or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, November 28, 2008


Try to follow:

Yesterday I was thinking about carnations, for reasons I will probably get to tomorrow, and I remembered the word "fimbriated", which describes their petals, and also the word "fimbriate", which is an adjective meaning the same thing (pronounced one way) or a verb (pronounced another), a dual personality actually pretty common in English, a language which loves to multiply entities, beyond necessity if necessary. ("Multiply" is another example: a verb pronounced one way, an adjective pronounced another, or yet another if you shove a hyphen into it.) Thinking of other similar words, one that popped into my head was "intricate": like "fimbriate", it seemed certain that it had once had a life as a verb, if you stress the last syllable and make the vowel long, even though now it functions only as an adjective (with a blunted, schwaed ending).

And guess what? This is exactly the case. "IN-truh-CATE" once meant "to make intricate", or "to entangle or ensnare". It's not used much any more, to say the least; the OED calls it "rare", but I think I'd call it "obsolete", or at least "archaic".

Now; where to you suppose "intricate" comes from? Prefix "in-", that's obvious, and suffix "-ate", also obvious, as are their meanings. The middle, therefore, is "-tric-", and you don't suppose that could be related to English "trick", do you? You do? Good! Because that's exactly the case. Both words are from Latin: "trick" is in a straight line from Latin "tricari", "to play tricks", through French "triquer", "to deceive", while "intricate" is even more directly from Latin "intricare", "to entangle", the root of which is "tricae", "perplexities, tricks".

If you stare at "intricare" long enough you will decide, correctly, that "intrigue" is also from this same source, through, self-evidently, French. (The French actually got it from Italian rather than Latin, specifically the verb "intrigare", which forms a neat way-station between "intricare" and "intriguer".)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Someone at the American version of OK! Magazine is in big trouble. (I would have a hard time caring less about celebrity gossip, but the website DListed is vicious, cruel, and hilariously well-written.)

There's every chance that you neither know nor care, but the younger Simpson sibling spells her first name "Ashlee", not "Ashley". (Her sister is chanteuse and reality-show humiliation Jessica.)

What I said the other day about making very sure about the spelling of uncommon names? That goes double-triple for names that appear on the magazine's cover.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


As I noted a few years ago, the circumflex in French generally denotes a place where the used to be an "-s-", as in "arrêt", which means "stop" and is the source of English "arrest".

Now, look at this charming website which is narrated by two of the most enchanting cats on the planet, Zig and Zag. No, really: stunningly beautiful.

This recent posting, on Hallowe'en, is entitled "Fantôme", which is the French word for "ghost". Just after reading the post it occurred to me that if you tuck the "-s-" back into it after the circumflex, you get "fantosme", which is self-evidently the same as the English word "phantasm", and I cannot imagine how it took me this long to notice.

It's no great stretch from "fantosme" to "phantasm" (or vice versa); "-a-" and "-o-" can sound very alike, even identical, in the right company. In my fairly standard and relatively unaccented version of English, "Wally" and "Molly" are precise rhymes, as are "war" and "for"; "wan" and "don" don't have exactly the same vowel sound, but they're very close.

"Phantasm" is from Latin "phantasma", which they stole entire from Greek; in that language, it originated from "phantazein", "to bring before the mind", "to make visible". ("Phantazein" in turn is related to "phainein", "to appear", "to show", and this can be seen in such English words as "cellophane".) "Phantazein" sounds (does it not?) very much like "fantasy", which of course is related, as is "fantastic".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I am sorry to be so boring, really, but when I find something new and interesting I throw myself into it very hard, and I'm still banging my way through those Project Euler problems (I've solved 17), and here's another one you might like to have a look at. Or not. Like the previous one, it requires no math or programming skills except the ability to use a calculator, and that only at the very end.

Find four numbers in a straight line which multiply together to form the largest total. That's all. You proofreading types out there can knock it off in about three minutes, if that. I wrote down five combinations of numbers that looked promising and checked two of them, both of which were wrong, so I pored over the table until I found a set that, without even checking, I knew was the right answer, and it was.

