February 21, 2007

much ado about scrotum

I don't get it. What's all the fuss about the word scrotum in a prize-winning picture book for fourth-graders? A perfectly harmless, if technical word for a body part that will be well known to children aged 9 -- and it's not even attached to a human being in the book, but to a dog.

After an article in the book section on Sunday, the New York Times now even comes out with an editorial on the subject:

A tempest has been brewing over a children’s book that contains a word some find naughty and unsettling. The word is scrotum. It appears only a few times in the book, “The Higher Power of Lucky,” which is recommended for grades four to six. The scrotum in question belongs to a dog, who is bitten there by a snake.

On that basis, a few queasy librarians have chosen not to order the book, even though it won the prestigious Newbery Medal. The arguments pro and con are bubbling on librarians’ message boards. The cons seem vastly outnumbered, though they have gotten a lot of attention. One likened the author, Susan Patron, to the shock-radio host Howard Stern. Another suggested that teachers reading the book aloud replace that word with “a clearing-throat noise,” a bleep in the form of an “ahem.”

All this seems like a lousy way to treat a sweet, funny book whose main character, a smart, curious 10-year-old girl named Lucky Trimble, is already wise to the power and mystery of words: “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.

I like Lucky Trimble for her word associations already. The editorial continues:

With every generation, a new cohort of children begins the journey from ignorance to knowledge. Librarians help those children get there. Some barely make it, and end up toting ignorance as baggage, a sniggering puerility about body parts and functions. Those are the ones who will be drawn to shock radio — not children like the thoughtful, dauntless Lucky Trimble and those lucky enough to have read her book.

Of course, she is not the first person to link scrotum to "something green that comes up when you have the flu". In Ulysses, James Joyce famously wrote about "The snotgreen sea. The scrotum-tightening sea." Who knows, perhaps Lucky will one day make it into the OED as well.

February 20, 2007

just mapquest me

My tax preparator has a new office. She asked me if I needed directions. If yes, "just mapquest me". I thought that was very original, but when I googled* the expression, I got more than 1000 hits just for the combination "mapquest me". Sorry, Yahoo, another missed opportunity, I'm not sure you'll ever become a verb.

The OED prefers to capitalize the verb, but Merriam-Webster doesn't. Both dictionaries give the definition as "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web", but personally, I'd say I googled something even if I used a different search engine, such as Yahoo.

February 18, 2007


I came across a nice new word today (at salon.com): googleganger. Your googleganger is the person you always come across when you do a Google search for your own name. My googleganger is a physcial therapist in Berlin. What's yours?

Googleganger is of course based on the German word Doppelgänger ("double goer"), anglicized as double-ganger (first documented in 1830). The OED even lists doppleganger.

February 13, 2007

springer spaniel is best in show

The finale! There they are: the 7 group winners. But before they enter, the announcer asks for a round of applause for people who donated to the Pedigree adoption drive. Over the last week, more than $ 1,000,000 were raised. The money goes to the American Humane Association.
  • Herding group: Bouvier (great dog! rambunctious!)
  • Terrier group: Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Hounds: PBGV (what a happy dog!)
  • Toy group: Toy Poodle
  • Non-sporting group: Standard Poodle
  • Sporting group: English Springer Spaniel (beautiful floppy ears!)
  • Working group: Akita
We're for dogs, alright, but we're a little more for hounds and sporting dogs in this house, after all, we share it with a Bassador.

The judge, Dr. Robert Indeglia, hasn't watched any of the competition so far. Well, it's not as if he has never seen any of these dogs before. He's checking on the bouvier, while the dog's handler distracts the dog with treats. Next up is the standard poodle. No treats here. From glamour to working dog: Here's the akita, accompanied by a handler in a black evening ensemble (with sequined top, of course), an odd pair. Here's the springer spaniel. The handler (sequined evening ensemble in brown) wraps the dog's ears around his mouth. Is that to show off the ears' length? Ah, the PBGV, what a happy little guy (or is it a girl?), I think she's my favorite. It's good to see that even these great show dogs are still food-motivated. Next up is the toy poodle. As they said at the end of each episode of House, "That's some bad hair, Harry". What would he look like if he weren't groomed in such a silly way? His head looks like a Roman soldier's helmet. The Dandie Dinmont has already received a lot of attention because of his celebrity connection. Now he gets the judge's attention. What's up with his ear? Hm, I guess I just don't get the look of that breed.

Everyone is taking one more run. The PBGV's tail wags. The spaniel's ears flop. The handlers' sequined blouses twinkle. The poodle's hair doesn't move an inch.

The judge has made up his mind. Who's going to win? "It was truly an honor to judge these beautiful dogs". And without further ado, the purple-and-yellow ribbon goes to James, the springer spaniel! Yes! A sporting dog! With floppy ears! And he's a certified therapy dog, too. He has won many competitions already, this is his last big show. Go James!

February 12, 2007

"poy toodle"

I just tuned in to the Westminster Kennel Show. Toy dogs and terriers don't normally catch my attention, but the announcer's spoonerism* ("poy toodle") did. It even distracted me from staring at the reporter's sequined pant suit in electric blue. Krystle Carrington would look right at home at Westminster.

Talking about big hair: The Dandie Dinmont Terrier looked as if it wore a wig. But that seems to be alright - he won the competition. The New York Times has a backstory on the little guy:
Harry, or Ch. Hobergays Fineus Fogg, lounged alone in the pooch equivalent of the on-deck circle. Not a single Dandie would challenge him at Madison Square Garden. Every other breed has at least a few rivals. Forty-three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels squared off in Ring 3 a few hours before. But there was just a single Dandie who, by the scorecard published by the weekly periodical Dog News, was dandy in extremis. Harry, a 6-year-old New Zealander who is heading for retirement, had scored the most points in the country in 2006.

