Friday, April 30, 2010

edutainment, edutainer

edutainment = education + entertainment
edutainer = educator + entertainer

Edutainment may just be the polar opposite of the infomercial. Instead of trying to sell me something (which I hate) under the guise of giving me information (which I'm okay with), edutainment focuses on giving information (which I'm okay with) under the guise of having fun (which everybody loves). Where infomercials disguise a bad thing with a good one, edutainment disguises a good thing with a better one.

Edutainer isn't used quite as often, but I stumbled on it today in a story about Texas blockheads:
Bill Nye, the harmless children’s edu-tainer known as “The Science Guy,” managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


nontroversy (or non-troversy) = non + controversy

Nontroversy is one of those perfect portmanteaus because it is only one letter off from the word it mimics. A nontroversy is a news story that is raised as being controversial, though it really isn't. A nontroversy is, by definition, nontroversial.

As Mark Peters puts it on his Wordtastic blog, nontroversy is "A useful word for the proliferation of useless stories."

An example, from Twitter's @cynicaldragon:

nothing liked a whipped up non-troversy to get the twitterati chattering #bigotgate

You can find a more evidence of nontroversy in the wild over at Word Spy.

Monday, April 26, 2010


frankenword = Frankenstein + word

Like Frankenstein's monster, frankenwords are "unnatural" creations formed by sewing together bits and pieces of other, separate things -- words in one case, body parts in another.

Frankenword is nearly synonymous with portmanteau. Frankenword, however, goes a little beyond squishing two words together and encompasses the mixing of roots and affixes that aren't necessarily recognizeable as separate words. For example, tacking a Greek suffix (like -ize) onto the end of a Latin root word (like public) to create a word in English (publicize) that doesn't seem to have an etymological home.

But your average portmanteau is also considered a frankenword.

Jan Freeman wrote about frankenwords in more depth (and with more beauty) in the Boston Globe on Sunday, starting with various -athons (e.g., walkathons) and moving on to electrocute, automobile, various -aholics, and others. It's certainly worth a read.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Are Today's Mathematicians as Eloquent as Einstein?

Good words for artists and writers — for everyone, really — from Albert Einstein:

The efforts of most human-beings are consumed in the struggle for their daily bread, but most of those who are, either through fortune or some special gift, relieved of this struggle are largely absorbed in further improving their worldly lot. Beneath the effort directed toward the accumulation of worldly goods lies all too frequently the illusion that this is the most substantial and desirable end to be achieved; but there is, fortunately, a minority composed of those who recognize early in their lives that the most beautiful and satisfying experiences open to humankind are not derived from the outside, but are bound up with the development of the individual's own feeling, thinking and acting. The genuine artists, investigators and thinkers have always been persons of this kind. However inconspicuously the life of these individuals runs its course, none the less the fruits of their endeavors are the most valuable contributions which one generation can make to its successors."

From a letter to the editor of The New York Times following the unexpected death of mathematician and Bryn Mawr professor Amelia "Emmy" Noether.

Apart from the quips that have been plastered on posters and plagiarized on posts, I haven't read a lot of what Albert Einstein has written, mathematical or otherwise. I should correct that. As you can see from the quotation above, if Einstein had decided to give up mathematics, he could still have had a great career as a presidential speechwriter.

No wonder people wanted him to be Israel's first leader.

Today's Words: credulous, credible, incredulous, incredible

First, some quick definitions:
  • credulous: (adj.) Tending to believe something too quickly, with little or no proof. Also comes in noun form (credulity, credulousness) and adverb form (credulously).
  • credible: Believable, and generally considered reliable.
  • incredulous: Unwilling or unable to believe.
  • incredible: Unbelievable or too improbably to be believed, though when most people use the word, they're rarely indicating that they actually do not believe. More often than not, incredible is used as a synonym for outstanding or surprisingly good instead of not possible.
These four words can be easily misused, one for another. Try to remember that, of these four, credulous has the worst connotation.

Think of the old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." This means that you should be incredulous about something that is incredible (in its basic sense) because it doesn't come from a credible source.

The word credulous comes up often when talking about blog posts and news reports (too often, it seems, when talking about science reporting at the BBC). Reporters who are too credulous take something they hear and then report it as news without taking the time to check the facts, so you can't really trust their reporting. So remember: If a reporter is too credulous (think cred-u-LESS), then you can rely on his reporting LESS.

