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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The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.

Gabriel Zaid


<September 2018>




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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:38 PM Pacific

  07:16 AM

In reviewing my list of new-to-me terms, I find a lot of them to be kind of depressing. So let's concentrate on a couple of boat-related terms.

The first is canoe politics, which I found in a New Yorker article about Governor Jerry Brown of California. Here's a cite that describes the term:

Brown has said that he follows “the canoe theory” of politics: “You paddle a little on the left and a little on the right, and you paddle a straight course.”

In other words, canoe politics a form a governance by compromise. Ok, maybe I'm a little depressed even by this.

Solution: more boats. The second new-to-me term is kayak problem. This comes from Steve Krug's excellent book Don't Make Me Think, which is about web usability—i.e., how to create user-friendly computer interfaces. Krug notes that with some designs, at least some users will have a problem. As an example, if you're designing a menu system, do you put Preferences under File or under Tools? Some users will first guess File, others will first guess Tools. He calls this a kayak problem because if you roll over in a kayak, the kayak quickly rights itself. Similarly, if the user can quickly recover and find the right path, it is a problem, but not a serious one. So there you have it: a kayak problem is one that's easy to recover from.[1]

Surprising origins! Someone at work recently got the poster-sized version of that beautiful language tree:

The poster shows the common trunk and branching for Indo-European languages (Hindi, Persian, Greek, Latin, Germanic, Russian, Celtic, and many more) and of the Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian, and others). While we were admiring the poster, someone asked, "Where's Arabic?" Ah, it was explained, that's a Semitic language, hence not represented here. During the subsequent discussion, someone asked "Where does the name Semitic actually come from?"

Good question. The Semitic languages are in a family of tongues spoken originally around the Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia), Tigrinya (also in Ethiopia), and others. Historically, Assyrian, Aramaic (spoken during the time of Jesus), and Phoenician were also Semitic languages. (Fun fact: The Carthaginian general Hannibal, the almost-defeater of Rome, spoke a Phoenician dialect, hence the Punic Wars.) But again: why do we call them Semitic languages?

The relationship between Arabic, Hebrew, and some other languages has been recognized for a long time. In 1781, August Ludwig Schlözer, a German historian, assigned the name Semitic to a certain set of these related languages. Influenced by the Old Testament, Schlözer thought that the people who spoke these languages were descendants of Shem, the oldest son of Noah, as described in Genesis 10 and 11. (Ham and Japheth and their descendants were thought to have been the origins of other language families.) Schlözer was somewhat right in that he got Hebrew and Arabic into the same family. But he really wanted to (incorrectly) add unrelated languages to the family because he viewed their speakers as other descendants of Shem. In spite of this confusion of ethnology and philology[2], his name stuck for the language family. It's not the only time that some mistaken notions about names were immortalized for posterity.

[1] BTW, if you're a kayaker and you want to tell me that it is in fact not easy to right oneself in a kayak, a) I'll believe you and b) you should take that up with Steve Krug. :)

[2] Which continues in some quarters (example).

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  06:41 AM

I have a slew of new-to-me terms that pertain to language all of a sudden, so I'll dole out a few of them today. This week's words concern pronunciation.

Everyone has a set of words that they used to mispronounce because they learned the words by reading them. Epitome. Albeit. Quay. Victuals. Hyperbole. Ennui. Viscount. Hegemony. Behemoth. And many more, and I'm sure you have your own list.

The folks at the Talk the Talk podcast have a name for words like this: only-read-it-ism. This I learned from one of their tweets, where they were responding to someone who was grumpy, and rightly so, that he had been mocked for pronouncing lingerie as it's spelled, and not in that peculiar way that we Americans do (lawn-zhuh-REY). In their tweet they added the word calliope, which when pronounced kalley-ope is yet another only-read-it-ism.

It may not be the cleverest name, I suppose, but I'm just glad to have a term for it. Because, as noted, it's a phenomenon that everyone recognizes. (In fact, it's tempting to propose the word kalleyope as name for the phenomenon, the way misle has become a term for misreading misled.)

By the way, if you like language, you will enjoy the Talk the Talk podcast, which is from Australia but has an international cast.

