Thursday, 5 November 2020


First printed in Trรฉguier on this day in 1499 with editions and updates continuing until 2001, the trilingual dictionary—in the sense of universal—was the sum of the complied entries by Bretagne priest Jehan Lagadeuc over the course of some three decades and was the first published Breton and French dictionary, referent to Latin. Sometimes referred to as the Catholicon Armoricum (from the Roman name for Brittany) to distinguish it from the Catholicon Anglicum—an English-Latin grammar—that emerged around the same time.

Friday, 25 September 2020

corde, ore et nutibus

While we won’t be deferring to Urban Dictionary’s contemporary definition, we did find it an amusing correspondence between modern portmanteau and an eighteenth century classicist terminology. Antiquated and obsolete as it is nutual does seem like a useful word that would retain its niche in the language signifying something expressed by gesture alone and was borrowed, introduced to English to translate the above Latin phrase said of prayers, made by heart, voice and genuflection.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

plurale tantum

From the Latin for plural form only, we encounter a host of words whose singular form is inconceivable or as the terms as collective ones rarely invoked: scissors, news, trousers, spectacles, subs, outskirts, thanks and heroics.
As well as sharing at least some of the preceding English examples, in other languages, pluralia tantum point to a period of time: kalendae for the first day of the month, German Ferien for vacation, to go on holiday(s). Some cases don’t have an obvious semantic logic to them like the Swedish and Russia words respectively for currency—pengar and ะดะตะฝัŒะณะธ always as monies or the problematic case of the German word for parents only exists in the plural form Eltern—with the current possibilities of expressing a single parent awkward and normative. As one can do a scissor-kick or be possessed of a trouser-press there are exceptions and ways to compose the singular, unpaired form and bridge that morphological gap. The opposite, singular tantum, refer to mass or uncountable objects and conception, like information, milk and popcorn.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

blessed are the cheese-makers

Having previously used the term turophile (see also here, here and here) to describe our devoted fans, we were delighted for another encounter with the root word in an albeit different though possibly less fringe context and community with artotyrite (แผ€ฯฯ„ฯŒฯ„ฯ…ฯฮฟฯ‚, from the Greek for bread and cheese)—used to name the members of a second century Galatian gnostic Christian sect who celebrated the eucharist with this additional ingredient.
Considered heretical also for allowing women to perform baptisms and hold religious office and for preferring to observe Easter according to the Hebrew calendar in mid-Nisan regardless of the day of the week and hence their other epithet Quatrodeciman—the Fourteeners—but mostly for the cheese, these outcasts who based their practise on the idea of offering first fruits not only of the field but also their flocks to the Divine, presumably also included wine in the sacrament of communion.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

added precaution

Becoming rather an ossified, stock phrase itself, to act out of an abundance of caution is a borrowing from post-classical legal Latin ex abundante cautela, whose final word plus deponent suffix we encounter in other aphorisms and maxims, like caveat lector.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

barrel, butt, punchon, pipe

We discover to our delight that much like the fanciful names for oversized wine bottles, a buttload is a formal and quantified Imperial unit of measurement—equal to just over a thousand litres (varying widely throughout history) or half a tun, the largest standard in casks and barrels. That’s a lot of wine. This speciality jargon is still used in wine making and the cooperage sectors and is ultimately derived from the Latin buttis for bottle and trade drove the harmonisation of tonnage and shipping containers.


a jay ward production: rediscover the classic cartoon Hoppity Hooper

distance learning is the art of applying the bride to the child: Dorothy Parker’s (previously) take on remote kindergarten

long in the tooth: a Greenland shark is recognised as world’s oldest veterbrate type specimen: explore the extensive Letter Form Archive—via Pasa Bon!

nimby, yimby: mapping applications that reveal percentage of golf course and parking lots in your town

casa azul: a virtual exploration of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House—via Messy Nessy Chic plus the edible sunflower and a tiny tug

owls to athens: a look at how our avian friends influenced language and limn thought (see also)

Saturday, 22 August 2020


As our artificial intelligencer Janelle Shane (previously) recalls to mind, circa 2016 there was a genre of verse introduced by Sam Garland on observing a cow licking loaves of bread in an unattended bakery and framing the poem from the frame of said cow that enjoyed a memetic moment:

my name is Cow,
and wen its nite,
or wen the moon is shiyning brite,
and all the men haf gon to bed – I stay up late.
I lik the bred.

