Friday, October 31, 2008

Bring Your Passport

So a while back, I posted a little nothing about an old Nintendo game called Clu Clu Land. It didn’t generate much interest, but, occasionally, people find my blog by Googling something related to this old and largely forgotten game. A few days ago, somebody Googled “clu clu land bubbles gloopy gender” — which, basically, gets to the heart of what my post was about — and ended up on my on this very post. I noticed this through the service I use to keep track of how people get here and ended up clicking the Google search results page myself to see what else showed up. (Oddly, my blog itself does not seem to show up in the search results at the moment. I assume that this will be fixed in the near future.) It’s mostly what you’d expect, but one thing caught me eye: a match on the website

This is funny because TripAtlas — which seems like some sort of travel-planning site — apparently just bites information from Wikipedia and various Wikipedia knock-offs and, consequently, was fooled into posting an entry for what it thinks might be a foreign country. You know, the Great and Exalted Nation of Clu Clu Land. England, Switzerland, Swaziland and Clu Clu Land.

The page itself doesn’t have much info that is helpful in planning my vacation in Clu Clu Land, but I’m hoping there might be a list of hotels and popular destinations for other trips I plan to take one day to Candy Land, La La Land, and Land of the Lost.

Nuclear Merton

I just made sense of a certain victim of Japanese “L”/“R” confusion that’s confused me for years. Back when I had time to actually play video games — rather than just write about them — I played the hell out of Final Fantasy 6, in which your little men can learn a certain all-destructive super move called “Merton.” That word doesn’t mean a whole lot, and I just figured it out today: “Meltdown.” They were trying to say “meltdown.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Panty, Please

Betsy, you missed out.

For those of you unfamiliar with my living situation, Betsy was a housemate until she moved out more than a year ago. Like everybody who’s every called our address home, however, she still gets mail here. (I’ve said it before: She actually gets far more mail than I do, election-related material notwithstanding.) Most recently, Betsy received the below promotion for Victoria’s Secret, that purveyor of things that purport to be sexy but actually only put thin covers on said sexy things.

Normally, this would be tossed right into the garbage, but I scanned it for one specific reason: its use of the word panty.

Seriously? Panty? In my mind, a panty should be half of a pair of ladies underwear — or, I suppose, underwear minimal enough that it can’t qualify as a full-fledged pair of panties. (Given that this is Victoria’s Secret I’m talking about, that actually may be the case.) That I can remember, I’d never heard of the term for women’s underwear used in the singular before. Just as virtually everybody says “pants” or “a pair of pants,” they should also say “panties.” I admit it seems illogical that all of these things that are technically singular should be so often stated in the plural because their central feature has two distinct parts. But I haven’t heard anyone speaking of cutting with a “scissor,” so perhaps we should enforce the rule anyway.

Both Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary have the term listed under panty but also note that it’s more often used in the plural, so apparently it’s not technically incorrect to use the singular, just a little strange.

I wonder if the mailer was printed to say panty specifically so some awful woman with a coupon for “free panties” didn’t come into the store and demand more than one pair.

Are you listening, Betsy? One panty and one panty only.

And of interest, on that note: Wiktionary’s list of pluralia tantum, or words that exist on the plural form. (The list of singularia tantum is apparently still a work in progress.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Kind of Name Is "Chandler Bing," Anyway?

An article that went up today at proposes an interesting origin for the name of Matthew Perry’s character form Friends: the 1975 horror-porn-comedy Thundercrack!. This Curt McDowell film — reviews for which almost always seem to use the words “tasteless,” “pansexual” and “masterpiece” — features, among other things, two male characters named “Chandler” and “Bing,” respectively, who end up boning. Seems like it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, especially given that Chandler seemed to be written like an in-the-closet gay character during the first few seasons of Friends.

Then, of course, he married Courtney Cox’s character, which is kind of like coming out as gay, if you think about it.

Palace of the Brine

Not to be outdone by the piglet squid, here’s one that’s maybe even better: the red paper lantern medusa.

Depending on who’s doing the talking, she’s also known as the aka-chochin kurage or the Pandea rubra. And the other wonders of the sea apparently love her enough that they’ll sublease her. There’s a video of all this wonderment at Pink Tentacle.

Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde: Smarter Than You Think

At the moment, I am haunted by the ghosts of Pac-Man. Unlike regular hauntings, which more often make people go crazy or become possessed or move away, this timely supernatural occurrence has prompted me to write another entry in the games-and-names file.

Way back when, I blogged about a prolonged night at Elsie’s in which I sat next to the Pac-Man machine and ended up watching the attract mode for way longer than I should have. As the lights flashed and repeatedly drew my attention, I watched the introduction of the game’s characters again and again and I noted that the four ghosts have two sets of names. Where as the four are introduced as Blinky (the red one), Pinky (the pink one), Inky (the blue one) and Clyde (the orange one), they’re also given an alternate set of names: Shadow, Speedy, Bashful and Pokey, respectively.

image courtesy of spritestrich

It gets weirder: This particular machine was one of the ones that contains all the major Pac-Man games and therefore scrolled through them, one by one. The included ghosts change. In Ms. Pac-Man, Clyde is replaced by another orange ghost, Sue, possibly in an effort to even out the gender ratio. In Pac-Man Jr., Sue is replaced with Tim, also orange.

But it all seems arbitrary, right?

