or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Reader D.J. wrote regarding my recent musing about the word "pudicity":

Without peeking, I'd bet a hat that "impudent" is going to be in the mix: "im-" to negate, plus the shameful "-pudent". Sound right?

Sounds right, and is right. Originally much stronger than it is today, "impudent" originally meant "shameless", but now generally means nothing worse than "impertinent". I didn't mention it because I didn't think of it and didn't do any in-depth research that would have led me to it. Usually I try to cover all the bases, but sometimes life gets in the way of completeness.

Something I did mean to mention, but forgot, is the name of this plant:

It's called the sensitive plant, a member of the mimosa family, and its chief charm lies not in those pretty pompom flowers but in the ferny leaves behind them. When you touch them, they simply collapse; they droop and sag and hang limply until, some time later, they reinflate. (They may be pretty, but they're an invasive weed in Australia.) The leaves also fold up at nighttime. It's fluid pressure that holds them erect, and a release of this pressure that allows them to droop, not unlike the penis in male animals, and like the penis, the leaves have a refractory period; once they've gone soft, they won't respond again to touch for a while.

The Latin name of the sensitive plant is mimosa pudica.


I invented a word yesterday!

In the framing biz, you have to be fairly precise in your measurements. The human eye is very sensitive to even small discrepancies between the two sides of a thing, and when you're centering a print in a mat window and there's white space surrounding the print on all four sides, you have to certain that the space is equal all around, or the thing just looks wrong. Within reasonable tolerances, I mean.

So I was doing just such a thing and measuring carefully and the space I was measuring--using a ruler graduated to 32nds of an inch--was being uncooperative, and so I ended up with an imprecise measure, something that didn't sit on any of the ruler's dividing lines. "Two and a half inches," I thought, "plus an eighth, and another" (brief pause while my brain scrambled for a word which didn't exist) "squigment".

"Squigment". Isn't it good? It's apparently a portmanteau of "squiggle" and "segment" and may be defined as "an indeterminate unit of measure somewhere between a sixteenth and a thirty-second of an inch".

I didn't invent it, exactly, in the sense that the word existed in print already. But it was a mistake. Googling it (prior to this publication) gives two hits, both of which are obviously erroneous OCR renderings of "equipment". So it's mine! And you may use it if you feel the occasion merits it. You're welcome.


I'm not always so forgiving when it comes to new words (which can be new coinages, adoptions from other languages, or just new uses for old words). Sometimes I just flat-out hate them (as irrational as I concede this may sometimes be), as is the case with the pretentiously businessy "impact" as a verb. Sometimes I put up with them because they seem inevitable, as with the widespread pronunciation of the French adoptee "forte". And sometimes they win me over.

Twice yesterday I ran into the same charming word in casual use (the comments section for two different blogs). It's new, and it's not absolutely defensible, but it's a delight nonetheless.

This first is from Now Smell This:

I would have taken another dozen of the cheapie solids (what they're now calling "Crazy Sticks", and wish they'd done a woodsy/spice collection) but these new Batons are too spendy for me.

And this one is from Salon's techie blog, Machinist:

I mean, it looks sorta fun, but it's kinda spendy for something that's basically a gimmick. Maybe when I win the lottery.

We make adjectives out of nouns by adding "-y" to them all the time. "Spendy" is different because it makes an adjective out of a verb using the same tactic. Lots of "-y" adjectives seem to have been made from verbs: "sleepy", for instance, or "spongy", or "creepy". As far as I can tell, these almost always turn out to be from words that function both as nouns and verbs (and usually started out as nouns), a large category of words in English: "boxy" is an obvious example, as are "icy", "pillowy", "juicy"--you can probably think up a dozen more yourself. And there are exceptions: "runny" certainly came from the verb, not the noun. But as a general rule, it's a noun-into-adjective formation: "wintry", "mousy", "hairy", and on and on.

"Spendy", it will be admitted, sounds a little odd, and emerging from a word that is only a verb and never a noun, it is not, as I said, entirely defensible. But I love it. I don't think I'll be using it, but I look forward to other people doing so.


Here's a word you may never have heard before (or at least a word you may have heard, but used in a way you haven't), from a Slate piece about the theoretical resurgence of Latin:

(At the Oxford college I attended as an undergraduate, the motto was "effortless superiority": You should never seem too hard-working or too interested in your studies, unless you want to seem like a "swat," a "wanker," or a "girl.")

You may never have heard "swat" in this context because, in fact, it is wrong.

Okay, maybe I shouldn't say it's wrong. The writer, after all, has gone to Oxford, and maybe that's how they spelled the word there. But it's actually "swot", and I've never seen it spelled any other way.

It's unrelated to "swat"; it actually descends from the word "sweat", because to swot is to work hard, usually at one's studies, and so a swot is a grind--someone who focuses on their studies above all else. You'd think someone who studied at Oxford would know this.


Blogger NowSmellThis said...

Glad spendy passes the test. Not sure I'd say it out loud myself, but I like it in print. And love squigment, will have to see if I can work that into a perfume review...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 8:33:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

"Spendy" certainly passes my test; its meaning is instantly discernible and it's not a precise synonym for related terms such as "expensive" and "costly", because it has a breezy insouciance about it missing from those words. But I wouldn't use it, because it just sounds too young to be coming out of my mouth (or off my pen). I can't believe I'm saying that: I'm not old at all, and I happily use such delicious new coinages as "kthxbai" and "w00t!" But some of them just aren't going to work for me. You won't ever hear me calling something "da bomb", or in fact da anything. And you won't hear me say "spendy", either. I can't define the difference between this word which I'll use and that one which I won't, but I know it when I see it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 12:34:00 AM  

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