Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm Avuncular!

avuncular: Having the qualities of an uncle — genial, generous, tolerant My best friend had her baby early this morning, five weeks early. At under five pounds, the new youngling is pretty tiny, but both people involved appear to be healthy. I'm excited about being an "uncle" again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

East Meets West? Chinese Rap Not Exactly Gangsta

I believe this is my first post that deals with a foreign language. I doubt that it'll be my last.
Victor Mair at Language Log has posted a video of a rap out of Beijing. His comments about it have to do with Chinese pronunciation. If you have some interest in Chinese, you might find all that interesting. Regardless, this is a neat song. Mair translates the lyrics of the song, but I suggest you listen first before you read. Although I admit that my exposure to rap in the US is extremely limited, but I don't think this is the kind of piece you'd hear around here today.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Adopting a Vocabulary

Over at, you can help return an archaic word to circulation. Many fun words are available for "adoption" — all you have to do is sign up, choose from many available words, and agree to use the word in your daily life as often as you can.

I adopted the word xenization, the fact of being a stranger, which describes me to a T when I step into an auto parts store. is apparently somehow affiliated with the OED, though I couldn't find a link to it at the OED site. What's worse, the site is in a temporary state of apanthropinization — withdrawal from the human world.

But when the site gets up and running, I encourage you to check it out, if only window shop through the words up for adoption. For a logophile, it can be a lot like watching the puppies in a pet store window, only you don't have to worry about doggie mills. If you're feeling super-loquacious, adopt a word. Adopt two. Hell, you could become the Angelina Jolie of archaic vocabulary!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Super-sexagenarian Americans

Jane Gross at the New York Times tells of a new style guide from the International Longevity Center and the Aging Services of California that is designed to guide people in the media through the maze of ageist language. Apparently, there are very few terms left to refer to someone who has exceeded six-and-a-half decades that aren't somehow inherently ageist. At least according to these people.

Even the seemingly neutral word elderly should "be used carefully and sparingly" and only to refer to a group of people — "corralling the elderly like lost sheep" — and not to a specific person — "the elderly woman who rear-ended me."

Also on the verboten list: senior citizen, the golden years, feisty, spry, and grandmotherly, along with the more obvious words that you would never use around an *old person who has no sense of humor about himself — codger, coot, crone, geezer, etc. One should also take care when referring to institutions that care for the elderly.

To quote from one of the comments to the article that I agree with, "Unlike some of the other [racist and sexist] terms, elderly offensiveness makes sense mostly in the context of a culture that is ashamed of accepting age." Calling someone "elderly" can be considered a derogatory term only in a society that thinks there's something bad about being old. Calling a woman a hottie in a news article is obviously derogatory because it objectifies her, making her a sexual object instead of an individual. Not so with elderly. Calling an old person elderly shouldn't be any more politically incorrect than calling a woman a female or black man black. Sure, it points out a specific characteristic of a person — but that is often necessary depending on what you're trying to say — but it does so in a neutral, sterile way.

I just don't get it. Shouldn't this just be a matter of common sense? Certainly there is ageism going on out there, but this style guide isn't designed to help curb that. Sure, watching your language when you write is important — you don't want to piss off your audience — but how do you get a whole book out of it without either a lot of blank space or a lot of bunkum? This should be a healthy-sized essay at most.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Today's Word: schadenfreude

schadenfreude: The joy felt by someone else's misfortune. It's a sad statement about human nature that this word exists outside of psychological circles, though it's perhaps fitting that the word is German. It's something we've all felt at one time or another. Remember how you felt when you saw a scraggly, dirty Saddam Hussein after his capture? How did you feel when you learned that he had been hanged? Anyway, to get the image of SH out of your head, here's a fun way to teach your kids about the joys and dangers of schadenfreude:
Image from the rut.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Today’s Word: felicide

felicide: The killing of a cat. It seems that every cartoon that has a cat in it has some felicidal antagonist to match. Think Tom and Jerry, Tweety and Sylvester, Itchy and Scratchy. Uh, Ren and Stimpy (one of them was a cat, right?) You might also consider most of the murders on CSI: Miami a form of felicide: One jilted swimsuit model murders her ex-boyfriend's new lingerie-model girlfriend and tries to frame her bisexual one-time-college-roommate debutante. Cat fights writ large.