In a sense, it is. However, Ashley Davis, a blogger over at Destructoid, put a post up last week specifically on the Pac-Man ghosts and why they got the names that they did. In short, though it might seem like Blinky, Pinky, Inky and the Clyde-Sue-Tim hivemind hover around dot-filled mazes in the exact same way, they don’t. In fact, the way they move is explained by their nicknames.

As Davis explains it, Clyde (a.k.a. “Pokey”) might seem like he’d move especially slowly, but he doesn’t. Instead, he moves around at a normal speed but not at all in pursuit of Pac-Man. He does his own thing; if he happens to snag Pac-Man and make him rotate counterclockwise into oblivion, it’s a total coincidence. His Japanese name, Otoboke, translates to something like “stupid” or “dopey,” Davis explains. Thus, “Pokey” — or, as we shall interpret it, “mentally challenged.” Thus, if Clyde kills Pac-Man, it’s probably as a result of the player being equally as mentally challenged.

Inky, as Davis explains it, is equally unlikely to kill Pac-Man. His Japanese name, Kimagure, translates to “whimsy.” And it might seem like his pattern is based on pure whimsy, but it’s apparently not. As it’s explained on the Twin Galaxies forum, Inky’s position on the screen may seem random, but it’s actually based on a the relationship between Pac-Man and Blinky, the red ghost. More or less, Inky resides on the part of the screen that’s twice as far from the distance between the red ghost and two spaces in front of Pac-Man. It’s very complex.

Pinky (a.k.a. “Speedy”) doesn’t actually move any faster than the rest of the ghosts. His Japanese name — Machibuse, “ambusher” — is more accurate, as she takes it upon herself to trap Pac-Man into corners with the help of the Blinky. (This website, by the way, switches the Japanese names for Inky and Pinky, but since it’s in the minority on the matter, I’ll assume it’s a mistake.)

And then there’s Blinky (a.k.a. “Shadow”). In Japanese, he’s Oikake, “chaser.” He bases his movements on Pac-Man himself, always with the goal of reducing the amount of distance between himself and the yellow dot-gobbler. If the vertical distance is greater, he’ll do what he can to reduce that so long as the horizontal distance doesn’t become greater, in which case he’ll reduce that instead. Davis notes that when Pac-Man consumes a certain number of dots, the behavior of Blinky — and only Blinky — changes. He goes into what is known among Pac-Man aficionados as “Cruise Elroy” mode. (Davis supplies some guesses as to where the term might come from, but she rightly leaves it as being obscure.) In this mode, Blinky moves faster than he would normally be able to.

Interesting, in my book, for two reasons: The four ghosts each have their own programmed motivation for getting around a given maze (one) and these motivations are hinted at by their names (two).

Davis leaves out one additional ghost, however, who’s little known even among those who pride themselves in their Pac-Man skills: the especially obscure green ghost, Miru (also translated as “Mil,” unfortunately). I read about her while browsing Wikipedia sometime back and had been meaning to reveal her existence to the world for a while before the Destructoid post gave me an opportunity. Miru appears in the 1983 Japan-only title Pac & Pal, which Wikipedia alleges could be the rarest Pac-Man title.

I’m fairly certain that Miru is the only truly female ghost in the series, Sue and Pinky’s names notwithstanding. You can tell by the fact that she, like Ms. Pac-Man herself, wears a bow on her head. And that’s a sure a sign of femininity as there ever was. (She looks like “a gooseberry with legs,” according to Wikipedia.) She apparently zooms around the maze, unaffected by the evil ghosts, and will grab items. If Pac-Man doesn’t intercept them from her, they get dropped in the “ghost box” in the center of the maze, where they become lost forever.

In short, Miru doesn’t sound like all that much help. In some versions, she’s apparently replaced by Chomp-Chomp, Pac-Man’s dog. If that’s not a slap in the face to early gender equality in video games, I don’t know what is.

courtesy of

And that, my friends, is everything I know about the Pac-Man ghosts, their weird alternate personas, their additional American alteregos, and their dumb little sister that no one talks about anymore.

EDIT: I’ve found a bit more on the ghosts. First, what’s in the comments below is accurate. Pac-mania did, in fact, introduce new ghosts into the mix. The green one is, in fact, named Funky and the gray one Spunky, though they’re also apparently known as the far less fun-sounding “Common” and “Gray Common.” And Sue does reappear, now purple.

However, these aren’t the last of the ghosts. There’s also one named Yum-Yum, who appears in Jr. Pac-Man as some kind of Juliet to Jr. Pac-Man’s Romeo. The latter’s boyhood is represented by the fact that he wears a little propeller beanie on his head, while the former’s femininity is once again represented by the fact that she wears a bow. Below is a screenshot, which I nabbed from this YouTube clip.

Here’s Jr. Pac-Man, just after he’s dropped off by the stork.

And here’s little Yum-Yum meeting Jr. for the first time.

Finally, regarding the big four ghosts, I noticed in Chris Kohler’s Game Over a little section on their names. He translated the Japanese names of Clyde, Inky, Pinky and Blinky as “Slow,” “Capricious,” “Ambush” and “Chaser.” He also notes that the four Japanese versions of the ghosts have their own Japanese nicknames, just as the American versions have nicknames. The nicknames, in order are Guzuta, Aosuke, Pinky and Akabei, three of which are references to their respective ghosts’ colors. “Pinky” is obvious. The Japanese word for “red” is aka, and the word for “blue” is ao. Kohler theorizes that Guzuta comes from the Japanese guzutsuku, meaning “to linger” or “to languish.” Now we know.

Pac-Man, previously:
The intersection of video games and all things verbal, elsewhere on this blog:
Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Go Maple Leaves!

