Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Three Word Wednesday: Final Jeopardy

It's Three Word Wednesday! This week's words: engulf, imminent, and tamper

Your Fifteen Minutes of Flame Are Over

I had imagined laughing with satisfaction while our house was engulfed in flame, but I couldn't get the gasoline to light. Someone must have tampered with the gas cans while I was prying the diamond out of Susan's engagement ring. As I threw match after lighted match at damp curtains, I realized that after everything I had been through — after a high-speed, headlong drive into a tree, after slicing off two of my own fingers, and after pouring boiling acid on my own face — my failure to win Jeff Probst's new reality show Insurance Fraud was imminent.

[Wait. Did I actually manage to insert some social commentary into these random writings? I hate when that happens.

And I love it, too.]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today's Word: rhabdomancy

rhabdomancy: Fortune-telling by rods or wands.

You might recognize the link to magical power that -mancy brings to the word from necromancy or William O. Gibson's Neuromancer. There's also oneiromancy (divination through dreams), hydromancy (divination by water), and a whole mess of others.

Rhabdo- was a new root for me, usually indicating, in some way, "rods." For example, a rhabdovirus is a rod- or bullet-shaped virus, and a rhabdom (a good Scrabble word) is a rod-like internal structure of an arthropod's eye.

I don't think it counts as rhabdomancy if you predict that someone is in danger of being attacked and then immediately start hitting him with a stick. Predictions about Rod Stewart also aren't necessarily rhabdomancy.

Rod Blagojevich could have use a good rhabdomancer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Today's Word: ochlocracy (And I Go Political)

It isn't often anymore that I stumble upon a word that I don't already know or can't figure out the meaning of. When it does happen, though, it is cause for a small, personal celebration. This happened to me on Tuesday, when I was wasting lots of time doing intensive research in the blogosphere and happened upon this fun little word:

ochlocracy: Mob rule; rule by the masses. Ochlocracy, the evil twin of democracy, gives absolute power to the fickle majority -- Wikipedia notes that it is a pejorative term for majoritarianism -- neglecting the rights of the minority and ignoring appeals to logic, reasoning, precedent, and the letter of the law.

Unfortunately, I can't remember where I saw the word, or even whether it was used seriously or sarcastically in reference to the Obama administration. If anyone out there who tweets in the same circles as I can recall  the appearance of this word in a recent post, please let me know and I'll add a link here. (Also, if you can think of another word that uses the "ochlo" word base, let me know that, too. I'm drawing a blank.)

Ochlocracy is ultimately a corruption of democracy through fear, intimidation, and misinformation. The masses, in general, are sheep. Somewhere, a shepherd is silently guiding them toward his or her own purposes.

I see the Tea Party as an attempt to remake American democracy into an ochlocracy. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and their ilk use fear (building a mosque near ground zero will invite more terrorist attacks; letting gay people marry will make your marriage meaningless), misinformation (where was our president born?), patriotism (ever hear Mrs. Palin use the phrase "Real America"?), and intimidation (like Ted Nugent's implication that people who support universal healthcare should be shot) to rile their base in opposition to anything even remotely linked to President Obama.

How do they do it? By convincing their people that the "lame-stream media" -- that is, everything except Fox News -- is distorting the truth. By convincing them that they can't believe anything they hear on TV, read online or in a newspaper, or hear from people who have devoted their lives to truth (e.g., scientists and researchers) except for what the Party tells you is true.

The Tea Party is creating a mob of intentionally ill-informed voters who have been conditioned to deny any statements that run counter to the Tea Party's platform, regardless of reason, proof, and logic.

Certainly, there will be great overlap between a true ochlocracy and a kakistocracy. Especially if the Tea Party is involved.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Three Word Wednesday: Glue with Attitude?

Today's three words are gait, nudge, and ripen.

The Apple of My Ire, or, When a Long Face Becomes a Big Head

The talking horse spoke loud and clear:
"These apples will not do.
The Granny Smiths are much too green,
The Galas hard to chew.

The Red Delicious? All are bruised;
The Fuji are too small.
The Braeburns need to ripen some —
Return them to my stall.

The bitter MacIntosh is out.
The Ortleys hurt my throat.
The Sturmer Pippin aren't quite there.
I don't like Rusty Coat."

"You spoiled horse!" I told the mare,
"I've had enough of you!
So you're a talking horse — so what?! —
I'll sell you off for glue!"

She nudged my ear and gently whined,
"I know you never would,"
But from her change in gait I knew
She wondered if I could.

