Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Going Blank

In a commercial for the local news team, there was a clip of a young woman talking about the government bailout. The sound bite they used was, and this is a direct quote, "They aren't just going to give them a 700-billion-dollar blank check." Now I pose to you, if the check has been written for $700 billion, is it blank? It seems that the idea of a blank check has gone beyond its original meaning to indicate an amount of money that is given without specification of how or where that money is to be spent. Supposedly, it's a large sum of money, but "large" is of course relative. The strange part, as far as I'm concerned, is that the local TV station chose to include this specific sound bite in the commercial, which probably airs a couple dozen times a day.

Today's Word: epistolary

epistolary: At it's most basic, epistolary simply refers to letters (the kind you mail, not the kind play with in Scrabble). Epistolary novels are novels told indirectly through a series of exchanged letters. Some great epistolary novels include Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale (epistolary of sorts), Yevgeny Zamiatin's We, and Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea. Bram Stoker's Dracula has an epistolary element to it, though, besides letters, it also includes newspaper clippings, diary entries, and a ship's log. Epistles are letters, usually instructional in nature. The (capital-E) Epistles, then, are those books of the Bible that are actually letters. The New Testament is Epistle-heavy: It starts with the four Gospels, followed by Acts (which apparently doesn't get a scholarly epithet of its own). All the rest, from Romans to Revelation, are Epistles. I personally love epistolary novels — at least well-written ones. If you have another favorite epistolary novel to share, comments and quodlibets are welcome.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Victor Borge Meets Deflation

Roger Shuy over at Language Log brought up Victor Borge's "Inflationary Language" (here's the specific post), in which, so that language can keep up with inflation, you add 1 to every "number" you encounter in the language. Thus, wonderful becomes twoderful, lieutenant becomes lieuelevenant, and fornicate becomes fivenicnine. Victor Borge describes it best himself, and if I'm not stymied by technical issues, you should find a nice Victor Borge video from YouTube here: Roger Shuy pointed out that deflation, not inflation, is the word of the day. So his thought is that we should revisit Victor Borge's new "language" and, instead of adding 1, subtracting 1. It can be a fun little game: Last night I was out l'seven a-nine-ding a benefit three the Red Cross. The keynote speaker, Lieunineant John Smith of the Air Threece, spoke at length about the need three more people one don-seven blood one keep supplies filled. It was a zeroderful speech; he really had an inseven ability one innervseven the audience and received raucous applause from the ninederest souls one the most tight-fisted misers. Your own fun renderings will be apprecisevended.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Today's Christmas Word: circumforaneous

circumforaneous: Wandering from house to house. The winter equinox falls during a time in which children young and old celebrate the philanthropic exploits of one particular circumforaneous and rotund mythic figure.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Today's (New) Word: overshare

overshare: The name given to TMI — too much information. As a noun, it refers to content on the plethora of overly personal blogs and social networking sites that share personal information of interest only to the person posting, as well as to other inadvertently or intentionally revealed online and offline personal information that nobody really wants to know. Overshare is also a verb describing the act of TMI-transmission.

Overshare might lead to readers/listeners exclaiming such phrases as, "Stop whining and buy some toilet paper!," "Nobody wants to hear about your penis!", and "They really let you take it home with you after the surgery?!" Honestly — unless you're a doctor or speaking to one, there's really no reason to bring up the details of any -ectomies, -otomies, or excretions.

Overshare was chosen as Webster's New World Dictionary's word of the year. Click the preceding link to see the blog where people were asked to vote for WOTY among five candidates: leisure sickness, cyberchondriac, selective ignorance, youthanasia, and of course overshare. You'll also find a nice little video about how and why overshare was chosen.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Great Gatsby

I just finished reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I didn't think I would like this book so much, or that it would affect me as it has. It's such a wonderful, romantic, tragic story. And even though the world of Jay, Nick, Daisy, et al. is so far away from mine, the characters are not. At some point, I think, everyone has been each of these characters, from Gatsby, with his impossible fantasy of a future; to Daisy, torn between two choices, neither of which is Wrong or Right; to Nick, who sees a train wreck coming but seemingly can't do anything to stop it.

This really is a wonderful book. I also think this would be a great novel to read aloud to people — maybe a high school English class. Fitzgerald has n ow been added to my list of authors whose prose is simply poetry. I found this excerpt on p. 133; it was so outstanding that I had to read it twice, just to savor the language:

The track curved and now it was going away from the sun which, as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.

The women that we fall in love with from afar can rarely measure up to the goddesses we've imagined them to be.

