Saturday, May 10, 2008


Two short thoughts today, on the rougish and dubious topics of vandalism and narcotics:

I was on the ride down from Flagstaff, headed towards home, when nature called and I asked my dad, the one driving, to pull us over into the next rest stop. That thankfully came quickly, and I hurried myself into the restroom. While there, I made note of the usual stall graffiti. It came equipped with the usual: Individual's names, sporadic profanity, proclimations of eternal love--

And then I noticed one graffito that seemed a bit out of place. In crude, scratched handwriting, someone had scrawled the moniker "Monster Blood."

"Monster Blood?" Honestly. Given the maladroit nature of the scratching, I am inclined to believe it was a child who wrote that particular bit of doggrel--but again, I find myself asking, what child young enough to think the phrase "Monster Blood" sounds edgy or frightening would have the time to scratch it into the metal walls of a rest stop bathroom stall? Could there honestly be some gangster out there with "Monster Blood" as his or her calling card?

If so, I think you may need to think of a better commando name.

And while we're on the subject of lawbreakers, the nicknames that junkies give to their brain-scramblers of choice are just baffling. In particular, using the phrase "wacky tobaccy" to describe cannabis just seems silly. The absurd rhyme--not to mention the mere presence of the word "wacky"--make it sound like something a prospector would say. And I really can't imagine a miner 49 toking in a dorm room with his buddies.

The truly sad thing is how long this thought has been with me: Five years. Ever since a presentation by a parole officer in a high school class that included a long list of "street names" for various drugs.

W|R|A|T|H|F|U|L|N|E|S|S: My anti-drug.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

This Language Ain't Big Enough Fer the Two of Us

There are certain sayings in this language that, for some reason or another, are entirely two similar to one another.

As an example of this, I present the expressions "ham-fisted" and "ham-handed." I am constantly getting the two confused. Both of them involve porcine meat products and the manual extensions of the human arm, and yet they don't have anywhere near the same meaning. The first, "ham-fisted," means having large, beefy hands. Quite plainly, hands like hams. The second is an idiom, meaning "forced or artificial." It is frequently used to refer to the themes or "messages" of a textual work.

Friends, is it really fair of English to do this to us? Having two common phrases that are this similar in sound, regardless of their meaning, is simply not fair. It's just begging mix-ups. Misunderstandings will run rampant, and wacky sitcom-style hijinks with ensue, and somebody will misplace their clothes and end up having to duck behind random objects in order to avoid being caught in their altogether.

The English language needs the equivalent of Wikipedia's Canditate for Speedy Deletion system. The only question remaining is which to get rid of. Me, I nominate "ham-handed." It's an idiom, and we all know how dumb THOSE are.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Top 10 Greatest German Loanwords

I was pulling my hair out recently trying to spell "schadenfreude" correctly, despite having used it in an early blog post here. (This eventually lead me to the Wikipedia article on Avenue Q, which lead me to YouTube, which consequently ended with me going around all day whilst humming, "Didja ever clap when a waitress falls / and drops a tray of glasses...") It occured to me as I did this quite how many words English barrows from its close linguistic cousin, German. (Although many dictionaries and similar sources will call English and German brothers, due to the high number of common English words that come from Germanic sources, English's own origins are more Gaelic than Gothic.)

So, for absolutely no reason at all, I present to you my top 10 favorite German loanwords in English. Enjoy!

10. Doppelgänger

Noun. A double, especially of a person. Literally means "double walker." Comes from the myth of the Doppelgänger, a ghostly spirit that follows behind all people and mimics their every move. Can only be seen by the person who possesses them, but because they move in exact time with a person's actions and are always directally behind them, catching a glimpse of one's Doppelgänger is difficult. To see it is seen as a sign of death.

Outside of morbid mythology, it's an exceptionally useful way to describe a lookalike or double without having to resort to--well, to "lookalike" or "double." And it's so much more evocative than "evil twin!"

9. Blitz

Noun; sometimes verb. A powerful or unexpected attack or burst of movement; to move or attack in a manner characteristic of a blitz. Literally means "lightning." (Occasionally you'll get an RPG spell or two that uses it in the literal sense.)