She took an Ortley from the pile
And, though it made her wince,
She chewed it up and smiled and I
Have had no problems since.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Today's Word: astroturfing

Every football fan and marching band geek knows that astroturf is that fake-grass green stuff that covers football fields both inside and out. But recently (I believe within the last decade, though I'm not positive of that), astroturf has taken on new life (and has been verbed), and it's something you should consider during these election times.

astroturf: The creation of a false impression that an orchestrated campaign actually grew from a spontaneous outpouring of the public. It's called astroturfing because it's a false grassroots campaign. Astroturfing is by definition is dishonest; so dishonest that the Public Relations Society of America strictly prohibits it.

Astroturfing can be used both commercially and politically.

Political Astroturfing

The government of China has, for quite a while, been paying some of its citizens per comment to visit online forums, blogs, and bulletin boards and leave comments that put China in a favorable light.

Closer to home, accusations of astroturfing have been flung from both sides of the aisle. One such accusation involves the "Al Gore's Penguin Army" video, a video that looks like an amateur spoof of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. When a link to that video appeared as the top paid search result for "Al Gore," someone looked closer. The video was apparently created by DCI Group, a public relations lobbying firm whose clients included General Motors and Exxon Mobile.

Astroturfing in Business

Have you ever heard of Working Families for Wal-Mart? Originally billed as a grassroots organization to combat all the negativity that was (rightly) being thrown at Wal-Mart, it was soon discovered that the Wal-Mart corporation itself was bankrolling the group, and blogs written for the group were created not by Wal-Mart employees and their families but by employees of a PR firm hired by Wal-Mart. Working Families for Wal-Mart has since disappeared.

On the opposite side, The Daily Show recently revealed some astroturfing on the anti-Wal-Mart side when Aasif Mandvi found that people picketing Wal-Mart in protest over low wages and the lack of benefits were actually hired hands who -- you guessed it -- were making minimum wage and got no benefits. That's not just astroturfing, that's irony.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Working Stiffed
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party
My point is this: In politics and commerce alike, what you see might not necessarily be what is actually happening. Don't rely on what others say is right or is popular: you have to make the decision for yourself. Snake oil salesman haven't been completely relegated to the past.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Today's Word: quinquennium

quinquennium: A practically useless word referring to a period of five years. There are twenty quinquennia (or, if you're boring, quinquenniums) in a centennial.

Few things are worth celebrating after only five years. Only three come to mind at the moment: surviving cancer, staying sober, and being divorced. I've never had cancer, and I'm not a huge fan of staying sober, and I still have another year and a half before the quinquennial of my divorce. Doesn't mean I can't start celebrating now, though, does it?

Is there something you celebrate after only five years?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pagliacci dall'Inferno

A little flash fiction for a Friday morn. When I started writing it, it was supposed to be kind of funny — about a kid who truly believes that clowns are evil demons. But then it turned dark, and then darker still.
It wasn't that Arnold was afraid of clowns, at least not anymore. He knew they were evil, but he also knew that he was no longer young enough to be their main target, so he wasn't afraid of them. Clowns preyed upon the very young, the impressionable, the innocent, and he would be starting high school in the fall. He was old enough to know not to accept their drug-laced candies and balloon shapes. Old enough to know their true intent.

Albert alone knew what evil lurked behind those brightly colored clothes, those false cosmetic faces, and he would stand for it no longer. If no one else would do anything about this evil menace, it was up to him.

He slipped the revolver back into the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Before him, silent on the dark pavement, was a costumed fiend who would never again lure a child into the darkness to be tortured, violated, and ultimately ritualistically eaten by a coven of paint-faced devils.

Albert turned toward home. He would return the revolver to the cigar box in his parents' closet tomorrow, after the circus left town. Until then, he would remain vigilant, scrutinizing every shadow, every hiding place, watching for both evil, fake-faced fiends and the only devils on Earth that were still more vile — the most maleficent abominations to walk the Earth: chihuahuas.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Limerick Called "Limericks"

A lim'rick's an odd little sort
Of fictional action report:
It gives you the facts
Of words and of acts,
But you won't want to use one in court.

When no one around you can sing
'Bout the joys that a poem can bring,
And a haiku's too terse,
But you still need a verse,
Then a lim'rick might be just the thing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Three Word Wednesday: A Naughty Sonnet

This Wednesday's words are demure, volatile, and offend.

The Dominatrix, or, Watch Out! She's a Man(eater)!

Demure she's not; she gives them strong commands
With confidence and purpose in her voice.
She never asks, she takes men by the hands
And tells them what to do &mdash they have no choice.
And they obey, entrancéd by her eyes
Of sparkling blue — a heav'nly angel's gaze,
Like placid lakes reflecting wondrous skies.
Their focus never wavers, never strays,
No matter that the orders from her lips
(So hotly red, so volatile) offend.
They follow only paths laid by her hips,
And follow them until the very end.
Her beauty seizes men like no one's can;
You'd never guess she used to be a man.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Twitter Limerick

Sent four consecutive tweets this morning with this limerick of more than 140 characters:

Though I try not to be very cloying
With the rhymes that I'm sometimes employing,
I won't be too shocked
To find that I'm blocked
When my tweets become too damned annoying.

