January 30, 2008


Walgreens sends me an e-mail to let me know that they carry everything for my "wellness needs". I am sent links to websites for "diaper needs" and "babycarrier needs". Accuweather promises to be the one-stop shop for my "weather needs". This is all very well, but my favorite needs website is LOST spoilers, the "No.1 website for all [my] Lost spoiler needs". Well, the waiting has an end: Season 4 begins tomorrow. Lost is back! ("...rescuing your people...can't really say that's our primary objective...).

January 28, 2008

super duper tuesday

Reduplication is a common process to create new words. It gives us colorful words like wishy-washy (ablaut reduplication, which changes the vowel), willy-nilly (rhyming reduplication, which changes a consonant), razzle-dazzle and the everyday word bye-bye (exact reduplication). There's also the specific type of "shm reduplication", imported from Yiddish, as in money-shmoney, maven-shmaven, which is often used as an exclamation expressing disdain or sarcasm. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, many people use reduplication when they speak to babies or pets ("Do you have a boo-boo?"). So, where does "super duper" figure in -- a question discussed in an article in the business section of today's New York Times.

Super Duper Tuesday sounds like a special mealtime offering at Friendly’s or Applebee’s. But it is an expression coined last February by Bill Schneider, CNN’s senior political analyst, during a discussion on “The Situation Room” about the crowded calendar for presidential primaries.

Since then, “Super Duper Tuesday” has been mentioned 71 times on CNN, and it has gained an edge over phrases like Tsunami Tuesday and Giga Tuesday in efforts to distinguish this Feb. 5 from what has traditionally been called Super Tuesday, the date when the greatest number of states hold primary elections. [...]

“It’s a pretty standard thing language-wise to do this,” said Erin McKean, editor of the language quarterly Verbatim, referring to the “super duper” coinage, known in linguistics as reduplication. “In written and spoken language most people try to strike a balance between attention-getting novelty and getting their point across. One way to do that is vary one part of a phrase and have the rest of it be the same old, same old.”

Ms. McKean added: “We’re all familiar with the concept of comparatives and superlatives — good, better, best. But you can’t do that with ‘super.’ So how do you make it more intense? You add an intensifier. [...]

Other language experts said the expanded phrase could be viewed simply as part of the adjective arms race. “I think there is a tendency to keep coming up with more extreme superlatives,” said Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English dictionary. “That’s why any existing superlative loses power. ‘Awesome’ now merely means good.”

I think the phrase is simply too long to catch on. But we'll see. After all, super duper Tuesday is just around the corner.

you gotta love the new york times

There are plenty of magazines that fight tooth and nails before they print a correction after having printed sensational articles about celebrities who are portrayed as anorectic/pregnant with triplets/having an affair with their chauffeur, etc. And then there's the Times, which prints corrections like this one on p. 2:

A Sports of The Times column on May 21, 1999, about the vocal presence of New York fans at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for an N.B.A. playoff game between the Hawks and the Knicks, misspelled the surname of a fan from Howard Beach in Queens. He is Constantin Manta, not Marta. Mr. Manta pointed out the error in an e-mail message this week.
The name of a fan! In a sports column! 9 years ago!

January 27, 2008

not just a victory, a rout

"After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we've seen in a long, long time" [Barack Obama after the South Carolina primary elections]

The media uniformly used the word "rout" to refer to Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in South Carolina. What is the origin of this word? Going back to the Latin word for "broken" (ruptus), it was first in reference to a troop of persons or a group of animals. It then took on the meaning of "retreat of part of an army" and from there "a complete overthrow" (OED). It is related to "route" and the two words used to be spelled the same until the late 18th century, when they parted ways in terms of semantics, spelling, and, for most speakers, pronunciation.

January 26, 2008


This week the designers had to create an iconic look that captured the "Levi's spirit". Oh, and they had to construct it out of Levi's 501s. Not half as interesting as the icon challenge in season 3.

Before we look at the results, let me give you some background on our friendly sponsor, Levi's jeans. Levi Strauss, was born and raised in Buttenheim, a small town in Bavaria (Strauss is the German word for (a) ostrich and (b) bouquet, i.e. they are homonyms). The whole family emigrated to the United States, where two of Levi's brothers had started a tailoring business. In the 1850s Levi started a business in California, selling clothes to gold miners. His speciality was a canvas overall, made of a durable material that came from Nîmes, France. It was called "serge de Nîmes" and this name was then contracted to "denim", which is now of course considered an English word.