Something cool that I learned: the grammatical reason behind why we say “Toronto Maple Leafs,” “still lifes” and “sabertooths” instead of “Toronto Maple Leaves,” “still lives” and “saberteeth.” It has to do with a thing called exocentric or “headless” compounds.”

And I am fascinated.

(Via Bradshaw of the Future)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Drive My Car Into the Ocean

Meet Helicocranchia pfefferi, the so-called “piglet squid.”

courtesy of

And here is a second view of the creature, looking slightly more piglet-ish. (Believe it or not, these are the same species, though the one below may actually be a subspecies: the banded piglet squid.)

As you can see, its common name is no misnomer in either case. This living water balloon’s tentacles and arms look more than a little like yarny, cartoony hair, a row of chromatophores below looks like a smile, and its siphon looks a bit like a snout. (At least I think it’s the siphon I’m seeing above the “smile.”) I’m guessing its discoverers named it after the small “p” piglet and not the A.A. Milne character — even if the second example looks more like a certain effeminate porcine resident of the Hundred Acre Woods. And that’s too bad, really, because the capital “P” piglet squid would have made a good playmate for the Dumbo octopus.

And then, of course, no one wants to play with the blobfish.

(Piglet squid info from Zooillogix, via Boing Boing)

The Damning Evidence

Of all the things to find in a used copy of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, perhaps the least appropriate would have been a receipt from El Paseo for a 64-ounce margarita.

In case you don’t process your units of volume all that well, 64 ounces is the amount of liquid contained in your typical orange juice container. It makes it all the more amusing, of course, that this copy of The Awakening happened to belong to Roommate Aly before it came into Spencer’s possession.

Point one: Edna Pontellier would not approve, Aly. And point two: A whole 64-ounce container of margarita would not result in an awakening, under any circumstances.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In the Form of a "Why?!"

Perhaps there’s no worse word than the one that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, even in context. Like biweekly. Fucking useless. It can mean either “twice a week” or “every two weeks,” and even though the latter definition is probably the more popular one, you can never be sure what the word is supposed to mean when you hear it. You ask. You get it explained. You let valuable seconds get sucked up as the result of a needless communication failure.

Ask me about the time the newspaper advertised for biweekly columnists. Or, better yet, don’t.

This is the case with this week’s word, which I initially thought had one simple definition. Further exploration, however, took me through a quagmire of confusion, a dense jungle of ambiguity and finally dropped me at the stinking tar pits of uselessness, where logic and I both sunk into certain doom like slow-witted Brontosauruses who should have known better than to reach for that one leafy branch.

Below is the word and the various definitions I found online. Explanation to follow.
ypsiliform (ip-SIL-i-form) — adjective: 1. having the form of the capital letter “Y.” 2. having the form of the lower-case letter “u.” 3. having the form of a question mark. 4. having the form of a backslash.

So I initially picked this letter because I read somewhere — can’t remember where now — that it meant the third definition. I found this amusing. But upon going about writing this entry, the matter of defining ypsiliform became more complicated than that. Foremost, it’s not a word that appears in most dictionaries. More often than not, it appears in lists of medical terms, so I can only guess that there exists some ligament or bone or nerve that someone decided to force this word upon in description of it. Or perhaps there’s some blood worm that has a hooked tail that merited this description. That would be appropriate.

According to Wikitionary, however, the word has nothing to do with question marks. It comes from the name of the Greek letter upsilon — which is also known as ypsilon, apparently — and therefore means “resembling the letter upsilon.” Which would be great, if only upsilon can look like either of two letters of the Roman alphabet: when uppercase, an uppercase “Y”; when lowercase, a lowercase “u.”

Already, that’s a problem. “Y” and “u” look nothing alike. If they’re both upsilon, then there’s no way of knowing to which one ypsiliform refers.

So where the hell did notion of ypsiliform meaning “resembling a question mark” come from? I mean, the resemblance between ypsiliform and upsilon are close enough that there doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room. Again, I can’t remember where I first read that, but I believe it’s a result of the internet. You know, like all things. Check this definition out: It cites the 1913 Webster as defining the word as “resembling the ? in appearance; — said of the germinal spot in the ripe egg at one of the stages of fecundation.” Anyone who stumbled upon this in hopes of defining the word would naturally think that it mean “resembling the question mark,” but I actually think this happened as a result of this page not having properly coded the symbol for upsilon. It’s being told to show a character it doesn’t know how to show, and, consequently, it’s just showing a question mark instead. In short: The coding is saying “huh?” but unfortunately doing so in a manner that’s still sensical.

More proof: this definition, which also seems to be exhibiting bad coding and therefore offering the definition as “resembling the Greek letter” and then a “<” and then “UPSILON/” in form.” Looks like bad code to me. Free Dictionary’s definition for ypsiliform omits the symbol altogether. (I guess you get what you pay for.) And this website — which purports to be affiliated with Webster but I suspect isn’t — inserts a backslash: “resembling the / in appearance; — said of the germinal spot in the ripe egg at one of the stages of fecundation.”

All this being said, the true definition is probable “resembling the capital “Y” in form,” but for all the reasons listed above, this fact isn’t probably going to become any better understood. I feel like anybody else trying to look ypsiliform up will either check a few different places and be thoroughly confused or check one place and get the wrong definition and go through life misunderstanding the concept. Which is probably fine, because why would they ever need to use it?

