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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Bruce Schneier


<June 2019>




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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 2:15 AM Pacific

  11:09 AM

I keep a list of new-to-me terms, and on that list I have a note next to a couple of words that says, "seems obscure but defines an easy concept." Of course, obscure is in the eye of the beholder. Still, I wonder how many people know these terms.

The first is Lusophone. The phone part clearly has something to do with sound (like "microphone" or "saxophone") or language ("Francophone"). But beyond that, I had no idea. It turns out that Lusophone is someone who speaks Portuguese. That's about 280 million people in about 10 countries, so not an obscure or poorly represented set of speakers.

It's not self-evident what luso- means unless you know classical history. In Roman times, the area roughly corresponding to modern-day Portugal was a province named Lusitania. (That's where the ship RMS Lusitania got its name, who knew!) Why they used that name is not known; it might have been a Celtic name adopted by the Romans. Anyway, that gave us a "combining form" luso- for Portuguese things.

The second new-to-me, obscure-but-easy term is Monegasque. Again we can deduce something, namely that it's probably an adjective; we get that much from the -esque ending. So "of or relating to" … what? If you know French, easy: of or relating to Monaco. In English we also have the more straightforward adjective Monacan, but it's always more glamorous—and obscure—to use a French term, n'est-ce pas?

(The name Monaco comes from an ancient Greek name Monoikos, meaning "single house," something to do with either single-family dwellings or "living apart," per the infallible Wikipedia.)

Ok, enough with the new-to-me obscurish stuff. I recently ran across a history of the expression in the buff to mean sans clothing or, you know, sky-clad. The expression in the buff comes from the word buffalo, like the animal. Leather made from bison was called buff(e) leather, or just buff for short. In the 17th century, coats that were made from this leather were called buff coats. The type of leather is light-colored, and because of the resemblance, in buff(e) was used to describe people who were naked. (There used to be a similar expression in stag, probably along the same lines. Both expressions are recorded in 1602.) Somewhere along the line, a the was dropped into the expression.

I think this origin particularly delighted me because when I was studying Spanish, I ran across the expression en cueros, which literally means "in leathers." I puzzled about that until someone clued me in that it's a way to say "naked." Just like in [the] buff!

Many other buff words come from buffalo. Buff to mean "to polish" comes from using this type of leather to polish things. Buff as in "has a sculpted body" comes from the sense that something buffed looks polished. Buff as in "fan of" ("she's a real film buff") comes from the buff-colored uniforms worn by firefighters in New York City in the 19th century; people who were enthusiastic followers of the firefighters came to be known as buffs. (Or anyway, that's one theory.)

At this point I should again put in a plug for the book Etymologicon, which has page after page of stuff like this. Including, in his entry about buffalo, an explanation of "the longest grammatically correct sentence in the English language that uses only one word:" Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. You can read more about that famous sentence in Wikipedia.

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  08:31 AM

I was reading an article the other day about the Green Man in English folklore. (The thesis of the article is that a lot of the mythology around the Green Man was invented pretty recently.) That article mentioned Sheela na Gigs, which are stone carvings of women in unusual poses. And that in turn led me to the new-to-me word this week: hunky punks.

Most people probably know about gargoyles, which are stone carvings on the side of a church. Gargoyles have a practical purpose: they channel rainwater away from the building. A typical gargoyle contains a pipe that shunts the water out through the gargoyle's mouth.

Fanciful stone carvings that decorate a church are therefore not gargoyles. The general term for these is grotesques. But in the west counties of England, particularly in Somerset, grotesques are known as hunky punks. Everyone gives essentially the same explanation: hunky is related to haunches, and punk is a variant on punch, which is something short and fat.

Now you have a term you can use for the decorative faces on faux-gothic buildings in your town. Like these walruses on the side of the Arctic Club building in Seattle:

For origins today, I have two words pertaining to equine locomotion. The first is canter, which is a loping sort of run. An accepted origin for canter is that it's short for Canterbury gallop or Canterbury pace, a sense that goes back to the 1600s. Why Canterbury? Because that's where pilgrims in England went, and to canter was "supposed originally to designate the pace of the mounted pilgrims."