An only-read-it-ism becomes evident only when someone actually attempts to say the word out loud. Those of us who've had the embarrassing experience of producing an only-read-it-ism might develop a sudden hesitancy to use in conversation a word we are comfortable reading (or writing) on the page. Right?

The editor Elizabeth d'Anjou calls this pronunciation anxiety. Her example—and a good one it is—is desultory. Are you prepared to say this word out loud with confidence? Yeah, me neither. I don't know if Elizabeth invented the term, but as with only-read-it-ism, I'm just glad we have it.

On to word origins. Not long ago we were at the Discovery Garden up north of us and I was reading labels for various trees. One of them was a crabapple tree, and someone asked me what crab- meant in crabapple. I opened my mouth to explain, but nothing came out.

And it's not actually that clear. What it looks like is that there was a word scrab (scrabbe) for the fruit, which probably came from Norse and still exists in Scotland, and which might have lost its initial s-. On the other hand, the word crabbed has been used to describe disagreeable people since the 1400s, with a similar meaning in German. This sense might come from the animal crab, which walks crookedly and has a reputation for being, well, crabby. This might have evolved to then refer to churlish people, to crooked or gnarly wood, and to other unpleasant things. The crabapple is sour, and the OED includes this marvelous explanation: "A fruit externally promising, but so crabbed and ill-conditioned in quality, might very naturally be so called." A crabby apple.

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  09:38 PM

A little-known fact is that I have a number of videos on YouTube about using Microsoft Word. ("Little-known" as evidenced by the analytics, haha.) It seems that I should probably let more people know about them! So here's a blog post that catalogs the videos I have so far.

Using styles

Why use styles?

An overview of why styles are awesome and wonderful and why you should use them.

Types of styles

About the different types of styles (paragraph, character, linked, table, and list styles), and how and when you use them.

Ways to apply styles

Reviews the several different ways that you can apply styles in Microsoft Word—the Quick Styles gallery, the Styles pane, the Apply Styles dialog box (Windows only), and keyboard shortcuts. I also offer tips for choosing the right style to apply.

Using styles to set spell-check options

How to use styles to set the language (English, Spanish, German, etc.) for different parts of a document.

Using styles to disable spellcheck

How to use styles to turn off spell checking altogether for some text in a document, with some discussion about when that's useful.

Creating inherited styles ("style based on")

All about using the "style based on" feature, which I refer to as inherited styles. This lets you define one style, and then easily create and change similar styles that are based on that basic style.

Using styles for lists, Part 1: auto-lists

Discusses how Word applies a style to list items when you use the toolbar buttons to create bulleted and numbered lists, and what you can and cannot change about that style.

Using styles for lists, Part 2: styling lists using paragraph styles

Discusses how you can use paragraph styles that have bullets or numbers to style different levels of lists.

Using styles for lists, Part 3: creating list styles

Shows you how to use a list style (aka a multi-level list style) to have complete and utter control over how to style lists.

Other Word features

Creating a keyboard shortcut to paste plain text

Although this is specifically about how to create a keyboard shortcut for pasting plain text, it's really a tutorial on how to create a keyboard shortcut for any Word command.



  09:30 PM

My friend John used to tell me that the right way to eat was “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” The idea is that you eat less at the end of the day than at the beginning, and that this helps keep your weight under control.

Although the saying has been around for a long time (I guess?), I recently learned a term for this: chrononutrition. More specifically, chrononutrition is the “interaction between circadian rhythms and nutrition,” as one article puts it. Eating at specific times, or only within specific times, is referred to as time-restricted eating, or TRE. Another term is intermittent fasting, or IF.

I just learned the term chrononutrition, as noted, and as far as I can tell, it only started showing up in the popular press relatively recently (2017, 2018). A more scholarly article from 2016 refers to chrononutrition as an “emerging discipline.” That said, there are articles that go back at least as far as 2007. The most intriguing aspect of looking at this word is that that a lot of the literature about it is in French—for example, there’s an article on chrononutrition in the French version of Wikipedia, but not in the English version. And I found a single reference to a book titled Chrononutrition: les aspects fondamentaux des relations de la chronobiologie et de la nutrition that’s from 1994.

