About

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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Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.

— George Carlin



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Blog Statistics

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First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 8/11/2017

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Posts - 2445
Comments - 2553
Hits - 1,974,699

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Comments/entry - 1.04
Hits/day - 382

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 10:00 PM Pacific


  04:16 PM

I just started a new job at a company that you’ve heard of, and one of the delights is being introduced to fun bits of corporate vernacular. I’ll have to post about that soon. In the meantime, tho, there are some Friday words to take care of.

The new-to-me terms today are pretty geeky, so I won't hold it against you if you don't fold them into your everyday vocabulary. (The way you do all the other Friday words, haha.)

The first term came up in a discussion about a slightly odd news story: the car manufacturer Mazda has pioneered a way to make more-efficient gasoline engines. Great news, right? We'll use less gas that way.

During discussion, FB Friend Jim observed that increased fuel efficiency can have a rebound effect that is known as Jevons Paradox (no apostrophe). Jevons was an English dude who observed that if the price of coal went down, people would just use more of it. More generally, increased efficiency in using a scarce resource leads not to the resource lasting longer, say, but to greater consumption of that resource. Writing in a fascinating New Yorker article ("The Efficiency Dilemma"), David Owen uses several examples; the one I liked pertained to air conditioning. When Owen was a kid, AC was rare and pretty energy-expensive. Manufacturers made AC more efficient, but it's led to an explosion in the use of AC, leading to much more energy overall being devoted to cooling down air.



[By Joost Swarte for the New Yorker]

I did warn you that this was a geeky week.

As a bonus (still geeky), here's a fun technical term I learned just a few hours ago: cryptographic deletion. There can be times when physically deleting a digital file is impractical, such as when there are many copies of the file scattered around. But if the file was encrypted, you can "delete" it—that is, make it inaccessible—by permanently deleting the key that was used to encrypt the file in the first place. Although cryptographic deletion can be practical for home users, it's really something more for, say, cloud providers.

Ok, let's talk unexpected etymology. This week I have the word counter, as in (e.g.) the place at the deli where you order your sandwich. A few days ago I happened to be at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, and saw this great little explanation:


In case this isn’t entirely legible, it says this:
Up through the 1700s, the tabletop abacus or counting board was widespread in Europe. Shopkeepers traditionally faced their customers across the device as they added up purchases.

This “counting board” evolved into the English word “counter” to describe the working surface in a store, and later any working surface—like kitchen counters.
Since one does not necessarily want to take the word of a museum exhibit on etymological matters, I double-checked when I got home. But they were right. In fact, not only was the museum's explanation correct, but it was a clearer and more thorough story than what I might otherwise have extrapolated from other sources. I am sorry that I doubted the research and writing skillz of the anonymous exhibit-placard writer.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  07:15 AM

We finally moved this week, so we're now in an apartment that—hey, here's a surprise—is furnished generously with boxes in various states of openness. And we're running back and forth and back and forth between the old place and the new one for final transfer/cleaning/craigslisting. So words are delayed this week, but are still on my mind.

For a new-to-me term today, I have one that I can relate to based on our recent experience. The term is Ringelmann Effect, which is one name among several for a counterintuitive but well-attested phenomenon: adding workers to a job has diminishing effectiveness. It's kind of the opposite of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Ringelmann was a French agricultural engineer who observed the non-linear effectiveness of adding horses or oxen to a team pulling a wagon. (There's a good summary of his work in this IEEE blog entry.) Starting from that, he (and others) generalized this insight. For example, there's a version of this called Brooks's Law, named for the software theorist Fred Brooks, that goes "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later." Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a version called the two-pizza rule about productivity in meetings: "Never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn't feed the entire group."

We saw the effect in action this week. For our move, we hired a team of three movers, but they brought along a fourth guy. Well, it was pretty clear that he didn't add anything like 25% effectiveness to the team. But they seemed like they were pretty busy, so I didn't give them the benefit of my recent learnings about the Ringelmann Effect.

Moving to (haha) unexpected word origins. If you are like me, you might look at the word parchment and kind of suppose that it probably has something to do with parch meaning "dry," maybe because parchment is dried skin? Nope. Although, to be clear, parchment is dried skin.[1] I was reading about the history of printing, and the author mentioned that parchment is actually a toponym—that is, based on a place name. The simple version of the story is that parchment is from Pergamena charta, meaning "paper from Pergamum." Pergamum, as I also just learned, was a Greek kingdom in Asia Minor, and was presumed to be the place where dried skin was first used as a thing to write on. I guess I'm always a little surprised and delighted to find geography hiding in the origins of our words.