Inasmuch as limericks need titles, this one needs a title. Any ideas*?

* If you suggest "Twimerick," that pain you feel in your back and stomach later this afternoon will be from the rusty pins I've shoved into your voodoo doll.

Today's Word: galaxy

galaxy: The base of galaxy is derived from gala, Greek for "milk." Hence galactorrhea, the spontaneous flow of milk from one's jubblies. Of course, we're more accustomed to seeing lacto- as a "milky" prefix. Notice that galacto- is just one syllable larger than lacto-; that isn't a coincidence. The Latin lacto- comes from the Greek.

According the Merriam-Webster's great Collegiate Dictionary, the earliest known use of galaxy comes from Chaucer sometime before 1385 in a poem called The House of Fame:

Se yonder, loo, the Galaxie,
Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
For hit is whit.
(See yonder, lo, the galaxy
Which men call the Milky Way
For it is white.)

Clearly, then, the name Milky Way was common at least in England at this time. Galaxy wasn't used as a generic term for other massive star systems until the 19th century.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Today's Word: Abderian laughter

Abderian laughter: Foolish laughter at things one does not understand. For some reason, the inhabitants of ancient Abdera (in Thrace, Greece) were considered simple-headed, rustic idiots who laughed at and derided things they did not understand.

Pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus, known as the Laughing Philosopher (presumably because he laughed at man's foolishness) was from Abdera. He is considered by some to be the father of modern science because he, along with his teacher Leucippus, developed an atomic theory of matter that was, as they say, way ahead of its time. Other thinkers of his time were probably more liable to laugh at his theories than him at theirs.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

PortmanteauRing -- a Merger

A while back, I started another blog called PortmanteauRing (aka Amidala's foot jewelry), where I had thought I would regularly collect examples of portmanteau words. It started off okay, but I just don't have the time and energy to keep up with it. So I have imported all the posts (51) from PortmanteauRing to here and given them the tag portmanteau.

I'm sure I'll still highlight more portmanteau words in the future, but they'll all be here instead.

And if you aren't sure what a portmanteau word is, start reading here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Get 'em While They're Young

I don't want to seem cruel, even if I am. This is a little something I found at the local 4-H fair a few weeks back:
We have to get them while they're young, people! This isn't simply a spelling matter, either; it's a matter of pride in doing your work well. It's a matter of teaching children that they should try to do things the right way and not just be "good enough." Reach for perfection even though you know you'll never achieve it. And, by Jove, look your projects over one last time before you turn them in!

Of course, experience counts for something. We learn from our mistakes, and this is the type of mistake that some (not me!) would describe using the execrable phrase "teachable moment."

I hope someone in this child's family teases this boy just a little bit about '"Untied Methodist." It won't take much for it to sink in permanently, and this child will never make this mistake again.

(In the same way that I will never again misspell gardener, the word that landed me in second place in my fifth-grade spelling bee. Alas, Lloyd Suh, you will always hold a dark place in my memory!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My First Three-Word Wednesday

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Undercooked

The feast that I threw at the villa
Like a charm became quite the thrillah.
All my enemies there
Had the chicken — cooked rare
And robust with the sweet salmonella.

What Is Three-Word Wednesday?

There are all sorts of blogs and Twitter feeds out there that will give writers a daily writing prompt. This is a prompt of a different sort. Every Wednesday at Three Word Wednesday, ThomG posts three words. Writers write something using the words. It's that simple.

As you can see from this limerick, this Wednesday's words are feast, charm, and robust.

As the site itself notes, "Three Word Wednesday gives writers, poets and those who journal a mid-week jolt of creativity."

It also isn't bad link bait.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

zucchetto vs. yarmulke

A zucchetto (also called a pileolus) is a skull cap worn by clergy in the Roman Catholic church (and a few other denominations). The different colors of zucchetti (or zucchettos) indicate a clergyman's level in the church hierarchy. I wish I could take credit for this little illustrative number:
Zucchetto in Italian means "little gourd," like a small pumpkin, and indeed it does look like someone lopped off the top of a pumpkin and used it as a hat.

This is similar to the Jewish yarmulke, or kippah, which apparently can withstand more creativity and individualism.

