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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It appears from the evidence that there was never a golden age in which the rules for the use of the possessive apostrophe in English were clear-cut and known, understood, and followed by most educated people.

Tom McArthur



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First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 4/3/2020

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 2:06 AM Pacific


  07:52 AM

I am not a trend chaser (I'm a "thought-follower," as one my colleagues refers to themself), but I have had a run of topical Friday words recently. And today comes another (maybe two!).

People these days are doing a lot of video conferencing, and a popular app for that is Zoom. Mischievous or malevolent people have discovered an interesting new way to harass people, namely by zoombombing meetings. (Sometimes, but less frequently[1], called zoom-crashing.)

To use Zoom, you join a meeting using a nine-digit meeting ID. It's apparently not hard to find meeting IDs online. And although nine digits sounds like a lot (a billion!), simply picking those numbers at random might get a determined hacker into some live meeting or other. Once the Mallory has gotten into the meeting, they might try sharing disruptive images or otherwise causing trouble.

The genesis of the term (terms) is interesting, though at this point maybe still speculative? Zoomcrashing seems like a natural coinage, analogous to something like gatecrashing and wedding-crashing. As noted, zoombombing seems for the moment to be more popular. The ‑bombing part is probably based on something like to photobomb. The sense of unexpectedly appearing somewhere is a fit, as is the sense of perhaps doing this as a prank. And I guess if the zoombomber spoils the meeting the way a photobomber spoils a photo, that fits also. Ok, then.

By the way, if you're a Zoom host, the company has published some guidelines to help you reduce the possibility of being zoombombed, or if you are, how to mitigate the breach.

For origins this week, I have a term that with some imagination might be considered timely. The term is petri dish, which is used to grow microbes and other tiny fauna.[2] The term is often spelled lowercase these days, but formally it's still spelled with a capital P—because it's an eponym.

Petri was Julius Petri, a German microbiologist who invented the dish that's now named for him. He worked as an assistant to Robert Koch, a pioneering microbiologist who (to quote Wikipedia) "gave experimental support for the concept of infectious disease." (See how timely this is?) While Petri worked in Koch's lab, he and some others invented what became the technique of putting agar (gelatin) in the dish and then adding cultures to be studied.

At least, that's the story. It turns out that the Petri dish might have been invented by others, or at least independently. If that's true, this wouldn’t be the first time that an invention was named for someone who was lucky, influential, or who had the right friends.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

[1] In my experience over, like, the last week.

[2] Obligatory joke: there's a special name for that? I thought it was just the plate at the back of the fridge.

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  08:56 PM

Some related terms today, as I'll explain later. The new-to-me word for this week is paleography, which refers to old manuscripts and/or the study and decipherment thereof. I've put this term three times into the GDoc where I keep these words, it seems. I originally got it from a Fiat Lex podcast; it came up on Ellen Jovin's Facebook feed last week; and I ran across it again in a book about punctuation.

The root paleo means "old"; graph, of course, is "writing." One who performs the service of decipherment is a paleographer.

A term like "old writing" probably conjures up things like the Dead Sea Scrolls. And it's true that paleographers do work on documents that old. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone was a big moment in paleography, providing a key to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphical writing.

But paleography can include more recent documents as well. For example, paleographers work on medieval manuscripts. Many a would-be paleographer has attempted to decipher the Voynich manuscript from the 1400s (assumed), which continues to be mysterious. And paleographers don't just decipher old manuscripts. They also do things like trace the lineage of the handwriting styles that the documents were written in.

The word paleography can also be used metaphorically to mean deciphering any handwriting. For example, in the Fiat Lex podcast, Kory Stamper talks about the paleography of reading the handwriting of many editors who have scribbled notes about dictionary entries.