Slightly odd fact I also learned: the origins of parch as a verb ("parched") are unknown.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

[1] The slang-y term sheepskin to mean "diploma" derives from the fact that diplomas used to be written on parchment.

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  11:54 AM

By this time next week, I should be living in a new domicile. Moving, it's so … fun. I can imagine some interesting and colorful words being used as part of that experience. We'll see.

Anyway. The first new-to-me word today is deadname, which has some slight relevance to events of this week. A deadname is the birthname assigned to a trans person, a name that that person no longer uses. Somehow this term passed me by during what was probably the most prominent discussion of this concept, namely when Caitlyn Jenner revealed her new identity in 2015.


Deadname is a noun, obviously, but also a verb: to deadname is to refer to someone by their deadname. Both the term itself and the practice of deadnaming are controversial in more ways than I want to be covering here. You can read more about that here and here and here and here.

I can't get a clear read on how old the word is. As noted, deadname sprang to prominence in the mainstream media in 2015, but I assume (?) that it was in use in the trans community before that. Alas, my search-fu fails me here.

Ok, on to a less charged term. During a discussion on FB this week, a Friend used the term ROFLcopter, as in "Roll On the Floor Laughing-copter." ROFL has been around a long time, but I hadn't seen that particular compound before. But again, I'm just behind the curve. Per the Know Your Meme site, ROFLcopter is a superlative ("-est" version) of ROFL that goes back at least to 2004. A theory propounded on the KYM site (with cites) is that the term originated among players of an online game.

Since you're not here just to listen to me whine about how out of touch I am, let me talk about why ROFLcopter appealed to me when I saw it. The -copter part derives from helicopter, of course. Which seems like it's heli- plus -copter, right? Sure: we've got not just the shortened form copter but also terms like gyrocopter and quadricopter, where copter identifies a flying machine with one or more horizontally oriented propellers. Indeed, someone created an ASCII-based graphic for ROFLcopter that illustrates this:


But that's not actually how the word originated. Helicopter was constructed from the Greek roots heliko ("spiral") and pteron ("wing," which we also know from pterodactyl, the winged dinosaurs). Here's the thing: different languages have different rules for how they can construct words from the myriad sounds that humans can produce; the set of rules (well, patterns) that an individual language uses is known as phonotactics. In ancient Greek, it was perfectly fine to use pt- to start a syllable, as in pteron. But phonotactics in English doesn't "allow" this; there are no native/Germanic words in English that have syllables that start with pt-.

Since heliko + pter is odd per English phonotactics, we native speakers have "reanalyzed" this word into heli- and -copter. Do you see what we did there? We carved up the word differently so that it more closely conforms to English phonotactical constraints—specifically, so that the p and t are split across syllables. And then we ran with copter. And thus ROFLcopter, and thus my interest in that term.

Update In a FB comment, Jonathon Owen points out that Greek pteron is related to the English word feather. (Many words that start with p in other languages start with f in Germanic languages e.g. pater > father).

For surprising etymology today, a short one that came up just this morning on Twitter. Adolescent and adult derive from the same Latin verb, adolere, which means "to (make) grow." Adolescent is from the present participle ("growing up"); adult is from the past participle ("grown up"). An interesting footnote is that the "grow" part of adolescent and adult is in the -ol-/-ul- part, a proto-root that went in all sorts of directions, including altitude, old, haughty, oboe (!), and world. Once again Douglas Harper has details.

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  12:48 PM

The second motorcycle I owned appealed to me in part because of the sound: it had what people call a "throaty roar." (It was a Yamaha, but I suspect it had been engineered to sound Harley-esque.) In spite of this, I didn't really start to love riding the bike until I added an essential accessory: earplugs.

A sad effect of getting older is that loud sounds tend to bother you more than they did in your rock-n-roll youth. Possibly I would have enjoyed the unfiltered and aforementioned roar as a 19-year-old, but by the time I got the bike, I was covering my ears for passing sirens and babies shrieking nearby. But even as a 19-year-old with perfect hearing, it would have been a very good idea to wear plugs to save my hearing.

