Posts Tagged ‘words’
December 5, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Today, the Oxford English Dictionary brings us a splendid word of the day: the little-used draffsack. Because we can always use alternatives to glutton.
Not that there’s anything wrong with glutton! Glutton is one of the finest of all words. It is evocative, it feels delicious in the mouth, and it’s also an alternate name for a wolverine. (Personally, I’d much sooner see a movie called Glutton. Although, I guess Hugh Jackman would have to put on a few pounds.)
But draffsack refines the concept. A draffsack is not merely a glutton, but a lazy glutton—as opposed to all the industrious, Diamond Jim Brady–style gluttons one encounters. It can also mean “paunch.” From the old Norse word draff (“brewing derivative”) and sack (“sack”), it is, apparently, Scottish.
Which brings us to Samuel Rutherford Crockett. The OED cites the usage of the term in Crockett’s 1894 novel The Lilac Sunbonnet. S. R. Crockett’s career was a result of his era’s mania for Lowland Scots fiction; his many, many sentimental romances include Flower o’ the Corn, The Surprising Adventures of Sir Toady Lion, Mad Sir Uchtred, and, of course, his 1894 breakout, The Sticket Minister. Crockett was an ordained minister, and many of his forty titles had Christian themes, as well as muckle lowland color and Victorian-style syrup. Read More »
October 16, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your life as a gay man.
It’s been a somewhat checkered career as a gay man. I was never totally successful. I think it started in high school, when in grade ten or eleven I developed a fascination with Oscar Wilde. Some of my friends shared this fascination so we used to dress like Oscar Wilde and memorize his aphorisms and construct conversations in the lunchroom, as if we were Oscar Wilde and his friends.
—Anne Carson, the Art of Poetry No. 88, 2004
I also had an early fascination with Oscar Wilde, though mine hasn’t, to my knowledge, led to an exciting double life. In high school, as I read through Wilde’s plays and then some of his prose, I came to recognize a pattern: his characters were always flinging themselves onto sofas. That was the only word Wilde ever used for it, fling, and he used it inordinately, constantly; the more I looked for it the more it turned up. No one in Wilde’s domain, it seemed, could get any thinking or moping done without first flinging oneself onto the nearest possible surface—cushioned, ideally, but not necessarily—and lighting a cigarette or bursting into tears. Over and over again, his lords and ladies had no recourse but to fling. They never pitched, cast, heaved, hurled, or tossed.
I didn’t object to this, as melodramatic as it was. In fact part of me aspired to such melodrama: I imagined that in adult life I would be confronted with one impasse after another for which the only cathartic response would be to fling myself onto a couch, weeping, smoking, or both. I was looking forward to it—if anything, I disappoint myself today with how rarely I’m compelled to do flinging of any kind. Little did I know that, as a teenager surging with hormones, I was at peak flinging age, with my best flinging days right there for the taking.
To this day, though, I associate the verb with Wilde; he left his mark on it, or it left its mark on him. Since today’s his birthday, I found his collected works online and made sure I hadn’t been deluding myself. Lo and behold, an amateurish concordance confirms that fling is everywhere. Herewith, then: your comprehensive guide to flinging in Wilde. Consult it in moments of emotional strife, perhaps just before or after your own bouts of flinging, and know that you are not alone. Read More »
August 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “The image of a syphilitic Joyce is one that few scholars have wanted to conjure in print”—but evidence suggests that Joyce did indeed suffer from syphilis. It’s not just in his medical history but in Ulysses, where two scholars “found syphilis everywhere … Their journal article for Archives of Internal Medicine includes a two-page table listing apparent references to syphilitic symptoms throughout Ulysses … ‘The letter s hisses throughout the book as a reminder of the s in syphilis (a word that not only begins but also ends with s, as does the novel).”
- In Greece, a new museum reconstructs the inventions of the ancients, “including Archimedes’ screw, the robot-servant of Philon, the automatic theatre of Heron, ancient war machines, and the famous analogue ‘computer’ of Antikythera.”
- The Paris Review’s art editor, Charlotte Strick, discusses her process in designing the jacket for Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t. “ ‘The Cows’ is the longest story in this collection, and cows by nature ‘can’t and won’t.’ They typically require a lot of waiting around. This sparked an idea early on in my design process … I tried an all-over wallpaper pattern of tiny cows that I imagined as a pre-printed case.”
- A photo of brawling Ukrainian parliamentarians has all the beauty and compositional fluency of a Renaissance painting.
- Scrabble has expanded its dictionary, adding some five thousand words—most of them are expectable neologisms like frenemy and bromance, but others are more novel: e.g., quinzhee, a shelter made by hollowing out a snow pile, and qajaq, an Inuit precursor to the Kayak.
