“You know, in British English, the world `left` is spelled `lieut`.”
Reference: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.
“You know, in British English, the world `left` is spelled `lieut`.”
Reference: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.
Reference: We Freeze to Please: A History of NASA’s Icing Research Tunnel and the Quest for Safety, William M Leary.
It has been over twenty years since I last believed I spelled “gauge” correctly, even with looking it up.
After we edit-war Wikipedia into accepting “Colourado” as how United Kingdom folks spell the state name, how about adding in the astounding fact that after the Revolutions of 1848, the short-lived Republic of Colorado tried to form an alliance with France, offering to name itself “Tri-colourado” if it went through? But then, you know, Napoleon III and all that.
So how many people do you think would have to fight a dedicated Wikipedia edit war for about a month before people would accept as true that folks in the United Kingdom spell the US state name “Colourado”? I think we could do it with, like, six people unshakable in their resolve.
Yesterday my spell checker refused to admit “pillbugs” as a word, but is fine with metainterworld somehow.
Walking is a pretty good way to get around. I mean, if you’re able and up for it. It compares favorably to tossing yourself on the ground and rolling to your destination, for example, by being faster and getting less sidewalk debris in your clothing. It provides exercise. And it puts you in touch with your neighborhood in a way you don’t otherwise have. Like, if you didn’t walk, would you pay attention to that empty shopping cart on your street? The one that’s got no identifiable store markings? The one that’s over a mile from any store that could support a shopping cart that capacious? The one that keeps migrating north and south, as if driven by some inscrutable mating drive? Can you stop noticing it, once you’ve started? And yet without walking all you’d do is acknowledge that a street exists. Where’s the fun in that?
Given its advantages, why isn’t walking a more popular way of people getting to places they’d rather have stayed home from? Some problems are obvious. There’s the vulnerability to rain. The poor reliability of air conditioning. That one block of sidewalk square that got dug up, and is marked off with tape, that’s been standing there non-existent for months. It, too, is compelling. If you were still eight years old you’d know that jumping into that square is an hours-long plummet into a strange world of dinosaurs and robots and robot dinosaurs and a great adventure to save the interworld. The only thing stopping you back then was how you had a spelling quiz to get to and you were feeling pretty darned confident about ‘ukulele’. It’s still a pretty compelling problem to get to, especially when you consider the shape the interworld’s in now. But, you know, I understand if you have to hurry on. That $50 rebate check the power company gave you for turning in that broken dehumidifier isn’t going to deposit itself. And who even knows if they have convenience stores in the interworld? They have, but you have to recognize that they’re marked by the giant pillbugs and like nobody ever thinks to explain that. Plus, you find a missing square of sidewalk there and you end up plummeting into the metainterworld and that’s all sorts of new issues.
I say one problem keeping walking from catching on better is the risk of collision. I mean with other pedestrians. It’s no less bad to accidentally collide with, say, a mailbox. That might even be worse, given the level of embarrassment. Colliding with the mailbox isn’t too bad but then you reflexively say “sorry” to it and feel like a right fool for days. It won’t be until like the next Wednesday you think of the witty comeback you should have said to the mailbox, and by then nobody cares if they hear it.
But it’s collisions with people that I’m worrying about, since I have so few mailbox readers. I have few people readers too, but I’m all right with that, since I feel pretty bad when I draw attention anyway. To collide with someone you need another person to collide with. You’d figure it would usually be pretty easy not to collide. You’d see the person walking towards you, and the person sees you walking towards them, and you both move a little to the side so as not to collide. Somehow this doesn’t work, though. If you move to your right, they move to your right. If you move to their right, they move to their right too. If you stop dead still, they stop dead still and grin, embarrassed. Then you and they try moving again and it’s the same problem. You leap off the sidewalk, hoping the First Speaker of the Interworld Partnership of Communards is checking the magic picture-book at that moment and will portal you out of this world. No luck; the First Speaker needs both you and your walking opponent, and you end up bonking together inside the Chamber of the Trustworthy.
