Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Panacea

Panacea is a word that the Microsoft staff seems unnaturally addicted to. It is not where the dinosaurs lived.

A panacea is like a "silver bullet" or a kryptonite cross, that is, something that cures all of your problems. Specifically, a panacea refers to a cure-all for health problems (as the legendary Greek goddess was fabled to do), but it is more broadly applied to other problems, and almost always in the negative sense. For example, you might hear that "Technology is not a panacea", that is, it doesn't solve all problems. However, if technology was a silver bullet, that would have some interesting implications...

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Fulsome

Fulsome is where you end up if you shoot a man in Reno. No, wait: That's Folsom.  No, wait again: Folsom's in California.  I'm not sure where you'd end up if you shot a man in Nevada.  Maybe High Desert?

Someone who is fulsome might be a false flatterer.  More generally, something fulsome is offensively excessive or lavish, especially when it comes to praise.  It can also generally mean "abundant or copious", but outside of archaic usage it's hard to avoid the negative connotations.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Colporteur

A colporteur (or colporter) is generally defined as a "peddler of religious literature", although I think the Dictionary.com Unabridged edition is a bit more accurate: "A person who travels to sell or publicize Bibles, religious tracts, etc." or "a peddler of books".  In other words:

  1. They don't have to sell the books as long as the books are religious.  (That is, they can distribute the books in ways other than selling them.)
  2. The publications they distribute don't have to be books, per se.
  3. The books don't have to be religious as long as they are selling them.
Obviously, the first and third definitions are the opposite ends of the spectrum for this.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude is the appearance or quality of truth or reality.  It is often used in fiction to indicate willingness to suspend one's disbelief, especially due to the apparent reality of the fiction.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Postlude

A postlude is defined as a concluding piece or a final chapter.  Essentially, it is the opposite of a prelude.  The main place that I've seen it in practice is in music.  When a song follows a simple verse/verse or verse/chorus/verse/chorus format, a short additional piece at the end (especially using different music than the verses or choruses) might be referred to as a postlude.

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Dictionary.com redesign

Just a note that Dictionary.com has redesigned their site.  Looks a little nicer, but I haven't used it long enough to notice any major UI changes.  Check it out.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Baleen

Long story short, baleen is whale teeth.

(Waits for any cetacean biologists reading this to finish cringing.)

Technically speaking, whales don't have teeth or any real equivalents.  Baleen provides a filtering system for whales (or, more specifically, baleen whales) to strain items such as krill out of the water, basically allowing them to float around without spending too much effort eating.

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Words to Your Mother: Estuary

Essentially, an estuary is a triangular river mouth.  This is similar to a delta, but a delta involves large deposits at the mouth of the river, whereas an estuary must involve tidal forces to prevent a delta from forming.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Harangue

Since I'm not sure of the linguistic origin of my previous post, here's a quick bonus:

A harangue is a long pompous speech, especially one delivered before a gathering.

It doesn't count as plagiarism if you cite your sources.

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Words to Your Mother: Souma yergon

"Souma yergon" means "if we had known".  As in, "Souma yergon what language this was in, this post might feel complete".  You see, I'm not quite sure what language this phrase is originally from.

The phrase is perhaps best known in the Youssou N'Dour/Peter Gabriel song "Shaking the Tree", which contains the lines:

Souma Yergon (If we had known)
Sou Nou Yergon (If we had only known)
We are shakin' the tree

The first two lines above are sung by Youssou N'Dour.  N'Dour normally sings in Wolof, but I'm not certain that the above phrases are in Wolof.  Consulting a Wolof dictionary didn't really help much.  "If" is listed as "su", which seems to be a step in the right direction, but I wasn't able to spot any of the other words.

Despite some claims that these lines are in "Senegalese", Senegalese is not a real language.  Again, Wolof (which is a primary langauge of Senegal) seems the most likely candidate.  If anyone has a more definitive answer, feel free to post a comment.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Contemn

Although they are spelled and pronounced almost identically and they are somewhat similar, to contemn something is not the same as to condemn it. To contemn something is to despise it. You might condemn something that you contemn, but this is not automatic.

