Sunday 2 June 2024

jenny wren (11. 601)

Via Sentence First, we learn how the robin (and its distant American cousin—not closely related) got its name.  Prior to scientific and ordered taxonomy, in fifteenth century England—and elsewhere—it was common practise to give familiar species human names, this companionable nomenclature enduring in some of the more common monickers, like magpies from flocks originally called Margarets or a daw named Jack, and Robin Redbreast—from the diminutive form of Robert and their distinctive, easily recognisable orange plumage, the colour unknown and not distinguished until the introduction of the fruit about a hundred years later. More from Bird History at the link up top.

Thursday 30 May 2024

aabba (11. 594)

Via Futility Closet, we are reminded of the anatomy of a limerick (with the above rhyme scheme, see previously) with the following meta-versification by John Irwin, poet and professor of the humanities: 

A limerick’s cleverly versed—
The second line rhymes with the first;
The third one is short,
The fourth’s the same sort,
And the last line is often the worst.

This rendition is almost certainly in homage to the anonymous exemplar: 

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Heretofore, most often privileged showmanship, they often invoked exotic geographic locations as a way to subvert the rote teaching of the subject in schools, with several variations and violations. British wordplay and maths expert Leigh Mercer, best known for his palindromes, (¡“A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!), also famously a mathematical limerick:  

12 + 144+20 +3 ✖️ √4 / 7 + (5 ✖️ 11) = 9² + 0 

Or, as read: 

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

cain’s jawbone (11. 587)

Writing under the nom-de-plum Torquemada, poet, translator and advocate of cryptic crosswords Edward Powys Mathers’ 1934 premiered his epic murder mystery puzzle book (see also)—the title like his inquisitor pen-name a reference to the biblical story of the first fratricide—which consisted of a hundred pages (out of order) of narrative and to be solved must be rearranged as well as naming the murderers and victims, from a dense account of filled with contemporary references, poetic quotations and other word games. Republished in 2019, offering a cash prize as with the first edition (£25 originally shared among two readers and £1000 for five years ago, incidentally the equivalent of about £15 in 1934), the beguiling and vexing exercise in detective work probably would have remained unsolved had it not coincided with pandemic lockdown and sleuths of all stripes finding themselves with the luxury of time for such commitments. Much more from the Allusionist below.

* * * * *


one year ago: assorted links worth revisiting, the Group of Seven (1983), John Hubley’s Moonbird plus predicting solar eclipses

two years ago: more links to enjoy plus seemingly anachronistic names

three years ago: even more links to revisit, the Chronicle of Georgia plus a primer in conchology

four years ago: a possible viral force-field, Blessed Margaret Pole, Studio Ghibli plus the original Monolith for 2001

five years ago: a visit to Burg Stolpen

Wednesday 22 May 2024

v 16.0ฮฒ (11. 572)

The Unicode Consortium is proposing the inclusion of seven emoji for the standardised catalogues referenced by operating systems and will be under review through the beginning of July, when expected to be officially adopted. Though uniform and universal (with some exceptions), it will be some time before we can use a leafless tree to convey climate change and drought or the exhausted eyebag expression in general as platforms add their own vernacular in a process that can lag for several months. In addition to these pictograms, scripts from west Africa, India and Nepal are being added as well as new Japanese ideographs plus some four thousand Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and a historic Albanian set of characters and symbols from legacy computing.

Monday 20 May 2024

i am disappoint (11. 569)

The always interesting Language Log introduces us to a class of typos with two-subsets that we can find very relatable and gets the onus of the blame when conducting a bit of post-publication proofreading: completion errors, when typing or writing (there is both a motor-mechanical and muscle inertia in effect) starting out with one intention and an intrusive ending inserts itself, and capture errors, an action slip when a reflex behaviour creates an unwanted parallelism. What’s a sticky key you’re vexed by? Surely beyond spoonerisms such slippage happens in speech with frequency and I wonder how too such intrusions are compounded—or not—by auto-complete.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

extended diacope (11. 557)

Via Language Log, we are directed to an omnibus linguistics lesson of fascinating terms of literary criticism and figures of speech—which although containing a few that we’ve encountered before (though often needing to look up to remind ourselves of the particular scheme and trope) like tmesis, eggcorns and mondegreens, amphiboly and redundant acronym syndrome syndrome—there were quite a few new concepts to ponder, like rebracketing, a fusion of terms whose components are then taken apart and reconfigured in a way that’s readily intelligible, like alcoholic to workoholic, and the so called cutthroat compounds, agentive and instrumental exocentric verbs-nouns like the class itself or scarecrow and scofflaw. From the source, there was also the humourous dysgraphomophone—a homophone that looks like a typo used purposely to catch the eye or to lure someone into correcting it: like indorse their banns—to formally back (from dorsum, dorsal) their wedding announcement. More at the links above. 



