November 29, 2006

lost and found

Have you ever had nightmares about losing your dog (and, to make it worse, it would be your fault)? Read this posting on and give your puppy a warm hug. I hope that all of the stories behind the posters in this book also had a happy ending:

The small print: Heather Armstrong won 4 Bloggies for her blog in 2005. "Dooced" has its own entry in "Getting fired because of something that you wrote in your weblog."

November 25, 2006

ein platz an der sonne

what is this stupid computer doing on the floor?
i have been waiting for this sun spot for hours.
it's mine.

30 mins later:
na bitte, geht doch!

November 23, 2006

between you and me

Johan Riley Fyodor Taiwo Samuel

-- that's the name of Heidi Klum's third child. Congratulations! I hope the boy will never have to embroider a Christmas stocking with all his names himself.
"He is healthy, beautiful and looks just like his mother," according to the post signed by Seal. In announcing the 8 lb. 11 oz. arrival, the new dad wrote, "To our children, a brother/ To our parents, a grandson/ To my wife and I, a son/ To our family, a blessing." [via]
Very sweet.

The small print: The syntactician in my cringes at the use of "I" after a preposition. Transitive verbs and prepositions assign accusative case in English. It's "I went to church" or "Harry and I went to church" (subject position) and "Harry sent the letter to me" or "Harry sent the letter to Sally and me" (object of preposition), never " Sally and I". It doesn't matter whether or not there is a coordinator.

November 22, 2006

happy etymological thanksgiving!

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
Word History of the Month: Pilgrim

Americans associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, but that name was not applied to the Puritans (by Governor William Bradford) until 1630, nine years after the first Thanksgiving. Back in 1620, when the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic, its passengers referred to themselves as Puritans.

Puritan has its origin in the Latin word for purity, a reflection of the religious group's intent to purify the Church of England. So where does Pilgrim come from? [...]

Pilgrim comes from the Latin words per (meaning "through") plus ager (meaning "land, field"), which were combined into the adjective pereger, used to describe a person traveling abroad. Eventually, this developed into peregrinus, meaning "a foreigner."

Appropriately enough, the word peregrinus traveled far and wide (from Latin into Old French, then Middle English, and eventually modern English). From the very earliest days of Christianity, it was customary for Christians to journey to places of religious significance. A person making such a pilgrimage was also known as a peregrinus, which in Late Latin became peligrinus. In Old French, the word became peligrin, which was borrowed into English around 1200 as pelegrim or pilegrim, becoming pilgrim in modern English.

After William Bradford first used the term pilgrim to refer to the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, Cotton Mather also used the word in his history of New England, published in 1702. At the 1820 bicentennial of the Plymouth settlement, Daniel Webster spoke eloquently of "our homage to our Pilgrim Fathers," and this name has since become common usage.

So what about other words associated with Thanksgiving?

Turkey was used synonymously with Guinea-fowl (an African bird) in the 16th century.

The African bird is believed to have been so called as originally imported through the Turkish dominions; it was called Guinea-fowl when brought by the Portuguese from Guinea in West Africa. After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Meleagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird. [OED]

Cranberries used to be known as "marsh-whorts, fen-whorts, fen-berries, marsh-berries, moss-berries".

The name appears to have been adopted by the North American colonists from some LG. source, and brought to England with the American cranberries (V. macrocarpon), imported already in 1686.... Thence it began to be applied in the 18th c. to the British species (V. Oxycoccos). In some parts, where the latter is unknown, the name is erroneously given to the cowberry (V. Vitis Idæa). [OED]

In linguistics, the term "cranberry morph" is used for a morpheme (morphemes are the smallest meaningful elements of language, such as "tree", "dog", "-er", "the", "-ness") that only occurs as part of a complex word. Unlike strawberry, blackberry, or gooseberry, cranberry cannot be separated into two free roots, cran and berry. So cran is a "cranberry morph", just like couth (which only occurs in the combination "uncouth") .

