Monday, May 29, 2006

Don't Be a Bampot!

If you're a word lover, you'll want to hurry on over and snap up The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English: A Crunk Omnibus for Thrillionaires and Bampots for the Ecozoic Age, the new book by Grant Barrett. Hey, even William Safire calls this book "remarkably with-it."

(Okay, so I wasn't with-it enough to know the useful word bampot. But I do now, thanks to Grant's site, Double-Tongued Word Wrester.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Biting the Apple at Last

Well, the hard drive in my nifty little IBM Thinkpad X40 seems to be failing. As a result, after 15 years online with a PC, I just ordered my very first Mac. I'll let you know if I can learn to use that icky trackpad.

I feel like I need some kind of ceremony to mark this rite of passage. So, macarize me, already!

Flipping Out

I forgot until the other day how much I used to enjoy the little ditties of Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein. I especially his grook called "A Psychological Tip" about how to make decisions by flipping a coin. It's a surprisingly helpful strategy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nevaeh Mind!

I'm not even sure what to say about this NY Times article about the sudden popularity of one of the weirdest female names to come along in a while, Nevaeh. (No, not the skin cream.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Only One Day Left!

Only one day left in the Martha Barnette Scrabble Challenge! As the KPBS promotional copy puts it:
Did you ever wish you could have dueled Jimi Hendrix on the guitar? Or maybe played a game of hoops against Michael Jordan? Some things simply just won't happen, but if you've ever wondered what it'd be like to battle word master . . .
Funny thing is, I can't remember the last time I won at Scrabble. I get too distracted by the words. And I tend to hoard my tiles, hoping to spell out a word like batrachomyomachy, and then come up a few letters short. So, bid before midnight and win the chance for some not-so-serious bragging rights!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My New Hero!

This just made my day: Moments before a scheduled on-air interview last week, a harried producer ran to the BBC's reception area to grab the interviewee and whisk him into the studio. Problem was, they didn't grab the expert -- they grabbed his cab driver, who happens to have a limited command of English. As the Daily Mail reports:
Baffled, but compliant, the driver was fitted with a microphone and allowed himself to be marched in to the studio. Cameras rolled, and he was quizzed live on air by consumer affairs correspondent Karen Bowerman - who missed the cabbie's panic-stricken expression when he realised he was being interviewed.
Watch the video -- it's hilarious. What I love -- besides the way this winsome chap gamely tries to play along -- is that, compared to other talking heads on television, he's not all that bad! I mean, who cares if he doesn't make any sense? I think he should consider a second career as a television commentator on a variety of subjects.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Okay, Okay, the Dark Side of Pandas

Just in time for Mother's Day Weekend, a most unsentimental piece by the NY Times' Natalie Angier on the decidedly non-maternal behavior (at least as we think of it) in animals. And as a language watcher, I have to ask: Natalie, what up with all the alliteration and rhyme in this story? Case in point:
Other mothers, like pandas, practice a postnatal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well.
Still, it's well worth a read, complete with bizarro illos, as we say in the magazine business.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Talk About the Feathers Flying!

Yet another report of homosexual behavior in animals, this time involving flamingos who've been together for more than five years and reared three generations of adopted chicks:

....Twice a year Carlos and Fernando perform an elaborate courtship dance together before stealing eggs from their heterosexual neighbours to bring up as their own...

Both of them take on the male roles during the courtship ritual which involves preening, strutting and waving their heads vigorously from side to side with their necks at full stretch...
Yeah, yeah, that's hardly news. But what really caught my eye was this comma-deprived commentary from an ornithologist: "Their parental instincts are also very strong prompting them to raid the nests of other couples in the flock. They have been known to fight the heterosexual birds and there is usually a "handbags at dawn" moment where they will fight with another couple before stealing their egg."

"Handbags at dawn"? This phrase was a new one on me. Fortunately, this entry from the OED online explains that "handbags at dawn" refers to "a confrontation, esp. on that is ineffectual or histrionic." All I can say is that learning that phrase -- and even better, seeing it applied to feuding flamingos -- totally made my day.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Today's Word: Ludic

So, I've been trying to think of an excuse to link to this video of pandas at play, just because they're So. Darn. Cute. Then it occurred to me that it's a great way to bring up the term ludic (LOO-dic), which means "of or relating to play or playfulness." In case you were wondering, ludic comes from the Latin ludus, meaning "play." It has nothing to do with lewd, but it is related to another playful word, ludicrous.

Oh c'mon, they're cute already, aren't they?

More on Marryin' Monkeys

Remember a while back when we were discussing terms for "raining while the sun is still shining," like "monkey's wedding" and "pineapple rain"? Well, yesterday, I had a lovely time addressing the annual conference of the International Association of Audio Information Services, and an audience member suggested that in Ireland, the term for that meterological phenomenon is the evocative term "broken day." Can anybody here confirm that?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Today's Word: Poliosis

Here's a word for all you Anderson Cooper fans out there:

Poliosis (pah-lee-OH-sis) means "grayness or whiteness of the hair, especially if it's premature." Poliosis comes from the Greek polios meaning "gray."

That same Greek root colors the English word polio, a shortened form of poliomyelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord's "gray matter."

Pay No Attention to that Woman Behind the Curtain!

Nobody talks about dictionaries and their contents with quite the same verve, wit, and plain old good sense as Erin McKean, editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary. So hurry on over to, where she was recently a guest blogger. Verbivores will love her chatty rants on everything from how words get into dictionaries and how people like her do their work to some of her favorite reference works (which may surprise you). A sampling:

Being in the dictionary, then, doesn't make a word "real." All words are real. Words are like dogs. Some dogs are pedigreed, some are not, but the unpedigreed dogs are dogs just the same — they bark like dogs and run like dogs and rub their little doggy noses into your hand whether or not they have a piece of paper from the Kennel Club. It's the same with words. The right word in the right place can make you laugh, or cry, or think — act like a "real word" whether it's been caught in alphabetical order between the covers of a thick reference book or not.

The lexicographer is quite a bit like the Great and Wonderful Oz. Think about it. The Scarecrow already had a brain; the Tin Man already had a heart; the Lion already had courage; all Oz did was make them aware of it. All the lexicographer does is point out the words that are already real.
Check it out.