To state the obvious, (some) motorcycles are loud. The engine can emit anywhere from 80 decibels at normal speed to 100 dB when you rev it. That's louder than a lawnmower, and well into territory where hearing protection is recommended or, depending on your work, mandated. This is loud even to people who are on the curb while a motorcycle passes. The rider, of course, is about a meter away from the source of this noise, sometimes for hours.



Why are some motorcycle engines so loud? Well, one reason is that some people are just going to want to be loud, and obnoxiousness either isn't a factor for them or is the actual point.

Some people argue that a louder bike has better performance. This is true in a narrow sense: the shorter and less obstructed the exhaust path (hence, the louder the bike), the better the horsepower, by a small degree. However, whether there are other options for increasing horsepower, or whether a rider actually needs the extra horsepower, and whether the increased horsepower is actually the goal of the louder exhaust—well, these are points that one would need to discuss with individual riders. Cite from an online forum: And of course, Harley Davidsons just need louder pipes because yea. :)

Another argument for noise is the clichéd refrain "Loud pipes save lives"—that being loud makes other drivers aware of your presence. As a cranky article points out, that would be more true if the pipes faced forward, rather than annoying the people you've passed. And that there are many other, albeit dorkier, ways to raise one's visibility, including extra lighting and high-conspicuity jackets and helmets. Not to mention that modern cars have very good soundproofing. And that many motorcycle accidents would not have been prevented by noise; many are in fact are caused by the rider.

But even without deliberate efforts to make a motorcycle engine loud, it's just, well, loud.

Another and less obvious source of dangerous levels of noise is wind. A motorcycle rider on the freeway is literally sitting in 60-mph winds or, er, higher. (A windshield routes some of this airflow around you, of course, but doesn't eliminate it completely.) One article estimates that wind noise at 65 mph can reach 100 dB:


You might think that having a helmet on would alleviate this noise, but it can actually add to it; the wind whipping over and (especially) under a helmet can cause very high levels of noise. As one motorcycle site says:
It is our considered opinion, based on many years of evaluating dozens of different motorcycle helmet of all types and talking to experts in the field that there are basically only two types of motorcycle helmets: loud and louder.
The inevitable conclusion for anyone who wants to save their hearing (in my case, what's left of it) is that earplugs should be essential gear for every ride. I keep a handful of foam earplugs in a pocket of my motorcycle jacket, and have over the years developed the habit of cramming one in each ear before putting on my helmet. (Until I did this reflexively, I sometimes would have to take my helmet off again to put in earplugs, but I never skipped this step.)

One might have some concerns that wearing earplugs while driving is itself dangerous; shouldn't you be able to hear traffic noise and sirens and stuff? Yes, you should. (That said, see the earlier comment about the noiseproofing in modern cars.) I've found that the -20 dB or so reduction afforded by the foam plugs provides good balance. I'm not deafened by my bike, but I can still hear—well enough, in fact, that I can use my Sena headset to talk on the phone (via Bluetooth) as I ride. It's also possible, tho I don't know this first hand, that there are ear plugs that are tuned to eliminate primarily engine and wind noise but still allow clarity for other sound.

I do get the appeal of the throaty roar, as noted at the beginning, and I even like the sound of Harleys, as long as I'm not too close. But since that lovely noise can take a toll, it's essential to balance that with your own safety.

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  04:49 PM

For the past week we've been living in an uber-pristine house while we stand by to vacate on short notice so potential buyers can tour the place. In addition to the many other reasons we're looking forward to selling, we're ready to relax back into our more accustomed level of slovenliness. And speaking of houses, let's turn to words.

I encountered this week's new-to-me term a little while ago, but it has relevance to us today, since we have a brief but intense interest in the doings of the Seattle real estate market. The term is hedge city, which I found in an article in the New Yorker about how China's ultra-rich are investing overseas. A hedge city is, well, "a hedge against volatility at home," to quote the article—"a giant safety deposit box for China’s elite," as Mother Jones puts it, which goes into detail about the economics of hedge cities. A different article estimates that up to 30% of the office buildings in Vancouver BC are owned by foreign buyers.

Canada has historically been a popular place for Asian buyers to invest, for whatever economic/financial/cultural reasons. A problem, however, has been that this investment in hedge cities has driven prices high—too high for local residents. Vancouver implemented a 15% "foreign buyers tax" in 2016, with uncertain results. (Not surprisingly, the reaction to a hedge-city tax depends on whether you're trying to buy or broker real estate.)

