May 31, 2007

"just a bunch of memorizations"

I'm watching the National Spelling Bee finals on TV. One Wisconsin contestant is still in. Of course I'm rooting for her. She just had to spell helodes. After hearing that the word is of Greek origin, she made an educated guess. And she got it right! A word's etymology is usually a better clue to its spelling than the meaning of the word. Which makes me wonder why the spellers usually ask for the definition of the word first.

Oh, here's a Polish word, oberek, and one more contestant is out. That's really tough, there are not many words of Polish origin in the English language, it's hard to make out a pattern.

Here she is again, Isabel Jacobson of Madison, Wisconsin. I've never heard the word she has to spell, a 4-syllable word "made up of Greek elements". Cyanophycean. Good grief! She asks if it comes from the Greek word for "blue". It does. Go, Isabel! Noooo. She gets the ending wrong. She spelled it -tion. She finishes third (she finished 14th last year). Congratulations, Isabel!

Two cute bespectacled boys left. 25 championship words. Evan O'Dorney, 13, from California, goes first. The first word sounds like an adjective from Greek. But what is the root? I have no clue. The word is zoilus. He gets it right. Nate Gartke, also 13, from Canada. The second word is an adjective from Latin. It has two pronunciations. Vituline. Relating to a calf or veal. I think this is a little easier to spell than zoilus (and certainly easier than cyanophycean), but perhaps that's just because I know more Latin than Greek. He gets it right.

Oh, here's a word I know. Pappardelle. That's an easy one for Evan. You just have to like pasta! Nate takes on videlicet, which I have seen written a number of times, but I've never heard it pronounced before (it's hard to go wrong, the word has 3 pronunciations). viDEliset.

While there's a commercial break, I look at the final contestant's profiles. All three (Isabel, Evan, and Nate) play an instrument, and Evan is also great at maths.

Food again. Yosenabe. A Japanese seafood soup. I think it's doable. Yes, it is! Again I think that Nate gets a more difficult word. Coryza. And Nate doesn't spell it correctly (how I love that he says "zed"). So here's Evan again. It's his chance to win. Serrefine. And he gets it right! Evan O'Dorney is the winner of the 2007 National Spelling Bee. Congratulations!

A smart kid! He doesn't really like spelling because "it's just a bunch of memorizations". He prefers maths (where "it all comes together") and music (because it's creative).

May 29, 2007

hope is my middle name

After five years of never receiving the smallest scrap of food from the table, my dog still is hopeful that some day it will happen. She also hopes that the black letters someone sprayed on the sidewalk might turn out to be something edible. Let's give them a sniff!

May 27, 2007

dog @ dentist

I've put this off for years, but recently I had my dog's teeth cleaned. It's an expensive procedure, which is carried out under general anesthisia. Tartar deposits are removed with an ultrasonic scaler and the surface of the teeth is polished. If necessary, teeth are extracted. Fortunately, this was not necessary in Brandy's case. Her teeth are now free of tartar and her breath has improved a lot.

Now I have to learn to brush her teeth regularly....what fun that will be.

May 24, 2007

pug recall

With apologies to all pug lovers:

The Onion

Dog Breeders Issue Massive Recall Of '07 Pugs

WASHINGTON, DC—While pug owners are accustomed to chronic dog malfunction, the latest animals are prone to more than the usual overheating, seizures, and joint failure.

I should add that I used to strongly dislike pugs, but ever since we met a very nice, sociable pug in an obedience class, I've managed to look at them as dogs, not just pugs.

May 22, 2007

this is your what?

You know, I'm all for conversion. I even think that "my bad" is a useful, if somewhat overused, expression. But "This is my now", the title of this year's version of American Idol's cheesy uplifting finale ballad, that is just lame. But wait, there's more:
There was a time when I was so afraid.
I thought I'd reached the end,
But baby that was then
I am made of more than my yesterdays.

My yesterdays? What's wrong with adverbs? Just let them be.

little chubby trippy tulip

The New York Times recently had an article on the growing popularity of small dogs:
For having stated my fondness for medium to large dogs and criticized breeding practices that have produced unhealthy mutants, especially among toy breeds, I have been both praised and pilloried. Large dog owners see me as an ally in the battle against the “toys” — eentsy, primped and preened, frivolous creatures that tremble and yap. But to partisans of small dogs — an aggressive breed of human who defend their favorites against every slight, real and imagined — I am a “canine sizeist.”

Nonetheless, I embrace the changing dog demographics. [...] As long as they are free of debilitating genetic defects, small dogs retain the spirit and behavior of, well, the dog. They retrieve, fight, bite, run, hunt and play within their physical and psychological abilities.

Small dogs may seem more convenient, but they can also be hazardous. Why, they may even jeopardize the finale of American Idol! Ask Paula Abdul:
Paula Abdul broke her nose over the weekend after she fell while trying to avoid stepping on her Chihuahua, her publicist said Monday.

"I took a nasty fall ... trying not to hurt my dog. I bruised myself on my arm ... my chest, my waist all the way down to my hip. All from my little chubby Tulip," Abdul said.

