or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, January 29, 2011


There are two types of people in the world, that is clear: the kind who either don't notice typos and errors of usage or do notice them and just don't care, and the kind who notice these things and are enraged by them.

It is not a secret that I am one of the latter types, and I do not expect the former types to understand or sympathize. They probably, in fact, think that I am insane, or at least too thin-skinned. But I was reading a most interesting article in Slate--it's always Slate, isn't it?--about chicken meat, slouched way back in my very comfortable office chair with my right leg extended across my desk, when I read the following sentence:

In fact the chicken industry has already started courting Mexico and China as well as Eastern European, Latin American, and smaller Asian nations with a similar palette to the Russians.

I whipped my leg off the desk and propelled myself upright in my chair while thinking in a white heat of fury, and I am not exaggerating, "Oh no no NO they did not just write that!" But they did write it.

The palate is the thing in your head that, though containing no taste buds, is synecdochally associated with a sense of taste (think "palatable"). A palette is the thing painter use for arraying and mixing their colours. While we're at it, a pallet is a broad wooden platform on which goods are secured for shipment. These words do not mean the same thing. I don't understand how professional writers mix them up. There is no excuse for this.

The reason such mistakes are so dreadful is that they haul the reader--or at least some readers, or at least me, which in the end is all I care about--out of the text and into a mindspace of questioning the author, doubting one's own understanding, thinking of a number of things which are not related to what's being read and not conducive to further reading. How am I supposed to follow an argument when I am distracted--or worse, exasperated--by a stupid, avoidable typo, a grammatical mistake which makes me wonder if the writer understands English, a misusage which casts doubt on the whole article? This is not trivial: if you cannot even use the language properly, if you cannot be counted on to edit your work into a shape fit for your readership and take every effort to see that it is free from errors, why should I trust what you're trying to tell me?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Three Thousand Words

I just figured out how to get pictures out of my camera-equipped iPod, and now you're going to be sorry.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Factual Errors

If you have an iPod or an iPhone, then you know how seductive apps can be: you poke around in the App Store looking for, I don't know, a decibel meter or a game that lets you throw birds at pigs, and pretty soon you've downloaded twenty little programs you didn't know you needed, and probably don't, but hey, most of them were free.

An app suite is a very useful thing to have: it collects many tiny applications in one place, meaning that instead having thirty things to keep track of, you have one. Here's a good one, AppBox Pro, full of little things you use all the time, or could: currency converter, tip calculator, battery gauge, translator, et cetera et cetera. 99 cents, very nice and professional-looking, works like a charm.

Here's another one, Appzilla! It has even more stuff, and some of it (of course) is perfectly useless, but as is generally the case with these things you can hide from view the ones you never use, and there are lots of things you will use: my favourite is a clever kitchen timer that is actually six timers, one for each of four burners and one each for the two racks in the oven, all laid out to actually look like a stove so you know what's what.

There's a trivia collection called Amazing Facts in there, too, and I am not kidding when I tell you that this is the very first Amazing Fact that showed up when I tried it:

First of all (we will draw a modest veil over the use of "your" where "you're" was meant), "centurian" isn't even spelled correctly: it's "centurion". Second, a centurion was the leader of a group of Roman soldiers--not actually 100, but usually somewhere in the eighties. The word that was lunged at and missed here was of course "centenarian", which has the same root--Latin "centum", "one hundred"--but is more or less a direct take from Latin "centenarius", "of or relating to 100". (Late Latin "centenarius" gave English "centenary", "a period of 100 years", in the early 1600s; two and a half centuries later, someone tacked on the usual "-ian" ending that creates a word referring to a person with that quality or trait.)

Perhaps I'm asking too much of a 99-cent application, but it seems to me that if you're going to head a piece of information with "That's a Fact!", then that thing should actually be a fact.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Question Time

Q: How do you get down off an elephant's back?

A: You don't. You get down off a duck's back.


Q: The "down" in the first part of that joke isn't in any way related to the "down" in the second part, is it?

A: No, it isn't. The preposition "down" is, most unexpectedly, related to "dune", which is to say "hill", and is an abbreviated form of "ofdune", "[down] from the hill". (Just as unexpectedly, the adjective "down" meaning "depressed", though it sounds rather slangy and probably sixties-ish, is over four hundred years old.) The noun "down" is probably from Indo-European "dheu-", "to fly about like dust", which, as you know if you've ever tried to transfer eiderdown from one sleeping bag shell to another, is a pretty good description of just what happens.


Q: All right, then, what about "eiderdown".

A: It's from the eider duck, and its name is a pretty good indication that the word "eider" must be Germanic or Norse or something, which it is: from Old Norse "aethr".

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Oh Come On Seriously

I signed up for something, probably on my iPod, some German-language podcasts or something, in a presumably futile attempt to once more, and once and for all, learn German before our trip in 2012, and so I get frequent e-mails from them trying to entice me to send them some money for something or other. Today I got an e-mail promising the first month's whatever at a price of only $4.89, which is $20.11 (get it?) off the regular price, and I was slightly tempted, so I clicked on the link, and this is what I saw:

You can click on that to see it bigger, but what's relevant about it is the headline and the first three sentences:

News #45 - This is the Year You Finally Learn Germany!

