Thursday, April 30, 2009

Moony Face

Check out my interview with Mike Doughty, in which he talks about work on his two next albums — one acoustic titled Sad Man, Happy Man, and one a side-project involving dance music that may or may not be titled Dubious Luxury — as well as about his new West Coast tour, The Question Jar Show.

Something Like or Pertaining to a Bandicoot

The previous post, which deals with naming issues plaguing the swine flu, motivated me to locate as many possible animal-related -ine words that refer to animals. It may not surprise you that the list was bigger than I anticipated:
  • canine (of, like or pertaining to dogs)
  • feline (of, like or pertaining to cats)
  • bovine (of, like or pertaining to cattle)
  • taurine (of, like or pertaining to bulls)
  • equine (of, like or pertaining to horses)
  • elephantine (of, like or pertaining to elephants)
  • serpentine (of, like or pertaining to snakes)
  • lemurine (of, like or pertaining to lemurs)
  • porcine (of, like or pertaining to pigs)
  • piscine (of, like or pertaining to fish)
  • ursine (of, like or pertaining to bears)
  • vulpine (of, like or pertaining to foxes)
  • lupine (of, like or pertaining to wolves)
  • aquiline (of, like or pertaining to eagles)
  • butine (of, like or pertaining to hawks)
  • columbine (of, like or pertaining to doves)
  • asinine (of, like or pertaining to donkeys)
  • ovine (of, like or pertaining to sheep)
  • caprine (of, like or pertaining to goats or ibexes)
  • hircine (of, like or pertaining to goats)
  • leonine (of, like or pertaining to lions)
  • tigrine (of, like or pertaining to tigers)
  • vespertilionine (of, like or pertaining to bats)
  • ranine (of, like or pertaining to frogs)
  • acrine (of, like or pertaining to frogs)
  • lacertine (of, like or pertaining to lizards)
  • terrapine (of, like or pertaining to turtles)
  • geochine (of, like or pertaining to tortoises)
  • cervine (of, like or pertaining to deer)
  • rusine (of, like or pertaining to deer, but the Indian sambur deer in particular)
  • elaphine (of, like or pertaining to stags or red deer
  • elapine (of, like or pertaining to cobras)
  • strigine (of, like or pertaining to owls)
  • cancrine (of, like or pertaining to crabs)
  • turdine (of, like or pertaining to thrush)
  • icterine (of, like or pertaining to bobolinks)
  • delphine (of, like or pertaining to dolphins)
  • orcine (of, like or pertaining to killer whales)
  • corvine (of, like or pertaining to crows or ravens)
  • leporine (of, like or pertaining to rabbits or hares)
  • murine (of, like or pertaining to mice or rats)
  • anatine (of, like or pertaining to ducks)
  • anserine (of, like or pertaining to geese)
  • picine (of, like or pertaining to woodpeckers)
  • pavonine (of, like or pertaining to peacocks)
  • sciurine (of, like or pertaining to squirrels)
  • alopine (of, like or pertaining to arctic foxes)
  • musteline (of, like or pertaining to weasels)
  • latrine (of, like or pertaining to otters)
  • martine (of, like or pertaining to sables)
  • phocine (of, like or pertaining to seals)
  • myrmecophagine (of, like or pertaining to anteaters)
  • lyncine (of, like or pertaining to wildcats)
  • dasypine (of, like or pertaining to armadillos)
  • soricine (of, like or pertaining to shrews)
  • bubaline (of, like or pertaining to water buffalos)
  • bosine (of, like or pertaining to yaks)
  • helodine (of, like or pertaining to gila monsters)
  • castorine (of, like or pertaining to beavers)
  • larine (of, like or pertaining to seagulls)
  • cavine (of, like or pertaining to guinea pigs)
  • procyonine (of, like or pertaining to raccoons)
  • meline (of, like or pertaining to badgers)
  • musteline (of, like or pertaining to badgers)
  • hystricine (of, like or pertaining to porcupines)
  • macropodine (of, like or pertaining to kangaroos)
  • aegypine (of, like or pertaining to vultures)
  • pongine (of, like or pertaining to orangutans)
  • alaudine (of, like or pertaining to skylarks)
  • actinine (of, like or pertaining to sandpipers)
  • varanine (of, like or pertaining to monitor lizards)
  • gruine (of, like or pertaining to cranes)
  • crotaline (of, like or pertaining to rattlesnakes)
  • sarcophine (of, like or pertaining to Tasmanian devils)
  • viverrine (of, like or pertaining to civets)
  • passerine (of, like or pertaining to songbirds)
  • oscine (of, like or pertaining to songbirds)
  • aedine (of, like or pertaining to mosquitoes)
  • psittacine (of, like or pertaining to parakeets)
  • herpestine (of, like or pertaining to meerkats)
  • cricetine (of, like or pertaining to hamsters)
  • rhombomine (of, like or pertaining to gerbils)
  • glirine (of, like or pertaining to dormice)
  • acarine (of, like or pertaining to mites)
  • herpestine (of, like or pertaining to mongooses)
  • kobine (of, like or pertaining to waterbucks)
  • acipenserine (of, like or pertaining to sturgeons)
  • zebrine ((of, like or pertaining to zebras)
  • isodine (of, like or pertaining to bandicoots)
I’m honestly not sure how many of these get used with any regularity and just exist after having been formed by extension from the animal name’s Latin root. It doesn’t matter to me either way. My take: Once we beat swine flu, think how many other flus we can get.

