Friday, September 30, 2011

Good morning

One of the nicest things about being a graduate student is the freedom to set my own hours. If I am up early (as today) I can be in the office early (as I am now) and working (as soon as this is posted). I will have a couple of hours here to work, alone* and quiet, before the other early-rising student (my officemate) arrives.

*When I entered the lab, ~7a.m., I did disturb the rest of the office squatter, who sleeps here. But I don't really feel bad about that, because: sleeping in an office. I'm here on legitimate business, to use the lab for research purposes.

This post's theme word is ante-jentacular, "before breakfast." I accomplished several ante-jentacular tasks today!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Any number of players can play Dictionary. When it is player i's turn, she picks a word from the OED that no player knows. All players write a definition from the word (player i writes the actual definition). Player i reads all the definitions; the other players vote for which they think is the correct one. Each vote earns player j (≠i) one point; guessing the right word also earns one point.

We played this, and now you can too! (J. won hands-down; he left halfway through the game and still held the lead until the final round. He came in second by one vote.)

Can you pick out the correct definition? (No cheating!)

What does "quisby" mean?
- a crescent-shaped water hole
- pertaining to the way along the dock or harbor: "The fishermen
admired the quisby view after a long day of work."
- a scrimshaw boat
- the act of feeling apprehensive about one's own bodily odor
- an idle person
- traitorous: "The quisby East German judges only gave an 8.2."
- one who asks questions
- an elongated tube of glass used to ensure cucumbers grow straight
- the state of being confused: "He was in a quisby."
- the feeling of being uneasy or sick
- a childish, precocious middle-manager
- a small nocturnal mammal endemic to Madagascar

(Answer: An idle person. Extra puzzle: see how many times you can use "quisby" in one sentence; can you use all the above meanings? The quisby quisby pulled into the quisby, steered by a quisby who felt both quisby and quisby, and accidentally dropped his quisby on an endangered quisby...)

What is a "kurgan"?
- a failed attempt
- a ceremonial turban used in the observance of the Zoroastrian new
- a stone-age tool used to scrape hides
- a member of the judiciary in the Ottoman empire
- a spice commonly used as a substitute for pepper
- an unmanned water cache used to facilitate desert journeys
- a traditional oil lamp used in the tents of Mongol chieftans
- pertaining to or originating from the mountainous region surrounding
the Caspian Sea
- title for the leader of the Tartar tribes in the 9th-12th centuries
- a prehistoric sepulchral barrow in Russia and Tartary
- an Eastern-European confection whose principal ingredients are
flour, egg, and quark
- a derogatory Turkish term for a non-Turk
- the secretary of a medieval guild

(Answer: A sepulchral barrow! As opposed to a merely decorative barrow!)

What does "zawn" mean?
- a hood for a wood-fired kiln
- the adolescent form of any lizard in the family Orcumbries
- a mythological beast in early druidic texts pertaining to seasonal
- an even-sided diamond used in heraldry
- a fissure or cave in a coastal cliff
- a colloquial expression of disinterest
- an animal found in the south of Mexico that resembles a badger
- enthusiasm; joie de vivre: "The student was full of zest and zawn."
- a young Bactrian camel
- to fall off a high place

(Answer: A coastal cliff, as in "He cried 'zaaaaaaaaawn!' as he fell into the zawn.")

What does "gholam" mean?
- mounted Arab warriors
- a type of building popular in the Sassanid dynasty with passive air
- a zombie
- a sense of awe felt when beholding a mountain range
- a fugitive from a Soviet gulag
- a clearing in a forest with no vegetation growth
- a courier, messenger
- a ceremonial Tamil knife
- an obsidian gollum

(Answer: A courier, but it should be the building with passive air ventilation.)

What does "galactico" mean?
- the many-eyed monster of Greek mythology, beheaded by Chronos and
flung into the firmament
- a demon; cf. manichee
- the substance once presumed to fill the space between stars; ether
- a skilled and celebrated footballer, esp. one bought by a team for a
large fee
- a variety of tomato predominantly grown in the northern regions of
- an abhorrent structure formed during the development of neurological
tissues in mammalian vertebrates
- a form of adhesive made from the sap of a coniferous tree used by
the Metis
- an additive used to enhance the flavor of some milk products
- (1950) a music and fashion subculture that thrived in the
post-rockabilly era in the United States
- a star football player belonging to the Royal Madrid football club

(Answer: A skilled, expensive footballer. N.B. that one player remembered this during the round, hence the two football definitions offered.)

