Friday, June 30, 2006

Today's Word: Batrachomyomachy

Several of you have asked about that word I mentioned during my appearance the other day on NPR's "Talk of the Nation."

The word is batrachomyomachy (BAT-truh-koh-my-AHM-uh-kee), and it means "battle between frogs and mice." Now, why, you may ask, should there be a need for such a word?

It's a reference to Batrachomyomachia, an ancient Greek parody of The Iliad. The mock-heroic poem is a silly satire that points up the absurdity of war -- this one involving such characters as "Crumb-snatcher, son of Bread-nibbler," an "Pot Visitor, son of the Great Cheese-Carver." It's been eons since I read it in Greek, but as I recall, it was pretty funny. There's a great illustrated English translation here.

Was also interested just now to learn just now that the German equivalent of batrachomyomachy, which has come to mean "a silly altercation," is another nice mouthful: Froschmäusekrieg.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Moi on NPR's "Talk of the Nation"

Had a blast on TOTN yesterday along with the lovely and talented Grant Barrett and Geoff Pullum of Language Log. The topic was ostensibly "how the Web has changed the way people research words,” but we had some great callers, and the show went off in lots of interesting directions. It's worth a listen: Audio here.

Incidentally, if you already know what a merkin is, then you'll understand why I laughed so hard when one caller said that merkin is the first word he looks up when test-driving a new dictionary.

Those of you who don't know from merkins can seek enlightenment here.

And if anyone finds a dictionary with an illustration of a merkin, please do let us know about it, okay?

UPDATE: Much more about merkins in Wikipedia, of course.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Geek Love!

OMG, how sweet is this article in the Vows column of today's New York Times? It's about one of our radio show's own Quizzicists, Greg Pliska, and his new wife, Jessica. They met at (where else?) the National Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Check out the video of Greg and Jessica on that page, and tell me if you don't get a little lump in your throat.

Talk about "meeting cute"! Hey, Greg, sold the film rights yet? In any case, mazel tov, you two!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Another article about Far from the Madding Gerund , this one in The New York Times.

Monday, June 19, 2006


An instructive piece by the Boston Globe's Jan Freeman about what linguists actually do. It's based on the new book, Far from the Madding Gerund, a collection of linguists' writings on the lively blog, Language Log.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Back in the Cybersaddle

Okay, so I've given in at last to the haranguing of all the glassy-eyed Macolytes in my life, and have finally come over to The Light Side.

That's right: From now on, I'll be posting from my new MacBook. Still learning my way around the thing, and feeling like an old dog struggling to learn new tricks. Incidentally, the expression on this old dog's face is pretty much identical to the one on mine when my old IBM Thinkpad finally gave up the ghost the other day.