Monday, October 21, 2013

Console your Video Game Console: A Study in Homographs

My boyfriend recently bought me an Xbox (the first gen one) so I could play one of my favorite games, Fable. As I planned out the task of setting the video game console up to the TV, I realized that the word “console” can also mean to “console” a friend who is upset. 

And then I started thinking about other words that followed this weird rule and wondered if there was a word for these type of words. Yes, I think very tangentially sometimes.

The English language has so many idiosyncrasies that make it very difficult for not only English language learners but even native speakers to master. It turns out that the “console” duality is referred to as a homograph.

We all know about homophones, those words that sound the same but mean different things and are spelled differently. We learn this one quickly because it leads to lots of spelling mistakes. For example, to/two/too and their/they're/there are some of the most commonly misused.

A homograph is a word that is spelled the same as another word, but it means something different and is often pronounced differently. The easiest way to explain this is through examples. For instance “wound” can refer to an injury or wrapping a bandage around the injury.

Here are a few other examples, written in some-what nonsensical sentences.
  • The bass swam to the sound of the bass.
  • He hit the bat with a metal bat.
  • She pulled the down blanket down from the shelf.
  • You will receive a fine for your fine styling of her fine hair.
  • The most minute bug can travel far in just a minute.
  • He moped when his moped refused to start.
  • She waved at the waves crashing onto the shore.
  • I need to console my video game console.
What examples can you come up with?

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Say Cheese!

To force the lips into a smile, the word “cheese” causes a person to position their teeth and then part their lips into a somewhat aesthetically pleasing grimace. But when did this word enter the language as a means to get perfect photos?

One of the first references to “cheese” as a photographic strategy was in a 1943 article in The Big Spring Herald:

“It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies and is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you’re thinking. Mr. Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his 'Mission to Moscow.' It’s simple. Just say 'Cheese,' It’s an automatic smile. 'I learned that from a politician,' Mr. Davies chuckled.”

Who was this “politician”? It is believed this could be then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt. It's not clear if Roosevelt coined the phrase or if he got it from another source.

As a interesting side note, non-English speaking cultures have developed their own versions of the “cheese” trick. In Mexico and Argentina, they say 'whisky' and in France, 'dit souris' ('say mouse').

During the Victorian era (1837-1901) it is rumored that photographers told their subjects to say “prunes.” This produced a much more mild facial expression than “cheese.” This helped people keep a small mouth with firmly closed lips.

There were a few reasons behind this trend of unsmiling photos. These neutral expressions were used because photographs required a very long exposure time along with poor dental hygeine.

When Kodak came along and photos could be captured more quickly and by just about anyone, smiles came in vogue. More casual moments were caught on film, taking with them every expression the human face can make.

And then we evolved to what is now known as the “duck face.”

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Maybe in Malaysia

Just a fun note. Might be a scam, but according to Google Stats, this blog has been viewed 36 times in Malaysia this week.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Slur: Slinging Mud

Admit it - we all use them

One of the best ways to understand culture and the way people think is to look at the language they use. The words we use to insult others offer a unique insight into our psyche. 
However, do you know the origins of these words? If you knew their original meaning, would you still use them?

A prime example of a commonly used insult is the racial or ethnic slur. These are used by all groups of people to label and define anyone who isn't like them, sometimes even within their own race and ethnicity.

A slur is defined as a deliberate slight. First used in the 1600s, the word originally referred to “thin or fluid mud.” It is derived from the Middle English “slore” Middle Low German “sluren” and Middle Dutch “sloren”, all of which mean “to trail in mud.”
Is this what it means to sling mud?
 The word “slur” is closely related to the East Frisian “sluren”, meaning “to go about carelessly” and the Norwegian “slora”, meaning “to be careless”.  In 1746, “slur” was also used in a musical sense to mean “sliding.”
Being careless with words can be dangerous!
Ethnic slurs are also known as ethnophaulisms (if we want to get linguistically complicated). These words/phrases are insinuations or allegations about a specific ethnicity or refer to them in a derogatory, pejorative, or insulting manner. I will be delving into several of the more common slurs in my next few posts.

