I’m very sorry, but I was typing out ‘to ever’ and that got autocorrected to ‘soever’. Like, the thing that usually comes at the ends of words like “whatsoever” and “whomsoever”. Since this happened I’ve been stuck thinking, what, has everybody in the world known about this and I’m only now catching on to it? Also I’m stuck thinking well now autocorrect is just going out and making up words the way I would do except I’d be making a dumb joke. So I don’t see any way out of this mood.
If we know only one thing about the English language we’re probably counting wrong. Most of us know four things about English. Professors of English know even more. There are some who know well enough to explain to the lay audience six things. Still, one is the minimum number of things people know about the English language, if they know anything at all. And I’d like to see you get out of that one.
But one thing we know about the English language is that words change meaning. They often do this without warning, despite the custom that they do not do this without warning. That is, that they do it with warning. I’d like to see me get out of this one myself.
There are neat ways that words do change meaning. The most exciting way they change is through a graphitic fission. One thrilling example of this was in 1378. A team lead by Geoffrey Chaucer subjected the word “deer” to high-participle bombardment in a gerund-lined chamber. It split the word “deer” from its earlier meaning of “anything that isn’t a bird or fish but that people are still willing to eat, as long as it isn’t a plant or shoe”. All that remained was “Bambi-like life-form”. We’re left without a word for the earlier meaning of deer. We make do with the circumlocution “eh, I don’t feel like that” while standing in front of the fridge.
Still, the experiment was worth it. There were flurries of syntax over southern England for years, accelerating the evolution of the language. That’s not to say this is always without its perils. A 1752 attempt to fragment the word “meat” — applied back then to animal flesh, the innards of peaches, or large enough trees — resulted in war with Spain. In fairness, that sort of thing happened a lot in those days. Spain didn’t even know about the war for two more years. They just thought the English were being all snippy, again.
Another kind of word evolution is reverse mitosis. In this a word shoots out a cytoplasm-dissolving compound to envelop and absorb some other word’s definitions. The shorter words are better at this, wowing to surface tension. It might seem unfair to you that “run” has now taken over 80,954 distinct words and yet it doesn’t show any signs of breaking up. In fact, it is deeply unfair. There’s nothing we can do. But we aren’t expected to do anything either. That itself is a kind of relief.
And while this process can obliterate an old word, there’s no reason new words can’t join up. Any new conglomeration of letters can join the English language. The franchise fee is perhaps objectionably low. It hasn’t changed form its 1663 level of “five groat, a tuppence, and three cloves of onnyons”, which is obvious gibberish. A lost word can just re-form and try again. English is on like its fourth “gossip”, for example, and it’s not going to stop however hard we try.
Another bit of word evolution that’s a really hilarious freaking joke, guys, is protective camouflage. In this, we notice that a word means something. But if we actually meant that thing, whoever we called that would get angry and maybe slug us. So we use the word but get all arch and wry about it. This keeps other people from knowing whether they want to slug us or kiss us. The worst they’ll do is think we’re being witty. This frees up our time and saves us social anxiety. But it does mean that any word is at most three generations away from meaning the opposite of what it now means.
An awareness of this gives writers exciting new chances, though. Sentences are made up of words, I think you’ll agree. If you won’t then go ahead and make your argument. It won’t work, because every word in your argument will mutate to every possible meaning. I just have to look back at the right time and your literal words will mean what I want them to, so I win.
But the opportunity for writers. It’s hard finding the right words and stringing them along the right way. But it’s also unnecessary. Write absolutely anything and, someday, it’ll be what you wanted it to be. This should make all writers’ lives easier. It does not.
|Proximate Form||Demonstrative Form||Interrogative Form|
(*) denotes a word which theory indicates should exist but which has not been confirmed by an independent word laboratory.
(**) the ‘h’ was lost during the Algeciras Conference when it rolled under a table at the end of the room and was too much trouble to salvage.