Sources: this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one, the last of which actually offered far more animal words than I could bear to transcribe.

Speaking of animals:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Samurai in Chief

In late 2007, I wrote on this blog about Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown and all those other Neo-Geo quarter-crunchers of my youth that bombarded me with worldwide pop culture as reinterpreted by Japanese people. They were an education, those games, and I find again and again that I’m still learning from them today.

In this post in particular, I wrote about Samurai Shodown VI — released in 2005, long after I had reason to look for whatever arcades might exist anymore, anymore, maybe — and I focused on a certain character representing the American segment of that population of late-18th-century sword-swingers who crisscrossed the globe to either vanquish evil or promote it. (Such people truly did exist, if I’m to take seriously what video games tell me about world history. And I do.) The character’s name is Andrew, and nearly everything about him suggests that his creators based his design on that of Andrew Jackson, the United States’ seventh president.

andrew, patriotic american samurai-fighter (image found here)

and old hickory himself, andrew jackson (image found here)

This is all information I explained in the old post linked above. However, in that post I also discussed with unabashed geekcitement that SNK, the company behind the Samurai Shodown series, had vowed to port all the arcade titles onto a single disc, Samurai Shodown Anthology, for release on the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and the Wii. A year and a half later, the company made good on this promise. Since Samurai Shodown Anthology arrived in the mail last week, I’ve had a few occasions to play the game, to relive glorious days of prepubescent joystick-waggling and to explore entries in the series that I never before had a chance to play.

I’ve also had the opportunity to play as our former president, and his portrayal merits a little discussion.

First off, the series title is no misnomer: It does feature a lot of samurais. But not all the characters are samurais. Even the first game, in fact, features two American fighters: Galford, a blue-eyed, blond-haired ninja who hails from San Francisco and Earthquake, an obese giant from Texas whose attacks include noxious flatulence. The game takes place in 1788, before either San Francisco or Texas existed in the way the game depicts, but hey — at least they got the Texas body type right and behavior right. All that being said, it’s not especially remarkable that the series would eventually add another American into the mix. However, I didn’t expect that they’d use him for politically commentary.

For starters, they pretty openly associate Andrew with Andrew Jackson, and, by extension, the presidency and the United States as a whole. The stage on which Andrew fights, for example, is the White House, albeit a version of it with less urban surroundings than I’m used to seeing.

andrew dukes it out with mizuki (image found here)

no idea what’s happening here. eagle is dropping something on dog, for some reason. (image found here)

And the background music for the stage is none other than “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Andrew’s move set is pretty damn American too, which befits a guy whose dressed in a manner that suggests the Revolutionary War. (Of course, he’s wearing a red soldier’s uniform…) While most everyone else in the game fights with a sword or a knife, Andrew carries a rifle. He can slash at opponents with the bayonet, but, if the player so chooses, he can also just plug them with bullets. His projectiles sometimes take the form of screaming fire eagles. And, perhaps best of all, his super-de-dooper special move is called the Statue of Liberty. (Yet to perform it, will report on results when I do.)