So that’s why I think we need to swipe a gimmick from the car industry (don’t tell them) and set up people with directional signals. Either that or have people go out wearing conical rubber walking-gowns, so that if people do collide it’s slower and the shock is absorbed. Plus, we’d look much more like game pieces from Sorry!. So maybe the directional signals idea is a bad one and we should go with the cones instead. Anyway, once we do that I’m sure people will like walking dozens of times better than they did before. You’re all welcome.
I paid, I assume, good money to have a spell checker somewhere on my computer so why is it letting me get away with listing “trange” as a word? It won’t give me any guidance in how to spell “Cincinnati”, which I’ve done with as many as two n’s, three c’s, and fourteen n’s; what do I even have it for? Complaining that I write “Olive Oyl” in 2019?
(Well, that’s the exploration I promised I’d do last week when I shared how professional historians describe the ancient city of Paris as “Parwas”. Please visit next week when I intend to point out how if we just made “quench” into a strong verb then we could talk about having quenched something by the phrase, “I quanch my thirst”. Oh, and the spell checker will give me “trange” but not “quanch”? Seriously.)
All right but why does my spellchecker give a pass to “housecfront”? What is that, some freak specialist word defined in terms of the usufruct of something? Or is my spellchecker just a load of rubbish? It’s done a very bad job regarding Cincinatti lately, let me tell you that. Cincinnati. See? At least one of those should not be put up with. Which one? There is no way to know.
(Ta-da! I have fulfilled the promise made last week after I could not find lockboards. Please be with me next week as I wonder whether the state of having not yet put underwear on is being in a state of derwear, and whether changing your underwear is achieving rederwear. Oh, and spellchecker isn’t going to give me “derwear”? Really?)
For those who aren’t spelling in French today.
Reference: Jerseyana: The Underside of New Jersey History. Marc Mappen.
I want to talk about spelling as we know it. I don’t mean the kind of spelling where, like, you end up with a potion of eternal width or with magic shoes that won’t let the person wearing them stop dancing. I mean the kind where you end up with a word, by putting together word components. You know, consonants, eyes of a vowel, gizzard of gerund endings, that stuff. Please adjust your expectations accordingly and report back when they’re settled down.
Spelling as we know it began in 16th century France, where the regular consistent coding of words served as a way for persecuted Hugenots to acknowledge one another without detection by the King’s agents. With the Edict of Nantes temporarily resolving that whole fight about how much everybody loved God more, the need for the secrecy faded. So the idea went looking for more exciting spots. It spread first to Holland. Then to Poland, where it got lost and ended up back in Holland. Next time around it set out for Italy, but misunderstood the directions through the Swiss Alps and ended up right back in Holland. Having had enough of ending up in Holland, spelling jumped into the English Channel and swam furiously west. Fourteen days later it washed up in Holland, where it threw up its arms and said, “Fine, then,” and got all sullen.
Spelling might have remained in the United Provinces forever except for the Great Fire of London of 1666. Samuel Pepys, renowned for his diaries and how fun it is to say his name and probably other stuff I’m guessing, realized the use of regular, consistent spellings during this disaster. His first warning of the fire came from a young boy of laddish age who ran past yelling out, “Taike kare! Taykke kaire! A graette Fyren cowmes here frum Puddenge-Lain!” Pepys had no idea what the kid was talking about. He asked the kid to repeat it, and it didn’t get much better. The child added, “Rayce the allarum! Phire raigges throo the Citty!” This left Pepys feeling awkward. So he let the child go and figured if it was all that important he’d hear about it.
The still-smoldering Pepys figured nobody needed that kind of brush with death. So he figured maybe the city could be built fireproof. Also maybe write things down in consistent ways so it doesn’t take four tries to understand people. His friend John Evelyn considered this series of events, pointing out that if the child had said all this, the spelling shouldn’t matter. But why would the child have written out such a message about the Fire when he was running around and talking to people about it? Pepys eloquently shoved his friend into the Tyburn river. Evelyn conceded the point.
