Molon labe

Just happened across the Greek phrase "Μολων λαβε" (not sure how to get the accent marks to appear in HTML), often transliterated "molon labe." Apparently it was King Leonidas's response when the Persians demanded the Spartans' weapons: "Come and take them!"

Wikipedia adds:

It corresponds roughly to the modern equivalent English phrase "over my dead body," "bring it on" or, most closely, "come and get it."

I would not have expected an ancient Greek phrase to appear on a T-shirt at a Tea Party rally, but that's just where I saw this (in a photo). It turns out that American gun-rights advocates have adopted the phrase as a challenge to those they see as trying to take their guns away.

That Wikipedia page has a bunch of other interesting stuff about the use of the phrase at various historical moments.

And on a side note, it introduced me to an acronym I'd never encountered before: RKBA. From context, at first I thought it must stand for "Royal [something] [something] Association," but no: it's "Right to Keep and Bear Arms."

Comma, importance of

Back in March, I came across this AP headline:

More than math, reading important

I read it as saying that reading was more important than math, but the article is about attempts to "broaden the focus [of education] beyond math and reading." So I started to write an entry here to make fun of the headline for having nothing to do with the article body.

And then I realized that I'd misread the headline.

It's using the common headline technique of replacing an "and" with a comma. So it really meant that more topics than math and reading are important.

So it's a perfectly reasonable headline for the article, except for the ease of misreading it. I would still say it's a bad headline, but on very different grounds than my original impression.

Exasperated problems

This just in from the AP, by way of AOL:

[...] spacewalking repairs may be needed sometime after Discovery leaves this weekend. The problem is exasperated by the fact that a period of intense sunlight on the space station is fast approaching[...].

—"Astronauts take 3rd, final spacewalk; valve stuck, by Marcia Dunn, AP

(It may have been corrected by the time you see this, though. I saw it an hour or two after it was posted.)

I know, I know, people make mistakes all the time, and I generally see no need to call attention to them. I was just amused by this one.

Online laughter

Not long ago, I was chatting online with a friend, and something made me laugh, and I realized I wasn't sure how to type that.

I often use heh or hah! or hee! these days (in ascending order of hilarity) to indicate brief and/or relatively mild amusement, but this was real laughing-out-loud. Which suggests an obvious answer, but I tend to associate LOL (and ROFL, and variations on those) with people new to online interaction. (I realize that's an unfair connotation; I have various friends who happily use those terms and who've been online for years, and it doesn't bother me when they use them. But it feels weird to me to use those terms myself.)

I sometimes see people write hehehe, but that doesn't work for laughter for me. It reads to me somewhere between heh heh heh and hee hee hee, both of which have connotations for me of particular kinds of laughter (respectively: a sort of sniggering chuckle, and a kind of titter) that aren't what I was looking for; and somehow the spelling hehehe, however it's meant to be pronounced, bugs me anyway.

Various of my friends sometimes write ahahaha; I like that, and it clearly conveys a particular tone to me, so I tried typing it, and immediately regretted it. It looks perfectly natural when my friends write it, but perfectly weird when I do. Possibly that's just a matter of practice, but partly it's that I don't feel like I laugh like that.

I suppose there's always mwa-ha-ha and its sibling bwa-ha-ha, but those are really only useful for a specific kind of laughter.

Most of the time, I just go with smileys. One smiley might indicate brief amusement or a smile; two is more amusement or a brief laugh; three or more generally means I was laughing out loud.

But that's not entirely satisfying either—and the friend I was chatting with in this particular instance doesn't like emoticons.

Probably my best bet would've been something like *laughs* (or ::laughs:: or /me laughs or *laugh* or various other variations). Which I somehow didn't think of, but will probably use next time.

But now I'm curious. What do y'all type in online contexts to indicate laughter? What connotations do various forms have for you?

Food and serial commas

From an article about rescued Chinese miners:

But today rescuers hailed a miracle as they pulled more than 100 miners to safety after eight days trapped underground. They had survived by strapping themselves to the walls, eating sawdust and sheer tenacity.

Mmmm, tenacity.

(Thanks to Arthur E for the pointer.)

There can be only one (or two)

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Heard an unintentionally funny line on the radio this morning:

"There's only one person who can answer this, and that's y'all."

Car Talk caller, 4 April 2010.

Of course, "y'all" can be singular in some dialects. But in this case it was clear that the caller was addressing two people, the two Car Talk guys. It seemed to me that there was even a slight hesitation before "y'all" as she realized what she was saying, but I may have read too much into it.

I don't remember for sure, but I don't think she had a Southern accent; I suspect she was using the Northerner version of "y'all," which I've been hearing more often in recent years as a disambiguating plural "you" (which is also how I use it).

It may well be that she thought of the Car Talk guys as interchangeable—I know I can't tell them apart. But I think there may've been something else going on as well:

I'm pretty sure I've heard a construction like "there's only one X, and it's Y" (with Y being a plural noun) before, may even have said it myself.

So it may be that "there's only one X" is a kind of idiom or semi-fixed phrase or exaggeration-for-effect that really just means "Y is very likely to be an X."


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Recently saw a spam subject line that I thought said "Succeed in a truth economy." Which brought all sorts of interesting science fictional ideas to mind.

Until I saw that it actually said "Succeed in a tough economy."

Oh, well.


Sometime around the beginning of March, I came across the word theophory, which Wikipedia says is "the practice of embedding the name of a god or a deity in, usually, a proper name."

For example, Wikipedia says that the name "Elijah" incorporates both "El" and "Jah," both of which refer to God; it says the name translates to (among other things) "My God is Jah."

All of which is interesting enough to me on its own—I had known that "El" in names sometimes referred to God, but had no idea there was a word for that—but is even more interesting to me because my very own name is an example of theophory.

My parents had various reasons for naming me "Jedediah": partly after Jedediah Smith, for example, and partly because it was, they always said, King Solomon's name before he changed it to Solomon.

Turns out in that context it's usually spelled "Jedidiah," with an i in place of the second e. But regardless, it was in fact a name given to Solomon when he was a baby, and it means "beloved of God"; I never thought of this before, but I now assume the "iah" part at the end refers to Yahweh.


According to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, a manugrapher's job is to trace and paint advertising material, including lettering.

Which is pretty much what one might expect from the roots of the word: someone who writes by hand. But I'm pleased and amused that it's a job title.