That's not the only theory, though it's the one endorsed by the mighty OED. In his book The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771), Richard Berenger, "Gentleman of the Horse to His Majesty," proposes (page 71) that canter derives from Cantberius, a Roman word for packhorses. These were always geldings, which were calmer horses, and this led to canter being an easy sort of gallop. You can read for yourself:

On to origins, part 2. A canter is a gentle gallop. Whence gallop? I love this one. It's probably from wala hlaupan, which looks weird, but is just some olde type Germanic. The wala part is basically "well." The hlaupan is "to run," which we still have in English as to lope and is a cousin of to leap. (In German, it's laufen.) So gallop is to run well.

But wait, where'd that g- come from? It's not sure (like, there's no textual proof), but it might be another example of a familiar sound change. There are a number of words that originated as Germanic terms but that in Old French substituted g for w: ward/guard, warranty/guarantee. In fact, an obsolete word for gallop is wallop. ("Cam there kyng charlemagn, as fast as his horse myghte walop" from 1490.) But the careful lexicographer would want more evidence than is currently available.

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  09:27 AM

I got called for jury duty recently. I didn’t get picked for a jury (not sorry), but we all went through voir dire. The nature of the defense attorney’s questions to the potential jurors suggested clearly (I thought, anyway) what the shape of his defense was going to be—basically, impeach the results of breathalyzer tests.

That experience, along with the recent death of the actor Peter Mayhew, reminded me of a term I learned recently: the Chewbacca defense. The term originated in the TV program South Park, in an episode that satirized the O. J. Simpson trial. In the episode, the defense attorney asks the jury why Chewbacca would want to live with the Ewoks. Which has nothing to do with the trial, and whose only purpose is to confuse the jury.

The Chewbacca defense is a variant on the Gish Gallop (visited upon earlier) and the generic “baffle ‘em with bullshit” approach to argumentation. But the real question is “does it work?” It seems so. According to an anonymous poster in Quora:

The Chewbacca Defense relies on several truisms about trials; (1) juries are often intimidated, confused or bewildered about anything that goes on in a courtroom; (2) most people think they know way more about the law and legal concepts then they really do; and (3) anything can sound convincing if said in an authoritative, confident and persuasive manner.

Apparently it’s a tactic favored not only in DUI cases like the one I missed being on but in trials that involve DNA. The anonymous poster notes the Chewbacca defense is useful for a lawyer …

… where scientific and/or forensic evidence is so overwhelmingly against one side that he or she or it has no choice but to try to dazzle the jury into thinking that the issues regarding this evidence are so complex and beyond their ken that they cannot fairly resolve them in in this proceeding and must therefore disregard the evidence as untrustworthy or insufficient.

Although I’m not sad to have missed being on the jury, I am curious whether this type of Chewbacca defense was what the defense lawyer ultimately attempted.

Ok, let's move on to origins. Based on a recommendation by the lexicographer Serenity Carr, I'm browsing through the book Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, a.k.a. the Inky Fool. Boy, if you like word histories, this is a book for you. On every page I find another delightful etymology.

So, Botox. This is a brand name for a drug that's used to temporarily paralyze muscles, an effect that can be used as treatment for several conditions, famously wrinkly-ness. The brand name comes from botulinum toxin; as that term implies, it's a toxin produced by the botulinum bacteria. This is a bad toxin; if you eat food contaminated by this bacteria, you can get botulism, a food poisoning that can kill you quite dead.

So far, so good. (Or so bad, I suppose, if you got it.) Botulism as a condition was identified in the 1820s by the German doctor Justinus Kerner, who studied the paralytic effects on a variety of animals and on himself(!). In an era before germ theory, he correctly identified the malady as a food-borne one. The vector seemed to him to be bad sausages, so he named the disease Botulismus for the Latin word for sausage: botulus. Technically, in English the word botulism is a borrowing from German.

Kerner was in tune with the scientific thinking of the times, which is why he turned to Latin to name the disease he'd discovered. It's a little sad that he didn't turn to his native language. Just think how close we came to talking about cases of wurstism, eh?