Or this, from p.60:

Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety [sic] and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.

I know I've felt just like that before, most every weekend in college. That feeling of absorbing and enjoying the gaiety of partygoers, the intimacy of a young couple walking hand-in-hand to destinations unknown, the warmth of friends' smiles around a restaurant table, even while you journey alone to nowhere in particular, your heart sinking, still cold yet surrounded by the vicarious joy of strangers, and wishing they weren't strangers at all. (sigh) I spent too many of those nights wishing, wandering, looking for something, anything, that could let that joy into my heart.

But I digress. The long and short of it is that I enjoyed The Great Gatsby a thousandfold more than I expected I would. It's simply a good story well-written. I may just have to read it again sometime.

Friday, November 21, 2008

That Poor Baby from the American Jungle

Why do they do this?!

Ashlee Simpson gave birth to a son recently. They named it

Bronx Mowgli Wentz

I don't know why people want to saddle their children with oddball names like this. Do they think it's cute?

The Bronx, of course, is a part of New York City that is famous for its accent, its cheer, and its Son of Sam murders. Mowgli is the main human character in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. This kid is destined for an identity crisis.

Throw Mowgli and the Bronx together, and what do you get? Apparently they thought that "Tarzan Wentz" and "Crocodile Dundee Wentz" were just too weird. Plus, they wouldn't give the added "bonus" of having the initials BMW.

Makes you wonder what they would have named a girl, though. Yonkers Offred Wentz, perhaps?

Today's Word: juvenescent

juvenescent: becoming younger; growing more youthful. Or, as the noun juvenescence, the act of growing younger. I recently turned 34, but I wish I had turned 40; because of pop-culture juvenescence, I would have been 4 years younger. See my birthday post for more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Today's Word: meh

meh: An expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Meh recently made it into a British dictionary — you can read the story here.

Bob: "You wanna go out tonight?"
Jill: "Meh."
Bob: "How about we stay in and order a pizza?"
Jill: "Meh."
Bob: "How about we drop our pants and run around the house singing songs from Wicked?"
Jill: "Hey, let's go out to eat!"

or

"On a scale of ugh! to oooooh!, wedding receptions are meh."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today's Word: atrabilious

atrabilious: sad, melancholy, morose. (Also atrabiliar.) There are plenty of words, both great and impotent, for a negative emotional state. This one jumps out at me because a) I've never heard or seen it used, b) it derives from Latin and ultimately means "black bile," and c) I'm feeling particularly atrabilious today. Keen yet depressed word lovers will know that melancholy also means "black bile," but it stems from Greek, not Latin. According to my dictionary, atrabilious appeared after melancholy. I'm sure there's a great story there, but I don't have the time or inclination to hunt it down.

But what's all this about bile? In medieval times, people thought that the body was composed of four humors: black bile (melancholy), yellow bile (choler), phlegm, and blood. Diseases and disorders were caused when the four humors were not in balance.

  • Too much black bile made you melancholic — you had a thoughtful temperament, but you likely were preoccupied with tragedy and cruelty and were therefore depressed.
  • An abundance of yellow bile (choler) made you choleric — ambitious, energetic, but also easily angered.
  • A wealth of phlegm made you phlegmatic — unemotional, apathetic, or dull or calm, cool, and controlled.
  • Having a lot of blood made you sanguine — cheerful, confident, and healthy, good things to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Word of the Day: auto-da-fé

auto-da-fé: The burning of a heretic under the Inquisition. The plural is autos-da-fé. Thankfully, this is a historic term that is only used metaphorically today — perhaps to describe the roasting of (heretical?) cattle (in the form of steak) at a backyard barbecue. Joan of Arc is perhaps the most well-known historical figure to undergo the auto-da-fé, but according to historian Henry Charles Lea, between 1540 and 1794, the Spanish Inquisition burned at least 1,175 people at the stake.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quote of the Day: John Hay

"Who would succeed in the world should be wise in the use of his pronouns.
Utter the You twenty times, where you once utter the I."

This reminds me of so many political campaign speeches and commericials. Nice to know (or is it?) that the idea isn't so new.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Today's Prefix: circum-

circum-: A nice little prefix that means "around, about, surrounding." Notice its similarity to the word circle. This prefix gives us a number of polysyllabic gems, such as circumnavigate (to sail or fly around something), circumscribe (to draw a line around something, or, more figuratively, to set something's boundaries), circumfluent or circumfluous (to flow around, surround, or encompass something), circumambulate (to walk around something), and even circumcise (which at its base means to cut around something).

