Friday, May 29, 2009

Sleep

Perchance to dream.

Sleep (n) - Something insomniacs seldom experience. An Old English word dating back to the dawn on the language.

Insomnia (n) - The inability to sleep. From the Latin in- (not) and somnus (sleep). Entered the English Language in the early 17th century.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - An experimental rock group and the first Google hit when searching the word sleepytime. Suck on that Sleepytime Herbal Tea.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hispanic

Sonia Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, although Republican word parsers are trying to claim that Benjamin Cardozo was the first "hispanic" justice.

Hispanic (a) - Of or pertaining to Spain or the Spanish language. From the Latin Hispania, the Iberian Peninsula. Since the 19th century the word hispanic describes a person whose heritage is of any of the Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere commonly known as Latin America.

Sotomayor was born in New York City to parents who had immigrated from Puerto Rico.

Cardozo was also born in New York City. His ancestors immigrated from England in the 18th century and lived in New York during the Revolutionary War. Prior to that he had ancestors who traveled to Holland in the 16th century from Portugal to escape the Spanish Inquisition as they were Sephardi Jews.

The Republican parsers are claiming that since Cardozo's family lived in Hispania centuries ago then he was Hispanic. Benjamin Cardozo was a brilliant man, logical, and a skilled wordsmith. He would never have engaged in such sloppy reasoning and, himself, never claimed to be Hispanic.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empathy

According to Republicans the very worst trait a Supreme Court justice can have.

Empathy (n) - Understanding and engaging the emotions and feelings of another. Being sensitive to another's feelings. Entered the English Language at the turn of the 20th century. From the German word Einf├╝hlung coined in 1858 by a German philosopher. Constructed from the Greek en- and pathos meaning in feeling.

Antonyms: unfeeling, insensitivity, obtuseness, callousness.

Empathy is one of the four essential leadership traits.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quack

No, not the duck sound. I've been thinking about some of the doctors I've known. There was the anesthesiologist who was so bored by her job she would take business phone calls while in the operating theater. Then there was an orthopedic surgeon who got to be head of his department, not through skill but by being a royal SOB. He maintained an excellent record by blaming the patients for all of his screw-ups. They were just hypochondriacs.

Quack (n) - Medical charlatan. Dates from the 17th century from the Dutch word, kwaksalver, meaning seller of salves.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cricket

I know about as much about cricket as I do korfball, which is next to nothing. Still, cricket has added some fun words to the English language.
Cricket - From the Old French word criquet meaning goal post. The insect name comes from a different French word, criquer meaning to creak. Using cricket to mean fair play as in "That's just not cricket" dates to the 19th century.

Hat Trick - The usage familiar to North Americans is to score three goals in ice hockey. The term originated in cricket and means putting down batsmen three times on three consecutive throws.

Sticky Wicket - Mostly a British slang that Americans occasionally use. As slang is means a difficult situation. In cricket it means a wet playing field (pitch).

Googly - Meaning bug-eyed from the comic strip Barney Google. In cricket a googly is a spinning delivery akin to the curveball in baseball.

Mullygrubber - My favorite cricket term it refers to a pitched ball that doesn't bounce. There are even some obscure non-cricket slang uses.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Purge

For such a simple word, purge has quite a history.

Purge (v) - To cleanse or purify. From the Latin word purgare meaning to make pure.

Purge has been the word of choice for the periodic removal of the ideologically unclean from a political movement. In recent history:
  • Ba'athist Purge in Iraq - Following the United States invasion of Iraq there was a effort to prevent anyone who had been a member of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party from achieving any position of responsibility. That quickly became counterproductive as most of the Iraqis who knew how to accomplish anything had been members of the Party.
  • Nazi Purge - On June 30, 1934, Hitler sent the SS out to rid him of bothersome members of his party. Called Reichsmordwoche in German, "Blood Purge" (literally "empire murder week"), it came to be known to the world as the Night of the Long Knives.
  • Soviet Purge - The Soviet Union under Stalin loved their periodic purges. In 1927 Leon Trotsky, one of the founding Russian Communist revolutionaries, was expelled from the Communist Party along with his supporters, Trotskyites. But that was nothing next to the Great Purge of 1935-1938. Being purged from the Communist Party under Stalin then meant arrest, torture, and execution. They were even airbrushed out of pictures. Over a million Russians died as a consequence of the Party purges.
  • RINO Purge - RINO - Republican In Name Only. Republican conservatives are in a lather to cleanse their party of the moral pollution of liberalism. The list of which Republicans need purging is fluid but it appears to be: 1) Any Republican east of the Hudson River; 2) John McCain; 3) Any Republican who voted with Democrats at least once in 2009. While the Republican Party purge has not yet risen to the level of demanding blood, that may change.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Righteousness

