle the droning whines if it weren't for songs like Play Me, which contains the immortal words:

Song she sang to me
Song she brang to me
Words that rang in me
Rhyme that sprang from me
Warmed the night
And what was right
Became me

As far as I'm concerned, this verse illustrates just how creatively bankrupt he is. All his failings are encapsulated in the word "brang." The older I get, the less of a linguistic prescriptivist I am and the more of a laissez-faire descriptivist, but this "brang" deeply irritates me. Using apostrophes for pluralization, deploying "unique" as a synonym of unusual, saying "literally" when one means "figuratively" -- all of these grammatical solecisms that it's fashionable to rant against do not offend me to the core the way that Neil Diamond's "brang" does.

Why do I have such a problem with "brang?" Well, clearly he's not using it as part of a character's particular voice, as it's the only non-standard past participle in the song, so he's using it as a songwriter. He obviously knows the correct past participle, as he sings repeatedly in You Got to Me that "You brought me to my knees." Thus the "brang" is a fully intentional artistic choice.

I could accept "brang" as an on-purpose use if it served some sort of coherent aesthetic program, but it doesn't. It just rhymes with "sang," "rang" and "sprang." "I used it because it rhymes" can be an acceptable justification for certain vocabulary, but only if you really need that word there. This verse does not need "brang" or, indeed, the whole "Song she brang to me" line. The verse could go as follows without a problem:

Song she sang to me
Words that rang in me
Rhyme that sprang from me
Warmed the night
And what was right
Became me

This verse says the exact same thing as the version up above. The singer receives a song as a gift from a woman. It enters his soul and affects him deeply, calling forth an answering rhyme from him. He feels perfect and right in his union with her. 

Unfortunately, Neil Diamond is not taking my lyrical advice. He'd rather inflict us with "brang," which, being narratively unjustified, stands out harshly as a gratuitous mangling of an innocent past participle. He uses "brang" because he likes it and because he's so unreasonably attached to it that he can't excise it, even though its loss would improve the whole song. "I like it, and it sounds nice" is not an acceptable justification for retaining wretched prose or lyrics.

Neil Diamond is like the personification of anti-rap. Rap epitomizes a high-flying, experimental spirit of rapid-fire linguistic invention in which endless play with vocabulary, stress and meter often reveals surprising and illuminating connections between phrases and concepts. Someone with some actual talent could rap that whole verse, including "brang," and it wouldn't be a shitty invented past participle, but an echo of the ringing that touches the speaker so intimately that it changes even the most ordinary words into bell-like sounds. Sadly, however, Neil Diamond does not have that talent. His "brang" depends not on linguistic inventiveness, but on a stale, stagnant affection for a sound he couldn't let go.  
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Greer Gilman, master of purple involuted mock-Jacobean epics, muses about one of my favorite themes. The girls who have adventures in labyrinths fare differently compared to the boys. [Also she has a bone to pick with Tehanu's crabbed domesticity in Ursula Le Guin's novel of the same name. So do I, Gilman. So do I.]

I like her observation that the girls [Ariadne, Alice, Eilonwy from -- yack! -- the endlessly irritating Book of Three, Arha/Tehanu, Sarah] find their ways out; they know where they're going. Meanwhile, the boys [Theseus, the White Knight {?}, Taran, Sparrowhawk/Ged, Jareth] don't; they get lost and bonk around aimlessly. They're "clueless," Gilman says, which is to say without a clue...or without a clew, Ariadne's map-like ball of thread that knows the way through the passages. ["Clue" as a hint of a guide derives from "clew" qua thread. I love etymology!]

So why do we only hear of the boys getting out and through the maze? Why don't we ever hear of the girls who get to know their labyrinths and walk through the darkness, unafraid of Minotaurs?

Beats me. For some reason, Inanna's descent to the otherworld ain't considered as compelling. Why not???


Goin' to read Moonwise again, even though it drives me up the wall.

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If all goes according to plan and I purchase PhilC's Hair Designer and start generating my own digital hairstyles, I have decided that they will all be called by permutations of my name.

I don't know if I still have it, but, in my youth, I collected variants of my name. I got well north of 60, I think, before I moved on to other pursuits. Some of my favorites include the following:
  • Orszebet
  • Lillibet
  • Wiz [a former coworker's nickname]
  • Yelizaveta
  • Ealasaid
  • Isabel
  • Ilsabeth
Special mention goes to Zibber, my brother's name for me when he couldn't pronounce Elizabeth. This once irritated me to no end, but now I find it hilarious.