We had forgotten but just as well as Shane was waiting for the internet attention the style was getting had virtually faded away before training her neural network on the subject to see what it would expound on in the same meter (and the same non-standard Middle English spelling) without undue outside influence. Seeding it with three word prompts (e.g., cow, lick, bread), the neural network created some noble rhymes.

Thursday, 20 August 2020


Via the always engrossing Futility Closet—which has, in addition to its regular podcast, returned to blogging with a fervour after a hiatus, we learn a Bolognese term that refers to retired gentlemen who pass time at roadworks and other construction sites supervising and disbursing advise to the crew.
The word meaning “little man,” it has picked up use around Italy since a 2005 book employed the term and not just in the one region and often with the female equivalent ลผdรฅura, an umarell’s wife. While the subject of gentle derision, developers and municipalities often are willing to pay a small stipend in exchange for their scrutiny and quality-control.


The other day we learned that William Shakespeare gave us the word droplet and we now shown the observation from BBC correspondent Hugh Schofield that the more precise, apropos term to describe the mechanism of viral transmission in French employs the borrowed and lent word for a teamster that guides a horse-drawn coach.
Though not much in common-parlance in English since the adoption of the horseless carriage except in the phrase “posting to the trot”—that is adjusting one’s gait and pace to the rhythm of one’s mount or other means of conveyance and the ludicrous, said-no-one-ever phrase from the Portuguese primer English as she is Spoke, “Pardon me, but your postilion has been struck by lightning.” What might be put less delicately in English as spittle or salivary output is framed rather metaphorically as a forerunner who heralds one’s presence to one’s interlocutor. Porter un masque pour vous protรฉger et protรฉger les autres

Tuesday, 18 August 2020


From the cabinet of hypertext curiosities of Mx van Hoorn, we are not only introduced to the linguist David J Peterson, whom after JRR Tolkien and lexicographers behind Klingon is probably the most celebrated contemporary figure in constructed languages (see previously) with Dothraki from Game of Thrones, we make his acquaintance in the greatest of fashions—namely, through his handmade landing spot for his various projects. Pictured is a bit of orthography for the invented script of the imagined Njaama culture and the entire enterprise has a lot to explore and is a prompt for reflecting on the organic and inspired development of communication and how that might be resonant and rendered.

Monday, 17 August 2020

point suscrit

Noticing an all-caps headline with BฤฐDEN rendered as such with the dotted i (called the tittle in English though there’s no case for the letter j in Turkic scripts, see also) as opposed to the dotless that appears later in the word for asylum, I was intrigued about the distinction and wondered how Turkish orthography treated these letters. As with ฤฐstanbul, the dotted version usually represents the long vowel sound, close front unrounded, whereas ฤฑ most times denotes an oo sound, close back unrounded. Not all computing platforms are able to encode this difference properly—sometimes the numeral 1 is substituted for the dotless ฤฑ—resulting in consequential miscommunications.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020


reaction faces: a cavalcade of overly dramatic cats—via Miss Cellania’s Links

split infinitives: learning wild to verb

what the dormouse said: a virtual creation of Disneyland’s1958 “Alice in Wonderland” attraction

clandestine laboratory enforcement team: an assortment of rare US Drug Enforcement Agency mission patches

apparel appeal: a series of interventions to make fashion greener

outhouse: inclusive public facilities in Tokyo reference ancient, ambiguous spaces

supermarket sweep: an investigation into one of the more memorable duo’s of the game show—via Super Punch

scientific method: a feline physics experiment

Monday, 10 August 2020

clientes com distรบrbios e atrasos na fala

The latest instalment of This American Life had a particular resonant first act that really lingered and prodded in ways that I was not quite expecting.  Composer and musician Jerome Ellis became a joyful rule-breaker for a captivated audience and gave with his performance piece a real object lesson on the reasonable accommodation of time and pacing that most of us don’t spare a thought for lest we’re able to indulge our impatience and cast aspersions on others for being too slow.
Introduced by way of a Brazilian law that provides a half-price relief for mobile subscribers who are diagnosed with a speech impediment—a severe stutter like Ellis has, the state government tried to make allowances for the normalised and preferred fluency that none of us has by degrees. While I don’t exactly stammer and don’t pretend to come from the same place experientially, I felt I could relate by getting annoyed when one supplies (or tries to) the elusive word too quickly or finishes my sentences for me—and I know it’s just meant as a kindness whether in English or in my non-native German when I struggle, which is usually—and then not knowing if it’s worth the effort to finish one’s thought and growing by degrees a bit more taciturn. Our temporal expectations can be impositions just like any other but also an opportunity for exchange.

