Sunday, September 28, 2008

Isn't It Gorgonic?

You doesn’t have to try too hard to prove that what early video games put in their instruction manuals didn’t always match up to what appeared on screen. Nonetheless, I was surprised at how very off-model Nintendo’s take on Medusa was when her appearance in Kid Icarus’s instruction manual is compared against what she looked like in the game.

As the concept art puts it:


And her two in-game sprites, neither of them approximate what the instruction manual promised:



The glaring, wall-sized face of death is how she first meeting the player. The swooning, toga-clad woman appears when Missus Big Face crumbles away. Maybe the instruction manual blended the two into one? Wall face or not, this two- or three- or ugly-faced woman is the first-ever female big bad in a Nintendo game, unless I’m mistaken.

There’s no big conclusion here — just a little thought that I had the time to post.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Massive Luxury Overdose

I don’t watch America’s Next Top Model, but I do read the blog fourfour, which recaps episodes of the show in a way that makes me happy. Blogger Rich also makes some kickass animated GIFs from the show. The most recent post had the best of them so far: Tyra Banks, wearing a princess crown and dribbling apple bits out of her little model mouth.

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Just keep watching it. Let the dribble bits draw you into Tyra’s world.

Assorted other pop culture minutiae:

Link Submits

Years of following video game blogs have have taught me that some people perceive Link, the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series as gay, not so much as a result of his pretty boy elfin appearance as for his apparent disregard of the vast harem of viable female characters who seem to be in love with him. (Foremost among them, Princess Zelda, followed my Midna, Malon, Marin, Saria, Ruto, Medli, and quite a few others lady characters with names that sound like nice cities to live in, not to mention that obvious tranny Impa.) Idly browsing about online and stumbling upon a scan of the instruction manual for the Nintendo Entertainment System title Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, I saw the below piece of official Nintendo concept art, which illustrates Link’s fate after having succumbed to too many attacks by the bad guys.


Not to be crass or anything, but it at least seems that Nintendo is directing the viewer’s attention to a specific area. Good advice, really, in the text above: “We know how you feel. You want to go quickly to your goals, the palaces, and the lands you haven’t been before, but hold back. Take it in stride!” Indeed.

Counterpoint: He does not look all that happy about it.

Legend of Zelda, previously, here:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Marine Video Game Controller

Pictured below is a combed jellyfish that is among the treasure trove of previously unknown marine species that scientists researching Australian coral reefs reported as having observed last week. I am fascinated.


New York Daily News has a cool, if not wholly comprehensive, photo gallery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fond Aunt

Included on California School Nutrition Associations list of foods of minimal nutritional value (or “FMNVs,” as they like to call them) is fondant. Not knowing what fondant was, I looked it up. Turns out its sugar cooked into a creamy state. It’s also the filling inside Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. Therefore, its inclusion on the list is a bit of a “duh,” especially alongside marshmallows and spun candies.

So remember, during next Easter or your next trip to England, when you bite into that Creme Egg, you’re not eating amniotic marshmallows. You’re eating fondant.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fluttering Fleas, But Not Flabby Flannel

I’ve learned something new: There’s a name for something I have wondered about for a long time. Simply put, there’s a tendency for certain letter groups to appear in words that have similar meanings regardless of whether those words have a shared etymology.

The term is phonestheme.

The example first given in the Wikipedia page on the subject is the gl- phonestheme, which occurs in many English words referring to light and vision. (Glitter, glisten, glow, gleam, glare, etc.) An important aspect of these words is that neither the gl nor the letters that follow mean anything on their own. (No such word as itter or isten, for example.) They also don’t necessarily need to appear at the beginning of words. As Wikipedia puts it:
While phonesthemes have mostly been identified in the onsets of words and syllables, they can have other forms. There has been some argument that endings like -ash and -ack in English also serve as phonesthemes, due to their patterning in words that denote forceful, destructive contact (smash, crash, bash, etc.) and abrupt contact (smack, whack, crack, etc.), respectively.
Interesting, no? There’s a few aspects of this I haven’t wrapped my head around yet, so I feel like I should read more on the subject. (If anyone of you can point be toward good resources on the subject, I’d appreciate it.) For example, I don’t understand why this happens. I would also like to know what linguists make of outliers.

For example, I have the letters ack in my last name, but no one would lump that in with the -ack group. Is it because my ack occurs in the middle of the my last name? And what to make of back and rack and Zack? Why wouldn’t they fit the pattern?

