Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Question for Spatula Number One

This week’s word is more notable for its meaning than its origin. Either way, it’s something few people would have reason to use often, but that’s exactly what you should have come to expect by now. It’s also has the distinction of being the first word-of-the-week that I learned mere days before it was featured on A.Word.A.Day, which it was late last year.
espalier (i-SPAL-yer or i-SPAL-yay) — noun: 1. a tree or shrub that is trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall, often in a symmetrical pattern. 2. a trellis or other framework on which an espalier is grown.
I wouldn’t have guessed that the “i-SPAL-yer” pronunciation would be the preferred one, but like I said — it’s not something most of us would have reason to speak, except for a certain kind of garden party or tour of some historical estate. I’m also not sure, exactly, why anyone would want to force a tree to grow into a shape its DNA wants so desperately to fight, but then again it’s mere meddling compared to the Dr. Frankenstein work that is the art of animal-form topiary. It is our desire, I suppose. After all, if man left well enough alone, we wouldn’t today have toy poodles and the appletini.

The word, according to Wiktionary, can also be a verb, as in, “Hey, Hector, let’s espalier this holly tree! I just can’t stand it in its offensively natural tree-shape.”

The end result is entertaining enough:

image from wikipedia

The etymology, perhaps, is less so, at least until I get away from trees and into swords and human bodies.

The American Heritage Dictionary claims espalier comes from French by way of the Italian spalliera, “shoulder support,” which in turn comes from the Italian spalla, “shoulder,” which goes back to the Late Latin spatula, meaning “shoulder blade.” This surprised me, as the Latin and scientific word for this particular body part is scapula and I’d never thought of the words as having a connection before. The same dictionary’s entry for spatula — which, by the way, can mean refer to the kitchen tool or what sounds like a tongue depressor, apparently — credits it as coming from a diminutive version of the Latin spatha, meaning “broadsword,” which elevates the act of scraping cookie batter from a bowl to whole new heroic levels. (The Latin spatha — and also the botanical term spathe — come from the Greek spathÄ“, also meaning “a broad blade.”) From what I read, American Heritage Dictionary doesn’t reconcile these the two similar-sounding, similar-looking words scapula and spatula, which I thought was strange.

The more familiar backblade-related word, scapula, just meant “shoulder” in Late Latin, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. This site also claims that its origin is unknown, but it suggests a similar word: skaphein, meaning “to dig out,” and notes that not only does the bone look a bit like a digging implement but that early people may have actually used scapulas for digging. For its entry for spatula, the Online Etymology Dictionary offers little new, but proposes a connection with the word spade.

I couldn’t make any more sense of the situation. A Google search for scapula spatula didn’t turn up much, aside from evidence of the body part acromium, which confusingly means “the spatula-shaped outgrowth of the scapula.” I also turned up a Wikipedia page on the practice of scapulimancy, which would be so much cooler if it were called spatulamancy. Confusingly, the Wikipedia page for spatulamancy redirects to the one for scapulimancy.

Presumably, there’s more of a connection between scapula and spatula than I’ve found using my limited resources and my armchair etymologist’s license. It seems possible, at least, that the “c” and “p” in the former turned into the “p” and “t” in the latter, though I couldn’t imagine why. Of course, I would greatly appreciate an explanation about how these words converge — and if they don’t, why not.

Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about trees? Damn.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, January 30, 2009

“F” Is for Failing to Keep Your Head

Corny as it may be, I can’t help feeling like this poster for the 1981 slasher movie Night School is amazing.

image courtesy of final girl

Also amazing: A slasher movie set at night school. “Please don’t kill me, Mister Ghostface! I’m just trying to get my GED!”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Racecars, Lasers, Aeroplanes

Katherine Barber’s neat little book, Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do With Pigs, gives some interesting news regarding the Clueless catchphrase “as if.” Barber claims that the expression is far from post-Moon Unit Zappa teenspeak. In fact, the first documented use of it as the kind of canned retort that Alicia Silverstone and company made popular is the 1903 Frank Norris novel The Pit. The exchange, as Barber re-creates it: “Maybe he’ll come up and speak to us.” “Oh, as if,” contradicted Laura.” Strangely, the phrase seems to have faded from phrase until 1981.

And here I thought that Clueless just ripped most of its lingo from Bio-Dome and Encino Man. Turns out it was turn-of-the-century novels.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Encyclopedia Drew and the Mystery of the Knock-Off Clock

(A narrative of obscured origins.)

Where to begin?

I have websites saved on my list of Google bookmarks that I cannot remember saving. Nor can I remember why I found it necessary to save these sites for later viewing. Like this: the Wikipedia page for the fictional card game Cripple Mr. Onion, which I saved on December 13, 2006. I have no clue why. I don’t play cards and I have almost no awareness of the works of Terry Pratchett, from which the game originated — and, for all I know, remains.

Other things have meaning, but I can’t remember why or how the entered my life. This post concerns this type of mysterious bookmark — specifically one concerning Cinnamoroll.

A quick Google search tells me — and likely you too! — that Cinnamoroll is a Sanrio character, which apparently means he exists in the same universe as Hello Kitty. I have almost no understanding of the Sanrioverse. In fact, the closest my personal universe has ever come to treading into this land of things anthropomorphic, big-headed, and relentlessly cheerful was a girl in my seventh grade class who had a Sanrio-themed pencil set. She was mocked ceaselessly, even after the pencil set stopped going to school with her.

Regardless of whether I acknowledge the Sanrioverse or not, Wikipedia tell us that Cinnamoroll is “a white puppy with long ears that enable him to fly, blue eyes, and a plump and curly tail that resembles a cinnamon roll. He starred in his own anime movie which was released in autumn 2007. Some people mistake Cinnamoroll for a rabbit because of his long ears and rabbit-like looks. Cinnamoroll was created in 2001.”