Okay, one more. This one seems insanely complicated but with a flash of insight, you can solve it in a few seconds. The problem: How many Sundays fell on the first of the month during the twentieth century (1 Jan 1901 to 31 Dec 2000)? You don't need all kinds of extraneous information such as how many leap years there are in a century or how many days are in any given month: you just, as it turns out, need to know two things, and once you've identified them, you can figure this out with pencil and paper. Go ahead; give it a try.

Tomorrow: something more interesting. Really!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


This doesn't really have anything to do with words, exactly, but there is a point to it.

Project Euler is a large(ish) collection of math problems, ranging from sort of difficult to insane. Jim (who has a math degree) and I (who do not) like this sort of thing, so we spent a good deal of this evening clawing through them. I solved four or five of them using a spreadsheet, as did Jim, although he's finished more than I have (because he can program in Python to do the nasty prime-number problems and such).

Now, here's why I mention this to you: problem 8. It reads as follows:

Find the greatest product of five consecutive digits in the 1000-digit number.


and that's not a math problem, it's a proofreader's problem, and therefore of (theoretical) interest to me and any readers. I looked over the array of numbers and almost instantly zeroed in on the appropriate area. I was briefly misled, and got the wrong answer, but another quick skim led me to the correct set of digits (just a couple of places over from where I had originally settled) and the correct answer.

So you should give the problem a try. Seriously. It has hardly anything to do with math, except for the last bit where you multiply the five digits together. Otherwise, it's a pretty good test of a copy-editor's skills, I think.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Moving Target

Reader XXX said in response to yet another complaint I made about Salon:

Sorry if it's been mentioned before but Maybe Salon.com just reads your blog then makes the corrections on its own. I just went there and the word is "crowd."

I can't imagine they read my blog--who am I but a complainer, really?--but it's usually a good bet that the egregious mistakes get pointed out in the comments section for any given article, so if the Salon folk are smart, they read that and then make their corrections.

I have two more Salon gripes, actually, and they're both the fault of movie critic Stephanie Zacharek.

The first is from her review of Twilight:

There's the vampire dad, Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Fascinelli), and a vampire mom, Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), and a number of adopted teenage vampire children (one of them played by Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote and starred in Hardwicke's "Thirteen").

I am willing to bet that one quality that all good proofreaders have in common is the ability to instantly memorize the spelling of every word they come across, and subsequently notice when it's been spelled wrong, as the name of actor Peter Facinelli has here. If you aren't 100 per cent certain of the spelling of a word, particularly when it's an unusual surname, how hard is it to Google that, do a little research, and get it right?

The second mistake is stylistic rather than orthographic, from her review of Bolt:

The 3-D gimmick has been heralded as the future of movies at least since 1953, when good old one-eyed André DeToth gave us "House of Wax," a novelty picture that wowed audiences with special effects like a paddle ball that appeared to be bouncing straight out of the movie screen. The technology has gotten more sophisticated since then, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's been better used. The recent live-action adventure "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was fun partly for its innovative use of 3-D effects -- I still remember vividly that flock of phosphorescent birds fluttering toward me from the screen -- and partly for the fact that it had a sense of humor about itself; its lack of pretension was refreshing, and rare, in movies these days. But I remember almost nothing from Robert Zemeckis' cumbersome, self-serious, computer-generated 3-D "event" (to call it a movie would be giving it too much credit) "Beowulf," except for a few primitive, pointy swords jabbing at me from the screen. Thanks, but unlike poor André, I've got two good eyes and I'd like to keep them.

There is no reason she should have used the phrase "from the screen" or a variant of it three times in one short paragraph. Even a somnolent and unengaged editor would have blue-pencilled the second and third iterations, because they are unnecessary, weighing down the text and insulting the reader. Does Zacharek get paid by the word?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with these crazy American Family Association fuckers?

