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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Garrett Lisi


<September 2016>




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Most recent entry - 9/24/2016

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 9:55 PM Pacific

  10:30 AM

Every Friday, more or less, I add a post here that talks about a new word and an etymology. The new word is only warranted to be new to me; it's pretty rare that the word is new-new, and in fact it might be quite old. For the etymology, I focus on word origins that are surprising (to me) or delightful (to me).

As a quick reference for you and for me, here's a list of everything I've posted.

Date Word(s) Unexpected etymology
23 Sep 2016 striminal, hebdomadal debunk
16 Sep 2016 retroediting, hyperlexia, fuckeulogy triumph
9 Sep 2016 calligram, MAMIL booze, grape
2 Sep 2016 gongoozler terrycloth
26 Aug 2016 sickboating code
19 Aug 2016 wind throb geyser, cemetery
12 Aug 2016 drunkorexia, Liebig's law lemonade
5 Aug 2016 faxlore/xeroxlore, depave bumper [crop]
22 Jul 2016 conformist distinction candidate, toga
15 Jul 2016 Null Island [cattle] rustling
1 Jul 2016 RAT (remote access Trojan), ratting club soda
24 Jun 2016 Mendoza Line, Ephus pitch praline
17 Jun 2016 SLAPP, HiPPO symposium
10 Jun 2016 mathwashing dative
27 May 2016 bus factor kibosh
20 May 2016 gene-whiz science, web brutalism [steel] mill
13 May 2016 semantic satiation chickpea, ceci bean, garbanzo
6 May 2016 monotasking [pass the] bar/bar [association]
29 Apr 2016 polypharmacy [game of] craps
22 Apr 2016 whataboutery simmer
15 Apr 2016 sexposition conk (v), noggin
8 Apr 2016 lig, ligging, ligger corny [joke]
1 Apr 2016 confirmshaming traffic
25 Mar 2016 Scunthorpe problem van
18 Mar 2016 bangorrhea innocent, disappoint
11 Mar 2016 like-farming, Witzelsucht adrenaline
4 Mar 2016 catio, qubit lavender
26 Feb 2016 virtue signaling bangs
19 Feb 2016 misophonia, legislative history ham [radio]
12 Feb 2016 boggle threshold silver
5 Feb 2016 Overton window February
28 Jan 2016 nocebo effect magnet
22 Jan 2016 bandwagon fan, transcreation marmalade
15 Jan 2016 Dobler-Dahmer Theory head (bathroom), poop deck
8 Jan 2016 Mary Sue cult
1 Jan 2016 she shed soccer
25 Dec 2015 carol, mistletoe
18 Dec 2015 machete order pretzel
11 Dec 2015 zarf cynic
4 Dec 2015 frexting boysenberry
27 Nov 2015 Vera turkey
20 Nov 2015 Graygler thing
13 Nov 2015 schooly poodle, basset hound, dachshund
29 Oct 2015 cuberhood [military] tank

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  12:58 PM

Boy, Fridays seem to be coming at me with ever-greater velocity. Is it that summer is gone? Oh, well—it just means opportunities come around seemingly faster for contemplating words.

The new-to-me word this week is striminal, a mashup of streaming and criminal. This term is attributed to Gabriella Mirabelli, who runs Anatomy Media, a marketing agency. Mirabelli was quoted in an article that reported that 61% of people aged 18 to 24 get streaming content from unauthorized sources—i.e., that they're not paying for it—and 63% of them use ad blockers. Mirabelli doesn't like this behavior.

I'm generally ok with people taking a stab at a new word, but I don’t love striminal. It fails the test of being "semantically transparent," which is one of the criteria proposed by an article in The Guardian about what makes a good portmanteau. To my mind, if you hear "striminal," you can guess that it's some sort of criminal, but it seems unlikely that you could work your way back to "streaming." Would stream-inal work? Maybe, but that word ain't no beauty queen either.

Bonus new-to-me word: A couple of weeks ago, one of John McIntyre's "In a Word" columns introduced me to the word hebdomadal, which is a pretty fancy way to way "weekly." This uses the stem heptá, which means "seven" in Greek and is related to Latin septem, as in September, and, well, seven in English.

This week's unexpected etymology is for the word debunk, which has a surprisingly (to me) specific origin, and which sent me on a bit of an etymological wander that I'll share with you. I ran across it while reading an article in Harper's (paywall) that starts off with a longish disquisition on this term.