Then there's circumlocution. Locution has to do with speaking, and the style one uses when speaking. Circumlocution, then, is all about talking around something: a roundabout way of expressing something. We hear a lot of circumlocution from both sides in the presidential debates. I would wager that nearly every "answer" that a candidate gives is circumlocutory, ultimately expressing some idea that has little to do with the moderator's original question. A candidate is given a question about, say, foreign policy, and he (or she) begins to talk about his (or her) foreign policy ideas and experience, but through some amazing (and some not-so-amazing) circumlocution ends up making a statement about a completely different subject, say, offshore drilling.

Keep your ears open for circumlocution at the next debate. Politicians seem to have a knack for it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just in Time for My Birthday?

It's a sign of how busy I've been recently that I completely missed the release of the newest novel by my favorite living author, Neal Stephenson. His newest book, Anathem, was released sometime last month. As far as I know, I've read everything he's written (including In the Beginning . . . Was the Command Line) except the two novels he co-wrote with J. Frederick George, Cobweb and Interface (although I own them both). I've been waiting ever since I finished System of the World, and even contemplating re-reading Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, but somehow, his newest release slipped under my radar. Unfathomable! This would never have happened with Kurt Vonnegut!

My birthday is about a month away. With copy editing and a Halloween concert and work picking up and everything else, I know I won't find as much time to read as I'd like in the next month (and I ought to finish my current book before I start a new one), so this is probably the perfect birthday present for me.

Well, that and a wireless router. (As opposed to a cordless router. I might have a difficult time trying to wire my laptop into a Black & Decker power tool. But if I could, think of the havoc I could wreak!)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Today's Word: proprioception

proprioception: The normal physiological sense of your posture and the location of your limbs based on your sense of touch, space, etc. Proprioception is the reason you can close your eyes and touch your nose without poking yourself in the eye, walk down a stairway without staring at your feet, or eat soup without ending up with a face-full of hot chicken and noodles.

(With gratitude to the Dinosaur Comics.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Today's Word: macaronic

macaronic: Characterized by a mix of vernacular and Latin words or of vernacular words with Latin endings, or simply characterized by a mix of two languages. I imagine that pidgins are macaronic , at least when they first begin to form. Without having delved into the intricacies of the meaning of this word, I would imagine that creoles, and especially the Creole of Louisiana with its mix of English and French, could be described as macaronic.

This word has metaphorical possibilities outside of language, if only people knew it existed. Considering the Democrat/Republican partisanship in congress, one might say that the bills coming from Congress are sometimes ironic, sometimes moronic, but always macaronic.

The Language Log Blogroll: An Honor

I just discovered this afternoon that Logophilius now appears in the blogroll at Language Log. I do indeed feel honored. And worried. I feel like I now need to post more often. Because, as we hear in every superhero movie these days, "With [a] great [blog] comes great responsibility."

Friday, September 19, 2008

It Be That Day Again

Shiver me timbers! It be talk like a pirate day again! ARRRR! Methinks many a scurvy scallywag ha' forgot this blesséd day and gone about ye merry way parleyin' in the King's English. ARRRR!

Avast, ter celebrate the occasion, methinks I'll make the salmon walk the cedar plank! Tonight, I eat with the fishes!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review-ish: Kate Chopin's The Awakening

I finally finished reading Kate Chopin's The Awakening last night. It wasn't that it was a difficult read, just that it didn't give me much of a sense of anticipation. I didn't put it down reluctantly, and when I put it down, I wasn't anxious to pick it back up to see what happens next. I mostly just read it in restaurants, over a solitary dinner.

But I finished it. I think this does have a decently high reading level — I'd think a HS senior honors class or above. I'd certainly feel sorry for any high school freshmen (especially the boys) who had this thrust upon 'em. The language is just too different from what we're used to. And since most of the novel takes place in New Orleans, there are a lot of French words thrown in there sideways. I guess it makes the main character look more like she is a bonafide member of the upper class. It's also hard to keep track of all of the minor characters who pop in and out of the life of the main character, Edna Pontellier — the Lebruns, the Ratignolles, Madame Weisz, Victor, Arobin — and their relationships with and to each other.

My major criticism, though, is that the symbolism is too obvious. For instance, I rolled my eyes a little at the appearance of the bird with a broken wing on the beach in the last chapter. And Edna's nakedness in that same chapter. It was a little too thick with symbolism.