Friday, 7 August 2020

even keel

Having recently noted the anniversary of the passing away of the tradition of the rum ration with Black Tot Day (31 July 1970)—the abolishment of the daily allotment aboard vessels of the Royal Navy in the UK, though lasting under the admiralties of Canada and New Zealand until 1972 and 1990 respectively, we enjoyed learning about the term “splice the mainbrace
—originally an emergency directive to undertake one of the most difficult emergency rigging repair jobs, it became over the years an allowance for a taking a celebratory toast or dispensing an extra ration to the crew. Since the institution ended, only the Queen, Admiralty or another member of the Royal Family can issue the order, sometimes with the supplementary command to “Mend and make clothes,” in other words to take half a day off. Compare to the “:59 Minute Rule” that’s observed in the US military that allows commanders to dismiss staff early without charge to leave, since it falls beneath the threshold that requires it.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

romanes eunt domus

Not to make extra publicity for some conservative propagandist—and thankfully I managed to miss the faux furore of the original googledygook of a machine-summoned up translation that cause the first printing of this vanity publication to be pulped, it is an interesting example of how one ought to manage their expectations of technology and pause to verify, sort of like being forever branded with a nonsensical selection of Chinese glyphs as a tattoo—noting that academic languages are especially prone to error due to their limited sample size.
Caveat scriptor. Taking some poetic license, the author could charitably parse the intended motto as: “Let’s live or [he] passes away from America for the detriment of a free man.” Like one of the commenters, I’m recalled to the corrected anti-Roman slogan “Romani ite domum” that a centurion delivers to the initiate revolutionary in The Life of Brian, ordering him to scrawl out the graffiti in proper (see also here and here) Latin as punishment for his atrocious grammatical error.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

i might just fade into bolivian

Though a slip-of-the-tongue is usually a charitable excuse for all of the pettiness, name-calling and generally uncollegiality in the US congress, I’ll accept that a fellow party member referring to Representative Louie Gohmert (shill of a law-maker turned disease-vector) as “Congressman COVID” is an honest malapropism—both being generally reprehensible and irresponsible with their shared framing of the pandemic as a hoax. Such epithets are telling whatever the mechanism for substitution and this particular variety where the intended word or name is crowded out by something phonologically similar and more handily available comes from the character Missus Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy of manners The Rivals, named in turn for the French phrase mal ร  propos, coined first as an error in speech (see also) by Lord Byron in 1814.

Friday, 31 July 2020

release 13.1

Though Unicode 14.0 is delayed due to the pandemic, there will be an interim roll-out of a small batch of new emoji.
There’s much nuance and pantomime to be found for every glyph and in their renderings across different platforms, and the addition of singular expression—though still make of it what you will—to the vernacular that corrects for interoperability is a nod to wide variation and potential for misinterpretation. Aside from extra options for “bearded person” which could result in a bearded woman, there’s a face with spiralled-eyes figure as a place-holder for a historic discrepancy for in some operating systems and applications that displayed the original x-eyed face (๐Ÿ˜ต) sometimes with dizzied or hypnotic circles.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

omiyage—voyage, voyage

This Japanese word for souvenir (ใŠๅœŸ็”ฃ) are representative meibutsu (ๅ็‰ฉ, literally famous things) applied to regional specialties and are often exchanged among work colleagues and family members upon the return of one who was away not just as a keepsake but as a way to apologize for one’s absence and a consolation for those whom did not get to make the trip this time. Via Present /&/ Correct we are directed towards this rather brilliant and wonderfully granular map of the country from Haconiwa design studios. One can explore on any section on the grid to learn about local delicacies and take a virtual vacation. Much more to explore at the links above.


Via the always interesting Pasa Bon! we are introduced to the French automaker Robert Hannoyer and his line of cycle-cars Reyonnah—the ananym, a special kind of anagram, of the entrepreneur’s surname, like Oprah’s Harpo Productions, MAPS (Mail Abuse Prevention Systems) as the antagonist of SPAM and gnip gnop for ping-pong, which had a chassis and carriage similar to other bubble cars. A signature feature of this model was its folding front wheels that enabled it to park in very tight spaces. Much more to explore at the links above.