I took a closer look because I was interested in the differences. It turns out that zucchetti are created specifically from eight panels that are sewn together, making it somewhat octahedral. (They're also a little larger than yarmulkes.) As you can see from the images above and below, there are much fewer restrictions on how you put a yarmulke together and what you can put on it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Today's Word: badinage

badinage: What many on Twitter attempt, but few succeed in: playful repartee, witty banter.

From Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers:

Mr. Bob Sawyer was seated, not in the dickey, but on the roof of the chaise, with his legs as far asunder as they would conveniently go, wearing Mr. Samuel Weller's hat on one side of his head, and bearing, in one hand, a most enormous sandwich, while, in the other, he supported a goodly-sized case-bottle, to both of which he applied himself with intense relish, varying the monotony of the occupation by an occasional howl, or the interchange of some lively badinage with any passing stranger.

Badinage is one of my personal favorite pastimes, and I have my moments. Not enough of them, but they're there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Changing the F Word

I would get so much more done in my life if I didn't have Comedy Central piped in to my boob tube: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Tosh.0, the weekend stand-up, the return of Futurama. But of all Comedy Central's offering, my number-one guilty pleasure (there's only one, I promise!) has to be South Park.

As juvenile and toilet-related as that show gets, there are times when it just shines in a way that no other show can.

The rerun* that I saw last night was one of those moments. And it was word-related, so it fits right in to this blog!

The episode was called "The F Word", but it wasn't about the F-word, it was about the word fag.

A loud and obnoxious gang of Harley riders repeatedly spread their noise pollution around town. The South Park boys — and everyone else their age — start referring to those bikers as fags. Through faulty logic, the gang then decides that they ought to be even louder.

TSPB launch a scheme, painting "Fags Get Out" in red spray paint a few places in town. When the boys are brought before the school's principal, they have to explain that they weren't using fag to refer to homosexuals, but to loud, obnoxious Harley riders.

Here, they offer some great arguments, and the South Park writers offer some great wordplay, as well as a skewed view of how language changes:
Councilman 1: How is it that you think that referring to gay people as 'fags' in today's world is acceptable?
Kyle: "Because we're not referring to gay people. You can be gay and not be a fag.
Stan: Yeah. A lot of fags aren't gay.
Councilman 2: I happen to be gay, boys. Do you think I'm a fag?
Stan: Do you ride a big, loud Harley and go up and down the street ruining everyone's nice time?
Councilman 2: No.
Stan: Then you're not a fag.
Councilman 1: So what if a guy is gay and rides a Harley?
Cartman: Then he's a gay fag. Is this really this hard?
Stan: I don't know.
Kenny: Thith ith futhink rithiculouth.
Stan: All right, look. You're driving in your car, okay, and you're waiting to make a left at a traffic signal. The light turns yellow, should be your turn to go, but the traffic coming at you just keeps coming. And even when the light turns red, a guy in a BMW runs the red light so you can't make your left turn. What goes through your mind?
Otherwise silent councilman at the far end of the table: ...fag.
Stan: Right! But you're not thinking, 'Oh, he's a homosexual.' You're thinking, 'Oh, he's an inconsiderate douchebag, like a Harley rider.
Councilman 1: This...this is making insanely good sense to me.
Councilwoman: All right. How about this. What would you call a straight man who doesn't own a Harley but likes them and might buy one someday.
Cartman: You call him bike curious.
(This last line floored me.)

With the help of the local gay advocacy group, South Park's mayor passes a city ordinance to officially change the meaning of the word fag to refer to obnoxious Harley riders. A national politician then goes on air saying that, because dictionaries don't contain South Park's new definition of fag, using it is still harmful to the gay community.

The only solution? Convince the dictionary people to change the definition. In this case, "the dictionary people" refers to Emmanuel Lewis (who, to my surprise, really is still alive), the dictionary's head editor, who arrives with a small entourage to hear arguments for the definition change. But before the arguments can commence, the angry Harley gang rolls back into town to kick some ass, proving beyond a doubt that they really are a bunch of fags.

(A favorite shot: Emmanuel Lewis being dragged by a chain behind a Harley, shouting "You obdurate beasts!")

They're eventually run out of town by shotgun-wielding homosexuals, some of whom have been toting "Gays Against Fags" signs.

If you've only ever thought that South Park was a sophomoric, potty-mouthed mass of nincompoopery, this episode is a good example of how it can be a witty, smart, thought-provoking, potty-mouthed mass of nincompoopery.

After your kids go to bed, click the link above and watch the episode.

And try not to wake them up with your laughter.

* I realize that this episode is from last season. I didn't have cable last season, and I likely won't have cable next season after my introductory rate runs out in mid-January. Which, I guess, means I either have to watch as much South Park as I can in the next four months or fork over the dough to buy 13 seasons worth of South Park DVDs. Probably both.