And so consistent spelling caught on in English. It did well, thanks to early breakthroughs like “silent E” and “n-apostrophe-t” charming the population with their elegant whimsy. “Onk” was also a big selling point. We still live in a world where it would be fun to see many people get a bonk on some appropriate bonk-absorbing part of their person. For a while there was a market in switching out “ks” for “x”, or vice-versa, but that’s gotten to be seen as old-fashioned. And don’t get me started on how you can’t just write “connexion” anymore without being accused of cheating. Also everybody follows the “q is followed by a u” rule, but they don’t understand it. It’s a pun. Once you see it, you’ll never un-see it. I hope to see it myself someday.
This is not to say that spelling in English is perfectly consistent. It couldn’t be, not given the need of aristocracy to show itself as better than real people. Thus would Spelling Book authors compose all sorts of new and exotic letter patterns. This led to many never-before-suspected innovations, like “hiccough” or “untowardsmanship”. Long after the fad for ostentatiousnessocity had passed, we were left with the remains. Most of the worst offenders slid out of the English language, owing to foreign tourists taking oddities home with them. And the rest are a reminder of how far we have come, or have yet to go, or have ended up where we are. Granted this describes many things, but only because they are like that.
Reference: Art of the Carousel, Charlotte Dinger.
Well, this time the activity puzzle on the back was this flop of an idea:
Rearrange the letters in the phrase to discover the related words or phrase.
This wouldn’t be nearly so disappointing if it didn’t come so soon after the “grimepints” incident. And a couple days later it gave a Spelling Bee challenge to pick out the right way to spell “necessary”. It’s like if the Kinks followed up Arthur with an album where they cover the songs Hanna-Barbera recorded for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids with. I need better from my papers that tell me what day of the month it is.
While we’re still waiting on the upstate returns it sure seems like we’re going to have a Christmas this year. So it’s a good chance to talk about putting up decorations for Christmas like three weeks ago. But who’s had the time? Those who would like to discuss putting up decorations against Christmas may apply for equal time care in care of this station. This will let us see just what sort of care they have been taking of their time. This should be good for a solid laugh all around.
The basic unit of Christmas decoration is the poinsettia. This lovely plant has been cherished for several centuries, a couple decades, a bunch of years, a pair of months, a peculiar number of hours, and a strangely specific number of shillings and pence. They’s cheerful and when viewed from any angle and from a wide range of lighting conditions they appear to be spelled wrong. This allows us to spend much of the Christmas season slightly rearranging any existing poinsettias. In case their spelling ever does look right, the pronunciation looks wrong. If both the spelling and pronunciation are sound, then it’s time for the flowers to fall over.
There is a longstanding tradition of putting lights on trees. This grew out of the tradition of putting candles on trees. This itself grew out of the tradition of putting trees on candles. This tradition came to an end when the fire department started sending out stern letters and disapproving looks. Even so there are some neighborhoods where the fire department has to drive around delivering stern looks and disapproving letters, just in the hope the change-up catches anyone’s attention. In any case the lights are much easier to work with, what with how they can be turned off. You leave the trees on because it’s so hard to get something to exist again once you’ve told it to stop. At the least you get accused of being fickle, and can’t make an honest dispute of it.
Stands of lights grow in the hardware and in the discount department store. They find a natural habitat on what certainly seems like the wrong shelf. You expect them to be set up next to the artificial trees or next to the laser projectors that shine sparkly lights on an unsuspecting house. Instead they’re off in like row 13, between paint supplies and dowels and grommets. In some bigger stores they’re kept next to the grummidges and copper-plated hurk mounts and other wholly imaginary pieces of hardware. It’s a little prank they play.
