Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Words to Your Mother: MacGuffin

My third and final (for the moment) lazy-catch-up post:

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or Maguffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story.The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term "MacGuffin" and the technique. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Hitchcock explained the term in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "[W]e have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin.' It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers."

MacGuffin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Words to Your Mother: In medias res

Again, I'm feeling lazy, so I'll let Wikipedia speak for me. I will note that the Star Trek: The Next Generation epsiode "Suspicions" is one of many examples of this technique.

In medias res (Latin for "into the middle of things") is a literary technique where the narrative starts in the middle of the story instead of from its beginning (ab ovo or ab initio). The characters, setting, and conflict are often introduced through a series of flashbacks or through characters relating past events to each other. Classical works such as Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad begin in the middle of the story.

In medias res - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Slake

To slake is to satisfy or quench ("to slake one's thirst), to moderate ("to slake one's anger"), to refresh by moistening, or to combine lime wit h moist air. It is more common in older English, but still in modern usage.

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Words to Your Mother: Poltroonery

Double-post today to make up for a missing day:

Poltroonery is cowardice.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Scroobious

Scroobious is a word from the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear. It is applied to people to imply disapproval of their conduct; however, it is not a real word.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Vita

A vita is a short account of a person's life. More than one vita would be vitae. A vita can also be a curriculum vitae (which is singular in this case), which is basically a resume (or, if you prefer, resumé, or if you just want to be snooty, résumé)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Mukluk

A mukluk is a soft boot made of reindeer skin or sealskin and worn by Eskimos.

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Words to Your Mother: Hoi polloi

The hoi polloi are the common people.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Words to Your Mother: ສະບໃຢດີ (sabaai dee)

Today, we again venture into southeast Asian linguistics with a consideration of ສະບໃຢດີ (pronounced "sabaai dee" or "sa-baaj-dii"), which is Lao (or, if you prefer, Laotian) for "Hello".

Lao is closely related to Thai. Laotian generally uses the Thai alphabet for writing, and I believe that the phrase discussed here is the same in both languages, as well as in Isan. Like the related Khmer alphabet, this is an abugida (or syllabic alphabet) rather than a true alphabet.

As with Vietnamese, Lao is a highly tonal language. I can't claim to be an expert on Laotian tones, but I believe the following to be the correct interpretation of this phrase:

ສະ = sa (with a low rising tone)

ບໃ = bay (with a low tone)

ຢ = y (with a low rising tone)

ດີ = dee (with a low tone)

In practice, you may still be understood without the proper tones for such a common phrase (especially given the contexts you would be most likely to use it in), but it is definitely better to try to achieve the proper tone when speaking.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Words to Your Mother 101st Anniversary Index (10/21/06)

And to think I missed my own anniversary...

The main feature of the blog that wasn't supposed to last more than a week or two has now reached its 101st anniversary. The 101 words that I've included below (not counting Foster's or words that shared a definition under another word's heading) represent what you may or may not have learned so far. Honestly, I don't remember what many of them mean myself. Here's your chance for a refresher.  Note that seventeen of the words below fail Flock's spell-check (not counting words marked as non-English or the phrase "Rashomon effect", which includes a proper noun).  Enjoy.

achtung (German)
ἀγάπη (agape) (Koine Greek)
amiga (Spanish)
brae (Scottish)
bwana (Swahili)
chào (Vietnamese)
danke schön (German)
de riguer (French)
dobar dan (добар дан) (Serbo-Croatian)
懂嗎 (懂吗/dong ma) (Mandarin Chinese)
ebay (Pig Latin)
ekorn (Norwegian)
embarazada (Spanish)
ennui (French)
fata morgana
גנבֿ (ganef) (Yiddish)
hakuna matata (Swahili)
inter arma enim silent leges (Latin)
!*(f ^^/~ (iœ yye) (Oou)
ជំរាបសួរ (joom reeup sooa) (Cambodian/Khmer)
khara (Sanskrit)
klaatu barada nikto (fictional language)
momento mori (Latin)
n'est-ce pas (French)
noblesse oblige (French)
nuqneH (Klingon)
octave (poetry)
qu'est-ce que c'est? (French)
Rashomon effect
סלה (selah) (Hebrew)
sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble (French)
souma yergon (Wolof [?])
spick and span
tchotchke (Yiddish)
teratonym (not a real word)
uff da (Norwegian)
uhuru (Swahili)
zimbra (not a real word)

If you can read this, you don't need glasses. You know, unless you're wearing them right now. Or unless you increased the font size or you're using a magnifier program or a text-only browser without font sizes. Cheater.

