December 25, 2007

merry christmas!

Presents are fun! But this one doesn't really smell promising. It's probably not for me. And what's with the goldfish?

You know, I really get to put up with a lot in this house. Nobody respects my dignity. Although I must say, I really look good in orange. Always have.

Oh well, I got a new collar. Big deal. I prefer FOOOOD. Although I must say, I really look good in green, too.

Ah, finally! Something to eat! I figured out myself which one of these was for me. My people tell me I'm a clever dog. Tell me something new!

Frohe Weihnachten!

December 24, 2007

drop till they shop

Have you ever come across a shopdropped item in a store? Now that I know what shopdropping is, I think I actually may have:

Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary. Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.
Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks.

[...] Jason Brody, lead singer for an independent pop-rock band in the East Village, said his group recently altered its shopdropping tactics to cater to the holiday rush. Normally the band, the Death of Jason Brody, slips promotional CD singles between the pages of The Village Voice newspaper and into the racks at large music stores. But lately, band members have been slipping into department stores and putting stickers with logos for trendy designers like Diesel, John Varvatos and 7 for All Mankind on their CDs, which they then slip into the pockets of designer jeans or place on counters. “Bloomingdale’s and 7 for All Mankind present the Death of Jason Brody, our pick for New York band to watch in 2008,” read a sticker on one of the CDs placed near a register at Bloomingdales. “As thanks for trying us on, we’re giving you this special holiday gift.” Bloomingdales and 7 for All Mankind declined to comment.

Ingenious marketing? Cool gesture of anti-consumerism? You decide. This, however, is neither:

For pet store owners, the holidays usher in a form of shopdropping with a touch of buyer’s remorse. What seemed like a cute gift idea at the time can end up being dumped back at a store, left discretely to roam the aisles. “After Easter, there’s a wave of bunnies; after Halloween, it’s black cats; after Christmas, it’s puppies,” said Don Cowan, a spokesman for the store chain Petco, which in the month after each of those holidays sees 100 to 150 pets abandoned in its aisles or left after hours in cages in front of stores. Snakes have been left in crates, mice and hamsters surreptitiously dropped in dry aquariums, even a donkey left behind after a store’s annual pet talent show, Mr. Cowan said.

December 23, 2007


The NYT has an article today on "buzzwords 2007". I don't think there's anything particularly 2007 about most of them. Take, for example, truther ("Someone who espouses a conspiracy theory about the events of 9/11"). Cool word, but why a buzzword 2007? In 2006, it was all over the place at the University of Wisconsin, when Kevin Barrett was hired as a lecturer for a course on Islam culture and history. And nose bidet is not a buzzword at all, it's simply a euphemism for neti pot -- a sinus-cleaning device that figured prominently in an episode of Six Feet Under in 2004 (Ruth threw a fit when her husband George turned out to be a neti pot user).

December 21, 2007

eyes, ears, where's the difference?

Mitt Romney has a thing for metaphors. When he said that he SAW his father march with Martin Luther King (which implies that it happened and that he was actually THERE, which he wasn't), what he actually meant was that he HEARD that his father marched with MLK (which doesn't imply either). Hence:


''I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.''

-- ''Faith in America'' speech, College Station, Texas, Dec. 6


''It's a figure of speech.''

-- News conference, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Dec. 20

[as reported by AP]

December 20, 2007

holiday sweaters are for cat people

Every December, the Times has a seasonal article on that dreadful American Christmas tradition, the holiday sweater:

[E]nough time has gone by that Kathy McConnell, the senior vice president of product development at Coldwater Creek, the women’s fashion chain of unpretentious, professional-looking clothes, felt it was safe this year to invite the cat back.

In fact, she invited several of them, as the central characters who pounce and lounge and play with string on several of the company’s annual holiday sweater designs. The most popular so far has been its “kitty cardigan” ($89.50), which depicts — in ramie, acrylic, nylon, angora, wool, rayon and sparkly Lurex threads — a tower of cats, one of which has a red string tied around its tail, as if to remind us of something.

It may be this: Sometimes, in our hoity-toity haste to malign a tradition that is seen as perfectly normal in just about every part of the country west of the Hudson River, we forget the true meaning of Christmas — and, while we’re at it, the true meaning of Christmas sweaters. We may not remember that there are real, sophisticated people coming up with ideas for these things at companies like Coldwater Creek, Talbots, Marisa Christina, Quacker Factory and Berek every year, not some committee of demented elves pulling subjects at random from Santa’s bag of tricks — i.e., ice-skating penguins, fiber-optic candy canes, halls-decking bunnies and so on. [...]

Cats, as a rule, do well as a subject of holiday sweaters, especially when playing with a ball of string. Cats are nondenominational. Most people, with the exception of dog people, think cats are cute. And fewer are allergic to cat sweaters than to cats.
I am a dog person. Still, I'll grant cat people that kittens can be cute (as long as they don't jump on tables, chairs, countertops, or my lap). But holiday sweaters? Never!

December 14, 2007

polyester makes me all verklemmt

Finally! A Project Runway challenge that required some creativity -- the clients this week were women who had lost a lot of weight (between 40 and 170 pounds) and the challenge was to turn their favorite pre-weight loss outfit (among them a shiny polyester wedding dress, a canary blazer, and a green velvet evening gown) into something that would be suitable for their everyday life and that, of course, would express the point of view of the designers.

The results were...shall we say "mixed"? If you were looking forward to metamorphosis of the poufy wedding gown into a sleek cocktail dress, you were in for a disappointment.

Sorry, Steven, but if you "just don't do polyester satin", you don't belong on this show. It's a little verklemmt*. What would PR be without great garments made of not-so-great materials, such as corn husks, coffee filters, or recycled paper? And what's up with the glue and the prayer that Steven relied on for holding his black-and-white nightmare together? Don't we know it's all about construction and execution? Gillian was confident that she would get away with a well-made dress that wasn't in line with the terms of the challenge -- as long as it was, well, a well-made dress. And not only did she get away with it, she even got into the top three. Unfair? Sure. Unexpected? Hell, no. This is Project Runway, the show where you can end up in the top three of the dog challenge without making an outfit for a dog.

Talking about unfair: This was also the episode in which Jack left the show because of a "staff infection" (hilarious misspelling on Bravo's website, at least as of Wednesday evening, it's "staph infection", of course, derived from the bacterium staphylococcus), which in his case (he's HIV positive) required treatment in a hospital.