So that’s both a new word and some life advice. Bonus!

The other day I was reading about how car horns work (because who doesn’t want to know that, right?), and one of the articles mentioned the word klaxon. I always thought of this as an olde-tyme word for an electric horn. (Another friend of mine joked about how “honk the horn” probably used to be “activate the klaxon.”) A note in the Wikipedia article about horns makes the interesting claim that “Klaxon horns produce an easily identifiable sound, often transcribed onomatopoeiacally in English as ‘ahoooga.’”

Anyway, the interesting thing I learned about klaxon was that it used to be a trademark, apparently till 1992. It referred to a then still relatively novel electric horn manufactured by the Lovell-McConnell Manufacturing Company in the early 1900s. The excellent article “Signalling Methods Definitely Cared For” in The Automobile magazine from January 13, 1910 explains that klaxon is from a Greek word meaning “shriek”:

If you have a few moments, it’s interesting to read what they had to say in 1910 about the many benefits of using a signaling device on your automobile (“the motorist should be thoughtful of others, and not only possess a good signalling device, but use it very freely as well”). Perhaps you can read it while you’re having your late-night snack.

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  12:50 AM

If things go according to plan (mostly around weather), I'll be doing some motorcycling over the long weekend. Which reminds me about a word I learned not long ago: farkle.

In the sense I recently learned, farkle refers to accessories that you add to customize your two-wheeled ride. We riders of course like to convince ourselves that these farkles are practical additions to the bike: removable windshield, GPS units, heated seats, and so on. But as one page puts it, the usefulness of a farkle is in the eye of the beholder. A commonly held view is that farkle is a combination of function and sparkle, which kind of implies that the utility of a farkle might not be its sole purpose.

Too much farkle? (source)

Farkle is a fun word because it's versatile. It can be a noun—either a count noun (article: 10 Affordable Farkles Under $40) or a mass noun (catalog: Motorcycle Farkle & Gadgets). It can also work as a verb: farkling your bike, a motorcycle that's been farkled up.

While I was looking into farkle, I discovered that it's also been used in the world of computers as a synonym for "break" or "mess up." As the Jargon File has it, farkled means hosed. I haven't heard this in the field (that I know of), but you can find traces in support forums and the like. For example, one user described how a particular approach to a problem "involves only changes to core code, [and] doesn't farkle with user content directories." I might try to, you know, socialize this use of the term a bit, see if I can get people interested in it again.

For origins, we turn to the kitchen (and beyond). Not long ago, the inimitable Haggard Hawks tweeted that "In 18th century slang, a WAFFLE-FROLIC was a sumptuous meal." That was great, of course, but it made we wonder where we got the word waffle from.

The OED says it's an American term, borrowed from Dutch. (We also got cookie from Dutch.) Beyond this direct origin, waffle is related to an old Germanic word that means "honeycomb"; for example, the German word for honeycomb is Wabe. The sense of crossed-over things—the distinctive feature of a waffle—appears also in distantly related words like weave and web. Culinarily, a reasonably close relative of the waffle is wafer.

We also have the verb to waffle, meaning to blather on, and by extension, to dither. Surprise, that word is etymologically unrelated to the breakfast waffle. Instead, to waffle comes from an old verb waff that means to yelp or bark (compare woof). The -le part of to waffle marks it as a so-called frequentative, which is a form of the verb that suggests repeated action. Other frequentative pairs like waff/waffle are drip/dribble, daze/dazzle, and spark/sparkle. Which rhymes with farkle, which is where we started, and which seems like a good place to quit for now.

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  07:00 AM

Interesting week in Seattle and Portland and Vancouver BC. Due to smoke from wildfires, we had worse air quality than Beijing.

Fortunately, doing words is an indoor activity. Today's new-to-me term comes from internal jargon at Google. Not long ago I saw some email that referred to fishfooding. This puzzled me, so of course I stopped whatever it was I was supposed to be working on and went looking into the term.

Let's start with a term that many people already know: dogfooding. This is used in the software industry, possibly elsewhere, to mean using your own product: "to eat your own dogfood." Let's say you're a startup that's creating a new form of payroll software. If you want to find out what it's really like to use that software, you run your own payroll system on it. You will very soon discover technical problems or usability issues, plus you will reassure customers, since it's obviously good enough for you.