They're trying very hard to stir up a sort of panic in the Christian populace of the US to the effect that all non-Christians are determined to eliminate Christmas, as if such a thing were possible. They go ballistic when they discover that stores are having their employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". They're selling buttons that say...well, here's what they say:

Yes, it is okay to say "Merry Christmas". It is also okay to say "Happy Hanukkah", "Happy Kwanzaa", "Season's Greetings", "Happy Holidays" (that's even the name of a song!), or whatever other seasonal expression of goodwill happens to come naturally to you. They're not insults. It takes a nasty kind of mind to read them that way.

Now the AFA has a product that's meant to demonstrate that the household which displays it is full of Christians: a Christmas cross. I certainly don't object in principle: as long as it doesn't loudly play carols or keep me up with its brightness or otherwise impinge on my life, I don't much care what people put on their doorsteps. Here's the description of it:

Sounds pretty innocuous. Here's a picture of it:

It's a burning cross. The same kind that Christians in the KKK used to put on the lawns of black families to try to scare them out of town. It could have been made so that it looked pretty and glowy and smooth-surfaced, but no: cheap as hell and ugly as sin, it's bristling with lights and it looks from any kind of distance like a burning cross, and, well, how can that possibly have any positive connotations for anybody?

What the fuck?


Salon.com is my number-one go-to source for stupid mistakes. Why, just yesterday I ragged at them for making a mistake that any spellchecker, let alone an actual living breathing editor, would have caught and corrected. And now just look at this!

"Waves to the crowed". Honestly.

It's from an article about the American president-elect's wife's ass, too, and that sounds like the sort of thing you couldn't even make up.

Why do I read Salon, anyway?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


God, I really hate snotty people who make corrections without knowing what they're talking about.

No, not me. I generally do make it a point to know what I'm talking about, and I do my research to make sure of it. If I should happen to make a mistake, which does happen, I admit it and correct it and move on.

I was reading a blog and the blogger used the word "insure" to mean "make sure [that something happens]", and some commenter wrote in to say, "Oh, and when you used 'insure', you should have said 'ensure'."

Wrong. Wrong-o. "Insure" and "ensure" are interchangeable in most applications. There are instances in which only the one or the other will do: when you're talking about insurance, then "insure" is the only correct verb (obviously), but otherwise, you can generally use one or the other as you will. "I will ensure that she gets home safely" and "I will insure that he does his duty" are equally correct. There are niceties ("insure" might be used more commonly for financial applications and "ensure" for all others, and I believe the British use "ensure" more often, North Americans "insure"), but in general (and I do not get to say this very often), use whichever pleases you at the moment, and don't listen to ignoramuses.

On the other hand, when an actual error crops up, something avoidable, something professionally published (as opposed to any ordinary blog or a letters or comments section), then something ought to be said, and it probably will, by me. Here's a paragraph from a Salon.com piece about an interview with the Obamas:

Everyone needs to chill about the dog. It's not arriving until the family is ensconsed in the White House, sometime in late winter or early spring.

"Ensconsed"? "Ensconsed"? How did that even make it off the fingers and into the keyboard, let alone into a publication? Oh, wait: it's Salon, home of no editors and precious few spellcheckers.

Mind you, "ensconse" has, predictably, shown up in the English language, way back before spelling was codified, when people spelled as they saw fit. (It would have occurred naturally, since we got it from Old French "esconser".) But that doesn't make it a valid spelling nowadays, any more than "knygth" is for "knight", even though that appeared in English too.

The correct word is "ensconced", and its root is "sconce". No, not the wall bracket for torches or candles: that comes from Latin "abscondere", "to conceal", which is also, self-evidently, the source of "abscond". There's a whole second "sconce" in English, and it's a small military enclosure; this word comes from German "Schanze", a bundle of sticks, which is presumably what the little fort is made out of. Amazingly, Germanic "sconce" doesn't seem related to Latinate "sconce" in any way. Don't you love it when that happens?

Monday, November 17, 2008


Today I was sitting on the bus and musing about this very blog, since by my calculations, it had been four days since my last posting, today being the fifth, and while I wasn't feeling guilty about it, exactly, I was feeling a little bad, because a blog feels like an obligation, even if there isn't anyone reading it (which suggests a modern version of that tree-falling-in-the-woods koan), and I am all about obligation.