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In one of Weird Al's recent parodies, Word Crimes, about a prescriptivist's rant against supposed language misuse, he sings:

Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic
'Cause you write like a spastic

When I heard this part of the song, my esteem for him immediately plummeted, as "spastic" is, in my world, a derogatory, dismissive term for a very energetic and/or clumsy and/or forgetful and/or fidgety and/or unintelligent person. It derives from "spastic" as a description for people, particularly those with cerebral palsy, because of their muscle spasms. Said spasms, which cause uncontrollable contractions and may cause involuntary movements, may cause a person's limbs, head or core to shake. Speech may also be interrupted. People who didn't know any better interpreted these spasm-induced movements as signs that disabled people were overly excitable, clumsy, forgetful, fidgety, uncoordinated, etc. It became a shorthand insult, which then itself was shortened to "spaz," a term most prevalent in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Let me tell you about muscle spasms, at least from my secondhand experience. My sister Jill, who has cerebral palsy, regularly experiences them. My ex-wife, who also had cerebral palsy, had them. Janna regularly has them as well. In all their cases, their muscle spasms manifest as uncontrollable twitching and jerking in the affected body parts. In all cases, the spasms cause them pain and sometimes keep them up at night. In none of their cases do their muscle spasms have any connection with their overall levels of energy, coordination, excitability, forgetfulness and/or fidgetiness. In none of their cases do their muscle spasms limit their brain functions. To take an adjective for disruptive, excruciating pain and transform it into a dismissive term for a silly person is a prime example of rank ableism.

This is why I object to Language Log's discussion of Weird Al's use of "spastic" and subsequent apology. Ben Zimmer, author of a post discussing the term, claims that "spaz" and "spastic" have "become innocuous playground slang in the U.S. but a grave insult in the U.K." He asserts that Weird Al apologized for using "spastic" primarily because it offended British listeners.

NO! You are wrong wrong wrongity wrong, Ben Zimmer. "Spaz" and "spastic" have always been derogatory and insulting because they transfer terms for disability into the realm of insult, thereby turning disabilities into insults. Weird Al should not have apologized because "spaz" is an insult over in the UK. He should have apologized because ableism is nasty and harmful in general the world over.

Anyway, even though he apologized for his ableism in Word Crimes, Weird Al's ableism remains on display in his song Lame Claim to Fame. STOP USING "LAME" TO MEAN "PATHETIC" PEOPLE!

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 ...with Barbie and all her friends because, for the most part, it manages to balance light humor at no one's expense with slapstick and clever in-jokes. Midge as snorting, safety-obsessed introvert who talks like the 1950s also cracks me up -- and she's so cute when she appears in Smidge of Midge in greyscale!

I also really like Ken, who ultimately ends up being portrayed as just another character who happens to be Barbie's boyfriend, rather than the major plot motor and deus ex machina of the series. He's goofy and utterly devoted to Barbie ["Barbie sense...tingling..."] and supremely confident enough in his masculinity to invent a super-sophisticated closet for all his girlfriend's clothes. In other words, rather than having gay panic over activities often coded as queer, Ken does IT, back-end programming for the Super Style Squad [actually saying, "Beep boop bop," with Skipper as they hit buttons ^_^ ]. I can't tell you how happy I am to see a cartoon where all the characters, male and female, take fashion, style, clothing, etc., etc., etc., seriously, and no one shits on it for being trivially feminine. That's actually kind of revolutionary.