Here's something fun: you might not know it, but you probably have participated in a paleographical exercise. If you've ever been prompted by ReCaptcha to type in a distorted-looking word to prove that you're not a bot, you've been helping with a crowdsourced paleography exercise:

This was an outgrowth of Google's gigantic project to digitize every book and newspaper they could get their hands on. They used optical character recognition (OCR) to turn the scans into text. Alas, OCR couldn't always decipher the words. So some smart folks turned the unrecognized words into a bot challenge that they could present to thousands of people. By asking a lot of people to squint at the weird-looking word, they could home in what the word probably said. You can read more about this project on, where else, Wikipedia. And if you want to participate more actively in some paleographic efforts, you can help transcribe old documents for the Library of Congress.

On to origins. For today I have the word ampersand, the punctuation character (&). There seem to be some fanciful explanations for the origins of this term. For example, on Urban Dictionary (not known for its etymological rigor), someone says that ampersand is from "Amper's and," Amper having supposedly been a 17th-century German typographer.

Anyway, forget that. Ampersand is not an eponym. The story is better than that, which I learned from the Keith Houston's book Shady Characters, a history of punctuation, while reading about, yes, paleography. The ampersand symbol started as Roman shorthand for et, the Latin word for "and." An ampersand symbol meant "and," just like we use it today. It was literally an and.

This is the good part. In the 1800s, the ampersand character was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. If you recited the alphabet, you'd finish up with "… X, Y, Z, and per se and," where that last and referred to the ampersand character. When you said "per se and," you were saying "and by itself." This verbal clot, through a lot of repetition by bored schoolchildren and bit of mushiness, evolved into ampersand.

And … there you have it.

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  05:33 PM

We could probably all use a break from the Serious Stuff, so here's a new-to-me word that's just for fun. What do you call the button on the top of a baseball cap? Like this:

If you guessed "button on top of a baseball cap," I would commend you, because really, does that thing have its own name? Even companies that make baseball caps call it a button. But in certain circles there actually is a special name for it: squatchee. (Hold that thought.) You're not going to find the word in Merriam-Webster, but it's in Urban Dictionary and if you go hunting for the word, it turns up plenty.

Where did such a strange little word come from? There's an interesting story here. The term was associated with the baseball commentator Bob Brenly, who'd been a catcher during his playing years. He learned it in the 1980s from his then-teammate Mike Krukow. Krukow had in turn picked it up from Sniglets, which was a kind of joke dictionary listing "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should." Sniglets was the work of Rich Hall, a comedian in that era, and "his friends," as the cover says. It sounds like they sat around and made up words, and they seemed to have a talent for coining funny ones.

Here's a twist. For Sniglets, they invented the word squatcho (-o, not -ee) to name the button on top of a cap. Mike Krukow was browsing the book and picked up squatcho, which he thought was funny, and started using it with other baseball players on his team. Somewhere in the everyday banter of the players, the variant squatchee emerged. When Krukow and Bentley retired and when into sports commentary, they took the words with them and used them both variants on the air so that the terms spread out into more general use. (You can read all of this, including interviews with these guys, in an article on the Uni-Watch site.)

It seems remarkable to me that a word invented for fun by a comedian seems poised to become a "real word." All that's really needed now is for all of us to say "squatchee" or "squatcho" every time we talk about that button. I suppose I should also note that that word sniglet, which Rich Hall also invented, is now in the dictionary. Bonus.

As an aside, what's the squatchee for? According to one answer I found, it was there originally to help hold the cap together, but now is decorative. I'm no clothes designer, so I'll take their word for it.

Just a short one for origins today. Did you ever wonder where zigzag came from? Those Z's, they could be from a lot of different places. Reputable sources suggest that it ultimately comes from German. They have a word Zacke, which means "point, peak, jag, spike." That makes sense, since the pattern formed by a zigzag is a set of teeth-like points. We got it from French (where else: en zigzag), who seem to have gotten it from an existing German word zickzack, which described military fortifications.