Reference: The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune, Richard Kluger.
|Highfalutin Word||Better Alternative|
|utilize||use, make usable|
|detrimental||trimental [ “de” is here etymologically an intensifier to “trimental” and not, as carelessly assumed, a negation ]|
|hinder (as in to restrict, limit, or make worse)||hinder (as in tuckus)|
|eventuality||[ best dropped altogether and never replaced ]|
|anomalous||strawberry-flavored, bumpy, wiggly|
|dilettante||Ben, at it again|
|untenable||not rounded off|
Reference: A History of Mathematical Notations, Florian Cajori.
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.
- 1452. The Byzantium Area Public Library System issues its final notice to the Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos that he has accrued $4.00 in fines on a copy of So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? and if he does not return the book and the fine promptly they will turn matters over to Mehmed II’s collection agency.
- 1492. Christopher Columbus, sailing three ships whose names were lost to history, arrives on the shores of the Guangdong area of China. The Chinese people, sensing both trouble and gullibility, spin a tale that this is actually the West Indies, thousands of miles east of where anybody wanted to be. They are delighted to find that the idea catches on, and there are no follow-on consequences that anyone has any reason to regret. The ship names were later found by history, in the junk drawer next to four pens that don’t work.
- 1582. Nothing happens. People in Italy and Spain feel a great sense of unease. Mobs of people resolve to figure out just what’s going on when they wake up the next day, but nothing happens then either.
- 1664. Saturn enters the house of Aries. Aries is not present. Saturn takes the chances to playfully rearrange the dishes, leaving the coffee mugs on the wrong side of the cabinet. Saturn was all set to sneak out undetected, but gave in to the temptation to go through Aries’s refrigerator and turn all the condiment bottles so the labels face the back. Aries finally arrives home, and they have an argument, and Aries doesn’t forgive Saturn for over two hundred years and a month.
- 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte announces he intends to build a stone-arch bridge that encircles the world. His subordinates acclaim this as a bold, challenging accomplishment that will prove French greatness to the world for centuries to come. Napoleon then announces he’ll make the problem less challenging by building it as a ring just under a kilometer from the North Pole, a great distance farther north than anyone has ever been, never mind where any stone bridges have been. His subordinates nod slowly but agree this will also capture the imaginations of history, especially when they point out how hard it is to get construction-great stone up to the North Pole. Napoleon then says, you know, the Earth is round, and his subordinates ask where this is going now. He says that since it is, you could say there’s an axis through any points on the Earth. So why not declare there’s an imperial North Pole that pokes its way through the suburbs of Paris, with the actual North Pole offset from that by about 31 degrees of latitude, and build the arch around that. This leaves his subordinates pretty sure he’s messing with them. They’re honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking something, anything, at this point.
- 1868. Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia, announces his intention to unify the states of North and South Dakota. He is finally convinced by his wife that he is getting way ahead of himself.
- 1903. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford, racing in a car of his own design, crosses the finish line to win the New York City-to-San Francisco Driving Contest of 1902.
- 1959. Argentina and Japan, following the discovery in June that they had never signed a peace treaty after the Crimean War, take the chance to sign one now. The purely ceremonial affair in Paris is dignified and pleasant and quite merry. It’s only spoiled near the end when a nosey Art Buchwald asks whether either of the nations had anything to do with the Crimean War in the first place. He is locked into a broom closet.
- 1978. The first time that otters are seated in the Italian parliament. This follows elections which many say reflect a public desire to check the influence of fish in the lower house. Their first speeches on the floor are acclaimed by the press as “damp”.
- 1996. I publish to Usenet my thesis that in the well-worn prank, the person who insists on seeing that the dictionary does indeed contain the word “gullible” is not displaying the gullibility implicit in the premise because it is an act of skepticism to insist on proving whether a possible-but-unlikely state is true, and am immediately showered with acclaim and recognition for how I am completely right and everyone arguing this point with me any further is wrong and stupid and foolish and a bad person.
- 2015. The Byzantium Area Public Library System apologizes, saying it found that So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? had been filed wrong. It was on the shelf right next to Art Buchwald all this time and they were wrong to send the matter to collections. Whoops!