One word that is more closely related is contempt. Both words come from the Latin contemnere meaning to (intensely) despise. The intensifier "con-" is the same one that makes its appearance in "condemn", but in that case it is intensifying damnare, which means "to sentence" (rather than temnere, "to despise").

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Miter

The miter is the ceremonial headdress of Catholic bishops.  A variation is also worn by the pope.  Mitre is an alternate (British) spelling for this.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Amiga

The original Amiga (1985)
This computer is an Amiga.
The woman on the screen might
also be an amiga.
If you own one of these,
she is likely your only amiga.

An amiga is a female friend in the Spanish or Portuguese languages.  When I say "female friend", this is not with any of the implications some might take from this phrase in English.  It is literally a friend who is female.  The person using the term may be either male or female.  If the friend is male, the more common "amigo" would be used instead.

In Spanish, Portuguese, and many other romance languages (including French and Italian), all nouns are either masculine or feminine.  Generally the adjective will change sounds to agree with the gender of the noun.  For example, a man (or "masculine" object) might be "bueno" (good), but a woman (or "feminine" object) would be "buena".

In this case it is the noun rather than the adjective that is being modified (although connected adjectives would be modified as well), but this is common when the noun refers to a person rather than an object with an arbitrary gender.

Notable is the fact that groups of individuals are only referred to in the feminine if the entire group is female.  If there are both men and women in the group, than the group is considered masculine (linguistically speaking, that is).

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Pangram

A pangram is when someone sends you cookware from a remote location.  If this is delivered in person by someone who performs a song, then it is a singing pangram.

Actually, a pangram is a sentence that a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet that it is written in.  The English pangram that people tend to be most familiar with is "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".  You can find a bunch of English pangrams here:


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Words to Your Mother: Klaatu barada nikto

What to say to a man of few words

"Klaatu barada nikto" is what you would say to Gort if you wanted to stop him from destroying the world.  The precise meaning  if the phrase is unclear, although Klaatu is the guy who said it.  Presumably it means something like "Klaatu says, 'Kindly don't destroy the world'."  Not something you need to say often, but if you ever need to be say it, you'll be glad you knew the phrase.

Okay, that one doesn't count.

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Words to Your Mother: Whom

The Who in 1978 (front cover of Who Are You)
Or should I say, "Whom are you?"
Probably not.

This is a word that is destined to die, and I can't tell whether or not I'll miss it when it does.

It has already died a half-death, in that you never see it at the beginning of a question, even if it is the proper word to use. (You'll never hear "Whom were you talking to?", although you might occasionally hear "To whom were you talking?") Beyond that, though, I intend to use it when it should be used (and I remember to do so) elsewhere until the word completely fades from the language.

There is a simple rule that tells you when "whom" should replace who: Who is always a subject, and whom is always an object. More tellingly, if replacing the word with "him" (or "her") makes sense, then you should use "whom". If the proper replacement would be "he" (or "she"), then "who" is the way to go. Note that you may have to restructure the sentence as a statement for this to sound natural in some cases.

Another big tip-off is a nearby preposition. ("To whom do you owe allegiance?") Unless I'm sorely mistaken, the object of a prepositional phrase is always... well, an object. Thus "whom" instead of "who".

At least you don't have to worry about changing "wherever" to "wheremever"...

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Sushi

Sushi is raw fish.  Occasionally.  Sometimes.

While sushi may contain raw fish, it is not simply "raw fish".  Sushi is more properly vinegared rice with toppings like seafood, vegetables, etc.  Sashimi is raw fish.

Well, sometimes.

Sashimi usually includes raw seafood, but sometimes the seafood is cooked.  While it is usually served raw, some meats (like octopus) may occasionally be cooked.

Raw fish is raw fish.

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Words to Your Mother: ជំរាបសួរ (joom reeup sooa)

Map of Cambodia

This post uses Khmer Unicode characters. If you cannot see these characters, please install a Khmer font. You may find one for Windows here.