Life in the Dreamhouse would be even better if it ditched its racism and ableism. For example:
  • The cast needs more POC in significant speaking roles besides Nikki.
  • While we're discussing Nikki, she needs to develop a modicum of personality beyond Sassy Black Friend. For God's sake, she even does the head jerks and vocal fry so routinely associated with this stereotype. Everyone else has some interest or trait to differentiate them [Teresa's monkey, Midge's macrame, Summer's high energy, Skipper's use of gadgets, Ryan's really bad songs], but Nikki has nothing.
  • Furthermore, the show needs to stop using Afros as a visual shorthand for disastrous hairdos. When all characters have shiny, sleek, straight hair and curly, kinky, gravity-defying clouds of natural locks are depicted as the ridiculous punchlines to jokes, people with such curly, kinky hair are derided by extension.
  • The ableism needs to go too. Any use of "lame" as an adjective meaning "bad quality, boring, uninteresting, etc." should be scratched from the script pronto. Ditto for any appearance of "crazy" for "wild, unusual, strange, exciting" or "cray cray" for same. Just cut it out.
  • In terms of additions, I think that Life in the Dreamhouse would be greatly improved by the appearance of Becky, a photographer friend of Barbie who uses a wheelchair. I mean, c'mon -- if they can devote the air time to a running gag on the inadequate single elevator in the Dreamhouse, surely they can devote an episode to its upgrade and Barbie and Becky's happiness when Becky can finally get to the second floor to see her super-awesome closet, right?
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Yesterday I got serious about brightening up my scenes a little bit and seeing what all this shader business was about. I copied some portrait lights from a freebie I downloaded [renapd's A3Dolls sets] and forced them to yield functional results. Woo hoo!

After that I entertained myself with shaders, installing the Daz defaults, as well as Fuseling's Sci Fi Dark Mats and Latex and Rubber for DS, both of which I got from Renderosity. The Sci Fi mats do really cool things like apply various neon glows, crackly alien metal effects and organic slime textures. The latex and rubber mats have various patterns, glossinesses and transparencies. I spent a long time last night fiddling with the shaders. I think I could probably layer shaders and achieve something like alien, slimy, semi-transparent, super-glossy, leopard print, lime green latex, but I'm not up for creating glowing snot effects yet. :p

There are a lot of jokes to be made about my indiscriminate use of shaders, one or two of which may show up on this blog.

In other news, latex can either be a) a mark-up language [LaTex], b) a naturally occurring emulsion of micropolymer molecules in an aqueous solution exuded by plants to prevent being eaten or c) a synthetic plastic. The term can also refer to unvulcanized rubber. The overlapping Venn diagram of definitions of latex is in no way confusing. :p ...Well, except for the LaTex mark-up language, which always makes me think of brightly colored, stretchy, bouncy equations. ^_^
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Skeuomorphism is the practice of including features of old technology in new technology, but as design elements, without their old functionality. Examples include folders in the GUI of a computer to click on to access groups of files and the sound effect on my digital camera that sounds like a shutter clicking whenever I take a picture.

I think you could also extend its use metaphorically to cover terms for new technology that use old technology as a basis for comparison. One example of this type of use would be "horsepower" as a skeuomorph referring to the strength of a car's engine. Another example would be "astronaut"/"cosmonaut" [literally "star-sailor"/ "universe-sailor" according to the Greek roots] for those who travel in outer space.

This is an extremely useful word, applicable in many instances today. I love it!

Incidentally, the word skeuomorphism has as its roots the Greek terms for "tool" ["skeuo-"] and "shape" [morph"]. Literally it means "a thing shaped like a tool" -- with the implication that, although it appears to be a tool, it cannot be used exactly as its appearance suggests. Its very existence interrogates the nature of originality and reality. Whoa, dude -- that's so, like, deep!

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"The abyss, with gulfy maw, / Thirsts on unsated..."

That's Roy Campbell, trying to translate part of Baudelaire's Horloge and, tripping on the hurdles of redundant froufrou, failing miserably. 

The sentence in question is, "Le gouffre a toujours soif." Literally, that's, "The pit is always thirsty." But nah...let's go with a "translation" that basically says, "The abyss, with an abyssal abyss, abysses abysmally."

Baudelaire tends not to fare well in translation...
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Just purchased a secondhand scanner from a person who said she was getting rid of it to "liquefy" unwanted possessions. Is it just me, or can English be an exceptionally confusing language, even for people who speak it as a first language? 
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Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

Swenson does the best poetry of the body. I love the enjambment in "Body my good / bright dog is dead." It's like the speaker loves life so much that she actually breaks off in the middle of the thought before getting to "dead" because she's so stuck on the goodness and brightness of being an embodied being. I also like the phrase "wind for an eye" because it implicitly continues the house metaphor by subtly recalling the etymology of "window," from Old Norse "vindauga," or "wind's eye."

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...which is A Christmas Tree, which I think somehow cheapens the whole thing by making it some trite, pallid God metaphor.

A Christmas Tree
by William Burford

if you are
A love compassionate,
You will walk with us this year.
We face a glacial distance, who are here
At your feet.

