Posts Tagged: words

Monday Tidbits to Start Your Week Off

Here is a hodge podge of reading links I have been saving in my tidbits folder for you:

Astronomers strike gold – and platinum – as they watch two neutron stars collide

Kodak’s First Digital Moment

In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling

“Lizzie said she was upset by how people had become so attached to their phones.

“People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she said. “They’re bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

Professor Kraybill said such insights were not unusual among Amish people.

They “are more savvy about the impact of technology on human interactions than most of us are,” he said.”

The Trump Conundrum: Four Factors Sending The Donald Into a Rage/Shame Spiral

The Danger of President Pence

“Trump’s swerve did the unthinkable—uniting Coulter and liberal commentators.”

The Great Nutrient Collapse

“As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads to them pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.”

10 Phrases that Originated in the Middle Ages

The Secret History of Dune

Trump’s Warning to Mueller Proves, Again, That It’s All About the MoneyIt always has been.

How to Kill a Dinosaur in 10 Minutes

In a Warming World, Keeping the Planes Running

Learning to Learn: You, Too, Can Rewire Your Brain

Landscape Photography focusing and Aperture tips from Spencer Cox at Photography Life:

Dancing On My Own :

“As a young person trying to break into a male-dominated field, I spent my 20s afraid of being perceived as a froofy little girl, and acted accordingly. I was a hardcore feminist who’d nonetheless listened to the boys in my MFA program as they mansplained their Raymond Carver tattoos. I consciously practiced not speaking in uptones. I worried I had vocal fry. I limited ballet talk to visits with my mom. I wanted so badly to be taken seriously that I sought others’ approval at the expense of my own.
Oh, we live in a country that hates the dreams of little girls? I thought. Well, I’m going to become a fucking ballerina.

After the election, I lost my patience for this almost overnight. I was furious. Tamping down the desires of my inner five-year-old girl finally felt like the self-effacing erasure it had always been. How many ways do women edit and adjust themselves every day to exist in a world that hates them? I wondered. For me, it had already been too many, and for too long.

And so I began actively returning to the things I’d always loved but had dismissed as too feminine, too froofy, too much. Ballet was one of them.

Oh, we live in a country that hates the dreams of little girls? I thought.

Well, I’m going to become a fucking ballerina.” – Megan Burbank

A play on words, or I should go out and take more sun-pixels

I love the web comic xkcd, as it is so much more than a comic with layers of commentary and critique – some so grokkingly subtle. Yesterday’s xkcd was a delightful, gentle play on words – Winter:
Today, the Economist has an article on English Purism: What might have been, which is channeling a more explanatory side of xkcd’s word play. The Economist is delightful in their own way:

“Any language in contact with other languages borrows words. And English has always been, of course, a master borrower. A west Germanic language brought over with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, it first took a lot of Norse from invading Vikings, then even more French from the Norman conquerors of 1066. When the English later themselves became conquerors, they promiscuously took on words from languages all around the world. And as science and medicine advanced, English writers took to coining words from Greek and Latin roots.
Barnes, who wrote poems in his Dorset dialect, didn’t like this. He thought the English showed no self-respect when they reached to classical languages to make learned words. He deplored the loss of old Anglo-Saxon words like inwit, earthtillage and bodeword, replaced by conscience, agriculture and commandment. And where terms had to be coined for new things, Barnes wanted them to be created from Anglo-Saxon roots: he recommended sun-print as a calque for the Greek-derived photograph (“light-writing”).”

I love spacelight for the sun, inwit for conscience, little flappers for birds, whale-road for the sea, and sun-print for photograph.
Although, what should we call a digital still photograph? Sun-pixels?

Eschew Obfuscation

The other day, while driving north on PCH near Long Beach State, I saw a beater of n car driving towards the university with a bumper sticker that said, “Eschew Obfuscation”.
I had a good laugh and thought, “That must be a grad student in the humanities, criticism, or literature.”
For those of you who are scratching your heads, basically it means “give up making things unclear” in opaque language.
From the nice folks at

Eschew /ɛsˈtʃu/ [es-choo]
-verb (used with object) – to abstain or keep away from; shun; avoid: to eschew evil.
Origin: 1300-50; ME eschewen < OF eschiver, eschever < Gmc; cf. OHG sciuhen, G scheuchen, shy2

Obfuscate /ˈɒbfəˌskeɪt, ɒbˈfʌskeɪt/ [ob-fuh-skeyt, ob-fuhs-keyt]
-verb (used with object), -cat·ed, -cat·ing.
1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy.
2. to make obscure or unclear: to obfuscate a problem with extraneous information.
3. to darken.
1525-35; < LL obfuscātus (ptp. of obfuscāre to darken), equiv. to L ob- ob- + fusc ( us ) dark + -ātus -ate1

On another amusing word usage tip, Languagehat parses out the oldest known word in English for wedding: bridelope.
Last but not least, a good quote from a 19th Cent. British physician, H.G. Bohn:

“Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians.”