In case you're wondering: The dog was not hurt.

May 21, 2007

lost and harry potter: which ship will sail in the season finale?

With the season finale of "Lost" around the corner, people are wondering if the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle will be resolved. So, are you a Jater (a Jack-and-Kate shipper) or a Skater (a Sawyer-and-Kate shipper)? You don't know what a shipper is? Let's visit the experts:

From the "Lost" forum on Television Without Pity (TWoP):

Sorry if this is a stupid question, but what the heck is a shipper?

A shipper is a 15 year old girl who watches a TV show only to see a particular relationship come to fruition. i.e. people pining for Kate to finally "choose" either Jack or Sawyer. They care not for competent writing, plot development, or believable characters.
According to the term was first used with regard to the series "The X-Files" (which I never watched):

The term "shipper" comes from supporting a ship. To ship something means a person wants two characters to get together and/or shows support for two characters already together. The term "ship" came from the X-Files fandom, when fanfics were written about Mulder and Scully. The fans then called themselves shippers. It quickly spread and is now the title a person gives themself if they believe two characters should or will be together.

Passionate shippers can also be found in the Harry Potter community. In an article entitled "if you're an obsessed Harry Potter fan, Voldemort isn't the problem. It's Hermione versus Ginny" the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2005:

In the Harry Potter fandom, 'shipping (short for "relationshipping") simply means championing a romantic relationship between certain series characters, either within canon or in works of fan fiction (fan-penned fiction that spins off an original narrative). Potter fans have long been divided into camps advocating one 'ship over another: Some celebrate the pairing of Hermione and Harry, for example; others want to see Harry and his nemesis, Draco Malfoy, erase the thin line between love and hate.

Competition has been especially fierce between the Harry/Hermione and Harry/Ginny camps, where devotees have spent years on various Web sites, forums and mailing lists arguing the plausibility of their chosen pairings. "The Half-Blood Prince" should have settled the matter when it matched Harry with Ginny and Hermione with Ron. Instead, it's caused an eruption of fannish dismay. "That woman has completely destroyed my faith in ever having a real relationship," opined one Harry/Hermione 'shipper on an online message board.

And while their 'ship has been sunk by Rowling, it will probably continue to flourish in fan fiction. In fact, regardless of what happens in the final book -- Harry might surprise everyone by swimming off to share a love nest with Hogwarts' giant squid -- it is equally probable that the series' many 'ships will keep on sailing.

And I'm pretty sure the producers of "Lost" will feed both Jaters and Skaters in the finale and in seasons to come.

May 18, 2007

language in the news

Merriam-Webster reports in its most recent newsletter that there were "some shake-ups in the list of the most frequently looked-up words at the Merriam-Webster Online Web site in April, as news events and controversies brought some new words to the list.

The two top words, debauchery and nappy, are new to the top ten list. The growing popularity of the former can clearly be traced back to the shootings at Virginia Tech. Merriam-Webster state that reports about the note left by the gunman referred to this word frequently.

#2 on the list, nappy, also owes its popularity to recent news-making events. Merriam-Webster's lexicographers are convinced that "Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team took the word nappy to the No. 2 spot". However, readers that were hoping to look up the word in Merriam-Webster's free online dictionary were in for a disappointment, since the dictionary doesn't list the relevant meaning. You would have to go to for that.

The list continues with old acquaintances, such as effect, affect, integrity, awkward, metaphor, yes, and love.

May 12, 2007

lilac boukay

Linguistic find at the local farmers' market.

Perhaps written by a fan of Hyacinth Bucket (pronouned like "bouquet"), the wonderfully snobbish main character in the British sitcom Keeping up Appearances?

May 10, 2007

linguistic uberpooch

A friend recently asked me which Germanisms in the English language I could think of most easily. There are words like zeitgeist and weltschmerz, of course, but the ones I came up with first were words formed with the affix ueber- ("above" in German).

Uberpooch -- that's the name given to Border Collie Rico by the Washington Post. Rico is famous for his linguistic abilities. Not only can he remember the name of 200 different toys and retrieve them correctly, he also can figure out the meaning of new names.

To test Rico's learning ability, researchers with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology [in Leipzig, Germany] placed a new toy among seven familiar toys. When the owner asked Rico to fetch the new item, using a name the Border collie had never heard before, Rico correctly retrieved the new item seven out 10 times. Even more remarkable: Not only can Rico connect a new word with a new object on the first try, he can also remember the word when tested a month later.

This is known as the Mutual Exclusivity Principle in language acquisition: Children expect that a word is associated only with one meaning. A different word must mean something else. In other words, children are biased learners. When they encounter a new word, they don't entertain the idea that it could refer to something they already know a word for. Just like Rico.

The affix uber-/ueber- goes back to Nietzsche's concept of Übermensch (superman, literally "overhuman"). In English, it is used to express an impressive degree of something (ueber-intelligent), but, according to, it can also be used as an adjective. As far as the spelling is concerned, the OED prefers "ue", the standard representation of the German ü-umlaut in a writing system without diacritics. but one often sees the plain "u" as well, as in uberpooch.