Dick Cheney's preferred term for acts of CIA interrogators, as defined by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary.

Righteousness (n) - A sturdy virtue that was once found among the Pantidoodles inhabiting the lower part of the peninsula of Oque. Some feeble attempts were made by returned missionaries to introduce it into several European countries, but it appears to have been imperfectly expounded. An example of this faulty exposition is found in the only extant sermon of the pious Bishop Rowley, a characteristic passage from which is here given:

"Now righteousness consisteth not merely in a holy state of mind, nor yet in performance of religious rites and obedience to the letter of the law. It is not enough that one be pious and just: one must see to it that others also are in the same state; and to this end compulsion is a proper means. Forasmuch as my injustice may work ill to another, so by his injustice may evil be wrought upon still another, the which it is as manifestly my duty to estop as to forestall mine own tort. Wherefore if I would be righteous I am bound to restrain my neighbor, by force if needful, in all those injurious enterprises from which, through a better disposition and by the help of Heaven, I do myself restrain."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mislead and Lie

What is the difference between to mislead and to lie, as in the sentence:
The CIA did not lie to congressional Democrats regarding the torture of prisoners but they may have been misled.
Mislead (v) - To lead into the wrong path, to guide into error, to deceive.

Lie (v) - To utter falsehood with an intention to deceive.

If we parse what is known to have been told to Congress we find euphemisms, undefined terms, half truths, and omitted facts. There were, probably, no direct falsehoods but what was told to Congress was designed to deceive. Not quite lies, rather deliberate, carefully crafted efforts to mislead. Was it perjury? I'm guessing no because I'm guessing the CIA avoided anything resembling testifying under oath.
Misled by lies, wondering the confused I am.
Stripped from us what we've earnt, learn simply there's no escape.
Encourage no other, just let them think what they want to believe. ~ Misled by Lies by Final Eve

Monday, May 18, 2009

Notre Dame

In honor of President Obama speech there being interrupted by anti-abortionists.

Notre Dame - In Latin means Our Lady, referring to the Virgin Mary. The full name of the school, University of Notre Dame du Lac, translate as Our Lady of the Lake.

More famous, and unconnected to the Roman Catholic Virgin Mary, is the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. A water nymph, for lack of a better description, she was Merlin's lover and the source of King Arthur's sword, Excalibur.

In the third canto of Sir Walter Scott's epic poem "Lady of the Lake" a burning cross was used to summon the Clan Alpine to overthrow the king. The burning cross symbolism was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan. An interesting tidbit given the events of yesterday.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Prevaricate

Republicans have clung to this word like it were their religion when attacking Nancy Pelosi's statements regarding how much, or little, she knew about US torture policies. As if what she knew made a bit of difference.

Prevaricate (v) - A fancy word meaning to lie, more specifically to lie by constantly shifting one's position. From the Latin prae meaning before and varicare meaning to straddle.

Prevaricate is not, however, the fanciest word in the English lexicon meaning liar, liar, pants on fire. That award goes to:

Tergiversate (v) - Means to be evasive. From the Latin tergum (back) and vertere (to turn). Literally, to turn one's back.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Truth Will Out

Well, old man, I will tell you news of your son:
give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long;
a man's son may, but at the length truth will out. ~ Merchant of Venice

Another Shakespearean phrase meaning that the truth cannot be hidden, it must become known eventually.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Itchy and Scratchy

Given I'm having my seasonal allergic awareness of the nerve endings on my skin.
Itch (n & v) - An Old English word that has passed through a thousand years of linguistic evolution unchanged.

