January 26, 2007


Pedigree is doing it again. They have come out with another commercial that one just can't get out of one's mind. It shows adorable dogs with sad brown eyes behind a shelter's fence and it puts these words into their mouths:
I know how to sit, how to fetch, and how to roll over. What I don't know is how I ended up in here...
Il Snofo is a shelter dog. I adopted her exactly five years ago. She had spent more than a year in a shelter, and if it were not for the no-kill policy of the shelter, I would never have met her. Nobody wanted to adopt her because she was considered a difficult dog, not a people pleaser. For a start, she would't let anybody pet her (including me). What reason did she have to expect good things from humans? She was dumped as a puppy, abused as a family dog, taken back to the shelter by her owner, a woman beaten up by her husband. She also didn't look her best: She had been caged with another dog, who had bitten off the tip of one ear and of her tail. Her tail was never seen wagging.

And yet...

When I drove off with her in the car, I thought I might just have made one of the biggest mistakes in my life. What if I couldn't love this dog? What if she could not love me? After three days I knew that these questions would never have to be asked again.

Happy 5th anniversary!

If you're thinking of getting a dog, please consider adopting a dog from a shelter.

January 25, 2007

top dogs

Labradors Still No. 1, but Yorkies, Dahling, Move Into Second Place

The American Kennel Club ... announced a shift in its 10 most popular dog breeds in the nation and in the city, or at least in that elite group of purebred dogs whose pedigrees and papers are in order.[...]

Across the country, the most popular dog last year, as it has been for 16 years in a row, was the Labrador retriever, with about 124,000 registrations, or 14 percent of the club’s total.

In New York, the most popular breed in 2006 was the poodle, with 77 registrations, or about 8 percent of the club’s total in the city. It has been the most popular breed for two years in a row, according to the club, which describes itself as the largest purebred-dog registry in the world.

But the big news, the club said, was the No. 2 ranking in both the city and the country: the Yorkshire terrier, overtaking larger breeds like the golden retriever and the German shepherd.

The tiny Yorkie, favored by the wife played by Eva Gabor in television’s “Green Acres,” had about 48,000 registrations in the United States, or 5 percent; and 49 in the city, also 5 percent.

Daisy Okas, a spokeswoman for the club, said the toy-dog group of breeds, which include Yorkshire terriers, had risen from 12 percent of the registry in the 1970s to about 23 percent today.

Here's the top dog list of the American Kennel Club:
  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. Yorkshire Terrier
  3. German Shepherd Dog
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Beagle
  6. Dachshund
  7. Boxer
  8. Poodle
  9. Shi Tzu
  10. Miniature Schnauzer
Of course, most dogs in America are mutts.* And some very special mutts are bassadors!

* The word is a shortened form of "mutton head", which, according to the OED, was a derogatory word for a dull or stupid person. In 1899, mutt was used for the first time -- but for a horse, not a dog (it means something like "horse in bad condition").

January 20, 2007

angels in america

The New York Times reports that Angel is now the most popular name for boys of Hispanic origin in New York City (nationally, it ranks 32nd, just behind José). So, why is this news?
In New York, the nation’s proverbial melting pot, a traditional Spanish name has not been No. 1, even among Hispanic boys, since the mid-1980s, when José ranked first. (José is still ahead of Angel nationally, in 30th place.) Instead, Hispanic parents generally choose decidedly Anglo names, like Kevin and Justin.
Other top names for Hispanic boys were decidedly non-Hispanic, among them Anthony, Christopher, Justin, Joshua, David, Daniel, Kevin, Michael and Jonathan. The most popular names for Hispanic girls in 2005 were Ashley, Emily, Isabella, Jennifer and Mia. Other top names in NYC in 2005 were were Emily and Ryan for Asian babies, Kayla and Joshua for Afro-American babies, and Sarah and Michael for non-Hispanic white babies.

What's so special about Angel?

“It is today’s perfect compromise name,” he [=Cleveland Kent Evans, the president of the American Name Society] said, “for those who want to emphasize their Hispanic heritage and yet assimilate into the larger society at the same time.”

Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, the chairman of the Department of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College, said Angel was suggestive of “qualities mothers would like their children to have or is somewhat eponymous. The levels of religiosity in the Latino community, I think, also add to the popularity of the name.

“I do not think the increase in the name reflects increasing (or decreasing) ‘nationalism’, nor is there a particularly popular figure in music or film or TV that would explain the sudden jump in the name,” he said. “When Latino parents look for names they look for names that can be pronounced well in both Spanish and English.”

Nice explanation, except that it only seems to work for boys' names.