I've been to the house where Levi Strauss grew up, now a small museum. It looks like this:

I'm not sure if the blue details were originally part of the design...

Back to our challenge. I was quite bored with the outcome. Most designers delivered simple tube dresses, which are a look that I find practical for dressing Barbie dolls only (easy to get on, easy to get off). It reminded me of early seasons when sleeves and pants were practically never seen on the runway. Quite a letdown after last week's extravagant couture/avant garde looks.

My favorite look this week was Christian's motorcycle jacket/superskinny jeans outfit. Not only was it well made, it also had some spunk (am I the only one who thinks that the "Levi's spirit" is not best embodied in a dress?). The judges called it "very innovative" and a "brilliant job", but they didn't give him another win. Christian himself was adorably unbearable, as always (Chris: "It's so cute to see youth!"). He's bursting with ambition, and isn't that what the show should be about -- showcasing young talent?

To my surprise, Ricky won with one of those tube dresses, and not the best-constructed one. Let's make up a word for it and call it "peccable". However, the judges couldn't find fault with it and praised its "spectacular tailoring". They stressed that finally they could see Ricky's lingerie-tested skills. Well, I couldn't. Whatever that tells about my undergarments.

Rami's dress, certainly more impressive than Ricki's, was particularly praised for the innovative use of zippers at the seams. Obviously, this detail was reminiscent of the zippers on Jeffrey's finale dress in season 3.

Another garment that received praise was Sweet Pea's patchwork dress, which, although several steps up from a denim wedding dress (her original idea), still didn't look iconic in any way to me. Easy on, easy off, Barbie-style. I couldn't really see why it didn't receive the same criticism as Chris's dress, another short, sleeveless number, which came across as "dated" and "boring".

The real shocker, however, was that the two garments with the lowest scores were Jillian's and Victorya's. Hadn't they just created a spectacular look last week, as a team? Yes, and apparently they used up all their creativity for that challenge. They both went for coats again, but with less time, fewer hands, and decidedly un-couture fabric. The results were slumpy and sad, and suddenly they were faced with the fact that one of them would be out. Between the two, Victorya's garment was even less inspired (and certainly not iconic in any sense of the word) and she had to go. It almost looked as if she wanted to be out. Goodbye, V., I'm not sure we will miss your mopiness.

We now enter the stage of "no immunity". [Originally (14th century), the concept of immunity referred to freedom from public services or charges, from the Latin stem "munus" (= service). ] Let's turn up the fierceness! [From Latin "ferus" = wild, untamed]

January 18, 2008

mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the avant-gardest of them all?

Finally, a conceptual challenge, at least in principle. The designers had to create an "avant-garde dress" inspired by their models' hairstyle. (Not that that connection seemed to matter much during the episode.)

The original meaning of "avant garde" is "the foremost of an army". The word was first used in a figurative sense in the early 20th century in the context of art and magazines. The episode was called "en garde", which originally refers to a position in fencing, but it was very appropriate here, too, as nothing can sink a contestant as easily and unforeseeably as a team challenge.

The "twist" was that they also had to create a ready-to-wear garment that conveyed the essence of the avant garde dress. (Not that that connection seemed to matter at all. Nobody was asked to explain how one garment related to the other.)

The adjective "ready-to-wear" entered the English vocabulary in the late 19th century. The word was later also used as a noun.

Oh, and it was another team challenge. Say about team challenges what you like, in a best-case scenario that extra brain and extra pair of hands can lead to the creation of a more intricate garment. It's more fun to look at four beautifully crafted looks than at eight unfinished ones. On the other hand, team challenges may also lead to complete disasters (lingerie, anyone?).

While two of the designs were striking, they didn't look so much avant-garde as haute couture (literally: "high fashion") to me. They didn't seem "artistic, conceptual, not practical, not wearable" (all adjectives used in the episode to explain the term) to me (except for that odd fan-like contraption that was attached to the winning gown), but the two best designs looked intricate, complicated, labor-intensive, luxurious -- adjectives that I'd rather associate with "haute couture" (remember last season's haute couture challenge?). Michael Kors also used the words "couture" and "soigné" (literally: prepared with great care) in his evaluation of the winning look.