As I say, the notion of a hedge city interests us because as Vancouver tries to work out its issues with housing shortages versus high prices, Seattle emerges as a new hedge city. Will our house ultimately be bought by Chinese investors? Time will tell.


Ok, sorry, that was a bit of an indulgence. Let's move on to unexpected etymology. The other day I was listening to Sting sing about how it's a big enough umbrella, but it's always him getting wet. (Waaaay too much analysis here.) So I thinks to myself, whence "umbrella"?

Let me back up momentarily. When I was studying Spanish, I learned that the word for umbrella is paraguas, which literally means "for/against water(s)." Not only was this delightful in itself, but it made me realize (oho!) that the English word parasol literally means "for/against sun."

So, umbrella. Off we go to the dictionary for what turns out to be another oho! moment. Guess what: the umbr part of umbrella is related to … do you see where this is going? … umbra, meaning "shade." Nothing there about rain. Nevertheless, and somewhat curiously, the senses of umbrella both as a sunshade and as a rain guard have been in English about the same length of time (since the 17th century). The OED's last citation for umbrella as a sunshade is from 1755, but then, its last cite for umbrella as a rain guard is from 1882.

I thought about this for a bit, and realized that we do still retain the sunshade sense of umbrella, albeit in specific contexts. We talk about beach umbrellas with the understanding that those are not about rain. Ditto patio umbrellas. Still, to me, the word umbrella in isolation is going to invoke the "rain guard" sense, I think.

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  09:22 AM

Our house went up for sale yesterday, the culmination of many months' efforts to clean, repair, repaint, restain, remove, straighten, sell, give away, and otherwise address stuff. Our final push to get ready meant that unfortunately I had to pass up last week's Friday words. On the other hand, my pressure-washed driveway is so clean you could serve dinner on it. Assuming you would enjoy dinner on concrete with exposed aggregate.

PS Happy Bastille Day! Have fun storming the castle!

Anyway, we're back. This week's new-to-me term is blue lie, a word I encountered in a blog post on the Scientific American site. We know white lie, a lie that you tell to avoid hurting someone's feelings. ("That was delicious!") A black lie, by some definitions, is one that's told for purely selfish reasons.

But a blue lie? Per the article: "falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen bonds among the members of that group." Or as another article has it, a blue lie is one that is "unambiguously helpful to one group while hurtful to another." The ethics of blue lies seem to be dependent on one's point of view. Telling the bad guys a lie to protect your comrades is technically a blue lie, but one that most people would not condemn. More ambiguously, blue lies seem to be a prominent aspect of contemporary politics. (Or perhaps politics since forever.)

Why blue? One authority on lying said in 1994 that the color blue was attached to this term "purportedly originating from cases where police officers made false statements to protect the police force or to ensure the success of the government’s legal case against an accused." I can't verify this, but it does accord with similar uses of blue, as in blue code/blue shield.

On to word origins. Two shortish ones today. The first is dilapidated, meaning "in a state of disrepair." But! If you parse the word carefully, you encounter lapi, which the Latin-inclined will recognize as a word for "stone," as in lapis lazule. Um … stone? Working backward, we use dilapidated as an adjective, but there is (was) a verb dilapidate, which meant to bring into a state of ruin, or more metaphorically, to waste. Going back to Latin, there was dilapidare, which meant "to scatter as if throwing stones." Thus letting your house fall into a state of disrepair (houses again today!) has all the aimlessness of throwing a handful of stones. I share Benjamin Dreyer's sentiment on this etymology:


Bonus etymology today is for the HTTP verb POST, well known to web developers, as explained by Ryan North in Dinosaur Comics:


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  03:02 PM

As most people discover, there's a class of writing error that spell check just can't help you with. Consider these examples:
  • We recommend that the company shit its resources for better output.
  • The event is open to the pubic.
Run these through spell check, and all is well. Only, of course, it's not.

As I recently learned, Word has a feature that can help find errors like this: an exclusion list. An exclusion list has words that are spelled perfectly fine, but that should be excluded from your documents.

The steps for creating an exclusion list are described in a great blog post by Sam Hartburn. The basic idea is that you add words, one per line, to .lex files in a specific folder on your computer. Here's the Windows location--see notes later for Mac instructions:


You can use any text editor to edit the file, including Notepad.