You can buy new lights every year while cursing the light manufacturers. Or you can keep lights from year to year, taking the old ones out and cursing the light manufacturers over those. This is because any light strand more than three months old has a half that doesn’t work. Fortunately every strand of lights has two fuses embedded in the plug. And it’s easy to change these just by sliding the plastic panel open and then screaming in frustration at the fuses, since they’re in pretty tight and there’s no getting it out without using a needle that you drop on the floor to step on later. Replacing the fuses will not make the lights work. It’s just a way to pass the slow, unhurried times ahead of Christmas.
A good thing to pick up is this tool that extracts Christmas light bulbs. It should also have a button to press to test whether a given light is working. Nothing will ever tell you how to use this button, though. Do you hold the suspect bulb up to the side near the button? The side near the indicator light that flashes? Does the bulb have to be out of the light strand? Can it be left inside? What’s it mean when the indicator light flashes? Or when it stays on? There’s no telling. This all gives you something to do while pondering the futility of existence.
Tinsel is, in truth, no such thing. What we call tinsel is actually an artificial tinsel created by chemists who had pondered the saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and so did not. They had hopes that this artificial tinsel would help America in the war effort and it might have had they not done this all over the summer of 1926. Nevertheless, the work is well appreciated by anyone who would like things to look and feel the more stranded.
Once you have your Christmas decorations up, stop putting them up. This is most important as your ceiling isn’t tall enough to keep putting them ever-farther up. Enjoy them while wondering how it is the light strand over the doorway isn’t falling down. Nobody knows.
Oh! But a slant rhyme, I bet that’s exactly what we need!
We continue this department’s investigation into the getting-done of things that were left un-done and have no questions in mind for anyone about why they were not already done. We understand. We’ve got stuff to do too that gets in the way of anything being done. There’s probably verb tenses working against us.
The first most important task to do when cleaning a thing is to ask yourself. Having finished that, the next most important task is to determine: is this a thing which is bigger than you are, which is smaller than you are, or which is about the same size as you? If you don’t like the answer, are you able to alter your size enough to matter? Your relative sizes do affect how the cleaning gets done, and if so, whether it does, and good luck diagramming this sentence.
It is generally easier to clean a thing which is smaller than you. Your greater size allows you to intimidate the thing, by occluding its light or just by overpowering it. Even should matters not come to that, it’s useful to know that you could, if pressed, overpower (say) the pantry shelves or at least eat them. Not every interaction with things should be a matter of domination and submission, but the option helps clarify matters. So should you have to clean a larger thing, try to enlarge yourself, or to shrink the thing, and then proceed as you would with a smaller thing.
With that done, the next most important task is to determine what kind of cleaning the thing needs. For example, does it merely need tidying? Tidying is the best sort of cleaning because it is done by taking a thing and setting it atop another thing. By creating this stack of things, both are tidied. The stacks can themselves be stacked. It is within the Marquis of Cleansbury Rules to tidy your entire house by stacking everything in it on top of everything else. This is why when you visit the house of your tidiest friend the entire first floor is a vast, empty space, decorated with a single futon capable of seating two people uncomfortably and a wall-mounted television that only gets shows about people buying houses in Peru.
I should say, the tidying urge runs strong in my family. I’m not saying that we’re experts. But we are good. Behind my house is a stack of like four love seats, a dining room table, a roll-away dishwasher, 426 linear feet of books, and eighteen potted plants one atop the other in a writhing pillar of photosynthesis. But it’s all stacked, and neat, and won’t tip over as long as the guy wires don’t snap or we don’t get a breeze. If it does, that’s all right. I have my tidying instincts to rely on. I could stack all that into a good enough pile so fast it wouldn’t even use up all my stockpiled podcasts. Yes, I have a pile of unfinished podcasts. It’s only about fourteen inches tall, but you better find that impressive or I’ll come over and glare at you.