Chris and Christian, "Team Fierce", used 45 yards ofI organza to create a multi-layered gown reminiscent of a streamlined, more edgy version of the "mille feuilles gown" Carrie Bradshaw wore when she fell asleep on her first night in Paris. ("mille feuilles" = 1000 leaves or layers)

Couture -- sure, avant-garde -- not so sure. Not sure either how exactly their gown was inspired by the model's hairstyle, nor am I as convinced as Christian that the hunchback stance was the embodiment of avant-gardism. (It seemed more the embodiment of an attempt at avant-gardism.)

As beautiful as the dress was, it wasn't as original and striking as Team Passive-Aggressive's (Gillian and Victorya, who else) "apocalyptic trenchcoat" ensemble ("apocalyptic" is of Greek origin and originally referred to anything pertaining to the Revelation of St. John),
which was also described as "very couture" by the guest judge.
I wouldn't like to be on a team with either of these two women, but they did pull off a visually strong, impeccably constructed look. As with Team Fierce, the ready-to-wear garment seemed to be an inconsequential afterthought, so why include it in the challenge at all?

Kit and Ricky came up with a costumey dress that was supposed to convey the idea of a bird's nest, but either it didn't succeed, or I'm not enough of an ornithologist to see it. Their ready-to-wear look was as simple as could be, and it was no surprise that Kit, as the leader of the team, was sent home. Ricky was only along for the ride, he may not have contributed a lot to the challenge, but at least he didn't sabotage Kit either.

Things were a little different over at Team Stress. Rami and Sweet P. couldn't agree on a concept and ended up splitting up the work. Rami's avant-garde dress (of course he did the avant-garde dress...) involved a lot of draping (surprise, surprise) and, rather incoherently, a pair of pants (to fulfill at least the requirement of non-wearability?). Sweet P's ready-to-wear look was a flirty gray dress, and it was considered a lot more fashion-forward than Rami's look. It didn't relate to the avant-garde look at all -- which was a good thing.

The judges gave the win to Team Fierce and its leader, Christian. I thought that team Passive-Agggressive's look captured the spirit of the challenge a little better, but I think the two C's were more deserving of the win in terms of working together as a team. Too bad that only one of them could be pronounced the winner. But there really shouldn't be any immunity at this point. Give the winner some other prize -- extra money to buy fabric, more time to complete the design, or something completely unrelated, such as a laptop or a trip to Paris (I'm sure a sponsor could be found...).

Unsurprisingly, Kit was out. There was nothing remotely avant-garde about her design, which was rated not well made and amateurish (from the Latin "amare" = to love; an amateur is someone who loves something but has no professional training). I also had expected something more wow-worthy and more modern from her. Her design looked like a wedding-cake topper. Time to retreat.

Did you see the new slogan on Bravo?
"Bring your game or say Auf Wiederseh'n"! Edgy, eh?

January 14, 2008

fly me to the moon

Is -moon becoming a suffix (with the meaning of "getaway for couples/families")? This article in the New York Times about hotels that cater to parents with newborns, parents-to-be, and couples who are trying to conceive certainly seems to suggest it:

There are “procreation vacation” packages for couples who need to relax and get away in order to get busy. “Babymoons” — romantic getaways for couples in the last weeks of a pregnancy — are offered by an inn in Westbrook, Conn. Guests can relax with a “delectable cravings” basket, along with nonalcoholic cider for her and chilled Champagne or wine for him. And a New York company, Sparty, provides spa parties including baby showers with pedicures for the guest of honor, who might be having trouble reaching her toes.

A 2006 survey on BabyCenter.com, a Web site for new parents, showed that three quarters of 1,052 participants had taken “conceptionmoons,” or baby-making junkets, and 40 percent of those had been successful. The unscientific survey found Las Vegas was the most popular destination. (So, what happens in Vegas sometimes comes home with you and wants to borrow the car years later.)

Dr. David Adamson, president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said vacations can help couples who are trying to conceive, if the trips help them relieve stress, communicate better and reconnect.