If the -zag part comes from Zacke, what about the zig- part? The theory is that zickzack/zigzag was formed through reduplication (aka lexical cloning), in which a word is formed from repeated elements. In English, reduplication gave us words like goody-goody, bye-bye, hoity-toity, chit-chat, and flim-flam. You can see that reduplication works a little differently in different words—sometimes the word is repeated outright (goody-goody), and other times there's variation. In chit-chat and zigzag, the main vowel is varied[1], so this is sometimes called ablaut reduplication. We like reduplication in English, and it looks like 18th-century Germans liked it too. Hence zickzack, hence zigzag. Which certainly describes the origins of many words in English.

[1] Interestingly, it varies in a somewhat predictable way; we say chit-chat, but we don't have words like chat-chit.

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  08:23 PM

I suppose I've worked with the idea that these new-to-me words on Fridays are existing words in English. Today, though, I'm going to bend that rule, if it even is a rule, and talk about a word in German. It is new to me, and it's timely, so there's that.

The word is hamsterkaufen, which is the German word for "panic buying," or Hamsterkauf for a "panic purchase." We have, of course, seen a lot of that as people hoard supplies like face masks, hand sanitizer, and (mysteriously) toilet paper.

The German word is a compound: hamster refers to the animal, just like in English. Whether this is zoologically correct or not, the idea is that hamsters store food in their cheeks. This leads to the word hamster ("one who hamsters") being used in a more metaphoric sense for a hoarder. There's even a verb hamstern, "to hoard."

The -kaufen part means "to buy"; -kauf without the -en is "a purchase." So Hamsterkaufen is "hoarder-buying," or more literally and more colorfully "hamster-buying."

As I say, I normally concern myself with English words, so I'll make a proposal regarding hamsterkaufen/hamsterkauf: let's make it an English word. We could import the word as a calque, or loan-translation, and start talking about "hamster-buying" in English. I can see that: "Shelves cleared in hamster-buying sprees." Or heck, we could just import the word as is, why not. This is the proposal of the writer Hardy Graupner, who points out that we did that with words like dachshund ("badger-dog"), kindergarten ("children-garden"), and blitzkrieg ("lightning-war").

The longer this, er, hamster-buying continues, the more it feels like we'll want a word for it. So here's that nomination.

Origins. The other day I was editing a photo and wondered how crop came to mean "cut off." We also have a crop as in "crop of wheat"; are they related?

Yes, in a roundabout way. A version of crop appears in a bunch of old Germanic languages with a sense of "swelling, protuberance." That seems to be where we got crop as in the crop of a bird. In English, this sense also came to be applied to the top ("rounded head") of a plant. From there, it developed into the familiar sense of produce harvested from a field.

The verb crop seems to have come from the term for plants. The oldest recorded sense is the fairly general "cut the top [i.e., the crop] off." A slightly specialized sense pertains to animals eating (for example, a sheep that crops the grass). Other cut-related senses are to crop the hair of an animal or person, or the ears (!) of an animal like a dog.

Crop is also used in minerology and geology in a "top" sense to refer to a rock stratum that comes to the surface (to the top). That's where we get crop up. Another evolution is crop to mean "handle," as in a riding crop, which refers to the "top" of the whip (as opposed to the lash).

In a particularly weird turn, or so the OED speculates, the Germanic word crop was adopted into French and Italian. In French it became groupe, which we borrowed back as group for a collection of things. They do qualify this chain with "probably," so we can't be sure. But it sure is a lot of juice out of that original sense of crop as "protuberance."

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  09:28 AM

What do you call it when a father babysits his own kids? We actually have a word for that in English: parenting. But it's not unheard of for men's parenting efforts—any effort whatsoever—to be celebrated. And this type of admiration is the subject of today's word: dadulation.

Dadulation is when a man earns praise for performing "even the most basic caretaking responsibilities for their children," as one definition has it. It's a portmanteau, of course (dad+adulation) that works on the same principle as the many man- words that have emerged recently, like mansplaining and manspreading.

