8/3/09 What Did the Pair o' Docs Expect?
paradox (PARE ah-doks) noun. 1. A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. 2. A person, situation, or action exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects. 3. An assertion that is self-contradictory, although based on accepted premises.
Sometimes people speak of paradoxes in science or medicine. For instance the obesity paradox where statistics show the overweight outlive those at the ideal weight and where the obese have a greater survival rate of heart attacks versus those of normal weight. Plus, as we've gotten heavier as a nation heart disease death rates have been dropping for more than five decades — 22% between 1993 and 2003 alone.
But of course, such a paradox can't really exist in the science itself, but only in the mind of the observer. Forces of nature can't act against their own properties. An unexpected result can't be an incorrect result, but rather an incorrect expectation. Which means either the test was flawed or the underlying premise was wrong. So if you change your expectation the paradox vanishes even though the results are the same.
As someone-or-other said, "when the facts change, I change my mind." Which is easier said than done. People tend to hold onto familiar ideas and discard them reluctantly. Rethinking is work and people seem to rather avoid work if they can.
7/7/09 Running Gerund By You
gerund (JER end) noun. In English, the verbal form ending in ing when used as a noun, while conveying the meaning of the verb.
Examples: "Cooking is a talent" and "I have no talent for cooking." Both of those are gerunds. This isn't: "I am cooking dinner tonight."
Lots of words can be both a verb and a noun without being gerunds. The word "run" for instance has many verb and noun meanings while "running" can be a verb and an adjective. For instance in baseball you run around the bases to score a run while running up the running total until running out of runners and outs.
A creek is a run which can run cold or run deep where the salmon run. Colors can run and a stocking can have a run in it. You can run it up the flagpole or run an idea by someone and let them run with it. You can have a run in card games and a run of good luck could put your opponent on the run until running out of cards.
A person can run and so can an animal, and a car can run but not in the same way. Running cars roll rather than run though they can run over you unless run right or maybe run out of power if running wrongly. You can run a run of wire to hook up a motor so it can run. Unless you run short or run out which amounts to the same thing. A show can run long, or can run fast. If well run the show can enjoy a long running sucess like the running of the bulls where I do my best running. Those last two being gerunds.
I think this runaround of run-on sentences has run its course. At least now you'll know a gerund when you run into one. Gotta run.
6/21/09 A Promise is a Promise, Maybe
weasel words (WEE-zel wurds) noun. Disclaimers, caveats, howevers.
You know, ifs ands or buts. In print the asterisked small type that gets you off the hook. On radio it's the real fast-talking bit that amounts to, "Maybe, perhaps, but your results may vary and besides it doesn't apply in all cases."
Now the question is why blame this sort of deception on a weasel. It stems from the idea of weasels eating eggs where they poke a tiny hole and suck out the good bits leaving the shell intact. So the egg looks like a full egg even though it's empty.
So, with weasel words you get a promise that seems like a promise only it's an empty promise.
5/21/09 Lubricate This
lubricity (loo BRIS eh-tee) noun. 1. Lewdness, salaciousness. 2. Shiftiness, trickiness. 3. Slipperiness.
Lubricity is word you hear rarely now-a-days. I seem to remember the Surrealists and Dadaists liked using it. If memory serves Marcel Duchamp used it in describing his The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, aka the Large Glass. Duchamp displayed this piece unfinished, which he described as "a successful state of incompletion." That is until dropped by someone thus breaking the glass. At which point Duchamp declared it finished.
Duchamp's descriptions often were quite bizarre and funny. Here's a bit more of his description of the Large Glass.
The bride secretes "love gasoline", or "automobiline" which powers the "sex-cylinder", the heart of the Bride's desire. Floating across the top the "cinematic blossoming of the Bride" contains three windows called "draft pistons". Below left is the Bride's "desire magneto," which triggers the whole operation of the Bachelor Machine. These are nine figures which "cast the gas into their own forms: gendarme, priest, cuirassier..." and so on.
4/24/09 Living Large
splurge (splurj) int. 1. to indulge in an extravagant expense or luxury. 2. To be showy or ostentatious. tr. To spend extravagantly or wastefully. noun. 1. An extravagant display. 2. An expensive indulgence; a spree.
Not exactly a word you never heard of. Still, a pretty weird one. Weird sounding that is. Quite an odd combination of sounds in a single syllable. Say it aloud, "splurge", and go ahead and spit when you do. One of those words if you keep saying over and over it eventually sounds like nonsense. "Splurge". Like a combination of splash and urge. Though I doubt that's where it comes from.
The word reminds me of the old Monty Python bit of the Hollywood script meeting where the underling pressured for a response by the big boss blurts out the nonsensical, "splunge."
At any rate, should you feel the urge to splurge, you might do well to keep in mind this particular German saying, "The best is good enough."
4/2/09 Arrrgh, Decimatie
decimate (DES ih-mate) tr. verb. 1. To destroy or kill a large part of. 2. To select by lot and kill one in every ten of.
The second definition explains the origin of this word, from Latin decimus, one tenth. It was a practice of the Roman army to punish units for cowardice in battle by decimating it. That is, taking one in ten and executing them. People don't much use this second definition of the word any more. Thankfully, armies don't employ this type of discipline any more either.