Somehow, I or someone who knows me stumbled onto a YouTube clip of a Japanese commercial for a Cinnamoroll toy. Now, I am not an eight-year-old girl, but to this day the toy looks like one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

Call it good marketing. I don’t know if it’s the jingle or the fact that doll seems to be powered by, among other things, a motorized ass, but I can’t help but think this toy must be amazing. If it had been available to a younger me, I would have demanded it and then told no one that I had it. Its mechanobutt would drive it to countless flips and twirls in my room — my own private dancer. Also, in my imagination of how this would go, it would sing the song from the commercial and move in time with it.

Somehow — whether before The Age of Cinnamoroll or during, I’m not sure — my house came into possession of an alarm clock that looks a hell of a lot like Cinnamoroll, though just enough unlike him that its creators would avoid a lawsuit. The alarm clock lives in Aly’s room, though knock-off Sanrio appliances aren’t really her thing.

One day last summer, while I was home and bored, I took photos and videos of various strange things in the house and included in the long list of subjects was the Pseudo-Cinnamoroll alarm clock. As a YouTube user informed me via comment, the clock is Korean, not Japanese, thus more points in favor of the theory that it’s a knock-off.

The video has been viewed 435 times since I posted it in July. This itself I find strange, that 435 people would sit through even a short video of an alarm clock making noise. But I must remind myself that people will watch anything on YouTube. Even the video I took to document our downstairs neighbor covering A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” which I posted under the title “not worth your attention, this video” and with no tags, still managed to get sixteen views. (Yes, she had no idea I took the video. No, you can’t see her in the video so I don’t think it’s creepy. Yes, all the sound was recorded from within the walls of my house, which means she was singing too loudly. And no, she doesn’t do a very good job, but that wouldn’t stop her from singing the song as loudly as she could — often repeatedly but sometimes alternating with “Son of a Preacher Man.”) No comments have yet clarified whether the character is supposed to be Cinnamoroll or just something that happens to look just like him.

I am personally unable to say which came first — the Cinamoroll clip or the clock — but both have been languishing on the Google bookmark list and I felt they needed to be freed and shared with the world. Spencer or Aly could probably talk me through how the house apparently became fixated upon them for a period, but until then, they shall remain parts of one of the stranger and more Asian-influences Encyclopedia Drew mysteries yet.

EDIT: The story has been clarified, not that any of you all were on the edge of your seats. Aly received the clock from a roommate some time before she moved in here. The Cinnamoroll video was found in an effort to look into what character the clock was ripping off. While Spencer was in Hong Kong, he took some photos of licensed, legal uses of Cinnamoroll’s image. He — she? — apparently shares equal standing with Hello Kitty nowadays.

Previous Encyclopedia Drew mysteries:

Smoke Monster Beta

Now I can’t remember what directed me to this particular YouTube clip, but I found myself here regardless, watching the first third of a Ducktales episode titled “Nothing to Fear.” (Click over to the YouTube site if you actually watch this through. The remaining two thirds are there — minus commercial breaks!) In it, a strange black cloud hovers over Scrooge McDuck’s estate and somehow manages to bring to life the fears of anybody unlucky enough to be standing under it.

(Please note: If you do actually want to watch this video, be forewarned that it may play rather loudly. Blasting the Ducktales theme from your office may not be the best way to earn the admiration of your boss and coworkers.)

The whole point of drawing online readers attention to the clip is the relative similarity between this as-sinister-as-Disney-gets raincloud and the smoke monster from Lost. It works, I suppose, even if the similarities probably don’t offer any insight into how Lost writers might try to explain this roaring, chattering, magpie-imitating, tree-felling entity that may or may not have taken the forms of a black horse, the undead Mr. Eko and resident therapist Harper Stanhope. In fact, I honestly doesn’t have any real bearing on Lost, because if the last episode’s big reveal is that the whole show — the plane crash, the island weirdness, the time travel — was merely port of a ploy on the part of Magica De Spell to get Scrooge’s Number One Dime, then I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours of my life I’ve wasted.

However, I can at least offer this: I have the vaguest memories of this episode, but for all I know the Dharma spooks put them in my brain during those years I don’t remember.

EDIT: Immediately after posting this, I found that the Number One Dime has its own Wikipedia page. Should I be surprised? Saddened? Spiraling into a Ducktales-spawned wiki-hole?

ADDITIONAL EDIT: I feel this blog of all places should make a note of the greatness of the name of Scrooge’s arch-nemesis — the equally Scottish but ultimately evil megabuck duck Flintheart Glomgold. Of course, few members of Ducktales’s target audience would have ever realized.

THIRD EDIT: Yes, by the way, I did fall into that aforementioned wiki-hole.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just Call Me Angel of the Ocean

Meet the marine equivalent of those “49 percent angel, 51 percent bitch” license plate frames: the sea angel, a shell-less variety of slug that swims through the ocean using flipper appendages. Its name is no misnomer — most of the time. While idly flitting about underwater, the sea angel (suborder Opisthobranchia) looks so much like an angel I’d say it deserves to be cut out of wood, painted with straight out-of-the-box colors and hung in the home of some bored housewife making a half-hearted effort to affirm her Christian identity.

If you watch the whole episode through, you’ll see where the 51 percent bitch comes in. When this creature lunges at its prey, it sheds any resemblance to an angel. “Sea demon,” I guess, is a less catchy name.

Its schizoid personality was enough to make it my weird animal of the moment, outweirding even the walking frog fish and the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.

[Source: Pink Tentacle, via Neatorama]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Ground Beneath Her Gold, Dead Feet

Everything old is new again, except when those old things are actually based on older things, thus making them somehow even older than they already were.