I like the personification of the astronomical body, the begging of warmth across the chill of space, the abject genuflection of the insignificant people [who are so insignificant that they can't buy another vowel for "Huddld"]. It's a desperate and rather hopeless plea.
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The dude generally pisses me off with his fucking stupid misogyny and gender essentialism, not to mention racism, but I do love this poem:

Death Is Not Evil, Evil Is Mechanical

Only the human being, absolved from kissing and strife
goes on and on and on, without wandering
fixed upon the hub of the ego
going, yet never wandering, fixed, yet in motion,
the kind of hell that is real, grey and awful
sinless and stainless going round and round
the kind of hell grey Dante never saw
but of which he had a bit inside him.

Know thyself, and that thou art mortal.
But know thyself, denying that thou art mortal:
a thing of kisses and strife
a lit-up shaft of rain
a calling column of blood
a rose tree bronzey with thorns
a mixture of love and hate
a wind that blows back and forth
a creature of beautiful peace, like a river
and a creature of conflict, like a cataract:
know thyself, in denial of all these things --

And thou shalt begin to spin round on the hub of the obscene ego
a grey void thing that goes without wandering
a machine that in itself is nothing
a centre of the evil world.

Frankly, I ignore the fact that someone's been reading too much Freud and return to this poem for the middle part: the quintessence of glorious, vacillating humanity. "A calling column of blood" -- what a perfect evocation of our physicality and our longing for emotional connection.

D.H. Lawrence really hates machines... He especially has it out for electric wheelchairs [ref. Clifford Chatterley]. Fuck off, D.H. Lawrence!

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A word sticks in the wind's throat;
A wind-launch drifts in the wells of rye;
Sometimes, in broad silence,
The hanging apples distill their darkness.

You, in a green dress, calling, and with brown hair,
Who come by the field-path now, whose name I say
Softly, forgive me love if also I call you
Wind's word, apple-heart, haven of grasses.

I love the language here, especially the "wind-launch," with its connotations of air caught in the depths of long grasses. And the apples, "distill[ing] their darkness" -- what does that mean? I think of tangy fermentation, cider, fall, secrecy, something somber, witnessing and slightly menacing.

And that enjambment in the second stanze -- "whose name I say / Softly " -- wow! A word sticks in the speaker's throat as a word sticks in the wind's throat. It's such a regretful poem, a melancholy evocation of thwarted feeling.

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Translated from Russian by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.

My favorite paragraph is, incidentally, the last:

And it seemed as though, in a little while, the solution would be found, and then a new and glorious life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far off, and that what was to be most complicated and difficult for them was only just beginning.

modernwizard: (Default) no one chit-chats on TV shows? I was watching Grimm this morning [back from its winter hiatus and as gloriously stupid as ever!], and yet again I noticed how no one ever stammers, stutters, repeats themselves or says hello or goodbye. [Apparently meaningful stares take the place of these conversational markers.] Everyone says everything just once, in the most condensed, pithy, comprehensible way possible, and the listeners always comprehend perfectly and let their interlocutors go without saying goodbye.

I understand that TV represents a stylized view of human interactions, but we spend so much time saying hello, making small talk, repeating ourselves, going "uhhhhhhh..." and saying goodbye that TV's persistent refusal to even acknowledge the actual form of most modern conversations just kills my suspension of disbelief. Instead of following the story, I'm too busy thinking about a) how actors are apparently paid by the world, so cheap studios limit their lines so they don't have to pay them too much and b) how rude and socially inept all the characters would be if they acted like this in real life. Then I become irritated with the whole enterprise and start wanting to throw things at the screen.

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"Jeggings" are leggings that look like jeans. Some neologisms are cutesy and pointless -- I'm looking at you, "meggings" [men's leggings]! -- but I think jeggings serves a purpose. It signifies that the leggings in question are styled differently than your standard simple, stretchy, undetailed elastic-waist tights.

A "quellazaire" is a cigarette holder, not a storage case, but a tube on which the cigarette is mounted. It's an actual word, but I can't find an authoritative reference online for it. I have no idea of the etymology either, but I'd love to find out.

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...when an author from the US states that he is "righting" to inquire on his submission status?


Nov. 14th, 2012 11:24 am
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I lackadaisically collect nicknames and foreign-language equivalents of my name, and I ran across a new one [to me] just now: the Armenian Yeghisabet. You can hear a woman pronouncing it here.

Anyway, I always had the amusing idea of writing a story or something where all characters were nicknames or variants of Elizabeth, so there's another cast member...