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Words to Your Mother: Propinquity

Propinquity can refer either to physical proximity or to a sort of kinship or bond between people or things.

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Words to Your Mother: Grotto

A grotto is a small cave or cavern

    It can also be a garden like such

Is this in iambic pentameter?

    I think I'm stuck from yesterday - oh, drat.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Octave (poetry)

A couplet is a poem

    That consists of two lines

A quatrain is a poem

    That consists of four lines

A sestet is a poem

    That consists of six lines

An octave has eight in iambic pentameter

    So this doesn't count as one (even if it were a poem)

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Words to Your Mother: Ennui

Ennui (pronounced "on-we") is boredom.  Extreme, extreme boredom.


That's about it.

Did I mention that it's related to the word "annoy"?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Hypercorrection

Hypercorrection is something that is familiar to you and I , even if you haven't heard of it before.  A hypercorrection is a phrase that is formed by taking existing grammatical rules and misapplying them in an attempt to be more correct but resulting in an improper statement.

Some examples of hypercorrection:

Pluralizing "virus" as "virii".  (The proper pluralization is viruses.)

Forcibly removing prepositions from the ends of clauses.

Using "you and I" as an object since it sounds more "proper".  ("He gave it to you and I.")

Hyperforeignism: Misapplying pronunciation rules for other languages to words that do not follow these rules.  (Lots of good examples of this at Wikipedia.)

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Lacuna

A lacuna is a blank space or a gap.

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Worthless Word for the Day

No, I'm not talking about this blog.

Check out the Worthless Word for the Day site for plenty of obscure and purportedly useless words. Good stuff.

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More words from mental_floss

Check out last Friday's Weekly Word Wrap at mental_floss for definitions of words like eosophobia (fear of dawn), parnel (a priest's mistress), and gynotikolobomassophile (one who likes to nibble on a woman's earlobes).

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Words to Your Mother: Facinourous

Facinorous means extremely or atrociously wicked.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Inveterate

Inveterate means firmly and long established.

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Words to Your Mother: Hematologist

Boy, if I kept going down the list of medical specialties, that could probably support this blog for a month or two by itself...  I'll try not to fall back on it too often.

A hematologist (or haemotologist) is a doctor that studies blood disorders, as well as blood-forming organs and blood in general.

For reasons that escape me, hematology seems to be frequently linked with oncology, which involves the study, prevention, and treatment of cancer and other tumors.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Schizoid

Someone who is schizoid is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, extreme shyness, reclusiveness, discomfort with others, and an inability to form close relationships.

Now I'm going back to my cave until tomorrow.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Danke schön

Danke schön is German for "thank you for... all the" --

Come to think of it, just "thank you" (or "thanks a lot") pretty much covers it. Danke schön is only one of numerous ways of saying "thank you" in German. Danke on its own can mean "thank you" as well, but can also mean "no, thanks" in response to an offer. It is effectively required by German custom to respond to this with "bitte schön" (or just "bitte" if you are responding to "danke" on its own): otherwise you may be viewed as refusing the thanks of the person in question.

Incidentally, the second word is pronounced more like "schone" or "scheun" than "shane". Follow the first link in this post for a pronunciation.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Syllepsis

A syllepsis is a type of a zeugma, a sentence or phrase in which the same word is used with two different meanings, but (usually) only appears once in the sentence.

The best way to explain what syllepses are is really by example. (All examples stolen from Wikipedia unless mentioned otherwise.)

He took my advice and my wallet (The Free Dictionary)

On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold. (Dictionary.com)

If we don't hang together, we shall hang separately (Benjamin Franklin)

Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are in London. (The Importance of Being Earnest)

Are you getting fit or having one? (M*A*S*H)

You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit. (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

He leaned heavily on the lectern and stale jokes.

He said, as he hastened to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps... ("Madeira M'Dear")

You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. (Groucho Marx)

She stirred my soul and my risotto.

You can find a few more here.

Interestingly, a sentence is also a zeugma or syllepsis if part of the sentence is applied improperly to the wrong half of the sentence. For example:

To wage war and peace (Dictionary.com)

A zeugma, more broadly, can be any phrase joined by a common noun or verb.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Digraph

I won't count "!*(f ^^/~ ? " as today's word/phrase, but I will take a useful word out of it: "(f" is a shining example of a digraph, which is essentially a letter composed of two separate characters.  Oou aside, this type of character appears in English via "ch", "sh", and "ai" among others.  Perhaps more notably, it creates actual letters in some languages such as Vietnamese, which treats "ng" and "tr" (among others) as individual letters.  Vietnamese even uses one trigraph: ngh.