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  08:48 AM

Today's new-to-me word is really only new in English, because I sort of knew about a German version. Which requires some slight explanation, of course.

I was listening this week to an episode of the Track Changes podcast in which they interviewed Erin McKean—Lexicographer, Founder of Wordnik, Mother of Swagger, First of her Name, etc. Toward the end [32:09], they asked her "What's the best word?" After noting that "every day there's a new best word," McKean offers improworsement.

The concept is probably familiar: you try to improve something, but you just make it worse. Or as Shakespeare put it, "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well." This has often been me and home improvement. Hopefully it's not me and editing, gah.

As I was suggesting, there's a German word for this: Verschlimmbesserung. I wasn't sure if this was maybe a jocular invention in German as well, but I got out my trusty Cassell's and was pleased to find that it lists a verb verschlimmbessern ("to make worse instead of better"):

You can see from the next entry that verschlimmern means "to worsen, aggravate." This parses as ver- (a verbal prefix) + schlimm ("bad") + ern, an ending that makes it all a verb. Then you combine that with bessern ("to improve," related to "better") and you end up with verschlimmbessern, "to worsen-improve." And then finally you can whack -ung onto the end (Verschlimmbesserung), and you get a noun form of the verb.

Whew. I take you through all this not because I think you want to learn German morphology, but because it sort of explains improworsement. It's possible that we could think of improworsement as a portmanteau of improvement + worse. But it might also be a kind of calque or loan translation—a term that's ported from one language to another piece by piece. Thus from Verschlimmbesserung we get improworsement:

impro from bessern
from schlimm
from ung

Maybe. I suggest this because the first reference I can find for improworsement is from a comment in 2009 on the excellent Sentence First blog of the Irish editor Stan Carey. The commenter, Sean Jeating, uses improworsement in quotation marks and notes the German equivalent. Perhaps Jeating invented the term right then and there. Wouldn't that be cool?

Anyway, I encourage you to adopt improworsement into your active vocabulary. Not, of course, that I hope that you experience it frequently.

Let us have a quick entry also for delightful origins. I'm reading Mary Norris's Greek to Me, her love letter to Greek language and culture. There are several word-origin stories in the book; one that I liked was for the word rhapsodize.

This comes from the Greek words rháptein meaning "to stitch" and oid, meaning "ode." A rhapsodos, or rhapsodist, was someone who recited poems in ancient Greece, or as Norris notes, was "a stitcher of songs." Even today, she says, the word ráftis in Greek means tailor. And from this we get all of those rhapso words, like rhapsody (a song thusly stitched) and as we occasionally do around here, to wax rhapsodic.

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  06:58 AM

When I think of words that might be new to me, I imagine nouns or verbs. Or at least words that are relatively new, like maybe ones that have appeared in the last 50 years. (I have list of Friday words; judge for yourself.) So I was surprised this week to encounter a very old adjective: the word quondam.

This came up in a tweet by the BBC writer Pádraig Belton, in which he talks about the "quondam British Sector" in Berlin:

Seriously, how could I be today years old and never have heard of this word? A trip to the dictionary reveals that it means "former, one-time." Merriam-Webster has a nice note about the word (Looking for an unusual and creative way to say "former"?) in which they list even more obscure synonyms (whilom, ci-devant, or preterit) before suggesting the old-sounding but still-used erstwhile.

Because quondam gave me a mild case of lexical insecurity, I searched the Corpus of Web-Based English, which incorporates (get it?) texts from 20 English-speaking locales. This assuaged my doubts slightly—in a collection of 1.9 billion words, quondam appears only 49 times. Slightly to my surprise, it shows up the most in US-based texts, though that might be the result of how the corpus was built, dunno.

(Click to embiggen)

Moreover, an Google ngram search shows us that quondam has been in decline right from the earliest books in that corpus:

(Click to embiggen)

Anyway, I'm happy to have learned a pretty old and rare word. Now I'll have to think about whether I should use it myself and thereby do my little part to help rescue it from complete obscurity.