“There’s no evidence that by going away it somehow intrinsically increases pregnancy rates,” Dr. Adamson said. But, he added, “If it increases the frequency of intercourse, then it’s probably helpful.” [...]

Kyle McCarthy, the editor at familytravelforum.com in New York, a resource for traveling parents and families, has seen marketing pushes for sequels to the conceptionmoon and babymoon, including “familymoons,” where newly blended families take all the stepchildren and half-siblings on vacation.

Ms. McCarthy was a little wary of vacations specifically designed for spawning: “Can you imagine a cruise ship where everyone around you is trying to conceive?” she said.

I'd rather not.

January 10, 2008


I've never been to a prom [Originally in reference to a promenade concert at Presentation Week at Yale University ]. There's no sad story hidden here, I was simply raised in a promless culture. Do I feel I missed out on something important? Not really. Do I feel that at the age of 17 I would have asked for a plunging neckline? For lace and gold and jewels? Not really. Would I have used the words "I kind of like" quite as often? Hopefully not. Of the dresses presented, would I have chosen a blue baby doll with an odd-fitting top, bedazzled with plastic jewels, like a dog collar? Certainly not.

The task was to design prom dresses for a bunch of 17-year old girls from a New Jersey high school. Some of the clients seemed sweet and self-conscious, some were more on the bratty and self-delusional side. All wanted to look and feel glamorous. So far, so good.

The results weren't really spectacular, and to my endless surprise Victorya won with a dress in super hero blue (to borrow from Tim Gunn) with a bedazzled bib. Nina found the dress terrific - perhaps she was thinking of the original meaning of the word? [causing terror, from Latin "terrere" = to frighten].

Kevin was out with an unflattering, unhemmed Marilyn-Monroe-inspired creation in "cheap" read that made his client look bustier than you want to look at 17. Or at any other time in your life. Oh Kevin, why didn't you listen to Tim, who advised you that "the hem has to be exquisite"!

For once, the judges also found some of the dresses too sophisticated [from "sophistes" = to become wise or learned]. Sweet Pea's dress, which looked nice, if not particular fashion-forward, was praised as pretty and gorgeous, but also as "a litte [too] sophisticated" for a 17-year old.

Rami was hit even harder. Not only did they present the designer selection in such a way that it looked as if he had been chosen last, the judges also criticized his draped cocktail dress in moss green as "too sophisticated" for the client, which was just a polite way of saying that it looked old-fashioned. But to make sure, they said that as well. There seemed nothing wrong with the dress per se (after all, it was the kind of dress that won rave reviews in episode one), but it did look a little gloomy on a 17-year old. It was odd when Rami brushed off the criticism with the remark that that's what he does: design sophisticated dresses for sophisticated women (read: not blingy dresses for teenagers). His candy-wrapper dress, which won him immunity last week, certainly didn't look like that.

Chris showed them how to use green -- make it bright apple green and make it glamorous, but he was sent off as "safe" and his dress wasn't discussed at all. The same went for Kit's hip dirndl, also in electric blue and a lot less tackier than Victorya's winning design, and for Jillian's updated Arielle gown in light turquoise. Sometimes you just don't understand what catches the judges' attention. When Heidi asked those three to step forward, I for sure thought that they were the top group. Not so.

Well, nobody would have assumed that Ricky's design was in the top group. He swore that "the girl inside him" would wear his sad pillowy creation (but then, he's always at the verge of tears anyway), but Nina stopped him short with the remark that the ruching [from the French word for bee-hive and applied in allusion to the platis of a straw hive] looked sloppy [related to the Old English word for mudhole]. Ruching? The dress looked like a rectangular marshmallow.

Christian was justly concerned that his design would look tacky [of obscure origin]. Tickety-tack, to be precise. That's Santino-like whickety-whack plus Daniel-Franco style lace. And it did. Add to that unflattering and ill-fitting, and you know all you need to know. Tim Gunn was not impressed with his attitude and introduced a new workroom mantra: Dont' give up! Rally! [from Old French relier/ Latin religare = bind together; a related verb is rely, which originally meant something like "gather" or "assemble"]

Christian, I'd really like to rally for you, now that Elisa has left (if only because you have a spark that many of the other designers lack, at least on camera), but with such a poufy mess that you don't even like yourself, you're making it really hard! For next week, you owe us some serious fierceness, young man.