Historically, a military unit losing around one tenth of it's strength in combat renders it useless for further fighting. Mostly a morale thing, it loses the will to fight. In which case decimating your opponent as per definition two would in effect decimate them as per the common usage as in utterly destroy.
Perhaps you've heard someone claim to be decimated upon getting bad news or such. Of course, this is a somewhat loose usage as you can't kill 10% of yourself, or kill yourself 10%. After all, dead or alive is an either/or proposition. Just like you can't be sort-of pregnant you can't be sort-of dead.
3/19/09 Yellow Meanie
dastardly (DAHS tard lee) adj. Cowardly and mean-spirited.
If you're familiar with FDR's address to Congress after the "dastardly attack" on Pearl Harbor you might know this word. Though you don't hear people use it much nowadays. An even rarer used word is the root noun of the term, dastard. Which is a mean coward, or maybe a cowardly meanie, if there's much difference between the two.
Now, you hear people called the similar sounding bastard, which is actually less an insult to the person so called than to their mother, or maybe even the awol father. All the same, people don't like you badmouthing their mothers, especially behind your back. They'd probably think it would be dastardly of you to do so.
Why cowards, mean or otherwise, are yellow I can't say.
3/4/09 Now and Then
presently (PREZ ent-lee) adverb. 1. In a short time; soon. 2. At this time or period; now.
Either the word means real soon or right now. Which seems rather at odds with itself. As The Man in Cool Hand Luke said, "What we have here is failure to communicate." So, if you don't understand it presently, read on and you might understand it presently. Make sense?
It all depends who you ask. Three quarters of usage authorities prefer the first definition. While about 50% say the second is OK. Which adds up to 125%. I can only suppose what we have here is failure of arithmetic or some kind of Einsteinian Relativity.
Which calls to mind an exchange between Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
Mantle: "Yogi, what time is it?"
Berra: "You mean right now?"
2/12/09 A Good Chance
serendipity (sare en-DIP e-tee) noun. The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident.
This is sort-of the positive flip side of contretemps, accidents where good things happen. Something in the way Jed Clampett got rich "while shootin' at some food." Or maybe how "you got peanut butter on my chocolate" created Reeses peanut butter cups.
Though a better example might be the story behind using microwaves for cooking. Which was discovered when some guy experimenting with microwaves found it melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. Of course, nobody these days cooks food in their pockets with microwaves. Not unless they're wearing lead underwear or something.
1/12/09 Reality is Unreal
doublethink (DUH-bul think) noun. The ability to simultaneously know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies. To hold simultaneously two opinions which cancel out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both.
Doublethink comes from George Orwell's great dystopian novel 1984.
While it seems a lot like talking out of both sides of your mouth or hypocrisy, I'd say doublethink is something like willful self-delusion. Something along the lines of wishful thinking, believing something is true because we want it to be true, though with the addition we know it's not true, but should be, so we will it to be. Which doesn't really make sense, which is kind-of the point.
Not unlike when our parents tell us, "You can do anything you set your mind to."
12/24/08 The Bribe of Frankincense
As the story goes the Magi brought to Bethlehem gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now, gold is still pretty popular for gift giving and getting, but the other two seem to have gone out of style. I mean, I've never been given, or even seen, frankincense or myrrh. Still, have you ever wondered what on Earth these two substances are?
frankincense (FRANK in sens) noun An aromatic gum resin obtained from trees of the genus Bowellia, used as an incense.
myrrh (mur) noun An aromatic gum resin obtained from trees and shrubs of the genus Commiphora, used in perfume and incense.
So basically the Magi were bringing gifts of Glade and Chanel No. 5. Which I guess were needed as the family was living in a stable at the time. Which means we've solved some of the mystery of what and why. But it does leave one thing unanswered, what's with that strange spelling... myrrh?
Czar, Tsar, Tzar, (zar) noun. Russian autocrat, king.
Czar comes from the Latin, Caesar. Notice how we pronounce it, "see zar". Just drop the first bit and you get Czar. The Germans also used Caesar to get Kaiser. If I'm not mistaken, this is actually closer to the way the Romans would have said it. Take the "C" and make it hard so it sounds like a "K". Then take the "ae" and say it like the diphthong it really is and you get the long "i" sound, as in "eye". You wind up with Kaiser.
Which brings me to question why it is that politicians so often propose we have czars of this and that. Like a Drug Czar, a National Security Czar, and now president-elect Obama has proposed a Car Czar to deal with the troubled auto industry.
Considering Russian history, why do we want czars of anything? Czars were autocratic dictators and not exactly the most benevolent sort. Would we want to have a Drug King or a National Security Dictator? Worse, we could adopt fascist nomenclature for "leader" and have a Drug Duce or a National Security Fuhrer. Or we could go all Mafia and have an Auto Boss or Car Cappo.
There must be a better term.
zzyzzyzee (ZIZ-zeh zee) noun. One of a series of letter zees indicating snoring in a cartoon.
Admittedly, you won't find this word in a standard dictionary, or a non-standard one either. I made it up out of thin air as it were. For no good reason other than to coin the last word listed in an English language dictionary. Why not? Somebody has to do it. Not that I expect it will ever make it into standard usage. But a guy can dream. And dreaming and zzyzzyzees just rather go together.
By the by, outside the US they say "zed" and not "zee" for the 26th letter of the alphabet, so it would be a zzyzzyzed.