It's cool to look at a bunch of variants and nicknames and see what elements of the name remain the same across the options.

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I seriously have a problem with the word "lavender." I can never remember how to spell it, which is very unusual because I usually know how to spell most English words I run across.

L A V E N D A R ?

L A V A N D E R ?

I can't think of any mnenomic device to help me remember the correct spelling either.

Hmmm, well, it is kind of like "lave" + "ender," both of which I do know how to spell. Maybe I can remember it that way.

[To "lave" is a wonderful word meaning "to wash" or, metaphorically, "to soothe." It rhymes with "save."]
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I will never ever ever use the phrase "doing someone a solid." It sounds like you're taking a dump on someone.
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"Verbiage" means either "verbosity" or "specific wording." Yeah, I know that. But what is this "verbage" I keep hearing about?

"Verbage" appears in contexts where "verbiage" is appropriate. Therefore, I think that "verbage" is a mispronunciation of "verbiage." I think it's kind of a stupid word, especially since "verbiage" is perfectly fine, but, the older I get, the more descriptivist and the less prescriptivist I become in my thoughts about language.

"Webinar" is still a stupid word, though.
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I just looked up impetus on to verify that the plural is impetuses. [It is.] For a quote that used the word in a sentence, the dictionary provided this shining gem by the horrendous bilgewhacker D.H. Lawrence:

"While the white man keeps the impetus of his own proud, onward march, the dark races will yield and serve, perforce. But let the white man once have a misgiving about his own leadership, and the dark races will at once attack him, to pull him down into the old gulfs."

Apparently this comes from a 1920s novel by Lawrence entitled The Plumed Serpent. Stupid condescending crap from the main character Kate.

Maybe the quote generator should exclude bigoted tripe, huh?

P.S. The title of this entry comes from Yo, Is this Racist?, a hilarious [and ableist] Q&A blog.
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Derek Abbott's Animal Noise Page tells you what the standard onomatopoeia is for animals in different languages. Interesting how a cuckoo basically says "cuckoo" in all languages shown! Snakes also pretty much all say "ssss."

There's also a fascinating section on animal commands, so you can find out how to say "giddyap," "whoa," "here kitty kitty" and "scat" in different languages.

EDIT: For more fun and to hear people actually saying the onomatapoeia [not just for animals], go to bzzzpeek. It's fascinating!
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Wow, ya learn something new everyday. I didn't even know that that low, grating tone that you put on the end of words sometimes even had a name, but apparently it does. The New York Times introduced me to the subject in an article about linguistic novelty among girls. Unfortunately, it's difficult to describe vocal fry, but you know it when you hear it. Here's a Youtube commentary on vocal fry, including some examples. In my experience, vocal fry seems to be an affectation to suggest sophistication, doubt, frustration or sarcasm.
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This weekend I bought an Elfdoll tiny Winky, one of the original releases, with regular [as opposed to elf] ears. Here's a picture of what she looks like on the official site, but mine has a cuter faceup, with raised eyebrows and little freckles.

The Winky that I bought, whose name is Jujube, does not have any purpose in my amassment other than to be cute. I decided that she can be my at-work BJD, making me smile while I'm at my desk. Even though I already have non-BJD Junebug and her BJD Precious Little to keep me company, I can always use another, especially one as adorable as Jujube.

The technical definition of a jujube is "a cough drop of gelatin, sometimes made with berries from the jujube tree."
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I learned a new word recently: tsuris. It's a Yiddish word meaning "trouble" or "distress." It seems to be used in English to refer to a large, annoying vexation, i.e., "They are always creating artificial drama wherever they go, and you really don't need that tsuris in your life." Pronounced "tsir iss" or "tsoo riss."
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A collection of fanciful beasts on old maps, presented in a slide show by Slate, addresses the famous phrase denoting the edge of the known world: "Hic sunt dracones," or, "Here be dragons":

It’s a common belief that “Here be dragons” was a typical inscription on old maps. In fact, the Latin equivalent, Hic sunt dracones, has been found only once, on the 16th-century Lenox Globe, and the first scholar to study the globe, one B.F. da  Costa, opined in 1879 that it referred not to mythical dragons at all,  but to the “Dagroians”—a bloodthirsty Sumatran tribe described by Marco  Polo. The phrase may have entered the public consciousness via the writer Dorothy Sayers, who used it in one of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.
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Today's word is "wamble," pronounced "wahm bull" or "wham bull." It means "to feel nausea" or "to move unsteadily from side to side." It seems pretty onomatopoetic to me!