To begin: according to the article, debunk was coined by the writer W. E. Woodward in 1923 in his novel Bunk, where the main character apparently "takes the bunk" out of things. Bunk is in turn short for bunkum, meaning "nonsense." The origin of bunkum, in turn, is also surprisingly specific. I'll just cite the OED here, which has the story, with bits I've interspersed for clarity:
The use of the word [bunkum] originated near the close of the debate on the ‘Missouri Question’ in the 16th congress [1819-1821], when the member from this district [F. Walker] rose to speak, while the house was impatiently calling for the ‘Question’. Several members gathered round him, begging him to desist; he persevered, however, for a while, declaring that the people of his district expected it, and that he was bound to make a speech for Buncombe.
So: A congressional speech around 1820 on behalf of Bumcombe, North Carolina begets bunkum, which begets bunk. Then in 1921, Woodward coins debunk.

A final turn on this story is that a later project of Woodward's was a biography of George Washington, which apparently was not in keeping with other Founding Father hagiographies, and was written up as "debunking" Washington. (Not Woodward's intent at all.) When he later went on to write about Thomas Paine, he was likewise said to have "debunked" Paine, again a mischaracterization of the intent. Woodward got exasperated at seeing everything he wrote about being labeled as "debunking." The Harper's article says it this way:
He tried to disassociate himself from the word he had created. […] In his memoirs, which also appeared more than two decades after his novel, he was still bemoaning his unhappy invention: “If I had it to do over again I would hesitate a long time before creating the word ‘debunk,’ and would make an effort to find another way to express the idea."
I guess there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  07:14 PM

Here we are on Mexican Independence Day. Sadly, although there are words a-plenty today, none of them relate to this important date being celebrated by friends and family. Still, let's proceed ...

Oh, by the way: Strong language this week.

I got the first term for this week from Virginia Hefferman's book Magic and Loss, an extended essay about the cultural impact of the internet. I'll just use a cite from the book to showcase the word and define it:
What we did at Yahoo! News, which the staff called "retroediting," would make the New Yorker staff blanch: we'd post something as soon as the sloppiest draft was ready and edit it after it was available to readers.
There are a couple of things I like about the word retroediting. One is that it describes a process that's very familiar to me, as anyone might guess from reading my blog entries or Facebook posts, ack. I've also worked in shops where this approach to editing has been flirted with. He said (im)passively. I also like the word because if someone had asked me to come up with a name for this editing protocol, I would have gotten stuck on post- or after-, and would probably never have stumbled on retro-. This prefix means "backwards," which to me is not an obvious way to describe this after-the-fact process. But I like it. As an aside, I also kind of like the image of the editors at a place like The New Yorker getting the vapors about this protocol.

The book also taught me another term: hyperlexia, which Hefferman uses to refer to our obsession with reading in the age of overwhelming text. Nancy Friedman examines this word in an entry on her blog, which I encourage you to read.

And a second term today. (Third, I guess.) I was put in mind of this one, which is relatively new to me, by the recent passing of Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist who's often credited with stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1979. While many people subscribe to a "speak no ill of the dead" philosophy, the passing of certain highly polarizing figures—in my lifetime, that includes Richard Nixon and Strom Thurmond, not to mention Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden—can really test this protocol. In, um, certain circles I saw a number of fuckeulogies for Schlafly, a term coined by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman in 2011 for their podcast The Bugle. A fuckeulogy is a kind of anti-eulogy: a piece that remembers the things that people didn't like about you. It is ... not nice. But the term itself is clever, I'll give it that.

In unexpected etymology today, we have the word triumph, whose origin I was alerted to by a casual comment in a Facebook post. (You never know where you'll learn about words, eh?) We use triumph today as both a noun meaning "victory" and verb ("to be victorious, to win"). I did learn a while back that in Roman times, a triumph was a kind of victory parade in which a general was granted the right by the senate to make a ceremonial entrance into Rome to show off the spoils and the captives and such. (Well dramatized in the HBO series Rome, if you can tolerate all the sex and violence in that show.) But! This isn't originally a Latin term; those etymologists seem to agree that it derives from a Greek word, thríambos, which is a "hymn to Dionysus/Bacchus." The sense of celebration is still there in the Roman use of triumph, and I guess we still have a faint echo of it, in that to triumph is a stronger (more celebratory?) sense of "to win."

Well, maybe triumph does related to Mexican Independence Day after all.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  01:43 PM

Here in Seattle, we made an extremely sudden transition from summer to fall (or autumn, for you Old World English speakers). But changes in the climate do not affect our interest in words!

The first new-to-me word for today is calligram, which refers to a piece of text in which the writing or typesetting creates an image that echoes the meaning of the word(s). The word is a mashup of calligraphy with -gram as we also see in telegram and diagram. I got this from an article that provided a gallery of 40+ calligrams by the designer Ji Lee. Here's an example so you get the idea, but you should check out the link to see the many excellent examples.

