12/19/11 Bloody Mess
shambles (SHAM bulz) noun. 1. a place of great disorder. 2. a place where animals are brought to be slaughtered. 3. any place of slaughter or carnage.
I don't imagine folks use definition two or three much anymore. The bloodletting seems to have gone out of the word. A battlefield would be a shambles, though it's rarely described as such. A slaughterhouse would be a shambles, but I can't remember anyone calling one that. If anything they'll substitute the word abatoir for slaughterhouse. French words just seem more pleasing to the ear somehow.
What's a little odd, it looks like a plural form of shamble with an 'S' though it's singular, a shambles. The word shamble is something else altogether. It means to walk in an awkward, usteady manner, shuffling the feet. Though I've never heard anyone use the word shamble.
You probably shouldn't call something a bloody shambles. That's redundant. Then again, if a slaughter house was hit by a tornado then the shambles would be a shambles. A bull in a china shop might leave it a shambles. A bull in a shambles… that's another story.
10/26/11 Charting Trends. Or Not.
chartmanship (CHART man ship) noun. Creating factually correct charts which are deliberately misleading. Sophistry and propaganda in graph form.
The facts are the facts. Or so they say. Yet the facts can be misleading depending how they are presented. This is especially true with charts. Charts can be made deceptive by how the maker shows the scales of time and degree and whatnot.
Here's how it works. Below are two charts showing the same thing. In the first case the degree of change is set in a range from minus ten to ten, the second from minus one hundred to one hundred. The first chart shows big changes, the second a nearly flat line.
Which is better? Hard to say without knowing if the one degree change is significant or not. One chart suggests it is, the other that it isn't. But you don't know unless the significance, or lack of it, is explained.
Here's a second way to manipulate the data. Take the first chart from above and show different time frames. The first chart starts in 1900, it goes up, then down, then up back where it started. The second starts in 1975 and shows things only going up.
Which is better? Do we have trends or what? Hard to say without knowing what makes a trend. For instance what if the chart went back even farther to 1600? In this case what looks like an upward trend in one chart looks like just an upward section of an oscillation in the other.
That's the thing about charts. Even when accurate they can deceive. That's chartmanship. It's sort-of like cropping a picture to eliminate the bad bits and keep the appealing bits. What's left is accurate, but the picture is incomplete.
7/19/11 Come Ben. This is… Och… What’s-his-name.
tartle (TAR tel) verb. The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten their name. (Scottish)
Bet you didn't know there was a word for that. Though maybe outside of Scotland there isn't. Scot's say things other English speakers don't. It's a Gaelic thing. And even when they use English words they might not sound the same what with that brogue.
To American ears a thick Scottish brogue almost sounds like a foreign language. I once saw a movie about Cockney and working class Scots subtitled in English, even though they were speaking English. As an old bit in National Lampoon had it, "Scottish attempts at speaking English have been a source of amusement for centuries."
I had a friend who's father was from Dundee and sometimes you couldn't understand some of the things he said. Even his kids occasionally had a hard time with his accent. I remember once his wife couldn't decipher the way he said "terrible". And she was from Scotland. Though she was a Highlander and he was a lowlander.
Now then, about the only Scots I know is Auld Lang Sine. Which, if you follow the lyrics, brings us back to where we started. "Should old acquaintance be forgot… tartle."
5/4/11 In Case of Gauls, Sound Money
Many a word has a backstory, a derivation with a tale attached. Many words come from other languages, like Greek or Latin. The word money fits both criteria.
A couple millennia ago the Romans built a lavish temple to honor their patroness Juno, wife of Jupiter. Located inside Capitolium, the citadel atop a hill, the temple doubled as the mint where coins were struck. In the garden around the temple lived the sacred geese of Juno.
One year the Gauls besieged Rome whose inhabitants took refuge in the Capitolium. The raiders tried to sneak up an unguarded steep approach, but the geese's honking sounded the alarm and the citadel was saved.
The Romans gave thanks to their patroness Juno and thereafter called her Juno Moneta, "Juno the Warner". Because the coins of Rome were minted in the temple of Juno Moneta, people called them 'money'.
I guess that might make money a warning. Though it's lack of money that's alarming. Anyway, that's where the word money comes from.
4/5/11 Far Further
What's the difference between farther and further? Are they interchangeable?
The distinction is fairly simple. When talking about a physical distance use farther. When talking about a non-physical or metaphorical amount or degree use further.