Context: Watching the weird American version of BBC tonight, I saw the opening half-hour to Goldfinger, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. (I was so young, in fact, that I didn’t see any reason why Pussy Galore wasn’t a perfectly fine name for a lady.) During the scene in which James Bond discovers the corpse of Jill Masterson — painted in gold and displayed on Bond’s hotel bed, nude but ever-so-tastefully — the score recalls the opening chords of the famous “Goldfinger” theme, but in a quiet, somber way befitting the scene. This music was sampled throughout the 1996 song “Six Underground,” by Sneaker Pimps — a high school throwback reference if there ever was one. Time was, at the dawn of my freshman year, that you couldn’t listen to alternative rock radio without hearing “Six Underground” once an hour.

Hear it for yourself. First “Six Underground.”

And now the score to the tragic death of Jill Masterson.

It’s also worth noting that the song became especially popular when it was included on the soundtrack to the 1997 Val Kilmer film The Saint, the most recent incarnation of the adventures involving a man named Simon Templar. If you wanted, you could draw some parallels between Templar and Bond. They’re not exactly the same, but both men have more in common with each other than they would with, say, Sarah Plain and Tall or William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

A revised maxim: Everything old often remains old.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Lady in the Armor

You could say that Final Fantasy V doesn’t offer any unusual gender goings-on, I suppose, but the female samurai begs to differ.

Sexual politics aside, the title is exceptional anyway in that that it was the only Super NES-era entry in the series that never made it outside Japan during that system’s lifespan. When it final did reach the U.S. years later as a release for the PlayStation, the translation was a bit strange, at least in my opinion. I’ll point out some of the reasons I belief this as a go about discussing the subject at hand.


Essentially, I feel that Final Fantasy V stands out from the rest of the main Final Fantasy games — that is, no spinoffs or sequels to specific titles —because only it offers a larger number of playable female characters than male characters. For the most part, these games follow an unwritten rule that three women — no more, no less, and often with one of them being a child — should be playable. Beginning in Final Fantasy III, the game that basically solidified the notion of what a Final Fantasy game was, three women joined the party: Sara, Aria and Unei. They participated in the game less actively than did their counterparts to later games, however. Final Fantasy IV offers Rosa, Rydia and Porom — all three principally being magic users and the latter two being children. (Rydia grows up midway through the game and turns into a bit of a sexpot. Feel weird about it.) Final Fantasy VI has Terra, Celes and Relm, the last of these three being the young one. In Final Fantasy VII, there’s Aerith, Tifa and Yuffie, with the last being teenaged but nonetheless childlike, especially in comparison to the previous two. In Final Fantasy VIII, there’s Rinoa, Quistis, and Selphie, with Selphie being “the kid” in the same way Yuffie is. (It also briefly features one additional playable character, Edea — probably the first controllable Final Fantasy character who happens to be “a woman of a certain age.”) In Final Fantasy IX, there’s Garnet, Freya and Eiko, the last once being a child in the literal sense. (There’s also a badass, eyepatch-rocking female paladin named Beatrix, but she’s only controllable for a brief part of the game.) I’m stopping here, because these games are the only ones I’ve actually played and therefore the only ones I can talk about with any kind of understanding. If I’m not mistaken, however, all the subsequent games follow the rule as well, save for Final Fantasy X-2, which is a direct sequel to Final Fantasy X and stars only female characters, and Final Fantasy XI, which lacks any default playable characters and is a whole other animal altogether.

Final Fantasy V doesn’t break this rule, really. It has Lenna, Faris and Krile, the last of whom stands about half as tall as her colleagues. However, it only features two male characters, Bartz and Galuf. A tiny cast though the game might have, the female characters still comprise the majority.

Of course, it doesn’t appear that this would be the case at the game’s outset. Very quickly into the game, the four available slots for party members get occupied by Bartz, Lenna, Galuf and Faris, the last of whom is the fourth to join and also the one who does it under unusual circumstances. Though Faris is actually the long-lost sister of Princess Lenna, and, consequently, a princess herself, she dresses and acts like a man as a result of the fact that she captains a pirate ship and her crew may not be as forward-thinking as the people who made Final Fantasy V. Faris never really changes her manly ways, though at one point she wears a dress for her official recognition as Princess Salsa.


Yes, that’s right. “Princess Salsa.”

The name probably should have been Sarisa instead, but as I mentioned previously, the translators made some decisions that I might have not. On the whole, the cast of Final Fantasy V is probably the one that least lends itself to Googling, mostly because most characters are known by more than one name, depending on which translation one is referring to. In the original Japanese text and the fan-made translation, Bartz is Butz, but the game’s official translators apparently found that name too hilarious. Lenna’s name is sometimes translated as Reina, since its representation in Japanese characters can be Anglicized into either. And poor Krile completely got the shaft. Some translations offer her name as Kururu or Cara, but the official translators opted for Krile instead. In my mind, even Carol would have worked.

The way in which Krile joins up merits mentioning too. Galuf’s granddaughter and yet another princess, Krile appears partway into the game, but only joins late in the story, after Galuf kicks the bucket, leaving a lot open in the four-member party. Though she’s just a child, Krile magically inherits Galuf’s physical attributes and any abilities he may have learned in the game. In short, she gets to swing an axe as fiercely as a man. And it’s not every day that a little girl gets to do that.

