Saturday, October 29, 2011

Word of the day: eldritch

The word of the day is eldritch:

Etymology:  Of obscure origin; connection with elf n.1, conjectured by Jamieson, would be suitable for the sense, and is supported by the form elphrish , apparently the same word. 
Weird, ghostly, unnatural, frightful, hideous. (OED)

"To me the original survival horror game was Alone in the Dark, released in 1992. Like many of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft it was based upon, Alone in the Dark generated suspense from the gradual immersion of its hero into a disturbing world of eldritch mystery just below the surface of everyday reality. More was implied than seen."

 - Seth Schiesel, "Angry Birds, Creeping Dread", 27 October 2011 New York Times

Friday, October 28, 2011

Word of the day: Brobdingnagian

The word of the day is Brobdingnagian:

Etymology:  < Brobdingnag , the name given by Swift in Gulliver's Travels to an imaginary country where everything was on a gigantic scale. (OED)

"It does not end, that lonely epic battle of the solitary warrior, the copy editor, armed only with pencil or 'delete' key, his back to the cubicle, as colossal looming forces of puffery, leviathans of cant, brigades of Brobdingnagian mendacity swarm and threaten to overpower him."

 - John E. McIntyre, Colossal! Epic! Glorious!, 28 October 2011 You Don't Say (warning: the Baltimore Sun's paywall is up, and you can only see 15 page views per month without a paid account)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Word of the day: apposite

The word of the day is apposite:

< Latin apposit-us , past participle of app- , adpōnĕre , < ad to + -pōnĕre to place, put. 

1. Put or applied to. Obs. rare. 
2. Well put or applied; appropriate, suitable (to). 
3. Of persons: Ready with appropriate remarks, apt. Obs. 
4. absol. or as n. That which is placed beside or in apposition. Obs.  (OED)

"Malcolm might want to look at Arthur D. Trottenberg’s 'A Vision of Paris' (1963), which pairs Atget’s photographs with excerpts from 'À La Recherche du Temps Perdu'.  The two men were not just contemporaries with a fine-grained way of looking at the world; they shared, as Trottenberg says, a 'bitter-sweet nostalgia.'  Some of the book’s pairings are eerily apposite."

 - Geoffrey James, "Picture Books", 17 October 2011 The New Yorker

Monday, October 24, 2011

Word of the day: deliquesce

The word of the day is deliquesce:

Etymology:  < Latin dēliquēscĕre to melt away, dissolve, disappear, < de- prefix 1c + liquēscĕre to become liquid, melt, inceptive of liquēre to be liquid, clear, etc.
1.a. Chem. To melt or become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, as certain salts. 
b. Biol. To liquefy or melt away, as some parts of fungi or other plants of low organization, in the process of growth or of decay. 
2. gen. To melt away (lit. and fig.). (Mostly humorous or affected.) (OED)

"The truest thing I can say about the Amish is that within a week, or even less, they will disappear from the media and from the nation’s consciousness. They will deliquesce — until the next newsworthy incident — into the background of contemporary America."

 - Joe Mackall , "Our Amish, Ourselves", 20 October 2011 New York Times

I'd observed this phenomenon in a number of the jars of "dry" chemicals I threw out the other day, and while I suppose if I had thought about it I would have figured that there was a technical term, now I know what it is.

Fukushima Daiichi vs. Deepwater Horizon

Here's the text of a letter I submitted to The New Yorker:


Dear The New Yorker,

Evan Osnos makes useful comparisons between the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown and the meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl ("The Fallout", October 17), but an even more useful comparison would be to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Both disasters were man-made (although one was catalyzed by a natural disaster of historic proportions, and the other only by human error); both exposed its workers to acute risks (although one killed eleven people, and the other killed no one); both continue to have enormous environmental and economic impact.  The decision to pursue nuclear power is unquestionably not without risks, but neither is the decision not to.  If, in an effort to avoid disasters like Fukushima Daiichi, we increase our reliance on fossil fuels, we can expect in the future more disasters like Deepwater Horizon.