On the other hand, if a report comes from a credible source, it's something you can swallow — metaphorically — which makes it edible — also metaphorically.

So, if a reporter is credible, his news is edible. If he's credulous, trust him less.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


innovention = innovation + invention

A totally redundant word brought to you by the good people of 30Rock. Keep 'em coming, NBC!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Frappuccino = frappe + cappuccino

If you don't know what a Frappuccino is, you're missing out. A Frappuccino is Starbuck's deeeeeelicious blend of a little coffee, a lot of milk, a little flavoring, and a lot of ice, all blended together in a yummy caffeinated cool-down drink.

No. I'm not on Starbuck's payroll; I do really love Frappuccinos. But, you know, if someone wants to throw some advertising bucks my way, I wouldn't complain. Or just a free Frappuccino. I'm such a whore.

I used to make my own version of the Frappuccino at home. I had it down pretty well, too. I called it the "Andyccino."

Monday, April 19, 2010


graffitree = graffiti + tree

A tree in which some ragamuffin or lovelorn adolescent has carved something worth immortalizing on a piece of nature. Flickr holds a large collection of photographs of graffitrees, profound and profane.

Graffitree is also a Clothing Company in India.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cleaning Out the Phone Pix

One of the "great" things about modern cell phones is that they also have built-in cameras, which means I'm always prepared to take a crappy picture.

But now I'm cleaning out my picture files, and I thought I'd share some with you. they're not all word-related, but most of them are, especially if you stick to twisted logic.

This is from last summer. It's an interesting juxtaposition of signs at the gas station:
Read together, it says, "Free Kids Sticker Activity Set or Meth." Which would you take?

While we're at the gas station, here are a couple instances of the seemingly ever-present unnecessary quotation marks:

The gas station now takes "debit" cards, nudgenudge winkwink.

It might be difficult to see, but the shell no the back of the black pickup advertises "quality" and "service," as opposed to quality and service. (That little red number next to it is mine. It's a Jeep Patriot. I chose it so people would know I'm patriotic.)

Continuing with punctuation and other symbols, how much does it cost to play this claw game?

If the sign is to be believed, it costs $.50¢. (This sign also shows one of my irrational pet peeves. Although it has been around for centuries, I just don't like how the un in until turned into another l and moved to the back of the word to become till. I have no problem with 'til, but till always makes me think of gardening. Like I said — irrational.)

Another sign that doesn't say what it means. Well, maybe this one does, but I just don't speak icon.

This is a little scary because I think these are the emergency exit instructions for this bus. I my 20-minute bus ride worrying about being in a horrible accident. If that bus rolled over, I could have died trying to tease out how to get out that window.

To the left, you'll see that there is no upside-down smoking allowed on the bus.

This next shot is of a bulletin board at my son's elementary school. It is apparently some sort of vocabulary-focused display.

I'm not sure what about this always makes me grin. Maybe it's the comparison of Ben Stein with Marvin the depressed robot, or maybe it's the idea that Ben Stein seems to be universally known for his lack of speaking range. Or that some teacher expects his 2010 elementary school kids to have seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Speaking of classic movies, someone really Office Spaced this printer. I found these remains in a nearby public park:

To the Parks and Rec people, IT WASN'T ME!

And finally, while we're on the subject of sullying up public parks, here's a cute little graffitree that immortalizes two letters' loving relationship with two other letters in a State Park:

Defacing public property doesn't get any sweeter than this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


automagically = automatic(ally) + magically

automagically: How something works when you don't know how it works, or when you don't want to have to explain every minute detail. Automagically is very useful when you're trying to explain software or the Internet or Twitter to someone who is totally ignorant about technology.

"Enter up to 140 characters, press Enter, and whatever you typed is automagically viewable by everyone in the world who wants to look at it. And, honestly, thousands of people really want to know when you're changing your adult diaper."


leprosarium: A hospital or colony specifically for the treatment of lepers. Also known as a lazar house, after Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers. In many places, lepers were consigned to almost absolute quarantine, and if they ventured out into other areas were forced to wear noise-making apparatus to warn people of their coming.

In the early 1980s, an effective treatment for leprosy was discovered, and it was also discovered that leprosy isn't very communicable. About 95% of the population is naturally immune to it, according to American Leprosy Missions.

Perhaps the most famous leprosarium was that of Father Damien on the Hawai'ian island of Moloka'i. You can find out more than you'd ever want to know about him from EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network.

Hopefully, a century or so from now, people will talk about leprosy and leprosariums they way they talk about the Whig party now, as something from the past that is never likely to return.