I also think there's room for a figurative definition, "to tergiversate," i.e., "President Obama wambles on the issue of same-sex marriage; he used to support it, but now he hedges."
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Speaking of muses, here's a poem that I read in my junior year of college about an exchange between the Poet and his Muse. It's called La Nuit de Mai...and the Poet and the Muse definitely have a romantic relationship!Read more... )
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I learned a new word today. It is “gravamen.” It is from the Latin “gravare,” “to weigh down,” so literally it means “that which is heaviest.” It is a legal term that refers to the most serious part of a suit against someone and/or the basis of a lawsuit. Its extended, non-judicial meaning is “the essence of an objection,” as in, “My gravamen against your character is that you are flagitious!!”
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I find Jacqueline Carey's books about Terre D'Ange [wherein Jesus' son settled down in France and produced gods of bdsm -- it's better than it sounds] entertaining, but oh my Lord...someone please stop telling her to use "betimes" and "apurpose" in every third paragraph.

Just to make matters more irritating, Carey uses "betimes" as a synonym of "sometimes," but the first meaning for this archaic word  is actually "in good time; early," as in, "The farmer got up betimes to milk the cows in the predawn darkness."

Carey's lexical problems really interrupt my enjoyment of her mind candy.
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When Janet sings that line in Toucha Toucha Touch Me In Rocky Horror, she's talking about an itch to scratch that she herself can't reach. Did you know there's a word for the part of your body where you cannot reach to scratch? It's called "acnestis." Just reading the word makes me itch.
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...Just because of its name. Its name comes from Latin "trans-," meaning "through," and "silva," meaning "woods." I just imagine that it's a secretive land surrounded by a deep dark dense forest. By name alone, it's worthy of fairy tales [and vampires].

I would also like to live in Elizabethtown or Allentown, but the reasons for that are humorous, not etymological.


Oct. 14th, 2009 09:58 am
modernwizard: (Default)
The word spelled s-l-o-u-g-h has two categories of meanings and different pronunciations for each.

1. If you pronounce the word "sluff," it means "to shed skin" or "skin that is shed."

2. If you pronounce the word "slau" to rhyme with "cow," it means "a swampy area" or, metaphorically, "a depressive state."

Isn't that awesome?!!

modernwizard: (Default)
I can't stand when people use the word "lame" to mean "bad," "undesireable," "contemptible" or "worthless." Every time anyone uses "lame" in such a context, he or she is telling me that he or she equates a mobility impairment with a moral failing. More specifically, he or she implies that my sister is morally objectionable because she uses a wheelchair.

Same with the word "retarded" to mean "bad," "silly" or "stupid." Such a use equates brain damage with a moral failing and judges my sister as morally objectionable because she has brain damage.  And I also feel personally offended whenever "retarded" comes up because it disparages the non-neurotypical, and I don't think I'm completely neurotypical. "Lame" and "retarded" are stupid, hurtful, prejudiced words. STOP USING THEM.

I can't believe I'm even writing this entry.

modernwizard: (Default)
So someone at work today was requesting information from participants for a staff meeting, and she framed her request like this: "Here is my ask: [insert request here]." She used "ask" as a noun to mean "the thing that I am asking you for." Why does this piece of jargon even exist when "request" fits the bill as another noun created from a verb? What does "ask" accomplish that "request" can't? Nothing!

Here's my REQUEST: Don't use "ask" as a noun.
modernwizard: (Default)
Quiz: What comes out of a suppurating wound? More precisely, how do you spell it?



Not P-U-S-S.

Two Ses mean a cat, while one S means purulent liquid indicated an infected wound. [It's also that white gunk inside zits.] Stop confusing them, people.

And for God's sakes, don't ever think that the adjectival form is "pussy," because that gets us into even more disgusting confusions. Acceptable adjectives meaning "full of pus" include suppurative, pyogenic and purulent.

modernwizard: (Default)
This word, which means "to look at flirtatiously or lustfully," is pronounced "OH gull." It rhymes with "mogul." It is NOT pronounced "AH gull." It does NOT rhyme with "goggle," "boggle" or "toggle."