Stuffing comes from stuff, which was borrowed into Middle English from French (estoffer). The verb was first used to express the furnishing of an army with men or weapons. Its cuisine-related use also goes back to Middle English. In Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew someone goes to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit. [OED]

Finally, cornucopia comes from Latin cornu copia, literally "horn of plenty". Another word related to "copia" is the adjective copious. Copia itself is based on "ops" (wealth), which is also the root of the adjective opulent.

November 21, 2006

everything still sells better with a dog

Some trends have staying power. One year later, and the statement still holds: Everything sells better with a dog. And as last year, quirky dogs may trump fluffy golden retrievers.

ETA: Well, not always. At Eddie Bauer and J.C. Penney they don't.

November 18, 2006

lunking is bad for your gym membership

Do you know the word "lunk"? I didn't, and Merriam-Webster only had to offer lank, Lenk, link, and Lunt, so I turned to From the various definitions given, I don't see a clear root meaning emerge, but note that all meanings have somewhat negative connotations.
"Is used to describe a person or object that represents low demeanor or value. It can also be used to describe an unidentifyable object. What the hell are you eating!? it looks like a Lunk or something!"

"To lay around in a energy-efficient (see lazy) state. I think I am going to lunk around the house today."

'The root word in the more commonly known term: Lunkhead. A word used to describe someone of low intelligence and usually of a portly stature. Can you believe that? That stupid lunk just cut me off!"
My prediction is that after today the popularity of the word lunk will increase immensely. It's linked to a front-page article in the New York Times. A man was thrown out of a gym because of lunking. So what happened?
Albert Argibay, a bodybuilder and a state correction officer, was at a Planet Fitness gym with 500 pounds of weight on his shoulders one afternoon this month when the club manager walked over and told him it was time to leave. Mr. Argibay, the manager explained, had violated one of the club’s most sacred and strictly enforced rules: He was grunting.

“I said to her, ‘I’m not grunting, I’m breathing heavy,’ ” recalled Mr. Argibay, 40, an energetic man with the hulking appearance of a pro linebacker. “I guess she didn’t like the fact that I challenged her, because she said to me, ‘Meet me up front; I’m canceling your membership.’ ” [...]

How does one distinguish between a grunt and a very deep breath? Must a grunt be “characteristic of a hog,” as one dictionary defines it? And what if there are no patrons around to take offense? [...]

At Planet Fitness gyms, grunters and other rule-breakers are treated to an ear-rattling siren with flashing blue lights and a public scolding. The “lunk alarm,” as the club calls it, is so jarring it can bring the entire floor to a standstill. (A lunk is defined, on a poster, as “one who grunts, drops weights, or judges.”)"
One who judges? Seems that the people at Planet Fitness should look up the meaning of Lunkhead.

November 14, 2006

i-pod (rhymes with "key pod")

A very satisfactory episode of House tonight! It involved a man who was waken up from a ten-year coma (for a single day, but that's another story). How do you convey that he has not seen anything of the world for a long time? You have him pick up an ipod and say "What's this? It says i-pod", pronouncing the "i" to rhyme with "key".

Which brings up the question: Where does the affix-like i come from, anyway? What does it signify? What's up with putting a lowercase letter in front of a word?

William Safire addressed these questions about a year ago (Oct. 30, 2005) in his column "On Language":

When was the lowercase i before an uppercase anything born, and what did it stand for?

Officials at Apple Computer were unhelpful, presumably because they suspected that etymological revelation would cause their stock to plunge again, but Dan Frakes of Macworld magazine informs me that the first i-product was the iMac in 1998: ''Apple said at the time that the i in iMac stood for 'Internet,' as the iMac was allegedly the easiest computer to connect to the Internet.'' Why not Imac or I-Mac? ''They didn't want to dilute their brand name by lowercasing it (e.g., Imac).'' And IMAX Corporation, all caps, is a theater network founded in 1967.

It may be the case that i is for Internet, but the first association one has is that of the first person singular pronoun. A product made for me! My iPod! Also, I think that the lowercase i is supposed to signal irreverence. Not for nothing does Safire start his column with a reference to E.E. Cummings (yes, one can capitalize the name).