It seems that the judge had a rather, um, intimate relationship with the dog:

Betty-Anne Stenmark, a breeder who would judge Harry and seven other terrier breeds, stood a few feet from Harry and his handler. She imported his semen when he was just a puppy [... ].“ It’s well known that I’m one of his biggest fans,” she said.

Hmpf. So much for impartiality. More tonight: Sporting dogs, herding dogs, hounds -- and Best in Show.

*Spoonerisms are named after the Reverend W.A. Spooner (1844-1930). According to the OED, ther term has been "in colloquial use in Oxford from about 1885".Technically, spoonerisms are slips of the tongue that indicate that we plan speech ahead.

February 09, 2007

getting ready for westminster

It's that time of the year again: Dog breeders and handlers across the country are getting ready to compete for the most prestigious "Best in Show" title.
On Monday and Tuesday, they'll compete in The 131st Westminster Kennel Club Show, the world's greatest dog show and the second longest continually held sporting event in America. This year, 2,500 purebred champions, including 42 from Wisconsin, go paw-to-paw in the race for "Best in Show" title at Madison Square Garden. Westminster expert David Frei again teams up with NBC "Today" anchor Lester Holt to bark out insights about everything from pekes to poodles.
The competition is all about dogs, but it's great fun to watch the handlers and the judges as well. Think long black skirts, colorful suits, and sequined sweaters. Asked about the somewhat impaired sense of fashion displayed in the ring, Westminster spokesman David Frei said:
It has to be functional; you have to be able to run. And then you throw in the glamour. You're not going to wear Nikes and you're not going to wear heels. So sometimes the outfits look a little off.
I'll be watching out for wizard handler Michelle Scott, nee Ostermiller, who wowed the audience with pointer Carlee's free stack two years ago.

February 04, 2007

"designer dogs"

The cover story of the Sunday Times magazine is about "designer-dog fights". Labradoodles, cockapoos, puggles, morkies -- there is no end to mixing breeds to get a dog that just has it all - the sweetness of a Maltese terrier, the smartness of a Yorkshire terrier, the happy-go-lucky personality of the labrador, the cute wrinkled face of the pug -- or, if things turn out differently, the wanderlust of the beagle coupled with the diminished sense of orientation of a pug.

Many dog breeders resent this kind of meddling with trusted standards.
“Predictability is what you pay for when you buy a purebred dog,” says Daisy Okas, assistant vice president for communications at the A.K.C. “Are you really active? Do you need a running partner? Then you might want to look at getting a border collie. But do you live in a 500-square-foot apartment in Manhattan and work all day? Then a border collie, for you, is going to be a disaster. That’s why they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Because groups of people over decades or even centuries have been carefully breeding that dog to have certain characteristics and a certain temperament.”
On the other hand, what's the point in adhering to a standard, if that standard produces dogs that are prone to deafness (as in the case of Dalmatians) and encephalitis (pugs)? Or if that standard doesn't even allow a dog to procreate?

Making purebred pugs is arduous and important business. The pug’s problem is geometrical. A century of selection for the standard’s “square and cobby” body has exaggerated those qualities, rendering many males incapable of positioning themselves on a bitch, of procreating reliably without human assistance. Nor can puppies muscle through the pug’s narrowed birth canal; like many breeds, virtually all pugs must be delivered by C-section.

As much effort breeders invest in producing purebred puppies, as little responsibility they may feel for puppies that don't confirm to their expectations:
Jutta Beard described how years ago, while she was breeding Rottweilers, one of her bitches was accidentally impregnated by a dog of another breed. Great effort had been taken to segregate the bitch, and how the intruder got in and out of the Beards’ kennel was a mystery. His identity couldn’t even be discerned in the gangling, alien faces of the resulting puppies. Beard had them euthanized. I asked if no one would have wanted them as pets. “I didn’t want them,” she said decisively.
I really expect better from a breeder than killing a litter of unwanted, but otherwise perfectly healthy puppies. Talking about irresponsible breeders: The article also portrays Wallace Havens, the owner a large kennel in Wisconsin, who specializes in breeding mixed-breeds (such as the puggle) . His kennel houses 1600 dogs of 35 different breeds, and he sells about 3000 puppies annually. Their latest "special designer puppy", to quote their website, "looks like a Mini St. Bernard. However, they have absolutely no St. Bernard in them". The dogs live in groups of five females and one male dog (of a different breed). The website shows pictures of "Bichon Females Being Exposed To A Yorkie Male To Make Yorkie-Chons" and other creations, designed to satisfy consumer needs.
A Chihuahua rooted amid bichons. A Shar-Pei presided over a crowd of beagles like a crumply-faced shogun. That was an experiment, Havens said, “just to see what happens.” The scene was rather lawless; later that afternoon, I would watch four schnauzers nearly destroy a fifth in a fight before an employee pulled it out of the pen. I happened to spot a poodle stop humping a Shih Tzu and hobble, very painfully it appeared, into the corner on an injured foot. When I pointed it out to Havens, he calmly slid a slip of paper from his shirt pocket and wrote down the pen number, 541, so that someone could check on it after lunch. “Good for you,” he told me as though I were learning the business.
When Havens can't use his dogs for breeding anymore, he sends them to the Humane Society, where they have to be treated to overcome their fear of people, before they can be adopted. They're there, along with many other dogs of all looks and personalities. Purebreds as well as adorable mutts. Flat coats, shaggy coats, floppy ears, pricked ears, wagging tails, hiddent tails, sad eyes, eager eyes, energetic barks, and soft snores. And giving one of these dogs a home will make you feel better than any designer purchase could.