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Words to Your Mother: !*(f ^^/~ ?

"!*(f ^^/~" (pronounced /ioœ yye/) is Oou for "I love languages". Or "I love a langugage". Or "You love a language". Or "I avoid languages". Or "My turnip language". Or "I flatten languages". Or "I love genocide". Or many other equally correct translations depending on context and state of mind.

Oou is a conlang (constructed language), an artlang (a conlang designed for aesthetic pleasure), and a jokelang (a conlang created as a joke). It is properly written only in monospace fonts.

The full (very short) dictionary and description of Oou can be found at the link below. Be warned: There is some strong language on this page, both inside and outside of the dictionary.


Update (10/21/06): Made a slight correction to the word itself (the question mark at the end was intentionally part of the title, but is not part of the word).

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Words to Your Mother: Enclitic

An enclitic is a clitic that always binds to another word.

Okay, that probably wasn't very helpful.

A clitic is something that basically acts like a word but is always followed or preceded by another word: it never appears on its own.  An enclitic actualy attaches itself to therelated word.  Examples:


The boldface sections are enclitics.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Ekorn

Am I nuts?

I don't know any other Norwegian words, but you have to love this word right here:

Ekorn is Norwegian for squirrel.

Yep. That's right. And it is a coincidence. Ekorn basically means "oak kitten".

I'm just going to let you sit on that one for a while.

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Words to Your Mother: Abrade

To abrade is to wear down, erode, or chafe.  It can also mean to make weary in a spiritual sense.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Prig

Even though it's not improper or vulgar, I'm not sure how often you want to use this word around Mom... Nonetheless, here it is:

A prig is someone who displays or demands pointlessly precise conformity, fussiness about trivialities, or exaggerated propriety, especially in a self-righteous or irritating manner.  Not to be confused with a similar sounding word that means "an obnoxious or contemptible person", but is considered vulgar.

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Blinded With Science: The gravitational force of a pancreas


At the risk of making this seem like a regular feature (I would run out of material waaay too quickly), I just have to comment on the new Weird Al song "Pancreas".

"Pancreas", from Straight Outta Lynwood, is a parody of the style of Brian Wilson and, to a lesser extent, The Beach Boys in general.  Listening to the song I think I can pick out parts that mimic the style of "Vegetables", "Roll Plymouth Rock", "God Only Knows", and "Wouldn't It Be Nice"... but that's not really the point, which I'm getting farther and farther away from.

The following brilliant line (or stanza, rather) comes from the song, hiding in the middle of many interesting facts about the pancreas itself:

My pancreas attracts every other pancreas in the universe
With a force (with a force) (with a force) proportional
To the product of their masses
And inversely (Oooh ooh-ooh ooh) proportional
To the distance between them

Disturbing, yet basically true.  All objects follow the same laws of gravity, meaning that they are guided by Newton's basic law of gravity, as described above.  (Technically, general relativity overrode this rule, but let's wait 'til we have a grand unified theory to nitpick that.)  Your pancreas is indeed attracted to Weird Al's pancreas in the manner that he described.

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Words to Your Mother: Yare

Something that is yare is agile or lively.  The term is primarily used in a nautical sense, referring to a vessel that is easily maneuvered.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Blinded With Science: Special relativity

I haven't really shown my science geek side on this blog yet, so it comes out a bit tonight.

Reading the mental_floss blog, I ran across an article mentioning special relativity. mental_floss (or rather the source they were quoting) stated:

When our instructor started talking about length dilation (how something’s length increases as it approaches the speed of light)...

Of course, as poster Garon Whited states, this is incorrect:

Actually, the length of an object appears to decrease, not increase.The faster the object moves, the shorter it appears. Relativistic speeds involve time dilation, mass gain, and length contraction.

I was originally going to post there to second his comment, but I found my comment going to a ridiculous length, so I'll make it an article here instead. Keep in mind that I'm drawing this from memory, so hopefully I'm remembering correctly.

If my memory serves me, the actual formula for spatial dilation in special relativity is:

x = x'((1 - v^2 / c^2) ^ 0.5)

Where x is the length of an object in the field that you view as stationary (the earth in this case), x' is the length of the object at relative rest, and v is the relative velocity of the object.