one year ago: Martian topography plus some Ancient Greek terms that should be reintroduced

two years ago: Chess (1986),  the Mise of Lewes plus St Matthias

three years ago: more on grawlixes plus the curse of toil 

four years ago: St Corona, The Safety Dance (1983), pandemic neologisms, a mole on Mars, paperback dress-up plus misremembered cultural touchstones

five years ago: quiltwork of Old World diseases,  celebrating Doris Day, shark faces, the US Library of Congress’ open archives, paleofuturism plus safeguarding private data

Saturday 11 May 2024

11x11 (11. 552)

syntax error: AI co-pilots are changing the way coders operate 

baby lasagne: a preview of Eurovision acts to watch for—see also here and here  

spaghettification: a NASA simulation shows what it’s like to be sucked into a Black Hole  

high-fidelity photogrammerty: how Google’s enhanced Street View with 3-D panoramas could again change the world of navigation and virtual exploration—see also 

breakfast of champions: the drawings and doodles of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr—see previously 

not a shared universe: a meta study on the perceived beliefs of fictional characters regarding other fictional characters  

early machinations: development notes on xkcd’s collaborative Rube Goldberg machine, an annual tradition—via Waxy 

my colours are blush and bashful, mama: Poseidon’s Underworld rewatches the 1989 star-studded Steel Magnolias  

coronal mass ejection: strongest solar storm in two decades lights up the night sky in Europe  

hind’s hall: the refreshing and unexpected entrรฉe of Macklemore’s protest rap—see more  

syntax error: English being proposed as the new top-level coding language with the ability to articulate one’s wishes (as with a jerk genie) is of utmost importance


one year ago: Sweden passes world first personal data protection law (1973), those omnipresent cafe celebrity murals, a Trump townhall plus Nixon tries to strengthen the powers of the executive branch (1973)

two years ago: assorted links to revisit plus M (1931)

three years ago: more links to enjoy, Cats (1981), more on the Ice Saints plus the revival of night trains

four years ago: St Gangolf plus more links worth the revisit

five years ago: a sleep-over cinema plus a classic from Ottawan (1979)

Tuesday 7 May 2024

7x7 (11. 544)

group tape №1: a 1981 compilation from the International Electronic Music Association collective  

the light eaters: plant cognition and agency—see previously  

hardfork: the duality of Vernor Vinge’s Singularity 

to share something is to risk losing it: an update on the beloved Broccoli Tree (not pictured), which was loved to death—see also  

mai-1: Microsofts new AI model could potentially over take rivals 

pod squad: Project CETI gains more insights into whale communication  

haus 33: a ride on the Techno Train that loops from Nรผrnberg to Wรผrzburg


one year ago: the Devil’s Bible

two years ago: a classic from Spandau Ballet

three years ago: cheugy plus Kraft Television Theatre

four years ago: cereal and straw craft, Kraftwerk plus Shelter-in-Place

five years ago: the long-delayed passage of a US constitutional amendment, designer Georg Elliot Olden, the unending attraction of nature plus haunted dolls 


Friday 3 May 2024

hjelp (11. 531)

This is cute. Previously we’ve posted about how internationally distributed entertainment is sometimes retitled for different audiences, but we didn’t known about this rather clever former convention employed in Norway to signal to viewers that the film was a foreign comedy with a simple and often hilarious formula of prefixing “Help” to a brief description of the situation, like Airplane! as “Help, we’re flying!” or the National Lampoon trilogy as “Help, We have to go on Vacation,” followed by “Help, We Have to go on European Vacation” and “Help, We Have to go on Christmas Vacation.” It’s sort of like the Carry On series. The practise began to wane in the 2000s with increasing English literacy in the country but some later domestic comedies have used the same taxonomy.


one year ago: more on the Populuxe design movement, a space alphabet plus drone strikes over the Kremlin

two years ago: el Tres de Mayo (1808)

three years ago: NPR’s first broadcasting day, World Press Freedom Day plus the Benty Grange helmet

four years ago: Future Shock (1970), Cetacean Ops, a timeline of the pandemic, rock-paper-scissors not legally binding, more on Star Trek: TAS plus assorted links worth revisiting

five years ago: Sun Day, more links to enjoy plus nuisance lawsuits

Thursday 2 May 2024

trench coat words (11. 528)