Word origins! I live in Seattle and ride the light rail as part of my commute. Not only does the line terminate at the University of Washington, one of the stops downtown is the unrelated University Street. (I pity the tourists who are trying to sort this out.) Staring at the map while commuting finally got me thinking about where we got the word university. I mean … universe, right? Must be related, but how?

The uni- part means "one," of course; we see it in unique and union and unite, and more distantly in one and only. The -verse part means "to turn," which we see in words like versus and verse and invert. So university and universe are grammatically different takes on the idea of "turn(ed) into one" (see also: "E pluribus unum"). In the academic sense, a university is a community of scholars.

This surprised me: in English, university is the older term, having appeared in the 1200s in Anglo-Norman, and which makes it about as old as the oldest university. The Romans had a term universum to mean the sum of things, but we apparently didn't take up the word universe in English till the late 1500s. As near as I can tell, the word universe doesn't appear in the King James Bible (1611); I guess (?) they used the word creation for the same concept.

An aside: the word varsity is just a shortened form of university. All the sources I looked at suggested that the -ar- in varsity (instead of -er-) is the result of the same process that gave us varmint from vermin and parson from person. That thar is an interesting fact indeed.

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  09:51 AM

People everywhere tend to believe that their language is the finest of all the languages. This natural inclination can sometimes extend to a belief that their language must therefore be the mother of all languages.

If you also have a theological bent, this belief can take on religious overtones. What language did Adam and Eve speak in the Garden of Eden? This was a question of interest to scholars in the Middle Ages. And a 16th-century Dutch doctor named Johannes Goropius Becanus (born Jan Gerartsen van Gorp) reckoned he'd figured it out: they spoke Brabantic. By amazing coincidence, Brabantic—a dialect of Dutch—happened to be the good doctor's native tongue.

Gerartsen spent considerable effort on his theory, which included supposedly Brabantic origins for the names Adam and Eve. The theory did not find a lot of backers. In fact, it was so poorly received that it spawned this week's new-to-me word: goropism, based on the doctor's Latinized name. (The term goropism was supposedly coined by Leibnitz himself, who had unkind words for the doctor's work.)

Goropism actually describes two ideas. One is the notion that some language known today must have been the Ur-language. (Pro tip: no.) Goropism can also mean a madey-uppy word origin, which derives from Gerarsten's strained efforts to make names in Genesis seem to derive from Dutch.

One does encounter the first sense of goropism occasionally among particularly chauvinistic speakers of a language.[1] As for the second sense, you'll find plenty of examples of that. Has anyone ever told you that crap came from the name of the dude who invented the flush toilet, Thomas Crapper? Or that the word posh comes from "port outward, starboard home"?[2] Those are fabricated word origins, or to honor our boy today, goropisms. False etymologies. Another name for these, as coined by the linguist Lawrence Horn, is etymythologies.

I learned a bunch of this from a highly entertaining and very informative blog post by Brian Powers, who also tweets as Languages Around the Globe. A recommended follow.

Speaking of word origins—real ones this time—today I have fifth column. I’m reading Kate Atkinson’s novel Transcription, and ran across this:

… in which one of the characters says, "I presume you are familiar with the ins and outs of the fifth column."

I knew more or less what fifth column was, but I didn't know where the term came from. The generally accepted origin is in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. The story goes that as Nationalist forces converged on Madrid in four columns, the general Emilio Mola Vidal talked about a "fifth column" (tho in Spanish: quinta columna) that was undermining the Republican government from within the city. The expression got into English when it was used in 1936 by a New York Times reporter who was writing about the war.

There's some dispute about whether Mola Vidal actually ever talked about a quinta columna, or whether it was in fact used by a Communist leader about the Nationalist sympathizers. As if that didn't muddy things up enough, apparently the term might have been used as early as 1906 by an Austrian official about Serbian nationalists. For our purposes—that is, how we got the word in English—we can safely assume that it came from somewhere in the Spanish Civil War, and probably via the New York Times article.

As an aside, it's interesting to me that fifth in fifth column really has no significance in itself; it was just based on the number of military forces in play at the time. Now I'm wondering how many other numerically based terms we have (like fourth estate) that are the result of just … counting up.

[1] For example, I have personally tangled with some folks who maintained that Sanskrit was not just an ancient language, but the original language, and certainly the source of all European languages.