ជំរាបសួរ ("joom reeup soouh") is Khmer (pronounced "ka-mai") for "Hello". Khmer is the language of the Cambodian people. Cambodia is located in southeast Asia and neighbors Vietnam.

The Cambodian language is written using an abugida rather than an alphabet. The characters above may be broken down approximately as follows:

ជ: ch/j
_ំ: oom
ជ + _ំ = ជំ: oom

រ: r
ា: ee-uh
រ + ា = រា: ree-uh
ប: p

ស: s
_ួ: oo-uh
សួ: soo-uh

រ: r (silent in this case)

Thus, this would be pronounced approximately as "joom reeup soouh".

The Khmer-language edition of Wikipedia is located at http://km.wikipedia.org/.

Updated 8/17/06 10:27 AM PDT: Made a few minor corrections to the above text. Most notably, the first roa ("r") obviously isn't silent due to the final pronunciation. Think I got a little cut-and-paste happy there for a minute.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Junk

A Chinese junk in Japan, at the beginning of the Sakoku period (1644-1648 Japanese woodblock print)
Don't leave your junk
sitting around the house

Junk means... well, a lot of things. Perhaps my favorite definition, though, is "a Chinese flatbottom ship with a high poop and battened sails".

Some of the more distinctive features include the square sails containing material flattened by bamboo strips. The strong bamboo makes little rigging necessary for these ships.

Another interesting definition of junk is a "hard salt beef for consumption on board a ship". Although the two meanings are both ship-related, I believe this to be a coincidence. Whereas the ship name is derived from the Malay word dgong or jong, I get the distinct impression that the beef was called "salt junk" simply because it tasted terrible.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Khara

Khara (pronounced "korah") is Sanskrit for "dreadful". The word is perhaps most familiar in the line:

Khara Matha Khara Rath Amah

This is pronounced:

Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah

And it sounds like this:
Audio sample
The line from above is a rough translation of the Celtic poem Cad Goddeu into Sanskrit after it has been adapted for the music of one of the most amazing choral works you'll ever hear.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Words to Your Mother: N'est-ce pas

N'est-ce pas (pronounced nes-pah) is a French term meaning "Isn't it so?"  N'est-ce pas?

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Technorati and Unicode

I don't know if this is the case with all of Unicode, but Technorati didn't seem to handle the Greek character set very well in my post below.  Here are the links again if you want to try them:

They do seem to handle Vietnamese a bit better, based on my post on chào last week.

Even though it shows the search word as "cho", the search results are very different than a search for cho.


I'm curious how much of the Unicode set is supported by Technorati.

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Words to Your Mother: Ἀγάπη (agape)

Aside from referring to your mouth when it's hanging open, agape (ἀγάπη, pronounced a-gah-pe) is a Koine Greek word for "love".  This particular form of love refers to a general love for all mankind, and is often considered a self-sacrificing form of love.

Φιλία (philia) is referred to in Vine's Expository Dictionary as "friendship", but is frequently referred to as "brotherly love".

Eros is romantic or sexual love.

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Top 100 Mispronunciated Words

mental_floss again provides us with a great link, this time pointing out the 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words page. However, some of my "favorites" are omitted from this list, such as:

Don't say
Do say

Technically, I'm not sure if the second one is strictly a "mispronunciation" or if it's a deeper misunderstanding of the word itself.

Of course, we all know that in the future everyone will say aks instead of ask...

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Schadenfreude, anyone?

On July 25th, I posted my article about schadenfreude. Thirteen days later, Scott Adams released the Dilbert strip linked to below:

August 7, 2006 Dilbert strip

I'm sure it's just a coincidence... But if you're out there reading this, Scott, drop me a line. ;-)

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Words to Your Mother Index (8/11/06)

Words to Your Mother—the feature that I said I'd "be shocked if I keep any regularity of posting"—has just reached its 25-post anniversary. Not a huge one, but farther than I thought it'd go. For any new readers, here's an alphabetical index of what we've covered thus far:

inter arma enim silent leges
noblesse oblige
Rashomon effect

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Words to Your Mother: Louche

Louche (pronounced "loosh") means something that is of questionable moral taste or decadent.  For example, you might have a louche club, a louche painting, or maybe even a louche lush.

