April 2006 Archives


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The halteres are a pair of organs in a fly that "function as sensory flight stabilizers." (To quote from MW10.)

Now that I write that, I have a vague idea that I'd encountered the term before, but certainly not often.

Anyway, here's a diagram to give a clearer idea of what and where they are and what they look like.


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According to Wikipedia, a statite is

a hypothetical type of artificial satellite that employs a solar sail to continuously modify its orbit in ways that gravity alone would not allow. Typically, a statite would use the solar sail to "hover" in a location that would not otherwise be available as a stable geosynchronous orbit.

The article notes that Robert L. Forward came up with the idea and filed a patent in 1989, but doesn't say when the word was first used. Presumably it's from "static" + "satellite".

One reason I think it's worth mentioning is that a lot of sf writers don't realize that you can get a geostationary orbit only directly above the equator, unless you use a statite.



I don't usually open 419-scam emails, but I happened to glance at this one, and was amused at a particular phrase:

Dear Sir/Ma,

My name is Mr.Gat Butu

I am from Portugal. I have been diagnosed

with Esophageal cancer. It

has defiled all forms of medical treatment,and right now I have only

about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

I think the idea of a form of cancer that defiles all forms of medical treatment is kind of poetic. Ptooey! I spit on your medical treatment!

Okay, here's a bonus spam quote, from a different 419 scam email:

Dear friend

I am writting this letter with due respect and heartful of tears since we have not known or met ourselves previously.

That's pretty deep. It makes me wonder: have I ever really known or met myself previously? I'll have to think about that.

I know, I know, it's bad form to make fun of stuff written by non-native speakers, and my attempts at writing in a foreign language would be a lot more laughable. But sometimes I can't resist.

googly-eyed ogle


There's been some discussion on a mailing list lately about pronunciation of "ogle."

I've always pronounced "ogle" to rhyme with "mogul," and it bugs me every time I hear it pronounced to rhyme with "toggle." I intellectually understand that it's a perfectly valid and fairly widespread pronunciation, but it still sounds Wrong to me. This probably has something to do with my putting way too much weight on the usual ways that English spelling corresponds with pronunciation.

And I know some people pronounce it to rhyme with "Google." (About 19% of respondents to the dialect survey consider that pronunciation valid! That's a lot.) But that sounds even wronger to me.

MW10 and MW11 list /'oU g@l/, with /'A g@l/ as an alternate pronunciation, but they don't list /'u g@l/. (See ASCII IPA pronunciation key.)

In the mailing-list discussion, someone mentioned "googly eyes" (those little toy eyes). I'm not sure how those eyes came to be called that, but MW11 says "googly-eyed" (first printed citation 1926) derives by alteration from "goggle-eyed," which dates back to 1711 and means "having bulging or rolling eyes." "Goggle" as an adjective ("protuberant, staring") dates back to 1540. The word "goggles" first appeared in print in 1715. These all appear to come from Middle English gogelen, "to squint."

I've also heard "making googly eyes" at someone to mean something like flirting--which I suddenly suspect comes from a combination of "make eyes at" and the /'u g@l/ pronunciation of "ogle." Or possibly I've got cause and effect reversed; maybe "make eyes at" plus "googly-eyed" became "make googly eyes at", and since "ogle" is a synonym for "make googly eyes at," people may've started pronouncing "ogle" to rhyme with "google."

But I'm just guessing.

Added later: Arthur C points out that "making goo-goo eyes" is something else again: Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines "goo-goo eyes" as "foolishly amorous glances." So now I'm thinking that's probably mixed in too.

And although this is probably irrelevant, MW11 notes that "goo-goos" were, in 1912, advocates of a political reform movement; derived from the phrase "good government."

P.S.: turns out "mogul" derives eventually from the Mongolian word "mongγol," meaning "Mongol."


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I always used to mix up Limbo and purgatory. Well, okay, to be honest I still do. But now at least I know that "Limbo" is called that because the unbaptized souls had to bend over backwards as they tried to dance under--

You're not buying it, are you.