I know my opinion will not be very popular, because Chris, who was brought back as a replacement, is such a popular guy, but I found it beyond tasteless that the producers didn't seem to waste an hour between saying goodbye to the sick guy and bringing back the happy-go-lucky guy. The King is dead. Long live the King. Also, if you want to do something tasteless, just go ahead and do it, don't try to justify it with crummy logic such as "We wanted to keep the level of competition high". That level doesn't exactly increase if you replace someone who has made it to round four with someone who didn't.

Chris was allowed to work through the night and ruined an acceptable outfit by tying a red bow around it (#5 in Blogging Project Runway's collage). A seasonal tribute?

Michael Kors felt reminded of "Shirley McLaine when she played a hooker with a heart of gold" and all judges considered the dress costumey** and "very cliché"***.

As sad as this was, it led to one of the best quotes of the season so far: Tim Gunn confessed that he himself had made more bad decisions at three o'clock in the morning than he could list. It makes you wonder if they also involved red sashes.

Sadly, Elisa (#2) disappointed with an inappropriate layered look that didn't exactly highlight the "increased sexuality" of her client that she had intuited****. What annoyed me more, however, was the judges pointing out the shortcomings of the design in front of the client. It's difficult not to feel dowdy if somebody tells you that you look dowdy in the dress you're wearing.

"Resident wunderkind******" (Tim Gunn) Christian won the challenge with another one of his tailored jackets (#1), only this time it fit the terms of the challenge, and his client, who had very specific ideas about what she would wear, also liked it. How fierce was that? And to add to the fierceness, Tim's Take is back (albeit with the unfortunate "staff" typo, for which I hope he is not responsible). Let's hope this means PR is back on track again. We want to hear more about Tim Gunn's bad decisions!

*You'll recognize that this is a Tim Gunnism. It's a German adjective, meaning "uptight".

**The root, "costume", is related to custom. Originally, costume related to the guise or habit used in artistic representations.

***Note that it is used as an adjective here ("so cliché"), similar to "fun" in "This is so fun!". The origin of the word is quite interesting. It's the participle of the French verb clicher, a variant of cliquer, "to click", as applied "by die-sinkers to the striking of melted lead in order to obtain a proof or cast" (Oxford English Dictionary). It then became the name for a metal stereotype block used for printing and from there it was extended to more figurative meanings.

****Don't you just love English for its backformations? A backformation is when you start out with a complex word and chop off a morpheme instead of adding one to create a new word (intuition -->intuit, emotion -->emote) The new word is shorter than the original word, which seems to be a reversal of the expected pattern (bake --> baker, happy --> happiness).

******German for "wonder child", used for exceptionally gifted children, especially in the arts. In German, the plural is "Wunderkinder", in English it is, quite simply, "wunderkinds".

December 13, 2007

"it's always good to see the scots doing well"

Alright, they're cheesy, those Barneycam holiday videos, and the humans are a pain to watch, but Barney and Miss Beazley are adorably unfazed by all the hoola, and I will venture to guess that George W. Bush would never strap them to the roof of a car (and brag about it, like Mitt Romney did).

I must not tell my dog that apparently those two may run straight from the snow into the White House without getting their paws toweled off. Presidential privileges!

[The title of this post, by the way, comes from a cameo by Tony Blair, who was born in Edinburgh]

December 11, 2007


I didn't see this in June....

NEW YORK, June 20 (Reuters) - J Crew Group Inc. has applied for trademark protection for crewmutts, a line of dog accessories, according to a filing with U.S. regulators.... J Crew, known for its preppy clothing, filed a trademark application on May 16 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for crewmutts, which would include dog products ranging from clothing, leashes and beds to food, bowls and toys.

....but I saw this in the Times on Sunday:

The puppy is adorable, but I'm not sure he loves his new $60 sweater. Nor do I think this Yorkie, given a choice, would model for Ralph Lauren.

But who am I to judge? My dog doesn't look too happy in her non-designer coat either:

December 10, 2007

woty season

It's Word of the Year season again.

When editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary recently announced that their word of the year was “locavore,” which means someone who eats locally grown food, they also became the very definition of publicity. [...]

“There are very few good ways to get publicity for a dictionary,” said Erin McKean, a lexicographer at Oxford. While publishers can rely on coverage for new entries in just-published dictionaries, some reference books go for as long as a decade between revisions. “We are constantly surveilling the language to see what new words people are coming up with,” Ms. McKean said.

Other publishers are also milking such gimmicks. [What's gimmicky about observing language change?] Merriam-Webster, a rival publisher, will announce its word of the year this week. The company enjoyed a flood of publicity after last year’s pick, “truthiness,” coined by Stephen Colbert of the “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central [Note: Merriam-Webster's word of the year is based on lookups in their online dictionary. And guess why so many people looked up "truthiness"? Because the American Dialect Society elected it WOTY in 2005.]

This year, visitors to Merriam-Webster’s Web site were invited to vote for one of 20 words and phrases culled from the most frequently looked-up words on the site and submitted by readers. Contenders include “facebook” and “vanity sizing,” the girth-accommodating practice of labeling clothes as the same size while actually making them larger. The voting ended Friday.

Webster’s New World Dictionary was the first to offer a word — er, term — of the year for 2007. It was “grass station,” a theoretical place where cars could fill up with ethanol someday.

The word-of-the-year ritual probably started with the American Dialect Society, a scholarly association whose Web site lists yearly picks as far back as 1990. This year the society will vote in January; its 2006 selection was “plutoed,” which means “to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto.”

Locavore is an excellent choice (just think of the success of books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), but I don't see that facebook is particularly new or original or that grass station has any staying power.

December 06, 2007

cohesive and relevant

That was the motto for episode 4 of Project Runway. It could also have been "been there, done that" -- another team challenge with rather uninspired results (due to the parameters of the challenge) and a predictable pattern (never, ever volunteer to be a team leader on PR!).

But let's talk about cohesion/cohesiveness (which the judges used interchangeably) a bit: The stem is related to the Latin verb cohaerere ("stick together"), but the two nouns don't mean exactly the same. "Cohesiveness" is the state of being "cohesive" -- the noun is derived from the adjective. "Cohesion" is derived from the verb "cohere", it is the act of sticking together, in particular the force with which molecules cleave together (OED). So, what the judges were looking for was cohesiveness rather than cohesion. Ah well.

It was also the night of mighty concern. Steven was concerned about Chris' upholstery-like bolero jacket, Elisa was concerned about miscommunication in her team (Ricky condescendingly translated tailorese into sculptorese for her), Kit was concerned that her fabric was too muted, and Tim Gunn just voiced a general concern: "It's not looking refined. That concerns me." He may have referred to a garment, but the statement can easily be applied to the whole episode.

Yet, Nina Garcia writes on her Bravo blog:
It was great to see how harmoniously some teams worked together and how other fell apart at the seams, literally.
I beg to disagree, what's so great about watching three people who can't cooperate? The only entertaining thing that came out of the Ricky/Victorya tiff was Ricky's complaint that V. "didn't have the balls* to be leader". Am I the only one who thinks this is an odd metaphor to apply to a woman?

The results? Three wrongs (such as pleather**, gigantic shoulder pads, and a zoot suit***) don't easily make a delightful right. Gillian won with a Charlie-inspired mini-collection in denim, and Chris was out because his sofa-fabric bolero wasn't deemed relevant (it earned the dreaded mother-of-the-bride label from Michael Kors), his collection wasn't considered cohesive, and "the totality of his garment [was] not flowing". Now, if you thought the last statement was a quote from Elisa, I have to disappoint you, it was from Donna Karan (who sounds just as pretentious, but completely lacks Elisa's sweet sincerity).

Wishlist for next week:
  • Please, no "most dramatic rose ceremony ever" stuff (which the previews seem to hint at)
  • Please, a challenge that will inspire the designers and that will be fun to watch (if not, there's always Project Runway Canada, thanks to the blessed Ms. RoyalT)
  • And as usual: Please, more air time for Tim Gunn (and for Elisa)!

*According to the OED, this metaphor was first used in 1928 in Lady Chatterley's Lover ("You say a man's got no brain, when he's a fool... And when he's got none of that spunky wild bit of a man in him, you say he's got no balls.")

**A blending of plastic and leather, coined in the early eighties.

***Reduplicating rhyming formation on "suit", first used in the 1940s.

push present?

In a more innocent age, new mothers generally considered their babies to be the greatest gift imaginable. Today, they are likely to want some sort of tangible bonus as well. This bonus goes by various names. Some call it the “baby mama gift.” Others refer to it as the “baby bauble.” But it’s most popularly known as the “push present."

That’s “push” as in, “I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward.” Or “push” as in, “I’ve delivered something special and now I’m pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit.”

You just got to love the English language and the unabashed directness of its speakers when it comes to express the joy of materialism. (To add to the latter: When I looked up the article on the NYT website, there was a Tiffany ad next to it.) Because if not, you'll end up banging your head on the carpet, screaming "What's wrong with you people?"

November 30, 2007

let's get going. chop, chop!

Oh, what a boring episode. Chop, chop!

It's a good thing they don't normally do menswear on Project Runway, even if "pants are just 2 big sleeves sewn together" (Chris). How can you discuss design when there's not a single garment on the runway that actually fits ("The crotch looks insane")? When most looks are unfinished or poorly executed, including the winning design (which only had two pieces, but three were originally required)? Say it with Nina Garcia: "This is unacceptable!"
See the evidence here.

It worries me.

Also, we just had a celebrity client, and an excellent one at that. We don't need another one, and certainly we don't need a not-so-eloquent wife spoiling the make-it-work walkthrough with Tim Gunn, who was "worried" when he saw the number of unfinished outfits. Carmen was determined to get her models measurements "to a T" (an expression that dates back to the 17th century but whose exact origin is unknown, although it seems to be related to the earlier expression "to a tittle"), and she might have, but what she did with them was deplorable. There's draping by design and then there's draping by disaster. Not chic.

What also worries me is that Tim Gunn in this week's episode of Tim Gunn's Guide to Style admitted to having just learned a new word from his client, a curvaceous woman of color: booty. Tim, what planet are you from? The word has already made it into Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, and bootylicious is even in the Oxford English Dictionary.

On the wishlist for next week:
  • a challenge that gives the contestants the chance to show off their talent and creativity
  • no gratuitous shots of half-naked contestants informing us that they are HIV positive
  • no men in funny hats informing us that they are straight, straight, straight
  • no celebrity wives that mess with Tim Gunn's airtime in the work room
  • and more airtime for Elysian Elisa (you know, the 42 year old artist who has to avert her eyes when a male model takes off his pants -- she may hand-measure female models, but her boyfriend is the only male she chooses to touch)

November 26, 2007

language museums?

Loosely tied to the recent (August 2007) publication of a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (if you don't have it, get it, it's the best dictionary you can get for the price), the Times has an article on the whole OED enterprise, in which Edward Rothstein focuses on what is not exactly news in the world of lexicography: Dictionaries are not museums for words, and lexicographers are not language watchdogs in the stickler sense, they document language usage, they don't sneer at it. To quote from the preface to the 2nd edition of the OED:
The aim of this Dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, pronunciation, and etymology. It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang. Its basis is a collection of several millions of excerpts from literature of every period amassed by an army of readers and the editorial staff. Such a collection of evidence - it is represented by a selection of about 2,400,000 quotations actually printed - could form the only possible foundation for the historical treatment of every word and idiom which is the raison d'être of the work. It is generally recognized that the consistent pursuit of this method has worked a revolution in the art of lexicography.
This has been the OED's mission since its inception. Therefore, it's somewhat surprising that Rothstein makes it look as if some radical changes have happened between now and then.

Much has changed since then, when Walter Scott — now a literary wraith — was the dictionary’s second most-quoted English writer after Shakespeare. And the new Shorter Oxford provides a telling example of those changes, reflecting, and partly anticipating, the transformations unfolding in the unabridged third edition of the O.E.D. (as the project is called). That new O.E.D. began in 2000 with the letter M, and, as of September 2007, reached the word purposive, each successive change made available for the dictionary’s online subscribers. (See

[...] included here are 2,500 new entries that treat language more as living menagerie than as natural history museum. Along with restless leg syndrome and flatline come more questionable entries, where use becomes the main criterion for inclusion. “Generic,” for example, has given birth to a verb that makes even appendicitis seem attractive: “genericize.”
I'm not quite sure what is so questionable about this. If not use, what else should be the main criterion for inclusion in a dictionary? Aesthetics? Whose aesthetics? The lexicographer's? As in the days of Samuel Johnson, who wrote things like "a ludicrous word" about words he didn't like? You may not like the verb genericize, and I may not like the metaphoer that an adjective "has given birth to a verb". Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Both exist, both are used, both are part of the language.

Or not?

But once description trumps prescription and currency eclipses timelessness, it becomes difficult to capture the slippery shifts in tone and fashion that accompany new words.

Let me stress again, that there is no such thing as a timeless word. You may think you know exactly what the word nice means. Fine. Look it up in the OED and you'll find that originally it meant something quite different, namely "foolish, silly, simple, ignorant". That's the beauty of the OED: It gives you the use of a word throughout history without implying that one is better than the other.

But the biggest difficulties are in the “ historical principles,” which seem to have become historical themselves — held over from the past, only to be jettisoned when inconvenient. This is clearest in the use of quotations. Of course the first O.E.D. was skewed in its choices, reflecting few writers of the 18th century, and offering a selection not fully representative of the language’s powers. But now the O.E.D. does not even pretend to offer “all the great English writers of all ages.”

And why should it? That's not the mission of a dictionary based on linguistic scholarship. Yes, Johnson's dictionary was a major cultural accomplishment, but it was also a reflection of its editor's tastes and whims -- unlike the OED.

Diversity becomes a greater priority. The Shorter dictionary has 1,300 new quotations from writers like Susan Faludi, Spike Lee, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Zadie Smith, and the editors emphasize their broad demographic intentions. This can be illuminating. I like, for example, the Shorter’s definition for “mook” (“a stupid or incompetent person”) with an illustration from Mr. Lee, “Who are you gonna listen to, me or that mook?” But in that case, there is also too little information: Only cross-references lead the reader to guess that the word evolved out of a racial slur.

Did it? According to the OED, the origin of the word is uncertain, and early uses don't confirm this claim.
The Internet is now the O.E.D.’s perfect home — as revisable and seemingly beyond codification as language itself. But the new O.E.D. also seems tempted by the unbounded possibility of that infinite revision, as if the very idea of a “treasure-house of the language” were somewhat quaint. And to that one can only respond with an exclamation that has just made it into the O.E.D.’s third edition: “Puh-leeze!”

Oh, puh-leeze, if you think the mission of a dictionary should be to provide a finite list of a language's "treasures", you absolutely missed the point. It can't be said often enough:

"The vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits." (OED, 2nd edition)

November 24, 2007

midwestern food

But in case you're thinking we're not health-conscious here in the Midwest, you're wrong:

November 22, 2007

my socks are still on

So last night, not wholly unexpectedly, "pop culture and fashion icon"* Sarah Jessica Parker was a guest judge (and client) on Project Runway. She was all one would hope her to be, perfectly charming, articulate, precise and constructive in her criticism. Unfortunately, the perfectly uncharming task was to design a 2-piece look for her uninspiring line Bitten. In other words, it had to be cheap and it had to please the Steve & Barry crowd. No glamorous red carpet gown for SJP, no over-the-top outfit for Carrie Bradshaw. Ah, to think of all the fun we could have had!

As expected, the resulting garments were completely unexciting. Victorya won with this rather shapeless sack dress, which SJP thought could be worn by women of many different body types (as long as they have the legs of a Thomson's gazelle, she forgot to add).

The sack theme went on. The losing garment was a saggy, scratchy-looking dress that virtually looked as if it had been made out of a potato sack. Marion, don't you know that Heidi Klum likes her plants shiny and her garments expensive-looking? When you hear Michael Kors reference Pocahontas, you know your game is up. Bye-bye, Marion, you just didn't measure up.

Unfortunately, there aren't any interesting words to report. I'm getting very tired of worn-out phrases like "wow the judges" and "knock their socks off" (the latter, rather uncharacteristically, used for the second time by Tim Gunn). For multisyllabic words of Latinate or Greek origin we had once more to count on Elisa, who was going for a "jux'position of aesthetics" (oops, she swallowed a syllable here), creating something "polymorphic" (a word her teammate Sweet Pea didn't understand, but even if you do - "poly"= many, "morph" = form - it doesn't make a lot of sense here) and who once more envisioned "a simple little cascade", all accomplished without a sewing machine, which apparently she cannot use. Tim Gunn was so stunned that he couldn't think of a nice Latinate term. His comment? "Cuckoo!"**

Talking about stunning, the real stunner was when Elisa casually owned up to using "spitmarks" to "imbibe"*** her fabric "with energy and essence". First grass, now spit, it just makes you wonder: "What planet are you from?" (M. Kors). Do they have grass stains on Mars? In any case, Elisa, wise, gentle woman that she is, assured everybody "I'm coming to your planet with gifts". And I must say, her garments look a lot less cuckoo than her philosophy sounds. No beehive hats à la Vincent here!

So, thank you, Elisa, for giving us another reason to scratch our heads in disbelief. But the socks? They are still on.

* Icon is truly an overused word on PR. The origin is Greek and the earliest documented (now obsolete) meaning in English was "likeness, portrait". The more recent meaning, "aperson or thing regarded as a representative symbol, esp. of a culture or movement", was first documented in 1952.

**The word cuckoo (coucou in French, Kuckuck in German) imitates the sound of the bird. It has been around since the 13th century. In the 16th century, the meaning widened, and the word was used to refer to people (not necessarily marking them as silly). The adjective was first documented in 1918.

***Imbibe is of Latinate origin ("bibere"= drink).

November 17, 2007

everything sells better with a dog

Once again innocent puppies are exploited in order to get people to buy stuff ...

And dog owners everywhere are made believe that their buddy should dress like them...

...or that he needs a coat when clearly his face tells you that he feels his dignity is compromised.

Seriously, what would the holiday season be without dogs?

November 14, 2007

it's sew time

Project Runway is back. No new Tim Gunnisms yet -- most of the linguistic highlights of the first episode were produced by contestant Elisa.

A dress of sculptural quality (only visible to its designer) is imbued* with a natural element (read: grass stains on white fabric). Mythical gowns with cascades evoke sylphs** and haikus*** (again, in the designer's mind) -- while in the judges' corner, the very same dress provokes metaphors of trainwrecks**** (guest judge Monica Lhuillier) that are pooing fabric (Heidi Klum, down-to-earth mother of three).

Elisa, please stay with us a little longer, your sartorial***** and linguistic fabrications are too entertaining to say goodbye quite yet.
*a Tim-Gunn-like word about which Johnson wrote in 1755 that it "seems wanted in our language, has been proposed by several writers, but not yet adopted by the rest". Little did he know about 21st century interdisciplinary artists ...
**spirits that inhabit the air, the word was probably coined by Paracelsus
*** Japanese verse, consisting of 17 syllables (perhaps each rag in the train of this dress is supposed to represent a syllable?)
****nice pun, considering that the train was the wreckiest part of this dress
*****from the Latin word sartor (=tailor)

November 12, 2007

a dream job for linguists -- or not

One of my dream jobs has always been to be chef namer at IKEA. There must be people who get paid to invent names for articles you can buy at IKEA. The closest I ever got to meet one of them - surely the are all trained linguists? -- was to meet the person who translated the IKEA catalog from Swedish into Hungarian. Can you imagine it? Klippan meets Csárdás.

Well, it seems that there's a lot less creativity involved than I had thought. Somebody pointed me to this Wikipedia entry today, which is based on an article in the German magazine Der Stern. According to the article, the naming is done by only two employees (it doesn't say that they are linguists). They don't invent the names at all, they use existing words from Scandinavian languages, following clear guidelines:
Most of the names are either Swedish, Danish, Finnish or Norwegian in origin. Although there are some notable exceptions, most product names are based on a special naming system developed by IKEA.
  • Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames (for example: Klippan)
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names
  • Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names
  • Bookcase ranges: Occupations
  • Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
  • Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names
  • Chairs, desks: men's names
  • Materials, curtains: women's names
  • Garden furniture: Swedish islands
  • Carpets: Danish place names

A notable exception is the IVAR shelving system, which dates back to the early 1970s. This item is named after the item's designer.

Not such a dream job after all. It's like naming your kitchen "subjunctive" and your bed "Dakota".

By the way, the name IKEA itself is an acronym: Founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a farm called Elmtaryd in a village called Agunnaryd.

November 10, 2007


Frank Bruni complains about the patronizing (and formulaic) language often used by waiters:

DINING out nightly has taught me many things, including this: Nothing kills enjoyment like too many mentions of it. A triptych of canapés arrives, and I’m told that proceeding from left to right is the best way “to enjoy them,” a statement that blurs the line between helpful instruction and boastful prediction.... Would I “enjoy coffee with dessert?” I don’t know; it depends how good the coffee is. I’ll have some, yes, then we’ll see.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Egads. It’s a semantic pox, either getting worse by the moment or simply less bearable upon the thousandth exposure to it. And it’s a fine example of restaurantspeak, an oddly stilted language that has somehow survived the shift toward casual dining and that sounds even odder and more stilted in light of the new informality. [...]

Restaurantspeak is patronizing. “Excellent choice,” says the waiter in one restaurant, casting my companion’s order of braised short ribs as a bold inspiration. “Perfect,” says the waitress in another restaurant, and she says it after each person’s selection of an appetizer and entree, as if we’ve managed to home in on the only out-and-out winners in a tough crowd. [...]

I wonder, and I wonder if a waiter who served me recently at an haute Chinese restaurant is paid by the joyful syllable. There was no end to what he wanted me and my companions to enjoy: the fried lobster, the braised pork belly, hot air. In regard to the last, he admonished us for recoiling from a bamboo steamer that was cooking baby vegetables in front of us.

“While the steam is rising,” he said, “you can enjoy the aroma.” Or I can wait until tomorrow for my facial, and get it in an honest-to-goodness spa. That I might enjoy.

November 04, 2007

rudy giuliani: a simple transitive guy

It's not often that a politician attacks an opponent using linguistic terms. Joe Biden did in his description of Rudy Giuliani, whom he considers unqualified to run for President:

"There's only three things he makes in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There's nothing else!"
It seems that Biden's quib has caught on. For example, it was taken up by Frank Rich in his NYT column today. However, Rich reminds us that the formula noun + verb + 9/11 was not exactly invented by Rudy Giuliani. It was also "Mr. Bush’s strategy in 2004, lest we forget".

ETA: In addition, I think it's fair to say that RG has a second transitive pattern. It involves the verb "to run", the adverb "never", and some sort of noun, as in "S/He has never run a city", which, if you're the guy who's best known for having run a city, must be some sort of relevant qualification for becoming President of the United States, more relevant, anyway, than a clear stance against torture.

November 01, 2007

dog town usa 2007

How could this have escaped me? San Diego is Dog Town USA 2007. And not just because of the beaches:

The community stands behind its four-legged friends. Annually, nearly $25 million is donated to the six local animal shelters in the area. “To me, that says, ‘Wow! This city is a great place to be a dog,’"

To me, if you're a dog, a shelter is not where you want to be. And it seems that in San Diego, you don't have to stay long:

San Diego’s combined animal shelter rates are enviable, with more than 80 percent of all impounded dogs adopted, rescued, or reunited with owners. At the humane society, adoption rates are a staggering 90.5 percent.
Another great thing:
San Diego is also the home of the AniMeals program which provides free pet food for homebound elderly and disabled owners. Started in 1984 by the Helen Woodward Animal Center, there are now more than 35 groups in the United States operating programs patterned after San Diego’s AniMeals.

But let's also mention one particular runner-up:

Madison, Wis.
Dogs: 10,250
People: 221,551
Highlights: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, the popular Dog Fest event, the Bark & Wine benefit aiding homeless animals, many dog-friendly parks, including four off-leash ones, and a focus on holistic and alternative veterinary care.

“The Madison area has something for every dog. From our numerous dog parks to our lakes to the world-class veterinary care at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is a great place to be a dog — or a dog owner.”
— Dave Cieslewicz, Mayor

good-bye, washoe

Three weeks ago, Alex, the world's most famous parrot died. He had a vocabulary of about 100 words and his owner and trainer, psychologist Dr. Irene Patterberg, felt that he could truly communicate with her. Yesterday, another animal known for its astonishing linguistic abilities died: Goodbye, Washoe.

Born in 1966, Washoe was taught American Sign Language (or some sort of signing system) by cognitive scientists R. Allen and Beatrix Gardner. She learned a number of signs (although speakers of ASL didn't all agree that these signs were actually ASL signs) and used them creatively. A big question was whether she had some sort of grammar, which would allow her to combine signs for words to express more complex concepts. At the time, Noam Chomsky's idea that human beings are born with an innate sense of grammar (Universal Grammar) had just become popular. This set in motion a whole range of experiments with great apes. Was there any evidence that they also had language?

the excitement died down in the late 1970s, when Herbert Terrace, a cognitive researcher at Columbia, published a report on a chimpanzee he had been trying to teach language, named Nim Chimpsky. Nim could learn signs, but did so primarily by imitating teachers, Dr. Terrace found by reviewing videos of interactions.

“There was no spontaneity, no real use of grammar,” Dr. Terrace said. He analyzed a video of Washoe, who learned about 130 signs, and said he found evidence that she, too, was reacting to prompts, not engaging in anything like human conversation.

Researchers altered their approach and began teaching with word symbols, called lexigrams, in which symbols stand for words. They also created environments in which animals learned as infants do, first by imitation and later by observation — by watching others communicate, then trying it themselves. Dr. Rumbaugh said a number of chimps and pygmy chimpanzees learned this way and “the evidence screams out that apes have a capacity for a very basic dimension of language.”

While Washoe was explicitly told to use signs, a younger chimpanzee, Loulis, who was raised by her, picked up some signs directly from her. There is no doubt that apes can use signs (arbirary combinations of form and meaning) to convey information, but the question of whether or not they have an understanding of combining signs (i.e. of grammar) to create novel expressions is still very much under debate among linguists.

October 29, 2007

reduplication is a girl's best friend

It seems that Oprah Winfrey is not just very successful at promoting books, she can also promote words into dictionaries.

"I think vajayjay is a nice word, don’t you?”*

THIS is the story of how a silly-sounding word reached the ear of a powerful television producer, and in only seconds of air time, expanded the vocabularies — for better or worse — of legions of women.

It began on Feb. 12, 2006, when viewers of the ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy” heard the character Miranda Bailey, a pregnant doctor who had gone into labor, admonish a male intern, “Stop looking at my vajayjay.”

The line sprang from an executive producer’s need to mollify standards and practices executives who wanted the script to include fewer mentions of the word vagina. The scene, however, had the unintended effect of catapulting vajayjay (also written va-jay-jay) into mainstream speech. Fans of “Grey’s Anatomy” expressed their approval of the word on message boards and blogs. The show’s most noted fan, Oprah Winfrey, began using it on her show, effectively legitimizing it for some 46 million American viewers each week. “I think vajayjay is a nice word, don’t you?” she asked her audience.

Vajayjay found its way into electronic dictionaries like Urban Dictionary, Word Spy and Merriam-Webster’s Open Dictionary. It was uttered on the television series “30 Rock.” It was used on the Web site of “The Tyra Banks Show.” Jimmy Kimmel said it in a monologue. It has appeared in the Web publications Salon and the Huffington Post and on the blog Wonkette. [...]

The swift adoption of vajayjay is not simply about pop culture’s ability to embrace new slang. Neologisms are always percolating. What this really demonstrates, say some linguists, is that there was a vacuum in popular discourse, a need for a word for female genitalia that is not clinical, crude, coy, misogynistic or descriptive of a vagina from a man’s point of view.

“There was a need for a pet name,” said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chairman of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary, “a name that women can use in a familiar way among themselves.” [...]

Another view was offered by John H. McWhorter, a linguist and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who pointed out that the women associated with introducing the word — Ms. Winfrey, the Miranda Bailey character on “Grey’s Anatomy” — are middle-age African-Americans. “The reason that vajayjay has caught on, I think, is because there is a black — Southern especially — naming tradition, which is to have names like Ray Ray and Boo Boo and things like that,” Dr. McWhorter said. “It sounds warm and familiar and it almost makes the vagina feel like a little cartoon character with eyes that walks around.” [...]

As Joel McHale, the host of “The Soup,” put it: “It’s not derogatory. It’s not ‘You’re being such a vajayjay right now.’ It’s kind of a sweet thing." “Vajayjay,” he said, “is like your good buddy.”

* For the record, no, I don't think it's such a nice word, not for grown-ups anyway. Reduplication often has a decidedly childlike ring about it (boo boo, wee-wee), and I can't see how this would be charming or desirable in this case.

October 28, 2007


I just watched an old celebrity episode of Who wants to be a millionaire, featuring Jack Black. The following question was worth 1000 dollars: Which of the following words is used for a German type of shorts, often worn with suspenders?

  1. dirndl
  2. lederhosen
  3. zeitgeist
  4. blitzkrieg
Wow, I wouldn't have thought that all of these words have been thoroughly absorbed into English by now. For the record, the answer is lederhosen, Lederhose in German. And they're not exactly shorts:

October 25, 2007

shoot the panda

The Times recently had a piece on grammar sticklers on Facebook. It was entitled "Your Modifier is Dangling", but as far as I could see, there was no dangling modifier in the text. Also, there seems to be some confusion between grammar and spelling, judging from the following example.

Ms. Nichols is one of many young people throwing off her generation’s reputation for slovenly language, and taking up the gauntlet for good grammar. Last year, after seeing a sign on a restaurant window that said “Applications Excepted,” she started a grammar vigilante group on Facebook, the social networking site, and called it “I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar.” Its 200,000 members have gleefully and righteously sent in 5,000 photographs documenting grammatical errors.
When it comes to outspoken criticism of other people's grammar, there is often a gap between competence (knowledge about grammar) and performance (criticism of other people's grammar):

So, when is it O.K. to correct grammar? When you’re a teacher, of course, or when you’re coaching a nonnative speaker who has asked for help. But if you can’t control the impulse to help a friend by correcting a mistake, what’s the best way to do so? It seems there are two options. You can ask, “Oh, is that the way you pronounce that word?” Then go on to say that you always pronounced it differently, and demonstrate how you do so. A more subtle approach: Don’t point out the mistake. Instead, repeat what was just said, but with correct usage this time, and in your own sentence. Then keep talking. Ms. Agress, the business-writing expert, uses this technique. “So if someone tells me that everyone has their issues,” she said, “I reply, ‘Yes, everyone has his issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to worry about them.’”

What I worry about is if people like Ms. Agress will even consider looking up the facts in a real grammar of English (you know, those fat books that don't have pandas in their titles and that don't end up on bestseller lists):

The use of they with a singular antecedent goes back to Middle English, and in spite of criticism since the earliest prescriptive grammars it has continued to be very common in informal style. In recent years it has gained greater acceptance in other styles as the use of purpotedly sex-neutral he has declined; indeed its use in examples like No onei felt that theyi had been misled is so widespread that it can probably be regarded as stylistically neutral. [The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p. 493]

October 23, 2007

wrong, wrong, oh, so wrong

Let's say you want to check out the holiday collections by Mac, Estee Lauder, and the like. So you go to and click on "Beauty" and "What's new?"

What do you see? This:

Juicy Crittoure? You must be joking!
Dog Grooming? On a beauty website of a major department store?

This is wrong on so many levels. The name! The placement! The products ("Softening Paw Balm Pawtection", "Coif Fur Conditioner", "Juicy Couture Pawfum", "Paw Polish Remover Pads")! The prices! May I suggest that if you love your dog, you spend time with him, play with him, feed him healthy food, keep him healthy -- and make a donation to an animal shelter or some other good cause.

October 12, 2007

i don't understand cat lovers

So this is how cat lovers advertise their champions? I don't get it. Doesn't the poor little thing look hungry and abused?

October 11, 2007

suitable sentences

“I swear I’m going upstairs to find some suitable sentences which I will be using from now on.”

(Doris Lessing, upon being surprised with the news that she just won the Nobel Prize in Literature.)

Normally people strive to find suitable words -- I'm glad to see some recognition for syntax.

hyphen, shmyphen

So the shorter OED eliminated 16,000 hyphens in its newest edition.

What’s getting the heave are most hyphens linking the halves of a compound noun. Some, like “ice cream,” “fig leaf,” “hobby horse” and “water bed,” have been fractured into two words, while many others, like “ bumblebee,” “crybaby” and “pigeonhole,” have been squeezed into one.

I beg to disagree. Morphologically, fig leaf is still one word, no matter if it is recognized as such by Microsoft Word. The plural is fig leaves (not figs leaves), there's only one stressed syllable, and it can take only one determiner (the fig leaf, not the fig the leaf). So, what's the point of hyphens in the first place?
They’re records of how the language changes, and in the old days, before the Shorter Oxford got into the sundering business, they indicated a sort of halfway point, a way station in the progress of a new usage. Two terms get linked together — “tiddly-wink,” let’s say, or “cell-phone” — and then over time that little hitch is eroded, worn away by familiarity. In a few years, for example, people will be amused to discover that email used to be e-mail.

Yes, there may be instances where a hyphen can help avoid ambiguities ha-ha!), but bear in min("A slippery-eel salesman, for example, sells slippery eels, while a slippery eel salesman takes your money and slinks away." d that ambiguity is part of every human language. If you buy blue socks and towels with stripes, no hyphen in the world will help you figure out if the socks have stripes and the towels are blue. That's why we have syntax!

October 09, 2007

beware the jabberwock!

When, oh when, will shop owners realize that not every blending (or portmanteau word) has the charm of slithy?*

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"That's enough to begin with", Humpty Dumpty interrupted: "there are plenty of hard words there. 'Brillig' means four o'clock in the afternoon--the time when you begin broiling things for dinner."

"That'll do very well", said Alice: "and 'slithy'?"

"Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy'. 'Lithe' is the same as 'active'. You see it's like a portmanteau--there are two meanings packed up into one word."

[Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass]

October 08, 2007

posh ingredients, bad grammar

How likely is it that this store has exactly one truffle to sell?

October 07, 2007

Ohne Grammatik, mit kompliziert

I'll never get the appeal of deliberately bad grammar.

October 06, 2007

Where do peanuts come from?

As I was admiring a bunch of peanuts at the farmers' market today, roots and all, I wondered where the name comes from. Why pea? It turns out that it is the nut part that is more questionable. Strictly speaking, the peanut is a legume (derived from Latin legere, "to gather") or a seed in a legume, not a nut.

Pea itself is a back-formation based on pease, which was construed as a plural form. Like peas, peanuts grow in pods.

more shopping dogs

As I was saying....

And here's a very well-behaved dog inside a store. It's no big deal to take a well-behaved dog into a store in Germany (as long as it's not a grocery store).

October 01, 2007

caseless wine

no shopping dogs

You will find a variation of this sign on many shops in Germany ("We have to stay outside").

They may lose some potential customers.

September 25, 2007

shopping dogs

High fashion sells better with a quirky dog.

September 19, 2007

Not normally a fan of puns, but....

Shoutout for a great website, especially if you happen to live in Wisconsin, you know, the state that derives its name from the Anglicized spelling of a French version of the Native American name for a river (according to the Wisconsin Historical Society) with place names like Oconomowoc and Prairie du Chien (don't even attempt to pronounce it in the French way and don't think too much of dogs either).
During the day [Jackie] Johnson is a reporter for Wisconsin Radio Network. After hours she operates, an online audio pronunciation guide for everything Wisconsin-related: towns, cities, politicians, parks and forests. Since she started the site in January 2006, she has recorded hundreds upon hundreds of names, sometimes even getting politicians to record their own.

first permalinks, now free access

The Times now wants to be read rather than paid (for access to online articles). A fine day for bloggers, who can now link to what used to be hidden behind the Times Select wall. From an e-mail sent to NYT subscribers:
Why the change? This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it.
Very true. And it would have been just as true 2 years ago. Now, if only Maureen Dowd would write a column on dogs that I would have a reason to link to on this blog...

How many languages are there in the world?

7000... 6999..... 6998..... You can't bring them back, but you can at least document them.
On Language Death

Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century. In fact, one falls out of use about every two weeks.

Some languages vanish in an instant, at the death of the sole surviving speaker. Others are lost gradually in bilingual cultures, as indigenous tongues are overwhelmed by the dominant language at school, in the marketplace and on television.

New research, reported yesterday, has found the five regions where languages are disappearing most rapidly: northern Australia, central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, eastern Siberia, and Oklahoma and the southwestern United States. All have indigenous people speaking diverse languages, in falling numbers. [...]

Beginning what is expected to be a long-term project to identify and record endangered languages, Dr. Harrison has traveled to many parts of the world with Gregory D. S. Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute, in Salem, Ore., and Chris Rainier, a filmmaker with the National Geographic Society.

The researchers, focusing on distinct oral languages, not dialects, interviewed and made recordings of the few remaining speakers of a language and collected basic word lists. The individual projects, some lasting three to four years, involve hundreds of hours of recording speech, developing grammars and preparing children’s readers in the obscure language. The research has concentrated on preserving entire language families.

In Australia, where nearly all the 231 spoken tongues are endangered, the researchers came upon three known speakers of Magati Ke in the Northern Territory, and three Yawuru speakers in Western Australia. In July, Dr. Anderson said, they met the sole speaker of Amurdag, a language in the Northern Territory that had been declared extinct.

“This is probably one language that cannot be brought back, but at least we made a record of it,” Dr. Anderson said, noting that the Aborigine who spoke it strained to recall words he had heard from his father, now dead.

Many of the 113 languages in the region from the Andes Mountains into the Amazon basin are poorly known and are giving way to Spanish or Portuguese, or in a few cases, a more dominant indigenous language. In this area, for example, a group known as the Kallawaya use Spanish or Quechua in daily life, but also have a secret tongue mainly for preserving knowledge of medicinal plants, some previously unknown to science.

“How and why this language has survived for more than 400 years, while being spoken by very few, is a mystery,” Dr. Harrison said in a news release.

The dominance of English threatens the survival of the 54 indigenous languages in the Northwest Pacific plateau, a region including British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Only one person remains who knows Siletz Dee-ni, the last of many languages once spoken on a reservation in Oregon. [...]

Another measure of the threat to many relatively unknown languages, Dr. Harrison said, is that 83 languages with “global” influence are spoken and written by 80 percent of the world population. Most of the others face extinction at a rate, the researchers said, that exceeds that of birds, mammals, fish and plants.

September 06, 2007

nothing marks the end of summer like a shiny chestnut

No, they are not related to chest. For a long time, the word was spelled chesnut in English. We owe the current spelling to the popularity of Samuel Johnson's dictionary.

The origin of the word is the Latin word castanea, chasteine in Middle English. It's still recognizable in the German word for chestnut (Kastanie), the Spanish word (castana), and the Italian word (castagna). Chest, by contrast, is derived from the Latin word for box (cista).

September 05, 2007

wag the bag

All those fantastic words you miss out on if you're not a hiker....
No More Privies, So Hikers Add a Carry-Along

The highest outhouse in the continental United States is no more.

High-altitude sanitation is too hazardous a business. Helicopters must make regular journeys up the steep-walled canyons in tricky winds while rangers in hazmat suits wait below to tie 250-pound bags or barrels of waste onto a long line dangling below the aircraft.

So from the granite immensity of Mount Whitney in California to Mount Rainier in Washington to Zion National Park in Utah, a new wilderness ethic is beginning to take hold: You can take it with you. In fact, you must.

The privy, which sat about 14,494 feet above sea level, and two other outhouses here in the Inyo National Forest — the last on the trail — have been removed within the last year. The 19,000 or so hikers who pick up Forest Service permits each year to hike the Whitney Trail are given double-sealed sanitation kits and told how to use them — just as they are told how to keep their food from the bears along the way, and how to find shelter when lightning storms rake the ridges.

The kits — the most popular model is known as a Wagbag — are becoming a fixture of camping gear. On high western trails, Wagbag is now as familiar a term as gorp (a high-energy mix of nuts, seeds, dry fruit and chocolate) or switchback (a hairpin turn in the trail).

“It’s one thing to take a risk to fly up there to pick up a sick or injured person,” said Brian Spitek, a forest ranger who works in the Inyo National Forest. “To do it to fly out a bag of poop is another.”

Can't argue with that. Oh, and in case you're wondering: WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling and it the bags h ave also been adopted by FEMA and the Pentagon.

no more hitler juniors in venezuela

Can you imagine having to choose your child's name from a list of only 100 names? This is exactly what is being suggested in Venezuela. For a reason. From an article in The New York Times:

A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame

Goodbye, Tutankamen del Sol. So long, Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly, Yornaichel, Nixon and Yurbiladyberth. The prolifically inventive world of Venezuelan baby names may be coming to an end.

If electoral officials here get their way, a bill introduced last week would prohibit Venezuelan parents from bestowing those names — and many, many others — on their children.

The measure would not be retroactive. But it would limit parents of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government, with exemptions for Indians and foreigners, and it is already facing skepticism in the halls of the National Assembly.

“I need to know how they would define those 100 names,” said Jhonny Owee Milano Rodríguez, a congressman representing Cojedes State. “For example, why not 120? This seems arbitrary to me.” [...]

The bill’s ambition, according to a draft submitted to municipal offices here for review, is to “preserve the equilibrium and integral development of the child” by preventing parents from giving newborns names that expose them to ridicule or are “extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,” Spanish. The bill also aims to prevent names that “generate doubts” about the bearer’s gender. [...]

Some parents exercise that right more liberally than others. Software searches of the voter registry find more than 60 people of voting age with the first name Hitler, including Hitler Adonys Rodríguez Crespo; eight Hochiminhs, among them Hochiminh Jesús Delgado Sierra; and six Eisenhowers. [...]

Not everyone denounces the bill. Temutchin del Espíritu Santo Rojas Fernández, 25, a computer programmer, explained that his first name was inspired by the birth name of Genghis Khan, often spelled Temujin in English. He said he frequently had to correct the spelling of his name on official documents.

While I agree that it's a good thing to set a limit for parents' creativity in the interest of the childd (no child should be named Hitler), limiting the choice to 100 names (or only 50, considering that the names have to be gender-specific) seems overly restrictive.

September 03, 2007

word nerds are cool

Spinach-eating action heroes are so yesterday. Meet WordGirl:

There's a new superhero on the block this fall, and she might just have the strength (or as she would most likely say, the “fortitude”) to render a big vocabulary cool among schoolchildren.

The weapon of choice for PBS’s new “WordGirl” is words: the more expressive, the better. When the fifth-grader Becky Botsford dons her red cape and spits out mouthfuls like “preposterous” and “bicker” and “cumbersome,” her enemies — from the often-tongue-tied Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy (whose name is a chance for WordGirl to define “absurd”) to the Butcher, who mangles words while hoarding meat — capitulate. [...]

“WordGirl” draws its writers not from the ranks of children’s television but from places like the satirical newspaper The Onion and Fox’s twisted adult cartoon series “Family Guy.” The voice of the narrator, Chris Parnell, will be better known to adults from “Saturday Night Live.” [...]

The series is underpinned by a serious curriculum, informed by the 2002 academic work “Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction,” by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown and Linda Kucan, all of the University of Pittsburgh. In the book they argue that “vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy,” Ms. Gillim said, adding, “If you don’t know the word, you aren’t going to get the meaning when you encounter it when reading.” When exposed to words in a variety of contexts, she said, children “will discern the meaning,” and even a 6-year-old can understand “cumbersome” when told it means “big and heavy and awkward.”

“Kids who enter school with a vocabulary of 20,000 words will have a lot more success than those who enter with a vocabulary of 2,000 words,” said Deborah Forte, the president of Scholastic Media, the show’s producer. “That ability to command language and use words to express what you want is incredibly important,” she said.

Each 11-minute episode in the half-hour includes two featured words, which children are cued to watch for at the start of the program. The words, chosen according to academic guidelines, include enormous, impressive, diversion, doomed, dash, coincidence, guarantee, squint, coupon, glum, clumsy, supreme, appetite, expand, deceive and idolize.

August 13, 2007

your harry potter alter ego is?

You scored as Severus Snape. Well you're a tricky one aren't you?

Nobody quite has you figured out and you'd probably prefer it stayed that way.
That said you are a formidable force by anyone's reckoning,
but there is certainly more to you than a frosty exterior and a bitter temper.

Severus Snape


Harry Potter


Sirius Black


Hermione Granger


Ron Weasley


Remus Lupin


Albus Dumbledore


Draco Malfoy


Ginny Weasley


Lord Voldemort


Curious: Go to Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?