It also captures an inflection point in attitudes toward men's family responsibilities. When I was a kid (I'm old), fathers had a role in child-rearing, but it was largely in teaching children about what at the time would have been considered traditional roles: you learned how to throw and how to drive from your dad, for example[1]. These days many men participate fully in parental duties[2], but older attitudes linger, and men often do get kudos for performing parenting tasks that women mostly don't get credit for. Thus dadulation, which mocks this continuing divide in attitudes about parental responsibilities.

I got this word from Friend Tod, who pointed me to the WaPo article where it was defined. The article has a dozen similar blended terms like male pattern blandness, femwork, and redudedant.

Origins. In Seattle these days, schools are closed, Costco is cleaned out, and tech workers have been told to work from home. The coronavirus is engendering what some people call "an abundance of caution." There's another word that might also apply, and I started wondering where we got it: panic.

And a surprising origin it is. We got the word from French, as we so often do, but it goes back to Greek. And in Greek, it was an eponym, based on the god named Pan (!).

As the OED explains, the Greeks thought that Pan hung out in forests and caves, on mountains, and in other "lonely places." Suppose that you, too, are hanging out in such a place and you hear some strange noises. You might find yourself feeling fear at the noises, which the Greeks might have referred to as panikon deima, "fear caused by Pan." The full expression is attested in French (terreur Panice in the 1500s). But soon enough the latter part of the term rubbed away and by the 1600s the English were writing about "That great Army..were put into that pannick."

It will be interesting to see how long the current Pan-ic fear lasts. Hopefully all that abundance of caution will keep things under control and we return to normalcy soon.

[1] Such was the stereotype. Me, I learned to drive from my girlfriend's mother.

[2] I realize that studies suggest that duties are rarely divided equally between parents, with women still performing the bulk of parenting tasks.

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  06:57 AM

As the old joke goes, why should you never believe a minotaur? Because half of everything they say is bull. HAHA. Which brings us to this week's new-to-me word: therianthrope. A therianthrope is a creature that combines features of an animal with features of a human. The term comes from Greek: therion ("wild animal") + anthropos ("human being").

From the basic premise, we get three slightly distinct meanings. One meaning describes something that's a half-and-half mix. The minotaur is one example, as are satyrs (man+goat[1]), centaurs (human+horse), and merpersons (human+fish). Not to mention the Egyptian gods Meretseger (woman+snake), Bastet (cat+woman), and Taweret (hippo+woman).

A different sense of therianthrope is a creature that can shift between a human and animal shape—something that "exhibits its animal and human aspects serially rather than simultaneously," as Michael Quinion put it. A part-time animal, as it were. This type of therianthrope is represented by werewolves, vampires, selkies, and a variety of other creatures from world mythology.[2]

Finally, you'll find therianthrope (or just therian) used to refer to a person who "experiences being and identifies as a non-human animal on an integral, personal level," as the Therian-Guide.com site defines it. This is in the constellation of otherkin culture.

I ran across this word back in December when reading about the discovery of some cave paintings that seem to show therianthropic images. The paintings are believed to be about 45,000 years old, which suggest that people in 43,000 B.C. probably had religious or myth-ious beliefs, able to imagine creatures that did not exist. An exciting find!

For origins today I have an unexpected pair. Let's start with achieve, which is "to complete, accomplish." This came to us from old French, where it was a chef—"to (a) head," as in bring to a head. As you'd guess, the -chieve part is the same root that has given us many "head" words: chef, chief, captain, cap, and decapitate, to name only some obvious cousins. (The word head is ultimately from the same root.)

A surprise to me was that achieve is related to the Spanish verb acabar, which means "to finish, complete." (La fiesta se acabó, "The party came to an end.") When I see achieve and acabar side by side, the relationship seems a lot more obvious.

Another surprise was that achieve has a relative I'd never recognized: mischief. The word mischief is a noun for us today, meaning "misfortune," but you can see that it's the same construct: mis-("bad") + -chief ("head, outcome"). And there used to be a verb mischief meaning "to do harm," although that sense is rare after the 1600s.