[2] The lexicographer Kory Stamper has this thought: "Acronymic etymologies are, by and large, total horseshit."

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  07:56 AM

I saw a headline the other day about a "market melt up." That made me scroll back to see what the heck they were talking about, because that was new to me.

Sure enough: there's such a thing in finance as a melt up, which an article in Bloomberg defines as "a sharp and unexpected gain driven by a stampede of investors who don’t want to miss out rather than [by] any fundamental improvements." When the market rises due to a kind of financial FOMO.

There are some interesting aspects to the term melt up. It seems safe to assume that it's based on the term meltdown, in which things are, broadly speaking, going to hell. The metaphor of meltdown at least has the image correct; when something melts, gravity tends to cause the liquid to flow downward. Many things can melt down: the Arctic; nuclear fuel cores; people under stress. (I can't offhand think of a use for meltdown when it's considered a positive, but let me know if I've overlooked one.)

So a melt up is sort of the opposite of a meltdown, right? Yes and no. The up part is an opposite; prices are going up. But if a meltdown is definitely a bad thing, a melt up is not necessarily a good thing. (It's temporarily positive, but the expectation is that prices are going up for the wrong reasons. As the Investopedia article says, "Melt ups often precede melt downs.") Most of all, the melt metaphor, while tying the idea to that of a meltdown, sort of doesn't make sense in melt up.

Finally, I wondered what the difference is, financially speaking, between a melt up and a bubble. Bloomberg makes the distinction that a melt up might end up being justified by market fundamentals, whereas a bubble by definition is when prices are no longer realistic. As I understand it.

This would all just be just lexical fun if the potential consequences of market melt ups were not so dire. So let's hope that we will not, in fact, be hearing this term much in the future.

On to origins. Last weekend, the grandboy surprised (and amused) us by telling us that there was "just a titch" of water left in his glass. It's apparent that he got this expression from his mother, who is a Pacific Northwest native, with some linguistic influence from family in Texas. And of course I immediately wondered where titch had come from.

If you look up titch in the dictionary, you find that there's a word titchy in British English, which means "very small, tiny." Perhaps surprisingly, the word titchy is an eponym; there was an actor whose stage name was Little Tich, who was small. Some people trace titch meaning "small quantity" back to this origin. Nancy Friedman has a writeup of this explanation on her blog (via the site World Wide Words), which notes that titch is British and Australian slang.

I also had a peek in the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka DARE), but it doesn't seem to have an entry for titch. When I poked around on various online forums, people from places like Iowa and central Canada likewise wondered about the term. (A Canadian fashion blogger has a blog named Just a Titch.)

You might wonder how some British slang based on an 19th-century actor managed to make its way to the western US and Canada and become established in the vernacular there. And the answer is … probably it didn't. Per the OED, titch is a variation of touch ("just a touch" to mean "just a small quantity"). Well, darn; if the OED is to be believed, British titchy is unrelated to "just a titch."

Of course, none of this decreases our enjoyment of hearing the kid pick up idiomatic expressions, which also of course will keep me reaching for the dictionary.

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  07:03 AM

This week's new-to-me word isn't actually a word, it's a number: 996. A few days ago I was at the coffee bar in our office, idly glancing at a copy of the New York Times, and there was an article about work culture in China. The 996 designation is a bit horrifying: it refers to working 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, 6 days a week. As it says in the NYT article, "Chinese tech employees have worked hours that make Silicon Valley’s workaholics seem pampered." Per various sources, this is not voluntary overtime: this is actual work-hours policy at some companies in the PRC.

The earliest reference I can find to 996 is from 2016 in an article about the company 58.com. The article talks about "the 996 culture" without quotation marks, suggesting that they think the term might be familiar to readers. In any event, there have been a lot of writeups since then; the NYT article is only one of dozens in the last couple of years.