Scratch (v & n) - As a verb dated back to the 15th century, probably a merging of two Old English words, scratten and crachen, meaning to scratch. As a noun the word is dated to 1586.

Itchy and Scratchy (cartoon, see above) - Violent parody of children's cartoons within the adult cartoon series the Simpsons.

The suffix -y appears to be an import from French.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Red as in Code Red

  • In military parlance Code Red refers to unofficial orders that a subordinate is required to follow. In the movie A Few Good Men the Code Red was the order was to beat, to death as it turned out, an uncooperative Marine.
  • In hospitals, Code Red calmly announces the building is on fire.
  • Red in gem stones symbolized vitality and passion.
  • Red as a color denotes power and importance as in the red carpet or the red power tie.
  • Red also symbolizes danger as in a flashing red light.
  • Red is the color of communism. Some sources say it symbolized the blood of working class martyrs. Others say that a red flag was chosen by Bolsheviks to symbolizes defiance and the color just stuck. Alexander Solzhenitsyn claimed that red was the color of the Stalinist faction of the Communist Party but red referred to communism before Stalin's rise.
  • Red Herring means deceptive. It comes from the practice of using herring to train hunting dogs. That led to using curred herring, which is red in color, to distract hunting dogs from their scent.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

White Feather

The white feather is a traditional symbol of cowardice in England. It comes from the belief that fighting cocks with white in their tail feathers are poor fighters. Most sources say the tradition white feathers equals cowardice is hundreds of years old. A few sources believe that the tradition of giving white feathers to a coward was invented by novelist A.E.W. Mason in his novel The Four Feathers in 1902.

During World War I in England the Order of the White Feather encouraged young women to give young men white feathers to humiliate them into joining the army.

For Native Americans white feathers have benign meanings. Among the Cherokee, peace envoys would wear robes covered with white feathers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Angels and Demons

Why not? There's a movie coming out and all.

Angels (n) - Celestial beings, servants of God. From the Greek angelos, meaning messenger. Archangel adds the Greek prefix arkh-, meaning chief or leader.

Demons (n) - Evil spirits. Again from Greek, daemon meaning a lesser god.

It is one of the oddities of modern religion that so many people who profess to being monotheists (the One True God) also believe in angels and demons. Yet, by definition all of these angels and demons are gods and demigods in their own right. Lesser gods, certainly, although Lucifer appears to be God's equal as they have fought to a draw these many millennia.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Taliban

Since being driven out of Afghanistan in 2002 the Taliban has taken control of parts of Pakistan. In hindsight, we were a lot better off with them herding goats around Kandahar than we are with the Taliban studying nuclear launch codes in the Punjab.

Taliban (n) - The Pashtun for Students because they were originally recruited from Islamic madrasahs. They are an extremely strict fundamentalist Islamic sect that believes women are less human than goats and that one should never take any time away from studying religious texts unless that time is spent tormenting and killing others in the name of God. They are similar to American fundamentalist Christian sects.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vampire

Vampire (n) - Undead creature of the night that feeds on the blood of the living. First appeared in English in 1732 but dates back to a Serbian word vampir and ultimately to an ancient Tartar word, ubyr, meaning "witch."
Descriptions of vampires date back to the dawn of time. There is a story that Lilith, Adam's first wife, was a vampire. Archaeologists have dug up pottery in ancient Persia that depicted demonic creatures drinking the blood of men. Egypt, India, China, Africa, and, of course Europe all have folk tales about vampires.

Excluding Vlad Tepes (Dracula), the most famous historical figure suspected of being a vampire is Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Called the Blood Countess, Bathory was a 16th century Hungarian noblewoman who believed that she would maintain eternal youth by bathing in the blood of over 600 virgins during her life.