As I said before, I had some idea that phonesthemes existed before I learned what to call them. A while back, the very cool and always informative word blog Bradshaw of the Future put up a post on the etymologies of various words that begin with the letters cl and that also refer to noise. Clack, clip, clap, cluck, and several others. I have always wondered about the fl words, which so often refer to various either quick motion or motion in the air, and I said so in a comment on the cl post.
I've always wondered but have never looked into the English words beginning with fl, which often describe some sort of quick movement, often through the air. Flick, float, flutter, flight, flap, fleet, flee, flit, flash, flea, fling, fly, flip, flurry, flag, flail, flare, flake, flay... There are even more than this. Not all share the association, of course. Flan, flabby, flannel, etc. All generally fun words to say, I've found. Have you any idea what the deal with these is?
Goofy, the Bradshaw blogger, responded last week with a post just on fl words, noting their various etymologies. Very helpful, particularly because it provided my first encounter with phonesthemes. Now I’m firing in a hundred different directions.
Some other phonesthemes for your face:
  • sn-, referring to mouth and nose goings-on: snarl, snout, snicker, snack, etc.
  • sl-, referring to frictionless movement: slide, sled, slick, etc.
  • -tter, referring to rapid, uneven motion: mutter, stutter, flutter, patter, titter, glitter, jitter, chatter, twitter
  • squ-, referring to eruptive sounds: squeal, squeak, squash, squirt, squawk, squabble, squall
As you may have noted, a lot of these words seem like they could be onomatopoetic. The -ack words, for example, could have arisen through imitation of noise created when the actions associated with them happen. This, however, doesn’t work for all phonesthemes, as the gl- words like glisten and glimmer don’t make noise. So where then must this mental association come from?

Are English phonesthemes shared by other languages?

If not, why shouldn’t they, if we’re apparently so hardwired to make these associations?

What is it about English, then, that prompts us to make such connections?

Could it be that people recognize the pattern on a few related words and then subconsciously only accept into their language new words that fit that pattern?

Do people even process language in this manner?

What would the advantage be of doing so?

I’m clearly full of questions, but that’s probably because this is the most interesting thing I’ve learned in a long time. I’m not clear on the linguistic definition of icon, which the Wikipedia page on phonesthemes uses in a section under the subject line “Important considerations.”
  1. If the words aggregated in these groups… were nothing more than arbitrary symbols, rather than being icons, their totally arbitrary nature would preclude any such systematic connections with meaning.
  2. Although groups of phonesthemes can be identified, this type of iconic sign, in any language, is rather rare.
  3. Despite [the above rule], there may well be far many more iconic words in, say, the English language, than we are aware of.
  4. It is also important that not each identified phoneme operates as a phonestheme every time it is used. (e.g., words square and squadron have no connection with discordant eruptive sounds common to the -squ group of squeal, squeak squall).
  5. Despite [the above rule], it is very clear that, in many cases, some level of iconic communication certainly does take place in a number of words within any language.
  6. Although people do seem to spend inordinate amounts of time creating a new word (such as deciding upon a “good name” for a new business), no one has ever been able to produce any evidence that speakers are consciously aware of such (iconic) signaling processes when they create new words.
Something about that sentence “There may well be far many more iconic words in, say, the English language, than we are aware of” strikes me as vaguely haunting.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Really Big Sandbox

A few shots from the mostly disappointing set I took at Lotus Land today.

Giant clamshell fountains.

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Remains of lotus flowers that, while not wholly unappealing, were sadly the closet thing to intact lotus flowers I saw in the whole of Lotus Land.

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A duck.

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A pickle patch of cactus that would have been made even more entertaining with the addition of several hundred googly eyes.

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A crazy freaky building-height euphorbias that either looked Escherian or Seussian. I’m not yet sure.

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Italian-style garden, Moorish-style fountain, random bird caught mid-flight.

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Topiary lion with as realistic a mane as any topiary lion could hope to have.

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Yes, mermaids as well. By which I mean mermen. By which I mean male baubo sirens. I swear, they’re following me, which is remarkable for a species that lacks feet.

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And, finally, an immensely amusing tile.