In the meantime, what are some of the more colorful or creative slurs you have used or heard others use?

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Didn't Learn THAT in College

Washing windows with my step-dad today, I was reminded that I lack common sense. I have always been more book-smart than street-smart when it comes to pretty much anything. I didn't exactly expect to be washing windows for my mom to make up for borrowing $100 last month.

My step-dad asked me: "What did they teach you in college?"
My reply: "Literary analysis."
Him: "That doesn't help you clean windows, does it?"

Window Washing 101?

It also doesn't teach you street-smarts or common sense.

A person who is street-smart is attuned to and adept at surviving in an urban, poor, and often criminal environment. I have always lived a sheltered life, and when I ventured into the great unknown, I cried for my mommy. It has taken practice but I have learned to keep my ignorant mouth shut... most of the time.

The word "street-smart" is a back-formation of the word "street smarts," which originated in 1972.  Yes, I had to look up the definition of back-formation: a shortened word created from a longer word. For example, "bus" is a back-formation of "omnibus." Like a nickname for a kid with a massive moniker.

Remember Dodger from Oliver & Co.?

Common sense has a more detailed history. In the 14th Century, the word referred to the philosophy of mentally combining information gathered by the five senses, a.k.a. "ordinary understanding." It came to mean the sensible and logical understanding that enables a person to make good decisions and sound judgements.

My biggest problem washing the windows was figuring out how to reach them. Some were very tall and most were behind bushes. A few were on the other side of a koi pond. It involved a lot of manoeuvring, standing on steps, and extending the length of the squeegee.
None of which I learned how to do in college.

Why didn't someone warn me?

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Euphemisms: From Death to Dolphins

Let's just pretty this up...
A euphemism is a word or phrase usually used to describe or talk about uncomfortable topics. Two of the biggest contenders are death and sex. I recently came across a discussion of death euphemisms and how one language, Marathi (a language in India), supposedly does not have a euphemistic phrase in reference to death.

As an adolescent, euphemisms amazed me. Some of them were downright poetic, as comedian George Carlin observed in his rant on sexual and genetalia-related euphemisms - some of my favourites: one-eyed wonder worm, the painters are in, and waxing the dolphin.

I've got the dolphin. Now where's the wax?
 George Carlin is one of my favourite comedians because he uses stand-up as a way to philosophize, and he often discusses the evolution and use of language. This clip, for instance, starts with the evolution of post-traumatic stress disorder: shell shock --> battle fatigue --> operational exhaustion --> post-traumatic stress disorder. I am so disappointed I never got to see this man in action, but I vow to name one of my children Carlin (or at least use it as a middle name) to honour his memory.

Thou shall not worship false idols.
And, finally, comes my gigantic list of euphemisms related to throwing up. I compiled these from my own memory and imagination, as well as by asking friends and acquaintances for their contributions. This was years ago, mind you, during my excessively annoying adolescent period. I don't remember how long the list was, but I want to say it extended to nearly 30 phrases. The most memorable? Praying to the porcelain god.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bussing: Cleanliness on a Cart

As of a few weeks ago, I am a service assistant at a restaurant. Basically, that means I bus tables and help carry food out to guests. I am curious to know where the word busing came from and if it has any relationship to bus as a vehicle.

Busing means clearing tables of dirty plates, leftover food, etc. Originally the word for busboy was omnibus, a Latin word meaning “for all.” This term may have applied to people who cleared tables because they bussed all the tables. At the time, omnibus also referred to a horse-drawn carriage predecessor to the motor bus.

The first usage of bus as clearing tables in a restaurant dates back to 1913. It is also possible that the word referred to a four-wheeled cart used to carry dishes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Filibuster: Pirating Democracy

Rand Paul
At 12:40 a.m. Thursday, Rand Paul finally ended his 13-hour filibuster to delay voting on President Obama's drone policy. According to Paul, “I will speak until I can no longer speak .” Being the word-geek I am, I decided to dig into this awkward-sounding “filibuster”.

