I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Greatness is far too difficult, too abstract, too daunting. Being good-- consistently good-- is the real goal, and that takes hard work and discipline. Being good-- that's something concrete you can roll up your sleeves and accomplish.

Jeff Atwood


<March 2019>




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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 10:24 AM Pacific

  06:55 AM

The recent college-admissions scandal in the US was certainly shocking (or not), but it did have the benefit of introducing me to a couple of terms. Most people probably know about helicopter parents—parents who are constantly hovering over their children. Two terms that the scandal taught me were lawnmower parents and snowplow parents.

Both expressions refer to parents who clear the path for their children, or as one description has it "parents who rush ahead to intervene, saving the child from any potential inconvenience, problem or discomfort." The same article suggests alternative terms bulldozer parents and—heh—curling parents, from the sport played on ice.

These terms are relatively new—snowplow parent goes back to about 2008, lawnmower parent maybe to 2016. We can safely assume, I think, that the phenomenon being described is not new, nor of course is the criticism of how other people do their parenting.

For fun origins today it's spa. At work we have spa water, which is water infused with fruit or vegetables or herbs (or all three).[1]

This seems like a relatively ordinary thing, but there's a surprisingly large, um, literature on spa water of this sort, including hardback books with recipes. Exploring the origins of the term spa water took me on a little journey, which I'll share with you.

Spa water at our work is inspired by water that's provided at spas. What is a spa? Well, that's in the eye of the beholder. It's a place you can get beauty treatments; I guess I envision luxury retreats where you wear a fluffy robe and soak in the waters. But in the narrow definition—a spa is about beauty treatment—a modest nail salon can call itself a spa, or perhaps if they offer a few extra amenities, not forgetting the spa water. (As Jimmy McGill's landlady reminds us in Better Call Saul, cucumber water is for customers, not for shady lawyers renting out her back room.)[2]

The water is the salient part of a spa here. Before spa water was infused water, it was mineral water bottled and sold for its health-giving properties. There are many places whose water is reputed to have these properties, but there is one original spa water: the water from springs at the town of Spa, Belgium. They've been selling their labeled Spa water since the 17th century. (Apparently in Dutch, the brand Spa has been genericized to refer to any mineral water.)

One thing that's not clear is how the town of Spa got its name. It's possible that it's from an old Walloon word for "spring" or "fountain," which would certainly make sense.

There's some evidence that the Romans knew about the water from Spa. But the Romans didn't just drink exotic waters, they were enthusiastic bathers. And that's the other definition of spa: a place you take the waters. (I was delighted to learn that this is known as balneotherapy, and it apparently can have some benefit.) This sense of spa is generic; for example, there's Leamington Spa in England, which was renamed from Leamington Priors in 1838 to match the name of the Belgian town. And from there we get back to our more modern sense of a spa, a place where you take treatments for, you know, health and beauty.

The bathing sense of spa has another offshoot—it's used as a synonym for a hot tub. In my wanderings, I ran across spa water as water that's in hot tubs. At least there's not much danger that you'd confuse your fruit-infused drink with the stuff bubbling in your hot tub. At least, I hope not.

[1] The most creative and least popular combination I've ever seen at work was tomato-basil water, gah.

[2] After reading rather a lot of pages about the hydration and detoxifying and revivifying benefits of spa water, I was sort of relieved to see that someone has invented a cocktail called Spa Water.

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  06:38 AM

Today’s word is not just a word, it’s a kind of PSA. The term is Dutch reach. It might be known to many people already, but I just saw it on Twitter.

Dutch reach is a way to open your car door (from inside) by using the far hand to reach over and grab the handle. So if you’re on the (American) driver’s side, you reach over with your right hand to open the door. Obviously this is not intuitive; people normally open a car door using the hand that’s closest to that door.

The point is to more or less force you to look behind you. You do this to see if there are any bicyclists coming up behind you, and to help you avoid opening the door into their path, known to bicyclists as being doored, which can really injure a bicyclist going at speed. You can read more at a site devoted to teaching this technique.