Aside from being a great way to describe someone going reallyreallyfast (how do you say "greased" in German?), this word seems to have wormed its way into a number of absurdly catchy rock songs. Although it seems that not many are familiar with Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz," I know of very few human beings who will not respond (if perhaps negatively) to a rousing cry of "Hi! Ho! Let's go! Hi! Ho! Let's go!"

8. Zeitgeist

Noun. Those artifacts, mindsets, attitudes, and social constructs indicative of a certain era in time. Literally means "spirit of the time."

In case that definition left you more puzzled than elucidated, allow me to expand. It essentially means something which you associate with a specific era in time. Mullets, bad clothes, cheesy cartoons, and disco-esque pop music despite the mentality that disco is dead? That's the Zeitgeist of the 80's. The consistant fear of nuclear attack and the desire to prepare for such? That's a more serious example of 50's Zeitgeist. This is one of those words that I like simply because trying to describe the same concept in English is clunky.

7. Wunderkind

Noun. A prodigy; an exceptionally talented child. Literally means "wonder child."

Like doppelgänger, this word is so much more enjoyable to say than its English counterpart that I end up using it far more than any other. Although "prodigy" means nothing to someone simply seeing the word for the first time, "wunderkind" is immediately understandable--being that "wonder" and "wunder" are cognates, and plenty of people are familiar with "kind" for "child" from fellow loanword "kindergarten." I suppose this concept also has the term "phenom" attached to it, but for some reason, I can't hear it without thinking of surfers...

6. Dreck

Noun. Something awful or terrible. Literally means "dirt."

Incredibly emphatic. It spits so wonderfully off the tongue! Calling something rotten or no-good is satisfying, but but there's something so fulfilling about calling it "utter dreck" that no other word can provide. A properly-placed tongue even sends a little spray of spittle flying after the final phoneme, in a final insult to whatever deserved the dreck-ing.

5. Über

Prefix; sometimes noun. Has a similar meaning to "super"--above, greater than, extremely, etc. Literally means "over; above;" as a single word it can mean "about."

Oh, über. Or "uber," as the laymen spell it. Where would the online gaming scene be without you? We would have no way to describe ridiculously powerful characters! We would have to resort to "very" for emphasis! I'm only being half sarcastic, of course--although we anglophiles tend to misuse über somewhat, it is a handy way of describing something "to the extreme."

4. Kaput

Adjective. Out of order; not working. Literally means "not working."

Falling apart. No life left in it. A goner. It done broke. Although not a proper ideophone, there's no denying that kaput sounds an awful lot like what it means. Although originally German, it probably came to English through Yiddish. However it got here, though, there's no denying the popularity it's enjoyed since then--especially in this electric, mechanized age, where there are more and more things to go kaput on us.

3. Schadenfreude

Noun. A feeling of happiness derived from seeing others' failure or pain. Literally, "joy of pain."

Another wonderful case of us stealing a word for a feeling which we have no name for, schadenfreude is that wonderful feeling that you get when other people mess up worse than you do. Skateboarders falling on their faces, comedians corpsing their acts, anyone anywhere getting hit in the groin--it's hard not to laugh, thanks to that pesky human nature.

It also inspired the decidedly-not-safe-for-work ditty I found myself humming recently. "Schaaaadenfreude--people taking pleasure in your paaaain!"

2. Angst

Noun. A feeling of depression or anxiety. Literally, "fear of nothing."

Quite possibly the single most useful word on the Internet, this single term sums up half the population of MySpace, one-third of the population of Livejournal, and one Potter Puppet Pals video. Describing the way every teenager has ever felt ever--usually to the consternation of everyone who reads their online ramblings--the word "angst" is so singularly handy I don't know how the language ever survived without it. How on earth did people complain about their 15-year-olds before then?

1. Earworm

Noun. A tune or piece of music that one subconsciously repeats. Comes from the German "ohrwurm," literally meaning "ear worm."