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However, all the strange and exotic plants I saw cannot compete with what I learned from a simple visit to the Wikipedia profile of Lotus Land founder Ganna Walska: Far from the accomplished opera diva that some remember her as, she is believed by many to have been an influence for Citizen Kane, in which the title character’s second wife is a terrible singer.

A Synonym for “Ladybug,” Then?

Saturday is word-of-the-week day. While previous words of the week have been obscure insults — kakopygian and pismire, for example — or words that express something more often associated with more common terms — grandgore and tiffin, this week’s actually beats out qualtagh for sheer uselessness.
ucalegon (yoo-KAL-e-gahn) — noun: a neighbor whose house is on fire.
Great, huh? But also totally useless because having to explain to someone that he or she had become a ucalegon would only result in further burning of personal effects and loss of life. Though I keep misreading it as UCLAegon, I liked this word enough that it actually beat out the amazing pair of uxoravalent and uxorovalent, which, respectively, mean “able to have sex with one’s wife only” and “able to have sex with only people who are not one’s wife.” (“What a different a letter makes,” Depraved and Insulting English notes.)

Similar to a previous word of the week, jehu, this one traces its roots all the way back to a very old and very dead man who may never have actually existed. According to classical texts, Ucalegon was a Trojan elder and one of Priam’s friends, who sad, fiery end is mention in the Aeneid. Why he got his name associated with “neighbor whose house is on fire” over the rest of the population of Troy is beyond me, but it exists nonetheless. (This site suggests he was Aeneas’s neighbor, so perhaps that’s why.) Also, some icing for your neighbor’s burning cake: Translated from the Greek, Ucalegon’s name means “doesn’t worry.

Like everyone else you spoke two words or picked up an urn or took off a toga in classical literature, Ucalegon got a celestial body named after him, 55701 Ukalegon. And I found the below illustration of the term on this site, where the artist has drawn up ABCs based on words from Depraved and Insulting English. So there’s that.


Despite references to the sack of Troy, I have the odd compulsion to associate this word of the week with that nursery rhyme about the ladybug whose house burns down. Which, if you think about it, is a damn strange nursery rhyme.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Splash Woman (Not Daryl Hannah)

Ever since Capcom announced it was making Mega Man 9 in the retro graphic style of the series’s earlier installments on the Nintendo Entertainment Systems — in case you’re counting, that’s four systems generations previous to the Wii —information has lowly been leaking out, giving people like me some clue as to what this pseudo-flashback will actually play like. As I’ve said before on this blog, included in the pre-release buzz is the decision to make one of the game’s bosses female.

The presence of this gynoid-among-androids simultaneously is and isn’t a big deal. For what it’s worth, she’s an assemblage of pixels and therefore lacking in true gender. Beyond that, her pixels are assembled into a robot formation, meaning that even if video game characters could have gender, this one doesn’t. On the other hand, it means something to lifer gamers that a series that has previously pitted Mega Man against set after set of all-male Robot Master bosses finally admitted that a ladybot could give Mega Man just as hard of a time. (A few blogs have even noted that Capcom had initially planned to include two Robot Mistresses, but scaled that plan down in order to make Mega Man 9 seem like not too great a departure.

Capcom released her concept art this week. It’s below, and when you see what’s attached to the lower half of her body (robobody) you’ll see why I was compelled to write about this.


And here she is as she will appear in the actual game.


As you can see, this waterborne villainess (robovillainess) is a mermaid (robomermaid) who dresses in a vague musketeer fashion. On her head (robohead), she wears a crash helmet with a flapper adornment, as all gynoids do. The fact that the first ladybot lacks legs doesn’t bode well, I guess, but I’m glad they didn’t try to make her look especially cute or sexy, especially since cute and sexy don’t translate well to eight-bit-style graphics. (The closest she came to that, so far, would be the below screenshot from the game, which shows that singing is included in her attack plan.)


On the right of the concept art, you see that the weapon Mega Man gets upon defeating Splash Woman is her electrified trident. I’m thankful it wasn’t, like, a gun that shoots hearts or something, but the fact that the “Laser Trident” is basically three electrified phalluses is a little amusing.

So let’s see: a record first of a woman doing something that only men had previously done, she enjoys wielding a phallus weapon, she has a distinct fashion sense, and she’s pure evil. Is Splash Woman Sarah Palin?

Tableland by Annet

Menu sign mischief:

tableland_by_annet

Not that I have any idea what it means. I suppose it could be an interior decorating service based out of somewhere up on the mesa. That person’s name is Annette, but she dropped the duplicate letters in an effort to sound more hip and stylish.