For instance, Arizona is farther west than Arkansas. On the other hand, Arizona is further in debt than Arkansas.
However, the opposite of both farther and further is closer. Arizona is closer to California in distance and closer to bankruptcy than Arkansas.
Since the word closer can be both physical and metaphorical we can use it to form a…
syllepsis (sil LEP sis) noun. The use of a word with the same syntactic relation to two adjacent words, in a literal sense with one and a metaphorical sense with the other.
Arizona is closer to California and bankruptcy than Arkansas.
Furthermore, closer is a heteronym. That's two words spelled the same with different meanings and pronunciations. Closer (KLO ser) meaning nearer. Closer (KLO zer) meaning something that shuts a door or lid, or a relief pitcher in baseball.
3/11/11 False Opposites
The way people use the terms now-a-days you'd get the idea that liberal and conservative are total opposites. But when you look them up in the dictionary it just ain't so.
liberal (LIB er-al) adj. Having views or policies favoring the freedom of individuals to act or express themselves as of their own choosing.
conservative (kun SER-va tiv) adj. Tending to favor the preservation of the existing order and to regard proposals for change with distrust.
Liberal is about individual rights and liberty, no mention of the desire for change. Conservative is an attitude supporting the establishment and resisting change, nothing there about individual freedom. Liberal and conservative address different issues. To say the opposite of liberal is conservative is like saying the opposite of free is same.
Thing is, you can be both conservative and liberal at the same time. For instance, say you want to keep the first amendment guarantee of free speech. This would be both conservative (against change) and liberal (pro free speech). There is no contradiction whatever.
The opposite of free is controlled. Liberal's true opposite would say the individual's actions or expressions are restricted or controlled. In other words...
authoritarian (aw thor ih TARE ee-un) adj. Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom.
The opposite of same is different. Conservative's opposite prefers sweeping changes to the existing order. In other words...
radical (RAD ih-kul) adj. Favoring or effecting revolutionary changes.
This is not to say there is no divide between people who call themselves liberal and people who call themselves conservative. It's just the conservative and liberal labels they use are muddled up and don't mean what they really mean. When conservatives call for change they aren't being conservative. When liberals want to ban, run, or regulate something they aren't being liberal.
Forget what people call themselves, the proof is in the pudding. Radicals want different pudding, conservatives want the pudding as is. Liberals let you choose your pudding, authoritarians tell you what pudding you must and must not have whether you like it or not. That's the bottom line, both pudding-wise and otherwise.
2/16/11 Around Revolutionary Circles
revolution (rev-oh LOO shun, rev-uh LOO shun) noun. 1. a. Orbital motion about a point. b. A single complete cycle of such orbital motion. 2. A sudden political overthrow brought about from within.
While it may not be obvious, the second meaning is derived from the first. Though we tend to think a revolution overthrows the old order and establishes something new or radically different it was first used to mean almost the oposite. That is, a revolution was a restoration of a previous regime or order, a return to the past rather than a leap into the future. That's what happens when something makes one revolution, it comes full circle and winds up where it began.
Revolution as a political term was first used describing the installment of William of Orange, husband of Mary Stuart, on the throne of England in 1688. This was called the Glorious Revolution where England returned to a Constitutional Monarchy after the dictator Cromwell and the absolute monarchists Charles II and James II.
Later revolution came to mean changing the existing order to a new form. Like, for instance, the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. Which were more like 180 degree rotations rather than 360 degree full circles. So in a way revolution went from being conservative, pro old establishment, to being radical, against the old establishment.
1/4/11 Czech Mate
robot (ROH bot) noun. 1. An externally manlike mechanical device capable of performing human tasks or behaving in a human manner. 2. A person who works mechanically without original thought. 3. Any machine or device that works automatically or by remote control. [Czech, from robota, compulsory labor, drudgery.]
Not exactly an obscure word, but one with an interesting derivation. After all, how many english words come from Czech? Did Czechs invent the robot or what? Well, they came up with the word robot.
Our common use of the word comes from a 1920 play RUR by Czech playwright Karel Capek. RUR meaning Rossom's Universal Robots (in Czech, Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). Robot simply meaning laborer, or maybe something closer to servant. Sometimes words don't have exact translations from one language to another. In the play the laborers alluded to in the title were machines, what we now call robots.
12/3/10 Fauxcabulary Word #5
addage (AD ej) noun. The ten pounds of fat you put on at the start of winter.