The definition of earworm is the Russian folk tune "Korobeiniki."

What you probably know this song as:

You're welcome.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

On the Pronunciation of Internet Acronyms

The above YouTube video serves two purposes as the introduction to my post. Its first purpose is to help illustrate precisely what I mean when I talk about the pronunciation of Internet acronyms. The second is to inflict upon you a merciless earworm that will continue to torment you long after you depart my blog.

As I hail from a group of exceedingly nerdy friends, and tend to associate with websites and online communities were geekiness is reveled in (not against, as I hasten to note), I have come across real-life (or, in a tone befitting this post, IRL) pronunciations of acronyms coined mostly for ease of communication online. Among these: LOL (Laughing Out Loud), ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing), LMAO (Laughing My @$$ Off), and PWN (Not technically an acronym, but likely derived from a typographical error in the spelling of "owned." It has the same meaning). The Internet literati seem to be of two minds concerning such spoken cultural allusions. Some treat them as pure acronyms and speak each individual letter. LOL is Ell Oh Ell; ROFL is Are Oh Eff Ell. Others turn them into words, slurring their individual letter sounds together and creating neologisms. LOL is Lawl, ROFL is Rawful. The above video is an example of the latter, though it does take it to a slight extreme. It takes some terms and phrases generally only spoken in letter form (such as DM--Dee Em--and WTF--Doubleyou Tee Eff) and tries to sound them out phonetically, despite their derth of vowels.

I've noticed a few oddities and idosyncracies in these pronunciations, however. Certain acronym phrases, especially those consisting of three words or letters, tend to have spoken equivalents that are neither phonetic aproximations or letter-by-letter re-spellings. Instead, they're something... else.

Take the example video above. One of the terms it uses is OMG, short for Oh My (insert your favorite expression of shock that begins with a G here--Goodness, Gosh, God, Gadzooks, et cetra). Two common real-world pronunciations of OMG exist--Oh Em Gee, and "ohmig." In my experience, Oh Em Gee is the more common of the two. However, seemingly more prevalent than "ohmig" is the phrasing used in the video above: "Oh muh guh." This pronunciation actually appears to be a form of the full phrase (most likely "Oh My God" in this particular case) in which the syllables of the second two words have become slurred and assimilated with those of the first, resulting in a kind of "half-spoken" version of the full phrase.

Other phrases this tends to happen to (as demonstrated in the above) are FTW (For The Win) and WTF (What The... well, I'm sure you can guess). It is slightly more difficult to make the "assimilation" argument for FTW, as a true assimilative version of FTW would probaly sound more like "Fer Ter Wer" as opposed to "Fuh Tuh Wuh." Instead, the spoken form of FTW sounds more like a reversed version of WTF's: "Wuh Tuh Fuh." (For WTF, one could possibly make the case for abreviation as well).

I wonder what causes these pronunciations to come out like they do? I'm not sure--it's not like I've done research on this sort of thing--but I can say that it does seem to have some common mental genesis for all of the geeks who use Internet acronyms in their everyday speech. I know that I was mentally pronouncing "WTF" as "Wuh Tuh Fuh" long before I ever heard it out loud, and I wasn't the least bit shocked when I finally did that my suspicions were confirmed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

On the Unisexification of "Guy," "Dude," "Man," and "Bro"

Today, the universe got its sweet, sweet revenge on me for the 19 and a half years of hideous jokes it has had to endure on my behalf.

A Wrathful English Major walked into a bar...


As I sit here, nursing my bruised brow with an entirely fictitious slab of cold meat, I am lead to ponder the incidents which took place prior to my unfortunate, schadenfreude-enducing encounter with a piece of entirely too-solid metal. This particular collision took place at the school book store, where I had gone to pick up some graph paper and a blue book for my history exam. I was noodling throughout the notebooks section, looking for one posessing the particular variety of gridded paper I needed to complete my math homework. As I did so, a very, very tall young gentleman rounded the corner and proceeded to nearly trip over my very, very short self.

"Woah. Sorry, man," he said, and went on his way.

