Archive: Posts about Words
September 18th, 2012, 1 Comment »
We sometimes buy the International Herald Tribune from the local tabac. Because it mostly combines its own original work with New York Times articles, it’s a pretty exceptional paper. It’s also quite light on the advertising, presumably because it makes more of its revenue through newsstand sales. We pay €3 for the paper, which seems pretty rich. But occasionally it’s nice to turn an actual newsprint page, instead of just swiping digital ones aside.
If we buy the paper on the right Sunday, we also get the accompanying International Herald Tribune Style magazine. I was paging through it and discovered this profile of a post-Hermoine Emma Watson by Will Self.
I consider myself a reasonably well-read person, but I was delighted to discover no less than seven terms in the article that I was unfamiliar with. Here they are, in order of appearance, with definitions drawn from Dictionary.com (with the exception of ‘Meisser’):
mien: noun air, bearing, or demeanor, as showing character, feeling,
Meisser: The first hard-paste porcelain developed in Europe in the early 18th century.
moue: noun A pouting grimace (rhymes with ‘moo’)
neoteny: noun Also called pedogenesis. the production of offspring by an organism in its larval or juvenile form; the elimination of the adult phase of the life cycle.
bildungsroman noun A type of novel concerned with the education, development, and maturing of a young protagonist. Also known as a ‘coming of age’ story. Examples might include David Copperfield, The Catcher in the Rye and The Kite Runner.
éclat noun Brilliance of success, reputation.
cavile verb To raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (rhymes with ‘gavel’).
I can’t really recommend the profile. As with nearly all celebrity profiles, it’s pretty banal. And, as somebody I know pointed out, it reads like Will Self drew the short straw at an editorial meeting.
That said, I am grateful for all the new vocabulary words.
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February 8th, 2010, 6 Comments »
I pity anybody who has had to learn English as second (or third or fifth) language. It’s a confusing language to begin with, the regional differences are sometimes staggering (or downright opposing).
Take the word crÃƒÂ¨che, for example. I was introduced to the term when I lived in Ireland, where I learned that it referred to a daycare or nursery. When I subsequently lived in Malta, I heard the Maltese use crÃƒÂ¨che to refer to nativity scenes. Being the most Catholic country outside of the Vatican, they took their Christmas dioramas very seriously. Some of the crÃƒÂ¨ches were sprawling, baroque affairs. Here’s part of one, with its creator for, uh, scale:
Here’s a little slide show with more photos.
I’m currently reading the witty Septic’s Companion, “a mercifully brief guide to British culture and language”. It’s written by Chris Rae. He kindly sent me a copy as a thank you for linking to his website a bajillion years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the Internet.
Here’s his entry on creche (he omits the accent):
creche: n day-care. The place you take your children to be looked after, usually while you bumble off and make the money youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need to pay for it. The Brits do not use the word to describe a the revolting Christian Christmas scene that your child brought home from school and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not sure where to jettison (see Ã¢â‚¬Å“nativityÃ¢â‚¬Â).
I found that puzzling. For who would the Maltese learn the word crÃƒÂ¨che from if not the English? What’s the word’s etymology?
“Christmas manger scene,” 1792, from Fr. crÃƒÂ¨che, from O.Fr. cresche, ult. from O.H.G. kripja, from the root of crib. Also “a public nursery for infants where they are cared for while their mothers are at work” (1854).
Huh. Maybe they learned the word from the French? At least the two meanings–nativity and nursery–have vaguely similar meanings. Another example from Chris’s book is “momentarily”. He says that in the UK, it means “for a moment” and in the US it means “in a moment”. In Canada, I feel like I hear both cases used all the time.
By the way, I’d heartily recommend Chris’s book to Anglophiles everywhere. I particularly liked this bit about the Royal Family:
The Royal Family has three main functions in modern Britain. The first is to invoke antagonism amongst the chattering classes about what the bloody Royal Family ever does for anyone. Bloody social leeches. The second is to provide the tourist industry with ceremonial events, tea towels, commemorative spoons, postcards and other overpriced memorabilia which will be snapped up by enthusiastic tourists and displayed in homes all over the modern world. Their third is to generate C-grade scandal for the chattering classes by having sex with supermodels, smoking pot or making obliquely racist comments on television. Elizabeth IIÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s son, Charles, was hampered by his looks from humping any supermodels and prevented by his personality from scoring weed, although his children, Princes William and Harry, are considerably better looking and attempting to make amends. ElizabethÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s husband, Prince Philip, is a much more enthusiastic scandalmonger and is famous for asking an Australian aborigine whether they still threw spears at each other, and telling British students in China that Ã¢â‚¬â€¢if you stay here much longer, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get all slitty-eyed.
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January 5th, 2010, 6 Comments »
I recently encountered four words that I was unfamiliar with. There were two from the November 9 issue of the New Yorker (yes, I’m very behind in my reading):
- Celling: The gerund form of “to cell”, as in to use one’s mobile phone. In the New Yorker, the sentence reads “In some circles, driving while celling is now called ‘pulling a Shriver’, after Maria Shriver, the wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar , of California, who has been caught a few times violating her state’s no-cell-phone law.” I’ve never seen this usage before, and it feels fiddly and wrong. Plus, isn’t the English-speaking world increasingly using the term ‘mobile phone’ instead of ‘cell phone’?
