kk: Englishizing

As described in an earlier column, a hobson-jobson is what happens when English speakers hear a non-English phrase and analyze it as English. For instance, "mushroom" derives neither from "mush" nor from "room"; it's from French mousseron. There are other foreign phrases whose pronunciation has altered drastically as they became naturalized citizens of English. Most […]

jj: Girls and Boys Together

Little-girl jokes form a small genre unto themselves. I've always heard these two told about little girls, for some reason, rather than little boys... A prisoner was released on parole after a twenty-year sentence. Elated, he ran down the street yelling, "I'm free! I'm free!" A little girl standing nearby replied, "That's nothing; I'm four." […]

ii: TLAs, PDQ! (Reader Comments and Addenda)

I had already mentioned Roy G. Biv in another column. Oops. I ought to check the index before writing. Maybe I need a mnemonic for remembering what I've written about. Pierre Abbat mentions a recursive acronym he's seen on bumper stickers: "BASS, which stands for Bass Anglers Sportsman Society." Several people wrote in to fill […]

ii: TLAs, PDQ!

Recall from an earlier column that an initialism is an acronym if it forms a pronounceable word. It's not always obvious, though, what abbreviations are pronounceable. Take "IITYWYBAD?", for instance, a term displayed on a sign in a diner in The Grapes of Wrath. You certainly wouldn't want to have to say each letter, but […]

hh: Five, Seven, Five

Refrigerators. Refrigerators are cold. Refrigerators. —unknown In Japanese, two of the character sets are syllabaries, with a single symbol for each syllable found in the language. I always figured that had something to do with the origin of haiku, the unrhymed verse form consisting of three lines, with five syllables in the first and third […]

gg: By Definition

"...it is a bad method, to start from words to define things..." —Ferdinand de Saussure, as quoted by Ogden and Richards Penny: The gostak distims the doshes. Quentin: What's a gostak? Penny: That's what distims the doshes. Quentin: What's distimming? Penny: It's what the gostak does to the doshes. Quentin: Okay, but what are doshes? […]

ff: Tempos Fugue It

(Unfortunately, this is another column best viewed in browsers that support tables. Apologies to lynx users.) The fugue, as a musical form, is looser than the canon; less canonical, one might say. The following piece is meant to be spoken aloud in parallel, in two voices; each line on the left is spoken in synch […]