In The Aftermath Of The Power Failure


Oh, yeah, something else from the power failure the other day. Whoever owns the house across the street has been having a lot of work done on it, and the other day the workers were going on until pretty well in the night and even after dark, we guess to make up for lost time while the weather’s still good. I wouldn’t be doing stuff on the top of ladders like that after dark, not without more spotlights than our neighborhood supports.

And this has me annoyed because I wanted to describe the action, and all I had that was right was “the roofers were roofing the roof” and that makes it sound like I don’t know how to … wordificate … things and stuff. And it’s not my fault! Somehow we as a society thought of “people who build or repair roofs” and decided they’re called “roofers” and the activity they do is “roofing”, because, what, we were ambushed on camera about the subject and now we’re stuck with the first thing that popped into our heads? All right, we have bigger problems to deal with, but can we put this one on the list? This is one we ought to be able to fix.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell two points as someone got Matt going on the difference between the canon of a fictional world and the continuity of it and while everyone agrees there is a difference there are great differences of opinion about how important it is to be clear which you’re ever talking about, and somehow this is the argument he wants to be his legacy. All things considered we’re lucky to get out of it only losing two points.

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Statistics Saturday: The Twelve Most Patriotic English Words


  1. Flagpole
  2. Governor (politician)
  3. Cinderblock
  4. Muskrat
  5. Aileron
  6. Six
  7. Governor (engineering)
  8. Granite
  9. Necessitous
  10. Interscholastic
  11. Postcard
  12. Practice

Based on generally accepted scholarly consensus from the words’ private writings or interviews with knowledgeable parties and, in some cases, interviews regarding the words’ political views.

Statistics Saturday: Getting To Philosophy From Pettipants Via Wikipedia


It is alleged that if one follows the first link in a Wikipedia article, and the first link in that next article, and so on, one eventually gets to Philosophy. Here it is attempted from the starting point of “pettipants”, which Wikipedia claims is a thing that really exists. They surely wouldn’t be fibbing about a thing like that, would they? On the other hand they also claim Helena is the capital of Montana, when in fact Montana has no capital. So who knows?

  1. Pettipants
  2. Lingerie
  3. Undergarment
  4. Clothing
  5. Human (as “Human Beings”)
  6. Homo Sapiens
  7. Latin
  8. Classical language (which explains “a classical language is a language with a literature that is classical”, so I’m glad we have that sorted out)
  9. Literature
  10. Literariness (skipping ‘cultura’ as that’s just a link within the same page)
  11. Language
  12. Communication
  13. Intention (as Purposeful)
  14. Mind (as Mental)
  15. Consciousness
  16. Quality (Philosophy)
  17. Philosophy

I have not the slightest idea how I got to Pettipants in the first place, even if they were anything that ever existed, which they don’t.

Statistics Saturday: My Use Of The Term ‘Crazypants’ Versus Time


Recent peaks: discussing the crazypants art teacher in the comic strip _Luann_, finally reading a plot summary of 1979's film _The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh_, and making this chart.
Until recently I just assumed The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh was one of those 1970s magic-animal-saving-stuff movies. It turns out it’s more a crazypants disco basketball movie.

You know how it is you just sometimes realize you’re using a word way more than normal? This happened to me recently.

If you’ve got any notable uses of the word “crazypants” or are curious about my other word uses let me know!

Not charted: the crazypants Immanuel Kant quote that kind of set off this whole recent crazypants phrasing.

As Ever, Y’know, The Heck?


I am all but certain there was a time in my life when I could look at a sign and not feel helpless before the questions it posed, but now, I realize I can’t even look around one of those sad little minor arcades tucked in the far back section of the Cedar Point amusement park without noticing something like this “Guide To Coin-Operated Video Games”, and the description of game content. Particularly, there’s this pair at the bottom:

Language Mild: Contains commonly used four-letter words, presumably of the milder variety.
A guide to coin-operated video games posted at one of the minor arcades in the western-themed area of Cedar Point. And isn’t it charming they don’t just say “cuss words” instead?
LANGUAGE
MILD
Contains commonly used four-letter words.
LANGUAGE
STRONG
Contains strong four-letter expletives.

What do they mean by “commonly used four-letter words”? Since it’s “mild” language that suggests they mean words such as “word” and “four” and “used” and “mild” and maybe even “blue”, “them”, “malt”, “thaw”, “ever”, “pear”, or the mildest of all mild words, “chat”, a word so mild it only becomes enraging because anyone asking for a “chat” with you is transparently trying to manage you to becoming angry at someone other than them, the person you should be angry at.

And by pinning down the red-zone warning words to “strong four-letter expletives” they seem to be ruling out all cases where you take a popular strong expletive and turn it, say, into an adjective or adverbial form, or maybe where you insert it into the middle of some other word like “absolutely”. But also if they mean this then how do they qualify the phrase “h-e-double-toothpicks”, which is nineteen letters but so mild that you can say it anywhere that hasn’t been ravaged by controversy over the toothpick industry? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Writing To Be Read


It’s fair to say that writers are writing with the intention of being read. If it’s not then the umpires have been letting me get away with it for so long I could challenge a ruling to the contrary. But it’s not just being read at all that they want, it’s being perused, every word stared at and comprehended, ideally by a reader. But in the modern and endlessly distracted world the only things actually read in their entirety are the airline’s texts announcing flight cancellations and bitter arguments about the meaning of the word “peruse”, with side threads about “decimate” and “transpire”.