Still, this would be a great book for a class on feminist literature, or feminism in literature. It's definitely a "woman's book," but beyond that, Chopin's message about the role of women and of wives, and the history of the book's public reception, reveals an important message that came way before its time.

But now my quest to read all the "classics" for which there are CliffsNotes can continue. I think I'll go for a little more action this time, though. Maybe Treasure Island or Gulliver's Travels?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Watery Names and Baby Beatles

My younger child entered kindergarten this fall. This morning, as I was dropping him off at his classroom, I heard one of the other teachers call to a student apparently named Dasani. I don't know if that is how it is spelled, but that's how I heard it.

I reconnected with an old friend from high school via Facebook this morning and found out that her two daughters are named Penny Lane and Lucy Sky. Those names aren't too horrible, considering they could have gone with Eleanor Rigby and Abbey Road. And they're still nicer than some of those horrible baby names that come out of Hollywood. Poor Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf Lee is probably counting down the days to his 18th birthday so he can legally change his name to "John Smith."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today's Word: traducianism

traducianism: The theological doctrine that a child's soul is generated from his or her parents. No witty remarks about this today, unfortunately. My best friend Jean is pregnant with her first, so this may come up in conversation over sushi (she sticks to the cooked sushi rolls just to be on the safe side).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Make Use of the Red Pen

We all have our pet peeves — in life, at work, and in language. Reading certain phrases just makes me want to shout expletives and flip off my computer screen. "Make use of" (hereafter MUO, so I don't have to keep reading it) is one of those phrases. Rrrrgh! I just HATE it. Why MUO something when you can just use it instead?

To my mind, MUO often leaves some ambiguity about exactly how you're supposed to use something. If you're shooting for ambiguity, then this usage is okay (though it can still rub me the wrong way). "If your husband talks in his sleep, make use of available pharmaceuticals." This sentence doesn't state which of the two, the husband or the wife, should take the "pharmaceuticals," or exactly what should be ingested — Valium for the wife? Cyanide pills for the husband? But then again, "use available pharmaceuticals" is nearly as ambiguous.

But that isn't usually how I find it. "MUO your office's recycling bins." is more like it. Luckily, as an editor, I can wield my mighty (virtual) red pen to obliterate two-thirds of that hated phrase.

(To be clear: There's nothing grammatically wrong with MUO. It's a matter of style. I imagine this is one of the phrases William Strunk had in mind when he warned against using passive voice in The Elements of Style.)

Corrected 9/4/08. I don't know what I was thinking. This isn't in the passive voice. Writing this in the passive voice would be much more horrible to my internal ear. Thanks, Bryn.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Today's Word: zugzwang

zugzwang: In chess, the point at which any move a player makes will damage his position is said to be "in zugzwang." It seems like this term ought to be used more often in international relations and government, though I doubt that even the best translators could come up with an Arabic translation on the fly. But you never know.

On Proper Pronunciation

After a garage sale that met with mediocre success a few weeks ago, I discovered a book that I had inherited (pre-mortem) from my now-ex-father-in-law . . . my father-out-law. It's called 20,000 Words Often Mispronounced," by WHP Phyfe, originally published in 1889, this one with a copyright date of 1937. As with many 19th-century books, this one has a verbose subtitle: "A Complete Handbook of Difficulties in English Pronunciation, Including an Unusually Large Number of Proper Names, Words and Phrases from Foreign Languages."

I'm sure Lynne Truss would be quick to point out that the inclusion of a comma after Words in the subtitle would make the meaning clearer. I, however, just wonder at what point the author's large list became "unusually large."

We read from the Preface to the New Edition that "there are a few changes from the former edition of '18,000 Words Often Mispronounce.'" (A few? I'm guessing there were at least 2,000 changes.) To continue:

These changes are prompted by the fact that the New Webster and the latest Standard dictionaries, in keeping with the pace of the constantly changing spoken tongue, have not only noted but have accepted and authorized recent popular variations in pronunciation; these variations have been added to and in many cases substituted for the old ones.

At least the compilers of this edition (Fred A. Sweet and Maud D. Williams) recognized that language changes, and accepted that fact. But they do seem to rely on that Dictionary = Language Bible mentality, as revealed by their choice of "authorization" of a variation.

The text proper begins with an explanation of the symbols and diacritics used to indicate pronunciations, divided into sections:

  1. The Forty-Two Native or Common Elementary Sounds
  2. The Eight Adopted or Naturalized Elementary Sounds
  3. Compound or Diphthongal Sound

The symbology is pretty extensive, though probably no big deal for someone who has given any study to linguistics (which doesn't describe me). For example, on p. 258, we find the entry for diphthong:

dĭf'thŏng. Worcester and Stormonth say dĭp'thŏng. The Century gives it as an alternative pronunciation. See triphthong.