January 18, 2007

on widgets and gadgets

The New York Times has an article widgets for blogs, in which it defines widget as "elements, often in the left or right columns of a blog, that enhance its usefulness or aesthetic appeal". I find that definition rather specific. The OED defines widget as "[a]n indefinite name for a gadget or mechanical contrivance, esp. a small manufactured item", documented as early as in 1931, and speculates that the word might be a variant of gadget, itself of obscure origin. "First known in use among seafaring men, and said by several correspondents to have been current 1870, ...but not found in print before 1886."

Looking for widgets beyond sitemeter? Widgetbox.com, a website whose mission is to "widgetize" the web (their word, not mine), gives you an overview. Let me go ahead and install blufr and The Daily Puppy right away.

January 16, 2007

poodle dress

Hugh Laurie won a Golden Globe. Bill Nighy won a Golden Globe. America Ferrera won a Golden Globe. Helen Mirren won two Golden Globes. Jeremy Irons won a Golden Globe. Meryl Streep won a Golden Globe. Kate Winslet was nominated. Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated. The German movie The Lives of Others was nominated. A happy night indeed. Too bad actress Rinko Kikuchi, nominated for her role in Babel, couldn't bring her poodle. Perhaps she would have chosen a different dress if she had been allowed to.

January 14, 2007

the queen's corgis, revisited

Last night I finally saw the movie "The Queen", directed by Stephen Frears and starring the marvelous Helen Mirren, who seems to be the natural choice when it comes to portraying queens named Elizabeth. The movie is justly raved about and I'm sure Helen Mirren will be nominated for an Academy Award.

The use of animals in the movie is quite remarkable, mainly through the metaphor of stalking. It's hunting (stalking) season at Balmoral, where the members of the Royal Family spend their summer vacation. While the Royals are stalking a majestic stag (which eventually is killed in an amateurish way on the estate of a neighbor by a paying visitor), a former member of the Royal Family, the Princess of Wales, is shown being stalked by the press in Paris, where she later dies after a car crash. In the movie, the Queen pays her respects to the dead animal (the visit is framed as a congratulatory visit to the person who killed it) before she sets off to London to pay her respects to the deceased "People's Princess", a public gesture she is pressured into by Tony Blair.

The verb to stalk originally meant "to walk softly, cautiously, or stealthily", it then acquired the meaning "to go stealthily to, towards (an animal) for the purpose of killing or capturing it". An OED draft addition from 2006 records the more recent use of the verb "to harass or persecute (a person, esp. a public figure) with unwanted, obsessive, and usually threatening attention over an extended period of time".

Apart from the stag, there's a pack of adorable, remarkably well-trained Corgis* (one "Stay!" from the Queen keeps them away from a picnic table, at least for a minute), symbolizing the lighter side of royal life and the Queen's character. (Someone who adores Corgis, of all dogs, -- in a dignified, non-fussy way -- cannot have a heart of stone, right?).**

Then there are three*** beautiful black labradors that the Queen takes out in her Range Rover when she and Prince Charles are on the way to join the stalking party. The Queen is annoyed at her son's lecture on how great Diana was as a mother and decides that she'd rather be alone for the next couple of hours. She gets off the car with the dogs and disappears into the woods with them. The message is that she prefers their happy-go-lucky company to that of her dysfunctional family. (Who wouldn't?) The Queen is famous for her love of Corgis, but she also breeds black labradors at Sandringham. I blogged about this here.

Thankfully, there were no horses.

*C.L.B. Hubbard, author of the Pembrokeshire Corgi Handbook (1952), would be indignated by this plural form. He states "The plural of Corgi is Corgwn and not Corgis." (OED) I suppose it is -- if you speak Welsh (the etymology of "Corgi" is Welsh, it combines the Welsh words for "dwarf" and "dog"), but it has become a thoroughly English word.

**According to Wikipedia, the dogs in the movie are played by Corgis called Anna, Poppy, Alice, Megan, and Oliver, owned by Liz Smith.

***When the Queen gets into the car, there are only two labradors, and when she gets out, there are three. Miraculous! It seems that I'm not the only person who noticed this continuity error.

January 13, 2007

cruelness, not kindness

Not your typical World Briefing story in The New York Times:
Britain: Brothers Guilty of Overfeeding Dog

Two brothers who so overfed their 10-year-old chocolate Labrador, Rusty, above, that he weighed more than 150 pounds, more than double the weight he should have been, were found guilty by magistrates in Ely, Cambridgeshire, of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The brothers, David and Derek Benton, were given a three-year conditional discharge. Vets working for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which brought the prosecution, said the dog was so fat he was unable to walk more than six steps without having to sit down. A slimmer Rusty, who has lost about 45 pounds since being taken into the care of animal welfare officials, was returned to the brothers on the condition that they did not let him put on any weight.