The etymology of this word is fairly interesting: The word itself is French, coming from an old French word for "squint-eyed", which in turn came from the Latin luscus, meaning "blind in one eye".  I suppose this means that the French squint at decadence.  Not quite sure what that means, so I think I'll leave it alone.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Inspirational Star Trek posters... and some not-so-inspirational posters

A poster (in the sense of a person who posts comments) on Peter David's blog pointed out some posters of another variety. Namely, the type of poster you would hang on a wall, assuming you aren't doing so because you disliked their comments. Specifically, he pointed out a group of Star Trek inspirational posters. Some of the best:

Again, check out the whole collection at http://echosphere.net/star_trek_insp/star_trek_insp.html.

And, while you're at it, head over to Despair.com for some less-than-inspirational posters:




Again, check these out at Despair.com.

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Flock: Blogging gripes

Despite my previous gripes about Flock ("the web browser for you and your friends" that this blog was originally arguably about), I really do enjoy using it quite a bit when I'm forming and posting my blog.   However, I'm going to add a few other nitpicks to the pile:

  • Can't save Technorati tags when a blog post fails.  I've had to retype all of my tags many times in some cases.
  • Sometimes a certificate will show as expired; sometimes it won't.  And I don't mean certificates that just expired, wise-guy.  Once in a while Blogger will show up as having a certificate that expired in 2004, and when I push on past this I usually can't post again until I shut down Flock and start it over.

However, it is very nice that the blog posts are saved in a local folder.

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Words to Your Mother: Apothecary

An apothecary is a pharmacist (or, for that matter, a pharmacy).  However, as the Colonial Williamsburg site points out:

In colonial times, the apothecary was more than simply a druggist. An apothecary often:

  • Provided medical treatment
  • Prescribed medicine
  • Trained apprentices
  • Performed surgery
  • Served as man-midwives

Yes, much like early barbers, they kept their hands full.

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Words to Your Mother: Zimbra

Zimbra, as in the Talking Heads song "I, Zimbra", means...

... um ...

... well ...

The company came much later, as did the software they made.  (That really wouldn't have been much of an explanation anyway.)

Okay, truth of the matter: They made it up. Well, actually someone else made it up.  But the point is, it doesn't mean anything.  The lyrics of "I, Zimbra" are dadaist phonetic poetry (or, less charitably, nonsense lyrics) based on Hugo Ball's poem "Gadji beri bimba".

Well, great song in any case.

Of course, since "Zimbra" turns out not to be a real word, I guess this post doesn't count.  Here we go again...

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Apparently someone is actually reading this...

... since I received some kind words from the mental_floss blog on my response to their Anagram Hall of Fame article.

Ishmael of the amusing word blog Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge noticed our post on the Anagram Hall of Fame from last week and dredged up a few more

mental_floss magazine - Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix

I would also like to use this opportunity to highly recommend mental_floss, which is one of only three magazines that I currently have a paid subscription for. (The other two are Linux Magazine and The Week.) Every issue is packed full of excellent trivia and information. If there's anyone reading this that didn't get sent my way by mental_floss themselves (or if you read their site but don't subscribe), go for it. You won't regret it.

Incidentally, they also have what may be the best t-shirt I've ever seen. I only wish I could have thought of it first:

When life gives you scurvy, make lemonade

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Words to Your Mother: Impeachment

Before we actually define this word, it's trivia time. (Follow this link to skip to the definition.) Select from the following all of the elected United States Presidents to be impeached:

1. Andrew Jackson
2. Andrew Johnson
3. Richard Nixon
4. Bill Clinton

Give yourself a moment. I'll wait.

Rather than give a flat out answer, lets consider these one-by-one. If you're impatient, skip to the answer.