Not even a minute later, a guy got on the bus, this tough little wiry old dude of maybe sixty, and what popped into my head was that the word that used to be used to describe someone like him is "banty". And then, of course, I began to wonder where that might have come from.

It was almost immediately obvious that it had to be a shortened, nicknamey form of the word "bantam", and that led to the question of where that word might have come from. It clearly wasn't English, and it almost as clearly wasn't from any of the usual suspect languages (Latin, Greek, French, German, Norse). It seemed kind of...islandy, I guess. West Indies? Probably not. Filipino? Yeah, it sounded like it might be Filipino (not that I really know anything about that language).

And I was right, if by "right" we mean "completely wrong". It's actually from Javanese; Bantam is the name of a village in South Indonesia, and in fact was the first Dutch settlement in the East Indies, and the miniature chickens which bear its name may have been brought to Europe from or through this port.

And "bantam", referring to a small (but presumably feisty) chicken, came to refer to a small, feisty, roostery person, and English, never one to skimp on adjectives, bypassed "bantamy" or "bantamish" and went straight to "banty" (which, I am amazed to note, Dictionary.com doesn't even list as a proper English word, though it so obviously is).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Star Power

Regarding yesterday's sneer at iTunes' sloppy filtering, reader Grant Barrett asks the following:

How do you invoke the filter? I don't get any of those results when searching in iTunes--not asterisks anywhere. I'm in New York, accessing what I presume to be the American version of iTunes Store.

Well, now we have a mystery on our hands.

The first thing I did was check my iTunes settings. No parental filtering of any sort enabled (not that there's a switch to turn on or off the sort of bowdlerization I was writing about). Nothing, in fact, that could possible account for what I was seeing.

So I went to the American store. Even though I'm in Canada, I once set up an account with the American store, too, because there are things available there that aren't in the store up here, free tracks and the like. Then I did my various searches again, and damned if those asterisks didn't appear as before.

It's not just my own personal machine; a writer for the Guardian in the UK noticed the same thing a couple of weeks ago, with the system going so far as to render "hot" as "h*t". According to him,

Apple have since announced that the sporadic nature of the censorship was down to a glitch in the new system they're using, a system used to filter out offensive words.

"Hot" shows up fine on my iTunes, so either they've fixed the glitch, or it's another, even more specific set of filters, that one for the UK but not Canada (or, I guess, the US).

Language Log also has a detailed post on the subject, and if you Google "itunes asterisk", as I did, you can read what still other people have to say.

The mystery remains, though. I have no idea why one particular user's version of iTunes is immune to the Asterisks of Niceness.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Screen Play

I used to write software. I used to get paid for it, too. I once wrote chatroom software, the sort of thing in which people post messages and other people respond to them, and of course the person in charge didn't want people cussing and ruining the ambiance, so I wrote a filter, too. Tricky things, filters: you might want the word "ass" to show up as "a**", but you don't want the word "passage" to come out as "pa**age", because that makes you look like an idiot. If someone is talking about breeding dogs, then "bitch" might well be acceptable, and the coder has to take that thing into account, so the software can't just convert every instance of a particular string of letters into something else (unless the string is unambiguous, like "fuck"); it has to be written with some intelligence.

That was in short supply at the American Family Association's news website, where this summer they famously installed a filter that, among other things, converted "gay" to "homosexual", because the fine folks at the AFA thought that "gay" made it sound acceptable and not monstrous. Unfortunately, when a sports story reported that one Tyson Homosexual had run a particularly good race en route to the Olympics, the AFA was rightly lambasted for being a crowd of bowdlerizing dimwits who don't trust people to think for themselves.

The iTunes Music Store goes through a fair bit of trouble to be unobjectionable; songs with explicit lyrics are carefully labelled. But the store has a filter, too, and it's pretty badly written, leading to things like this, from the description of the movie "Paycheck" (you'll probably need to click on it to be able to read it):

Yeah, that famous author Philip K. Dasteriskasteriskasterisk. I've read a bunch of his stuff.