(Goes outside, breathes the fresh air some. Comes back in and looks again to see what it looks like.)
(Rubs his head, walks over to see if there’s some engagingly crazypants movie on Turner Classic Movies. And then comes right back to see this all again.)
Really would have expected these lines to have crossed again years ago, you know? Anyway. Huh, I say, and I stand by that.
Reference: Safer C: Developing Software for High-Integrity and Safety-Critical Systems. Les Hatton.
I know there’s exceptions to this next statement. But, generally, going to an amusement park is fun. I mean for the people going to the park for the purpose of fun. Just let me have this point, please. Where I’m going is that there are other things that are fun, too. Like, there’s going to karaoke night and singing the one song you’re kind of able to sing with mostly the right tones and pacing. That’s fun. So is making clicking noises back at a squirrel who seems to be trying to work out what your deal is. That’s fun. Again, if you want to do that.
But here’s where I’ve gotten. All these kinds of fun are very different activities. You can’t swap one out for the other without noticing that something is very different. One could not mistake chatting with a squirrel for talking about how you can’t imagine someone riding anything where you go upside-down. That is to say, fun is not fungible.
And so continues my lifelong discovery in adulthood of, oh, yeah, that’s why everybody treated my like that in middle school.
I’d like to go into more detail about anything today. But I’ve just learned from my spell checker that apparently a single piece of confetti can be correctly called a “confetto”. So now I just have to sit down and stare at that all night until the world starts to make sense again.
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.
I continue to use up my 2018 hard-won Peanuts strip-a-day calendar at a rate of a bit under one strip per day (they don’t have Sunday pages). And it still has activities on the back. Last week it suggested this:
Unscramble the following letters to reveal this April word.
I shall do no such thing. “Grimepints” is a magnificent word. It’s as perfect a collection of phonemes as I’ve encountered in a long while. It would make the world a worse place to “unscramble” those letters into some word that is lesser in every way to “grimepints”.
Furthermore, I choose to believe that Grimepints is, besides a perfect word, also the name of a City of London meeting-hall built in 1475. There the Guild of Pandy-Whelkers, established during the reign of King Edward II, still conducts all its business, including the biennial Benefit for the Sick Infants of Needy Croft-Coddlers. They pay a rent of 6/8 plus “four fynne & true kernels of nutt-megg, the niewest to bee hadd” per annum. And I am working up a history of the building and the Guild’s charming yet dotty history as my Patreon exclusive for the month. So nag someone you otherwise like into reviewing a subscription to something! But unscramble “grimepints”? I would sooner cancel springtime itself than commit such an offense to the language.
Because there’s not really enough of these letters! We should grab some from a language that isn’t using all theirs!
Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito and Orville R Butler.
Because you asked for it! I swear!
Source: Michigan Place Names: The History of the Founding and Naming of More Than Five Thousand Past and Present Michigan Communities, Walter Romig, LHD.
Source: Symmetry in Mechanics: A Gentle, Modern Introduction, Stephanie Frank Singer.
I’d meant to look at my readership back on Friday but then we got some breaking news about The Phantom in. And then the usual routine stuff filled up scheduled slots and that’s why I’m getting to my monthly readership report a week into the new month.
Well, I didn’t break 2,000 page views last month. Came close, and I thought it was almost sure when I checked a couple days before May ended. But according to WordPress I finished May with 1,944 page views. That’s up from April’s 1,765, and about two busy days below March’s 2,085. I shall be lobbying to extend May to a 33-day month sooner or later. The number of unique viewers was up again, to 1,291. In April it had been 1,099; in March, 1,308. So May was almost as busy as March around here. I can cope with that.