I did not think much of this initially. (I am, however, beginning to think I use that phrase too much.) However, later, at the checkout counter, the young woman handling purchases said to me,

"Thank you very much, guy."

I believe I have mentioned before that I am female. And while I have myself been known to use phrases such as "guy" and "dude" in strictly unisex senses, I can't say I've ever seen "guy," as a direct term of address, used for a woman before. Certainly, a group of females can easily be "the guys," and in some registers of colloquial American English, any person one doesn't know particularly well is a "man." The sense of "man" meaning "all of humankind," double-X and XY chromosones included, has been around longer than that, even. But "guy" as a direct term of address for a woman?

The phrase "guy," meaning "generic bloke," itself stems from the masculine name "Guy." In my little corner of the States, it is rarely used as a term of direct address as it is--while I certainly know of its existance, due for the most part to its oddly frequent use in Mario and Zelda games translated by Nintendo of America, it isn't something I tend to hear in everyday use. So being called "guy" today, by a rather spry young blonde girl with a spray of curly hair, no less, seemed distinctly out of place in my view of reality. Had she called me "dude," I don't think I would have noticed. I myself have been using "dude" as a generic term of address for yonks, and the etymology of "dude" is fairly generic and unisex. (I believe--though please, do correct me if I err--that Charles Dickens coined the phrase "dude" from the union of "dud" and "attitude," though this may simply be literary apocrypha.) But "guy" seemed a bit oddly specific to me.

Of course, it may simply be my unfamiliarity with it that is causing me this bemusement. Perhaps the young lady would have been equally startled had I said, in response, "You're welcome, dude."

I've been thinking about this in a roundabout way for a while now, as I've seen male fictional characters of various origins refer to their female friends as "bro." But it wasn't until today I really began to consider it.

This is to say nothing of Marcy, who still hasn't figured out that Peppermint Patty doesn't like being called "sir."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008

How very odd.

I was writing a homework assignment down in my planner today when I made a curious observation.

My planner, like so many others I've had in the past, has little quotes in the heading of each week. They're all very general, very standard "inspirational" fare, the sort of thing you'd find on those motivational posters with the black borders and nondescript pictures of people snowboarding and large, block serif letters. ("DETERMINATION - A goal is just a place to stop and catch your breath before you move forward." Mountain climber with a constipated expression.) I haven't paid much attention to them, in general, until I saw one today that I thought I could use as a chapter header in the Wordkeepers somewhere.

I thought, Hey. I need more chapter-heading quotes. Lemmie look through this thing and see what I can find.

"So?" you say. "Then what?"

Well, my eyebrows made a few interesting movements as I noted something peculiar about all the quotations.

Mainly, that they were all made by women.

Now, being in possession of a pair of X chromosones myself, I'm all for grrl power. But it struck me as a bit peculiar that every single quote in the notebook was of Strong Woman origin when this fact had never been advertised on the notebook itself. It wasn't specifically marked off as a Feminist Inspiration Planner or Planner For Awesome Chicks. I suppose the flower motif on the inside stationary is a bit girly, but there's no hint of that anywhere on the outside. Nor was there any when I bought it--the outside cover simply says "2008 Daily Planner," and the price sticker, when it was still stuck on, echoed the same sentiments.

Perhaps this was the maker's intention. Maybe the designer of the planner planned a quiet revolt, silently but subversively filling their attractive sea foam green notebook with nothing but heartfelt, inspirational quotes from only the toughest of girls--Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Frank--in the hopes that someone would see them. See them, and be inspired. They would kick back in their chair, grinning at each clever quip, newfound respect for the female species beaming across their face, never once expecting to find this source of ineffable inspiration in the pages of a 99-cent planner--

Wait, 99-cent planner? Who the devil am I kidding?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh ho ho ho! Devillish laugh!

cash advance

Fast Payday Loans

My friends, I have succeeded in the thorough befuddlement of all with my expansive, extraordinarily literate vocabulary. I shall thoroughly enjoy my new cachet forthwith.

(As you can clearly see, I'm now trying to push it up to "Genius" level.)