What does "soodle" mean?
- to trick or deceive
- a diminutive horse
- a traditional Norwegian breakfast
- a large burning mound used in the production of potash
- to walk in a slow or leisurely manner; to stroll, saunter
- a food product derived from animal fats, often used in flavoring
- to deceive, in the context of maritime trade or barter
- obsequious, especially in business dealings
- a traditional Norwegian buckwheat porridge
- a jaunty walk

(Answer: A slow walk. I like that a jaunty walk was also offered, hence "would you like to soodle or soodle this afternoon, dear?")

What is an "ozena"?
- the organelle in protozoans responsible for sensing the direction of
- an infection that causes irritation of the skin
- a Turkish pastry, made with pistachios and rose water
- a nose ulcer which results in a fetid discharge
- a sharpened disc used as a weapon by indigenous Amazonian warriors
- a medicinal balm used for treating burns and skin irritations
- a viral skin condition characterized by fissuring and cracking of
the skin
- a luxury fabric woven from silk and gold
- the conduits in mushroom gills down which spores travel
- a drinking cup; quaiche (from the Greek xenos, for foreigner);
- a coastal rock formation

(Answer: Rather unbelievably, it is a fetid nose ulcer! We've got a word for that in English! I challenge you to use this appropriately someday.)

What does "maninose" mean?
- a soft-shelled clam
- deriving from, or related to, the use of statuary in garden designs
- patient, willing to wait for opportunities
- a traditional Peruvian codpiece
- common byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, along with Xylitol,
Ribose, and Lactic Acid
- the original term for mayonnaise sauce
- a flammable oil made from fish products
- a trunk of a coppiced tree immediately after harvesting
- surly; cantankerous

(Answer: A soft-shelled clam. Nature makes it easy for once. I prefer to think of it as a Peruvian codpiece; if enough of us use the word this way, it should catch on!)

What does "mandram" mean?
- a sudden gust of wind on a clear day
- an early loom requiring external weights such as stones or lead
- a metal sheet used for ramming placed on the front of a trireme
- a cylindrical tool, typically maded of brass, used to stress leather
for curing
- a vote in Spanish parliament which passes with 2/3rds majority
- the neophyte dormitory in a Buddhist monastery
- a two-dimensional figure, typically drawn in colored sand, used in
16th century Tibetan meditation rituals
- a drink made from wine and chopped vegetables
- a root vegetable with pale tubers and elongated, pointed leaves
- dusty, dingy or poorly maintained, especially when referring to a
- a vessel for preparing large quantities of stew or soup

(Answer: a vegetable wine drink. It does seem like a vegetably word.)

And finally, what does "ballum rancum" mean?
- elaborate machinations in the pursuit of political power
- the foul odor associated with a rotting corpse
- treacle
- a textured skin rash resulting from excessive moisture trapped by
- a mucosal secretion of skin pustules, esp. from plague
- a collection of Irish street children
- the outermost cartilage structure in the human elbow
- an erotic dance (typically naked) by a number of prostitutes for a
group of clients
- the quarters in which gladiators would wait before entering the

(Answer: Yes, you thought it was a joke for joke votes, but it is a special vocabulary term for an erotic dance of n naked prostitutes to m clients.)

Fewer vs. less

A visual and narrative guide to the different use cases of the words "fewer" and "less" in English, complete with a moral for nitpicky speakers:
Go check out Wonderella, it's funny. (And the mouseover text provides a second punchline to many strips!)

This post's theme word is screed, "a long, monotonous harangue." Your grammar screed bores me. I wish there were less of it, and that you had fewer grammar scruples.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wherein 'gauche' and 'wink' are cognates

Gauche, from gauche (French), from gauchir (Middle French), from gaucher (Old French), from welkan (Frankish), from *wankjan (Proto-Germanic). Proto-Indo-European root *weng. A variant of *wankjan, of course, is *wenkanan (also Proto-Germanic), whence wink.

Compare wanken (Old High German) with vakka (Old Norse).

Thanks, J.!

This post's theme word is antanaclasis, "the repetition of a word in different senses." Having experienced this derivation, now I am interested in tracing the changing meaning of the word!

Wherein I learn to tie knots

This morning I learned to tie:
  • a figure 8 knot
  • a stronger figure 8 knot for fastening climbing harnesses
  • a bowline
  • a noose
The noose takes a lot of rope. The bowline is self-tightening and easy to undo (for those with fingers -- a good reason not to have monkeys on your ship!).

Thanks, R.!

This post's theme word is pectinated, "interwoven, as with fingers" (see Inky Fool). I pectinated those lines!

Birthday gifts!

I staged my birthday party as an exchange of sorts, wherein I lured people to my apartment with promises of cake. In return, I asked that each guest teach me something. The guests were creative and entertaining; many promised future lessons in X, since there was not enough time at the party for all the learning.