Via tmn, we really enjoyed this reflection and appreciation of the beautifully dissociative nature of the Japanese language and the noble attempt to articulate how the diglossia, digraphia of the written and spoken word, though a series of historical accidents, has created a unique and somewhat untranslatable perspective on the world. Beyond the embarrassment of choices that Japanese speakers have for writing (see previously) and those poetic terms with no equivalence—nonetheless important—the expatriate author a decade on explores how shoehorning the written word imported from China into a wholly oral tradition necessitates not only a pronunciation guide but context cues for orthography, adding an extra dimension to communication from the mechanics of morphology. Much more at ร†ther Mug at the link above including distinctive etymological class of compound words whose components are said the same but are disguised with a new kanji.


one year ago: assorted links worth revisiting

two years ago: another MST3K classic plus a pivotal moment in the Falklands War

three years ago: record stamps, the debut album from Kate Bush, Peter and the Wolf, more links to enjoy plus an alternate Oktoberfest

four years ago: ambient sounds of New York City

five years ago: the Queen Elizabeth 2,  more on the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, possible etymologies of OK, geese in the city at night plus more acoustic visualisations

Saturday 27 April 2024

10x10 (11. 517)

age inappropriate: amid a the aggressive banning and policing of reading material, “disturbing” titles help teens become more empathetic and literate—via tmn 

brolly: a faux Britishism for umbrella—from an American regionalism—with an interesting history 

 …but often rhymes: what historian Thucydides would make of parallels and analogies 

true facts: Ze Frank on smart bees—previously

moulin rouge: the red windmill blades on the Parisian landmark collapse—via Nag on the Lake—more here 

completist: venturing to the remote US national park that requires a passport 

what’s the truth about mother goose: a search for the personage behind the nursery rhymes  

never-ending cash machine: a collection of lost and unreleased 

to the manor born: a series of articles on how to quantify a castle, palace and stately home—via Strange Company 

house penguin: recent anti-trust case over the acquisition of one publisher revealed sobering insights about the state of the industry


one year ago: the evacuation of Prypriat (1986)

two years ago: a single from Harvey Danger (1998), more removal of Soviet monuments plus no new applications for flag icons and emoji

three years ago: Saint Zita, redrawing geopolitical boundaries according to indigenous lands, peaceniks, Dr Mabuse (1922), etymologies of company names and brands plus sustainable diets

four years ago: All Quiet on the Western Front, another Roman holiday, a comic make-up tutorial plus engine sounds for electric cars

five years ago: ranking the 404 landing pages for the US presidential candidates


Wednesday 24 April 2024

word salad (11. 510)

We rather enjoyed this omnibus posting of rare and unusual English terms, which contained many we’ve encountered before but quite a few new words to us. We especially found useful to deacon, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for careful product placement, arranging the top-shelve items up high and hiding the cheaper, lower quality merchandise below, snaste (from the archaic snite—to blow one’s nose—or snuff, as in a candle) referring to the burnt part of a wick, vestry (another non-church related terms though could appear otherwise) meaning the “smiling of [infants] in their sleep,” degombling (a backronymsee also—that comes courtesy of arctic explorers) for removing clumps of ice and snow, dextrosinistral describing a naturally left-handed person taught to use their right for writing, something sesquihoral lasts ninety-minutes, the perfect length for a movie, resistentialism from the belief, half facetiously, that inanimate objects will express spite towards their human users and witworm, coined by Ben Jonson—possibly with some meta-irony—for a someone’s else cleverness as a surrogate for their own. Much more from Mental Floss at the link above.


one year ago:  an experimental Nazi-era nuclear reactor plus assorted links to revisit

two years ago: politics of a monetary union (1972), the Trojan Horse, the UN body for the under-represented (1991) plus revisiting airships

three years ago: a rendition of a Daft Punk classic, preserving artefacts of the pandemic, indoor gardening tips, the Situationists plus a survey of map projections

four years ago: China enters the space race, more on eggcorns, signs of social-distancing, dancing mania, a new song from the Rolling Stones plus COVID misinformamtion

five years ago: effervescence, mortgage-backed securities, the tradition of telling the bees plus more logophilia

Saturday 20 April 2024

๐Ÿ†– (11. 502)

Having previously looked at the linguistic phenomenon of boomerang terms, we were intrigued by this post on Japanese borrowings and re-borrowings inspired by the recent addition of a couple dozen loanwords by the OED, whose lexicographer nominated them partially due to their propensity for being reincorporated with nuance. We found it especially fascinating that “no good” is in usage on par with OK in Japan—even appearing adjacent in emoji sorting, collation (see also) as its antonym—despite not being in common parlance or even recognisable in its source language. Many of the new inclusions are cuisine- and cultural-related, like kintsugi and omotenashi, the fusion of hospitality and circumspection that become more widely known by the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. The whole list and more discussion from Language Log at the link above. How many are you acquainted with, hontลni?

Thursday 18 April 2024

10x10 (11. 496)

the cloud under the seas: the fleet of secret submarine cable repair ships 

sarbox: US Supreme Court appears skeptical about charging January Sixth rioters with obstruction of justice as defined by a law made in the aftermath of the Enron accounting scandal  

mix-and-match orthography: how Japanese writers navigate a choice between four writing systems (see also)—via Cardhouse  

walled gardens have deep roots: the imperative of rewilding (previously) the internet lest the duopolies take over—via Waxy 

bongo bash: Wild Stereo Drums (1961)  

embroidered surveillance: cross-stitch works of closed-circuit security camera footage  

the questor tapes: a 1974 television sci-fi drama about an android with incomplete programming by Star Trek alumni Gene L Coon, D C Fontana and Gene Roddenberry—via r/Obscure Media  

tegelwippen: Dutch towns compete to remove garden paving and embrace weeds—via Miss Cellania  

voir dire: jury selection continues for the criminal trial of Donald J Trump—with some potential jurors being unintentionally doxed by the media 

 atlas 2.0: Boston Dynamics’ new humanoid robot


one year ago: Atelier Elvira, an unwoke chatbot plus assorted links worth revisiting

two years ago: more gachapons plus an introduction to risography

three years ago: the launch of the Disney Channel (1983), an experimental light house plus Wham in China (1985)

four years ago: more links to enjoy, the International Amateur Radio Union plus The Spirits Book (1897)

five years ago: concrete monoliths moved by hand plus Mueller Report redactions

Tuesday 16 April 2024

hearts and minds (11. 494)

An 1959 early spring testimony before an American senate subcommittee on the effects of “Red China Communes on the United States” by an Asian correspondent for the Miami News intent on self-promotion and advancing a misinformed pet theory firmly solidified the neologism of brainwashing (with derivative terms) as common political parlance. The deposition by the reporter turned propagandist (alleged a covert CIA agent) against the spread of Communism convinced the public and policy-makers that the Chinese (and others) had devised a scientific method for turning people’s love and allegiances, allegedly uncovering the method of “mind-attack” and their word for, “brain-washing.” The original term xวnวŽo (ๆด—่…ฆ, “wash brain”) was employed to describe the coercive persuasion used by the Maoist to integrate more reactionary members of society and was a popular pun, not an official policy or approach, on the Taoist custom of xวxฤซn (ๆด—ๅฟƒ , “cleaning the heart and mind”) with both understood to be something more akin to enlightenment, disabusing and not the reprogramming or deprogramming that captured the American public, with the help of the journalist’s tract, other reporting and films and television as well as the Zeitgeist of the Red Scare and sinophobia, fears that loyalties were susceptible to nefarious and scientifically compelling influences that caused collaboration and defection. For all the pseudoscience and propagandising, brainwashing did fill a linguist and psychological lacuna, a gap that was packed with the attendant moral panic and supposed countermeasures with psychological warfare and the rise of home-grown, domestic cults that subsumed what they purported to prevent. More from MIT Technology Review at the link up top. Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?

Tuesday 9 April 2024

anticipation of joy (11. 479)

We liked this Guardian column—and not only for the vocabulary lesson with the concept of Vorfreude, roughly translated above, and antithesis of Schadenfreude—and advice on cultivating anticipatory joy as something to defer and to look forward to. Whilst future-oriented, the practise does not estrange oneself from the present here-and-now but rather can instigate calm and focus and the opposite of the adage, “if you worry, you suffer twice,” (which itself is not necessarily even true considering the suspense and potential to catastrophise tends to be worse than the actual event often times) with a gradual affirming routine that anyone can manage, regardless of circumstances, and mitigate hedonistic regression—that is, becoming enured to how good one has it. More strategies and pro-tips from Rachel Dixon at the link up top.


one year ago: an omnibus of easter eggs, a jolly 3-D printing torture test plus a mysterious cave in Finland

two years ago: an accomplished French chemist, Dreamcoat (1968), artist Witkiewicz plus assorted links to revisit

three years ago: Concrete and Clay (1965), your daily demon: Marbas, automotive designer Robert Opron, more links to enjoy, the Duke of Edinburgh passes away plus the Lost Tapes of Club 27

four years ago: studies in kineticsmechanical casts, Maundy Thursday plus Easter Witches

five years ago: found sounds, cognitive flexibilities, Moscow’s Nakomfim Building, Alta y Baja California plus a proposed tax on digital giants

Wednesday 3 April 2024

it’s horseradish to me (11. 466)

Language Hat directs our attention to an interesting comparative discussion of vulgar expressions of indifference across different idiomatic phrases, linking to an isogloss of colourful terms, prompted by asking what equivalents were there to the relatively new and niche “ZFG,” like the more polite Russian version above. The accompanying image is from the 2021 film Rien ร  foutre which is a considered to have the corresponding meaning in French. While these may not be in common parlance and not necessarily the default (especially in polite company), it is an engrosssing look at contemptuous dismissiveness and how other languages do not fall into the negation trap that the straightforward English rendition sometimes carries with “I could care less” versus “I couldn’t care less” plus related sayings, like the figure of speech “you can’t have your cake and eat it [too]”—variants of the proverbial language fossil quoted by such writers as Jonathan Swift, Ayn Rand’s John Galt and Ted Kaczynski in the Unabomber manifesto (who’s particular turn of phrase helped lead to his apprehension)—which by dent of its similar and somewhat impenetrable logic gives rise to a cakeist factor who wish for two desirable but exclusive alternatives. The Italian version, probably the least rustic in literal translation, Volere la botte piena e la mogile ubriaca, goes something akin to wanting both the full barrel of wine and the wife drunk.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

9x9 (11. 453)

 you are old, father william, the young man said: Better Living Through Beowulf has been applying Lewis Carroll characters to the trials and tribulations of Biden and Trump  

gรผneลŸ enerjili santrali: power plant in Turkeyi’s Konya region is straight out of science fiction  

rotoscopio: artist Antoni Sendra celebrates his daring daughter’s favourite things with more than two thousand hand painted frames of animation ahead of her sixth birthday 

toto, i don’t think we’re in kansas anymore: the Ruby Slippers theft saga continues 

read/write drive: Infinite Macs and making computing history accessible, including an emulation of the original World Wide Web browser—via Waxy  

licensed broker: the rise and fall of the professional appellation electragist  

fleischer studios: the history and evolution of animation from the phenakistiscope to Pixar  

low-vacuum pipeline magnetic levitation technology: a hyperloop test track in the Netherlands 

come to jesus moment: Trump attempts to capitalise on Biden’s split with Israeli leadership

Sunday 24 March 2024

11x11 (11. 448)

inauspicious beginnings: a rift opens up in a group of official astrologers employed by the Sri Lankan government to pick ideal dates for new years rituals  

disco arabesquo: record label Habibi Funk aims to introduce Middle Eastern vintage music to wider audiences 

typecraft: a transformative font foundry in India 

the allegory of the cave: on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film’s premiere, we may be still trapped in the Matrix 

banjaxed and bockety: two curious Irish terms 

der buch der hasengeschichten: Tom Seidmann-Freud’s 1924 collection of hare fables 

working for tips: bizarrely robot baristas will accept gratuities, in a service sector landscape already fraught with insecurity and precarity—via tmn  

the juice is on the loose: a sequel thirty-six years in the making, reuniting the original cast—via Miss Cellania  

international system of typographic picture education: an archive of the pictograms of Gerd Arntz—see previously  

pocket full of kryptonite: the preponderance of alternative rock songs about Superman in the 1990s, 2000s 

prosopometamorphopsia: a new study on generalised social anxiety disorder tries to see from the perspective of those with a rare condition that causes faces to appear distorted, demonic—via the New Shelton wet/dry

Saturday 23 March 2024

the noodle bar scene (11. 445)

The always excellent Language Hat brings up the topic of the auxiliary, cosmopolitan argot, Cityspeak, used in at the beginning of the film (and peppered throughout) in the exchange between Decker (Harrison Ford), the snack counter’s proprietor (Bob Okazaki) and later the undercover arresting officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos, credited with its invention to a large extent). The Blade Runner pretends not to understand this polyglot creole of German, Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Hungarian, Chinese and French but of course knows exactly what the dialogue is about. Monsieur, azonnal kรถvessen engem bitte! Whilst this 1982 vision of our contemporary present has not exactly come to pass linguistically, it is an interesting study in diglossia and language as a cultural indicator rather than purely, functionally communicative and what else the movie and novel got right about the future.