But maybe the thing needs a real, proper cleaning. If the thing is smaller than you, great. Pick the thing up and carry it to a riverbank or body of water. A pond, say, or if you need something larger a hyperpond. And now I’m thrown because my spell checker is not objecting to “hyperpond”. I can’t have put that in my dictionary. There’s no way that’s a real word, though, right? Is my spell checker broken? Flurple. Cn’tr. Flxible. No, these things are getting highlighted. This is all very disturbing and I don’t know that I can continue from here. Knwo. Cnotineu. Yeah, it’s just broken about hyperpond. Hyperlake. No, it allows that too. Hyperocean. That too. Apparently my spell checker thinks “hyper” is a legitimate prefix to any body of water. Hyperriver. Hypercreek. Ah! It doesn’t like that one. Hyporiver. No, it doesn’t mind “hyporiver”. Hypocreek gets rejected. I’m sorry to get bothered by this but if you’re not bothered by this, what are you bothered by?
I have to conclude that there’s some serious cleaning-up needed on my dictionary. Anyway, uh, for cleaning up your things I don’t know, try working from the top and getting to the bottom and use small, gentle circular motions. That usually does something. Good luck.
After a holdout of just over four thousand and thirteen years, the Phoenician letter Sade has announced its return to the alphabet. The late-Thursday announcement took by surprise thousands of dictionary writers, spelling bee contestants, Linotype keyboardists, and font designers still recovering from sprained ligatures. It set off an hour of panicked spelling on the Amsterdam Diphthong and Fricatives Exchange. The markets are expected to return to normal if anyone remembers what normal even is anymore.
Speaking before the press Sade shook off questions about the start of its holdout. It said the source was “obscure and, now that I’m a wiser, silly arguments. In hindsight I should not have been so stubborn”. (The Palmyrene letter Samek insisted the problem was about Sade not paying back a loan of about 25 obolus cash.) Sade denied allegations its long absence had left it an irrelevancy. Sade went on to explain that “you’ve all carried on as best you could, and for some of you that’s been very good”. This was taken to be a reference to power-letter superstar E.
“But you have been overlooking the wealth of words that rely on me, or that could.” To support this claim Sade suggested a word starting with it, and appearing in all three syllables. It would express a mild worry that you’ve left the coffee maker to burn an empty pot even though the light is off, just because you can’t be completely sure you’ve ever noticed that particular smell from the kitchen before. “And you didn’t even know you needed to express that,” Sade added, as three reporters stared at the break room.
“And it’s not as if I’ve been completely unknown,” it said to multiple polite coughs. “I’ve kept enrolled in the official newsletter. And I do play at least two games each year in Worcester [Massachusetts], per the custom.” Residents of Worcester confirmed that it had been doing that. One expressed relief to find out what the games with the strange symbol were all about. Nobody had ever had an explanation that quite satisfied. It had been supposed to just be a quirky habit of a long-time New England resident. The way some will compose witty epitaphs on gravestones and others will make johnnycakes on purpose.
The head of Rhode Island’s Department of Motor Vehicles, assuming there is one, announced the state would recognize Sade as part of the alphabet. “With luck,” she or maybe he said, “we’ll get to reduce license plate length one or two characters.” The savings would be returned to car owners, assuming they can be found.
If the letter is to be generally accepted back in there will have to be adjustments. Asked where it might fit in the alphabet — records of its old position are ambiguous or available only on web sites you have to sign up way too much for — Sade said it would be happy anywhere. “But I think I’m at my best fitting between the Z and the Upsilon.” To the silent press room it said, “There’s a few linguistics majors out there chuckling, anyway.” They are. “Seriously, I think I’d fit in best near the D. But the important thing is putting in my part for the team. Remember,” and here it smiled as if it just thought of this, “you can’t spell team with ‘Sade’, if all goes well.”
The team seems to have mixed feelings. Rookie letters J and W were quoted as saying they “knew of” Sade but “never expected to be in the same word”. J, interviewed before quite waking up, admitted “I didn’t know Sade was even still alive”. There has been no comment yet from E, whose rise to dominance began with Sade’s holdout. E seems to have stayed in its house since the announcement, doors locked and curtains drawn. Its only tweets have been some apparently pre-scheduled photos of tripping squirrels, a regular feature of its feed.