The first thing I think when I hear “filibuster” is actually the pun Tiny Tunes used, “Fill a Buster.” One of the characters, Buster, a precocious little blue bunny was subsequently filled with air from a pump and then released like a balloon to fly around. Obviously not an accurate definition. (Watch it HERE at 3:10).

One blogger (known as Cam) notes that “ filibustering politicians are pirates hijacking our democracy.” And it is scary just how true that is. A filibuster is a tactic used by politicians to delay a vote by giving long, often irrelevant speeches.

The record for the longest filibuster goes to Sen. Strom Thurmond, who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes beginning on Aug. 28, 1957, in opposition to civil rights legislation. Thurmond recited from the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, George Washington’s farewell address and other historical documents to waste away the time. You would think senators were hourly employees!

The etymology (origin) of filibuster is an interesting one. First used in the 1580's, the word came from “flibutor,” meaning pirate, and ultimately the Dutch “vribuiter,” or freebooter, a term used for pirates in the West Indies. The Spanish was “filibustero” and the French was “filibustier.”

In the political sense, “filibuster” did not make an appearance until 1865. The extension of meaning from a term for pirates to delaying politicians arose because they “pirated” the debate.
When asked if I like ninjas or pirates (the age-old debate) I usually choose pirates. They have a better personality, and they drink lots of rum. But these “pirates” are just irritating.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Since a few of my posts have gotten picked up by other sites and/or re-tweeted on the Twitter-verse, the number of visitors to this blog has rocketed to over 11,000. Thank you so much for your readership! I love you all!

Lobster sticks to magnet!

Did the tanning bed thing for the first time at the gym today and now I am a lobster, which makes me think of all things lobster. My brain likes to run with a train of thought until it crashes or falls off the track. Recently started working at Red Lobster also, and my boyfriend showed me an internet video - "Lobster Sticks to Magnet."

Sometimes I think I should post about all the memes and random pop culture things I don't understand. Problem is most of them are old and I seem to be the only one out of the loop. Case in point: recently learned the origins of "sad panda" (hint: Southpark).

But does this "lobster sticks to magnet" have any basis in reality? Not really. Of course, lobsters don't stick to magnets because they are not made of metal - at least they shouldn't be. However, lobsters navigate by use of magnetism, using the earth's magnetic field as a compass.

Yay, I learned something?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blooming into the Black

Rose blooming in December
When steam cleans your brain stem,
When your eyes leak and your ears bleed,
Your fingernails pried off, your kneecaps shattered,
Your skin sliced with scars and blood,
You wait, unanswered.

Blinds block your view of the street below,
Clogged with cars and pedestrians,
Their upturned umbrellas blooming into the black sky.
Your desire for sunshine wiped away,
You smile at your own demise.

You yearn to be a martyr,
To be the only one willing to die.
You think dreams are something you can choose,
But the worst nightmares come for those
Who least expect them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Perfect on the Outside

for Alexandria Binanti

She is pounding, planning, placing,
On the wide scale, waiting, listening,
Everything for the wedding.
At 10 am, a possible bridesmaid dress fits
The faces of the kids from Korea.
That fancy fail cools overnight.

Barely Monday this morning,
Happy coffee makes her OCD friend grateful.
No complex assembly required.
This girl gleefully described three inches.
She needs strong people to load heavy things.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Made for Current Usage

for Megan Wheeler-Shuemate
She lives where she can barely afford
Ugly spice for the new year.
That means she has to claim dresses
From fellow nerds.
Her kids came in the mail.
Addictive bath salts will increase
Super Mario's spice,

But she doesn't want psyched
Disrespect in the house.

Homemade water costs
A bead-weaving set and
Sporty baby stuff.
Chicken n' rice soup is supposed to
Move the galaxy.
Dinner increases bullshit,
Is quietly sobbing to itself.

The bill is so much that
She is a little extended into
Hell is playing round two
Nine times.