ETA: Bravo needs to take better care of "Tim's Take". I bet he didn't write Chacon a son gout. It's like spelling everyone with an i in the middle. The French word for everyone is chacun, people, and it doesn't hurt to aim at getting the diacritic marks (accents) right either. If in doubt, look it up. That's what dictionaries are for!

January 04, 2008

caucus season

No, this is not about Iowa. It's about the American Dialect Society's vote on the Word of the Year, which will take place in about 3 hours at the annual meeting in Chicago. Some of the nominated words have been discussed here on Schnaufblog, some I never heard of, some are strangely unimaginative. None seems to be quite as zeitgeisty as Oxford's WOTY, locavore.

Nominations include:

In the category "most useful"
  • wrap rage (anger brought on by the frustration of trying to open a factory-sealed package) - I sympathize with the feeling, but the word is boring, boring, BORING
In the category "most creative"
  • Googlegänger (person with your name when you google yourself on the Internet) - an old FAVORITE of mine (but why would one capitalize the word?)
In the category "most unnecessary"
  • truther (someone espousing a conspiration theory about 9/11) - USEFUL but not new at all
In the category "most euphemistic"
  • vajayjay (vagina) - again, this has been around for a while
In the category "most likely to succeed"
  • green (prefix designating environmental concern) -- BORING, this has been around for ages
In the category "least likely to succeed"
  • quadriboobage (the appearance of having four breasts, caused by wearing the wrong kind of undergarments) -- this should be in the category "most creative" (or even "most useful")
And the winner is? We'll see!

Edited to add: The winner is subprime.

In its 18th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “subprime” as the word of the year. Subprime is an adjective used to describe a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage, or investment.
It received 79 votes. Runners up are: Facebook (used as a noun, verb, or adjective) and Googlegänger. Winner in the categories "most useful word" and "most likely to succeed" is green (yawn...).

the syntax of design

This episode was just like a bar of Hershey's chocolate: Advertised as delicious, but with a cheap and industrial taste.

Yes, it's a Project Runway tradition that the contestants have to make a garment from unusual materials. Yes, there have been some spectacular results in the past (Michael's coffee filter dress, Jeffrey's paper dress with trompe l'oeil belt), but I just can't get excited about the choice of sponsor, which inevitably led to women looking like giant pieces of cheap confectionary, ready to perform in a corporate-sponsored production of the Nutcracker.

Ah, I'm cranky. No wonder: Elisa, sweet Elisa, who aspired to create a "fairytaleesque-type thing", which unfortunately didn't happen, is out. Elisa, we're gonna miss you! Who will now provide us with whirly metaphors and multisyllabic word creations? The other contestants don't even get their adverbs right.

Wunderkind Christian hurt my ears with his pompous, yet ungrammatical statement that he works " very instantaneous". Note: If you want to come across as smart and accomplished, don't forget about getting the details right. Such as the suffix on an adverb. Your work (noun) may be instantaneous (adjective), but you work (verb) instantaneously (adverb).

However, Christian wasn't alone in his ly-less corner. When the judges praised Rami's meticulous work, they used the expressions "he did good" (Heidi Klum) and "he did excellent" (Zac Posen). I'm sure that Rami, who seems to value flawless construction, would prefer some suffixes here.

Gillian, who created an ill-fitting dress made of twizzlers that the judges drooled over but that I absolutely hated (yes, it's hard to work with food, but she didn't have to and the result had nothing whatsoever do to with fashion), also needs to work on her grammar. She moped into the camera that she felt "the most frustrated feeling", but it was obvious that she was counting on praise from the judges for her strategic decision to use actual twizzlers for her design. Very frustrating.

You know that it's bad when even Tim seems to lose it ("Your five minutes begins now"). Subject-predicate agreement is such a beautiful thing!

So, let me "wander off now" (best exit words ever -- thanks, Elisa) and indulge in a piece of handmade chocolate and hope for a challenge that will truly bring us something fairytaleesque, even if it's not designed, spit-marked and imbued with energy by Elisa.

January 02, 2008

happy new year!

There's nothing like ringing in the new year with a bad pun.