Doing a search for "Dick Clark" gives us this:

This is actually worse, though. I think you can guess what the search term is:

If you agree that iTunes shouldn't be telling people what to listen to (not everybody does), you can still concede that they have the right, and probably even the responsibility, to be blotting out parts of track titles like "Keep On Fuckin'" and "Worthless Cunt". But to unthinkingly pixelize the title of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" is ludicrous. Some software engineer needs to take a good long look at that filter.

Monday, November 10, 2008


The other thing I got at Shoppers Drug Mart yesterday was a sample of a new scent, Roadster by Cartier. The description of the scent inside the sample's cardboard folder ends in the following line:

A startling freshness contrasted by enveloping, sensual woods (patchouli/rock rose) for an inimitable remanence.

Naturally, the first thing I thought was, "Remanence? Really?" So I glanced up at the French original--these things usually have the text in a half-dozen languages--and sure enough, that had the word "rémanence", too. (That explains the rather bizarre wording in the English version; it's a direct translation of the French, which in such matters is almost always flowery and over-constructed.)

I still didn't know quite what it meant, so I read the Italian, and it ended with "...per una persistenza inimitabile." So that was it, then: "remanence" translates into the Italian version of "persistence", and therefore "remanence" must mean more or less the same thing, and so it's probably formed from "remain" or a variation of it.

It does meaning "remaining", and it is related to it; it stems from Latin "remanere", "to remain", through Middle English "remanent", with the usual ending that turns it into a noun.

The trouble is that "remanence" is not really used in English any more in the manner of the perfume advertising. It still exists, and you can still use it if you want to, but its use is nowadays more or less restricted to theology and to physics.

In theology, the doctrine of remanence is the opposite of that of transsubstantiation, which holds that the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally change into flesh and blood; the doctrine of remanence holds that, as one might reasonably suspect, they keep on being plain old bread and wine, and are symbolic rather than literal. (It's easy to laugh at the doctrine of transsubstantiation, and I intend to keep doing so, but as Answers.com notes, Transubstantiation was the key to the whole edifice of medieval theology. Remove it, and one removed the need for the priesthood and the medieval institutional church as it then existed. It was no laughing matter for Catholic bigwigs then or now.)

In physics, remanence means "persistence of magnetism", or, more thoroughly, "The magnetic flux density remaining in a material, especially a ferromagnetic material, after removal of the magnetizing field. Good permanent magnets have a high degree of remanence. Remanence is measured in teslas. Also called retentivity." (Thank you, American Heritage Science Dictionary.)

If you're writing about religion or electromagnetics, then go ahead and use "remanence". Otherwise, I think I'd refrain, unless you want people to think you are a bad perfume-ad copywriter.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Just look at this handout from the local Shoppers Drug Mart.The baffling thing is that the wall poster in the store has "flu" spelled correctly. It's as if someone scanned the poster, shrank it down, redid the text to include a typo (twice), and then reproduced it for distribution. I'm thoroughly baffled. (At first glance, I thought that it was an ad for a chimney-cleaning service, but no, the French translation uses the word "grippe", which is still occasionally seen in English.)

"Flu" is a contraction of Italian "influenza", "influence", which in turn came from Late Latin "influentia", with the same meaning, because the illness was believed to be the result of the influence of malign stars (astronomical ones, that is).

Although nobody is absolutely sure, "flue" seems likely to be related to Latin "fluere", "to flow". It looks like a slam dunk, but "flue" was originally spelled "flew", and has a number of other possible sources.

"Fluere" is related to such words as English "fluent", literally "flowing", and "confluence", the flowing together of two rivers into one, and of course "influence" itself. That doesn't mean that "flu" and "flue" are interchangeable.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Out of Sight

On Wednesday morning, we woke up around 5:30. As Jim was getting ready to go to the gym before work (he likes to get it over with), I fired up the Mac and checked the news. "Barack Obama won," I reported, to which Jim replied, "Oh thank god!"