One habit shared by all Samurai Shodown fighters can claim is that they never shut up. They yell and grunt in battle — often in Japanese, even when they hail from somewhere else — and then before and after each match, they spout quips — often in English, even when they hail from Japan. The quips can sometimes be tailored to specific opponents. For example, when Andrew fights Galford — who, again, is American — Galford politely addresses Andrew as “Mr. President.” Fact check: Jackson didn’t take office until 1829, of course, but then again he never kicked the shit out of a ninja, either, so it’s clear that the game’s creators aren’t letting a thing like historical accuracy get in the way of what they’re trying to do. And they’ve very clearly put a representative of the American presidency in the game.

With that in mind, consider another exchange between Galford and “Mr. President.” When Galford asks him why he fights, Andrew offers this: “I say I fight for freedom, but it’s really for world domination.” No beating around the bush there, so to speak. This dig at current American international policy actually took me by surprise, though I suppose it probably shouldn’t have. So far, I’ve found one other line like the preceding one: “You’re the biggest threat to world freedom!” It’s spoken by Andrew to one of the series villains. I suppose it can be read any number of ways, but the reoccurrence of the word freedom does not seem coincidental.

If Andrew reaches the final stage of the tournament, he fights the Japanese swordsman Yoshitora Tokugawa, himself being a riff on Ienari Tokugawa, real-life shogun who ruled from 1787 to 1837 and is therefore another embodiment of a certain nation’s politics. Unlike games in which all fighters must take on the same ultimate big bad, characters in this game each tangle with a final boss suited to their storyline, meaning that the a figurative United States-versus-Japan fight was more than likely intentional. If Andrew wins, he asks Yoshitaka to join his coalition of elite nations. Yoshitaka refuses, but representatives from France, Germany, and an un-named South American nation join, uniting the globe under a single American-style rule.

I know, not subtle at all.

I have no way of knowing how much of this criticism of the U.S. appears in the original Japanese version. For all I know, whoever translated the game into English took some liberties — or inserted them, anyway — to put in political commentary where none existed before.

Even if that were the case, it still would be hard to characterize Andrew’s ending as anything other than a grim triumph in which the U.S. conquers the world. Regardless of who did it and why and whether any of it should be read as tongue-in-cheek, I think it’s appropriate that the first game I can recall allowing me to play as an American president would also be the first inject a contemporary war into a samurai swordfight, however unsubtly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009



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Everything To Do With You

One final Coachella-related post before I shut up about the hot, loud weekend for another fifty-one weeks. At least two versions of the Coachella pocket guide were released this year: one featuring a day shot of the main stage — featuring some so-and-so with long hair and a sea of people listening to him play his guitar — and a second one featuring the Love and Rockets evening show from last year’s concert.

It has been pointed out to me that the second version, pictured above, features my friend York, whose snapped the Coachella photos from both this year’s concert and last year’s — which, in turn, accompanied Aly’s articles for this year’s concert and last year’s.

Sure enough, there he is, wearing a blue bandana and being eyed suspiciously by another shutterbuggery enthusiast immediately north of him in the photo. Makes me wonder if I showed up in any promotional images following my stint in the photo pit a few years back.

Here, by the way, is York’s highlight real.

And way to go on being unconsciously viewed by legions of sweaty-palmed hipsters.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Toothpaste Smells Like Teacher

Even if our stay in Coachella ended more than a week ago, I still have little these-and-those to post. I’d like to start your morning with this: our evidence of the single coolest thing at the house we stayed at.


In case you make out the writing on the package, it’s a tube of Neiman Marcus scotch-flavored toothpaste. This may be something everyone else in the world already knew of, but it was new to me. The joke, as it was explained to me, is that those who might have some less innocent reason for their breath to smell of scotch in the middle of the day can explain the odor away with the fact that this particular type of toothpaste exists, whether or not they actually have the product at home. In short, Neiman Marcus thinks your alcoholism is cute.

I actually tried it. It tasted about like you’d expect, so much so that I had to start over with my regular, baking soda-flavored variety afterward. The house also had a tube of Neiman Marcus’s bourbon toothpaste. I opted not to try it.