A better one next time. Promise.

Previous menu sign adventures:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fifty Years of Sucking

You may remember a post earlier this month in which I had reason to mention Chupa Chups, those lollipops that came into fashion in the United States in the 90s, not-so-coincidentally around the same time as the rise of rave culture, when young people clad in day-glo suddenly had reason to protect themselves from the dangers of jaw-grinding. Spencer directed me to the official site of the Spanish lolly company, with the recommendation to sit through the flash intro. I was not disappointed.

The current Chupa Chups site celebrates the brand’s fiftieth anniversary. Along with the strange slogan “Fifty years of moving your world” — apparently in and out of your mouth in a rhythmic, sucking motion, it would seem — the site also includes a retrospective of world events, both historical and pop cultural, and all styled with a lollipop theme. It’s aesthetically pleasing for what it is.

Here, for example is a shout out to the “Lolling Stones.”


And here’s a reference to Forrest Gump, racing past a White House inhabited by a giant, dark-haired Bill Clinton, who, notably, is the only politician depicted in a sequence that appears on all of the various language versions of the site.


Here are grotesque, finger puppet-like depictions of The Spice Girls, who, if I remember correctly, had some sort of advertising thing going with Chupa Chups for a period.


And, just past the DNA helix comprised of lollipops, is something close enough to Harry Potter but unlike him enough that the wrath of J.K. Rowling won’t fall upon Perfetti Van Melle, of which Chupa Chups is a subsidiary.


But what easily stand out most in the fifty-year flashback is the transition from the assassination of John Lennon to the introduction of Pac-Man. Yes, that’s right: Some Flash programmer charged with looking at history through the lens of candy saw fit to recall the fact that John Lennon was shot to death. It’s odd and jarring, at least to my eyes.

Here, oddly comprising the bulk of the sequence’s notice of the 70s, is the cartoon hippie, looking a lot like a hybrid between a Simpsons character and a South Park character and waving cheerfully in front of a peace sign. He doesn’t necessarily look just like Lennon — the Mick Jagger stand-in bears a closer resemblance — but it could easily be him. I mean, look at those glasses. Also, the fact that he’s showing up just at the end of the 70s instead of in the 60s, where a generic hippie would make more sense, makes me think this is indeed Lennon.


But what’s that? Oh! There’s a little gun pointing at our pseudo-Lennon!


The gun doesn’t fire a bullet — only a “bang” flag. The hippie, however, disappears, to be replaced immediately by a Pac-Man ghost version of him.


And then, of course, the next historical landmark we hit is indeed Pac-Man, which actually debuted in Japan a few months before Lennon died.


Strange, no? And a little tasteless? I suppose it would have been better had the sequence recalled other downer moments between 1958 and 2008 — and there were a few, I feel — but it just included this one.

Check out the site for yourself. It’s amusing. And appalling. And perhaps you haven’t yet been simultaneously amused and appalled today. Crank up your speakers, too, because you won’t grasp the full effect without the musical accompaniment. It’s grating, but it’s actually a lot more tolerable than “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Two other times I paid too much attention to web promotions:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Beer as Brains

Ever since I realized I was in no hurry to make a full alphabetical loop with my words of the week, I’ve been more okay with repeating a given letter. Here’s another “T.” Thank Dina, who emailed me about it.
toby (TOH-bee) — noun: a drinking mug, usually in the shape of a stout man wearing a large three-cornered hat.
I can hear you saying it now: “Oh, that toby.”

How Dina came across it: “So I’m playing Scrabble and I get 27 points for toby. Wondering what a toby is, I stumble upon this amusingly specific definition.” Really, that’s what online Scrabble is for. Why else would we know words like adz and vita?

Dina also included a link to what she and everyone else should refer to as a “vaguely terrifying example.” It is below:


Wikipedia’s example photo is no better:


I can’t imagine why people would want to make it seem like they were drinking brains, but I suppose it wouldn’t necessarily strike everybody that way. (It certainly didn’t to the people who designed my mother’s Christmas punch bowl.) Dictionaries aren’t much help for where this term came from. Most entries for toby are actually just entries for Toby, the nickname for Tobias. Which I think we all knew. However, the etymology doesn’t interest me so much as the knowledge that such a specific term exists.