The word, to me, is essentially useless, because even if I take a guess at what I think it actually means, I’d have no way of every knowing whether anyone else using it would be doing so with the same guessed-at definition that I’m using. I could say “Hey, Ida, could you pass me that hook? The ypsiliform one?” And Ida — if she even knew what the word meant — would reach and give me the hook shaped like a “u” and I’d have to berate her. “Ida, you stupid girl! I asked for the ypsiliform hook, and you’ve given me one that is most certainly not ypsiliform!” And I throw it at her and she’d have a “u”-shaped gash on her forehead.

Thus, this word sucks. Don’t ever use it.

You’d think I’d leave it at that, but I have one more major gripe against ypsiliform: It has synonyms. Yes, the word that doesn’t mean anything in particular is part of a family of other words that have the exact same definition, which, ultimately, is nothing. As long as you mentally blocking out all future usage of ypsiliform, shield yourself from these as well: ypsiloid, hypsiloid, upsiloid. They’re not listed, but I can only imagine that hypsiliform and upsiliform — if they exist — would also mean nothing as well.

What’s that? You like feeling abused by English? Well, for a chock-full list of self-defeating words — autoantonyms, as most people call them — see Wikipedia’s list of self-contradicting words.

Previous (and better) words of the week:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Then There Is No Mystery Left

Remember this spider?

horrifying spider

I saw it in Australia, in the Whitsundays. Big as my hand it was. I’m not sure if my words alone can convey how horrifying it really was, but if I tell you that it shouted hateful epithets at me and my travel companions, will that paint the picture vividly enough?

Dina emailed me about this very spider this week. Not this spider, precisely, but its species. According to an October 22 article in the Telegraph, this little nightmare eats birds.

Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Almost as horrifying as that pelican-on-pigeon action some time back.

The Ever-Recurring Invocation of Infernal Imps

As a result of an unexpected series of jumps across the world wide web, I ended on an online version of James Charles Wall’s 1904 book Devils — Their Origin and Their History. Weird, I know, but the book’s warped and somewhat na├»ve worldview encouraged me to continue with it, kind of in the way I’m compelled to have conversations with old people who still stay “Siam” when they mean “Thailand” and “Mohammedians” when they mean “Muslims” and “mimeograph” when they try to mean “fax machine.”

Below, I’ve recorded some highlights:

In casual invocation of the Devil’s name: The Devil is adjured not only at the coster’s stall but at the dinner-table, sometimes even before the ladies have left the sterner sex to the enjoyment of nicotine; while the drawing room, the ballroom and the boudoir are not altogether innocent of the same.

No, not the coster’s stall!

On the demon family tree: Devils form a large family of every age and nationality. The Talmudists asserted that they numbered 7,405,926. How they arrived at these numbers it is impossible to say; yet, after all, these were but few compared with the same learned authorities’ numbering of the angels who guarded souls from the attacks of these seven and odd million; they run into the quadrillions, a matter of sixteen figures.

That’s some sound census data right there.

On devils and their “colouring”: Devils are said to vary considerably in color, but from the same causes as their human victims their own variation of tint: torrid or temperate zones affect them not. We hear of blue devils lurking before the uncontrollable vision of those who have become confirmed inebriates and pass through a sort of Patrick’s Purgatory, such as is so vividly described by medieval historians of the Emerald Isle.

I don’t know what I’m more amused by: the sheer revulsion I imagine when this guy writes about people from torrid regions or his willingness to enforce what, for all I know, was a brand new stereotype about Irish people back when this was written.

On devil-worship in the East: There exists an order of devil-priests who set up their altars to those of the orthodox Buddha. Their oaths are made in the Devil’s name. His name is mentioned with reverence and with a prefix equivalent of your highness. They will not even pronounce any word beginning with the sound sh, that being solely reserved for his name Sheitan (i.e. Satan)… Among these people the Devil is worshipped under the form of a bronze-gilt cock.

No joke here. This just does not seem accurate. Why would “Easterners” use the Judeo-Christian word for the Devil?

And more: China simply teems with them; indeed, there is one particular province known as “Demonland.”


On Jewish devils: The ancient Jews supposed that the demons were propogated like mankind; they ate and drank, were married and divorced.

Doesn’t supposing that demons marry and divorce ascribe a certain level of civility to them that this author would disagree with?

On the demonic hierarchies: From another source is gathered the distribution of the satanic embassies and the minister to whom they are allotted. Thus, Belphego is the Devil’s ambassador in France; Tharung, in Spain; Hutgin, in Italy; Martinet, in Switzerland; and Belial, in Turkey. His grand almoner is Dagon; His banker is Asmodeus, and the chief of the eunuchs is Succor Benoth. His theatrical manager is Kobal; master of ceremonies, Verdelet; and the court fool, Nybbas… No mention is made of a navy in connection with Hell… In fact, there must be one continuous drought in those quarters.

If we actually knew the names and locations of these Satanic emissaries, wouldn’t it be fairly easy to stop them? You know — with Jesus power?

The book also includes some cool artwork, like this one which depicts some Englishman’s imagining of what a Japanese devil should look like:

And this one, depicting the fall of Lucifer:

In conclusion: The Devil is bad, but it’s okay to be obsessed with him if you do it under the pretenses of academia. Either way, for reading and writing this, respectively, you and I will probably be joining J. Charles Wall in Hell.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And a Peach in Their Pants

So a mysterious pink cloud appeared over London on Monday.

photo via the telegrapaph

Am I the only one who wants to think it’s condensed love particles, frozen in the atmosphere and hovering visibly in the sky? Should we not harvest this love and sell it in dust form to smoothie parlors worldwide so they can crumble this physicalized love into our berry healthshakes?