I looked online to see if this particular product can still be purchased. Based on the official Neiman Marcus website, it does not appear to be. I can’t say for sure, however, because I was quickly diverted by more entertaining prospects: the same department store’s after-dinner toothpaste kit, which includes crème de menthe, amaretto, and anisette flavors and a “Cordially Yours” kit that includes peppermint Schnapps, Irish creme, and crème de café. Not to be outdone, the Japanese have taken the notion of flavored toothpaste to whole new levels of goofy. This article claims that the Breath Palette company at some point has marketed toothpaste that smacks of pineapple, green tea, something called “monkey banana,” honey, kiwifruit, café au lait, plum, vanilla, something called “Indo curry,” strawberry, California orange, white peach, Darjeeling tea, lemon tea, bitter chocolate, blueberry, caramel, grapefruit, some awful thing known as “pumpkin pudding,” cola, fresh yogurt, lavender, something called “sweet salt,” Fuji apple, Kyoto-style tea, Japanese plum and grape.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Who Is the What?

This week I get to make good on something I learned twelve years ago. During my freshman year of high school, I took my first-ever Latin course. Each chapter of our textbook ended with well-intentioned but ultimately useless facts about Latin. (“Did you know that the months of July and August take their names from names of Julius Caesar and his son, Augustus? Did you?”) However, one always stuck out to me, and I’ve never made much use of it until now.
quidnunc (KWID-nunk) — noun: a busybody.
The etymology as simple: quid, the Latin word for “what,” plus nunc, the Latin word for “now.” Literally interpreted, quidnunc means “what now” — as in “What now, Ethel the Gossip?”

russian for “ssh!”

The word also appears in Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words, where it is noted also having been used for a time to mean “politician,” the implications of which should not escape the notice of anyone who’s had reason to speak with an elected official worried about his chances of being re-elected.

Quidnunc beat out a whole host of strange “Q” words, including the utterly inexplicable qhythsontyd, which is allegedly an out-of-use representation for the word Whitsunday in some language where people spell however they want.

Previous words of the week:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

“A” Is for Aubsasca

Two perspectives on the best game of Scrabble I have ever played, the first being a more artistic view offered from a real camera and the second offering an iPhone’s view of the words themselves.



In case it’s not evident, we burned the rules down to the ground and built them up in a fashion that suited our mental state after the drive from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs: Make up any word, so long as it’s pronounceable, and then say what you think it should mean. If I remember correctly, we started with breoj and it degenerated from there. I can’t say for sure what any of these words actually meant, save for weaqif, which I’d rather not discuss here.

And while I usually do post something about strange and wonderful words on Saturdays, the real word will have to wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spoiler: Lost Is All Patrick Duffy’s Dream

The current issue of Wired happens to double as the latest mystery-crammed project by J.J. Abrams, who’s best known to me as the man who has managed to tie up my Wednesdays with the hour it take to watch Lost and the subsequent several hours it takes me to think myself through a given episode. Don’t bother with the issue if you hate interesting things, such as the ultra-creepy Georgia Guidestones or Kryptos, the as-yet-undecoded art installation at CIA headquarters that continues to torment the office’s resident codebreakers.

Abrams himself wrote an essay on the magic of mystery and the how much we cheat ourselves when skip ahead. The piece even begins with this: “This essay ends with cheating. Specifically, my friend Greg and I, after playing a particular video game for eleven hours straight, are stuck. We call a fellow gamer to learn what moves we need to make to get to the next level. With the new information in hand, we complete the level.” And that is indeed how the piece ends. Reading it through, however, gives you a bit more. The Greg in question is the actor Greg Grunberg. The fellow gamer is a seven-year-old. The story takes place in 1989. And the video game is Super Mario Bros. 2. To me, these bits make the ending all the more meaningful. Do you hear that, J.J. Abrams? You’re right. I should have known to trust you. I can only hope the conclusion to Lost next year makes me arrive at the same conclusion.