On Being a Spaz

I am a spaz. I am not insulting myself.
My hands shake. Almost all the time. Sometimes it is hard to hold objects without pain & tremors and it is getting harder recently to hold a pen or other small, thin objects.
I have essential tremor. My dad has essential tremor, his hands shake. His father had essential tremor and his hands shook. It runs in the family.
I have had a noticeable shake in both of my hands since I was 12 or 13. My biology teacher in high school said after watching me dissect a frog and a shark’s brain that I should be a brain surgeon as I made the cleanest cuts he had seen in 30 years of teaching but I would make all the nurses nervous due to my hands and the scalpel shaking all the time.
I had a formal diagnosis of Essential Tremor when I was in my mid-twenties by a Harvard neurosurgeon, who told me that it will get worse over time and when it gets too hard to write or hold a fork that there are medications that I can take. He also told me that I was lucky that I didn’t have the ‘head bop’ version of ET.
Nearly 14 years later, while I am not at the point where I need the ET meds, it is getting harder to do certain tasks. I can’t put on mascara without using both of my hands – one hand to hold the mascara wand and one to hold the wrist of the hand holding the wand.
Yesterday, I was out at lunch and went to take a photo of my lunch, when I heard the folks at the next table talking about me in Spanish. While I can’t talk back in Spanish, I do understand. The conversation started by talking about my hair, then they moved to the fact I was shaking. The woman doing most of the talking about me kept saying that if I was an alcoholic, I should just order a drink to stop the shaking. Then they all laughed.
First I was appalled, then a bit angry, but I let it go quickly, as I did not even want to get into a conversation with these folks about what Essential Tremor is, why I have it, why it makes my hands, fork, & camera shake, and no I am not an alcoholic, as well as explaining why I can understand Spanish but can’t speak back.
I quickly forgot about this, as I will be the first to call myself a spaz. In the common California version of English, a spaz is a person who shakes with excitement, it has nothing to do with mental illness and only vague relation to people with MS or Cerebal Palsy but it is much more informal in its usage. I have been called a spaz all my life by many people due to my hands shaking, my voice, and my general excitement about life.
I am more than OK with being called a spaz as I don’t see it as an insult, but merely a concise description of true statements about me – I shake, I have an unusual voice that gets more unusual & fast with excitement, and I am a bouncy and overly cheerful human.
Why am I even writing about this? A web designer, developer, and blogger that I like and respect from the UK, Ann McMeekin, has written a blog post that to use the word ‘spaz’ is an unacceptable term. I see the argument she makes in her post and in her reply to Christopher Fahey (commenter #13) who tried to explain the American usage of the term, but I do think that it is very hard to keep up on the usage of English words across the world as they are used in lcoal parlance even if the writer or speaker may be speaking to a non-local audience.
The more I meet and get to know folks who are native English speakers from various countries across the world the more I realize that each country or sub-section thereof ascribes different nuances or even full meanings to words that we would all call common to English.
I am always terrified to ask for a napkin when dining in the UK, as I was told that it meant a feminine hygiene product, not a paper or cloth square of which to wipe one’s hands with when eating. I have perused whole lists to figure out what the differences are between UK and US English and do my best to keep up on different usages, but that does not take into account states or counties with in each country or even other countries that have English as a native language.
Nor does it take into account all the subtle cultural meanings that may be attached to word or phrase usage right now that weren’t the case ten years ago or many not be the case ten years from now.
When I was fresh out of college, I spent three months in Amsterdam and then two months in Budapest living with and in community with a set of folks from all over the world. One of the things I learned fast is how words that may be innocuous to you will be highly insulting to another. My English friend said fuck like it was going out of style, but if I used the word ‘bloody’ she would be insulted. My friend from Australia damned everything, but if I say I was ‘pissed off’ she would bawl me out.
The best is when our very innocent friend from Germany had a long conversation with a missionary group from the American South at the youth hostel we were staying at and she kept telling them about her problems with shit. She needed shit massage as she was constipated and went into great detail about how the shit needed to moved out of her bowels. The best part was watching the faces of said missionaries, at first they were very interested in listening to her, then I could see that they were determined to save her from her sinful swearing ways, and finally they got up and left as they were so insulted to be treated to a conversation that went for a half hour about shit.
My German friend was baffled by the missionaries abrupt departure, another American friend and I tried to explain to her that in the US to talk about shit was really taboo that one only talked about one’s ‘bowel movements’ briefly with very close friends and family and even then only used a euphemism. The concept of a euphemism for shit was unknown to her as German does not have gradations of delicate terms for going #2.
If you are American, you many be quite uncomfortable right now that I just said fuck and shit in a blog post. If you are English, it may be seen as unprofessional but not uncomfortable. And if you are from a culture that does not have shades of delicacies for such words, then you may be plain baffled that I have to write this paragraph at all.
All of this to say, that I agree that Ann is right about the global nature of the internet. Yes, we do need to be aware that our readership is not just from our local area who may understand the finer subtleties of our word usage or even of the words we just use without thinking. But on the other hand, it would be a whole study in and of itself to keep up with the thousands of common English words and how they are used both in formal writing and common speech in hundreds, if not thousands, of cultures and sub-cultures around the world.
I understand that it is important to not insult, I would like to call for giving each other a bit of grace and then if one is still bothered then to discuss the terminology with the person in question what was meant by its usage, and then still extend grace for the fact that even though we are global online we are still local in our daily lives.