How can you get the desired sort of attention without starting your own grammar-quarrel-based airline? I’m not saying that isn’t a good idea, given that you could probably get a near-captive audience just over the question of what’s added by the flight attendant’s instructions saying people have to listen to these instructions “at this time”, but it’s a lot of work and it takes you away from the writing stuff. Also, if you pack a plane full of grammar-quarrel-oriented persons together you’re going to see the depths of human savagery and it’ll be over the number of spaces to put at the end of a sentence. The correct answer is “none before the punctuation mark and three afterwards”.

Unfortunately the best way to make sure you do get read is to accept modern reading habits and adapt your writing to them. People love having finished reading stuff, but not so much the actual reading, because that takes too long. If you write for the rapid and skimming way people expect to read, they’ll read the whole important parts of the thing, at least until they catch on that everybody’s started to write that way. Then they’ll change their reading habits so they don’t have to read stuff, and we can find out what they’re doing instead and shift once more. In this way the language evolves.

The first thing is brevity. Your writing has to seem brief. I know if you write you look with admiration at those late 18th century writers who could compose single sentences that go on for twenty pages, and that read like particularly contentious sub-lease agreements between parties that don’t trust one another, or anyone else, and aren’t so fond of themselves, and so produce these awesome sentences with hundreds of comma- and hyphen-linked clauses, fighting for sun and water in a rain-forest of references, with antecedents and dependent clauses sprawled all over the text, until one can either read the entire thing in one big lump or admit defeat and wake in the middle of the night following unsettled dreams of being back in seventh grade English class and having to diagram sentences, and there’s no way of telling what the sentence began to be about by the time you finish it anyway. Stop that. Everyone hates it. The ideal sentence these days has between six and ten words, and some of those words should be hard-to-resist “eye candy” type words such as iris caramel or “macula taffy” put in quote marks or italics so they don’t look too intimidating.

Paragraph length is at least as important, though not as important as riboflavin in your diet. Everyone knows that the first or the last sentences in paragraphs are the key ones establishing the point, and the rest are just filler added to make the commercial breaks come at the right times. You can’t fight that influence, unfortunately, but you can write so that the stuff you’re actually interested in is the start and end of the paragraph. The rest can just be you indulging yourself, prattling on about whatever you want. You could even put a second writing project hidden inside the first, where it’ll be noticed by literature majors, in case any read you. They’ll write up nice articles about your subtle genius if you do, which would make you feel better if you read literature journals. So size your paragraphs to friendly, appropriate lengths.

We all know that adverbs are pretty useless. Where you write an adverb the reader knows to take it as “make whatever adjective or verb is nearby even more so, unless in context it should be less so”, so you don’t have to bother writing them. Just include a note about what the context should be in a commentary track, because people love seeing commentary tracks about how the thing was written even more than they appreciate the writing, except the people who never listen to the commentary tracks.

Italics. Stuff in italics usually doesn’t matter either, but it makes the text look thoughtful, so include some of that, but don’t bother putting your real content in there. This is a good spot to use, say, your Next Generation/Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic that’s been haunting a series of hard drives since 1997, since now you can get it published without anyone reading it and curling up in a whimpering ball of prose aversion. The same is true for block quotes, which are necessary for nonfiction works but, again, aren’t worth reading. The only reason to put stuff in block quotes is so you can show how someone else said the same thing you’re saying, or so you can point out how dumb they were to say that, so you can just go on to saying what you wanted to say or to making fun of them.

Bullet lists are a good way to make your text look like a PowerPoint slide, which is good for making sure all the text on them is read because the audience would be desperate for something to do while the presenter reads every … single … word on the slide, if they didn’t have their phones out to look at anything else on the Internet instead. Also if you use bullet points your readers are going to expect you to provide them with a presenter who reads every … single … word off the slide. Use bullet lists with caution.

  • Oh, footnotes. Footnotes are a great place for stuff you want to be read because people know they mean you’re showing how the thing you originally wrote was misleading if you let it stand on its own, so it’s like getting to see the author self-snarking, which is always fun. Except for readers who figure if it mattered you’d put it in the text. So you’re on your own here [4]. Me, I can’t resist footnotes and would read a whole book of them, except I’ve read books where it’s all in the footnotes and they weren’t worth it.

If you’re appearing in a real printed book instead of electronically for some reason probably involving ransom demands, you should know that readers are aware the middle of the page is usually boring stuff they don’t need to read either. This requires some attention be paid to the layout of your book but, again, put the real content near the top and bottom of pages and lay on those scenes of Counsellor Troi and Knuckles the Echidna quarreling for the middle. Make sure your editor knows what you’re doing so they don’t let the publisher switch things over to, say, 14 point and screw up all the formatting. Modern professional writing software should let you interweave the real text and the filler without much hassle on your part, but it doesn’t.