I think I found this term interesting because the adjective Dutch in English was, historically speaking, sometimes used in “opprobrious or derisive” ways, to quote the OED. Dutch treat, Dutch uncle, Dutch courage, Dutch auction: these are not terms of admiration. For example, a Dutch treat is when you pay your own way, meaning it’s no treat at all. This is a linguistic legacy of the great British-Dutch rivalry of the 1600s. (Remember that New York was originally New Amsterdam.)

But Dutch reach is a term that, if not necessarily admiring, is at least neutral. It’s a nod to Holland’s famously bicycle-friendly culture and, in this case, a Dutch that’s worth adopting.

Origins. The other day I was reading about the history of type and the author mentioned that some early typefaces were designed to emulate handwriting, or cursive writing. Interestingly, cursive has basically only one meaning: flowing handwriting, or type intended to look like it.

Take a moment to consider what the word cursive means and where we got it. Ready? We seem to have gotten it from the Latin word cursivus, meaning “flowing.” So far, so obvious. The fun part is that the Latin word is in turn based on the past form of the word meaning “to run” (correr in Spanish). So cursive handwriting is writing that runs, which I suppose is apt when compared to block printing (or carving in stone).

As with so many words with classical roots, cursive has many cousins. A short list includes courier, corridor, carriage, curriculum, excursion, and intercourse. That’s a whole lot of running.

Bonus origin. Yesterday was Pi Day (3.14 in the American convention of month then day). Ever wonder why we use the term pi for the ratio of circumference to diameter? The Welsh mathematician William Jones apparently introduced the word in the early 1700s as short for "periphery," and it and the pi symbol (π) were popularized by Euler.

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  07:23 AM

I have some friends on Facebook who follow the paleo diet, and it's not unusual for them to post a picture of, say, a slab of steak with a salad or something. A paleo diet, as most people probably know, is supposed to be a diet aligned with what our paleolithic ancestors might have eaten—things you could hunt or gather. Fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts: yes. Meat: yes. Delicious buttery croissants: no, because those are the product of post-paleolithic farming. (Also, no legumes, grains, or sugar.)

I have other friends who are vegan and who also post FB pictures. Their diet involves no animal products at all. Meat, eggs, dairy: no. Fruits and vegetables, including potatoes and beans: yes.

As I recently learned, there is a thing called a Pegan diet, or paleo-vegan. If you're me, your initial reaction might be to wonder what the heck is left if you toss out what each of these separate diets tosses out. Well, as an article notes:

If you're wondering how you could both be vegan and eat grass-fed steak, the answer is simply this: you can't.

Oh. So what is is, exactly? Sounds like a low-carb diet, no-dairy, with an eye toward healthily sourced foods. Why do we need a new name for that? A nutritionist says:

If giving a trendy name to something healthy brings it to the attention of the consumer, I can't argue with that.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the lack of success I'm having with my diet is that "French-fries-based diet" isn't a good enough name.

Let us turn to unexpected and/or delightful word origins. I don't remember why, but I got interested recently in where the word cotton comes from. The history of the plant itself doesn't directly tell us. Various forms of cotton plants were domesticated in all different parts of the world, some as long ago as 4000 years ago. (The strain we mostly use today was native to Central America, who knew.)

But the word cotton does tell us a tiny bit about how the plant and its product spread. Cotton was grown in India but was unknown in Europe in ancient times. (There's a great story about how when Europeans were introduced to cotton as a product, they thought of it as wool that grew on trees, hence the German word Baumwolle, "tree wool.") Cotton worked its way westward, and Europe eventually got it via the Moorish influence in Spain. Which, finally, explains our word: cotton comes from the Arabic word qutn, which was their word for the plant. In English, we got it from French (of course), which had transformed Arabic qutn to coton.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the Arabic word al-qoton, where al is the definite article ("the"), became algodón, the Spanish word for cotton. Man, that al- prefix shows up all over the place: alcohol, algebra, alchemy, alfalfa, alkaline, algorithm, alcove, albatross. Anyway, our thanks to Arabic speakers for both the fabric and the word.

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[4] |

  07:24 PM

I missed last week due to being on vacation in Mexico, yay! I gave some thought to writing about the amazing number of words in Mexican Spanish that originate in indigenous terms—mostly Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs a.k.a. the Mexica. But vacation got the better of me, so any writing I do about, say, mole de guajalote with aguacate and huitlacoche will just have to be for another time.

For today's new-to-me word I want to offer the term prepone. This isn't actually new-new to me, but it came up again recently in a work conversation. This is a handy word that addresses the following situation:

Colleague: I need to move Friday's meeting forward an hour.
You: Do you mean "forward" as in earlier or "forward" as in later?

The word prepone is unambiguous here, because it's the opposite of postpone:

Colleague: I need to prepone Friday's meeting an hour.
You: Cool.

The word prepone became popular in South Asian English sometime in the 1970s or thereabouts. People have noticed the term—the Christian Science Monitor wrote about it more than once, and the lexicographer Ben Zimmer mentioned it in a column about terms from South Asian English. It's such a self-evidently useful term that it's really surprising that it hasn't gotten more traction in other Englishes. I certainly will do my best to promote it, and I encourage you to use it as well.

For origins, I got interested in the term cider. A Grammar Girl column noted that apple cider is a redundancy, because cider is made from apples. That seems to be true; if you go to a saloon and ask for cider, you'll almost certainly get a drink made with apples. (Hold that thought.)

The word has a slightly curious history. In Latin translations of the Old Testament, the word sicera and a similar word in Greek were used for a Hebrew word (shekar) that meant "intoxicating drink." So the most original sense of the term just meant what today we'd refer to as the hard stuff. By medieval times, the word had narrowed to mean the fermented juice of apples or pears. It then came to mean the juice pressed from apples, whether that had been fermented or not. We're therefore obliged to add a qualifier to the word cider if there's ambiguity: sweet cider or hard cider.

In the world of craft brewing, you can find pear cider, which technically means that not all cider is from apples, and that apple cider isn't necessarily a redundancy. But if you want a cider made from pears, you'll probably want to be explicit with the barkeep. What you can't do is use the word cider to mean any old strong drink, as you might be etymologically justified in doing, ha.

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[3] |

  12:02 PM

What do Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, and Chupacabra have in common? Biologically not so much, since two are mammal-like and one is presumed to be reptilian. But terminologically, they’re all cryptids, or species (“species”) studied in the field (“field”) of cryptozoology. I might have known the word cryptid before, but whatever, I heard it, like, three times in the last couple of weeks, which made it seem new-ish to me.

Cryptids are not mythical/mythological creatures, like unicorns or the sphinx. A defining characteristic of cryptids is that they might exist. Some people believe they exist. There’s some evidence—anecdotal or urban-legend-ish—that they exist. There are periodic reports of sightings or of traces like footprints, or blurry photos, or mutilated goats.

The name cryptid is appropriate for these critters: crypt(o) means “hidden,” and that certainly describes the shadowy nature of these creatures’ existence. Despite the long list of cryptids and their long history in human lore, the word itself seems to have originated only in the 1990s. We might not be advancing in our understanding of the lives of cryptids, but we are lexicographically on top of the phenomenon.

For origins for real, today we have the word cheapskate. I follow the blog of Arnold Zwicky, a prolific linguist, and a little while ago he explored this word. What’s the skate part? It has nothing to do with ice-type skating, nor is it related to the fishy family of animals known as skates.

It seems that the word skate is slang for “fellow” (“a good skate”), not that I’ve ever heard this. It’s also apparently a slang term for a decrepit horse. The OED has cites running from 1894 to 1978 for this sense of skate; the last cite makes it seem like it might be a term used among those who bet on horses, but that’s speculation.

Somewhere the term skate got the connotation of not just “fellow” but “contemptible fellow,” which might be an example of pejoration, dunno. And that sense then became attached to the word cheap and we got a contemptible fellow who moreover is unpleasantly thrifty.

Zwicky makes an interesting observation about how cheapskate is pronounced. In this compound, cheap is an adjective. Normally, though, when you use cheap in this way, you put the stress on the noun (adjective-NOUN)—a cheap DATE, even a cheap PERSON. But in cheapskate, the stress is on cheap. Zwicky observes this but doesn’t explain it, although I bet there’s something phonologically interesting there.

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  11:26 AM

The president delivered his 2019 State of the Union address this week, but beforehand, he had lunch with some reporters. At the lunch, he reportedly made the curious remark "When I say something that you might think is a gaffe, it’s on purpose; it’s not a gaffe."

Trump presumably had in mind the standard definition of gaffe to mean "blunder, social mistake." But the remark struck me because it came from a politician, and I only recently learned the term Kinsley gaffe. This is named for the journalist Michael Kinsley, who once said "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say." Does Trump say the truth in the guise of making a mistake?

Not all political gaffes are Kinsley gaffes; sometimes politicians just say or do dumb things. (Wait, did I say sometimes?) A true Kinsley gaffe has to reveal what people suspect but that a savvy politician should not admit. Some examples:

  • In 2011, the Republican Senate Majority Leader in Wisconsin, Scott Fitzgerald, said in an interview that he was pushing to restrict collective bargaining by public employees—that is, unions—in order to defund the base for Democrats.
  • During the 2012 election, a Mitt Romney spokesperson reassured voters that Romney's hard-conservative positions in the primaries were not worrisome, because "like an Etch a Sketch," the positions would be reset for the general election.
  • In a 2015 interview, Kevin McCarthy, who at the time was the GOP House Majority Leader, admitted that the congressional hearings on the 2012 Benghazi attack were motivated by a desire to hurt Hillary Clinton's chances for election.
  • Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that a proposed Election Day Holiday was a "power grab" by the Democrats, effectively admitting that allowing more people to vote would be to the Republicans' disadvantage.

Although Kinsley was focused on politicians, you could argue that non-politicians are subject to Kinsley gaffes as well. In 1999, Scott McNealy, who was then CEO of Sun Microsystems, said "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." In 2010, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, said " We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."

The more I think about this, the more examples I want to find. Let me know if you have other candidate Kinsley gaffes.

Ok, origins. What's the scape part of a scapegoat? The quick answer is that it's related to escape—although we imported the word with an initial e- from French in medieval times, for several centuries an e-less version (scape) was common.

So it's an escape-goat. I didn't initially get this. A scapegoat is the one who's the designated recipient of blame. Today's that's metaphoric, but in Biblical times it was more literal—it was a goat, and it was ritually assigned to bear the sins of the community. How is that goat then an "escape" goat? Well, it turns out that in the ritual of sin-letting, there are two goats involved, as described in Leviticus 16:

7 And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.


21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:

22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

So one goat is sacrificed, but the goat onto which the iniquities of the tribe are laid is sent out into the wilderness—he escapes. (The fact that I didn't know this story suggest that my Bible literacy could be improved.)

There is a footnote in all this about the word (e)scapegoat. The word was brought into English by Tyndale in his early English translation of the Bible from Hebrew. But the Hebrew word that he translated—azazel—might either mean "escaped, departed" or it might be the name of a demon. It's therefore possible that the scape part of scapegoat is all based on a misunderstanding. Douglas Harper has details, should you be curious.

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[2] |

  07:16 AM

Today's new-to-me word is so new that it doesn't actually exist yet. (Can't get newer than that, right?) Which of course requires some explanation.

This coming Sunday is the annual American football championship known as the Super Bowl. The National Football League (NFL) is notoriously …. careful … about protecting its trademarks. (If you listen to their fine print, the NFL claims copyright not just to their logos and broadcasts, but even to descriptions of the game.) Anyway, they jealously guard the name "Super Bowl." In 2014, in a possibly comedic effort to avoid the ire of the NFL, the comedian Stephen Colbert got around their policing by referring not to the Super Bowl, but to the Superb Owl. nyuck-nyuck. But the term stuck, and people have taken it up with glee.

All fine. The real story here is that this week on the Language Log, a linguistics blog, there was a post in which someone asked this interesting question:

Do you happen to know if there's a name for this phenomenon of splitting a word in a different-than-intended way to change its meaning?

Apparently there isn't, and this isn't the first time the question has come up—the Oxford Dictionary blog posted about it in April of 2018, but they had no term either.

Commenters on the LL blog step up with some additional examples: cow-orker; mans laughter; wee knights; now here. There are some notorious examples of URLs that are subject to this phenomenon, including penisland.net (Pen Island Pens) and expertsexchange.com (Experts Exchange). The mathematician and Scrabble aficionado John Chew has a page with over 16,000 words that have "compound ambiguity," i.e., can be broken up in different ways (like broad-sword and broads-word).

In response to the actual question, commenters proposed various names:

  • charade. This is a term used in puzzles where the answer is made up of multiple clues.
  • schizoepia. As the proposer of this term says, it's "vaguely modelled along the lines of 'onomatopoeia' from schizo- 'split' and epos 'word' and the suffix -ia."
  • superb owl. One person suggested the term superb owl itself as the name for the phenomenon. This follows the pattern of eggcorn, shitgibbon compound, cutthroat compound, and boathouse words, where an example of the phenomenon is used as the name for it.

I root for superb owl as the term of art here. But like I said, the word is so new we haven't even decided what it's going to be yet.

For this week's word origin, I have the word overture: where does that come from? An overture is the opening part (of music or of a transaction). You might think that it's over + ture. But no; it's overt+ure. (There's my weak attempt at relating this back to the superb owl business.) It might still not be obvious how overt gets us "beginning." Well, overt is the past form of the old French word ouvrir, "to open." (So I guess it means "opened.") This also explains why something that's overt is not hidden; it's open(ed).

We have a surprising cognate in English: the word aperture, which is basically the same word (including being based on the past form), except it's from Latin instead of French. And with an overture and an aperture, we close this week's words, haha.

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[1] |

  07:53 AM

I run across a lot of new-to-me technical terms at work, but they're usually too technical to be generally interesting. However, I recently ran across the term gray sheep, which I thought others might find as amusing as I do.

There is some background, but bear with me. When you go to Netflix or Amazon, they have many suggestions about what you should watch or buy next. One way to create recommendation systems, as they're called, is to use collaborative filtering. Suppose you've watched the movies Clueless, Dirty Harry, and Frozen. Another user who also watched those movies then watches The Matrix. Collaborative filtering leads the system to suggest The Matrix to you, too. (Needless to say, the system is a bit more complex than this.)

Basically, collaborative filtering systems assume that people who have shown similar tastes in the past will show similar tastes in the future. But then there are the gray sheep. You loved Clueless, Dirty Harry, and Frozen, but you hate The Matrix. One of the articles (downloadable .gz file) on collaborative filtering describes gray sheep as users who are problematic "because their opinions do not consistently agree or disagree with any group of people."

In this context, black sheep are people whose tastes can't be predicted at all. (They're a failure condition for recommendation systems.) I like how they borrowed the idea of a black sheep as an outlier, and then modified it as gray sheep for users who are kinda-sorta the same as other people, but not quite. It feels like a term that could have wider application than in this narrow realm of predictive systems. In some senses, we're all gray sheep, eh? (One maybe doesn't want to think too hard about the idea that per this terminology, all users are sheep.)

For surprising origins, today we have anthrax. (I forget where I found this. Twitter, probably.) Today anthrax is the name of a disease, but in its earliest use in English it referred to "carbuncle, pustule"—in other words, to the outward signs of a disease. Latin had the word anthrax in this second sense also; they got it from Greek.

Here's the interesting part: in Greek, the word was used for carbuncles also, but that meaning apparently was a simile; anthrax in Greek referred to a dark precious stone and to charcoal. As the OED says, the ancient Greek anthrax "denoted burning charcoal, hence the use of the word for things red in colour (e.g. precious stone, carbuncle) as well as for things black in colour (e.g. coal)." Do you see coal there? One type of coals is anthracite, same root. So a disease of animal husbandry is improbably connected to burning coals. You never know how words will wander.

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  06:52 AM

Probably you've walked around in a city and wanted to cross a busy street. So probably you've seen one of these things on a pole near the intersection:

Do you have a name for this? I just recently learned that in some circles, at least, these are called beg buttons. As in, pedestrians have to push a button to beg to be allowed to cross the street.

This is presumably not what traffic engineers call these, at least, not when they're writing up planning documents. For those purposes, these devices are referred to as pedestrian call buttons or pedestrian crossing buttons. (Descriptive, but dull.) You tend to see beg buttons in contexts where people are not happy with the way traffic is managed; more specifically, when they think traffic is managed in a way to disfavor pedestrians. (For example, beg button is the term used in the article How traffic signals favour cars and discourage walking.)

Fun fact: at some intersections (not all), the beg button is a placebo. In these cases, the lights at an intersection are on a timed cycle. Pedestrians can push the button, but it doesn't change the timing of the lights. (It might be that the beg button does work for off-hours cycles, like at night.) At the intersection close to my office, when you push the beg button, a stern voice commands "Wait!" I don't know whether that indicates that the signal is or isn't a placebo, but I dare not contradict the Wait Voice.[1]

So that's the new-to-me word this week. For origins, I was wondering about where the word fiddle came from. Some poking reminded me that German has the word Fiedel, which is obviously a cognate, and the dictionary notes several variations like that in other Germanic languages. And fiddle goes back to Old English, which bolsters its Germanic creds.

But this turns out to be another "origin uncertain" word. The most common explanation is that fiddle goes back to a word vitula in late Latin, which also described an instrument. And that term might in turn go back to a word for "joyful celebration." Although Douglas Harper makes a reasonable countersuggestion: "Unless the Medieval Latin word [for the instrument] is from the Germanic ones."

Anyway, the Latin word vitula evolved into viol, which turned in Italian into viola and violin, which we borrowed into English. So we have two words for a stringed instrument, fiddle and violin, and they probably came from the same root. The only question is which term came first.

If you're me, you might also be wondering what the heck the difference is between a fiddle and a violin, anyway. The answer is simple, but contextual: it's the same instrument, you just call it one name or the other depending on what type of music you play on it .

[1] If you like this sort of thing, read To press or not to press: a guide to pedestrian buttons, where Toronto writer Dylan Reid goes into some detail about how signal activation works.

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[3] |

  08:12 AM

Almost back to normal words after all that Word and Name of the Year business the last couple of weeks. In case you don't follow the latest in lexicographic news, the American Dialect Society selected tender-age shelter as their overall Word of the Year. They have a press release (PDF) that lists all of the nominations, with winners in each category. The American Name Society selected Jamal Khashoggi as their Name of the Year. (Pleasingly, Gritty was their Trade Name of the Year.)

Ok, the new-to-me word this week is ICE-ing or ICEing, which I learned via Twitter user @VintageReader. You might think this has something to do with the government agency known as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but no. In this case, ICE stands for "internal combustion engine," though that still doesn’t tell you what ICE-ing is.

An article in Jalopnik, a car-oriented site, has the story: ICE-ing is blocking an EV charging spot by using your non-electric vehicle. As with rolling coal, which is also mentioned in the article, there might be innocuous reasons why someone would practice ICE-ing (using the last available parking spot, say, or just not paying attention). But there are definitely cases when ICE-ing is another way to own the libs. As the author of the article writes, "I generally like people, which may be why I never fail to be surprised when I encounter people being truly unrepentant dickheads for no good reason whatsoever." People he also calls "bro-truck owners," ha.

As noted, this was not an obvious neologism to me. But I ran across something that explained why ICE works here: electric-car owners are being "iced out of" their charging stations. Ah. I was also surprised that the word is not new-new; the Word Spy (Paul McFedries) found a citation from back in 2011. So ICE-ing (the activity) was probably invented about a day after the first EV stations appeared in parking lots, and ICE-ing (the word) itself shortly thereafter.

Speaking of cars and websites, the name of the Jalopnik website seems to be based on the word jalopy, which refers to a dilapidated car. Where did jalopy come from? Most dictionaries stick with "origin unknown." The word appeared in the 1920s, reflecting a period when cars had become widespread enough that some people were driving beaters, although the OED says that the word could also refer to a battered "aeroplane." Douglas Harper makes a somewhat daring conjecture that it's from the name of the city Jalapa in Mexico, "where many U.S. used cars supposedly were sent." If that's true, it means jalopy is related to the word jalapeño, as in the pepper. An unlikely pair.

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