This can't end well.

I find it rather amusing, telling people what both my major and minor are. I don't suppose I need to tell you what I'm majoring in (but in case you're curious, read the title of the blog), but my minor is Astronomy. This surprises people, as there seems to be a general notion among physical science majors that we liberal arts folk are a lot of foppish dandies whose romantic, obfuscating worldview distances from the facts of hard science. But I have always been enamored of the stars, I will eagerly devour any books I come across about string theory or general quantum physics, and I am quite possibly the only person in my department who knows what a Schwartzchild radius is, let alone how to calculate one.

Unfortunately, as fascinating as I find most of the world's disciplines, I have never been very good at math. Certainly, I find several concepts within the realm of higher mathematics intriguing (Grahmn's number is always a favorite), most numbers go straight through my head with nary a care.

In order to fulfil my Astronomy minor, I need to take calculus.

The first math course I took upon entering this college was MAT 101X.

Clearly, I have my work cut out for me.

This semester, I am taking MAT 108, best described as "Pre-Pre-Calculus." So, yes, slowly but surely, I am getting there. However, I think I may have trouble concentrating in this class. You see, my professor--

No, this isn't going in the direction you probably think it's going.

My professor, although I do not know his exact genesis, is from somewhere in the general vincinity of India. Perhaps Pakistan, perhaps somewhere else in the Middle East or what the British call the Orient. (I have never been sure whether to classify India as Middle Eastern as Oriental.) His accent is extremely thick, and he occasionally uses grammatical constructs typically avoided in American English. He says things such as "the wedding ceremony of my sister" or "more easier." His speech is notably lacking in some fricative sounds--anthing with a "th" or "sh" in it gets reduced to a /t/, /d/ or /s/.

And rather than being fascinated by his talk on the topic of mathematics (and me realizing that I need to kick myself for forgetting the quadratic formula AGAIN, even though I've had it drilled into me repeatedly), I'm sitting there pondering the nature of the rules that govern his accent (/θ/ -> /d/) and the grammar of his useage of adjectives. As I mentally compile a list of rules for his phonetic pronunciations of words, my hand pantomimes writing them in the air, when I should be simplifying a pair of polynomial fractions.

This is going to be a long year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Princess of Wails

Have you ever actually hurled a book across the room, you hated it so much?

As of today, I have.

It was The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones--one of my all-time favorite authors, and it looked fun and silly--if directed at a much younger audience than myself. Still, I know this particular author, and she never talks down in her writing. She's wonderfully erudite and clever. No matter what age a book of hers is written for, I expect a ripping good yarn nontheless. It was a "group of children have nasty step-brother and step-parent and wonder what to do about them" type of story. But they discover magical powers and that kind of stuff, as is the wont of children in these kinds of books. As they go along they slowly but surely come to love and understand their stepbrothers, all the kids get along, they learn each other's good traits and bad traits, and everyone is shown to be a flawed but ultimately human being.

Until the end.

The end makes my stomach turn.

Right at the end, the "villain" character (the titular Ogre, usename Jack McIntyre) does a complete 360 in personality, becoming the "woe-is-me-I'm-so-misunderstood-and-you've-been-misunderstanding-me-all-this-time" kind of character. He does this within the span of about three pages, tops. There isn't anything that brings on this change, either. He just suddenly starts acting like this (which initially seems horribly out of character) and then never reverts back. Bang. Not even a hint of his "former" self.

Folks, I'm not exactly picky with my reading habits. I've been known to scarf down--and even enjoy enough to reread!--some spectacularly bad books. But I will not, WILL not, stand for lazy charictarization, especially from a book--from an author!--from whom I expect better. This could have been wonderfully and convincingly done. Some of the "excuses" the story gives for his personality do make sense, but others I can't even begin to reconcille. A couple of them that come to mind:

1) We find out in the course of the story that his own two sons--one about thirteen and the other around 15/16--both think of him of as beastly and horrible as his two stepchildren do. So it's not merely a matter of "we don't like charge arglebargle," but that he genuinely seems to be a nasty person. I would especially expect a kid of about 16 to understand his or her parents at least somewhat well. But the older kid never gives any indication of this, but simply goes on and reviles him along with the other kids.