The secular decline in ‘likes’ around here had a temporary pause in May. 167 pages got liked by someone or other, up from April’s 147 and March’s 154. Probably won’t last. Comments, now, those were typically dismal. Only ten comments made around here in May, down from April’s 26 and below even the 12-comment doldrums of March. This does coincide with a useful discovery, though. I switched back to the old style of making links to other posts here, one that generates on the page referred to a link to whatever makes the reference. These get sent to me for approval as comments. They don’t affect the comment totals, though; I certainly had more than ten internal cross-reference links in May. Since using links this way makes it easier for people to find relevant stuff in their archive binges and it doesn’t mess up the comments count I’ll stick to doing that. Still don’t know why WordPress insists I approve links from my blog to my blog, though.
Meanwhile, my conversion of the blog to a full-time report on the story strips is basically complete. The five most popular posts around here in May were:
- What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?
- What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? December 2016 – April 2017
- Quick Little Update As Mary Worth Changes *Everything*!
Well, at least I can be of use to people who want to understand the ongoing Mary Worth plot without having to actually read the comic. (She’s doing the tourist areas of Cozumel Island while the special guest Bland White Guy is sneaking cigarettes behind the cruise ship’s school gym, and that’s about it.) My most popular long-form humor piece is the review of Python Anghelo’s bonkers concept document for the Popeye pinball game from the early 90s. If you haven’t read it, I’d be flattered if you did read my summary, but I really am just painting the lily that is nine pages in which the least daft part is H Ross Perot helping Popeye launch the Glomar Explorer into space. My most popular recent long-form piece was about my new computer and why I needed one.
Well: on to the roster of the nations. Where did my readers come from in May?
|Hong Kong SAR China||4|
|Trinidad & Tobago||4|
Pakistan was a single-reader country last month. Taiwan’s been one for two months. I make out visitors from 58 countries, up from April’s 51 and March’s 55. There were 17 single-reader countries, up from April’s 13 and March’s 14. This seems to suggest middling-readership countries are drying up. I hope they’re all right. Somebody write in they know what’s going on.
WordPress figures I started the month at 54,678 pages viewed from 29,834 distinct visitors. It also figures I have 736 followers on WordPress, up from 729 at the start of May. That seems like quite the jump, considering how these things grow. You can join them, if you like, by clicking the link on the upper right side of the page to Follow on WordPress. There’s also the chance to follow by e-mail that’s another link at the upper right side of the page.
According to Insights, my best-read day around here was Friday, which had 16 percent of page views. Friday is the date I normally publish the long-form piece of the week, but 16 percent is so close to 14 percent that I can’t believe there’s any significant difference. The 12 am hour is the most popular reading time; 12 percent of page views came then. So, stuff gets read by people who notice it’s just come up. Good to know, but I can’t say that’s revelatory.
Thanks all of you for reading, and for putting up with my meager self-examinations like this. Back to whatever it is I do tomorrow.
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.
Courtesy hyphens, which my love pointed out are the official punctuation of old-timey-ness!
A a a a a
A a a a a a
A a a a a a a a
A a a
A actually actually after always am
Am ancestry and and
And and angels Argonauts at at
At be beaches bee bee bee bee bee
Bee bells birdhouse birdhouse birdhouse birdhouse
Birdhouse birdhouse birdhouse birdhouse bird-
House birdhouse birdhouse birdhouse
Birdhouse birdhouse blue blue blue
Blue blue blue bluebird bonnet
Bonnet bonnet bonnet bonnet bon-
Net but but but but but but by
By by by by canary
Canary canary canar-
Y canary canary countless doesn’t elect-
Fine fine fine fine
Fine fine fired friend friend friend friend friend friend friend friend friend-
Liness from glowing glow-
Ing guardian have I I I I
I’d I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m
I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m I’m if in in
In in in in in in in in in
In in in in in
In in in in in in
In in in infinite inside
Side is it it it it it it
It it it it it’s it’s Jason
Job kept killing L-I-
T-E leave leave leave leaving light
Light light light light like like lis-
Ten little little little little
Little little little lit-
Tle little little little lit-
Tle little longines lot
Make make make make make make
Make make make
Make make me me message must my my my my my
Name near nightlight nightlight
Nightlight not not not not not not not
Not not not note of of off on on
On on on on on on on on one on-
Ly only only only only
Only only on-
Ly opposite out outlet out-
Let outlet outlet outlet over
Over over over over picture
Point point point point point point primitive
(Put put put put put put really really respect) Rest rocky room
(Say say say say say say) Screaming secret ship-
(Wreck-free shores simple so soul soul soul) Soul soul soul soul soul soul soul soul
Soul soul soul spelled stood story’s switch switch
Switch switch switch Symphonette tell that that the
The the the the the the the the the
(The the the the the the the the the the the the) The the the the
(There’s though to to to to) To to to to too
(Too too too too too vigilantly watch)Es watches watches watches watch-
Es well were which while while while whistles
Who who who who who you you you you you
You’re you’re you’re your your your your your your
[ Editor’s Note: I had some words left over. There shouldn’t have been any, but I wanted to make the syllables come out right and I tried over and over until I got dizzy, and I can’t work out where they should go and I’m sorry. Maybe you can fade out repeating the ‘Make a little birdhouse in your soul’ melody or something. ]
Your your your your your your your your your
Your your your your your your your your your
As it’s the time of year when we run out of time for the year let’s review the Top Ten of the year gone by.