Because that’s probably what it is. Love, I mean.

I’m just saying.

(via Towleroad)

The Rooster Stampede of 1978

Courtesy of Dina, two things:

The below image, in which the cut-out design in a rail along a sidewalk in some unfortunate town cast a shadow that looks like so many penises.


And the ensuing discussion on Reddit, which, as Dina pointed out, discusses the value — or lack thereof — in the interrobang, only a day after I recalled my original post about this elusive and so-very-special punctuation mark.

Fire, Fire, Everywhere

Wildfire has currently shut down the 405 and all but licked the walls of the Getty. That is news in and of itself, but I was surprised as anyone this morning when CNN read the blog entry of at-least-sometimes Cereal Box reader and occasional commenter Mark Batalla live, on the air, this morning. He, um, saw the fire.

If you head on over there, see if you can leave a comment. I can’t, for whatever reason, and thus haven’t been able to tell Mark, “Hey! Your blog got read on national news.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mega Man 9 Is Full of Phonies

If you count downloadable content, it turns out that Mega Man 9 has a ninth Robot Master, it turns out: the below law enforcement bot.

Extra stuff to do in a video game is always welcome, I say. However, I’m put off a bit that this mechanical Joe Friday has been introduced to the world as “Fake Man.”

The hell?

A history of Robot Masters whose names have evoked various explosions, natural disasters, weapons of mass destruction, and general ouchiness and the best name Capcom can come up with for this bonus boss is the incomprehensible “Fake Man”? Apparently, in the game’s story, Fake Man is explained as a phony, Dr. Wily-created police robot that arrests Dr. Light in the opening cinema. But wouldn’t “Police Man” have been better? Or “Copper Man”? “Fuzz Man”?

A random note: As a result of ceaseless web browsing, I know that there exists a popular manga and spinoff anime by the name of FAKE. It happens to concern gay cops. Coincidence?

Mega Man, previously:

Fill Your Bowl With It

In case you happen to send your text messages from the standard twelve-button keypad and in case you also happen to utilize a certain Middle Eastern, semolina-based dish, keep this in mind: The button pattern with which one uses to create the word “cous cous” is exactly the same as “anus anus.”

One guess how I figured this out. A hint: It involves what I bought for dinner tonight.

Add this one to the list of doppeltexters.

Also: What are the odds that I’d post two different entries in the same day about accidentally typing a reference to the human behind?

Guacamole Window

In sending an email to my copyeditor last week, I mistyped the code for an em dash (ALT+0151) and ended up producing a symbol that look remarkably like a butt. Not only did I decide against retyping the proper symbol, I actually pointed out the random butt symbol. “Look! I mistyped and made a butt! Isn’t that strange?”

Very professional, I know. In any case, the symbol looked like this:

This eventually caused me to look at the Microsoft Word symbol bank in order to find out what this symbol actually was and, subsequently, to mock the people whose printed language uses butts. Apparently the symbol is ot — a form of the early Cyrillic character omega, a ligature with the character te. It can mean “from,” I’m told. I will continue to imagine that it means “butt.”

In trying to find the Cyrillic butt symbol on my home computer, I ended up noting a few of those other symbols that don’t make much sense to monolingual Americans like myself. I’ve scrolled past them many times and always wondered what they did. Now I know.

First up: The End of Ayah.

I’m calling it The Magical Fishbowl.

is the Arabic word for “sign” or “miracle.” (It’s a cognate with the Hebrew word ot, which also means “sign,” though the similarity between that the above ot is probably just a coincidence.) According to Wikipedia, Ayah most often refers to one of the 6,236 verses of the Qur’an, which Muslims each regard as each being a sign from Allah himself. After each one, as near as I understand it, there appears the above symbol with the verse number inside it.

Then there’s this one, which looks a bit like a poorly drawn Star of David but, being Arabic in origin, probably isn’t.

It’s actually the Rub El Hizb — which translates to English as something like “lord of the group” or “sustainer of the party” or “supporter of the sect” or something along those lines. It’s a popular motif for flags and whatnot — you’ve doubtlessly noted it on that Turkmenistan coat of arms that you’ve been seeing everywhere — but also is used to represent the end of a chapter in Arabic calligraphy. Finally, I’m told that the Rub El Hizb represents “an eighth of a juz’,” but I can’t even to begin to figure out what that means.

And finally we have the Place of Sajdah, which I repeatedly read as “Palace of Sajdah,” which sounds a lot more fantastic than the actual name but which doesn’t lend itself to quick and easy Googling. There’s surprisingly little about this one online, at least under the name I have understood to use for it, but it would appear to be the symbol for the notion of prayerful prostration — sajdah, also known as sujud. I don’t understand the connection between the act and the symbol, unless it’s supposed to be an abstracted for of a human, bent down in prayer, wit the diamond-shaped part at the top being that person’s head.

More on punctuation, typogrpahy and other such symbols:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All the Colors of the Dark

No song of the week today. I’ve got a headache and music would do nothing to solve this problem. Instead, I’m choosing today to write about a recently revived interest of mine: giallo.

I would have found specific, Italian type of horror movie if it hadn’t been for Scream. After I saw that movie in theaters back in 1996, I read a review that mentioned that the infamous opening sequence — Drew Barrymore, video night, Jiffy Pop, phone call — referenced the film Suspiria in some way. I rented Suspiria from the only video shop in town with. Sure enough, I saw the connection: Drew Barrymore, insides out the outside and strung up in a rope swingset, was clearly positioned to look like the unfortunate girl form the opening sequence of Suspiria, who also had outside insides and who also ended up on the wrong end of a rope.