In particular, Germany decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 (and that probably has more to do with its slow economic growth recently than Euro crisis does, since Germany exports electricity (or, used to)), but no one's talking about quitting drilling for oil, even though it seems clear to me that in any comparison between Fukushima Daiichi and Deepwater Horizon, the latter was a more serious disaster.  And that's not even getting into the long-term impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Word of the day: sibylline

The word of the day is sibylline:

Etymology:  < Latin Sibyllīn-us , < Sibylla  
A. adj.1. Pertaining to, uttered or written by, one or more of the Sibyls.In this sense usually with a capital, and qualifying books or oracles: on the nature of these see Encycl. Brit. XXII. 13. 
2. Oracular, occult, mysterious.
3. Excessive, exorbitant.  In allusion to the Sibyl who sold three books to Tarquinius Superbus at the price of the original nine. 
4. Resembling a Sibyl. 
B. n.In pl., the Sibylline oracles or books. (OED)

"On the mound

at the mouth hole,
he scouts around

with sibylline
yellow eyes

and then, owl-
wise, decides

to clean house."

 - Sidney Wade, "Burrowing Owl", 17 October 2011 The New Yorker

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Word of the day: shpritz

The word of the day is shpritz:

spurt, to squirt, to sprinkle (Yiddish Dictionary Online)

"This became clear the other day, when the two creators of “The Phantom Tollbooth” were briefly sequestered in a Manhattan living room to talk about their work, and why it has lasted. Feiffer and Juster, both born in 1929, are like a pair of wryly benevolent uncles, with Norton the dreamy, crinkle-eyed, soft-spoken uncle who gives you the one piece of good advice you never forget, and Jules the wisecracking uncle who never lets up on your foibles but was happy to have you crash on his couch that night you just couldn’t bear going home. They interrupted, teased, and shpritzed each other as they recalled having blundered into a classic."

 - Adam Gopnik, "Broken Kingdom: Fifty years of 'The Phantom Tollbooth'", 17 October 2011 The New Yorker

There's a figurative sense that the Yiddish Dictionary Online doesn't convey.  OED, you fail me again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Word of the day: pythian

The word of the day is pythian:

Etymology:  < classical Latin Pȳthius (adjective) of or relating to Delphi, or to the oracle and priestess of Apollo at Delphi, (noun) Delphic Apollo ( < ancient Greek Πύθιος of Delphi, or the Delphic Apollo) + -an suffix. Compare Middle French, French pythien (1550).Ancient Greek Πύθιος is now generally held to have been derived from Πυθώ or Πύθων (classical Latin Pȳthō , Pȳthōn ), the older name of Delphi and the surrounding region; but it was in ancient times connected with the legend of the πύθων or monstrous snake said to have been slain there by Apollo (see python n.1). 
Chiefly Greek Hist. 
A. n. 
a. A native or inhabitant of Delphi. Freq. applied as a cognomen of Apollo (cf. Pythian Apollo n. at Special uses). 
b. The priestess of Apollo at Delphi; = Pythia n. Also fig. and in extended use. 
B. adj.Of or relating to Delphi or to the oracle or priestess of Apollo at Delphi. Also: of or relating to the Pythian games. (OED)

"A sort of suppressed terror hung in the air and seemed to seize us,—a pythian madness, a demoniac possession, that lent terrible reality to song and word."
 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Word of the day: mawkish

The word of the day is mawkish:

Etymology:  < mawk n. + -ish suffix1.
1.a. Inclined to sickness, feeling sick, queasy; without appetite; faint. In later use Eng. regional. 
b. Having no taste or inclination for a specified action. rare. 
2. Nauseating; having a nauseating or disgusting taste or smell. Also in later use: tasting sickly or insipid. 
3. fig. Imbued with sickly, false, or feeble sentiment; overly sentimental. 
4. slang.  [See discussion above.] Slatternly. Obs. rare—0. (OED)