Now mind how much you drink, lest you end up looking like a toby.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Two Takes on Super Mario Bros.

I nearly let this one slip by, but the fact that I experienced the two things I’m writing about one the same day, within just a few minutes of each other, prompted me to think it was important enough to write about.

So I write about Super Mario Bros. here with more regularity than most people who write on blogs that aren’t solely dedicated to video games. Sometimes I feel I’m pegging myself as a geek for doing so — it’s deserved, I’ll admit — but then other times I see other people also taking old video games and discussing them, reexamining them and putting them in odd new contexts and I feel a little less awkward about it all. This week, two different sources released creative products based specifically on the original Super Mario Bros., and I figured I should mention it here.

First up is Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, who debuted his new Burger King-sponsored, Burger King mascot-haunted online series of shorts, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. As many reviews have noted, the shorts don’t seem to depart drastically from his standard method of joke-telling. If the Super Mario Bros.-inspired debut is any indication, these shorts will basically function as slightly longer versions of the “cutaway” jokes that Family Guy has become known for: strange little pop cultural riffs that have no bearing on the plot of the episode in which they’re embedded.

Here’s what he did:



Pretty standard MacFarlane stuff, really. I don’t think it’s all that funny. The internet seems to disagree. I wonder what drives the humor more, for the people who enjoyed it: mapping cynical human emotions onto flat, undeveloped eight-bit video game characters or the kicker at the end, where Mario basically says “Fuck this bitch” and lets Bowser eat Peach. Could be both or either, depending on who’s doing the laughing. Overall: I say “meh.” But this guy’s next joke could work as well as this one didn’t. That’s the thing with Seth MacFarlane.

Just a few minutes after I saw the Cavalcade of Comedy clip, however, I stumbled onto Stereogum and read about a new single by The Mountain Goats and Kaki King, “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle.” Along the same lines as what MacFarlane did, the song attempts to give human motivations to a fairly static Super Mario Bros. character: Toad. Fucking Toad, of all people! The result: Still not totally successful, but interesting, and something I’ll probably remember longer than the cartoon.

Basically, Toad narrates his experience of being held captive in level four of whatever Super Mario Bros. world he’s stuck in. It’s dark, scary, and full of fire. But eventually Mario shows up and frees him and that makes everything better.

What makes the song work better than the cartoon, I say, is the fact that the writer managed to turn Toad into a decent metaphor for the shittiness of being in a bad place — probably not a literal one — and needing someone to pull you to safety. If a person just listened to the lyrics without hearing the title of the song, they might not even realize that it was in any way inspired by Super Mario Bros..

See for yourself, below. (Or, for that matter, listen for yourself.)
I waited here all by myself
The room was dark and it smelled like sulfur
I heard the screams from way down in the darkness
Felt pretty sure my life was over

I kept my hat on just for luck
Sang simple tunes the whole night through
I wondered if I'd wake to find myself in flames
As I waited here for you

Yeah, when you came in
I could breathe again

I saw some guys dressed up like sorcerers
Blue robes that flowed above the ground
They came and went and I was frightened for my life
I tried not to make a sound

Just when my solitude was closing in
I heard a howl like screeching tires
And I told you the one thing I know how to say
Through the bright ringing drone of eight-bit choirs

Yeah when you came in
I could breathe again
(The guys in blue robes, by the way? Magikoopas. Magikoopas being references in a pop song. I’ll be damned.)

So that was my moment of weird: Feeling validated by seeing these stupid games that I’ve come to love popping up into pop culture and into online media — and independently of me, no less. People can make of either of these what they want. In the end, I’m just happy these assemblages of pixels mean something to people besides just me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Apocalypse Postponed

The Doomsday Machine was successful in failing to bring about doom. Which is why you’re able to read this now.

In case you saw today’s Google logo re-styling and were confused, today marks the first successful launch of the Large Hadron Collider, known to some as the Big Black Hole Machine and to me specifically as the Large Hat Iron Collisioner.


Apparently, the first run went off without a hitch, if by “hitch” you mean existence being erased and time stopping. I wrote about such a turn of events only jokingly, but other people took this threat quite seriously, to the point that they were attempting to obtain an injunction against it being operated until its safety could be assured. Even worse, a girl in India allegedly killed herself after she watched news reports about the contraption because she feared being sucked into a black hole. (She ingested insecticide tablets. Have to wonder if that would have been an easier way out than being crushed into the same molecule as her family, her house, my house, Cindy Crawford, Bill Cosby, all giraffes and flightless birds, shoes, dust flakes, pancakes, picnic tables, and the few other things that exist.)