Note that there are different .lex files for different languages, and in fact for different flavors of each language—e.g. English US and English GB. (It's not inconceivable that there's a way to set up a global .lex file, but I don't know. Leave a comment if you know about that.)

Once you've got your exclusion list(s) updated, close and then reopen Word. Then when you run the spell checker, Word will flag words that are part of your exclusion list:


The examples I've shown here pertain to, you know, taboo vocabulary. Another excellent use for this feature is to flag words that you often mistype but are technically spelled correctly, such as manger for manager or potion for portion. Or you can use it for terms that should be avoided in your particular work, even if they're perfectly cromulent words in English. Really, you can use the exclusion list feature to have Word bring to your attention any word that you might want to double-check as part of your proofing.[1]

I do have a couple of notes for you about using exclusion lists:
  • Words in the list are case sensitive. (As indeed they are in the Word spelling dictionaries.) For example, it's probably a good idea to include both assed and Assed.

  • It's up to you to include all variant forms of a term, including plurals and verb conjugations: ass, Ass, asses, Asses, assed, Assed, assing, Assing, etc.

  • With regard to having different .lex files for different language variants, it will up to you to know what languages are in use in a given document. If a document has been through many hands, it's possible that different sections or paragraphs or even words might be flagged as having different language settings.
I learned about all this from a Twitter thread and specifically from the editor Ashley Bischoff. Not only did she introduce a bunch of us to exclusion lists by pointing to the blog post, she took the initiative to create a Google Docs spreadsheet for collecting words for potential inclusion. The doc is open to anyone. Please contribute!

PS Ashley has a second sheet in the workbook with instructions for both Windows and Mac users on how to update your exclusion lists.


[1] Microsoft alums will recognize this as similar to the Policheck tool, about which I've written before.

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  08:19 AM

It is the height o' the summer here, but despite that (because of it?), I and my wife, in that order, both experienced a train wreck of a cold or flu or something, and life around here pretty much ground to a halt. But things seem to be getting back on track. Including, of course, words!

I ran across today's new-to-me-word while reading on old piece by Sarah Vowell. She talks about her days in high-school marching band, which included wearing a shako. From context, I derived that she was referring to the hat, but it did send me to investigate this term.

Sure enough, a shako is a particular kind of hat, one that's conical and that has some sort of plume. Here's an example:

These days, shakos are part of uber-ceremonial military dress—honor guards, parade dress, and whatnot—and of the uniforms of marching bands, which follow military fashion. (They are, let's remember, marching bands.) Historically, shakos were part of military field dress, back in the way-before-camo days. Fun fact: per Wikipedia, shakos were developed as an improvement over earlier military hats. ("Looks great, András, but don't you think we should add a plume?")

There is of course the question of how to say this word. We get the word from Hungarian via French, so who knows, right? "Shack-oh"? "Shake-oh"? Per reputable dictionaries, both pronunciations seem to be ok.

Shako is another example where I'm surprised I didn't know this word. I've read a lot of military history in my day, although perhaps I didn't pay as close attention to the descriptions of uniforms as I might have. But I was also in high-school marching band (a nerd badge I share with Sarah Vowell), so I actually wore one of these things for three years. Although we had a couple of unflattering nicknames for these things, we didn't use the word shako.

Bonus new term this week, courtesy of an article in last week's New Yorker about marriage in China: mistress-dispeller, someone you hire to chase away your husband's mistress. (Or equivalent.)

On to word origins. Where do you buy your food—grocery store, right? And where does the term groceries come from? I hadn't thought about it till the editor and linguist Jonathon Owen wrote about grocer not long ago.

The origin is implied the word itself, actually: a grocer is someone who buys things by the gross, or more generically, in big lots. (The notion of gross as a dozen dozen, i.e. 144, is another offshoot of gross as a large quantity.) Although this origin could theoretically have applied to mongers of many things, even in medieval times a grocer was someone who dealt primarily in foodstuffs, which could include spices: "The company of Grocers, said to have been incorporated in 1344, consisted of wholesale dealers in spices and foreign produce" (OED). Groceries derived from grocer as the thing that grocers sold (sell).

Point to ponder: Although you buy groceries in the plural ("bet you can't buy just one!"), the grocery store itself is all about the singular.

