or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dead Letter

For such as might care: I got my flu jab yesterday and it was quick and painless. (I am completely unafraid of injections and phlebotomies, although I don't actually like to watch the needle going into the skin for some reason: yesterday the doctor was done almost before I knew she'd started.) Let's hope the coming flu season is not a repeat of last year's, or a real-life playing-out of Contagion.

I mostly ignore Facebook but I do play a few games on it, desultorily; I spent way too much time on Frontierville (which now apparently is Pioneer Something) but gave it up cold turkey, and haven't had any interest in allowing anything to fill to void. Having played The Sims quite a bit since its first incarnation (they're up to The Sims 3 and want $50 for the new Pets expansion pack, which is not gonna happen), I started playing The Sims Social, but soon hit a brick wall; like all the other social games on Facebook, you can't make any progress unless you start pestering other people to supply you with things, and I couldn't be bothered.

There never were any typos in the original Sims (pretty sure I would have found them), but there were a few in The Sims 2 and quite a lot in the third version. Apparently, the online edition is going to take after its immediate predecessor, because just look at this screen capture:

"Write epitath"?

Jeez. You don't even have to manually run a spellchecker any more — the software will underline suspect words — and still this slipped in? I'm guessing the software is being farmed out to Croatia or Bangalore or some other such place where programmers abound and English is not the first language, although we make plenty of our own stupid mistakes right here in North America. (I could also point out that the word "skill" is duplicated on the bottom line — a mistake that only a human could catch.)

Anyway, "epitaph" is self-evidently Greek (as essentially all "epi-" words are, not counting such newer macaronics as "epicentre" and "EpiPen"): the first half is, as you surely guessed, a prefix, in this case meaning "on" or in this case "at", and the second from "taphos", which means "funeral rites" or "tomb" and shows up in English in one other word, "cenotaph", "empty tomb".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Eyes Have It

A friend in Toronto threatened to send out a search party, so I'm back. But no promises. I don't have that much to write about these days, because the pleasurable sense of outrage and scorn is gone: Slate and the Globe and Mail can print as many stupid, senseless typos as they want, and I just shrug.

However, there is still etymology to hold my interest, and here is a particularly juicy one which I can't believe I never noticed before.

Earlier this year I had a horrific, unending bout of flu, or a cold, or both at the same time, that brought me down for weeks. I had gotten a flu shot the two years previous, but didn't last year, and look where it got me. So I'm heading out for one later today; I don't need a repeat of that hellishness.

Now, what we call a shot and what the British amusingly call a jab is medically called an inoculation, and that is a very strange word, because the prefix is obviously Latin "in-", which makes sense because it's something put inside your body, but the middle, "-ocula-", cannot possibly be what it looks like, because it seems to be related to "binoculars" and "oculist", which is to say that is has to do with the eyes, which is clearly impossible.

Ah, but there is more than one kind of eye. Potatoes have eyes, too, and this sense is the ocularity of an inoculation. Inoculation originally referred to the grafting of a plant bud, or eye, into another. Say you have a tree with a particularly strong root system but indifferent fruit, and another with excellent fruit but some other inferior quality which makes it unsuitable for growth and survival: you can implant a bud (called a "scion", originally a plant twig or budding, later offspring in the form of a son) from the weaker tree into the stronger, and get the best of both.

And you can also produce a weakened version of a disease, inject it into a person to kick-start their immune system, and so prevent them from getting a more virulent version in the future. This is what Edward Jenner did after he proved that deliberately infecting people with cowpox immunized them against the related but far worse smallpox. Implanting a living bud into someone or something and having the union of the two produce something stronger than either: that's inoculation.