Krile’s sudden strength is not unique in Final Fantasy V however. In fact, the game is the very model of egalitarianism. Whereas most other games in the series introduce characters with preprogrammed abilities, the leads in Final Fantasy start each as blank slates. The player develops each character’s ability as he or she chooses, possibly eliminating any bias that associates certain one gender with certain abilities. In the big list of female Final Fantasy characters above, all but Tifa, Yuffie, Selphie and Freya excel at magic rather than hand-to-hand combat. (Terra and Celes straddle the line in that their the only characters who can use magic from the moment they join the player’s party, yet they both are strong brawlers.) This needn’t be the case in Final Fantasy V, however, as players can assign jobs as they choose. Bartz can be the wizard, Galuf can be the healer, Lenna can be the knight, and Faris can be the bare-fisted martial artist.


In fact, the game seems to be set up to toy with gender. Even if a player chose to abide by gender stereotypes and make Bartz and Galuf the weapon-swingers and Lenna and Faris the magicians, Krile would end up being a huge exception to this when she inherits Galuf’s skills.

So that’s that. All in all, a good name that continues to stand out for many reasons, its take on gender among them. Thankfully, I can report that Final Fantasy’s rather progressive take on gender is no longer unique, among latter-day entries in the series or games in general. It’s opened up quite a bit. Final Fantasy V’s job system — blank, customizable characters — takes a note from a similar set-up in Final Fantasy III, whose party originally consisted of four generic male characters. In a remake of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, these little nobodies were replaced with characters with names, faces, personalities and genders. Through three were male, one, Refia, was female, and I took much joy in dressing her up like a viking.

More recently, Final Fantasy IV received a direct sequel that continues the story told in that game. Among the nine new controllable characters in this game, titled Final Fantasy IV: The After, five are female. Newcomer Leonora might get stuck in the typical magic-user role, but that gets balanced out by Ursula (a monk), Hal (a book-wielding scholar and gambler), Izayoi (a female ninja, the proper term for which is apparently kunoichi). Princess Luca from the original game, who returns all grown up and in the likely role of a robot-savvy engineer. Even better, the curiously-named Minus gets to be another relative rarity: a female villain.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Dog Who Laughs

One thing I learned today: The dog in Duck Hunt who laughs at you when you fail to kill your flapping, quacking targets has a name.


Though his mean-spirited mockery of your Light Zapper skills might have earned him the name “Dick” or “That Fucking Dog” or something like this, he’s apparently known as Mr. Peepers, at least to certain members of video game-playing society. A Google search would seem to support this fact, anyway.

Off less interest to me but, perhaps, of greater interest to the rest of the world that remembers Duck Hunt, is the fact that Mr. Peepers can be reprimanded for his derisive ways. In short, you can shoot him, but only in a bonus round in the arcade version of the game, Vs. Duck Hunt.

It’s even a bit cathartic just watching the video.

Names and games, previously:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hungry Hungry Hippos, No Holds Barred

Two possible lessons to be learned here: Either you should not underestimate Wikipedia, or, if you do, you should do so quickly because its failings may be soon edited into nonexistence. One or possibly both of these get to be the moral of story that began with my visit to the Wikipedia page on the children’s board game Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Go there now, if you like, but you won’t find anything all that strange — aside from, perhaps, the information that all four hippos have names and that, in some versions, the purple hippo is replaced with a fifth, pink hippo. But that that little factoid appears on the page really shouldn’t surprise anyone who has ever had reason to look up a toy or TV show or song that he or she enjoyed in their youth.

Until a few days ago, however, the page included a section marked “Tactics” that read as follows:
Tactics for the game vary by players but these are some of the most common strategies.

Mashing: when a player constantly hits the lever to scoop up as many balls as he can. Commonly used by younger children.

Sniping: when a player stalks a ball and waits until it is in his range to hit the lever and scoop it up.

Cheating: when a player does anything not explained in the rulebook; i.e. harming another player, harming the gameboard or picking up the balls with his hands.
Yes, it’s the third tactic that I mean to draw your attention toward.

If it’s not enough that the person who wrote this would have not only done so without questioning whether cheating constituted a tactic, this person’s concept of cheating also includes physically harming other players or damaging the equipment used to play the game itself. Which makes me thing my own Hungry Hungry Hippos days were rather tame. And, also, that I’m happy I didn’t every play it with this particular Wikipedia user.

Still Screaming After All These Years

On the heels of my post about the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, I offer this, however unenthusiastically: We will someday see Scream 4. By which I mean that we may someday see commercials and billboards promoting it and likely bearing the text “Scream 4.” Whether any of us will go see the actual film is another matter altogether.

An allegedly credible source recently leaked the news that director Wes Craven (whose filmography includes the previous Scream movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the poorly conceived but hilariously named Shocker) and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (Scream and Dawson’s Creek, both of which he departed from before their conclusions) may retream for another round of self-referential horror comedy, this one, of course, involving a newer, younger set of potential body bag-fillers. Whether the rumor even approaches the truth remains to be seen, of course, but the possibility of Scream 4 ever hitting theaters prompted me to reflect on the original movie.

image from new york post

Looking at this blog as a gauge of what has grabbed my attention over the past few years, a reader could hardly tell that the first Scream played a major role in my teenage years and, now that I think about it, helped me love movies in general. I haven’t written much about Scream here, perhaps because the passage of team has strengthened my critical eye and perhaps because I eventually realized that the people who rave about slasher movies are, in general, weirdos.

Whatever the reason, the three Scream movies now represent a part of my life that feels longer ago than it actually was: high school. And rightly so — the movies basically framed my high school years, with the first coming out at the start of my freshman year and the third in the winter of my senior year. A relic of my former life though these movies may no be, they nonetheless made an impact on me — and pop culture in general.