Okay. Actually the term derives from Medieval Latin "limbus," which derives from the Latin word for "border."

I'm uncertain, however, whether that word is at all related to Latin "limen," meaning "threshold" (hence "subliminal," et alia), or whether they just happen to share some sounds and related meanings.


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A "craton" is a part of the Earth's crust that's particularly old and stable. They're apparently often found at the heart of a continent or ocean. I don't know that I entirely understand it, but there's a Wikipedia article if you want more info.

That article also, btw, uses the term "felsic," a combination of "feldspar" and "silica." As in, "I felsic from eating too much feldspar and silica." That latter article also defines "acid rock" as being a volcanic rock with a high silica content; it's so straight-faced that I'm almost willing to believe that whoever wrote the article didn't know the term "acid rock" had any other meaning in other contexts.

Rock on, craton!


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I've known what caltrops were since I was a kid: those four-pointed metal things, scattered in roadways to damage tires or hooves or feet.

But as with so many words, somehow it didn't occur to me 'til recently to wonder about this word's origins. It turns out that the word "caltrop" (also spelled "calthrop") also refers to any of a variety of plants (the star thistle, the puncture vine, and others) that bear spikes. (And/or look like they bear spikes.)

I'm a little uncertain how the etymology fits together (because Wikipedia seems to suggest that at least one of the plants was named after the weapon, rather than the other way 'round--but then, I don't really trust Wikipedia to be 100% accurate about such things), but MW3 indicates that the word derives from Medieval Latin calcatrippa, which probably derives eventually from roots meaning "heel" and "trap."

Meanwhile, a "caltrap" or "galtrap" is a heraldic representation of the weapon. Like the device at the top of this Heraldry of some Yorkshire Families page. Would that be azure three caltraps or? I loved heraldry when I was a kid (all those cool weird words!), but I'm way rusty at this point.


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A USA Today blog entry from Kevin Maney, dated 5 April 2006, has the following headline:

Apple and XP: Has hell frozeth shut?

I'm wondering whether this was an intentional mangling of the more traditional "Has hell frozen over?", or whether the author just got confused.

But either way, I suspect it's a good example of people's tendency to use "-eth" and "-est" endings without really understanding how they were used in older versions of English.

"-eth" or "-th" was for the third person singular present tense. "-est" was for the second-person singular.

So: "I freeze"; "thou freezest"; "he freezeth." But: "I froze"; "you froze"; "she froze".

"Frozeth" just plain isn't a word. And "more than that, it never was one!" (he paraphrased randomly).

off the dime


I've been mentioning a lot of British idioms and slang that I hadn't previously encountered; now here's an American one.

The compromise proposal [...] was introduced last night and "has moved this issue off the dime," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)[....]

--Washington Post, "Immigration Legislation Compromise Announced," by William Branigin and Jonathan Weisman, 6 April 2006

Don't think I've ever seen that before. Answers.com's idioms section says to "get off the dime" is to "Take action, especially following a time of indecision or delay." Claims it's from 1920s dance halls, though that sounds a little dubious to me.


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Scientific American reports on a new fossil that bridges the gap between fish and four-limbed land creatures. It's thought to have lived primarily in shallow streams.

The creature has been named Tiktaalik roseae. The article notes:

"Tiktaalik" is the local Inuktikuk word for a large freshwater fish seen in the shallows.

I don't know whether that means it's the name of a particular kind of such fish, or whether it's a generic word that applies to any such fish, but I liked the word.

I suppose I should explicitly mention, in case it's not obvious by now, that I'm not restricting myself to the kinds of words that are valid in wordgames. The words I'm posting here include non-English terms, proper nouns, slang, and so on. Part of me thinks it's more fun to stick to wordgame-valid words, but then I see a word like "tiktaalik" and have to post it.



According to Wikipedia, the Taoiseach (pronounced something like /ti Sax/) is "the head of government of the Republic of Ireland and the leader of the Irish cabinet."

Basically the Prime Minister, but apparently the word literally means "leader" or "chief." It's an Irish (also known elsewhere as "Irish Gaelic") word.



There's a park area in Santa Cruz called Pogonip, but it turns out the word itself refers to "a dense winter fog containing ice particles," making it another in a series of nifty weather words.

MW11 says it's from the Shoshone word "paγinappih," meaning "cloud."

Actually, it turns out this word isn't new to me; I had a vague idea it looked familiar, so I searched old email and discovered it was proposed as a fictionary word in a long-running game of email fictionary at least three times in a four-year period, but someone knew what it meant so it was never used. But still, I like it enough to post it here, and the definition here is slightly more detailed than the last one I saw, and at any rate the etymology (which I think is cool) was previously unknown to me.

Here's a question: how many other Shoshone words have become English words? Are there any common ones? I have no idea.


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A rusk is hard crisp bread, possibly sliced. Encountered in a submitted story.


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According to The Free Dictionary, "spod" is British slang for someone "who spends an inordinate amount of time exchanging remarks in computer chatrooms or participating in discussions in newsgroups or on bulletin boards."

I suppose there had to be a word for it.

(SPOD is, of course, also an abbreviation for the Spinning Pizza Of Death, the wait cursor that appears in Mac OS X when an application is temporarily or permanently nonresponsive.)

I encountered "spoddy" in a hecklerspray item about the upcoming Simpsons movie, which referred to the also upcoming Halo movie as "a spoddy videogame movie."


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A "double-dome" is an intellectual. I encountered the term in the first episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle, from 1959 or 1960, but it dates back to 1938.

I can see where "egghead" comes from, but I'm not sure about "double-dome." I was envisioning bald aliens with two-lobed heads (like Ferengi or something), but now I'm thinking maybe it just refers to people with high foreheads--double the height/amount of "dome" that normal people would have.


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She gets fleetingly, gigglingly nude in a rooftop Jacuzzi, but given that we are in London, not California, this just looked a bit parky to me.

--Guardian review of Basic Instinct 2, written by Peter Bradshaw, 31 March 2006

Turns out "parky" is British slang for "cold."

Later in the review, the following phrase appears: "he gets very frowny and shouty and looks as cross as two sticks." I don't remember whether I've encountered that simile before, but I like it.


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According to Webster's 1913, epideictic means "Serving to show forth, explain, or exhibit;--applied by the Greeks to a kind of oratory, which, by full amplification, seeks to persuade."

(There are a bunch more rhetorical terms at Everything2, among other places.)

But MW3 says it means "designed primarily for rhetorical effect." Which seems like a kind of meta-rhetorical term--aren't most rhetorical figures designed primarily for rhetorical effect?

MW3 helpfully provides a synonym: "demonstrative." I've never heard that term applied to rhetoric before, so I looked it up--and meaning 3 of demonstrative is (I quote in full): "epideictic."

I'm always pleased when I encounter a definition loop in a major dictionary.

Fortunately for my poor brain, the BYU website has a section on oratory (Silva Rhetoricae), which includes a page for epideictic oratory, which more or less explains how the above definitions fit together:

The Greek epideictic means "fit for display." Thus, this branch of oratory is sometimes called "ceremonial" or "demonstrative" oratory. Epideictic oratory was oriented to public occasions calling for speech or writing in the here and now. Funeral orations are a typical example of epideictic oratory. The ends of epideictic included praise or blame, and thus the long history of encomia and invectives, in their various manifestations, can be understood in the tradition of epideictic oratory.

So I guess it was more about public speeches of praise or blame than seeking to persuade. I'm not quite sure how to reconcile that with the Webster's 1913 definition.

Some day I should sit down and read a good book on rhetorical devices. I can never remember which names go with which figures, or even what half the figures are.

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