To fishfood is a variant on this idea. At Google, the term is used for very early testing, often with only a limited audience. For example, fishfooding might be done by a small group within the larger development team.

As far as I can tell, the term to fishfood was not coined in a particularly calculated manner. As described in a thread on Reddit, the team that originated the term happened to be working on a product whose code name had a marine flavor ("Emerald Sea"), so they came up with a fishy alternative on dogfooding. As with dogfood, fishfood is used as a verb and noun and adjective: to fishfood, a fishfood release, to be in fishfood (i.e., to be in early testing).

It seems to me that at Google, fishfood has carved out a bit of semantic space that used to be occupied by dogfood. Early uses of the verb dogfood (for example, at Microsoft) referred to using a product internally before it was released. If you look at the definition of dogfood in the venerable Jargon File, it emphasizes this: "Dogfood is typically not even of beta quality"—in other words, it's not ready for prime time. Fishfood has some of this flavor (sorry); something that is somewhat functional but is definitely not in a state to be widely released. As it's used in the company, fishfooding is to dogfood your own product, whereas dogfooding just means to test a product internally, including for other groups. (Many people at the company dogfooded the recent update to Gmail, for example.) Anyway, that's my interpretation of the difference.

It will be interesting to see whether fishfood spreads outside of Google, perhaps as people familiar with the term migrate to other companies. Stay tuned. (Resist urge to make pun.)

You know the word stevedore, right? Maybe, sort of? I ran across it not long ago and made a quick jaunt to the dictionary to make sure that I did in fact have it right: "one who loads and unloads ships." And while I was there, I thought I should look up where it came from, because its origin did not seem obvious at first glance.

It appears we got stevedore from the Spanish word estivador, which has the same meaning ("one who packs"). If you were here recently for penthouse, you might remember the process of aphaeresis, which is the process that chopped off that unstressed initial e-. So it's a simple borrowing, really.

But wait, there's more. We used to have a verb to steeve, which meant to pack (tightly), as you might with cargo in a ship's hold. This verb, along with the Spanish and French cognates, goes back to a Latin verb stipare, meaning "to crowd" or "to press." A weird wrinkle, as noted, is that although we had to steeve, we didn't create the word steever from it ("one who steeves"), as we probably should have. Instead, we borrowed stevedore as a unit from Spanish, complete with its -or ending ("one who …").

I briefly got excited because to steeve … doesn't that sound a lot like to stow? And don't stevedores stow things? But no. To stow seems to come from a Germanic root, not from stipare. Sometimes you really want an etymology to work out neatly like that, but the historical record thwarts you.

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  09:37 AM

This week I learned from the internet that in the American system of writing dates (m-d-yy, hence today is 8-17-18), we have nine days in a row of palindromic dates: 8-11-18 through 8-19-18. Ok, so that's not a word thing, but it is interesting in a trivial sort of way.

My new-to-me word this week is another sort of? political one. The term is stochastic terrorism, in broad terms means inciting others in an indirect way to commit acts of violence.

There seem to be three components. The terrorism part is easy: inciting violence. A non-explicit part of the term is there is an incitement, but it can be veiled and could have plausible deniability. ("I didn't tell anyone to do anything!") And the stochastic part pertains to an element of randomness: the person using stochastic terrorism isn't inciting a specific person to do a specific deed. Instead, they're spreading a message of violence, hoping that someone will pick up the message and do the deed. As one article put it, "In effect, it is scattering hundreds or thousands of seeds, knowing that only a vanishingly small percentage will take root."

An example might be when a politician uses a term like Second Amendment solution. In the US, any reference to Second Amendment is a reference to guns, so a "solution" involving the Second Amendment can be heard by some as an invitation to shoot someone. Along those lines, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones recently posted a video urging his followers to "get their battle rifles ready," with cites like "now it’s time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag." After this got him temporarily suspended from Twitter, Jones protested "I did not threaten the MSM with battle rifles!"