In short, this: The mantra of the frightened movie-goer who is trying to mentally escape the dread of being slashed to death on the spot by a cinematic psychokiller is “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie,” or so we’re told. When it comes to Scream, however, I’m willing to argue that it’s not only a movie.

image from

Outside the context of my life, I think it’s interesting to look at Scream in the context of the flood of that particular type of self-aware, teenage-centered TV shows and movies that followed and which were released between the time I was 14 and 18 years old. Many owed a debt to Scream in some way. Think about it: Scream put Williamson on the map. Following its success in 1996, we had Dawson’s Creek, which Williamson created; the “true” TV series incarnation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which mixed teenaged angst, pop culture references and horror in a way that it may not have been able to do successfully were it not for Scream; and movies like She’s All That, which starred an astounding number of alumni from previous Kevin Williamson efforts. And She’s All That was released in 1999 — only three years after Scream hit theaters — which goes to show how quickly Williamson built a small teenspoitation empire. Even today, anytime a twentysomething actor playing a Billy Everyteen spouts a pop culture reference to emphasize a point, I think of Williamson, the guy who once turned a conversation about an edited-for-TV broadcast of The Exorcist into a PG-13-appropriate booty call.

Independent of the pop culture continuum, Scream resonated with me personally because, to put it simply, I was the perfect person to watch it. The 14-year-old version of me who wandered into the theater to watch Scream literally knew nothing about it save for the fact that the girl from E.T. was in it. Seriously. That’s it. I didn’t even know that Drew Barrymore’s character died in the first ten minutes much less that she would do so in a particularly gruesome manner. (“Her insides on the outside,” as the late Tatum Riley put it so succinctly.) Beyond that, I hadn’t seen horror movies before Scream. I’d read about them — allowing me to understand a lot of the film’s in-jokes — and had always been to type to scan the backs of the VHS boxes in the video store horror section until would make me stop. But I’d never actually sat and watched anything that would have actually scared me. (Okay, I had technically seen Halloween 5 at a fifth grade birthday party sleep over, but — and this is full disclosure here — I hid my eyes for most of it. Also, the movie sucked, I realize now, and seeing it without knowing who Michael Myers was or what had transpired in the previous films made it more confusing than anything else.) While I sat watching Scream, all these factors combined to create a perfect storm: I sat in my seat completely engrossed, my leg shaking with anticipation and my body involuntarily jumping at the kind of scare scenes a horror movie veteran would have seen coming a hundred miles away.

Immediately after, I went home and did my homework, using this new thing called “the inter-net” to read about how the movie came to be and the various sources it drew upon. As a result, I rented Halloween. I rented Suspiria. I even rented “that werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it.” I started reading movie reviews — of Scream specifically, but soon whatever happened to be out. I bought movie magazines. I suddenly had some idea what was coming to a theater near me before it actually did. I had a passion.

It helped, of course, that the movie was actually good. I’ll still argue in its favor today, perhaps less wholeheartedly than I might have when I was still a teenager but with reasonable vigor nonetheless. Scream was funny and scary, I thought, and that’s not an easy combination to pull off. (Case in point: The Frighteners, directed by a pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson.) It had some great lines, among them, “Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.” And, finally, it was far better acted that just about every slasher movie in history. I honestly think Barrymore has seldom acted so convincingly outside the opening “Jiffy Pop” sequence.

One review of Scream — in Entertainment Weekly, if I remember correctly — called it the first movie to ever merit comparison to both Clueless and Psycho. I agree with this claim. It probably was, and this fact helps demonstrate the final reason why I think Scream deserves to be remembered as more than just a scary movie that managed to make money: It embodied the late 90s in one glaring, unfortunate way, what with its creation of a media-saturated teenaged world that would be repeatedly punctured by violence. Keep in mind that all those teenybopper movies and TV shows I mentioned took on the world during the years when the post office shooting spree trend gave way to the school shooting spree trend. In the way that school shootings unnerved those of us who went to school those small towns where nothing bad ever happens, the students of Scream’s Woodsboro High had to fear being struck down in their adolescent prime, likely for no reason, likely at the hands of someone they knew and had previously trusted not to kill them. I can’t realistically compare the grief that school shooting survivors suffered to the phony dread of slasher movies, but the fact that Scream had revived the genre to the point that its peak coincided with the Columbine High School massacre seems noteworthy, though not for the alleged cause-and-effect relationship that some claimed at the time.

All the preceding arguments may not win over those who never bothered with Scream or did and left the theater unmoved, I suppose, but they represent my reasons why those people perhaps should have bothered or might want to reevaluate their stance on the film. These reasons also encapsulate my motivations for doubting the motivations behind making Scream 4. As Ain’t It Cool News noted about the news of the purported sequel, “It seems possible that Wes Craven could be persuaded to come back to direct. Why? I’m told he's a big fan of the money.”

Indeed, I do assume that greed is a motivating factor here, and not some belief that some aspect of the Scream saga needs to be told again or some desire to once more parody the slasher films of the 80s. After all, those movies — with their photogenic, talentless serial killer fodder — aren’t even the dominant off-shoot of the horror genre anymore: It’s now Hostel-style gore flicks and bloodless remakes of Asian fright flicks. (The latter of which became a profitable type of movie only in the wake of The Ring, the script for which was written by Ehren Krueger, who took over the writing duties for Scream 3 after Williamson bailed to work Wasteland, his short-lived TV series follow up to Dawson’s Creek. And the torture porn and J-horror retreads already get mocked by the Scary Movie series, which itself began as a parody of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer and even takes its name from the Scream’s working title.

As most do, the Scream series deteriorated with each sequel, but not by much, at least, with Scream 2. Scream 3 did not fare as well, but even at the hands of a less talented screenwriter less familiar with the series, it still managed to offer some neat ideas, including some novel takes on the series-spanning theme of life and death interacting with the their representations in Hollywood. But though it ended the series with a series with more of a whimper than was deserved by the gasp of air that was the first movie.