"Nor does the paradox and danger of this situation fail to interest and perplex the best conscience of the South. Deeply religious and intensely democratic as are the mass of the whites, they feel acutely the false position in which the Negro problems place them. Such an essentially honest-hearted and generous people cannot cite the caste-levelling precepts of Christianity, or believe in equality of opportunity for all men, without coming to feel more and more with each generation that the present drawing of the color-line is a flat contradiction to their beliefs and professions. But just as often as they come to this point, the present social condition of the Negro stands as a menace and a portent before even the most open-minded: if there were nothing to charge against the Negro but his blackness or other physical peculiarities, they argue, the problem would be comparatively simple; but what can we say to his ignorance, shiftlessness, poverty, and crime? can a self-respecting group hold anything but the least possible fellowship with such persons and survive? and shall we let a mawkish sentiment sweep away the culture of our fathers or the hope of our children?"

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Word of the day: ipso facto

The word of the day is ipso facto:

Etymology:  Latin.
By that very fact; by the fact itself. (OED)

"Their offences at first were those of laziness, carelessness, and impulse, rather than of malignity or ungoverned viciousness. Such misdemeanors needed discriminating treatment, firm but reformatory, with no hint of injustice, and full proof of guilt. For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination."
 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Word of the day: metayer

The word of the day is metayer:

Etymology:  < French métayer (1150 in Old French as moitoier ) < meitié , moitié moiety n. + -ier -ier suffix, after post-classical Latin medietarius person owing half tithes (860), hereditary tenant farmer entitled to half the yield (1007; also as adjective in sense ‘granted as a tenancy at a rate of half the crop’ (866)) < classical Latin medietās mediety n. + -ārius -ary suffix1. Compare mezzadria n. 
A farmer who holds land under the métayage system. (OED)
which brings us to métayage:
Etymology:  < French métayage (1840; compare Middle French moitoiage agreement to share in halves (1396)) < métayer métayer n. + -age -age suffix. Compare earlier metaying n.
A system of land tenure in which the farmer pays a certain proportion (usually half) of the produce to the landowner as rent, and the owner provides (a part of) the stock and seed. (OED)
"The legal form of service was theoretically far different; in practice, task-work or "cropping" was substituted for daily toil in gangs; and the slave gradually became a metayer, or tenant on shares, in name, but a laborer with indeterminate wages in fact."

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Monday, October 17, 2011

weekend update

Saturday I worked, but then Morgan did take me out to lunch at Sticky Rice, which was very nice of him.

Saturday evening we grabbed a quick dinner at Fatburger (conclusion: not impressed, but maybe I missed the soul of it by not getting a burger with bacon, chili, and a fried egg) before going to Austin and Chantelle's for a dessert party.  My favorite was Austin's orange cake with cranberry glaze and cream cheese frosting, but his pound cake was very good too.

Sunday we visited the 1:1 scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope on display in the Inner Harbor, in a desperate attempt to muster public support and prevent its funding from being cut.

We had a nice chat with an engineer from Northrup Grumman, and saw a really wonderful presentation called Journey to the Edge of the Observable Universe.  If the telescope launches (2018 is the current estimate, assuming funding doesn't get cut (by ESA, because we don't do that sort of stuff anymore)), it will push that edge a little further away, and, because light only travels as fast as the speed of light, a little further back in time.  Hubble can see 13 billion light years, but the Big Bang was 13.7 billion years ago.

We made a quick trip to the library and the hardware store before going to Cylburn Arboretum to see Ruthie sing in the Handel Choir of Baltimore.  Our favorite was the Ernani Aguiar.

After the concert, Ruthie very kindly invited us back to her house, where we played Yggdrasil (a cooperative but not too complicated board game), had a nice dinner, and played with Hannah.

On the way home, we stopped at Afters and read our climate paper.