- August 22. This is usually a pretty solid 24 hours of the year and once again we really nailed it. Everyone involved with the production of August 22nd should give themselves a round of applause, although not in so unseemly a way.
- once-in-james-joyce.com. The rare follow-up project that builds on the brilliance of the original, this scrappy web site allows us to quickly look up all the words which appear precisely one time in the collected works of James Joyce. The site’s designers admitted they thought nothing might top once-in-shakespeare.com but found new challenges and delights in working with another author considering they want to be thought of as the kinds of people who’ve read Joyce without actually going to the trouble of doing it.
- Flatware. Although much flatware these days extends into a third dimension and so falls short of being actually flat, it nevertheless remains the best-known way to satisfy the need to have flatware. Besides, flatware can be made much more like itself if one simply is on good terms with one or more steamroller operators or possibly pile-drive drivers. You are on good terms with one or more of them, I hope, lest you have no way of slowing down that determined cartoon cat who’s been chasing you all through the construction site.
- Mellifluous. One of the English language’s top words for sounding like what it is without falling into an onomatopoetic trap. It’s especially good for saying out loud in case you ever need the feeling of being a comforting voice actor or movie trailer voice-over person. Rated PG-13, warnings for language use.
- People being buried with their cell phones. “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up — I’m entering a long, dark tunnel with a bright light at the end.” I probably accidentally stole that joke from somebody and I hope it was a friend.
- Simple home-recipe syrup. Despite the breakthroughs in solving higher-order syrup polynomials that make complex-valued syrups an exciting possibility we can still do quite nicely without anything but real numbers, syrup, and a trio of pancakes with blueberry that turn out to be rather more food than anyone had imagined. Also they come with eggs for some reason. And six pieces of toast. It’s getting to be a little much, but at least it’s a simple much.
- Adverbs. These bread crumbs of the English language have stuck on well past their expected end-of-support date. But they’re just too useful in meeting a mandatory word count. And we realize now there would be too large and too noticeable a hole if we did finally get rid of them. The hole would be where the wrong form of “a” or “an” were used.
- Swiss IV. This, one of the most exciting cheeses in years, overcomes nearly all the problems inherent in the original Swiss cheese. No longer are its holes too large nor too small. Thanks to the latest of aerogel dairy technology we can just have chunks of cloudlike foam that have within them the potential to be sandwiches. It’s great as it is, and promises to be only better in 2017 when we start to see rooms full of cheese air that let us finally eliminate the difference between eating and breathing. Not for the Vegan or lactose-intolerant eater, but they’re used to that. Do not ask about Swiss II or Swiss III. Everybody involved is still very sensitive about the side effects.
- The following Wikipedia Statement: “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” Though there have been many unsettling and struggling and disturbing things about the year, to know there is still a general consensus on some rainforest somewhere being a Gondwanan relic is itself a great relief. To know that it is Tasmanian simply adds to the relief, then squares it, then doubles that result, reverse the numbers, subtracts the original number and gives us the result of 17. Is that not amazing?