Leaving aside for a moment the difficulties of the modern age, we could turn to a famous incident in English history. In the 12th century, Henry II was feuding with Thomas Becket, then the archbishop of Canterbury, who had excommunicated some bishops who were well disposed toward Henry. "Will no one rid of me of this turbulent priest?" Henry is reputed to have uttered. (Or some version like that.) Hearing this, four knights attempted to kidnap Becket and ended up killing him. Was this stochastic terrorism? Reader, you decide.

On the word-origins front, this week's word is another one that I've stared at for decades without thinking about much: swashbuckler. How does one buckle a swash (or swash a buckle)? Well, a buckler is a small shield. Swash is a verb that has various related meanings, such as "to dash or cast violently" and "to spill or splash water." So a swashbuckler was originally someone who dashed their sword against a shield—their own or their opponent's. From this noisy sense we got the metaphoric one of someone who swaggers or who's an adventurer. Both the literal and metaphoric senses go back to the 1500s. It's always good to see via old vocabulary that people not only acted the same as they do now, but others recognized the need for words to describe these behaviors.

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  07:48 AM

Here we are in August, which reminds me that the name of the month is a capitonym—a word that changes meaning depending on whether it’s capitalized: “The august professor was born in August.”

I have two new-to-me words this week that are related to shapes. The first is scutoid (apparently pronounced SCOO-toid), which is a remarkable thing: a heretofore unknown geometric shape. I mean, you’d think by now we’d pretty much found them all, right? The actual shape is a bit involved to describe, so I’ll lift the definition and more from the article where I learned about this: “prism-like, with six sides one end, five on the other, and a strange triangular face on one of the long edges of the prism.”

Something I found interesting was that scientists modeled geometries to determine which shape would fit together best when arranged both flat and in a curve. Then they went looking for that shape, and they found it! Apparently it’s all over the place in nature. Not only did they predict the shape and then find it, they got to name it. The name is based on the scutellum of a beetle, which is sort of the carapace of the insect.

A second shape name came to me recently via Friend Ralph on Twitter. He pointed me to a blog post that mentioned a lemniscate, which turns out to be a formal name for a figure-8 shape. And by formal, I mean there’s a mathematical description of how to create the shape, as determined by mathematicians starting in the 18th century. The name comes from Latin (of course), meaning in effect “beribboned”; the lemni- part derives ultimately from a word for ribbon, which is a nice visual for the lemniscate shape.

New technical words are maybe not all that interesting, but what struck me was that the blog author had used lemniscate metaphorically. He’d devised an idea that the lobes of a lemniscate represent quasi-opposing camps (in his case, progammers versus IT/ops people), at one point writing how developers “hopped to the other side of the philosophical lemniscate.” Here’s his representation:

I have some darkish thoughts about the use of an obscure term like lemniscate in a blog post, but I guess I should just be happy to have been introduced to this term, as metaphor and otherwise.

It's nice to sit around with friends and discuss things, right? Etymologically, maybe not so much. The word discuss has a more violent origin than you might think: the very original Latin meant "to shake apart" or "break into pieces." However, already in late Latin the word was used in legal contexts, where it referred to examinations and trials, and we got that sense from our friends and conquerors the Normans. It then evolved into the milder sense of "talk over" that we now have. Tho of course at times some "discussions" might indeed hearken back to the original sense.

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[categories]   ,


  10:24 PM

I’ve been trying to like Lime bikes

Some little while ago—a year? 9 months?—a rainbow of brightly colored bicycles sprouted in Seattle. All of a sudden dockless bike sharing had arrived. There were three vendors and three colors: Ofo (yellow), Spin (orange), and Lime (green, duh):

Dockless was a new thing. Seattle had had a flirtation with docked bikes (company name Pronto!), but that didn’t work out. Part of the reason, surely, was that docked bikes could be picked up and dropped off only at certain points in Seattle, and those were concentrated downtown. Dockless bikes, on the other hand, can be practically anywhere. There’s no stand or station. Using an app on your phone, you locate a bike close to you (they’re all GPS tracked). When you find a bike, you unlock it with the app, hop on, and ride wherever you want. When you’re done, you get off, lock the bike, and walk away.