While reading about this, I also learned that mischief has softened considerably since its introduction into English. These days it has a playful air to it, enough so that it's used a lot in brand names. But it originally was a bad condition indeed, as we see in the book of Deuteronomy: "I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them." That's a kind of mischief I'd rather not see.

[1] I think only man+goat, not woman+goat?

[2] We're currently watching The Outsider on HBO, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and it seems that a therianthrope might be playing a role.

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  10:12 AM

Everyone knows what distress is: "great pain, anxiety; acute suffering," to quote Dictionary.com's definition. Distress is bad, of course. Just like stress is bad, right? And stress appears to be part of distress, as you can see. (But hold that thought.)

At a work meeting not long ago, I learned about a different kind of -stress: eustress. Eustress is a good kind of stress—"having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being," this time from Merriam-Webster. It is, seemingly paradoxically, a positive stress.

Eustress can occur when something is challenging but not impossible. It results not in pain, anxiety, or suffering, but in a sense of fulfillment. An important distinction between distress and eustress is that it's in the eye, so to speak, of the beholder. Something that makes me curl up in the corner might make you roll up your sleeves and look forward to an interesting day.

The word eustress has apparently been around since 1975 (but it still isn't in every dictionary). Aside from the definition, what interested me was the structure of the word. It looks like someone broke apart dis+stress, and then whacked eu- (Greek for "good") onto the -stress part to create "good"+"stress."

But if you back up a sec and look at distress, it doesn't entirely make sense to break -stress off from that word and treat it as, well, stress. If you do, you're left with a prefix di- ("two") or possibly dis- ("un," or "de" as in disadvantage or disallow). How do di- or dis- work with stress?

It turns out that we didn't build up distress by combining di(s)- and -stress. We inherited distress as a unit from French. The term comes from Latin dis- ("apart") and the stringere ("squeeze"). But even as far back as the Middle Ages, the dis- part lost its sense and as the OED puts it, "became merely intensive." So distress is getting squoze hard. In fact, the word stress might in part be a shortened form of distress.

But no matter. However we cut up distress, the word eustress makes a neat pairing.

Ok, origins for real. In my random reading this week, I stumbled across the origins of the word gossip.

To set the stage, in Old English, the word gossip was godsibb(e). As you can see, the go- part in today's word was god in Old English, and just like it says, it was the word for god. The -sip part (-sibb(e) in Old English) is the same word part that we see in sibling, referring to a relative.

The word evolved in stages. The word godsibb or godsibbe originally meant something like "god parent." From this explicitly familial sense, the word was extended to mean a friend or neighbor. This sense narrowed somewhat to mean a woman. This sense was common in Elizabethan times, and as late as 1855, "my mother's gossip" referred to her female friend.

From this sense of referring to a person, it made a leap and started referring to conversation among those friends, especially talking "about persons or social incidents." And that brings us today, where the "conversation" sense is the primary one.

This sib-/-sip connection surprised and delighted me. (Remember also the word nibling from last year.) It's fun not only when we have a word that goes back straight to Old English, but one that carries around its etymology out in the open, so to speak.

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  07:48 AM

I was recently reading one of my Christmas books, White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, when I ran across this passage about how commercial bread-baking in the 1920s and 1930s was promoted as a scientific and modern improvement over home-baked bread:

Bakers' smug paternalism might have infuriated the ranks of middle-class women championing food reforms and social improvement—except that they were just as ensorcelled as the bakers.

I had to stop reading and look up ensorcelled. A great word, ensorcell: "to betwitch." From the French ensorceler, which has the same root as sorcerer.

Then shortly thereafter the editor Sarah Bronson used the word in a tweet. How can I run across the same obscure word twice in such a short time? Is it just the frequency illusion?