The iMac led to the iBook, a laptop, in 1999, followed by Apple's iPhoto, iTunes and a bundle sold as iLife. The meaning of i went beyond ''Internet'' to be taken as ''individual,'' ''integrated,'' ''interactive'' or -- most appealing to consumers -- ''what I want when I want it.'' Because it is difficult to copyright a letter of the alphabet, other companies jumped in: a furniture manufacturer calls its massage chair an iJoy ''to emphasize the 'individual' interaction with the chair.''

Why wasn't iPod, which originally played only music, named iMusic? ''Apple planned from the very beginning,'' says the Times tech columnist, David Pogue, ''to expand its mission to text, photos, files and, as of this month, videos.'' The word pod was chosen, I deduce, to describe an all-purpose media module, its meaning ''a container or protective housing,'' long associated with peas and pregnancy but in recent decades applied to the streamlined fuel compartments under the wings of aircraft.

The marketing fad will last until another letter gets hot. Keep your i on u.

The trend is still going strong: iChair, iBag, iStick, iLight, iFloor, iDoor - it seems that anything goes. And yes, the iJoy robotic massage chair is still around.

And this all on the day Microsoft released its "iPod killer", the Zune. (Rhymes with Clooney?)

November 11, 2006

uv got 2 b jokin

The Voice of Tasmania reports that in New Zealand students will be allowed to text message their exams (unless they are English exams):

New Zealand's high school students will be able to use "text-speak" -- the mobile phone text message language beloved by teenagers -- in national exams this year.

Text-speak, a second language for thousands of teens, uses abbreviated words and phrases such as "txt" for "text", "lol" for "laughing out loud" or "lots of love," and "CU" for "see you".

The decision announced yesterday has already divided students and educators who fear it could damage the English language.

New Zealand's Qualifications Authority said it still strongly discourages students from using anything other than full English. However, credit will be given if the answer "clearly shows the required understanding," even if it contains text-speak. [...]

Confident that those grading papers would understand answers written in text-speak, Haque stressed that in some exams, including English -- where proper language is specifically required -- text abbreviations would be penalised. [...]

Critics said the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), the main qualification for high school students, would be degraded by allowing text-speak in exams.

High School principal Denis Pyatt said he wouldn't encourage students to use text abbreviations in exams -- but he was excited by the language development.

"I think text messaging is one of the most exciting things that has happened in a long time. It is another development in that wonderful thing we call the English language," he said.

I'm with Mr. Pyatt (though I don't feel quite as enthusiastic about text messaging per se). The Internet and mobile communication devices have had a tremendous impact on what we consider "written language", and English in particular is so much richer for these developments. So far, so good.

However, I don't quite see why it would be desirable to use the same variety of English in an extremely formal context (an exam) that one uses in a very informal context (small talk with your friends)? It's cool to be fluent in one variety, it's cooler - let alone more useful - to be fluent in two, IMHO.

November 04, 2006

post halloween

What's the best thing a cucurbitaceous plant can become? A jack-o'-lantern - or a nice squash curry? My vote is with the latter!

Today is the Saturday after Halloween and it is also the last outdoor farmers' market. Do you remember this dog? I regularly pass him on my way to the farmers' market. Does he look older than last year? He's still very friendly and attentive. I hope he didn't have to wear those wings on Halloween.

The squash you see here won't end up with a Jack-o-Lantern face. The ones I bought will go into a squash curry!

Butternut Squash Curry [from The New York Times]

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
* teaspoon lightly crushed cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups baked, braised or mashed butternut squash
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 red chili
10 curry leaves
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and cayenne and cook for 1 minute. Fold in the squash and warm gently.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small sauté pan. Add the mustard seeds, chili and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to pop, stir in the coconut off the heat. Fold into the squash, and season with salt. Serves 4.
The small print: Squash, as you may have guessed, is a word from Native American languages. According to the OED, it's an abbreviation of Narragansett Indian asquutasquash (with -ash being a plural suffix). Curry (the dish) comes from the Tamil word "kari", which is a sauce or relish poured over rice. The OED also lists an interesting Australian idiom: "to give someone curry" meaning "to give someone hell".