2) He's not just mean to the kids, either. He's horrible to his wife, too. Which causes her to run away. And then when she suddenly comes home at the end of the book, she's all happy and cheerful and all "oh hai guyz" and the incredibly horrible and nasty and cruel things the villain has said to her over the course of the book, including those that caused her to run away, are completely blown over. Me: "lolwut?"

3) Similarly, the kids are never once suspicious of his change. Maybe one character, for a short while. Then it's all happiness and choruses of "why can't we be frieeeeends" all around. All the other character development in the book happens with such wonderful pacing that it feels like having a bucket of cold water suddenly flung over me. People do not just suddenly change from Mortal Enemies to The Get Along-Gang literally overnight, especially when they've had this hostility between them for several months, in the case of the stepkids, or most of their LIVES, in the case of the biological kids.

4) One of the excuses made for the character is that "oh a lot of the things he was saying were just jokes he just doesn't display emotion very well so you can't tell." Which could very well work. If I hadn't skimmed through the book and found almost NO comments made by him that could've been taken in a joking manner. Save, perhaps, for one, about an unusually harsh punishment--which was later revealed not to be a joke at all. But the thing is, if he were actually the kind of person he is SUPPOSED to be by the end of the book, it seems extremely unlikely that he'd make such a comment at all!

5) He also once beat one of his sons so severely that he literally fell ill. And then proceeded not to care. How am I supposed to put this together with his "kinder, gentler" personality?

I'm not saying that 360's in personality can't be done, but they have to be properly necessitated by the plot, happen at a reasonable rate, or both.

I mean, one of my favorite video games of all TIME--Psychonauts--pulls this trick. The player is lead to hate the father figure of the main character up until the very end. The character "hates" him as well up until that point. But (uh, SPOILER ALERT, obviously):

1) The main character is ten years old.
2) The main character was prevented in the past from doing things by his father--incredibly dangerous things which he nonetheless found "cool."
3) The main character was recently punished by said father for disobeying him, and for not doing something important just because he didn't want to.
4) We never once hear Dear Old Dad's story until the very end.

At which point the main character is revealed to be a predictable child who threw a temper tantrum just because he didn't get to do whatever he wanted all the time.

(The spoiler-conscious may resume reading.)

Gosh, I was so frustrated with this book. It's not just that it was sloppily rushed in the last act. It was that it was so bad, and it was by an author I love. And all the other characters in the book were so elegantly done! It really felt like a slap in the face.

So, yes. I literally threw it across the room. It hit the drapes and now resides next to the leg of the chair situated in front of the family's computer desk. However, having ranted, and having given the manuscript itself a goodly heave, I feel healed. Now I can take it back to the secondhand bookstore and forget its existance.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Word Association With TWEM

Wow! I just beat Psychonauts! That was an amazing game. Tim Schafer is a mad genius. Thank you, GameTap, for letting me enjoy this masterpiece free of charge (and legally, at that), and thank you, Richard Horvitz, for bringing yet another one of my now-favorite characters to life.

Hey, there were a lot of characters in that game with weirdly-spelled names. Like Lili instead of Lily or Lilly. And Dogan instead of Doogan. And Razputin instead of--

Wait. Rasputin. Wasn't he some evil guy?

Yeah, he was! He was that evil Russian dude who, like, killed the Romanovs or something! They made a movie about that. He had a talking bat.

AWESOME! He was a zombie in that movie! I have got to see this.

...Mom, where's the tape that had
Anastasia recorded on it?

Oh, God, I remember this song! "Faaar away, loooong ago, glowing dim as an eeeemmber, things my hearrrt, used to knoooow, once upon a Deceeeemmmber!"

Wait. It's not December anymore, it's January! Why am I watching this again?

Hey, there's Rasputin! He's got singing cockroaches! His head comes off! Cool!

Hey, isn't Razputin the name of the main character from