I loved Suspiria, it turned out — the bleeding colors, the shrieking soundtrack, the overall fairy tale feel to it. I’d watch it again this very moment if I could, while I’ve had Scream sitting on my DVD shelf, untouched and unloved, for years. Suspiria also served as my gateway into giallo, even if Suspiria itself falls more into the categories of horror fantasy than anything else. Most of Argento’s other work bears the marks of giallo. (Those marks, of course, are knifewounds, inflicted against some backdrop of noir soaked in the California sunshine of 70s detective movies.) Having had the house to myself for this weekend, I bumped a few giallo films to the top of the Netflix queue, and, as a result, Netflix has begun recommending similar movies. The titles alone are nearly entertainment enough. This weekend, I have Seven Blood Stained Orchids and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. If I so choose, the next movies I have sent to my house could include any of the following:
Perhaps none of these can hold a candle to What Have You Done to Solange?, but this list as a whole strikes me as even funnier than my list of accidentally hilarious manga titles.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ogopogo Lives

In playing the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy IV and essentially reliving a game I first played through in 1993 — only now in considerably more visual detail with a few bells and whistles thrown in — I came across an optional, penultimate boss that I’d nearly forgotten about: Ogopogo.

image courtesy of the ryu room

Little did I realize at the time that Ogopogo got his name when the people in charge of translating the original Super Nintendo version decided to throw a reference in to a Nessie-like sea serpent that supposedly lives in British Columbia. Unless I’m mistaken, Squaresoft’s American office would have been located in Washington at the time and therefore would have been a relatively short driving distance from Lake Okanagan. It seems likely enough that the translators would have heard the long-lived legend of this lake-dwelling cryptid and decided to dub the boss in its honor rather than using its awkward Japanese name, “Tidaliathan.” According to Wikipedia, Squaresoft even sent out a company newsletter for a period, and the name of it was the Ogopogo Examiner.

(Sidenote: Actually, I was a little surprised that the American version of the name stuck into this latest remake. In the years since the game was initially released, there’s been talk about what a lousy translation it got. I agree. Even I noted that the text was less than stellar, and I was just a kid when I first read it. There’s a line spoken angrily by one character in the game, “You spoony bard!” And it’s mean in all seriousness. It has become a catchphrase among Final Fantasy dorks and can also be used as a sort of shorthand for the phenomenon of grammatically fine translations that still sound nothing like anything a contemporary English speaker would ever say. Later iterations of the game have cleaned up the sloppiness somewhat, but some of the liberties the initial translators have survived, either as tributes or as a result of them becoming popular with American gamers.)

When my family visited that very year I played through Final Fantasy IV, my little mind was blown away, however briefly, when we encountered a statue celebrating Ogopogo. He looked a lot nicer in statue form than he did in the video game, what with him killing me on many failed attempts to steal his treasure.

image courtesy of this guys blog

I’m still not clear how to pronounce the creature’s name — flat, with no emphasis, “Oh-go-po-go”? or with the accent on the second syllable, “Oh-GOP-oh-go”? — but seeing him again was a nice way to remember something I’d nearly forgotten.

Oh, and I totally killed him. That was nice too.

The intersection of video games and all things verbal, previously:

Studying Xena's Hygiene Habits

Oh, the letter “X.” Perhaps unfairly, it’s become the sleaziest member of the Roman alphabet, mostly as a result of its associations with pornographic films and the alcohol content of liquor. It’s an oddball letter, I always thought, doing the job that other letters could do — usually “c-k-s” or “z” or “h,” depending on who’s doing the pronunciation — and often lending the words in which it appears the air of alien planets, ancient Greece and pharmaceuticals. I guess it follows, then, that I had a hard time picking this letters word of the week, what with so many of them being so wonderfully strange. Among the skipped over this week: xystus (a gym, essentially), xanthodontous (having yellow teeth), xyster (a tool for scraping bones clean) and xanthippe (a bad-tempered wife, allegedly from Socrates’ infamously unpleasant wife, Xanthippe).
xenodocheionology (ZEE-no-do-ka-NOL-a-jee) — noun: 1. the study of hotels and inns. 2. a love of hotels or inns.
I found this one in Peter Bowler’s Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words, though Googling the word to find out more about it took me to the Blog Etymologica, which offers a xenodocheionological joke, of which, I’m sure, there are many. “What exactly is xenodocheionology? It’s a love of hotels. And how would you describe a xenodocheionologist? I suppose you could call him an ‘inn-thusiast.’” Terrible, I know, but helpful in remembering what the word means.

The Etymologica blogger, Sean Incogonito, goes on to explain that the term comes from the old Greek term xenodochium, then meaning “guest house,” now meaning “hotel” or sometimes specifically “the guest house of a monastery.” Mr. Incognito cites the unabridged Webster’s etymology of the term as a joining of xenos, “stranger” and the verb dechesthai, “to receive.”

Previous words of the week:

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Sarcophagus of Trivia

This seems like one of those half-true urban legends that get circulated endlessly, but this one is apparently true: The Exorcist would never have been made if it wasn’t for Groucho Marx. In the mid-50s, William Peter Blatty appeared on the show You Bet Your Life and managed to fool Marx into thinking that he was a sheik who couldn’t remember how many wives he had. When Marx asked Blatty what he intended to do with his $10,000 prize money, Blatty explained that he intended to take time off work to write a novel. The product of this was the novel The Exorcist.