- Idiolect: From a terrific article about Tim Monich, dialect coach to A-list actors. An idiolect is “the way a person talks. A collection of idiolects forms a dialect, which iis an agreement, common to a place, about grammar and vocabulary and certain expressions.”
And here are two more new words (well, one is vaguely familiar) from the very same sentence from a Stephen Fry blog post. The sentence reads:
I enter a kind of writing purdah, an eremitical seclusion in which there is just me, a keyboard and abundant cups of coffee, all in a room whose curtains have been drawn against the light.
- Purdah: In this case, Fry is using it to as “a curtain or screen, used mainly in India to keep women separate from men or strangers.” That said, it also refers to the practice of sex segregation and concealing of the female form in Islam and Hinduism as practiced in parts of India.
- Erimitical: To be reclusive, as in an ‘erimite’. It has a similar root to ‘hermit’–originally through the Greek word eremos, meaning ‘solitary’.
Speaking of words, I recognize that the grammatically correct way to write this post’s first sentence is “I recently encountered four words with which I was unfamiliar.” But that’s grammar fascism of the worst kind, and I won’t stand for it.
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November 26th, 2009, 3 Comments »
Last night I went to the Centre to watch a great, joyful set by The Swell Season (here’s a video from their new album–that must have been uncomfortable to shoot).
The opening act was Thomas Bartlett, the lead singer of Doveman. Meme-trackers may recognize him from his charming 2008 cover album of the entire Footloose soundtrack. He was a chatty performer, introducing each song with an explanation or anecdote.
He told the story of a song called “Angel’s Share” off the new Doveman album (you can hear it on their MySpace page). The Angel’s Share is the name of a tiny bar in Manhattan’s East Village, which is what Bartlett was originally writing about. He discovered that the bar is named after a piece of distillery jargon. From Wikipedia:
Angels’ share is a term for the portion (share) of a wine or distilled spirit’s volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels. The barrels are typically French or American oak. In low humidity conditions the loss to evaporation may be primarily water. However, in higher humidities, more alcohol than water will evaporate, therefore reducing the alcoholic strength of the product. In humid climates, this loss of ethanol is associated with the growth of a darkly colored fungus, Baudoinia compniacensis, on the exterior surfaces of buildings, trees and other vegetation, and anything else that happens to be nearby
Comparing the Wikipedia article to the name of the bar and song, I see there’s some disagreement over where the apostrophe goes. I suspect that Wikipedia is correct, in that this is brandy or wine or whatever for all the angels, not one in particular.
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October 16th, 2009, 7 Comments »
Today I attended BookCamp Vancouver at SFU. It’s was a well-run, well-organized event that frequently featured an engaging exchange of ideas. It probably could have used a few more of the unconference features that make BarCamp so special. I expect some industries are more comfortable than others with this kind of open, egalitarian model, so better baby steps than none at all.
Throughout the day, I recommended a number of articles to various writers, editors and publishers. I figured I might as well gather them here in case they’re of interest. Long time readers have probably seen me recommend one or more of these articles before:
- The Economy of Ideas by John Perry Barlow – From 1994, but still pretty relevant today. Extremely prescient for the time. “Even the physical/digital bottles to which we’ve become accustomed – floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and other discrete, shrink-wrappable bit-packages – will disappear as all computers jack-in to the global Net. While the Internet may never include every CPU on the planet, it is more than doubling every year and can be expected to become the principal medium of information conveyance, and perhaps eventually, the only one. “
- The Next Economy of Ideas by John Perry Barlow – Six years later, and even more insightful. I’ve been saying this next sentence ever since I read this piece: “Art is a service, not a product. Created beauty is a relationship, and a relationship with the Holy at that. Reducing such work to “content” is like praying in swear words.”
- 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly – I recommend this to every artist I meet, regardless of medium. It’s an extremely elegant way of thinking about fostering community and building an audience. For some reason it reminds me of the central metaphor in Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”. “A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”
I wanted to offset those first three from the next two because the former are truly remarkable, visionary pieces. The next two are smart thinking and worth reading, but might pale a bit by comparison.
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September 23rd, 2009, 3 Comments »
I’m at Web of Change, so updates are likely to be pretty intermittent this week. On my way up–I took the train for the first time from Victoria to Nanaimo–I read the latest issue of Wired magazine. In it, there’s a really fascinating article about the placebo effect, and how, remarkably, it’s increasing:
Why are inert pills suddenly overwhelming promising new drugs and established medicines alike? The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workingsÃ¢â‚¬â€and potential therapeutic applicationsÃ¢â‚¬â€of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body’s innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.
The article uses a term I hadn’t heard before: nocebo. Here’s an explanation:
Like any other internal network, the placebo response has limits. It can ease the discomfort of chemotherapy, but it won’t stop the growth of tumors. It also works in reverse to produce the placebo’s evil twin, the nocebo effect. For example, men taking a commonly prescribed prostate drug who were informed that the medication may cause sexual dysfunction were twice as likely to become impotent.
Handy term, eh?
3 Comments »
January 17th, 2009, 7 Comments »
I followed a link from Beth’s blog to The Stranger’s site (somewhat unsafe for work), where Dan Savage is soliciting new definitions for the term ‘saddleback’. I scrolled down to the comments section, and spotted this:
There’s an old, silly online tradition of posting ‘First!’ (or some variation) to popular forums or blogs. This is a particularly poor execution of that practice.
I wonder where this ‘first’ business started. Slashdot, maybe?
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