The word calligram is not new; it goes back at least to the 1930s. And as an art form, calligrams have been around a long time. For example, Islamic calligraphers have been doing beautiful calligrams for centuries using Arabic script to form pictures, as in this example:

On to more grounded things. I got the next new-to-me term from an interview with Seleta Reynolds, who's the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was talking about bicycles and "vehicular cycling"—the idea that bicycles should be integrated with, and treated as, traffic alongside cars. In her discussion, she noted that this has ended up being embraced primarily by MAMILs (pronounced "mammals"): middle aged men in lycra.

Ha, ha. The received story is that MAMIL is actually a demographic slice identified by a marketing firm in the UK in 2010. The definition seems to incorporate not just biking per se, but the clothing based on what professional racers wear, and the expensive bike, and (I guess) some whiff of classic middle age crisis. (It's hardly news that men can be fetishistic about gear, whether it's bicycles, cameras, guitars, or anything else.) Fun article: Oh the shame of being married to a MAMIL.

For etymology today we've got booze. Not a lot of related terms in English, eh? Besides the verb to booze, of course. We apparently borrowed this from our good friends and drinking buddies the Dutch, who have a verb busen or buizen, which means "to drink to excess." Hey, how many words in English do we have for drinking, anyway? That must say something about our worldview, right?! ;-)

As a bonus etymology, we've got grape. As Katherine Barber recently explained on her Wordlady blog, this word is effectively a mistake. When English borrowed grape-related terminology from the French, we confused the French word for grape (raisin) with a hook that was used to harvest grapes (grappe). Although as Barber points out, this gave us the unexpected advantage that we got for free a word that we could use to apply to dried grapes. So it all worked out in the end.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  06:56 AM

When shopping for school supplies this week, don't forget to pick up a set of Friday words!

The new-to-me word this week is gongoozler, which through some mechanism I no longer recall I got from Joss Fong on Twitter. In its most general sense, this term refers to a spectator who stares at an activity. It also has a related sense of someone who "enjoys watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom," this second definition from the infallible Wikipedia. (Whose article on this term includes the subheading "Aspects of gongoozling.") Compare trainspotting.

I believe the connection here is that canal-watchers do a lot of staring. Indeed, the OED says that both gawn and gooze are dialectical terms in the UK for "staring vacantly." Satisfyingly, one of the examples in the OED (from 1986) refers to someone gongoozling at a giant outdoor screen, TV being a sort of obvious candidate for the use of this term. For what it's worth, the earliest recorded use seems to be from 1904.

One of the cites in the OED is this: "Pronounced slowly and with the proper emphasis, ‘gongoozler’ merits a very high place in the vocabulary of opprobrium." Again, one might compare how trainspotting is used. Even then, though, I speculate that someone whose activity is being gongoozled, and who is opprobriuming the gongoozler, might prefer that to the more active spectating implied by kibitzing.

Incidentally, I'd love to hear more about this word from anyone who has it in their active vocabulary.

Etymological musings today originate in a session of kitchen cleanup this week, which led me to wonder about the word terrycloth. Who is Terry and why are towels named for them? Haha, just kidding. The exact origin of the terry part is a bit murky. It seems to refer to loops, the teeny loops being the salient feature of the cloth. It might come from tiré, French for "to draw" or "to pull," which references the way in which the loops are created during weaving. A second theory is that it comes from the Old French noun terret, which refers to the ring (loop) on a saddle. Either way, I can easily imagine myself in my dotage demanding that an uncomprehending grandchild bring me a "loop cloth, and hurry!"

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  10:28 PM

It's Friday again (kind of barely), meaning it's time for another batch o' words. I must note that I have been enjoying these later days of summer—not just because of the weather (that too, of course), but because we're seeing the last days before school buses and student-bearing minivans again clog the streets. However: words!

The first new-to-me word this week is sickboating. This term refers to an attempt among certain politicians or partisan media commentators to suggest that Hillary Clinton is ill in some way—epilepsy, dementia, something. I got this term from an article in Esquire. Almost all of the references I can find point back to this article, although the article itself uses the term without quotation marks. The whole story started only a few weeks ago, so perhaps this really is a brand-new term.

Politics aside, the term is linguistically interesting in a couple of ways. It alludes to swiftboating, a term invented during the 2004 American presidential-election season to refer to the smear campaign mounted against John Kerry, who had served in the US Navy on a so-called Swift Boat, a fact he touted as part of his campaign. During the election season, Kerry was attacked via an orchestrated effort (supposedly by other Swift Boat veterans) that sought to discredit Kerry's service. This type of political smearing quickly became known as swiftboating.