Here, then, is what my guests taught [promised to teach] me for my birthday:
  • how to belly dance
  • how to make ravioli
  • disappointment*
  • how to make Thai food (dish of my choice)
  • how to make metal plate armor (stop signs are apparently a good source of raw material)
  • how to break into a coke machine
  • how to make char cloth
  • that "gauche" and "wink" are cognates (and the derivations thereof)
  • how to make flammable gel from just 3 common kitchen products
  • how to tie knots or the true meaning of lust* (I chose knots!)
The starred items earned extra points for entertaining delivery. I'll write about each thing as I learn it, to keep you updated.

This post's theme word is bailiwick, "a person's area of expertise or interest." I look forward to learning about their bailiwicks.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Daaaaaaaark chocolate cake

I made myself a birthday cake. It was chocolate chocolate, with chocolate and chocolate-fudge frosting.
R. described the cake as "so dark that no light escapes it."

This post's theme word is nyctophobia, "abnormal fear of light or darkness." The cake was so seriously chocolaty that it invoked nyctophobia in most of the guests.

The sky is falling!

This morning at the gym, a lightbulb fell from the 2-story ceiling and smashed onto the floor. Shards of glass flew everywhere. Luckily none of the glass hit me, or my fellow Saturday morning fitness masochists. But it did shatter spectacularly, spreading fine shards throughout the area.

This was not a hallucination induced by anaerobic exercise or the resulting oxygen deprivation. Truly, the menacing specter of overhead lighting looms above us all.

This post's theme word is bagman, "one who collects or distributes money from illicit activities, for example, in a protection racket," or "a traveling salesman (UK)," or "a political fundraiser (Canada)," or "a caddie hired to carry a golf player's clubs (golf)," or "a tramp; swagman (Australia)." Golf is not a former member of the British Empire, but maybe it should be. We neglected to pay the bagman, so the lights came crashing down. The bagman extorted the bagman at a bagman while the hired bagmen protected the venue from bagmen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Oxford Comma

As of June, the Oxford writing and style guide no longer recommends the blanket usage of the Oxford comma*. I still enjoy and revel in the comma usage, whether in sentences, spoken language, or always coming up with a third thing in a list**.

The Oxford comma is not entirely obsolete. Here is a visual aid*** for situations when the Oxford comma is appropriate, even necessary, to convey the meaning of the sentence:*via MetaFilter
**joke citation: 30 Rock
***Language Log via FairerScience

This post's theme word is saccade, "a brief, rapid movement of the eye from one position of rest to another." That image induced saccades.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One night in Cabbagetown

We went to One night in Cabbagetown to explore the area and say goodbye to a visiting summer student. The event drew crowds to explore the local restaurants. Despite living in Toronto for ~4 years, I had never been to this part of town (most of my explorations are westwards).

We visited The Ben Wicks Restaurant & Pub (delicious sausage!), The House on Parliament (oysters!), Merryberry Café (sangria and meatballs), and Cranberries (plate of wings, which inevitably slipped onto my lap). After walking around and sampling these appetizers, we ate dinner at Margarita's Mexican Fiesta (tasty, filling, and accompanied by giant margaritas).

It was fun. It was a cute event. It was an interesting thing to do with office acquaintances. I'd go back to Merryberry Café again -- we only left quickly because of the small space and the hordes of other One night in Cabbagetown pedestrians waiting to enter.

This post's theme word is ophelimity, "the capacity to satisfy a need, desire, or want." The oyster's olphelimity lies mostly in the realm of the squeamish.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apartment dream

I dreamed last night that C. and I were two personalities in the same body, Tyler Durden-style, alternately waking while the other slept.

In another part of the dream, E. was renting a new apartment in [the place E. lives] for us to live in together. I gave A. my keys and moved out without packing up any of my plates or bowls or tools from the kitchen. My new apartment was on the second floor of a 3-story house; the landlord lived on the first and third floors. Typical dream logic.

I arrived and looked for my room. E. and K. were sleeping in the two big bedrooms. In an auxiliary room was M. (also sleeping), and then there was the kitchen. I was lost for where to put myself. The apartment had stairways -- it was just the second floor of a house, recall -- but we the tenants were supposed to just ignore the open stairways that led to the first and third floors. And the landlord had build like a stair/ladder to skip over the second floor in this epic stairwell. That we were just supposed to ignore, as if it were a wall and not a huge open stairwell leading into someone else's life.

I have no explanation or context for this dream. Whatever.

This post's theme word is corniche, "a coastal road, especially one cut into the side of a cliff." The stairwell was a surreal corniche of plywood and wrought iron.