Since nothing can ever travel faster than (or, realistically, at the speed of) light:

0 <= v < c
0 <= v^2 < c^2
0 <= v^2 / c ^2 < 1
0 < 1 - v^2 / c^2 <= 1
0 < (1 - v^2 / c^2) ^ 0.5 <= 1

(Note: x ^ 0.5 is the same as "the square root of x".)

Of course, if you multiply the object's length by a number no greater than one, it will always shrink or stay the same.

Some interesting values:

If v = 0 (stationary object), then x = x' (no change)
If v = 0.25c (one-quarter the speed of light), then x = 0.968x (object loses about 3% of its length)
If v = 0.5c (half the speed of light), then x = 0.867x (object loses about 13% of its length)
If v = 0.75c (three-quarters the speed of light), then x = 0.661x (object loses about 34% of its length)
If v = 1 (traveling at the speed of light), then x = 0

The time-dilation formula is similar:

t = t'/((1 - v^2 / c^2) ^ 0.5)

Note that you divide in this case, making the number effectively larger.  What this means in practice is that, if you were watching people on an airplane moving near the speed of light, it would appear that time is passing far more slowly for them.  This is the basis for the twins paradox.

If v = 0 (stationary object), then t = t' (no change)
If v = 0.25c (one-quarter the speed of light), then t = 1.033x (it takes 62 seconds for the plane to experience a minute of time)
If v = 0.5c (half the speed of light), then t = 1.153t (one minute takes 69 seconds)
If v = 0.75c (three-quarters the speed of light), then t = 1.513t (one minute takes 91 seconds)
If v = 1 (traveling at the speed of light), then t is undefined (one moment takes eternity)

Despite what Isaac Newton and high school teach, the formula for calculating kinetic energy is:

E = m(c^2)/((1 - v^2 / c^2) ^ 0.5)

An object's mass increases with its kinetic energy, so (using the same formula as above for time dilation), an object traveling at three-quarters the speed of light is 1.513 times "heavier" than it would be otherwise, due to the excess kinetic energy.  Perhaps the most interesting (and well-known) consequence is how the formula simplifies at 0 velocity:

E = m(c^2)/((1 - 0^2 / c^2) ^ 0.5)
E = m(c^2)/((1 - 0 / c^2) ^ 0.5)
E = m(c^2)/((1 - 0) ^ 0.5)
E = m(c^2)/(1 ^ 0.5)
E = m(c^2)/1
E = m(c^2)

Yep.  There's good ol' E equals MC squared, which shows that even objects at rest have kinetic energy.  Of course, since this doesn't really fit the name "kinetic energy", we call it rest-mass energy instead.

Conversely, an object traveling at the speed of light would become infinitely massive.  Of course, since the energy required to push the increasingly massive object toward that velocity would increase exponentially as it approaches the speed of light, you can't actually get enough energy in the universe for it to hit that point.

Well, there it is.  Again, this was pretty much from memory, so you might take this with a grain or two of salt.  Maybe someday I'll post about some of the other intriguing aspects of special relativity, like the addition of velocities and the lack of a single stationery plane (since everything is relative), but we'll save that for later.

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Words to Your Mother: Discomfit

To discomfit someone is to make them lose their composure; to make them uneasy or embarrassed.  You might notice an odd similarity to someone experiencing discomfort: This is not a coincidence.  It is considered likely that the current meaning of the word resulted from people mixing it up with "discomfort".  The original meaning (which is still correct, if rare) has to do with thwarting the plans of one's opponents.  The meaning "to frustrate" falls somewhere in between the other meanings.

Interestingly, both comfit and discomfit come from the Latin word "conficere" (to prepare), but otherwise the words have little to do with each other: Comfit is a food consisting of spices or dried fruits or nuts coated with sugar.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Fata morgana

Making up for a missed day with a quick double-post:

A fata morgana is a mirageFata morgana can also refer to many other things, but perhaps most notably (and most related to our primary definition), it is also an alternate name for Morgan le Fay, the shape-shifter of Arthurian legend.

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Words to Your Mother: De rigueur

De rigueur (usually italicized when used in English) is a French phrase meaning "of rigor" or "of strictness".  However, when used in English, it more commonly means that something is required by custom or fashion.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Meretricious

Something that is meretricious is brummagem, meaning that it is gaudy or attracts attention in a vulgar manner.  It can also mean something having to deal with prostitutes or prostitution.

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