Word of the day: ceil

The word of the day is ceil:

Etymology:  Of ceil v. (recorded of date 1428) and the derived ceiling (1380), ceiled , with the cognate n. found as cyll n. in sense of ‘canopy’ c1500, celure , found as syllure , sylure ?a1400, the derivation is doubtful. The group is not very old in English, and traces of it in French are scanty.
Three sources have been suggested: (1) Latin cēlāre , French celer (11th cent. in Littré) to hide, conceal, cover up; (2) Latin cælāre to carve, engrave in relief; (3) Latin cælum sky, vault of heaven. If Latin cēlāre could be shown to have acquired in late Latin or Romanic the simple sense of ‘cover’, it would suitably explain the English words in all their uses; but such is not the case, and in particular, French celer does not appear to approach the required sense. In favour of Latin cælāre (compare cieler Godefroy) there are certainly early quotations (see sense 1, and ceiling n. 1) in which ‘carve’, ‘carving’, is a possible sense; but nothing of the kind occurs under celure n., and if ceil ever meant ‘carve’ this sense evidently soon entirely gave way to one congruous with that of celure n. On the other hand we have the known fact that medieval Latin cælum , Italian cielo , French ciel , acquired the sense of ‘canopy, vault, roof, tester of a bed, etc.’; and there are traces of a derived vb. cælāre to canopy or vault, whence cælātum , cœlātūra , in senses identical with or derived < cælum . Difficulties are that while ceil v. and celure were so common in 15–16th cent. English, and can hardly be connected with Latin exc. through French, their occurrence in Old French itself is extremely rare: a single instance of cielee past participle (with variants celee , chelee , couverte ) has been noted in Chrestien de Troyes, Ywain (ed. Förster 964). It is possible that *celeüre , *celure < Latin cælātūra was common in Anglo-Norman, and thence passed into English, but the whole subject remains for the present beset with conflicting difficulties; the apparently certain point being that we cannot separate the English words < cælum , ciel , canopy. See celure n.
1. trans. ? To furnish with a canopy, hangings, or a screen. Obs. Cf. celure n. 
2.a. To cover with a lining of woodwork, sometimes of plaster, etc. (the interior roof or walls of a house or apartment); to wainscot. Also with †over. Obs. 
b. To overlay (with gold, marble, etc.).
3. esp. To line the roof of, provide or construct an inner roof for (a building or apartment); usually, to plaster the roof. Cf. ceiling n. 5. 
4. Naut. To line (a ship, or a compartment in a ship). Cf. ceiling n. 4b. (OED)

"All over the face of the land is the one-room cabin,—now standing in the shadow of the Big House, now staring at the dusty road, now rising dark and sombre amid the green of the cotton-fields. It is nearly always old and bare, built of rough boards, and neither plastered nor ceiled."

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Word of the day: quadroon

The word of the day is quadroon:

Etymology:  < Spanish cuarterón person who is by descent three-quarters white and one-quarter non-white (originally spec. American Indian) (1605 or earlier; 13th cent. in sense ‘one quarter’) < cuarto fourth, quarter ( < classical Latin quartus : see quart n.1) + -erón , suffix. In β. forms probably by association with words in quadri- comb. form or quadru- comb. form. Compare French quarteron (1722; < Spanish).
Now chiefly considered offensive. 

A. n.1. A person who is by descent three-quarters white and one-quarter black; a person with one black grandparent. Formerly also: †a person with one black great-grandparent (obs. rare). Cf. terceroon n. 
2. By extension: any person of comparably mixed ancestry; a plant or animal obtained by crossing in such proportions. Now rare. 
B. adj.attrib. That is a quadroon; having one black grandparent or (formerly) great-grandparent.

"Here sits a pretty blue-eyed quadroon hiding her bare feet; she was married only last week, and yonder in the field is her dark young husband, hoeing to support her, at thirty cents a day without board."