There are real support groups for people (undead?) who think they are vampires and are having a hard time dealing in a world filled with un-undead people.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fire

The annual Southern California ritual of watching helplessly while our communities are burned to the ground has begun early this year. Santa Barbara is getting the first great firestorm of the season.

Fire (n) - One of the oldest words in the English language, fyr sounded and meant exactly the same thing a thousand years ago as fire does now.

Blaze (n) - From the Old English word for a torch flame.

Inferno (n) - An English import from Italian that comes from the Latin word infernus meaning hell.

Firestorm (n) - Has a technical definition describing a fire so intense it creates its own wind system constantly feeding fresh oxygen into the fire. Think a naturally occurring blowtorch. The more general definition is of a raging, unstoppable fire that is a force of nature like a hurricane. The word dates to World War II where it described the firebombing of cities like Dresden.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rush Limbaugh

Apropos nothing, just curious what that name translates to.

Rush (boy's name) - English, means "dwells by the rushes."
Limbaugh (surname) - English from German lim=tree and bach=stream.

So the name of the leader of the only remaining wing of the Republican Party (the insane wing) translates to -

That guy who lives in the weeds by a wooded creek. Seems appropriate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quisling

Arlen Specter's conversion from Republican to Democrat and immediately promising to be the most disloyal Democrat in the Senate has got me thinking about one of my favorite words.

Quisling (n) - Traitor. Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian Hitler Mini-Me. When German captured Norway in World War II they wanted a local, puppet government. Norwegians were more interested in fighting Germans so the Nazis had to settle for Quisling who become know as Norway's Benedict Arnold. After the war, Quisling was executed for treason and his name became synonymous for traitor. Notice, Scandinavians never execute anybody yet they made an exception for this guy.

Benedict Arnold is not a great synonym for traitor.
It's too long and the components remind me of an egg dish and the cute pig on the TV show Green Acres.

Arnold the Pig


As a word for traitor, traitor itself is cursed by being Latin and, hence, stilted and lacking in passion.
Traitor (n) - From the Latin traditorem meaning to deliver over. Related to the English word, trade.
Quisling is a perfect word. In English the quis- letters make a squishing sound like walking through pig slop, while -ling is a diminutive suffix. The word reeks of vile ooze. I sounds like a little piece of shit pretending to be a big turd.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it never really caught on. You can't use the word in conversation today because everybody will stop you and ask what the hell that means. And that's a shame.
To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor... they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Actually it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous. ~ British newspaper editor, 1940

Monday, May 4, 2009

Building, Painting, Car

I was going to write about the Banana Proof of God, but it's been done to death. Zombie Lovers pretty much shares my sentiment. But looking into bananas I came across the Atheist Test.

Building (n) - A structure that has a roof and walls and stands more or less permanently in one place.
Question #1: Do you know of any building that didn't have a builder?
Answer: Yes. They are called caves.
Painting (n) - Any work of art in which objects are represented in color on a flat surface.
Question #2: Do you know of any painting that didn't have a painter?
Answer: Yes. Sticking with the "flat surface" part of the criteria, butterfly wings.
Car (n) - A self-propelled vehicle used for transporting passengers.
Question #3: Do you know of any car that didn't have a maker?
Answer: Yes, but you won't like the answer. See below.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Immune System

Immune - From a Latin word immunis meaning not subject to public service. It was the term used to describe legionaries with special skills that were exempt from routine duties.

Think of the human body as a huge society. There are some 10 trillion cells and another 100 trillion other microbes in our bodies (your personal count may vary). NPR's Robert Krulwich described the human race as just one big chain of microbe hotels. Within this zoo of benign and even symbiotic beneficial microbes the body's society is constantly fighting off invading species, usually without bothering to send out a general alarm.

The body has a two-tiered defensive system. The innate system is fast acting but indescriminate. My body's innate immune system, for example, tends to panic when it encounters certain pollens and animal dandriff. It released histamine to flood my respiratory system with protective mucus - When it doesn't need any protecting!! Hence my annoying bouts of hay fever

The adaptive system is a biological gem. It creates defenses to order and also makes long-lived memory cells that allow for a quick reaction if that particular invader ever returns.