Also I've been seeing a lot of "groce" instead of "gross" on message boards. Actually, it's just on one message board, and I can't tell if the users are purposely misspelling it, or if they just don't know what they're doing. It's a gross error, and it pisses me off. Has anyone else seen this anywhere?

modernwizard: (Default)
I'm poking around on, reading past issues of the Aln8bak News, the band's quarterly (?) newsletter. Each issue contains a column called "Say That in Abenaki." Here's a few things that I'm picking up from the January 2008 issue about greetings and good wishes:

(haa-oh): A general greeting, equivalent to "hello."

Kwai (k-why-ee): A more informal greeting or recognition of people nearby, equivalent to "hi" or maybe even "hey there."

Pedgi mina (pit-gee mee-nuh): Equivalent to "return again," maybe even "goodbye."

And my favorite...

Paakwin8gwezian (paa-kwe-n8-gwe-zee-ann): Equivalent to "long time no see," a greeting specifically for people who haven't been seen in a while.

The 8 is a nasal long o ["oh"] sound.

"Paakwin8gwezian" is what Absinthe says to Will after 100 years of separation. :D All things considered, such a greeting would probably come a bit more readily to her than "long time no see."

Over in the word search from the same issue, I find the following:

Yahi [yah hee]: An exclamation of joy, equivalent to "yahoo," "yay," "hooray," "yippee," etc.

There is a pronunciation guide in the October 2007 Aln8bak News.

modernwizard: (Default)
Why do people use the word "submittal" to denote "a thing that is being submitted?" [I run across the term "submittal" in my work when I see discussions of applications, permits, supporting material and related stuff that organizations are supposed to hand to one another to get approval for things.] "Submission" is a perfectly fine noun for these things.

"Submittal" is a redundant and stupid word.


Incidentally, in my job search, I came across a SUBMIT button for some online application labeled SUBMIT TO WEB SITE or something similar. I felt threatened.

I really like the word "submit." It comes from the Latin, "sub-," meaning "under" and the Latin "mit," meaning "to send." So basically it means "to send under," which is a fascinating literal and figurative connotation for submitting documents or submitting to another person. When I think of this word, I think of submarines diving below the surface, letters sliding under doors and people sinking slowly into genuflection.

I may also be biased toward the word because my greatX8-grandmother was named Submit Allen.

One of my dolls is named Submit. ^_^

modernwizard: (Default)
Terror is the abject, anticipatory dread you feel before something awful happens. Horror is the abject state of shock and disgust you feel after the awful thing occurs. Well, I'm glad we cleared that up.
modernwizard: (Default)
"Podunk" exists in the U.S. imagination as a mythical town of such remoteness and emptiness that it epitomizes hillbilly rurality, but, interestingly enough, there are several places in the U.S. actually named Podunk. One, a subdivision of the extremely small town Wardsboro (population 854 as of 2000), exists in my home state, Vermont. A few years back, the Washington Post gave an interesting, if cursory, look at the place with the folklorically charged name.

Podunk, located in Windham County in the extremely southern part of the state, flourished during the mid-1800s, peaking at 1000+ residents, most of whom were subsistence hill farmers. The population dwindled as residents of Wardsboro moved to better land or more industrialized places to live. By 1916, Podunk's schoolhouse closed, and the forest began to overtake the once-cleared fields. Current residents sometimes happen upon abandoned foundations in the underbrush and, more poignantly, little cemeteries, mere family plots with a few markers. The population now numbers half a hundred full-timers, though that number may be increasing, at least on a seasonal basis. With the Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain ski areas nearby, Podunk now attracts vast vacation homes for skiers. Though Podunk is not an especially significant place, it is one with an interesting history, one that currently is being paved over by oblivious gentrification.

modernwizard: (Default)
A webinar is a specific type of web conferencing, like a seminar with a presenter and an audience, only online. I have nothing against the concept; I just think that the word sounds stupid. Unlike web + broadcast [=webcast], web + seminar do not easily create one word starting with web. What's wrong with calling it a web seminar?
modernwizard: (Default)
As Margaret Oliphant argues, the terms in which "superfluous" women are discussed in Victorian discourse are very telling. In her analysis, the "problem" with unmarried women was not in they themselves but in their treatment by the many who held opinions on the matter.

--Rita Kranidis, The Victorian Spinster and Colonial Emigration: Contested Subjects, p. 42

I need information about the cultural perspectives on and opportunities open to unmarried Victorian women, since Mary, whose diary I transcribed, remained single all her life [1864-1938]. Thus I'm reading the aforementioned title, about the massive export of single British women to British colonies, holdings and territories in the Victorian era.