July 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
The wonders of industrial-supply catalogs.
When I was nine or ten, riding in the backseat of my mom’s car as we drove the gauntlet of strip malls, car dealerships, big-box stores, and fast-food franchises that constituted our suburb’s commercial district, I realized that all of the tall signs and buildings had been constructed and erected by actual people, different crews of people. I thought about all the Burger King and Mattress Discounters signs in the world, how each had been shipped from somewhere, delivered to someone, received, assembled, mounted, electrified. I attributed a lot of power and reach to corporations, especially those that advertised on TV, and to understand that they comprised real people was something of an epiphany—especially in suburbia, where corporate authority rests in the illusion that no human labor has gone into transforming and homogenizing the landscape. All the stores were just there. What else could there be?
That moment is part of what informs my fascination with the Grainger catalog, a massive, 4,322-plus page industrial-supply inventory with which I first became acquainted last year, when a friend gave it to me for my birthday. Released annually on February 1, it’s an omnibus of 590,000 products—power tools, fasteners, pneumatics, hydraulics, pumps, raw materials, janitorial necessities, HVAC and refrigeration components—a work of pure utility, designed, honed, and focus-grouped to provide ready access to its most arcane sections. I can’t get enough of it. For the uninitiated, it provides a glimpse at the invisible infrastructure girding the world of construction, maintenance, repair, and operations. Grainger’s aggressively salt-of-the-earth slogan is “For the Ones Who Get It Done,” and the joy of perusing its catalog is in seeing how very many things there are to get done, and how many ways we have of doing them.
And so I often reach for it in pursuit of a kind of materialist awe. It makes for a reading experience more engaging, imaginative, and informative than almost anything that passes as literature. I’ve put down novels to pick up the Grainger catalog, which holds court on my coffee table and which could, in a pinch, serve as a coffee table unto itself.
Grainger sells mail-room organizers, carpet deodorizers, hairnet dispensers, and gutter-deicing cables. They sell a three-stage, heavy-traffic floor-matting system designed to entrap heavy debris. They sell miniature high-precision stainless-steel ball bearings with extended inner rings. They sell 550-foot rolls of foam for protecting electronics and an oil-filtration system for high-viscosity fluids. Their catalog contains a proliferation of heavily modified nouns that denote things I never knew existed, or things I’d intuited to exist, but had never really considered.
Metalized polyester film tape.
GMP/GLP data output moisture analyzers.
Electrostatic dissipative (ESD) gloves.
Cup point alloy steel socket set screws. Read More »
July 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The world’s first rhyming dictionary: 1570’s Manipulus Vocabularum. (What rhymes with horseleach? Ouerreache.)
- On writers and neologisms—how does a writer invent a good word? “Successful coinage, like happiness, may be more likely the less you aim directly at it. A writer who is obsessed with creating a popular new word is like a footballer who devotes all his energies to breaking the world record for keepy-uppy rather than playing well for his team. It’s a stunt rather than the real game. When composing Paradise Lost, John Milton probably wasn’t rubbing his hands at the thought of all the people in coming centuries who might borrow his invented term for the place where all the devils dwelt (pandemonium); he was just getting on with the job of writing an immortal poem.”
- A linguist analyzes our use of emoji and emoticons: “He discovered a divide, for instance, between people who include a hyphen to represent a nose in smiley faces— :-) —and people who use the shorter version without the hyphen. ‘The nose is associated with conventionality’ … People using a nose also tend to ‘spell words out completely. They use fewer abbreviations.’”
- The triumphant return of interactive fiction and “text adventures.”
- The Reading Rainbow app is a sign of the times: “In the television version, a soothing voice read books to viewers as illustrations drifted across the screen like fish in an aquarium … The Reading Rainbow tablet app is busier.”
June 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- George Saunders talks “about his family’s sense of humor, the connection between satire and compassion, his early comedy influences, and how he came to embrace the funny side of his writing.”
- Some words that men are likelier to know than women: claymore, scimitar, solenoid, dreadnaught. Some words that women are likelier to know than men: taffeta, flouncing, bodice, progesterone. The conclusions are yours to draw.
- “I Was a Digital Best Seller”—the horrifying true story!
- It sounds like a spinoff of DeLillo’s The Names: a journalist named Rose Eveleth becomes obsessed with a small town that shares her name: Eveleth, Minnesota. She visits it only using Google Street View.
- Spending time with Prince at a listening party for his new record: “When you arrive at Paisley Park, you switch to Prince time. After nearly an hour’s wait, I was ushered into Studio B [at] about one a.m. … My next two hours at Paisley Park would be filled with funk, frustration, and funny lines—all courtesy of Prince.”