In sickboating, we see boating breaking further away from its original sense of the actual boat and taking on more clearly the semantics of "smear campaign." This is reminiscent of the way that gate become unmoored from Watergate (the name of a hotel) to become a generic suffix meaning "scandal." With boating serving as a particle for "smear campaign," we're now free to add words to the front of it to suggest the nature of that campaign. In this case, it's Clinton's supposed illness, hence sick. It would be not surprising at all to see other compounds along these lines.

Full disclosure: There might already be such compounds. I was mostly interested in sickboating this week as a term new to me.

For etymological fun this week I have the word code. Recently I was reading The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. He writes about DNA as a code, and at one point he says "The word code comes from caudex—the pith of the tree that was used to scratch out early manuscripts." So a code—something encoded—derives from a word for tree pith?

The sequence of code < codex < caudex is solid. What's not entirely clear is Mukherjee's reference to pith and "scratching out" manuscripts. Caudex does refer to a tree trunk (per the OED). In my reading, pith is the soft part of a plant's core, whereas it sounds like early books were wooden tablets covered with wax upon which people scratched writing. So I'm a bit mystified by the pith part, but am otherwise happy to learn that code refers to a tree trunk. Whodathunk.

Maya codex

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  12:56 PM

Friday words! Only today they happen to be on a Saturday. That's how it goes sometimes.

For this week's new-to-me word, I have wind throb, which I learned just a few days ago from an article (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal. This refers to the "wub-wub-wub" noise that happens when you open only one window while driving fast in a car. The more technical name for this phenomenon is Helmholtz resonance, but good luck getting far with that term at your next dinner party.

Fun fact: per the article (and a slew of others that appeared this week), wind throb is more of a problem with latter-day cars because they are designed to be aerodynamically tight. Certainly I've noticed that it's more of a problem with my 2015 Maserati than with my 1973 Dodge Dart. (Yeah, right.)

For surprising etymology this week I have two! The first is the word geyser, referring to a hot spring that sends up a plume of water. Give a moment of thought to the word, and you'll observe, I believe, that its meaning doesn't seem to be obvious, nor does it have cognates. That's because geyser has an unusual source (haha): it comes to English from modern(-ish) Icelandic (!), not exactly a historically rich source for English vocabulary. Geysir is the name of a particular geyser in Iceland; the name derives from an Icelandic word meaning "to gush." Our general term in English comes from the name of this specific geyser in Iceland. John Kelly has a great writeup of all this on Mashed Radish, a site well worth exploring for more fun with everyday etymology.

The other surprising etymology this week is for the word cemetery. On Twitter I follow Haggard Hawks Words, where they post unusual and obscure words. They recently created a words quiz, from which I learned that cemetery comes from the Greek word koimetarion, which means "a sleeping place." R.I.P. indeed.

Here are a couple of bonus etymologies this week, both inspired by political goings-on:
  • Katherine Barber discussed the word nostalgia.

  • Nancy Friedman addressed a term much in the news recently: sarcasm.
Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  05:44 PM

As we know, F is for Friday, and also for, um, filology. Wait, no, that's philology. Whatever, let's look at some new-to-Mike words.

The first new-to-me word is drunkorexia, which refers to "behaviors such as skipping meals or exercising heavily to offset calories from a heavy night of drinking, or to pump up alcohol's buzz," according to the page on the NBC website where I saw this. I looked for other sources, and many of them also have this dual definition, where avoiding eating is done either to offset the calories in alcohol or to enhance the effects of drinking. Anyway, I find cites going back at least to 2010. Apparently I'm not in college anymore, or I probably would have known this term.

A second new-to-me term this week is Liebig's Law. This is actually quite old, and I knew of the concept, which is also sometimes referred to as the law of the minimum. But I didn't know there was a name for this. (Of course there is, duh.) Liebig's Law states that the expansion of a system is capped by the availability of the scarcest critical ingredient. For example, on a broad scale, life on earth cannot expand indefinitely; at some point when you chemically build living systems, you'll run out of a critical ingredient. (If I remember right, that's phosphorous, but don't quote me on that.)

The same principle applies in more trivial contexts as well. If you need to make cookies for your kid's potluck at school, the number of cookies you can make is limited by the ingredient you run out of first, whether that's flour, sugar, chocolate chips, or whatever. (Assuming the store's closed, of course.)

Ok, etymology. I got to wondering recently about the -ade in lemonade. This is a productive suffix we can use for "drink made from": limeade, orangeade, pineappleade, pom-ade (from pomegranate). But why can we do this—where did -ade come from?

