December 31, 2009

toasting to a blue moon

New Year's Eve is always special, even more so on a full moon night. And once in a while, New Year's Eve falls on a "blue moon."
Yf they say the mone [moon] is belewe [blue]
We must believe that it is true. [1528]
Read more about the origin of the phrase blue moon on Wikipedia. Today, we define a "blue moon" as the second full moon in a calender month, but this hasn't always been so. According to this article in Sky and Telescope [via Wikipedia] a blue moon used to be the third moon in a season of four moons where only three would normally occur. The phrase once in a blue moon is first documented in the 19th century, but it has its origin in the phrase "once in a moon," whose first occurrence is dated at 1547 by the Oxford English Dictionary ("madnesse that doth infest a man ones in a mone").

Enjoy the moon, grab a drink of your choice and toast to a happy new year.

December 28, 2009

verbs of the decade

Have fun with this chart. It has the interesting category "verb of the year". For 2000-2009, it lists the following verbs: to I.M., to outsource, to download, punk'd, to Swift boat, to Google, to text, to blog, to go rogue, and to crowdsource.

No mention of plutoed.

December 25, 2009

December 23, 2009

menu engineering

I tend to think of an engineer as a person who builds bridges, works on noise control in airplanes or on the stabilization of slopes. However, today I came across engineering of a different kind: Menu engineers have no particular knowledge of math, technology, or science, they specialize in creating restaurant menus that diners find appealing and that make them order expensive items. Tip #1: Don't write the dollar sign on the menu.
After Tabla merged with its downstairs sibling, the Bread Bar at Tabla, in October, Mr. Meyer and his team spent months pondering such matters before unveiling a new menu earlier this month. The price of Boodie’s chicken livers, for example, is $9, written simply as 9. This is a friendly and manageable number at a time when numbers really need to be friendly and manageable. Besides, it has no dollar sign. In the world of menu engineering and pricing, a dollar sign is pretty much the worst thing you can put on a menu, particularly at a high-end restaurant. Not only will it scream “Hello, you are about to spend money!” into a diner’s tender psyche, but it can feel aggressive and look tacky. So can price formats that end in the numeral 9, as in $9.99, which tend to signify value but not quality, menu consultants and researchers say.
Menu engineering? Menu tweaking more likely. But "Menu Tweaker" just doesn't look so great on a business card.

December 21, 2009

WOTY Season: birthers and deathers

It's that time of the year again. Linguists, journalists, editors, and bloggers are listing their Words of the Year. In an op-ed for the Times, Mark Leibovich writes:

It was a year for birthers, deathers and Tenthers to go all nine-iron on the Obama brand. Catchphrases and buzzwords can tell us much about a year past — what resonated, what stuck, what the year revealed about the sensibility of the nation, whether you’re a wise Latina woman, a mini-Madoff, a teabagger or Balloon Boy. But if ever there were a year to put buzzwords before a death panel, this would be it, before the aporkalypse comes.

Among the words that Grant Barrett lists, many will no doubt have no staying power. Who even uses the term jeggings (jean leggings) now? (I'm not a big fan of blended words anyway.) My word of the year is not exactly a word, but rather a word formation process: Creating nouns ending on -er based on other nouns, resulting in a noun that means something like "a person who irrationally hangs on to the idea of X", such as birther, deather (Barrett defines this as "someone who believes erroneously that the government would have death panels under health care reform"), and Tenther ("A person who believes the federal govenment is mostly illegal...in violation of the 10th Amendment."). They're all cousins of truther (a person who believes that the US goverment was in charge of the 9/11 attack and feels the urge to spread the "truth"). Affix of the year? Let's call it "the crazy -er."

December 07, 2009

first-class and second-class luminaries

WASHINGTON — Political and entertainment luminaries gathered here over the weekend for the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors, a two-day celebration that brings together some of the most influential figures in Washington and Hollywood.The recipients of the award this year were Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, the mezzo-soprano and soprano Grace Bumbry and the jazz musician Dave Brubeck.
Note something? Gracy Bumbry and Dave Brubeck may be entertainment luminaries, but their names still warant an explanation of who they are. Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, and Bruce Springsteen, on the other hand, are considered household names. They can go predicate-free.