All these plans may be for nothing if spring training turns out to be too much for the long-inactive letter. Few forget how Qoppa had to retire 2,477 years ago after a wrenched serif. Sade is not worried. It noted such an accident could not happen now thanks to modern printing technology.
Sade noted how it was already available in Unicode, but what isn’t?
Next week: why didn’t my spell check object to “thermosons”, “thermoscoop”, “thermoshort”, and “thermoyard”? How can any of these possibly be wordlike constructs?
I have another bunch of mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed over on my other blog that I’d like you to read, if you would. I’m aware that’s pretty soon after the last time I collected such a bunch of comics so there isn’t really a quite mad enough edition of Mell Lazarus’s Momma to highlight here, though I will say the dialogue of Wednesday’s strip is kind of weird.
Anyway, since I don’t have another comic strip I feel like showing off, I’d like to mention something I learned from that Caption This! thingy from Star Trek VI earlier this week, and that is: Apple’s spelling dictionary recognizes the word “thingamabob”. It also recognizes “thingumabob” as an equally good spelling of the word. It does not respect “thingimabob” or “thingemabob”, and it makes an audible yicking noise at “thingomabob”, even though that last one seems at least as plausible to me as “thingumabob”.
From this I must conclude that either someone at Apple decided of her own initiative that the `a’ and `u’ spellings of “thing*mabob” were acceptable while the `i’, `e’, and `o’ ones were right out, or else there was at least one staff meeting in which the matter was debated and decided. And I so hope they took minutes which will someday be available to corporate biographers.
Meanwhile I’m so glad I went with “thingamabob” instead of “doohickey” for the caption because otherwise how might I have discovered all this?
I was looking at a photo gallery the (Camden, New Jersey) Courier-Post put up about Soupy Island. That’s a small park outside Camden with the historic Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel Number 93R (the Philadelphia Toboggan Company didn’t make it), opened so that kids from the city could experience fresh air and a carousel and soup provided by the Campbell’s corporation, and the park’s still there and having kids over and giving out soup. At the end of this photo gallery about a century-old park hosting kids and having charming-looking elderly people who’ve been affiliated with the park for decades came this:
Like this topic? You may also like these photo galleries:
So from this, we learn that absolutely horrible people are designing the “you may also like” algorithm at newspaper sites. “Here’s a picture of a cute baby raccoon living in a mailbox! Maybe you’d like to see this adorable grandmom with discarded syringes jabbed through each of her fingernails! Did you like this video of a kid trying to order a pistachio ice cream and saying it wrong? I bet you’ll love seeing us try to spell `Arraignment’! Now, want to see this gallery of the kids who made a Santa Claus costume for the ferret at the rescue shelter? Are you sure you can live with yourself if you do?”
And I realize the joke I’m sounding like here, but can I point out the “Standoff at Cherry Hill Motel” was nearly four weeks old at that point? Wasn’t there some more recent horrible Cherry Hill news they could offer?
Investigation into this problem revealed that while most people would call the number 100 “one hundred”, there are ambiguities about whether, say, “106” should be “one hundred six”, “a hundred and six”, or “one-oh-six”, and whether it should be “a hundred and thirteen” or “a hundred thirteen” or the like, and therefore different alphabetizations are sensible. Therefore selected alphabetizations are provided for your convenience.
I got to talk with someone who designs those sensors for sinks and air dryers. Well, at someone. I couldn’t get his attention.
Still, I don’t get why public restrooms decided we had to give up faucet technology. It was really good. Anyone could go into a Meijer’s restroom any time, day or night, and fauce as much as they want. They were happy days, but that’s all gone now. We’re saved from going out with dried hands, or wet hands either.
Maybe the problem isn’t the sensors. Maybe the trouble is I don’t exist. That’d be a good gag on the guy I met. Of course, that means I’ve got more library cards than I really should.
Also my spell-checker says “fauce” is a word, so I think my spell-checker is messing with my head.