What I think actually happened, however, is that the Large Hadron Collider made a blackhole so large and fast-enveloping that we now exist on the other side of it — not dead at all but continuing life in a parallel dimension that has only that works pretty much like the old one but with one or two significant differences. What those are is anybody’s guess, and half the fun will be figuring them out. My guess: Cigarettes are now good for you and apples are poison.

And With a New Woolen Sweater, Too

Amusing advertisement promoting New Zealand tourism, from Noam's blog.


Click image for bigger, more readable, more charming version.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ducto Redux

I was surprised as anyone to find that Ducto, the Chair of Tomorrow, was featured on Pixcetera's list of Amazing Uses for Duct Tape.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I Am a Crazy Crane

My cousin Melissa writes about food on her blog, Melissa Good Taste, the name of which makes me think of some Bond Girl that Ian Fleming might have created on a day he was feeling rather unsubtle. Bond Girl or not, she recently wrote about the Monterey Greek Festival, the post for which included some photos.

Here's one that caught my eye:


I'll assume it takes its name from the town of Vergina and not some Greek approximation of one of the two English words it sounds like. Until I read Melissa's post, I'd never heard of this beer before. I assume they've had some troubles marketing it abroad.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More Than a Muffin, Less Than a Puffin

A short one for the letter “T” — and one that’s fairly appropriate given the fact that the homonym for this letter.
tiffin (TIF-in) — noun: a light midday meal or snack; a luncheon.
This delight, this word that sounds like exactly what it means, comes to us from The Superior Peron’s Second Book of Weird & Wondrous Words. Though dictionaries identify the word as being chiefly British, the Wikipedia entry for tiffin claims it as being used mostly in southern India, where restaurants sometimes advertise themselves as being “tiffin ready,” which is charming. British or Indian, the term comes from a shortening of the gerund tiffing, from the verb tiff, meaning “to sip” and apparently not the noun meaning “a petty fight.”

There exists a Tiffin University, which tragically does not specialize in training in the preparation of light meals, and a Tiffin, Ohio, which also doesn’t appear to be specifically snack-focused. Something that does appear to be related to the tiffin that is the subject of this post, however, would be the tiffin confection, which consists of biscuits and raisins covered in chocolate.

I enjoy this word, which may be one of the few words of the week so far that I might have reason to actually use, pompous though it may make me sound. And in the spirit of this light meal, I think I’ll end this post sooner rather than later, maybe so you can have time to go enjoy a light meal.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Desolation Hatchback

Things I didn’t expect to see in the current issue of Rolling Stone: a letter from Dina Eastwood, the wife of Clint known previously as Dina Ruiz. Under that former name, she was the anchorwoman for KSBW, the local news station I grew up watching. Now she apparently writes letters, which is a good hobby, I think. This one is in response to the previous issue’s Jonas Brothers cover.

The letter:
My 11-year-old daughter and I saw the Jonas Brothers in a venue that held less than 100 people. being marries to Clint Eastwood helped me hook up a “meet and greet.” At the risk of sounding like a hormone-laden 43-year-old pervert, I gotta tell you: I saw them again last week, and it was the best concert I have ever been to. The Jonas family is a gold standard for great music and good living

Dina Eastwood
Monterey, California
Dina Ruiz Eastwood, of course, is not to be confused with Dina Dina, who also doesn’t have anything better to do than write letters but has so far failed to do so.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Low-Down Rose Sucker

En route to Hillary’s parents’ new house this past weekend, I passed a street sign that made me laugh: Chuparosa Drive. A childhood populated with the likes of the Chupacabra and Chupa Chups* — and really just those two things and nothing else, sadly —taught me long ago that chupar is the Spanish word for “to suck.” (This knowledge has proved useful, mostly by allowing me to know when I was being discussed in a defamatory manner.) But chuparosa? Who sucks roses? And, more to the point, who sucks roses to the point where they should get a street named after them? Rose-sucking sounds painful, and perhaps the kind of activity people in other countries accuse each others’ mothers of doing. “Your mother sucks roses and you dad chews on nickels!” Something like that.

