February 2008 Archives

leaper, leapling

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According to a Detroit Free Press article, "Leap year babies hop through hoops of joy, pain of novelty birthday" (doesn't "Hoops of Joy" sound like it should be part of the same series as "Abs of Steel" and "Blades of Glory"?), a baby born on Leap Day is a "leapling," and an adult born on Leap Day (that is, a former leapling who's now grown up) is a "leaper."


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The other night, Mary Anne noted that the sheets for the air mattress were in the dryer, and that once they were dry, I would have to make my own bed. "And then I'll have to lie in it!" I said.

Which wouldn't have been noteworthy in itself; a weak joke made in passing. But not long after that, Kavi finished her bath (in her little plastic baby bathtub, which the baby bathes in while the mini-tub sits inside the otherwise dry full-size bathtub), and Mary Anne picked her up to put her to bed, and I found myself dumping out the bathwater but not, of course, the baby.

Fulfilling two proverbs in ten minutes! A new record for me, I think.

Btw, an article in De Proverbio, the electronic journal of international proverb studies, notes that the baby/bathwater proverb comes from German, and didn't come into common use in English until the 20th century. (Or at least the 19th.)



Before I start in on today's entry, I have a little snippet of story for you to read:

I walked down the hospital corridor away from my room. One of the doctors I didn't know well--Dr. Karlson, I think--called out, "Jason, wait!"

I turned around, glaring.

The doctor took out a stethoscope. "Before you leave, I have to check your heart one more time."

I sighed. "Can't I just get out of here?"

"No, Jason. I'm sorry, but there are certain rules we have to follow."

Now: what gender is Dr. Karlson?

It should be obvious that the doctor's gender is unspecified in this little snippet. But something weird often happens when I read the word "doctor":

Not only do I assume that the doctor is male (which a lot of people, at least in the US, do), but I often think that the doctor was explicitly identified as male.

And then a paragraph or a page later, the author drops a pronoun and we discover that the doctor is female. And I say to myself, wait, the author explicitly said the doctor was male, this is not just me being sexist, it was right there in the story. And then I go back and look, and in fact it wasn't right there in the story; it was just me being sexist. Or gender-normative or something.

It's not that I don't believe in female doctors. I probably know more female medical doctors than male medical doctors; I've certainly gone to as many female doctors as male ones; it doesn't bother or upset or surprise me to encounter a woman who's a doctor. And if a story I'm reading clearly identifies a doctor as female upfront, that seems perfectly normal.

It's just that when I see the word "doctor" without any other markers, somehow my brain develops the idea that I've been explicitly told that the doctor is male. It's kind of bewildering, and remarkably (and unfortunately) consistent.

There are other professions that I have a strong gender assumptions for, of course. But I don't generally go so far in fabricating evidence about those.

Delany once referred to the assumptions we make about generic and otherwise undescribed people as the "unmarked state": in the absence of any markers giving us information to the contrary, we tend to assume certain things about people when they're mentioned to us. The unmarked state for a story's narrator (for a lot of us white American readers) tends to be white, heterosexual, upper-middle-class, etc. Probably male, too, although sometimes the unmarked gender for the narrator is the same as the gender of the author, or the assumed gender of the author if you can't tell from the author's name.

For me, the unmarked "nurse" is female; the unmarked "guard" is male. Certainly the unmarked "programmer" or "software engineer" or "computer scientist" is male. And there are plenty of others.

But I don't think my assumption is ever quite so strong with other words as with the word "doctor."


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"Arb" is apparently a short form of "arbitrage trader." The Wall Street Journal had a blog entry recently that, a couple paragraphs after referring to arbitrage traders, included the phrase "an unhappy arb is a litigious one."

(The Perils of a Google-Yahoo Blocking Move, 8 February 2008)

dule and teen

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation of Villon's "The Ballad of Dead Ladies" (the poem whence comes the phrase "But where are the snows of yesteryear") includes this line:

(From Love he won such dule and teen!)

Turns out that "teen" is an archaic or obsolete word meaning things like "grief" or "injury" or "irritation." And a Dule Tree was a tree used in Britain for public hangings; "dule" in Scots and Middle English (according to Wikipedia) had to do with sorrow or grief.

There are a few other web pages that include the phrase dule and teen; most are other copies of the Rossetti translation, but a few are other verses, mostly copies of an Andrew Lang poem. One page defines the phrase as meaning "grief and pain."

The connection to teenagers is left as an exercise to the reader.

presidential glass

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According to Wikipedia, "presidential glass" is another term for a particular kind of mostly-transparent teleprompter commonly used by US Presidents.


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On a video about an explosion, I heard an announcer use a term that sounded like "blevvies." I got curious and Googled it; turns out it's an acronym. According to Wikipedia:

BLEVE, pronounced [...] "blevvy"[...], is an acronym for "boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion". This is a type of explosion that can occur when a vessel containing a pressurized liquid is ruptured.


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"Fossicking" is an Australian and Cornish (Cornwallish? Cornwallian?) term for prospecting. In Australia, it can apparently also mean "rummaging."

Encountered it in a cover letter for a story submitted to SH.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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