We seem to have gotten lemonade as a unit from French, where the suffix has long been used to indicate "action or product of an action" to cite Douglas Harper. As such, lemonade shares this suffix with some pretty interesting words: grenade, crusade, and comrade, to name three. (This comes from Latin, which is why you'll find words with similar constructions in Spanish and Italian.)

Ah! But observe that after borrowing lemonade into English, we naturalized the -ade suffix and use it in our own and much narrower way. You can't create arbitrary words meaning "product of" in English by just whacking -ade onto the end of another word. But if you've got some fruit around, you can make yourself a refreshing beverage, both to drink and to say.

Homework: be ready to discuss whether -ade is a so-called cranberry morpheme.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  10:57 AM

Friday again! I had to skip last week because I took a wee trip to Canadia to drop my bride at the Vancouver (BC) airport.[1] So today I'm just going to have to have to compensate with Extra Words.

The first new-to-me term this week (er, fortnight) is faxlore and a related term xeroxlore, which I got from the linguist Gretchen McCulloch (again). These refer to stuff—jokes, cartoons, funny stories, etc.—that are (were) distributed via fax machine and photocopiers, respectively. (I like this in the Wikipedia article: "compare samizdat in Soviet-bloc countries.") Obviously, these aren't yugely useful terms anymore, but I think the reason I seized on them was precisely that I am old enough to be able to remember faxlore and xeroxlore examples taped to colleagues' office doors or pinned to cubicles, and can remember the smeary look of a cartoon that had been copied from a copy of a copy. And! I lived through the transition when the exact same material stopped being sent around in hardcopy, so to speak, and started circulating as emails. Exact same.

Prototypical faxlore cartoon

Number 2 new-to-me word this week (er, fortnight) is depave. The literal meaning of this word is obvious: to remove concrete and asphalt. But I was interested in its use as the name of a movement that promotes this practice both for aesthetic reasons and for the practical benefit that it helps alleviate problems with runoff and flooding. The term made me think of the kind-of similar term daylighting to refer to uncovering streams and creeks that had been buried by urban development.

Busily depaving

Spring and summer in Seattle were (are) perfect this year, and our fruit trees have produced vast quantities of blueberries, apples, and pears. This has led me to this week's surprising-to-me etymology: bumper crop, where bumper means "abundant." In this collocation, bumper is used an adjective, which is pretty rare. (In fact, it's possible (?) that bumper crop is what someone has referred to as a stormy petrel, a phrase in which one of the terms—here, bumper—doesn't appear without the other one. Only CROPS can be BUMPER, to phrase it their way.)

Anyway, how did bumper come to mean "abundant"? Well, bumper is also an old (obsolete?) noun referring to something unusually large ("Cf. whopper," sayeth the OED), and to a vessel filled to the brim, where "vessel" here can even mean a crowded theater. This sense of the noun goes back as far as the 1600s. A related verb to bumper means "to fill up." But where did that sense come from? Well, bump might have originally meant to hit hard, which led to swelling or bulging, which led to the sense of fullness. And if I try to eat all of this fruit, I, too, shall experience a sense of fullness.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

[1] That might seem weird, but Seattle-type folks know that when heading to Europe, flying out of Vancouver can be substantially cheaper. Border crossings, such an experience!

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  10:49 AM

Hey, it's Friday again. So soon! Fortunately, we have the consolation of words.

Today's new-to-me term is conformist distinction. I got this from a FiveThirtyEight podcast in which Tom Vanderbilt was discussing his new book on taste, You May Also Like. In the podcast, Vanderbilt was discussing "tokens of identity" by which we project ourselves, and the dual desire to fit in but also have a unique style. This, he says, is conformist distinction, apparently a term from psychology. (I don't find hits on this using normal-Google, fwiw.) As he summarizes the term, "We all want to be like each other, more or less, but with a little twist."

Here we all are, showing our distinct style while conforming to hipster fashion

For unexpected etymology this week I have a term that's actually timely: candidate, as in someone running for office. This one came up when I was reading about Roman senatorial elections in Mary Beard's SPQR.

The tl;dr on the word is that it means "clothed in white," referring to the white togs (er, togas) that candidates wore. A little bit of delving, what the heck, tells us that candidate shares a root with candid (something that, arguably, candidates often are not), which means "white" and "shining" or "glistening." In fact, the first definitions in the OED (in historical order) for candid are "white"; "splendid"; "pure"; "impartial"; and "free from malice." It's only after that that we get to "frank." The shared root also appears in the word incendiary, where -cend- comes from a verbal form meaning "to cause to glow, shine." How about that.

I suppose that as an aside, I could note that toga comes from the Latin word for "to cover."

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