Andrew Jackson -- "Old Hickory" -- appears on the $20 bill. In fact, some newscasters have used this as a point to minimize impeachement, saying that "Andrew Jackson appears on the $20 bill and he was impeached". Although his popularity has waned since his presidency for various reasons, Jackson was never impeached.

Andrew Johnson, on the other hand, was impeached by the House of Representatives for his violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson had attempted to override the Act, declaring it unconstitutional. (Nearly 40 years later, the Supreme Court would agree). A majority of officials voted for his impeachment in the House of Representatives and for his conviction in the Senate. However, a two-thirds majority is required for conviction, so this did not happen. Johnson was impeached but served out his term in office. However, Johnson was not elected as president: He became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. (The same conspiracy that assassinated Lincoln was supposed to kill Johnson as well, but this obviously never ended up happening.) So, if you guessed Johnson, close, but no cigar.

Richard Nixon is another president who was unpopular in retrospect, but very popular at the time. He was elected in 1968, and in 1972 he was re-elected in one of the biggest landslide elections in U.S. presidential history. However, he kind of messed things up after that. Nixon was never impeached; he instead resigned from office. He does still hold the legacy of having said "Sock it to me?" on Laugh-In, as well as being the only one who could go to China.

Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Like Johnson, he was not convicted by the Senate.

So, having taken the long way, here's the answer:

4. Bill Clinton

Only Clinton qualifies. Johnson was impeached but not elected. Neither Jackson nor Nixon were elected, but not impeached.

Impeachment as used in the United States is the ability of Congress to bring charges before an elected official. It is handled by the House of Representatives. Conviction is a separate process handled by the Senate, requiring a 2/3 majority. This conviction would implicitly remove the president from office. Although two U.S. presidents have been impeached, none have been convicted on the related charges or removed from office.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Impress

George Cockburn
Admiral George Cockburn:
Dressed to Impress

If you really want to impress someone, then you should kidnap them and force them to serve as a sailor in your Navy. At least, that was the theory of the British Royal Navy, whose practice of impressment of American citizens was one of the causes leading to the War of 1812.

The British policy of impressment stemmed in part from the war they were involved in with France. A shortage of manpower led to them seeking other methods of conscription, and eventually they began boarding American merchant ships and conscripting ("impressing") the individuals they captured into service. Arguably, they were only reclaiming British subjects, but since they didn't recognize naturalization in America, they often took former Brits who were now true American citizens. As you can imagine, the Americans were unimpressed with this logic, leading to the aforementioned War of 1812.

Generally impressment was practiced on people who already had experience as sailors, but occasionally unexperienced individuals might be used as well.

Note: I am uncertain as to whether Admiral Cockburn (pictured) actually was involved in the practice of Impressment, but his involvement in the War of 1812 is enough cause to pick on him for me.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Chào

Okay, one more to make up for the missing day.  (Keep in mind, though, that I never promised a daily feature.)

Chào is not a word that is integrated into English, but it is very similar to one with a similar meaning and pronunciation that is integrated.  It is Vietnamese for "Hello".  It is pronounced quite similarly to "ciao" (Italian greeting or farewell) or "chow" (food or a type of dog; in Vietnam, perhaps both).  The main difference in pronunciation is that Vietnamese is a tonal language, and the mark above the letter "a" (called a huyền) indicates a low, falling tone.  Be careful with the tone: If you omit or mispronounce it, you may find yourself saying "lamp shade", "alas", "rice gruel", "frying pan", or "rope or cable".

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Words to Your Mother: Beaucoup

For those who aren't satisfied with a Klingon-language entry of the day (or who noticed that I missed a day), here's a nice, simple English word:

Beaucoup means a lot. Literally, that is: It means "a lot". It is perhaps more commonly spelled "boocoo" or "bookoo", which is how it is pronounced, but beaucoup is considered the primary spelling by most sources.

Interestingly, my spell checker doesn't like any of the spellings for this word.