I don't want to go into a lot of specifics about pronunciations and what words are found in here (though I was surprised to see both Brobdingnagian and Houyhnhnm). What strikes me is the sheer gall and ego of an author to state that this is the proper pronunciation of a word. Alternative pronunciations are occasionally noted, but more often, the commonest mispronunciations are put down. To wit:

data. dā'tå, not'

That is, Star Trek NG had it right with Commander Data. The ä, in the pronunciation guide, is given as "the a in arm," which seems strange. The "a in at" is notated as ă, so I would expect "dă'tå" to appear as a pronunciation, either good or bad. But nope.

Has pronunciation changed that much?

There are plenty of surnames thrown in there, like Sousa (sōō'zå, not sōō'så) and Zaleszcyki (zä-lĕsh-chē'kĭ), as well as some words I've never heard before. I wonder how common words like notochord (nō'tō-kôrd) and enfilade (ĕn-fĭl-ād') were in the mid-to-late 19th century.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If It Looks Like a Word, Smells Like a Word, and Quacks Like a Word...


Lexicographer (lexicographress? lexicographatrix?) Erin McKean has published an interesting article in The Boston Globe about what it really means to "be a word." Too often, people lump spelling, slang, and voice in with "grammar"; if they find a wordish collection of letters, a new slang term, or an odd voice that they don't like or understand, they denounce it as being ungrammatical, which is just plain wrong.

The world of words is much more wide open than grammar is. People rarely coin new punctuation (please don't send me your arguments for smileys as punctuation), or create a new part of speech (this sentence has a noun, a verb, and a predicate crickle), or cook up a new verb tense* (at least not successfully), but people create, rework, and repurpose new words all the time. That's one of the joys and beauties of the English language. 

Words are the paint; grammar is just the canvas. (And semicolons are the colors that you can never seem to mix right.)

So my thanks and congratulations to Erin McKean for her article. I hope she was paid well.

* Sometimes we could use a new verb tense, though. When the time machine is finally invented, we'll need a new tense for an action that was performed in a person's past but that doesn't actually occur until the future. I'm gonna go home and watch Back to the Future now. Great flick.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What do you call a group of editors?

Or, more specifically, a group of copy editors.

I asked this question at work and got the following possibilities:

  • A stet of editors. (Okay, but it could also apply to a group of proofreaders.)
  • A caret of editors.
  • A query of copy editors. (I like this one best.)

Any more ideas?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What Does This Mean


Seen on a window sign at Taco Bell, in the small print at the bottom: "Made with natural fruit flavors." 

I would understand what "Made with natural fruit" means -- that there is real fruit in it. And perhaps that it was grown "naturally," and not, I don't know, cloned, or injected with a lot of growth hormones, or hatched from an eggplant. But the next sentence fragment on the sign reads, "Contains no fruit juice." So, unless it's made with dehydrated fruit, that's a no go.


Perhaps they're just trying to say that it tastes like real, natural fruit, and not like, oh, strawbananicot, or frankenberry, or dingleberry marmalade. But they don't say that it tastes like fruit. Only that it's made to taste like fruit. It may taste like rat piss, but they started with natural fruit flavors.


So what does "Made with natural fruit flavors" really mean? I guess what they're really trying to say is this: "Our fruit-flavored drink is fruit-flavored." 

A waste of ink, really.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Today's Word: lore

Just when you think you know what a word means . . .

lore: The space between a bird's eye and the upper edge of its bill or beak or between a fish's or snake's eye and its nostril.

I don't know why this particular area of an animal's face would need its own name, but there it is. It appears to have a completely different etymology than the other lore, knowledge of a particular, traditional area. It does make me wonder, though, if the famous loren ipsum actually has something to do the a deviated septum.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Today’s Word: quisquous

quisquous: Baffling or perplexing. To some the word might be self-referential. Think of the Scrabble points you could earn if you built this off of quo, is, or us (using, of course, a wildcard tile).