Yes, another word I made up. Not to be confused with adage, an old saying, which I didn't make up. Now, some may blame holiday feasting for the added pounds, but I suggest there's more to the story. Call it winterizing yourself with an on-board emergency larder of lard for the cold and food scarce days of winter.
Bears and squirrels fatten up for winter, why not people? We're mammals just like them. Not exactly like them, people don't have fur. On the other hand bears don't have grocery stores. Though grocery stores have dumpsters and bears are inveterate dumpster divers. And why not. I've heard about half the fresh produce offered by grocery stores doesn't sell and gets tossed into dumpsters. I imagine for a bear a dumpster is one great big pic-a-nic basket. And a landfill is Yogi's smorgasbord.
One might wonder why grocery stores don't order less produce since they know so much will be thrown out. I'm just guessing here, but stores would rather have too much than too little and run short. That wouldn't please customers. Maybe there's a psychological angle. Customers like fully stocked shelves and bins and don't trust a store with scant pickings. Just seems shabby, somehow.
11/3/10 Homeric Language
d'oh (doe) interjection. Exclamation indicating frustration, disappointment, failure, and/or pain, often used sarcastically or in jest.
D'oh is like a combination of oops and darn, two other interjections. When you consider them, interjections are a little odd as words go. What do they really mean, after all? They're things we say which are shorthand exclamations for something else. An interjection is kind-of a sentence all in itself. 'Ouch!' pretty much means "That hurts." 'Golly!' often as not means, "I'm surprised" or "I'm impressed."
Thing about interjections, can you use them in a sentence at all? Or rather, can you use an interjection in a sentence without a comma? Gosh, I can't. Gee, can you? Try using any of the following: ow, gosh, wow, gee, golly, jeepers, ouch, ooh, oops, sheesh, zowie, gadzooks. And of course we mustn't forget, d'oh!
Then there are words that can be both interjections and something else. Take the word 'rats' for instance. As in, "Rats, my lunch was eaten by rats." Though I imagine the most common interjection, one we use daily on the telephone is 'hello.'
Though an interjection is a self-contained sentence people sometimes elaborate on them. Like they'll say, 'hello, there.' Though why there and not here or yonder is a puzzle. Then there's, 'bye, now' or 'bye, then', but no 'bye, later' or 'bye, soon.' What putting a time frame on bye does is another conundrum.
Hate, detest, revile, despise, abhor, and loathe all mean about the same thing. Is there an order of degree to them? I don't suppose it matters, though hate seems the least extreme. Still, which seems strongest, detest or revile? Or despise? Or loathe? Does one mean really hate, and another mean really, really hate? How many reallys can you add? All that aside, we now move onto the related word of this entry.
anathema (ah NATH e-ma) noun. Someone or something cursed, reviled or shunned.
I imagine we all have our anathemas. Sports fans certainly have their players and teams they love to hate. Think of all the NY Yankee haters. Well, the Yankees are anathema to them. Or is that an anathema? If it's only a single player they despise that player can be anathema or another phrase could be used:
persona non grata (per-SONE ah non GRA-tah) A person who is not acceptable or is unwelcome.
In any case, the fan may decide for themselves whether they hate, detest, revile, despise, abhor, or loathe the team or the player. Or maybe even all the synonyms can be used if the Yankee hater hails from Boston.
9/4/10 Fauxcabulary Word #4
duhjustment (duh JUST ment) noun. The act of altering, repairing, or replacing the wrong part of a system which wasn't the problem in an attempted repair.
Like replacing a perfectly good car battery when the alternator was the problem. Or repacking the bearings when it was the brakes that were squeaking. Or replacing the light bulb and then finding the reason there was no light was the lamp wasn't plugged in. Or cutting down the already too short leg of a wobbly table.
Which reminds me of what my dad would say, "No matter how many times I cut it down, it's still too short."
It's related to proper diagnostics. If you don't know what's wrong you can't fix it. Moreover, if you don't know how it works at all you have a hard time trying to figure out what's wrong with it.
It's the downside of modern technology and modern life. I mean, how many of us really know how all the hi-tech stuff we use works? Like a computer, for instance. I don't know about you, but I've had problems with mine before. And have made many a duhjustment trying to get it to work properly again.
Should all else fail I resort to the old standby remedy employed on all misbehaving machinery. I bang on it. Of course, like the old gag goes, you have to know where to hit it.