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Words to Your Mother: nuqneH

nuqneH is Klingon for "Hello"... sort of.  It more literally translates as "What do you want?"  It may be roughly transliterated as nook-NECH.

The Klingon language is an artificial language created for the Star Trek movies.  It is not proper to refer to it as a "fictional language", since it is a full-fledged language, albeit with few (if any) native speakers.  (However, the Vulcan language seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a true fictional language, lacking true syntax and word-for-word translations.)  Google is available in Klingon.

You might wonder the point of learning words in a fictional language.  Other than the fact that it makes certain parts of Star Trek easier to understand, the Klingon language was designed by a linguist (Mark Okrand) who placed several interesting features into the language, including a syntax that reverses most human languages, a few non-English sounds (some are drawn from German, Yiddish, or Aztec; others are variations on existing sounds), a systems of prefixes and suffixes that handles word transformation quite differently than English, and hints of a non-base 10 mathematical system.  Frankly, Okrand's The Klingon Dictionary is better than most high school English classes in explaining language and syntax.  (All the same, I'll try to make this my last entry on an artificial language for a while.)

A few useful Klingon phrases (if such a thing exists):
Qapla' (kkhap-LA): "Success".  Often used as a parting blessing.  If you only know one word in Klingon, this is the one to know: It is used frequently in every Star Trek series since 1987.

ghoBe' (gho-BE): No.

HIja' (khi-JA): Yes.

HISlaH (khish-LAKH): Yes (alternative spelling/pronunciation).

Qo'noS (Kronos): The Klingon homeworld.

tlhIngan Hol vIjatlhlaHbe' (TLIngon khol vi-JATL-lakh-BE): I cannot speak Klingon.

nuqdaq 'ocH puchpa''e' (NOOK-dak okh pooch-PA-e): Where is the bathroom?

I refuse to admit how much of the above came from memory.

Reference works on the subject:

The Klingon Dictionary by Marc Okrand
The Klingon Way by Marc Okrand
Klingon for the Galactic Traveler by Marc Okrand
Conversational Klingon (audio CD) by Marc Okrand and Michael Dorn
The Klingon Hamlet by Lawrence Shoen and the Klingon Language Institute.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Icthys

The ichthys or fish symbol represents ChristianityAn icthys is what's commonly known as a "Jesus fish". It is commonly seen on bumper stickers of professed Christians. The origins of the symbol are dubious, conflicted, and confusing: I'll just let you read the Wikipedia article on this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icthys.

The basic Darwin fish is an ichthys symbol with stylized legs, meant to represent evolution.Mentioned in the article is the common "Darwin fish" parody, but not mentioned is the sometimes seen variation of a "Jesus fish" eating a "Darwin fish".  I'm not completely sure what the intended meaning of this is.  While I suppose it might be intended as belief in Jesus overpowering belief in Darwin, but to me it seems a more fitting representation to how some branches of Christianity mix the two, effectively absorbing evolution into said branches.  Of course, it's the conflict between the two and the debates springing from this that led to Flying Spaghetti Monsterism,

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Anagram Hall of Fame

The mental_floss blog points out the Anagram Hall of Fame, which features such gems as "Clint Eastwood = Old West Action", "The Morse Code = Here Come Dots", and "Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler", as well as some more lengthy anagrams like:

To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
A thin man ran; makes a large stride; left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

While it does mention "Alec Guinness = Genuine Class", it neglects to include "Jeremy Irons = Jeremy's Iron".  Or, more notably, "Go hang a salami = I'm a lasagna hog".

Check it out.

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Send some probes to the moon

Have them scoop up all of the regolith and transplant it to the Earth.

And that's how you solve a problem like maria.

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Words to Your Mother: Devolve

To devolve is not the same thing as to  de-evolve, although it can mean to "degenerate or deteriorate gradually".  However, the primary meaning has to do with delegating responsibility or transferring responsibility.  In particular, it may refer to the "statuatory granting of powers from the central government of a state to government at national, regional or local level".