Overheard at a new Middle Eastern–Inuit fusion restaurant: "My, what quisquous couscous!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Althoughing Away the Hours

I warn you now that I am joining somewhat the ranks of peevologists the world over (at least English-speakers the world over) with this post. I won't go so far as to say, as many peevologists have, that English is going to hell in any sort of basket, nor even to claim authority over the topic I'm writing about. But I have done and will continue to do a lot of editing of various types, and this little "problem" jumps out all the time. The problem is with the words although and while. Although while has many very specific uses that although couldn't be used in ("You hold the nail although while I hit it with this hammer."), I often see while where, at least in my experience, although is called for . . . especially at the beginning of a sentence. My rule is this: While indicates simultaneity — two or more things happening at once. ("While Jack drew everyone's attention, Jill pilfered customers' jacket pockets.") Although indicates a contrast of some sort. ("Although Bjorn hated the thought of young animals being slaughtered, the veal was too juicy and scrumptious to pass up.") Consider the subtle difference between these two sentences:
  • While Jon shot the video, Jamie took credit for it.
  • Although Jon shot the video, Jamie took credit for it.
Do you see the difference? In the first one, Jamie was taking credit for the video at the same time that Jon was shooting it, but the second sentence doesn't imply any sort of timeframe: Jon could have shot the video 30 years ago, and then Jamie discovered it and claimed to have shot it himself. Yes, it seems like a small point, but I see this all the time in sentences like this: "While Although these profiles will always be non-increasing functions of scale, they may vary in their slopes and shapes." And while although I won't go so far as to say this is wrong wrong wrong!, you can bet that, if I'm editing your work, I'll make the change every time. ---------- This post was brought to you by the letter J and by the number 30.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Today's Word: zombify, zombification

zombify: To turn something into a zombie. Zombification is therefore the process of zombifying. I chose this word today because it so aptly describes how I feel. Outside, the gray, drizzly weather dampens streets, trees, and moods. For some reason, I haven't been sleeping well, so I am more tired than usual. And it's a Friday, right after lunch. I drift through the afternoon, trying to stay awake and to get work done, and occasionally I find myself blankly staring at the computer screen as if I have been zombified. If "real" zombies are "undead" or "the walking dead," I guess that makes me the "unslept" or the "walking sleeper." Zombify is also one of those words of note that separates dictionaries. Zombify appears in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 14th Edition, but not in the Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Today's Word: Guttle

guttle: to eat gluttonously; to gorge oneself. "Although the pizza was meant to be shared among all four of the group, Ringo guttled the entire thing on the way back from the pizza shop."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Today's Word: lupine

lupine: Having the characteristics of a wolf.

Lupine can have very different connotations depending on how it's used. A lithe and lupine woman could be quite appealing to a single guy like me, but you don't want to have to face off against a lupine lawyer unless you have your own facinorous (exceeding wicked) lawyer to back you up.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Book Review: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Trans.: Natasha Randall

Written in the 1920s in Soviet Russia, We set the bar for dystopian fiction. You don't have to read far to see the influence it had on Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, and even Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's well worth reading, not only because of its literary historical significance as the progenitor of the modern dystopian novel, but also because it's a damn good story.

We is an epistolary of sorts, though the chapters aren't exactly letters but journal entries destined to be transported to other planets and read by other people. The protagonist, D-503, is a male mathematician who is in charge of building a spaceship called the Integral. The purpose of the spaceship is to seek out life on other planets, and to spread the happiness endowed by the One State to those planets . . . by force if necessary.

In the world of We, centuries from today, all aspects of life are controlled by the totalitarian One State, which is led by the Benefactor. Citizens have given up all forms of privacy and individuality and are regulated by the time tables. All people awake at a set time, go to work at a set time, and eat at a set time. In the lunchroom, they each chew every bite of food exactly 50 times, in time with everyone else in the room. As D-503 explains, this surrender of freedom has led to universal happiness by eliminating all difficult choices, all disagreements, and all struggles for self-improvement.

But then D-503 meets I-330, and his world is turned on its head. He finds in her a woman who defies the One State by indulging in the vices of drinking, smoking, and screwing. As disgusted as he is by her actions, D-503 is compelled to seek her out by some unknown force within him. He then discovers that she is not alone, that a revolution is brewing to take down the totalitarian One State. Their first step: to steal the Integral, for which D-503 has expended so much time, thought, and energy. He is then faced with an ethical dilemma — the first in his life. During this dilemma, he is diagnosed with a disorder called imagination, which may lead to something even worse: a soul. As the moment of revolution nears, the One State announces that it has found a way to surgically remove the imagination and orders all citizens to immediately submit to the surgery.

What will D-503 choose: freedom and uncertainty or regimented happiness? Zamyatin's ending is bleak, to say the least, but then, the future was bleak for artists and writers in Lenin's USSR during the 1920s, when the story was written. As they say, art imitates life.