On the subject of getting advice to help him conquer Super Mario Bros. 2, Abrams offers this: “[The] tip finally worked, and Greg and I finished the game that day. But I’d traded any true satisfaction for a cheat. I can’t even remember seeing the end screen.” Considering Abrams’s proclivity for jerking his audiences around, it’s odd that he would not remember the big surprise at the end of Super Mario Bros. 2. Twenty-one-year-old spoiler alert: As I noted in this post, it’s all a dream. Yes, I’m aware that’s the most overdone twist since the The Butler Did it. But to the six-year-old me playing the game — being wholly unaware of Dallas’s season-erasing It Was All a Dream plot twist — this ending was the craziest shit ever. And given how often delusion and memory and the subconscious-intruding-upon-reality figure into Lost, I would have imagined that the non-gameplay elements of Super Mario Bros. 2 would have stood out for Abrams.

Guess not.

At least one of two possible things can be learned.

One: Cheating his way through Super Mario Bros. 2 so spoiled the experience of playing the game that it completely eclipsed an ending that seems like it would have resonated with Abrams.

Two: Abrams isn’t bullshitting when he claims that the importance of the journey so greatly outweighs the arrival at the destination, in which case he may not care as much about how Lost ends as do the legion of Losers who so religiously track the show.

Capital “T” Things

As I mentioned, Tweeted, and previously blogged, I spent Friday at Joshua Tree, which, if you haven’t been, is basically a hot, windy playground for grown-ups, especially if grown-ups enjoy taking peyote and then scaling sheer rock faces. I can’t actually take credit for the comparison to a playground because it originally came from Hannah’s brain, through her fingers and onto a computer on which she wrote about her experiences there. Time constraints kept me off rocks, for the most part and especially those which should not be mounted without protective equipment. Kept me off the Joshua Trees themselves, too. And in my book, the trees looked just as fun to climb. Don’t know why they’re not more popular for climbing.

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Brilliant cactus flowers. Does it spoil the beauty if I mention that we spotted these particular flowers in the parking lot and not on the nature trails? The parking lot had the best flowers, by far. It’s kind of like getting off a plane, grabbing food at the airport and then never eating anything better in the city you’re visiting.

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This Joshua Tree dances like it’s having a heart attack.

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This rock is very contemplative. He’s thinking “How the hell am I going to get out of here?” Like me, he has a pronounced forehead. Unlike me, he’s able to grow well-defined sideburns.

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A Joshua Tree branch broke off, and the hollow stump that resulted has clearly grown a mouth. It said some pretty messed-up things and I didn’t like that. Things I fed the mouth, to no discernible effect: a dime, a Riccola, sand, and a kangaroo rat.

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I was struck by the beauty of this bare-branched tree, and I won’t cheapen it by making a stupid joke.

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This close-up of the tree looks a desert landscape, though a different kind of desert than the one in which Joshua Tree is situated.

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Quite a few yucca plants were readying to bloom when we passed through. This did not escape the notice of the bees. I saw one yucca in full bloom. This especially did not escape the notice of the bees, and I consequently don’t have any pictures of it. The bees were firmly in charge. They knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to interfere.

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While the flowering yucca stood a few inches taller than I do, the vast majority of flowering plants in the park seemed to adopt the strategy of sticking as close to the ground as possible, sort of how you’re instructed to do when you’re escaping a burning house. The similarity is not coincidental, I’m sure.

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Really, if you just stop and look at you’re feet, you see all makes and models of tiny flowers, growing like moss and each boasting its own miniscule ecosystem. For much of the trail, you walk on them.

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This rock formation looks like a snail wearing a gnome hat.

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This is what the snail-in-gnome hat would look like if it were viewed from slightly behind a yucca flower. (Not photoshopped.)

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And from this angle, you can see that the snail wasn’t a snail at all: It was a penguin. And to the penguin’s left, it has a little baby, which is a Yoshi head for some reason. I love geology.

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I wish elementary school nurses would make children look at a photo of this tree during scoliosis examinations.

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And, finally, here is Spencer. We hiked up to Keys View, which provides a view of the Salton Sea and, on an especially clear day, sometimes Mexico maybe. We saw the sea, but weren’t sure if Mexico was visible or not. I’d like to think that this explanatory plaque would have pointed it out had it been functional the day we visited. Now I don’t know what’s what. I could be looking an Mexico right now, for all I know, but I can’t say for certain, because of this unhelpful plaque.

All in all, however, a good day. A major negative that I’m still a little miffed about: We didn’t see U2 there. I think maybe they were hiding on top of the tall rocks.