- Chrissy the Christmas Mouse. Despite the proliferation of 24-hour Christmas music stations this chipper little ditty continues to not be overexposed. In fact I don’t remember hearing it at all since 1999 so at this point I have to suppose I just made up this little tune about a mouse that lives in the floorboards of Santa’s house and loves being around all the Christmas activity and finally one year gets to ride in Santa’s sleigh. I can’t have made that up, can I? But nobody ever plays it. So that’s good. Or maybe I did imagine it in which case I’ve got a great idea for a catchy Christmas tune that’ll become horribly overused inside of like two years. Let me know.
- Calling bird
- Drummers drumming
- French hens
- Geese a-laying
- Gold rings
- Ladies dancing
- Lords a-leaping
- Maids a-milking
- Partridges in a pear tree, a
- Pipers piping
- Swans a-swimming
- Turtle doves
And which may be safely omitted from nearly all writing.
- lycopodium [as in powder]
- 1. one
- 1 (tied). ten
- 3. nine
- 4. two
- 5. four
- 6. three
- 6 (tied). seven
- 6 (tied). nineteen
- 9. eight
- 9 (tied). eleven
- 11. five
- 11 (tied). six
- 13. thirteen
- 13 (tied). fourteen
- 15. twelve
- 15 (tied). seventeen
- 15 (tied). eighteen
- 15 (tied). twenty
- 19. zero
- 19 (tied). fifteen
- 21. sixteen
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?
Here, if you’d like to put in some deserving would-be words of your own, enjoy.
It’s the 24th century. Why are people having meetings in the lobby of a Cracker Barrel?
If you know or have a better thought what to do with this picture, please, use the space here. I’m mostly including a picture like this to pad out pointing over to my mathematics blog, which had some more comic strips to talk about the other day, which was yesterday. Suggested topic: why is Barclay’s cat eating a heaping dish of Brain Ice Cream? Is that really healthy for a creature made of live Photoshop “dry brush” pen strokes?
Next week: why didn’t my spell check object to “thermosons”, “thermoscoop”, “thermoshort”, and “thermoyard”? How can any of these possibly be wordlike constructs?
My love and I went to the Clearly Used To Be An Arthur Treacher’s Fish And Chips a couple blocks away, because a bunch of restaurants that have been around forever closed recently and we didn’t want to miss this one. While reading the newspaper there we got to the summary of recently-introduced state legislature bills, so you know what kind of fun people we are. I remind you, I’m a person who owns multiple pop histories about containerized cargo. But among recently introduced pieces of legislation is Michigan House Bill 5770. If passed, it’ll change some state law references regarding the Department of Community Health to the Vital Records Office. The blockbuster bill would also change “Department of Human Services” references to “Department of Health and Human Services”, reflecting some department mergers and renamings. Also if I’m reading it right they’re changing a reference to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers” to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers”. I think that was put in to see if anybody was reading closely. I was skimming.
I don’t mind the state legislature bowing to the forces of Big Copy Edit like this. Of all the special interests that might have their way in the capitol, the fearsome Blue Pencil Squad is one I’m not so afraid of. Sure, I’d like the roads to get fixed too, but I understand that takes money. This just takes fixing the web site listing state laws.
What gets me is that this bill has seven sponsors. Why? What was the controversy someone was hoping to squelch by showing the bill started with broad support around the state? Is it the bit where the use of “pursuant to” is changed to “under”? I bet it’s that. I know the kinds of people who say “pursuant to” and they will put up a heck of a fight to make other people say it.
I don’t mean to make this a political blog. But put me down in favor of correcting references to government departments in order to reflect the current names or the mergers of agencies into new administrative structures. And I don’t care who I’ve offended by saying this, unless it’s my love or the guy making my fish and chips meal. To them I say I’m sorry and remind them of my deep and long-held moral cowardice. Thank you.
When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.
How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.