It's as if a miracle occurred the previous night. Like a lot of people, I didn't think that anybody but an old(ish) white guy would be elected president in my lifetime. (Canadians, I think, could elect a black guy Prime Minister and nobody would even bat an eye. We've already had a female PM, and our last two Governors General have been an Asian woman born in Hong Kong and a black woman born in Haiti. Canadians are not magically un-racist, no more nor less so than any other people, but they tend on the whole to very laissez-faire about such things: mostly all they care about is whether the person in charge can do the job.)

I was a little afraid that the Republicans would steal another election, but no, this one seems to have been won fair and square (or as much so as a modern election can be). Now we just have to hope that nobody takes a shot at the president-elect, although everybody I've asked agrees that it seems pretty likely, if not actually certain.

My other blog is concerned with scents, and in poking around the Internet for new things to obsess about, I stumbled upon this website, which is marketing a fragrance called, hideously, POTUS 1600. (For those of you to whom this reference is not immediately clear: POTUS is an acronym for "President of the United States", and 1600 refers to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the address of the White House. There's no shame in not knowing this if you're not American.) It looks fairly awful--the bottle is cheap, the website no less so--and the front page contains this text:

A limited edition, historically commemorative fragrance that insights Hope for Women and Men.

I tried, and failed, to convince myself that the "insight" was deliberate, a play on words. Clearly it's just a mistake, and not just once, but twice. Even if they'd spelled the word "incite" correctly, it's very much the wrong verb. You incite someone to do something they probably oughtn't to; you can incite a mob to violence or insurrection, you can incite them to riot, but you really can't incite anyone to hope. There are plenty of other words that the site's designer could have chosen: they could have said "promises hope for...", or "stirs up hope in...", or "sparks hope...", or just about anything but "incite". Or "insight".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


An anonymous writer anonymously writes:

John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue" was released here recently- don't suppose you've read it yet?

No, I didn't even know McWhorter has a new book out, and dammit, I just placed an order with Amazon yesterday.

However, checking with Amazon.ca, I find that either the book hasn't yet been released in Canada, or they don't have it yet, but will, which is fine; I'll order it along with that sentence-diagramming book I was going to get but didn't because it would have taken one to three weeks to ship and I needed my shipment by the end of the week because it's Jim's birthday and I ordered a movie for him (alongside three books for myself).


I suppose it's an inevitable part of the evolution of English, but I hate it when adjectives get devalued for commercial purposes. "Designer" used to mean something when used for apparel, until in the seventies, the advent of "designer jeans" mostly meant "some famous-ish person has put her name on the ass and you'll pay four times as much." A little while ago I saw on a box of cereal an enticement for kiddies: "Free watch! Four designer styles!" They were cheap plastic watches that came in a box of cereal: what designer had anything to do with them, except for an industrial designer?

"Gourmet" is equally contaminated. If it's a frozen pizza, then I don't care how many luscious words you pile on the description of it, it's not fit for a gourmet.

And now, something that even puts those in the shade, for sheer pretentiousness if not ubiquity.

The company for which I work often has promotions designed to get us framers to work harder and sell more. I once won $50 (taxable to $38.34)! Recently they came out with a line of enormous frames (some of them are in excess of four inches wide) which are really intended for those huge American houses with twenty-foot ceilings and twelve hundred plus feet of wall space per room; the chances that I will be able to sell even one are quite small, but I'm being enticed to do so with a contest: be the first in my district to sell three of each of the six styles, and I'll win a thousand bucks. If I sell one of each of the six styles, I'll receive, in the words of the promotional material, a "beautiful cloisonné pin" to demonstrate to the world that I can sell six frames.

Thing is, the pin, beautiful or not, isn't fucking cloisonné. It appears to be plastic fused to a gold-toned pin back. "Cloisonné" has a meaning, and "plastic" isn't part of that. They didn't even attempt to simulate cloisonné.