Poetry Ear Worms : We Were All Beautiful Once

For as much as I can get ear worms of songs stuck in my head for weeks at a time, I also find that a line or two of poetry can worm into my head, reverberate, expand, and live a full multi-week life, and not exit.

Lately, I have had two lines of poetry on rotation in my head along with’s* “Chunky” from Madagascar 2, one line from “The Act” by William Carlos Williams and one line from Ursula Le Guin’s “The Old Lady”.

Tonight I will point you to William’s “The Act” as I blogged about it when Vanessa, Edel, and I were turning it into an interactive flash piece in February of 2006:

The Act
There were the roses, in the rain.
Don’t cut them, I pleaded.
They won’t last, she said.
But they’re so beautiful
where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once, she said,
and cut them and gave them to me
in my hand.

Tomorrow or the next day I will blog about Le Guin’s wonderful new poetry book, Incredible Good Fortune. For now I am off to bed.

* p.s. Am I the only one who thinks that and animation team at Dreamworks are having good fun at poking at “My Humps?”


I hate that word/phrase. It is vaguely insulting and has airs of superiority from the person who utters it or types it.
Normob is a shortened catch phrase for “Normal Mobile” or the average mobile user, to indicate that the person one is speaking of is not of the heightened level of knowledge and superior usage of a mobile phone or device as the speaker / typer.
I am calling bullshit on this.
Get off your high horse. There is not some special tier for mobile tech bloggers and folks who stand in line to get the first edition of any given high end mobile phone, other than the tier known as fanboi*. Fanboi does not equal superiority. Fanboi equals passion and extraordinary desire to dig deep into one’s wallet for the newest, latest, and greatest, frequently.
Just because your mom, your boss, your neighbor has the free phone with the monthly plan/tariff does not make them worthy of a derisory term like normob. It just means they have other priorities.
I have a friend who runs a literacy project in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa, and she *loves*loves*loves* Nokia phones. She loves how reliable they are, how they will keep working no matter what, how they can be used as a flashlight. No, she is not talking about an Nseries or Eseries phone, she is talking about the cheapest, most reliable phones that can be bought by the folks in Freetown, of which model number I have no idea what it is. So, are she and all the folks in Freetown “normobs”?
No. They are using mobile devices to the fullest extent of the ability of their budget, their local networks, and it suits them well. This is good.
Is my mom a “normob”?
No. She loves her Nokia N82. She loves the photos she can take. She likes to moblog her photos to her Vox blog. Can she use most of the other features on her N82? Mmmm… mostly not, not due to stupidity or normality but due to the fact that she wanted a phone that was also a very good camera. Those are the features what she wants from a mobile besides the ability to make phone calls.
Dear Mobile Bloggers and Journalists, let’s drop the word “normob”, to use it is snotty and below you, unless you would like to use it about yourself. There is no distinction between you and the folks worldwide who love their mobiles for very different reasons and ways from the way you do.