The United States government is not an example of devolution, since the states powers cannot be immediately revoked or granted by the federal government.  (This is instead an example of federalism.)  However, Washington, D.C. in and of itself could be considered an example of devolution, not because the people serving there are de-evolved, but because the powers of that district can be revoked by the federal government at any time.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Certitude

Certitude means the state of being certain.  Effectively, it is pretty much the same as certainty.  However, Princeton University's Wordnet identifies certitude as "total certainty or greater certainty than circumstances warrant", so you might use it as a more emphatic (or slightly sardonic) version of certainty.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Random Trivia: Do fruit flies sleep?

Sort of.

Even fish and fruit flies appear to have a "sleeplike" state. This alternation of the sleeplike state and its absence is referred to as a "Basic Rest and Activity Cycle", or BRAC. Since the modern definition of sleep is defined using EEG criteria, and such tiny brains preclude the recording of EEG's, this may not technically be described as sleep. However, if fruit flies are repeatedly disturbed so that they can not rest, they have what is referred to as a "rest rebound". This behavior is strikingly similar to that exhibited by mammals and birds in similar conditions.

Sleep - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Words to Your Mother: Abugida

An abugida is similar to an alphabet, but includes a vowel sound inherent to each letter.  To give a few examples (both stolen from  Wikipedia articles):

क = ka (Devanagari, the written language for Sanskrit and modern Hindi, among others)

ដ = (Khmer, sometimes referred to as Cambodian)

(If the above didn't display correctly, you may need to install Unicode support on your system.)

Both of the above letters are automatically pronounced with the vowel "a" attached to it unless it is nullified by a diacritical mark.

To give an odd approximation of this, I'll rewrite the first sentence of this article as if each letter inherently possessed an 'a' sound unless it is the end of a word or is followed by the following punctuation marks:

^ = a (at end of word)
' = e
| = i
* = o
` = u
, = (nullifies vowel entirely)
<> = (surrounds literal punctuation marks to set them apart)

    An ab`g|d^ is s|m|l,r t* an al,p,hb't<,> b`t incl`d's a v*w'l s*un,d in,h'r'n,t t* eac,h l't,t'r.

Not a great example, but if you imagine the punctuation (which is substituting for diacritical marks in this case) and consonants joined together as single letters, you have a rough idea. A better example (quoting directly from Wikipedia in this case):

[In Devanagari] the vowel may be changed by adding vowel marks (diacritics) to the basic character, producing other syllables beginning with k-, such as कि ki, कु ku, के ke, को ko. These diacritics are applied to other consonant characters for other syllables. For example, from ल la is formed लि li, लु lu, ले le, लो lo.

It would appear to me that abugidas are slightly more space efficient than true alphabets, but I could be mistaken.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Screed

In order to define screed, it is best to be familiar with the concepts of basic research that are essential to effectively expanding one's vocabulary in an effective manner. When you run across an unfamiliar word in any setting, be it a book, movie, song, everyday speech, or some other location in which you might run across an unfamiliar word, it is best to first note the word down. You may do this on a piece of paper, a small notepad, in a personal digital assistant (PDA) such as the Palm series of devices, in scribblings in the sand, or, if necessary, you may note it down mentally without using any sort of physical mannerism of recording other than your own neural network.

Once you have done this, it is best to use some form of research material. A dictionary can be handy in these cases, although an encyclopedia, Internet-based resource, or other suitable reference work in which the word being researched may be located can be used. In some cases, an article such as this one may be useful (if the author is not writing as if he were being paid by the word, that is, being paid more for a more lengthy article) in determining the proper meaning and usage of such a word.

Examples may prove useful as well if they can be located with relative ease. Using the extensive computer network known as the Internet, a major search engine -- a web site used t o locate other web sites based on keywords -- may be used to locate the word in varying contexts, although it should be remembered that the vocabulary and grammar of many on the Internet is dubious at best. (It should be noted that the search engine need not be major, although most will likely use one of the "larger" or more popular engines.)

That said, a screed is a long, monotonous piece of writing.

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