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Word of the day: loam

The word of the day is loam:

Etymology:  Old English lám neuter = Middle Dutch, Dutch leem , Middle Low German lêm , whence modern German lehm masculine; with different declension the word is found as Old High German leimo (masculine) (Middle High German leime , modern High German dialect leimen ); the Old Germanic forms *laimo- , *laimon- are from the root *lai- (:*lῑ- ) to be sticky, occurring also in lair n.2; for cognates in other ablaut-grades see lime n.1 
1.a. Clay, clayey earth, mud; occas. ‘earth’ or ‘clay’ as the material of the human body. Obs. 
b. Used loosely for: Earth, ground soil. arch. 
2. Clay moistened with water so as to form a paste capable of being moulded into any shape; spec. a composition of moistened clay and sand with an admixture of horse-dung, chopped straw, or the like, used in making bricks and casting-moulds, plastering walls, grafting, etc.
3. A soil of great fertility composed chiefly of clay and sand with an admixture of decomposed vegetable matter.

"This was indeed the Egypt of the Confederacy,—the rich granary whence potatoes and corn and cotton poured out to the famished and ragged Confederate troops as they battled for a cause lost long before 1861. Sheltered and secure, it became the place of refuge for families, wealth, and slaves. Yet even then the hard ruthless rape of the land began to tell. The red-clay sub-soil already had begun to peer above the loam. The harder the slaves were driven the more careless and fatal was their farming."

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Friday, October 14, 2011

Word of the day: whilom

The word of the day is whilom:

Etymology:  Old English hwílum , later -on , -an , = Old Saxon hwîlon at times (Middle Dutch, Middle Low German wîlen formerly, Dutch wijlen late = deceased), Old High German hwîlôn , -on (Middle High German wîlen , wîlent , German weiland formerly) dative plural of while n. 
A. adv. (and adj.) 
2.a. At some past time; some time before or ago; once upon a time: = while adv. 2, whiles n., conj., and adv. 6a. arch.
 b. as adj. That existed, or was such, at a former time; former; †of a person, ‘late’, deceased (obs.): = while adv. 2b. arch. 
3. At a future time, some time; in future. 
B. conj.= while conj. 1, 3. dial. 
C. Aberrant uses. (OED)

"Here are the remnants of the vast plantations of the Sheldons, the Pellots, and the Rensons; but the souls of them are passed. The houses lie in half ruin, or have wholly disappeared; the fences have flown, and the families are wandering in the world. Strange vicissitudes have met these whilom masters."

 - W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Word of the day: scupper

The word of the day is scupper:

Etymology:  perhaps < scupper n., but the connection of meaning is not clear.
a. trans. To surprise and massacre. Mil. slang. 
b. colloq. To defeat, ruin, destroy, put an end to. (OED)

"Christopher Turner writes in 'Adventures in the Orgasmatron' that Wilhelm Reich coined the term 'sexual revolution' in the nineteen-thirties to express the conviction, informed by his Marxism, that 'a true political revolution would only be possible once sexual repression was overthrown, the one obstacle Reich felt had scuppered the efforts of the Bolsheviks.'"

 - Ariel Levy, "Novelty Acts: The sexual revolutions before the sexual revolution", 19 September 2011 The New Yorker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Word of the day: cantonment

The word of the day is cantonment:

Etymology:  < French cantonnement , < cantonner : see canton v. and -ment suffix.
1. The cantoning or quartering of troops. 
2. The place of lodging assigned to a section of a force when cantoned out; also (often in pl.) the place or places of encampment formed by troops for a more permanent stay in the course of a campaign, or while in winter quarters; ‘in India the permanent military stations are so termed’ (Stocqueler Mil. Encycl.). 
3. transf. Quarters; places of occupation. (OED)

"After the attack on the Mehran base, people working on behalf of Hizb ut-Tahrir distributed leaflets at military bases and in cantonments in Karachi, with the aim of stirring up a revolt."

 - Dexter Filkins, "The Journalist and the Spies: The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan's secrets", 19 September 2011 The New Yorker