It’s well documented online and a few dozen clicks here and there gave no indication that it might be false. And, of course, Blatty is still alive and probably would have spoken up about the matter by now.

The one about Harpo Marx and Oprah Winfrey’s mom, however, is just stupid.

(Via Neatorama)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jane Austen, Devious Genius

She had no way of knowing, of course, but Jane Austen created a brilliant means of exposing lazy American high school students who attempt to avoid reading Sense and Sensibility and instead watch the Ang Lee film adaptation. If a student ignorant of British spelling just watched the film and then attempted to write the paper based on what Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet did on their TV screen, this student could easily write a paper that refers to “Mr. Edward Ferris” instead of “Mr. Edward Ferrars.” After all, why would an American assume that this character’s name had an “R” in it?

I know that a marginally intelligent student would doublecheck the spelling of the names on IMDb, but my theory more concerns the full-on idiots. Surely there’s been at least one kid in some English class somewhere who attempted to pass off their less-than-Cliffs Notes version of the book in a paper and got the name wrong, thus opening themselves up to ridicule and deserved punishment, right?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Superpowers! They're Useless!

Back in the day, Superman had more pressing concerns that Lex Luthor attempting to take over the world.

image courtesy of comics should be good

I, however, prefer Lois Lane when she looks like Kristen.

The Legacy of W.A. Stokins

So something funny happened: Video games and language collided once again.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog the video game Street Fighter II, that quarter-eating staple of middle school birthday parties that created a genre out of two people from different countries knocking the crap out of each other. Back in the days of the original Street Fighter II — that is, not one of the quasi-sequel modifications that inserted words like “turbo” and “super” and “championship edition” into the title — the game had eight playable characters and four non-playable bosses. Throughout all incarnations of the series, Ryu — your typical wandering Japanese karate practitioner — is the main character and one of his mistranslated quotes ended up making fans of the game think Street Fighter II featured a secret character.

victorious ryu on the left; beaten ken on the right

“You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” This was Ryu’s pronouncement over fallen opponents. What he meant by this isn’t clear, at least when it’s spoken in English. In the original Japanese, he’s actually saying “If you cannot break through the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!” That “Rising Dragon” — in Japanese sho ryu — became translated into Chinese pinyin as sheng long. Not knowing what this mysterious “sheng long” referred to, American players assumed it was a proper name. In actuality, the phrase referred to Ryu’s signature move: a jumping uppercut that was useful for coldcocking both standing and airborne challengers alike.

The rumor of Shen Long’s existence became widespread enough those who frequented arcades that a then-widely read video game magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly, pulled off a fairly successful April Fool’s joke involving the supposed character in 1992. According to a supposed tip from a reader named W.A. Stokins, Shen Long — a character purported to be the karate sensei of series protagonist Ryu as well as of Ryu’s American rival, Ken — could be fought in Street Fighter II, but only if players met some next-to-impossible conditions: play as Ryu, don’t take a single hit over the course of the game, and then face off with the game’s final boss but let the timer run out without landing a single hit against him. If successful, EGM explained, Sheng Long himself would emerge, dispatch the boss and then face off with Ryu in what would be the fight of his life.

hoax no. one

More than just being an optional, alternate boss, Sheng Long was proposed to be the guy to beat. Not only could he pull of the special moves of any of the game’s characters, these techniques hit harder when performed by Sheng Long. He was faster, too, and — what’s more — his even mightier version of Ryu’s Rising Dragon, which sent fists rising up not only triumphantly but also with the added benefit of being on fire.

W.A. Stokins’s tip was fake, as it would be learned by EGM readers who received the following month’s issue as well as anyone who actually managed to pull off the proposed challenge. (If his name wasn’t indication enough, his location was listed as Fuldigan, HA, which should at least have been conspicuous for looking like an obvious typo.) That didn’t stop the arcade monkeys from trying their best anyway, nor did it prevent the supposed tip from resurfacing in other video game magazines across the country.

hoax and prototype. it can be both. why shouldn’t it?

In the meantime, the character of Ryu and Ken’s master started appearing in Japanese comic book adaptations of Street Fighter, only under the name Gouken (which translates into English as “strong fist.”) The series was non-canological, of course, but that didn’t stop traces of this unseen character from creeping into the actual series. In the third quasi-sequel modification to the original Street Fighter II, Ken’s version of the Dragon Punch set his fist ablaze in a manner that looked a lot like EGM’s mock-up of Sheng Long. And in Street Fighter Alpha, a series that served as a prequel to Street Fighter II, Ken sported a ponytail, making him look even more like Sheng Long. Strange, when you think about it.

In the fourth quasi-sequel modification to Street Fighter II — its title, in full, was Super Street Fighter II Turbo — there existed an actual optional boss: Akuma, an insane brother of Gouken’s who used his martial arts prowess for evil purposes. (In Japan, Akuma’s name is “Gouki,” which translates to “strong spirit” or “strong demon.”) The conditions for fighting Akuma were far less difficult to achieve than W.A. Stokins proposed for meeting Sheng Long, but they required a certain level of skill. Also, just as Sheng Long was supposed to have interrupted the final boss fight and face-off with the player’s character himself, so to did Akuma. In its 200th issue retrospective, EGM noted the similarities between their prank and Akuma’s M.O. According to Shen Long’s Wikipedia page, Capcom has never confirmed nor denied connections between the fake character and Akuma.