No, the Scream series doesn’t need to extend into the new millennium, for the reasons I just mentioned — greed shouldn’t extend the life of movie franchises, the target of the series’ humor has been pretty well staked, the world may have moved to far beyond the point where a pop culture-saturated horror seems necessary — but also for my own indefensible, personal reason: I want to keep the 90s where they belong. For me, Scream was and is this particular time period in such away that I don’t look forward to watching some latter-day, tacked-on sequel try and absorb the pop culture that we now have ten years down the line. It can try, of course, and it might even succeed, but I’d much prefer to leave Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3 in the same time period that allowed the bands appearing on their soundtracks to be popular. (Take a look at them, if you have a chance, and get a refresher in recently forgotten bands: Sugar Ray, Tonic, Less Than Jake, Orgy, System of a Down, Fuel even Creed, for god’s sake. Scary indeed.) Really, if there’s ever any hope for “smart” horror movies, one of the few to actually fit in that category should know better than to slowly let the life drain out of it over the course of endless sequels.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

One for All, Religious Persuasion Notwithstanding

For this week, a word in the spirit of the situation in which many CD-less, iPod-less motorists have doubtlessly found themselves: scanning radio stations and coming across music that sounds worthwhile enough until a close listening of the lyrics raises the possibility that the song may be Christian-themed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Is it Christian?

Should that matter?

If it’s not Christian, what, exactly, is the relationship between the male singer and this “he” that he’s going on about?

Like that.
catholicon (ka-THAH-li-kahn) — a cure-all, a panacea, a supposedly universal remedy.
Like the scenario described above, this word has probably made those unfamiliar with it question whether it refers to something inherently religious in nature. After all, anyone familiar with the Catholic church would know that it makes liberal use of icons of all sorts — paintings, statues, stained glass art of varying degrees of quality and those candles you see at Mexican grocery stores. Why shouldn’t the phrase “Catholic icon” be contracted down to the handy-dandy portmanteau catholicon?

Here’s why not: catholicon has more in common with the “lower-case ‘c’ catholic than the proper noun Catholic, which has taken on a life of its own, as words tend to do. The common adjective catholic can just mean “universal,” which isn’t applicable to the religion Catholicism unless one’s concept of the universe is restricted to the South America, Central America, Arizona, Massachusetts, a few major European countries, some islands, and Burundi. (Seriously, this should not be anyone’s concept of the universe. There are migrating birds that have a broader understanding of the universe than this.), which introduced me to catholicon, traces the etymologies of all these words back to the Greek katholikos, meaning “general,” which in turn comes from the Greek kata, “according to” or “by,” and holou, “whole.” (Yes, the name of a religion can is the equivalent of “according to the lowest common denominator,” if you choose to look at it that way.) Going a bit further, the holou comes from the Indo-European root sol-, which also appears in such English words as solid, salute, save, salvo, and soldier, or so tells me anyway.

I can think of another reason why someone might think that catholicon has religious associations, but it’s more of a stretch and probably only exists in my head. The word sounds a lot like the name Catherine, which, as a result of the martyr St. Catherine, is a popular name for little Catholic girls. (Seriously, go to any of the places listed in the “Catholic universe” described above and marvel at the astounding number of women whose names are either Catherine or some variation on it.) Possibly as a result of the fact that I went to Catholic school and met a great many Catherines, I feel the name and the religion became inextricably linked.

In writing this entry, however, I decided to look into whether catholic and Catherine have any connection — mostly out of my curiosity about whether the name could be literally translated as “good for everyone” or “something general that everyone can do.” Because that would be amazing.

Interesting though Catherine’s history may be, it apparently doesn’t owe much at all to the old roots that give us catholic and catholicon, or at least not directly.

Name etymology website Behind the Name posits that Catherine and its variants come from a Greek name that can be represented with the Roman alphabet Aikaterine. (That initial vowel sound gets preserved in the Russian form, Ekaterina, the Online Etymology Dictionary points out.) Beyond Aikaterine, however, the history is debated. It could go back to an older Greek name, Hekaterine, which comes from the Greek word hekateros, which means “each of the two,” confusingly. Others say that Catherine goes back to the name Hecate, which is shared by a Greek goddess who eventually became associated with witches. (I think Buffy featured Willow spouted some wiccababble involving her name once or twice.) In any case, pretty far from Catholicism.

There are a few other theorized origins. Regardless, the arrival of Christianity caused the name to be associated with the Greek word katharos, meaning “pure.” And that happens to be the most widely accepted origin for the name of the Cathars, the Christian sect popular in the 12th and 13th centuries. Which is another fun religious association.

In any case, I think it’s funny that a name that could be translated as “pure” or “universal,” depending on which etymology you pay heed to, is anything but, what with its debated history and corrupted history and possible association with a witch goddess.

If only there was one answer that could make everybody happy. Ahem.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Here Comes the Supercopter

Some might call him a squatter. I chose to call him a delightfully unexpected guest. He lives on the window in the hallway.

spider on my window

My camera’s zoom exaggerates his size slightly, however; he’s actually slightly larger than my thumb rather than slightly smaller. Neat, right? The camera does not exaggerate his hairiness or overall creepiness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ralph, There's a Coyote on Your Head

Do you think Davy Crockett dresses effeminately? Do you think he has the right basic idea with his rustic mountain man look but blows the whole concept with that sissy raccoon cap? Do you look at Mr. Crockett’s headwear and wish that he could somehow fit more animal up there?

My friends, I have an answer to these problems you have with Mr. Crockett and, likely, several others as well: the Bridger Mountain Coyote Fur Hat, from the hardcore outdoor outfitter company Cabela’s.

