Archive for 6: UUUppercase 3

OOO: Leaving Marks

At the end of a previous column, I mentioned the challenge of choosing a set of names for a set of networked computers, given that more computers will almost always be added to the set later. (Pity the poor novice system administrator who obtains a set of nine servers, names them after the planets or […]

NNN: Order! Order!

Being a collection of miscellaneous items. First up, a puzzle. A couple of years back, someone named Puzzlerkin posted this cute little item to the rec.puzzles newsgroup: Consider the following word series: aid guess degree estate avenue sense Now suggest a word that could correctly continue the sequence. (See answer.) On a vaguely related topic, […]


It's been almost eighteen months since I last discussed gender-neutral pronouns. My thoughts on that matter have changed a little since then, so I'm coming back to the topic. I've become less satisfied with ta and other invented gender-neutral pronouns. I feel more awkward saying ta out loud than I used to, and I've heard […]

LLL: Littera Scripta Manet

Littera scripta manet: "the written letter abides," says my dictionary. I guess those ancient Romans didn't know about the World Wide Web. Latin may not be still a living language, but it's certainly still in use. For one thing, an enormous number of words in modern languages have Latin roots; I'm told that learning Latin […]

KKK: Black is the Color of My Love’s True Hair

Q: What happened when the ship full of red paint collided with the ship full of blue paint? A: All the sailors were marooned. Colors have remarkably strong and varied associations. For example, Reds in American English slang could be barbiturate pills, but more often they're Communists (as, more or less, are the similarly colored […]

JJJ: Mix and Match

The juxtaposition of incongruous elements is at the root of a lot of humor. I purchased Encyclopædia Britannica on CD-ROM a while back. It's an invaluable reference; I keep it in the CD drive of my PowerBook, so I have access to the encyclopedia (plus Webster's Tenth, on the same disk) wherever I have my […]

III: Don’t Put It in Your Mouth

[Warning: This column contains various words generally considered not suitable for polite company. I won't tell if you won't. A couple months ago, I wrote that I wanted to try to "keep this column from descending entirely into the gutter"; what with that last column and this one, I seem to have given up on […]

HHH: House Rules

The word "China" derives from the name of an early dynasty, the Ch'in dynasty. ("Han" is a name for the Chinese race.) Chinese culture has been around for a long time. But it wasn't until about 1962 (according to MW10) that the term "fortune cookie" was used in English—and American perceptions of Chinese culture haven't […]

GGG: Let Your Fingers Do the Talking

As I noted in a previous column, American Sign Language derives from French Sign Language. According to Ethnologue, about fifteen years ago there were between 100,000 and 500,000 speakers of ASL in the US, putting it behind only English, Spanish, Cajun French, Hawai'i Creole English, probably Romani, and possibly Russian in terms of number of […]

FFF: Plow Up Your Soul and Freeze Your Blood

I heard a linguist, John McWhorter, on the radio last week advocating translating Shakespeare. "Well, of course," I thought. "Why would anyone object to translating Shakespeare?" My high school theatre department put on Romeo and Juliet and then took the production to the USSR; late in the trip, we met with a Russian theatre group, […]