The term 996 struck me for a couple of reasons. One, of course, was trying to wrap my head around what a company-mandated 72-hour work week would be like. The second reason was that 996 is another example of a numeronym, or number-based word. It joins other numeronyms like 24/7, 9-to-5, 180 ("do a 180"), K-9, Y2K, and 10-4, not to mention i18n ("internationalization") and E15 ("Eyjafjallajökull," the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010). I suppose whether these are all "true" numeronyms is subject to debate, but I'm inclined to be generous with the concept.

Once you've had a chance to consider how you'd cope with 996 culture, let's move on to origins. I was reading recently about something to do with the US president's cabinet, and got to wondering where we got the word secretary from. Here we have these very high-placed officials—Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense—whose title also refers to someone who's "employed to handle correspondence and do routine work in a business office," per Dictionary.com. Run a government department, handle routine work; these don't necessarily seem to be the same thing.

Yet there is a connection, and to my surprise, it's right there in the word itself. A secretary was originally someone who dealt with private matters—that is, with secrets. The name goes back directly to Latin, which had the term a secretis for the position.

The secret part is now clear. The -ary part is a combining form for "man who does [thing]," which we also find in words like actuary ("man who records court acts"), adversary ("man who is adverse"), and apothecary ("man who runs a shop").

From this "man who deals with secrets" sense, the word took a couple of paths (a process known as semantic broadening). The office-type secretary derived from the officer who dealt with the king's correspondence; that sense then generalized into a term for someone who primarily dealt with correspondence in general. The governmental sense of secretary originated in Elizabethan times; a Principal Secretary of State became a role involved not just in assisting the monarch with secrets and write-y things, but in helping to govern.

While we're on the topic of secrets, we have two verbs to secrete. One means "to hide, conceal," which shares a stem with secret and secretary. The other secrete means "to emit or discharge," as in "Some plants secrete a sweet juice." This second sense is a back-formation from secretion and is unrelated to secrets. So there you have it: all is revealed about secretaries and secrets.

Update: See Jim's comment about a common root for secret and secrete ("emit").

Here's some bonus etymology fun for you. In a Twitter thread this week, Lane Greene, the language columnist for the Economist, solicited ideas for words that are homonyms but aren't related. One of Greene's examples was pawn (the chess piece) and pawn ("to exchange for a loan"). Or there's bear ("to carry") and bear (fearsome animal). Anyway, have a look—lots of fun terms.

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[2] |

  12:07 PM

Before M*A*S*H was a TV series and before it was a movie, it was a novel written by someone who'd obviously been an Army surgeon in Korea. I read the book as a teenager, and weird little bits of it stuck with me over the years.

Warning Potentially distasteful content—surgery, unpleasant metaphors.

One that remains oddly relevant to my work is the idea of meatball surgery. Here are a couple of those bits, which concern Captain Pinkham, a newly arrived surgeon who's still trying to get the hang of field surgery.

Captain Pinkham, in particular, still tended to get bogged down in detail. He would become completely absorbed in repairing damage to a hand and ignore or sublimate the obvious fact that the patient could die of his abdominal wounds. Once, in fact, he spent six hours on a case that should not have taken more than two hours and managed to miss a hole in the upper part of the stomach. The patient almost died, early, from too much surgery and, later, from the missed hole.

After Hawkeye catches and fixes this error, he takes Captain Pinkham aside and offers him some advice:

This is certainly meatball surgery that we do around here, but I think you can see now that meatball surgery is a specialty in itself. We are not concerned with the ultimate reconstruction of the patient. We are concerned only with getting the kid out of here alive enough for someone else to reconstruct him. Up to a point we are concerned with fingers, hands, arms and legs, but sometimes we deliberately sacrifice a leg in order to save a life, if the other wounds are more important. In fact, now and then we may lose a leg because, if we spent an extra hour trying to save it, another guy in the preop ward could die from being operated on too late.

I don't do surgery, obviously, and my work doesn't involve life-and-death decisions. (Thank goodness.) Still, this passage stuck with me over the years as a lesson about prioritization.

We normally maintain a doable pace for our edits, and articles get one or more development edit passes and a couple of copy edit passes. But now and then we'll have hard dates, as when articles need to go out that are keyed to an upcoming trade show or product announcement. At rare intervals we might be asked to review something that needs to go out, like, tomorrow.