While a lot of this book concentrates on how both the women and the colonies are equally portrayed as dangerous goods to be literally marginalized so that they can benefit the center [= Great Britain], some of it is relevant. I need a general discussion of the middle/late Victorian views on unmarried women; this book is not a foundational source of information, but it's a good supplement to those I have already amassed.

His rebus dictis, what is going on in that second sentence I quoted?!! "The problem...was not in THEY themselves?!" It should be "them themselves." I assume Kranidis was overcompensating for the odd-sounding semi-redundancy of "them themselves," but gah! She's a scholar! With editors! Either she or her editors should have caught this mistake.

I loathe hypercorrections such as these, cases where people mistakenly use subjects instead of objects because they think the subjects sound more formal and correct. Even Barack Obama, despite being The Shining Prince Of Hope Who Will Bring Peace, Prosperity And Hypoallergenic Shelter Puppies For All, perpetrates such language abuses. In a press conference on November 7th, he said, "Well, President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to — to meet with him and first lady Laura Bush." NOOOOO, it's supposed to be "Michelle and me!" I hate it when people can't grammatify correctly.

modernwizard: (Default)

1. "Definitely" is frequently misspelled "definately." Yeah, that's how people pronounce it, but it's wrong.

2. "Who's" != "Whose." "Who's" = "Who is" or "Who has." "Whose" is the possessive form, meaning "belonging to whom." 

Whose bringing the cupcakes? WRONG.

Whose turn is it to bring cupcakes? RIGHT.

Who's bringing the cupcakes? RIGHT.

Who's turn is it to bring cupcakes? WRONG AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH.

modernwizard: (Default)

1. "Homage" is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable ["hommidge" or "ommidge"], not the second ["home aaaazh" or "ome aaaazh"]. I don't care how it's pronounced in French; now that it's Anglicized, its pronunciation is too.

2. "Unique" does not mean "unusual," "really cool" or "rare." "Unique" means "one of a kind." Its Latin root, "uni-," means "one," for God's sake!  While unique things may be unusual, really cool and/or rare, things that are rare, unusual and/or really cool are not necessarily unique...only if one of them exists in the whole universe.

modernwizard: (Default)
 I found a new word today: chyron. Emily Yoffe uses it in a Slate blog post here:

Hanna, you quote Ellen Tien’s assertion, “Beneath the thumpingly ordinary nature of our marriage—Everymarriage—runs the silent chyron of divorce," and wonder if those of us whose running chyron is saying “I am so lucky I am married to this man” are deluded.

From the context, I thought it was something like a constant refrain, so I looked it up. It turns out that "chyron" is the technical term for combinations of graphics and text that appear at the bottom of a TV screen. Chyrons often include the name of the story being shown, its location, the name of the presenter or the name of the person currently speaking.

My Google search suggests that this word is well-known within the news and reporting industry, but little known outside it. We should all use it more, however, because, as the usage above shows, it has great metaphorical potential!
modernwizard: (Default)
Logorrheus: A minor demon among those that bedevil writers, Logorrheus is recognized by its bloated form full of bombast and hot air. Its skin is purple so that it may blend in with the type of prose that it feeds on. Though Logorrheus has a distinctive form, authors usually recognize the demon's presence not because they have seen the demon itself, but because they have seen its effects. Wreaking devastation upon the libraries of writers, Logorrheus consumes all manner of reference books, including dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides and Bulwer-Lytton's Least Comprehensible Poetry of the Victorian Era, then shits it out everywhere. The resultant fecal matter, which, according to observers, often smells overripe or overdone, contains linguistic abominations once thought achievable only through the unholy congress of monkeys and typewriters. To wit:

"It's for you," Japhrimel said diffidently, his eyes flaring with green fire in angular runic patterns for just a moment before returning to almost-human darkness. [Turd from The Devil's Right Hand by Lilith Saintcrow.]

Writers afflicted with Logorrheus are advised to abstain from authors that could worsen the condition, including Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien. Instead, victims of Logorrheus can repel it with frequent use of any concise, pithy writer. Especially efficacious are Ernest Hemingway [possible side effects: inflated sense of machismo, obsession with Africa] and Emily Dickinson [possible side effects: inordinate interest in bees, romantic liaisons with a mysterious "Master"].



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