My Friend The Internet tells me that chuparosa — which is more frequently spelled chuparrosa — actually means “hummingbird” in Mexican Spanish. I am comfortable with this, for if anyone should be sucking roses, it should be the mythical half-bird, half-bug. I don’t remember learning this term for hummingbird back in high school Spanish, however, possibly because teachers decided that colibri was superior by virtue of not giving students reason to use any form of word “suck.”

Other equally amazing compound Spanish words that use some form of the chupar:
  • chupamangas, literally “sleeve sucker,” translated as “suck-up,” and considered vulgar for some reason I don’t understand
  • chupasangres, “bloodsucker”
  • chupatintas, literally “ink sucker,” but meaning something close to the English term pencil pusher
  • chupamirto, literally “myrtle sucker,” but again meaning “hummingbird”
  • chupaflor, yet another term for “hummingbird”
  • chupagasolina, which I think is the Spanish equivalent of the English term gas-guzzler
  • chupacirios, literally “candle sucker,” which sounds like a euphemism for a certain English expression but which actually means “a sanctimonious person” for reasons I do not understand
* Would have loved to find a webpage explaining this apparently bygone lollipop brand but found nothing online. Am I crazy? These existed, right?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Whole Thing, Completely, in Its Entirety

Ah, the letter S. Why is it that so many words begin with it?

Is it just me, or is the “S” section of the phonebook thicker than the others? Is it merely a result of my musical preferences that the “S” section of my iTunes library is the largest? And why did I have such a hard time picking this week’s word?

In the end, one word won out, though the runners-up surely merit mentions: scaphism (the practice of coating a person in honey and then tethering them to a tree so as to attract death by unpleasant insects), stenterophonic (given to speaking loudly), saggitary (a centaur; or, more usefully, an archer) spoffokins (a prostitute posing as a person’s wife), and skuggery (secrecy). I could easily use any of these altogether wonderful words later, of course, but this week I decided to pick a word that most Back of the Cereal Box readers would recognize but which I hadn’t thought much about until today.
shebang (shi-BANG) — noun: everything that is involved in what is under consideration
That’s how Webster puts it. It sounds a little technical, but I guess that’s the position most dictionaries take. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term as “a situation, organization, contrivance, or set of facts or things.” Both note that the term is often used in the phrase “the whole shebang,” which, given the Webster’s definition of the stand-alone term, seems a little redundant. Nonetheless, if pressed, I’d attempt my own definition more like this: “the whole goddamn thing, even the parts you might think aren’t included.”

Such a strange word, though, I’ve always felt. Shebang. If interpreted literally, it sounds downright dirty. (It’s not, as we all know. ) And it reminds me of the nonsense syllables that songwriters sometimes use to fill space — something along the lines of shaboom or shamma-lamma-ding-dong or zig-a-zig-ah. You know, the lyrical equivalent of a “TK.” And I’m have to say that I’m surprised to see that I’ve used it on this blog a lot more often than I would have expected.

Shebang’s origins are unknown, according to the people who know these types of things. But wherever the word came from, this place is most likely neither musical nor sexual. While neither Webster nor the AHD offer a source, Wiktionary claims it was first recorded as being used by Walt Whitman in 1862. (It does not say what Walt Whitman text actually used it, though I imagine you could find this with a bit of research.) Wiktionary also proposes the origin of shebang as coming from the French word char-a-banc, a bus-like wagon with many seats. It also notes that Mark Twain later used the term to refer to both a vehicle and “a matter of present concern.” As far as I can tell, only the former is documented: his 1871 lecture “Roughing It.” (Wiki-derived knowledged: the hint of research without the documentation. You don’t have to love it, but Google will inevitably dump you there.)

The Online Etymology Dictionary — which, for all I know, could be compiled by some woman named Mona who took a single linguistics course at the Learning Annex — puts the first documented use of shebang in 1862. It doesn’t say in what. It elaborates that the phrase “the whole shebang” popped up in 1869, but how this usage relates to just plain ol’ shebang isn’t clear. It claims that either or both could come from char-a-banc but the word, when not preceded by “the whole,” means “hut,” “shed,” or “shelter,” and could also come from the Irish and Scottish word shebeen, meaning “a cabin where unlicensed liquor is sold and drunk.”

I suppose we’ll never know where the truth lies, but it’s nonetheless comforting to know that Ricky Martin wasn’t anywhere close to correct in how he used it.

Previous words of the week: