Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Today's Word: Myrmecology

Myrmecology is the study of ants. It's from Greek myrmex, meaning "ant," and the reason I'm thinking about it is the wonderful essay about how to improve scientific writing in the New York Times Science section today: "Ants, Better with a Dose of Humanity (and Humor)." I mean, who knew all the trials and tribulations of scientists who must spend their days measuring the size of leeeeeetle bitty ant heads?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Speaking of Sphenisciformes . . .

I didn't know until just now that penguins are properly described as sphenisciform seabirds. I'm not sure why, or whether it's a relative of such words as sphenoid, which describes anything wedge-shaped, or a sphenogram, a word that means "a cuneiform character."

In any case, if you're as partial to penguins as some people are to pandas, you'll want to check out the Sphenisciform Webring, which has more information about penguins than you can shake a flipper at.

Monday, April 17, 2006

If You Believe in Tinkerbelle, Clap Your Wings

Seems a marine park in Australia has changed the name of the animals formerly known as fairy penguins. According to this story, they're now being called little penguins.

"We didn't have any complaints about the name of the penguins, but someone thought they could be seen as offensive so we decided to change it to little penguin instead," a Sea World spokeswoman said. "We just didn't want to upset the gay community. The new name is more politically correct."
"Upset the gay community"? Oh puh-LEEZE! I'm glad to see that gay spokesfolks there don't see it that way. (And I suspect these two would disagree as well.) Besides, what's next? Renaming the pygmy hippos?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Today's Word: Cavernicolous

Here's a word to which all of us work-at-home types can relate: Pronounced like "Cavern Nicholas," cavernicolous means "living in a cave." (Then there's troglodyte, or "cave-dweller," and its adjectival form, troglodytic, from Greek words that literally mean "to go down into a hole.") I was also pleased to learn, while fossicking through the Oxford English Dictionary just now, that a vug is a small cavity in a rock, like the kind in which geodes form--and that something full of cavities is said to be vuggy.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Etymology for Everybody

Our recent show about etymology featured an interview with Anatoly Liberman, author of the marvelous book Word Origins and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everybody. It is, as far as I know, the only book about word origins that tells how etymologists do their work. The book is scholarly and often challenging, but also amusing and full of helpful insights for those who are serious about understanding how words form and change over time.

Professor Liberman, who's been described as "perhaps the world's best-read individual" on the history of English words, also has an elegant new blog over at Oxford University Press. Check it out.

What's in a Nickname?

More than you might think, according to this article in The New York Times. I don't know -- I've never been much for having a nickname, or nicknaming my computer, or for that matter, nicknaming my favorite reference works. This article makes me think maybe I should. What do y'all think? Am I missing out on something?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tattoo Boo-Boos

Yet another reason to think twice about getting a tattoo: A funny piece in Sunday's New York Times about folks who get tattoos with Chinese characters, only to find that they don't mean what they think they mean. These tattoo boo-boos are chronicled at the site of Chinese-born engineering student Tian Tang.

One elaborate tattoo posted shortly after his blog's inception in late 2004 means "power piglet," according to Mr. Tang's translation. Another, on a woman's lower back, says "motherly beast blessing."

Marquis Daniels, of the Dallas Mavericks, thought he was getting his initials in Chinese characters but what his arm actually says is "healthy woman roof," Mr. Tang said. Similarly, Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns was under the impression that his nickname, "the Matrix," was tattooed on his leg, but Mr. Tang says the inscription translates as something like "demon bird moth balls."

More at Tang's site, including the above tattoo, which he says might be translated as something like "ease of gas retention."

But Who's Counting?

Nice piece by Peter Rowe in today's San Diego Union-Tribune about whether the English language is about add its one millionth word. (The answer, in a word, is "No.")