The real article, which is expensive to produce, consists of a pattern made of tiny gold wires fused to a gold background, filled with enamel paste, and then fired. The little individual cells formed by the wires are the heart and soul of cloisonné; the word itself is French for "cloistered" (the first halves of the words are the same) or "partitioned". If you're going to fake the product, then you mould a backing with the partitions already in place, and then you fill the design with enamel or, more cheaply, plastic resin. If you just make a pin with a plastic design on it, with no partitions, then I don't know what you'd call it, but you haven't earned the right to call it cloisonné. Bastards.


"Cloisonné" and "cloister" look the same because, predictably, they are from the same source: both French, and both from Latin "claudere", "to close". Other "claudere" words in English include "clause", because it's grammatically complete and therefore closed, and "close" itself, as well as the "-clude" verbs such as "exclude" ("shut out"), "conclude" ("close completely"), and "preclude" ("close prior to"). "Claudere" in turn stems from Indo-European "kleu-", which originally meant "a hook or peg", presumably a peg used to close a gate or other door.

Monday, November 03, 2008

O Well

To start with, here's a piece from Pharyngula about a clever and bored laboratory octopus who learned, among other things, how to turn off the high-powered overhead light that was bothering him. (He climbed to the top of his tank and shot a big jet of water at it, shorting it out.) Octopuses are smart: it's not right to keep them in a tank with no entertainment, not that he didn't attempt to make his own kind of entertainment by, among other things, juggling hermit crabs. What could an eight-armed juggler do? What couldn't he?

Anyway, I naturally went to the Wikipedia page about octopuses, and about a third of the way down the page is a picture of an ocellated, or spotted, octopus. I had never heard the word "ocellated" before (and neither has my spellchecker), but I immediately thought, "Hey, ocelots have spots! So ocelots must have gotten their name from 'ocellated'!"

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong! "Ocellated" is actually related to "ocular", because "ocellate" (as an adjective) or "ocellated" means "having eye-like spots"; it's from Latin "ocellus", which is the diminutive of "oculus", "eye".

"Ocelot", on the other hand, is a shortened form of the Nahuatl (a language of central Mexico) word "ocelotl", which in turn is a shortening of the formidable-looking "tlalocelotl", "field-jaguar".

I'll show you an ocelot but I'm not showing you a picture of an octopus because I think they're kind of creepy. Mind you, ocelots are, too, a little; their eyes look disproportionately big to me and that makes them unsettling. I like cats but ocelots are over the line.

What is the plural of "octopus"? Wikipedia has much to say on the subject, including this:

There are three forms of the plural of octopus; namely, octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objected to.


Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses," and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic.

I am going to take them at their word. I'm usually inclined to give Fowler's the benefit of the doubt, anyway. "Octopuses" it is.

The plural of "ocelot" is "ocelots". No argument there, I trust.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Complete And Utter Failure

Yeah, I know. I've been really sporadic lately. I mean, I posted a couple things on my other blog, but I've been busy with this and that, and...

Hey! Let's look at some relevant images from FailBlog! That'll distract you for a while!

This is actually pretty clever. It would have worked better if they had matched the typeface (their camouflage used a serif font instead of a sans-serif like the original), but still, points for cleverness.

All newspapers should be proof-reading at the very least their headlines. They should be paying even closer attention to headlines about education and literacy, because that's not a place you want to display your lack thereof.

And you need to proof-read online, too, because there are all these pesky letters on the keyboard that are so close to other letters. "Rockets" becomes "rickets", "funk" becomes "gunk", and "crowning" turns into "drowning" without your even noticing it. The spell-checker won't, either.

Any parent who would trust their little muffins to this daycare deserves exactly what they get. I mean, nobody expects a daycare to be run by Ph.D. candidates, or even professional writers, but still.

And finally, from Cake Wrecks, proof that even bakers need a proofreader:

("Complete And Utter Failure", by the way, is the title of a really good book by Neil Sternberg. I think it's out of print, but you should track it down, particularly if you like reading about failed food-product launches, the elemental horror of the spelling bee, and forgotten authors, written in a snarky yet engaging manner.)