This is it! Lucky 2011 is the year you stop procrastinating and finally learn Germany. And not just a few lines like “Hello” and “Sorry, I don’t speak Germany” but REAL Germany. You’re going to learn how the locals speak, perfect your pronunciation, grow your vocabulary and learn about Germany culture so you’re totally ready for that trip to Germany you’ve been planning all these years.

I'm speechless. Did nobody actually notice that someone had written "Germany" instead of "German" five consecutive times?

I mean, I'm not even selling anything, I just write up my little blog posts for my own amusement and theoretically that of anyone who might happen to stumble across them, and even I proof-read. If I were trying to make money, you had better be damned sure I'd spell-check and proof and re-proof. What I get out of that up there is, "How can I trust them to teach me German when they can't even be counted on to do English properly?"

(P.S. I did get some winter boots yesterday, extremely boring black ones with lots of tread. As a present to myself for enduring the hell of shoe shopping--how do women do it, how do they buy all those shoes and actually seem to derive some enjoyment from it?--I got some more Yves Rocher orange-chocolate shower gel, clearance-priced at $2.50, three bottles, because I don't want to run out any time soon.)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Stream of Consciousness (With Caps) (And Boots)

It's WINTER and do I have boots? I DO NOT. I must have thrown out last year's pair in a rare spasm of cleaning, probably because they didn't fit all that well and I'd buy a new pair this year, which I TOTALLY FORGOT TO DO until of course it SNOWED LIKE CRAZY last night. I don't know what the DEAL is with me and boots. I JUST HATE THEM. If I ever go to my mother's in the winter she's in a STATE OF DESPAIR because I'm not going to have any boots with me, and then how am I supposed to shovel the ENDLESS MOUNTAINS OF SNOW they get up there in her part of the world? So I have to borrow my stepfather's and they don't fit all that well.

So this morning Jim says to me, "We're going to have to buy you some new boots today," and I guess we are, because we are in EASTERN CANADA and it is WINTER and by god it is going to SNOW and SNOW and SNOW SOME MORE for the next week.

"FINE," I said, "but they're going to be GLAM AS FUCK with eight-inch platforms and TONS OF FUCKING SEQUINS."

"No, they're just going to be regular boots. Probably from Wal-Mart."

And they are. I was JOKING. Not all gay guys want glam and sequins! Some of us have THE MOST BORING taste imaginable and just want to be WALLPAPER, and I am one of those people. As long as I smell good and am decently covered, I say whatever to clothing.

Looking at the word "boots", you'd think it would be one of those Old English things that just kind of fell out of someone's mouth and stuck around, like "dog"--it's not like they didn't already have two perfectly serviceable word streams, the Germanic ("hound", from "Hund") and the Latinate ("canine", from "canis"), but NO, not good enough for the Old English! Gotta have a whole 'nother word!

Not "boots", though. It's related to French "bottes".

God, it's TOO FUCKING EARLY. I have to go back to bed and try to IGNORE ALL THIS SNOW.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Social Disease

I didn't see many movies in 2010, but I did see the newest offerings from my two favourite directors, David Fincher ("The Social Network")* and Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan")**, and loved 'em both.

Two of the characters in "The Social Network" are a pair of twins, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who come across as entitled but otherwise principled and decent people who got screwed over by Mark Zuckerberg over the creation of Facebook. They sued him and won $65 million, which is an ungodly sum of money, far more than the huge majority of people on Earth could ever imagine seeing in their lifetimes. They are two good-looking and wealthy men who were given a flattering portrayal in one of the most popular movies of the year (and played by a man who's even better-looking than they are, which is even more flattering). But you know what? It isn't enough for them. No, Zuckerberg is influential and insanely wealthy, and now the Winklevosses have decided that they want more of his money and reflected glory.

Now, I want to show you something from the comment section of the Gawker story about their new lawsuit:

From guestofaguest.com's Publisher profile:

Cameron Winklevoss is an American Olympic Rower and Entreprenuer.

They forgot "He is also an entitled dumbass who clearly got into Harvard through family connections, not actual intellectual achievement, since he CAN'T EVEN SPELL "ENTREPRENEUR" CORRECTLY IN HIS OWN FUCKING PROFILE, ON THE SITE HE STARTED AND OWNS.

Don't tell me: that's Zuck's fault, too, right? What a fucking douchebag.

This is how important correct spelling is. A lot of people might not even notice, but some will, and those people will judge you, and whatever your merits, they will think ill of you because you didn't even take a few minutes to run a spellcheck and make sure that the text image you present to the world is coherent and correct. If you're decent, people's opinion of you will drop, just a little bit. If you're an entitled dumbass, they'll think of you as a fucking douchebag.

Don't be that douchebag. Whoever you are, whatever you're writing, always run a spellcheck. The more important your communication, the more important it is to make sure it's letter-perfect. If you're writing a blog post, double-check it for errors. If you're writing a résumé, spellcheck it and then have another person proof it--two people is better. If you're running for political office, have everything spellchecked repeatedly, have a fact-checker go through it, have a copy editor go through it again, and then run it under another set of eyes just in case. And pay these people well--they're your image.

* I knew I'd go, because it's Fincher and I've seen all his movies, though I thought it sounded like kind of a boring premise for a film, but this was a thrilling piece of machinery. Also, buy the soundtrack: it's amazing.

** I knew I'd go, because it's Aronofsky and I've seen all his movies, though I hated his previous flick, "The Wrestler", but this was a hot, sticky fever dream of a movie, throbbing with repressed sexuality and dark doppelgangers and Cronenbergian body horror.