Small caps and the numeral 1

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has been linking to various posts having to do with the use of small caps in typesetting.

For example:

  • Gore's choice explains Al Gore's request that the numeral 1 in a particular font be made to look more like a 1 and less like a capital I.
  • In response, fawny Joe Clark [see comments below] rants about the evils of small caps. ("Use of small caps for acronyms and abbreviations is a surefire indication your compositor is a snob.")
  • Aegir Hallmundur at Ministry of Type responds that small caps are not bad per se; it's more a question of how and when to use them appropriately.


Apparently, "buckraking" refers to a journalist taking a lot of money for a speaking engagement, especially speaking to a group that has a particular agenda; such a payment may cast doubt on the journalist's objectivity.

Despite the etymology (a portmanteau of "buck" and "muckraking"), the term doesn't actually have anything to do with muckraking; the word "muckraking" is apparently a stand-in here for "journalism," plus of course the pun/joke that the journalist is raking in the bucks.

I'd never heard the term before, but apparently it goes back to at least 2002, when NBC banned it. (Though the phrasing of that piece is ambiguous; perhaps NBC banned the practice under a different name.)

Utah baby namer

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Apparently, Utah Mormon names are often pretty unusual. A couple who used to live in Utah have been collecting such names for the past ten years or so; the result is a fascinating name collection, the Utah Baby Namer.

Three pirate lasses

It occurred to me recently to wonder about the derivation of the word "cutlass."

Turns out it's from Middle French "coutel," meaning knife, which ultimately derives from Latin "culter," meaning knife or plowshare. (! Had no idea that one word meant both things.)

And the "lass" part appears to be a Middle French augmentative suffix. So I gather that the Middle French "coutelas" basically meant "big knife."

Which made me wonder about another piratical term: "windlass." Which turns out to derive from Norse "vindāss," in which the "āss" part means "pole." So it's a winding-pole.

Kind of neat that the two lasses are etymologically distinct from each other as well as from the word "lass."

As well as, of course, from that third pirate-related lass, the spyglass.

in the wind

Just happened across a remarkably poetic phrase that I've never heard used this way before.

I was reading an article about a woman who stabbed an attacker; the woman fled the scene, and near the end of the article it notes:

The woman was still in the wind Thursday night, police said.

At first I thought that must be a typo of some sort. But a quick search finds some other occurrences, such as this headline from an unrelated article: "Shooting victim shows up at hospital, perp still in the wind."

Urbandictionary suggests that the term can mean various things, including "unable to be found" and "on the run."

The derivation seems obvious, but I do wonder (a) where and when the phrase was first used this way, and (b) why I've never encountered it before.

New iPhone word game

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Some day I'll review various iPhone word games that I like; in particular, Jumbline (also available in a free lite version) was my favorite until now.

And it's still pretty cool. But what I'm posting about today is a new one: Befuddled. (On sale right now for 99¢, to celebrate the release of their Spanish-language version, Aturdiras.)

You find words in a grid, Boggle-style. But the grid is large (8x8), and when you find a word, the letters are removed from the grid, and the letters above them drop down a row, and new letters are added at the top. (Also, there's no timer; you can take as long as you want.)

And there are a bunch of elaborations—for example, the letter tiles are made of various materials, and a word must be made up only of one material. And you get "coins" that let you buy various special actions, like a bomb to remove tiles.

It all may turn out to be too complicated for my tastes in the end. But what I'm really liking about it right now is that you can strategically pick words that cause other tiles to fall into the right places to make some great words.

For example, I just arranged things to allow me to spell CASUISTRY, for 4,984 points, and I am mighty pleased with myself as a result.


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Saw this sign on a streetcorner outside a store recently:

Used babies, $500 and up

The store was, of course, a piano store.

island of misfit toys

I don't think I had ever heard of the Island of Misfit Toys before a couple of months ago, when it figured prominently in an anti-iPhone Verizon commercial.

Which would normally be more a matter of my lack of pop-culture knowledge than something relevant to words or language. Except that the phrase seems to be suddenly becoming a popular metaphor.

I saw it in two different news stories during one week a couple weeks ago. I didn't record the first, but the second is a New York Times article, "The Fall and Rise of Media," which says (about job loss in traditional media) "That carnage has left behind an island of misfit toys."

It's possible this has always been used as a metaphor, ever since the Rudolph TV special was broadcast in 1964, and I just didn't notice it until I had a referent to pin it to. But I see that a direct-to-video movie, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys, was released in 2001, and has been aired annually on ABC since December of 2006, so I'm speculating that that's led to increased awareness of the Island. I don't have time to track the phrase further, but I suspect use of the metaphor has gone way up in the past three years.

Language changes

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I'm reading a science fiction story published in 1958: "Eastward Ho!", by William Tenn. It posited a post-Collapse future in which white people live in low-tech poverty, while American Indians are redeveloping high tech.

And I just came across this line of narration:

All the same, the Indians were so queer, and so awesome.

And it's true that there are some awesome queer Indians. But somehow I don't think Tenn meant quite the same thing that I mean by those words.