And obscure it is. Although the word ensorcell has been in English since at least the 1500s, it shows up in the Corpus of Contemporary American English a mere 27 times—and 13 of those mentions are in a single book. (It shows up only as ensorcelled, past tense, with zero hits for ensorcell or ensorcells, present-tense forms.)

Update: There is a spelling variant with one L, ensorcel, past tense ensorceled, which adds another 13 COCA hits. The dictionaries I was looking at seem to prefer the double L variant, and it doesn't seem to be a British/American difference. Dunno.

The other mentions in the COCA search results suggest to me why I don't run across this work more often, namely, it shows up primarily in fantasy and sci-fi writing. Clearly, if I read more widely in those genres, I would expand my vocabulary with useful terms like ensorcelled.

On the word-origins front, I was thinking about a word that's been much in the news lately: virus. Since starting my casual work with Latin, I've been looking at words through that lens. This one looked promising: vir means "man"! The -us ending is second declension! Does virus have something to do with "human," maybe?

Yeah, no. Well, yeah, it's from Latin, but no, it doesn't have anything to do with vir, "man." Our word virus comes more or less directly from the Latin word vīrus, which meant "poisonous secretion" or "venom."[1]

As is true for some other words (for example, germ), our medical sense of the word is the later and metaphoric sense. The Romans applied the word vīrus to poisons and other substances that had generally unpleasant sensory qualities—"acrid juice," as the OED says. That meaning made it into English, and there are cites from about 1600 to the 20th century in which virus referred to snake or insect venom. ("I note that there is a quite a demand for snake virus," 1899) A weird flex is that vīrus was also used sometimes to refer to semen.

The term has been used in medicine since the 15th century, albeit in the original and general sense of "poison." For example, Edward Jenner referred to "cow-pox virus" in 1798 when he was writing about his work with inoculations.

The modern medical sense developed in the late 1800s to refer to an infectious agent that was so small that it could pass through a filter that blocked bacteria—people understood that there was a thing there that caused disease, but the microscope technology of the time couldn't resolve just what it was. The first visual evidence of viruses had to wait till 1931 and the use of electron microscope.

These days we have computer viruses, which take the "infectious agent" metaphor into the digital realm. And something can go viral if it spreads in the manner of a swiftly-moving disease. And to complete the circle, I suppose, we could say that much of what we encounter this way is acrid-tasting and possibly even poisonous. haha.

[1] Something I'm not yet used to in my modest Latin studies is paying attention to whether vowels are long or short. The Romans didn't mark long vowels (I guess?), but the difference between a short and long vowel can distinguish a pair of words (I guess?).

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  10:03 AM

My wife was reading something about the early Celts and asked me, "What writing system did they have?" Latin alphabet, maybe? As far as I knew, runes were used by the Germanic people but not by Celts.

All of this led to me to discover the word ogham, which is an alphabet in which Old Irish inscriptions were written:

Apparently it's not clear where the alphabet comes from. Some think it might have been adapted from the Latin alphabet, other think it might have come from runes. The early examples that are left are carved in stone and tend to be names. (Isn't that true of most writing systems? They start when someone wants to write "THIS IS MINE".) There's speculation that it might also have been carved into wood, but that would have disappeared by now. The Irish later adapted the Roman alphabet, but apparently there are books from as late as the 1400s that are written using the ogham script.

The most fun thing that I learned from all this is that a person who writes in ogham script or who studies it is an oghamist. Bet that's a great icebreaker at parties. "So, what do you do?" "Well, …"

For origins, I don't normally do names. But Netflix just released a new version of Dracula, and that got me wondering where that name came from. As many people know, Count Dracula is loosely inspired by Vlad III Dracula, a historical ruler from Wallachia (now Romania), where he's a hero.