It probably strikes you that this means that whatever it is you really want to write is going to be sprawled out over a lot more pages than it would have, say, thirty years ago. That’s all right, because the huge size of the writing convinces readers they’re getting good value for their time, and especially good value if they’re buying books, which is why everything’s too bulky and discursive to actually read anymore.

If you find these tips of use, please let me know in an e-mail I promise to skim at least and might someday respond to. That’s a different discussion.


[4] Sorry I can’t give you useful advice on this one. Maybe we should’ve gone with the grammar-quarrel-based airline instead.

Seedy Updates


So I took the plunge and got a bag of wordseed. Took delivery today, and I should’ve expected. You expect a 20-pound bag of things to have a certain bulk, but this was way smaller and so much more trouble to deal with. You know the densest matter in the universe is neutronium with twenty boxes full of books that need to be moved upstairs? It’s about like that. They had to deliver it on a dolly that was itself carried on another dolly.

Anyway, I prepared a bed like the instructions recommend — a stockpile of books that are far too precious for me to ever get rid of even though I never read them and try not to touch them — and scattered the seed fairly uniformly, leaving only a decent set of margins. I’m skeptical what’ll come up, but, we’ll see.

From the Summer Catalogue


So this was listed in the Summer Catalogue:

Year-round cracked syllable and diphthong mixture to attract the widest variety of words. Blend effective all year round in zones with a Flesch-Kincaid number of 8 or above or Gunning fog index of at least 10; temperature climates support a Flesch-Kincaid of 6 or higher. Very good at attracting loan words from exciting language families. Certified low-zeugma. Gerund-safe. 20 pounds, $11.98 and free shipping.

It seems like a good deal and yet I wonder if it’s really for me. I have no idea what the Gunning fog index is around these parts.

Statistics Saturday: Some Words Which Are Auto-Corrected And Some Words Which Are Not


Word Other Word
Lugubrious Rake
Councilig Mediocratize
Stele Reak
Rhythmus 21
Sward Roke
Productiver Impatiens
Aker Screetch
Value-Neutral Whimisical
Hosta Hofstra
Instanec Pais

Unbeknownst


I’m starting from the premise that you just can’t say “unbeknownst” anymore, not without sounding at least a little arch and like you’re making fun of the people who use words like “unbeknownst” without meaning to sound a little arch and like they’re making fun of (I’m sorry, I have to call this sentence off because of the recursion error). Anyway, if you’re not willing to give me that premise we’re just not going to get anywhere.

The thing is that “unbeknownst” was a perfectly good word, usable for all sorts of conditions when the beknownsting of things was aptly described as un-, and now it isn’t. At some point the comical uses of the word so overwhelmed the serious uses that the word had to be given up as part of the usable non-humorous vocabulary.

So that means there’s someone out there who was the last person to use “unbeknownst” without meaning it archly, and without expecting the audience to hear it a little archly, and given that arch uses of the word had to be on the rise then I wonder: was this last-serious-use of the word something the writer knew was going on, or was it unbeknownst to her? But if it was beknownst to her, doesn’t that keep it from being a legitimate use? Even a little bitty bit? Or did she refuse to think about that lest she lose the spot of last-legitimate-user to whoever used it just before she did?

To sum up, worrying about this nonsense is why I got like two hours of sleep last night.

What-Nots That Were


Q. When someone talks about what-nots, as in, “taking care of this or that or what-not” (this isn’t a good example and I should fix that before I send the question in) what are they referring to?

A. Begin by considering things. Now rule out from the set of things: mathematical operations, griffins, pancake breakfasts, sandcastles, ham radio repeater stations, tool sheds, rock operas, and the things you keep in that compartment of your car’s armest but not where CDs are supposed to go. Now take the geometric mean of the things that remain. You can’t, because that’s a mathematical operation, which you ruled out, see? The what-nots are the trinkets you keep on your shelf so that it would be too much bother to remove them before dusting, as well as the receipts from ATM transactions and movie purchases that you keep because they might come in handy someday. Also included, optionally, are up to one quarter-cup of spices (any kind).

What Skeuomorphism Means to Me (it doesn’t)


I figured it was a good time to do some serious looking at this new OS X Mavericks and other stuff that Apple’s up to, because it’s all just come out and has finally got its visibility set to “yes”, and I’m in pretty urgent need of some click-bait. I’m bad enough at writing stuff people want to read that I still call it “click-bait”. I’m not sure anyone ever called it that, but I’m sure the people in the industry have a proper and more precise term for it, something like “isomorphic differentiable topological class structures”, because that’s the sort of phrase you never go looking for until you’re desperate for whatever the person using it was selling. My last attempt at click-baiting involved rubbing peanut butter on a USB hub, and that worked pretty well, right up until the thing was robbed by chipmunk, who made off with $2.38 in loose change. Off to looking.

Continue reading “What Skeuomorphism Means to Me (it doesn’t)”