Later, Akuma became a playable character and his ending sequence featured an image of both Gouken and an even older sensei — Goutetsu, the man who taught Akuma and Gouken.

bad brother on the left, good brother on the right

Despite the gradual emergence of Gouken as an actual inhabitant of the Street Fighter world, Sheng Long persisted in the United States, often around April. In 1997, when Capcom had finally brought the series forward in time with Street Fighter III, an April issue of EGM ran another article alleging Sheng Long’s existence. I doubt as many people believed the hoax. As Wikipedia notes, the article ended with a strategically placed ellipses: “To reach [Sheng Long], you will need at least six perfects and...”

hoax no. two

Capcom themselves repeated the joke a third time on April 1 of this year by hinting on its official site that Sheng Long would appear in Street Fighter IV. On April 2, they owned up to the joke but received some criticism for it anyway.

I wonder if fans’ harsh reaction to the most recent Sheng Long hoax was lessened somewhat by the news that came out of Japan late September: Ryu and Ken’s master would, in fact make appear as a fighter in Street Fighter IV. Finally. I’m sure Capcom had to clarify this point with a promise of “no joking” more than once.

not the shen long

The character, however, seems to be debuting as Gouken in both Japan and the United States, which means Capcom is passing on the opportunity to completely fulfill the fantasies of Street Fighter diehards who have wanted to see Sheng Long in action ever since April 1992. The use of “Gouken” instead of Sheng Long is interesting for a few reasons. For one, it accurately makes the character seem Japanese instead of Chinese, and for another, it reflects a gradual trend toward faithfully translating games into English rather than changing them to make their subject matter more Western-friendly. Thirdly, it’s worth noting that regardless of what Capcom decided to call the character, a name-based tie to his brother was already lost by virtue of the fact that Gouki had already been named “Akuma.”

A sidenote before finishing: So why did Capcom use “Akuma” for the Western version of the Street Fighter games, anyway? “Gouki” is hardly more understandable to the Japanese-illiterate than “Akuma.” Ever since I learned Akuma’s Japanese name, I wondered if the switch might have been motivated by the fact that “Gouki” sounds a bit like a certain slur against Asian people. In fact, “Gouki” sounds a lot like an adjectival version of that word. Just a random thought.

So that’s my exploration of this one small part of a video game series that most people my age have largely forgotten about. I enjoy that a translation error resulted in a rumor that ended up being perpetuated for more than sixteen years and which also may have also influenced the original product itself. Maybe an April Fool’s Day prank by some American guys working at a video game magazine did eventually become realized halfway across the world. That seems remarkable enough to merit a blog entry — though maybe not one this long.

I doubt anyone would have guessed people would have any reason to mention W.A. Stokins today.

Also: A previous entry on Street Fighter II and naming strangeness

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Niddering Vilipend Exuviation

A post-worthy, word-related matter that appeared October 3 on Britain’s Collins English Dictionary wants to give obsolete words the boot in order to make room for new ones. Though I have a soft spot in my heart for strange words, it makes sense that casual dictionaries — that is, the word compendiums that you can actually put on your bookshelf, as opposed to the unabridged ones that now can only realistically fit in post people’s houses in CD-ROM form — should, in fact, only have the words that people would be likely to read or use. English as she is spoke, so to speak.

Not everyone agrees. Some excerpts from the article:
Collins' editors know that old words die hard — and that some people will vilipend (regard with contempt) any execution without a fair trial. So they've offered the chance of a reprieve. They have made public 24 words that face deletion because editors could find no example of their use in their database of English-language books, newspapers, broadcasts and other media. If, by February 2009, a word reappears in that database with at least six "high quality" citations, it could be spared from the semantic dustbin.

Collins warns that it will discount any artificial use of the endangered words, meaning Motion's readers and Pound's constituents must actually take them up themselves. There's certainly interest in doing so. The Times of London asked readers to vote for the word they most felt should be spared from oblivion and attracted more than 11,000 votes in a week. The word embrangle (to confuse or entangle) won with 1,434 votes, while fubsy (short and stout) came in a distant second. Roborant (tending to fortify) and nitid (bright, glistening) failed to shine; they finished last, drawing roughly 550 votes between them.

Elsewhere, fantasy-game devotees have rushed to the defense of
periapt (a charm or amulet), which they know from the popular Dungeons & Dragons game, and geologists have pointed out the utility of griseous (streaked or mixed with gray) in describing rocks and minerals.
Here’s a list of the words on the chopping block:
  • abstergent: cleansing
  • agrestic: rural
  • apodeictic: unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration
  • caducity: perishableness
  • caliginosity: dimness
  • compossible: possible in coexistence with something else
  • embrangle: to confuse
  • exuviate: to shed
  • fatidical: prophetic
  • fubsy: squat
  • griseous: somewhat grey
  • malison: a curse
  • mansuetude: gentleness
  • muliebrity: the condition of being a woman
  • niddering: cowardly
  • nitid: bright
  • olid: foul-smelling
  • oppugnant: combative
  • periapt: an amulet
  • recrement: refuse
  • roborant: tending to fortify
  • skirr: a whirring sound, as of the wings of birds in flight
  • vaticinate: prophesy
  • vilipend: to treat with contempt
Surely the speakers of British English could make room for muliebrity, right? And I can’t help but to wonder if American dictionaries publish lists of words that are up for execution. Can we vote on them? That’s our thing, right? Voting?

(via Ryan)