I certainly hope the Bentons won't solve the problem with Slentrol.

January 10, 2007

reading buddies

A heart-warming tale about a boy, a dog, a book, and one smart and caring teacher!

For a Boy Stumbling Over Words, a Dog Is the Ideal Reading Partner

Like many children, the little boy had learned to recognize common words from memory in kindergarten, and to sound out simple words — the first steps toward reading. [...] But at age 9, [...] he could not even read the short phrases in a picture book.

At the beginning of the school year, his teacher, Eileen Brennan, paired the children in his class and asked them to read aloud to one another. The boy would hesitate over the first unfamiliar words, Ms. Brennan said, and then take so long to read anything that he and the partner would both give up, or run out of time. He had been tested for vision, hearing and reading disabilities, but none had been identified. [...]

She [the teacher] developed a hunch about what was holding this child back. First, she said, he was not getting enough practice reading, and learning to read and practicing reading are intertwined. Second, because he was not practicing, he was not improving, and that was undermining his self-confidence. He was so worried about sounding stupid in front of other people, she decided, that he clammed up. He was a strong little boy, and when he shut down, there was not much she could do.

In early October, Ms. Brennan announced that each day the children would have half an hour to read alone. Choosing the place in the classroom to read soon became as important to the pupils as choosing the book. Each day they rushed to claim the best spots — under a desk or against the radiator just under the window that looked out on an internal quad. But the most popular place was near the teacher’s small terrier, Barnaby, who came to school with her every day. During lessons and during lunch, Barnaby was in his crate, but at reading time he was out.

In mid-November, Ms. Brennan realized that the boy had successfully avoided reading aloud for nine weeks. And so she suggested that he read near Barnaby, promising him first choice for that spot. She also suggested that rather than read just to himself, he read aloud to the dog. This proved to be the key.

Every day until mid-April, the child walked purposefully and calmly over to the bookshelf and selected “Go Dog Go” by P. D. Eastman, settled himself near Barnaby, and recited the book to the dog while pointing to the words and looking over the pictures. By June the boy was picking a wide range of picture books to read to Barnaby, popping out of his chair eagerly for read-aloud time. And he was willing to read, smoothly and fluently, to Ms. Brennan as well.

There's even a word for dogs like Barnaby: They're Reading Education Assistance Dogs (get the acronym?) and this is their website.

January 07, 2007

to pluto, with love

The American Dialect Society has chosen its words of the year 2006. I'm very happy to report that the winner is not a word related to politics or celebrity watching. What is more, it is a passive participle (for reasons not to be dwelled on here, anything passive gets my special attention):
In its 17th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted* “plutoed” as the word of the year, in a run-off against climate canary. To pluto is to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.
Other winners:
  • "Most Useful": Climary canary, "an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon."
  • "Most Creative": lactard, "a person who is lactose-intolerant"
  • "Most Euphemistic": waterboarding, defined as "an interrogation technique in which the subject is immobilized and doused with water to simulate drowning."
  • "Most Likely To Succeed": YouTube (verb), "to use the YouTube website or to have a video of one's self be posted on the site"
Would you like to compare them to last year's words of the year? Truthiness became quite popular, but I still like "to jump the couch" best, although I usually get blank stares when I use it.

My own choice for the most useful word of the year 2006 would probably have been permalink (not in any of the major dictionaries yet) - 2006 was a year in which I began looking for them for this blog and towards the end of which the NY Times finally made them available, thereby recognizing the benefits of having their articles discussed by bloggers. Call it the unplutoing of blogs.

*You can read more about the procedure [from the 2005 meeting of the ADS] here.

January 06, 2007

dogs on a diet

More and more dogs are overweight. Just like their owners. But unlike their owners, dogs have no control over what they eat. Yes, I know what it's like -- those big brown eyes staring at you as you prepare a cheese sandwich. I live with a dog who after five years still hopes that I might change my mind, just once. And yet, I find it quite easy to "just say no". No treats without actions that merit a reward. No scraps off the table. Nor off the cutting board. Sorry, Brandy -- the arrival of the ridiculously named "Slentrol" won't change anything.

New Diet Drug Is Approved For Pudgy Dogs [The New York Times]

Too many dogs are lounging around at home all day while their owners work, then stuffing on table scraps in front of the television at night, so much so that veterinarians say there is an epidemic of canine obesity in this country. Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration announced one possible way to address the problem: the first prescription drug to treat obesity in dogs. [...]

Veterinarians define obese dogs as those that are 20 percent overweight. About 5 percent of dogs in the United States are obese, and another 20 precent to 30 percent are overweight, according to the drug agency. In all, Pfizer, the maker of the dog drug, called Slentrol, estimates that four million American dogs are obese and potential candidates for its therapy, which will cost $1 to $2 a day.

“This is not a passport to abandon exercise or diets,” said George J. Fennell, Pfizer’s vice president in the United States for companion animal health. But Mr. Fennell said the drug would be a big help for dog owners who find it difficult to cut back on doggy treats. “You hear pet owners say: ‘The dog really wags his tail when I give him a treat. It’s hard to hold back,’ ” Mr. Fennell said. [...]

Slentrol is a liquid that can be added to a dog’s food or placed directly in its mouth. The duration of treatment will depend on the amount of weight a dog needs to lose. In clinical studies of the drug, dogs on Slentrol lost about 3 percent of their weight a month, without changing their diets.

To which I say: A 3% weight loss per month? Take your dog to the dog park twice a week and you'll achieve the same results. You may even lose some weight yourself. And have more fun.

January 04, 2007

murphy bed and other murphys

I don't get it. What's the point of a dog bed you can't use because it's folded away during the day?

The Murphy bed owes its name and existence to William Lawrence Murphy (1876-1959), the manufacturer that produced the original design. The word first occurred in 1918 (according to the OED) in the magazine "Hotel Monthly". Interestingly, though unrelatedly, there is a use of "Murphy" as a diminutive of "Morpheus", the god of dreams, dating back to the 18th century ("dropping into the arms of Murfy"). There's also, of course, Murphy's Law, which, according to the OED, may or may not be related to the name of Captain Edward A. Murphy, "who performed studies on deceleration for the U.S. Air Force in 1949 (during which he noted that if things could be done wrongly, they would be)". According to another source (also cited in the OED), Murphy was a fictitious character, a not very competent mechanic, who appeared in a series of educational cartoons produced by the U.S. Navy.

January 02, 2007

rhymes with tivo

I understand that there are Rachael Ray lovers and Rachael Ray haters. Moi, I'm more of a Rachael Who? kind of person. But it seems that she her consistent use of certain marker words has earned her a spot on the Oxford American College Dictionary:
Erin McKean, Editor-in-Chief of American Dictionaries, appeared on the Rachael Ray show last week to present a Certificate of Recognition to Rachael. Why? Because they are putting EVOO into the next edition of the Oxford American College Dictionary. McKean said that the addition of "EVOO" was caused by Rachael's use of the word.

McKean says that "this hardly ever happens" and that "it's easier to win the lottery" than to get a word added to the dictionary. The word has to be useful to people and be a word that people like to use. She also said that simply being a fabulous celebrity isn't enough. In more than half the times that the word EVOO is used, the word Rachael is also there.

During the segment, Rachael Ray also previewed her "grocery store" EVOO from Colavita and gave one to everyone in the audience. You can read more about the addition of EVOO to the dictionary on the talk show's website here.

[from a Pro-Rachael blog ]
Oh, in case you were wondering: EVOO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

January 01, 2007

happy carbon neutral year!

It's "Words of the Year" season. In about a week, the American Dialect Society will elect its Word of the Year at its annual convention. You can read about some of the entries here. In the meantime, the New Oxford American Dictionary has declared carbon neutral their WotY 2006.
Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.

The rise of carbon neutral reflects the growing importance of the green movement in the United States. In a CBS News/New York Times Poll in May 2006, 66% of respondents agreed that global warming is a problem that’s causing a serious impact now. 2006 also saw the launch of a new (and naturally, carbon neutral) magazine about eco-living, Plenty; the actor Leonardo DiCaprio is planning a environmentally-themed reality TV series about an eco-village; and colleges from Maine to Wisconsin* are pledging to be carbon neutral within five years. It’s more than a trend, it’s a movement.

Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, said “The increasing use of the word carbon neutral reflects not just the greening of our culture, but the greening of our language. When you see first graders trying to make their classrooms carbon neutral, you know the word has become mainstream.”

Runners-up include the compound dwarf planet (bye-bye, Pluto), the not-so-new comparative funner (fun has been used as an adjective for many years), and elbow bump ("greeting in which two people touch elbows, recommended by the World Health Organization as an alternative to the handshake in order to reduce the spread of germs").

*The University of Wisconsin has pledged "to trim campus energy consumption per square foot by 20 percent by 2010".