Yes, you can prove you manliness to the world — and Mr. Crockett can too! — by purchasing some feral dog carcass for use as headwear.

You might think the Bridger Mountain Coyote Fur Hat — which is appearing on Back of the Cereal Box thanks to my introduction to it by Coworker Ben — was enough of a spectacle on its own, but the weirdness factor goes up to eleven when you read the user reviews of this product. I can only hope this is posted as a joke.

From AlextheEngineer, who gave it four stars out of five:
I have purchased a number of fur hats in my day but this is by far the warmest and most comfortable. Not only does it keep the back of my head warm but you can wrap the legs around your face to block the wind. The only reason this hat did not receive 5 stars is due to the fact that I was attacked by a bird thinking it was wounded prey while I was out for a walk. A rare but unfortunate occurrence when wearing an animal pelt on your head. Also great in the rain. Didn't smell at all after it was wet and it makes a great present. I'm getting one for my wife.
Which should make everyone think that Alex would be better off just getting Mrs. Alex another ironing board cover, especially because she must be a little miffed to hear him going on about the notion of wrapping legs around his face for additional warmth.

From AlantheBeastmaster, who gave it five stars and who, based on how he chose to format his user name, seems like he must be at least friends with AlextheEngineer if not in full-blown cahoots.
My close circle of friends decided I was the only one who could pull off wearing this hat. Boy were they right. Fantastic. Now that my wife and I live in Tennessee, it is gems like this that help us blend in and gain respect from the locals. If birds decide to attack my hat they have another thing coming. While I don't own many dead animal hats, I look forward to many days fishing with my wonderful coyote headpiece. The coyote was a marvelous animal and it is just incredibly warm around the back, neck, and sides of the face. This was the best gift of the year. 5 Stars for my new spirit guardian.
Funny how his guardian is an inanimate corpse resting on his head.

If these testimonies don’t convince you that the Bridger Mountain Coyote Fur Hat is what you need to survive the harsh winter months, then consider this: It can be yours at the low-low-LOW price of $199.99.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Heard It Through the Base Line

Another doodle resulting from my desperate attempts to escape boredom.

On some level, I feel this little nothing was inspired by Superjail. And I have to wonder: Is the top-left third clouds? Or guts? Shouldn’t I know?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Little Pigs on the Beach

Anyone who’s played an incarnation of the Nintendo video game Animal Crossing should be familiar with porcelettas, the most worthless seashell that can be collected. While any number of shell varieties can be found on the beach and some of them — pearl oysters, scallops — can be sold for a bit of cash, porcelettas are the pennies of the game’s seashell hierarchy. You get next to nothing for selling them. You’re practically better off throwing them away than bothering to carry them around.

image courtesy of 1p start

Aside from being worthless, the porceletta stands out as being the one shell I’d never heard of. The word isn’t even all that well documented online. In fact, most Google hits for the term turn up something related to Animal Crossing. And the number one hit for porcelettas is a post I put up on this very blog a while back.

Here’s why: Porceletta is a rarely used term for the thing most of us know as a cowry shell. And it’s odd that the Animal Crossing porceletta would be so little-valued, because cowry shells have been used as currency in seaside cultures, sometimes fairly recently. A variant of porceletta, porcelana, is also the origin of the term porcelain, as both the shell and the ceramic material have a similar luster that people noted when they first encountered porcelain. Porceletta, by the way, means “little sow” and could come from the Latin term porcula meaning the same, the connection presumably being that the rounded shell looks a bit like a little pig. An article on the website Idiocentrism, however, claims a connection between porcelettas and the vagina, mostly because the underside of the shell looks like a vulva. I’m not sure I get the linguistic connection between sows and female sexuality, but then again, I wasn’t raised on a farm.

the purportedly pornographic porceletta

Vaginas or no vaginas, this would mark the second time that Animal Crossing taught me something surprising about the animal kingdom.

EDIT: After writing this, I recalled Katherine Barber’s Six Words You Never New Had Something to Do With Pigs and that porcelain was, in fact, one of those six words referenced in the title. She notes that some say the cowry looks specifically like a pig vulva. “I don’t know what sort of mind can think of that when looking at a seashell, but that’s the story,” Barber writes.

A Close Reading of a Sugar Packet

Waiting for dinner at a restaurant recently, I fixated upon the design of this Sweet’N Low packet.

Does it confuse anyone else that the first word to appear on the package is “Pocahontas”? I assume that Pocahontas is a company that participates in some important stage of Sweet’N Low production. Quite likely it’s Pocahontas Foods USA, Inc., which apparently has its hand in the creation of all manner food- and food-like items. Curiously, however, “sweetener” isn’t listed as one of them. Perhaps Sweet’N Low is considered a pretzel or a pudding spice. There’s a Google hit for Pocahontas Foods, but the URL just redirects to the sinister-sounding Progressive Group Alliance. (With a name that vague, you know it has to be stealing our life energies and selling them back to us in the form of processed goods.) The name of the Progressive Group Alliance appears on the package too, with the explanation that it distributes Sweet’N Low. I couldn’t tell you why Pocahontas doesn’t get a few words explaining its role. “Created by Pocahontas Foods?” “Brewed together, mad scientist-style by Pocahontas Foods?” “Harvested from the underbellies of rats by Pocahontas Foods?” We’ll never know.

As it stands now, floating awkwardly at the top of packaging that lacks any other reference to Native Americans, the word “Pocahontas” is an inexplicable shout-out to a character from American history — or, depending on the age and education of the person looking at it, a Disney princess.