A key point is that it’s literally wherever. People take these bikes onto the light rail and presumably leave them in far-flung neighborhoods. The companies hope that you will leave the bike well parked in a convenient location, but they can't enforce this, so bikes show up all over the place.

Another appeal of the dockless bikes is that they're cheap to rent: you can ride for one dollar. (More on that in a moment.) This makes dockless bikes great for a kind of impulse ride—you want go for a ride, or you need to get someplace, and hey, here’s one of those bike right there. One dollar and 30 seconds later you’re riding.

Initial experience

I have a two-part commute. Normally I ride the train (light rail) from our apartment to downtown Seattle. From there I take a bus to Fremont, the neighborhood where our office is. At some point, however, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to get off the train downtown; the train goes to the University of Washington, which is about 2-1/2 miles from our office. I can then take a bus from the U for my second leg. Or, as it occurred to me, I could ride a bike.

So I gave it a try. I installed the app, and after getting off the train at the U, I used the app to locate a bike. I found one, unlocked it, somewhat awkwardly got on, and pedaled away.

Well. My very first lesson is that these bikes are extremely … sturdy. 42 pounds, oof. As I also quickly learned, they have 8 gears, but they’re geared pretty low. (You shift by twisting the handle—easy!) Even on level ground, and even in the highest gear, you are working to move that bike. This is particularly evident if you’re riding on a bike trail, because people on sleeker bikes are constantly whizzing past you.

This is understandable, of course. Both parts, I mean. For the sturdy part, if you’re designing a bike to withstand both the elements and people’s inevitably casual use, you favor something that can take some knocks. And for the gearing part, you need low gears so that people can just get the danged thing moving. Plus you’re accommodating a wide range of riders (weight, strength, skill), and you want a pretty low common denominator.[1]

Safety not first

The spontaneous nature of grabbing a dockless bike does have a downside—namely, that you’re unlikely to have thought to bring a helmet. Seattle ordinance requires a helmet, but the bike-share companies don’t provide. This is an interesting dilemma for me. I could carry a helmet around, but I use these bikes comparatively rarely, so that would mostly be dragging around the helmet for no reason. My approach for the time being is that when I do use a dockless bike, I don’t ride on city streets at all; I ride only on bike paths that are separate from the road.

The jalopy bike

The first ride was a learning experience. The second was as well, but in a different way—the gears slipped if I pedaled too hard, making for an unpleasant and even more laborious ride. And this I suppose underscores a different problem of these bikes, which is that people don’t treat them well. They’re rentals, after all, so people ride them hard, and let them fall, or worse:

I tried a few more times, but had one more incident of a slippy gear and a couple of bikes where the seat was loose or there was some other problem. My experience overall seems to have been typical—the Seattle Times did a test and concluded that only about 64% of Lime bikes were ridable. So between the crapshoot of a getting a bike that had problems and the more general prospect of having to work so hard to bike 3 miles, I didn't really embrace the whole idea, and I sort of forgot about Lime.

Chapter 2: Electronics to the Rescue

Somewhere along the line, Lime (only, afaik) introduced ebikes, which have an electronic assist to your pedaling. This makes sense in Seattle, which has a lot of hills. (It makes sense everywhere, but there are certain popular routes in Seattle that just don’t seem feasible with the normal Lime tank-bikes.) This re-piqued my interest in using a Lime bike for a leg of my commute, so I gave it a shot.

Oh. My. God. As soon as you step on a pedal the bike practically lunges off. It isn’t effortless, but the assist does a lot to overcome the inertia of the heavy bike, so it’s a very welcome improvement.

But there are some issues. One is that ebikes are extremely popular, so it can be a challenge, unlike the all-manual bikes, to find one nearby. A complicating factor is that the ebikes lose their charge, and Lime won’t unlock a bike that has less than 20% charge. Another issue, at least theoretically, is that local rules say you're not allowed to ride an ebike on a sidewalk or bike path, which means that you're legally only allowed to ride them on city street. Yeah, that's not going to happen. (As with the helmet laws, it remains to be seen whether the city will try to enforce this rule.)

And then I learned about the cost. As I noted, you can ride a manual bike for a dollar. The price for ebikes is one dollar plus 15 cents per minute from the moment you unlock. It had never occurred to me that the price would be different until I got notification from Lime that one my rides had cost me $3.40. Only then did I go back and check their pricing page, which does not even mention ebikes; I had to poke around to get the details on ebike pricing. This rather more substantial cost has given me pause. I mean, it's not like taking an Uber or anything, but I do have to ask myself just how much value I put on being able to pedal myself, albeit with electronic assist, to or from the train. At the moment, I'm riding a dockless bike maybe, dunno, every other week? Still cheaper than an unused gym membership, I suppose.

It's the future

Dockless bikes appear to be doing well in Seattle. There are currently about 10,000 bikes in Seattle, and for the months of May and June (which were clement), they were ridden an average of 7,000 times a day. The city of Bellevue, our cross-lake suburban sister city, is beginning its own experiment with dockless bikes. Just recently, Seattle expanded the charter for dockless bike companies, and we could have up to 20,000 of the bikes circulating through the city. (That's 4 companies times 5,000 bikes each, assuming the companies want to pay the fees that Seattle is asking.)

In the meantime, Lime is experimenting with new form factors. They have manual bikes and ebikes now; they're adding electric scooters, which we'll be seeing soon in Seattle:

Given my lack of balance, this does not seem like a vehicle I should be piloting. But who knows—maybe the lure of an inexpensive way to try one out will get me careering down the Burke-Gilman trail on a scooter. I'll let you know.

[1] I would be amused, tho not surprised, to see some sort of derby or race in which riders all use Lime bikes.

[categories]   ,


  10:03 AM

Politics surely is a rich source of new terms, even if most of them are weasely. This week I saw an article about James Allsup, a prominent alt-right personalty. Allsup had been called a white supremacist, and various GOP officials in the state of Washington had officially distanced themselves from him. But in private, a local party chair who supported Allsup said that the candidate had been label-lynched.

There are a number of interesting things about this term. The connotation is that the Allsup had been metaphorically killed via language, moreover with the idea that this had been done extra-legally. Dictionaries I've looked at don't list metaphoric meanings of lynch, but it's not the first time that the word has been used like this; Clarence Thomas used the expression high-tech lynch mob to describe (and, as some say, shut down) uncomfortable questions that came up during his confirmation hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The word lynch is a very fraught term in the US. It invokes senses of mob rule, of enduring and extreme prejudice, and of innocent victims. And of course lynching was prevalent for a long time in the US as a largely unpunished crime that was used to exert violent and unjust control over a minority population. Invoking the word lynch is serious business. So it's some kind of verbal jujitsu to use a term like lynch to describe the reaction to someone's white supremacist views. Not to mention that this is paired with label (label-lynching) to describe someone who routinely uses terms like cuckservative, along with an insulting set of terms to describe African-Americans, Jews, and women.

The term seems to be relatively new. An article suggests that it has currency in the alt-right community, and was possibly invented earlier this year. The Spokane newspaper that broke the story of the GOP chair admiring Allsup might be the term's entry into a wider world.

I will say that as a piece of language, the expression label-lynching feels like something that could have been invented by master propagandist Frank Luntz. The alliteration, the bumper-sticker mentality, the implicit outrage: these all feel like attributes that can give a term like this legs.

Ok, enough of that unpleasantness. Let's move to origins. A tweet this week by the folks at Dictionary.com clued me in to an unexpected etymology for the word penthouse. It was not originally a house and it wasn't, um, pent.

The word as we got it from French was apentiz, which referred to an attached building or lean-to. This is related to appendix in the sense of "attached." But two things happened. One was that the initial and unstressed a- dropped off, a process known as aphaeresis or aphesis (compare around > 'round and excuse > 'scuse). That left us with a word like pentyz (various spellings).

Then a process called folk etymology took hold. The word pente meant "slope," and people heard "pent-is" referring to a building with a sloped roof, and they thought that the -is part must actually be -house (hey, a building, right?). So the word actually turned into penthouse. It wasn’t till the 20th century that penthouse was applied to a (small) apartment or structure on the top a tall building. And from there the normal rules of real estate converted location, location, location to luxury.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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