This type of crunch-mode workload—and especially the hard dates—forces us to prioritize. Or to echo Hawkeye, we might have to practice a form of "meatball editing." If I have 120 pages' worth of articles that will be referenced in presentations starting next Monday at 9:00 AM, I'm going to worry about editorial issues that have big impact. Are the product names right? Are we saying something dodgy about security? Are the code snippets missing or mangled? Are there sentences that just stop halfway through? Under circumstances like these, I usually can't afford the careful scrutiny and multiple re-reads (not to mention the iterations with the author) that are required in order to sort out issues like whether we actually need to include this paragraph, or whether this table would be better as a list, or whether that's an infelicitous use of the passive.

It's not that we don't care about these issues. Given a more leisurely schedule, we'll dig in on the text. (Sometimes, perhaps, to the exasperation of the author, haha.) And we do often get a chance to go back to the pieces that got only a meatball edit and do a more thorough edit.

The expression "meatball surgery" is distasteful; it suggests a crude way to do something that requires finesse, and I hesitated about using the expression "meatball editing." But as explained by Hawkeye, sometimes you need to address the big issues and deal with the small ones later. True for battlefield surgery, and sometimes true for editing as well.



  08:47 AM

Last week, my son posted on Facebook that he would be shoutcasting a sports match—sorry, an esports match—for a team the school where he teaches. I didn't know what the word shoutcasting meant, because my ignorance of the world of esports and Twitch, the video-game livestreaming service, is nearly total.

I asked my son and consulted some other sources, and I'm still not convinced I entirely get it, but here's what I've learned. Shoutcasting is essentially the same as sportscasting for any sort of sports match, except you're narrating a videogame. There are play-by-play casters and color casters, just like for football or whatever. My son contrasted shoutcasting with traditional sportscasting by suggesting that "a lot of the action happens all at once and involves multiple people," and it's the shoutcaster's job to try to keep everything straight for folks who are watching.

It seems obvious that the word shoutcast is based on broadcast. Fun fact: broadcasting was originally an agricultural term. To broadcast is to throw seed by hand; to cast is "to throw." It took on a metaphoric meaning of "to disseminate" in the 19th century, but really took off in the early 20th century when it became the verb for what radio and TV do. Once we had that sense of broadcast, we broke off the ‑cast part again and created new terms like sportscasting and podcasting.

But why shoutcasting? It's true (apparently) that video-game commenters can get very excited. But according to one source I found, Shoutcast was actually a piece of software that let you stream audio, i.e., broadcast on the internet. A video on YouTube recounts the history of how Shoutcast the software evolved into shoutcasting the activity.

I don't have a reason to think that that history is incorrect, and that's about as far as I care to get into the world of esports for now. But at least I know, or think I know, what it is my son is doing the next time he talks about it.

Turning now to fun origins, today's is both an etymological nugget and a mnemonic! The word is nonplussed, a term that has two meanings that are almost exactly opposites. Some people use it to mean "unfazed" or "unperturbed." Others use it to mean "at a loss" or "surprised and confused." (Both senses are in the dictionary; I'm sorry if this makes you unhappy.)

The "unfazed" meaning seems to come from the idea that the non- part means "un" or "not." Someone who is non-plussed is not … something. Fazed or perturbed. Or anyway, that's the theory. But the etymology tells a different story. The origin is non plus in Latin, which means "no more." A person who is nonplussed is someone who basically can't even, as the kids say.

Something that's not evident today is that nonplus started as a noun, meaning "a state in which no more can be said or done" (OED). Here's a cite from 1657 that describes a situation that I'm sure we all recognize even today: "Their often failings, had put them to often stops and nonplusses in the work."

The word was used as an adjective ("Soon his wits were Non plus") and also as a transitive verb meaning "to bring to a standstill." ("I know it will non-plus his power to work a true miracle.") That's the sense we have today, although you don't often see it used in the active voice like that. ("In sportsball today, the Fierce Mammals nonplussed the Large Raptors in an upset.") But nothing is stopping you from that approach, so feel free.

In any event, if you experience momentary or full-time confusion about what nonplussed means, remember the "no more" sense, and you'll be all right.

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