A quick bonus etymology, another one from Mashed Radish: a scone is schoon brood, Dutch for "beautiful (or bright) bread." Must agree.

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  12:24 PM

I rassled a bit recently with a couple of dumb issues when creating some Word macros, so I thought I'd better write these up for my own future reference. To be clear, "dumb" here means that I should already have known this stuff, and I wasted time learning it.

1. Calling subroutines

I was trying to call a sub like this:
Sub SomeMacro
SomeOtherSub(p1, p2)
End Sub
Word got so mad about that SomeOtherSub call:


Turns out that when you call a subroutine in VBA and pass parameters, you do that without parentheses:
SomeOtherSub p1, p2
The parameters can be positional, as here, or named. For the latter, use the := syntax:
SomeOtherSub p1:="a value", p2:="another value" 

2. Exposing subroutines (implicit access modifiers)

Here was another kind of bonehead mistake I made. I wrote a subroutine sort of like this:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)
' Code here
End Sub
Then I tried to actually run this macro (Developer > Macros). The macro stubbornly refused to appear in the Macros dialog box. If I was in the macro editor and pressed F5 to try to launch it in the debugger, Word just displayed the Macros dialog box for me to pick which macro to run, but again, did not display the actual macro that I actually wanted to run.

Anyway, long story short (too late, haha), the problem was that the Sub definition included parameters:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)
Apparently if a subroutine has parameters like that, VBA considers it to have protected access—it can be called from another macro, but it can't be launched as a main. This makes sense, but it wasn't immediately obvious. What I really wanted was this:
Sub MyMacro()
I had included the parameters by accident (copy/paste error), so it was basically a dumb mistake. I just removed them and then things worked. Well, they worked until VBA ran into the next dumb mistake, whatever that was. (In my code there's always another one.)

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  09:45 AM

The days do fly by. We had summer solstice this week, meaning that the days are shrinking again. <sob> But this has no effect, it seems, on thinking about words.

Today's new-to-me word came up in passing in someone's Facebook post: odonym. I'm interested in –nym words in general, but I had never run across odonym before; indeed, the term does not appear much in easily accessible dictionaries. Anyway, odonym refers to street names, basically. Per one source, the odo part comes from Greek hodos, meaning "road," and –nym is, well, nym (synonym, antonym, pseudonym, homonym, eponym, etc.): "name."

One might think that the study of street names would have limited scope, but there are actually lots of interesting things to think about in odonymy, like:
  • What the differences might be between streets, roads, avenues, boulevards, circles, courts, ways, lanes, etc.

  • The origins of street names. Broadway was, you know, a broad way (Breede weg in the original Dutch). Wall Street might have referred to an actual wall. Fleet Street in London was close to the River Fleet, long since disappeared. (For details, consult your local odonymist.)

  • Metaphors based on odonymy: Broadway (for theater), Madison Avenue (for advertising), Wall Street (for the financial industry), skid road (for a derelict area, named after a one-time street in Seattle where logs were "skidded" down to a mill). Nancy Friedman explored one particular metaphor in What Does "Main Street" Mean?

  • Naming conventions: numbers (Fifth Avenue), themes (trees are popular: Oak Street, Elm Street, Birch Street), and so on. Some cities have street names that are in alphabetic order, as in Denver: Albion-Ash-Bellaire-Birch-Clermont-Cherry-Dexter-Dahlia, etc.

Anyway, think about the word odonym the next time the disembodied voice of your GPS directions completely mangles a street name.

For surprising word origins, today I have sabotage, which of course refers to deliberately wrecking something. The sabot part refers to a kind of wooden shoe; today we'd probably refer to it as a clog. Sabot is probably related to zapato in Spanish and similar words in other Romance languages. (Also to the name Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer.)

How did a wooden shoe come to be associated with malicious mischief? Unclear, it turns out. The story sometimes told that workers would throw their shoes into machines to wreck them seems not to be the origin of sabotage, although maybe they did do that thing. One theory is that wooden shoes are noisy, and that this noise came to be associated with doing something badly. How exactly the sense changed from unintentional to intentional bungling isn't 100% clear, although it might have come via music (wooden shoes = noisy = playing badly = wrecking something, but don't take that one to the bank).

Somewhat interesting fact: the word sabotage is relatively new in English; it dates only from the early 1900s. We borrowed it intact from French.

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