The Dracula part of the name comes from Romanian. Vlad's father, Vlad II, was also known as Vlad Dracul, which translates as "Vlad the Dragon." In 1431, Vlad the elder was awarded membership in the Order of the Dragon by the king of Hungary, under who he'd served. Vlad the elder eventually became ruler of Wallachia and participated in the complex wars of medieval Eastern Europe, which involved repelling an Ottoman invasion and a bunch of fights with the neighbors.

As Wikipedia says, "Vlad's descendants were known as Drăculești, because they adopted Vlad's sobriquet as their patronymic (Dracula)." Vlad the elder's second son, also Vlad, eventually succeeded to the throne as Vlad III, also known as Vlad Dracula (Vlad [of] Dracul). So there you have the origin of the name.

Many people also have heard that Vlad Dracula was known as "Vlad the Impaler" because he seemed to like using impalement as a form of execution. (Yuck.) I realized that this also comes up in the Dracula story. How can you kill a vampire? By driving a stake through its heart—which is another way of saying that you must impale it. I can't believe this only occurred to me this week.

Not the happiest note to end on, is it. I'll do better next week. In the meantime, why not watch the series on Netflix?

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  11:43 AM

There is a class of person who looks to a foreign culture and sees something there that they like. A person might be a fan of all things French, which makes them a Francophile. A person who's enamored of British things is said to be an Anglophile. There is such a thing as an Americanophile.

These terms are more or less neutral. A more judgmental term for someone who obsesses about another culture is a wannabe. As Urban Dictionary tells us, a British wannabe is "A person who makes numerous attempts to seem British." (Take a quiz to see if you're a British wannabe.) A wannabe is less neutral than a -phile, in the sense of someone who might be trying maybe a little too hard to identify with the other culture.

Ok. The other day I ran across a term that's of this flavor, but not of this pattern: weeaboo. This is a definitely negative way to refer to a person who's obsessed with Japanese culture, and especially if they go beyond appreciation to thinking of Japanese culture as better than all others. As the anime expert Justin Sevakis explains, "Being into Japanese stuff by itself isn't the problem, it's the special hell that results when the Japanese fixation combines with obnoxiousness, immaturity and ignorance that makes a weeaboo." (He has plenty more on this topic in his post.)

As I say, weeaboo doesn't follow pattern of other culture-fan words. According to the Know Your Meme site, weeaboo originated as a sort of nonsense word in the absurdist ("offbeat") Perry Bible Fellowship comic. From there, it was adapted as a term to get around filters on 4chan that looked for derogatory terms (like wapanese).

Anyway, when I ran across weeaboo, it was in a context that had nothing to do with Japanese culture. I was reading a blog post about the Spartans, and the author said that the Greek poet Tyrtaeus, who was not a native Spartan, was a weeaboo for all things Spartan. (Which we explored earlier under the more predictable term of laconophilia.) This is the only instance I've found in which weeaboo was not specifically about Japan, but you can see how a word that's not attached to Japan (unlike Japanophile) could be applied to other cultures as well.

For origins today, a quick one. You probably know the word cultivar, referring to a strain of plants. I just found out that the word cultivar is a portmanteau, a combination of cultivated and variety. (Seems obvious once you know that.)

What I did not know, having only modest horticultural knowledge, is that there's a difference between a variety and a cultivar. A variety is just what it sounds like—a variant, and especially one that can reproduce its characteristics naturally. In contrast, cultivars don't produce seeds that are "true to type." Instead, they generally have to be propagated through cuttings or grafting or some other human-involved means.

And as if that isn't enough knowledge for one day, there are rules for how cultivars are named. This Iowa State University Extension site has the details:

The first letter of a cultivar is capitalized and the term is never italicized. Cultivars are also surrounded by single quotation marks (never double quotation marks) or preceded by the abbreviation "cv.". For an example of a cultivar of redbud, consider Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' (or Cercis canadensis cv. Forest Pansy) which has attractive dark purple spring foliage and pinkish-purple flowers.

I'm not sure exactly why, but the insistence on single quotation marks around the cultivar name struck me as unusual. But to each field its own conventions.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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