Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A New Twist on New Year's Resolutions

It's New Year's Resolution time! Most of us, at some point, have made New Year's resolutions, and the majority of those who have done so have, at least once, failed to meet a resolution.

I'm no different. Every time I've resolved to lose weight in the coming year, for example, I've failed. Practically the only times I've been able to keep my New Year's resolutions is when I have resolved only to not break my New Year's resolution.

The problem is that most resolutions are too general, with no clear ending point or concrete indicators of success: lose some weight, watch less TV, not murder the in-laws in their sleep. While those are all nice things to strive for, there isn't really a plan there. There's no accountability, no consequences. They're easy to forget about two days, two weeks, or two months into the year.

So I'm not going to do that anymore.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Today's Word: gadoid

A gadoid codpiece?
In a regular week, I see a lot of words. Over my three-and-a-half centuries, I've seen millions. But still, every once in a while, I find I new word that amazes me simply by its existence.

Like the word I found today: gadoid. Pronounced either GAY-doyd or GA-doyd, it sounds like something a big dumb bully might call a gaunt bespectacled child prodigy on the playground. Although I wouldn't exactly want someone calling me a gadoid, it wouldn't be the worst thing someone's called me.

Gadoid is part of a list that includes porcine, leonine, ursine, lupine, ovine, and especially piscine, though without that characteristic -ine ending. It means "resembling or related to a member of the family Gadidae," aka the cod.

There's a word that means "resembling a cod."
Words are the best toys.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Twas a Sight Before Christmas

A Three-Word Wednesday post. Today's words are belief, festive, and rumple.

'Twas a Sight Before Christmas

or, She Came Upon a Midnight Clear

I bought a festive DVD,
A marked-down Christmas flick
Whose cover was a rumpled mess,
Its face a faded pic.

I took it home and put it on
And stared into the screen.
The story that the movie told
I ne'er before had seen:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Today's Word: teetotaler

In a graveyard at St. Peter's in Preston, Lancashire, England, is a tombstone that bears this inscription:
Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Richard Turner, author of the word Teetotal as applied to abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, who departed this life on the 27th day of October, 1846, aged 56 years.
Some people wrongly believe that a person who advocates complete abstinence from all intoxicating beverages is a tea-totaler, offering the mistaken explanations that tea-totalers drink nothing stronger than tea or that people are encouraged to drink tea instead of alcohol.

But the word is actually teetotaler.

The word teetotal apparently existed before it was used specifically for alcoholic humbuggery. The first three letters are a reduplication of the first letter of total — T-total, or total-total — meaning absolutely everything. It's an intentional redundancy along the lines of "last and final," "each and every," and "absolutely positively."

English: Bottle of Sambuca Franciacorta liquor
Have yourself a groggy little Christmas
Image via Wikipedia
The unfortunately named Dick Turner used the word in a speech to a temperance society in Preston, arguing "[n]o half-way measures here. Nothing but the tee-tee total will do."* The founder of the group, Joseph Livesey, liked the word, and immediately proposed that it become the name of their society. The others agreed, and the men of the temperance society of Preston came to be known as teetotalers.

It's believed Turner gave this speech in September of 1833, months before the ordeal of Christmas was on his mind. Had he given the speech on, say, December 19 — in the midst of Christmas shopping and planning for extended visits with in-laws — he might not have been so gung-ho about total abstinence.

* From http://www.online-literature.com/amelia-barr/winter-evening-tales/8/.
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today's word: scuttlebutt

"Scuttlebutt Sam" Says. Don't Let Th...
Image via Wikipedia
Scuttlebutt, simply put, is gossip. It's the embarrassing moments that people talk about when you're not in the room. It's the raison d'ĂȘtre of the quidnunc, what coworkers gab about over the office water cooler.

It's a fun, weird little word, a compound of scuttle + butt. Scuttle is from Middle English skottell and refers to a hole with a cover. Originally, it referred to a small opening in a wall or roof or on the deck or side of a ship. The verb to scuttle, which refers to destroying and abandoning your own ship, comes from the idea of putting holes in the bottom of the ship to sink it.

The butt part of scuttlebutt refers neither to what rams do with their heads nor to what you find at the opposite end of a ram. It comes from the Latin buttis, a large cask. (The diminutive, butticula, led to the word bottle, and is not, as you might think, a blood-sucking, immortal, Transylvanian anus.)

So a scuttlebutt is a large cask with hole in it that has a cover. Specifically, the scuttlebutt holds the drinking water on an oceangoing vessel, and it's where sailors would go to talk.

That's right, the scuttlebutt is the ship's water cooler.

I just think that's wild.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Caption Me! A Little Monster for Christmas

Our department had a nice little luncheon today, after which we did a white elephant gift exchange. I walked away with a nice Chia Donkey that will soon stand where my Sea Monkeys used to live (they all died).

I pitched in the hand-drawn picture shown below.
Too late came the idea (from @BKWordNerd) to have him dragging a decorated Christmas tree behind him. My title then would have been "James Cameron's How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Maybe next year.

But this one still needs a title or a caption. So please, stretch your imagination and put some text with this image in the comments!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gary Blum, Age 6

or, Putting Kids' Shit on the Refrigerator

"I made this for you." Gary held out a thick piece of warped paper smeared with color. It had a pungent odor to it.

"Well thank you sweetie," Diane said. "It's beautiful." She examined her son's artwork. A swash of finger-painted brown across the top, swirls of light green punctuated with splotches of yellow, orange, and red across the middle, and a bright yellow patch spreading out from the bottom corner.

"Oh . . . " she said. "It's . . ."

"It's upside down, silly," Gary said. She rotated the picture in her hands and held it lower so they could both see it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Double Titles

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Commitment Issues

Pay attention; there will be a quiz.

I enjoy coming up with names for things — stories, poems, warts, whatever — using puns, alliteration, homophones, and other sorts of wordplay. Maybe I enjoy it a little too much, because I often find myself giving my stories and poems two titles. This annoys some people who think it's done out of pretentiousness or narcissism. I hope I'm not doing it out of some subconscious narcissism; I just think it's fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Today's Word: quidnunc

You know those people who hang out at the watercooler (either literally or figuratively) who are always anxious to find out who's doing what with whom, who's doing whom with what, and which office they got caught doing it in, and then pass that information along to any ear that comes by? Almost every office has one, but what do you call them?

Friday, December 2, 2011

No Surprises

Today I offer a rather dark bit of flash fiction. If you're already depressed, don't read it. If you do read it, I leave it to you to decide how the story really ends.

Jeremy exhales slowly, trying not to cry.