Friday, April 9, 2010


bromance = brother + romance

Depending on where I've heard the word, bromance has been used to indicate both a homosexual and a heterosexual relationship between two men. Either way, this is a word that can disappear for good as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Many US Dollars in a US Euro?

I found the following in one of the e-mail inboxes at work:
We wish to congratulate you over your email success in our 2010 Spainish Postcode Lotto E-mail program.

(i) Amount Won: 900,000 {Nine Hundred Thousand United State Euros Only
(ii) Ticket Number: (ES42071-002)
(iii) Batch Number EU-175508)
(iv) Reference Number ES07-84-09-00-221)

Contact the claim officer with your winning references for more informations and claim including Your Full Name,Address,Telephone,Fax,age and occupation.
[More contact information followed]
Now, I knew that spammers could get pretty lazy, but come on! How dim-witted and gullible would you have to be to be taken in by this?!

I like the idea of a "Spainish Postcode Lotto E-mail program," though. Spainish, of course, is like Spain but not actually Spain. It's Spain-ish. Like (to too many Americans) Mexico, Portugal, or the Phillipines.

And I may start asking for informations, the obvious plural of information, in the days ahead. I suppose that if I just sent them my first name, that would qualify as giving an information? But by giving them all that they ask, I'm giving them some informations? You gotta love the laziness here.

But of course, the big tip-off is that I apparently won 900,000 United State Euros, which is a lot more than the 900,000 Canadian Pesos that those spammers in "Nova Scochia" are promising.

Awesome Visitor Stats! (not)

Now these are the type of Google Analytics visitor stats I like to see:

Site visits are up* 1,760% since last month! Woo-hoo!

*Okay, not really. The blog's been up for exactly a month now; this is the first time Google Analytics has shown anything but N/A in that "Visits" column. See that 93? That's the total number of site visitors in the last month (some of which were me). Still, you gotta like seeing that big number there, though I'll probably never see a number like that again. And I can live with that bounce rate of 52.69%.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


hatriots = hate + patriots, in this case, hate-mongering + patriots

Take a quick jump over to Schott's Vocab Blog at the New York Times Web site. Hatriots refers to the militant right who try to incite others to rebel against everything Obaman. They see themselves as patriotic, preparing for another American Revolution (probably of the violent kind). Some of these groups (like the Hutaree) are borderline American terrorists.

The hatriots are proof that guns, ignorance, and rampant nationalism are a dangerous mixture.

The link above doesn't show the birth of this word. It goes back to before the 2008 election, even. More often than not, though, it referred to the New England Patriots back then. If only we could have left that all on the field.

Monday, April 5, 2010


permalink = permanent + link

This one seems kind of odd to me, because it isn't really its permanence that sets it apart, but its individuality, uniqueness. A permalink, if you don't know, is a link to a specific blog post (like this one), as opposed to the main blog "front page" that lists all the recent posts.

felo de se

felo de se: An old Latin legal term, literally translated as "felon of himself," meaning suicide. In old England, it specifically referred to suicide by a sane person, which carried with it harsher penalties than the suicide of someone who was insane.

How do you penalize a dead person? At one time, if your death was ruled a felo de se, all the properties you left behind would be forfeit to the king, and your body would suffer "a barbarous burial," according to one legal site.

This was a new one for me when I came across it on p. XVI in the Prologue to Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything:

And in central London, a needle- woman and a dispatch clerk--neither a trade that would be formally recognized today--were found dead in Hyde Park, with neck wounds suggesting that at least one of the pair had succumbed to what the newspapers darkly referred to as felo de se, the archaic legal phrase then much used by the polite for the indelicate crime of suicide.

Friday, April 2, 2010


popera = pop + opera

The music of classically trained musicians applying operatic grandeur to popular music, or vice versa. I wrote a magazine article about it four or five years ago called The Rise of Popera. It hasn't taken off is much as I thought it would, but it is still hanging around.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


fauxliday = faux + holiday -- a fake holiday

@CopyCurmudgeon today tweeted this:

"April Fools' Day: One of my least favorite fauxlidays. But at least it taught me that @APStylebook has an entry for Aqua-Lung. For reals."

In Great Britain,  holiday not describes a day of special significance and observance, but also what Americans call a vacation. When a Brit isn't at work when he normally should be, he is likely "on holiday."

The American "translation" of that sort of fauxliday is a fakecation.