As for the design of the Sweet’N Low logo itself, I have to admit that it does a few things right. For example, the name is simple but both effective and accurate — it is a zero-calorie product, the packaging reminds us. And the notion of displaying the logo against music bars would be a good one, since music could also be described as being both sweet and low, and, as Wikipedia alleges, the product does take its name from the 1863 Sir Joseph Barnby song “Sweet and Low.” (I’d wager Sir Joe is not sure how to feel about his legacy being synthetic sugar.) It’s a small criticism, but I question the decision to put a treble clef on the left, however. Anyone who’s taken piano lessons associates the treble clef with the notes on the right side of Middle C and, therefore, higher notes, as opposed to the bass clef, which is associated with the lower notes. This is probably overthinking things, even for an exercise as pointless as this one.

It’s probably worth noting that the name of the product isn’t even supposed to be a representation of the phrase “sweet and low, even though I’d imagine that’s how most people would interpret it. I’d actually always thought the “N” was missing a second apostrophe on its other side, but the Sweet’N Low brand name is actually one of the few bits of commercial text that actually uses the apostrophe correctly. It’s even pointing in the right direction — where the “e” in “sweeten” would be were it not discarded into a pile containing other catchiness-deterring letters such as the “t-a-i” in “Cap’n Crunch.” Yes, the artificial sweetener’s name is a riff on “sweeten low,” which doesn’t really make sense. (I generally object to product names that are imperatives demanding anything besides “Buy this.”) If you try and make “Sweet’N Low” a sentence — and you should, if only because I do — by bonegrafting possibly excised words onto its fragile frame, you get either “Sweet’n [with] low[-calorie sugar substitute]” or “Sweet’n[er that happens to be] low [in calories].” Both are about as satisfying as fake sugar, which is perhaps the point.

In an effort to solve the question of Pocahontas Foods, I went to the official Sweet’N Low website, which opens with a video of living cardboard cut-out Regis Philbin and goes downhill from there. No questions answered, only raised, particularly with this:

Apparently seductive, old Regis wants us to join him for a sexy cup of coffee — but that’s only if the Pink Panther (cartoon version) doesn’t make Regis fall to his death first! Which is apparently what the Pink Panther does. Which I didn’t know until today.

How my rumination on all this ended: “Drew, please put down the sugar packet and join the conversation.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sexual Harassment Beneath the Burning Tree

Going through an old notebook, I found this doodle, which I have no recollection of drawing. Clearly, it must have been a boring meeting.

Even stranger is the fact that someone else clearly drew the hand grabbing the lady’s bottom. I don’t draw hands like that. I don’t draw hands hardly at all. Hands are hard.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Attack of the Mutant Starfish

A little marine bird told me that Santa Barbara beaches — and presumably a few other ones that do what the moon says, I guess — would have an exceptionally low tide on Saturday afternoon, so we trekked out to see what typically can’t be seen. I’m glad I went, even if I didn’t see the octopus a fellow beachcomber claimed to have spotted. (“Where did you see it?” I asked. He motioned vaguely up the beach. “In a tide pool,” he offered, as if one temporary body of water were somehow distinguishable from another.)

Some photos:

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We saw row after row of undersea rocks, whose jagged tops lends them the appearance of teeth.

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And then, of course, there were the starfish. The pictures don’t convey much of sense of scale, but they were, in general, about as big as two of my hands, side by side. (And I’d like to think that I have pretty average 26-year-old man hands, if that’s any help.) The bigger ones had arms as wide as my four fingers pressed together. In short, movie monster aliens could learn a thing or two from these freaks. Good to know that they’re under your feet whenever you wade just a few yards into the ocean, waiting for just the right moment to stomach-sucker onto you and digest you feet-first.

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Outings like these usually benefit from attention to detail, which I magically lack the moment I pick up a camera. Spencer, however, managed to point out something worth noticing — something even more spectacular than the starfish invaders: mollusks, which you might normally look right past as if they were rocks or something but which were appreciably exhibiting the fact that they were, in fact, alive and mobile.

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They may not move too quickly, and, judging by their sand tracks, they don’t appear to be headed anywhere in particular, but hey — neither do the sailing stones. And people can’t stop talking about them.

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See? Here he is, noticing stuff.

Finally, the Bacara itself warranted just one photo, as evidence of some staffer’s strange decision that draping a sky-and-clouds sheet over a building somehow made it less unsightly.

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The phrase “Bacara, you’re not fooling anyone,” was a true this weekend as it’s ever been.

I suppose this version of the events isn’t all that exciting, what with the unfulfilled potential to see the wonders of the sea from dry land. Here’s a more exciting — but entirely false — version: We met the octopus king and he offered us treasure. We had to decline, however, because we could only get it if we traveled to his undersea kingdom of sensual delights and, by that point, we were in a hurry to get home.

Viva Vicks

A few names will sound familiar to Final Fantasy veterans. Among them: Cid, Princess Sara, Gilgamesh, and finally Biggs and Wedge.

mr. b and mr. w, respectively alongside terra/tina

The last two, however, are minor characters who debuted in Final Fantasy VI, with the former’s name being mistranslated as “Vicks,” which probably deterred a few players from identifying the pair as Star Wars references. In reality, they’re meant to call back to Biggs Darklighter and Wedge Antilles, Luke Skywalker’s wingmen in A New Hope. In re-releases of Final Fantasy VI, the name is corrected to “Biggs.” I am not a fan, though this fact has nothing to do with my distaste for the Star Wars movies. No, I enjoy the way translation from English into Japanese and back again can completely obfuscate the intended reference, giving the new word a whole life of its own in the way the term “Merton” — which also debuted in Final Fantasy VI — remained mysterious until we outside of Japan realized it was mangled representation of the word “meltdown.” In the meantime, “Merton” it was.

The fact that Biggs and Wedge’s roles in any Final Fantasy is to die ignominiously offers me no solace. Vicks forever.