Previous photo essays:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commas and Ampersands

What follows comprises two unrelated anecdotes about interviews that you should under no circumstances interpret as being about the same interview. Because they’re not. They’re not, they’re not, they’re not.

I write this first section as a combination of reminder and penance. (And, really, since when is the pain of penance not a good way to remind yourself to avoid the sin in the future?) Whenever I let a few months go by between big interviews — and by big interview I mean the sort of one-on-one that will constitute the vast majority of a subsequent article, as opposed to the interviews with different people that gradually assemble, Lego-style, into a single piece of text — I tend to forget that my best interviews are conversational in tone, with the person I’m talking to saying something and me responding with a follow-up question tailored to the preceding statement. These make for better quotes and overall a more comfortable experience — for me for the interviewee, and for the reader too, I’ll bet — than do the articles that result from the awkward interviews in which I work from a list of pre-written questions and consequently force the interviewee through a hedge maze rather than allowing them to wander about the garden as he or she pleases.

This second section — which, again, should not be interpreted as having anything to do with the foundation laid down in the previous paragraph — is about my disappointment with my sputtering, stuttering behavior during an interview with a certain singer-songwriter whose work I’ve enjoyed since early high school. He, of course, was a delight. Despite my failings, the quotes he provided will provide a sturdy framework on which I can build a good article. One small plus: I received an explanation for the subject of this post. The answer: Less some great Hardy Boys adventure, more a mix-and-match phone book jaunt in an effort to formulate catchy names for a piece of fiction. Rather than be disappointed that Adolpha Zantziger is not some long-forgotten muse to a whole generations’ worth of art or some furtively generous billionaire philanthropist recluse, I’m slightly happy that she turned out to be something close to the fictional story I created for her in my head.

Why Developers Shouldn’t Name Streets, Part Two

I’ve previously used this blog to gripe about lame street names that seem to evoke a sort of nature that housing developments often prevent, if not outright eliminate. No matter, I guess, since it’s a phony nature anyway. Today, however, I found a doozy while doublechecking a Santa Barbara street name.

hubba hubba lane santa barbara

Yes, Hubba-Hubba Lane, which is only mildly better than Hubba Bubba Lane, which doesn’t exist. Live on Hubba-Hubba Lane? Work from home? Get a P.O. box, pronto, or risk having your business cards disseminated as novelties. What may well be the most oddly named street in Santa Barbara hasn’t escaped the notice of the online world, as it’s included in this cycling forum’s list of memorable street names.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wet Leaves and the Dirty Ground

Given that my weekend in the desert caused my word of the week to go up on a Tuesday, this word seemed especially appropriate, even if the Coachella Valley shouldn’t expect to use it anytime soon.
petrichor (PET-rih-kor) — noun: 1. the smell of rain on dry earth. 2. The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.
A word whose beautiful sound nicely matches its meaning. (Take that, green cellar door.) I first found this one as a word-of-the-week on Fritinancy back in October and became instantly enchanted with the notion of anyone coining a term for such an ephemeral thing. It first appearing in a 1964 article in Nature by Australian geologists I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas, though it hasn’t become popular enough to merit inclusion in most dictionaries. (Both the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster omit it, the elitists.) And, like may previous Back of the Cereal Box words-of-the-week, it occurs most often in articles noting how rare it is. Petrichor apparently succeeded the less mellifluous previous name for this particular thing, argillaceous odor — a misnomer in that argillaceous comes from the Latin argilla, “clay,” even though this scent isn’t associated specifically with clay materials.

Escaping the strictly verbal realm for a moment, I’ll note that the science behind petrichor is more complex than just wet dust. In fact, it results from a blend of fifty different compouds, “rather like a perfume,” as World Wide Words’s Michael Quinion puts it. On a simple level, however the mechanics seem to be this: Rocks and soil absorb plant oils during dry periods and then release it during rain.

Fritinancy and World Wide Words explain that the term was consciously created through the combination of two Greek words: petros, “stone,” and ichor, a word for the fluid that flowed through the veins of the gods. (Though it has an antiquated use as a word for watery, bad-smelling discharge from wounds and ulcers, the word ichor apparently survives in English in fantasy literature. Wikipedia cites its modern uses as being a word for vampire’s blood for example. Also: “The term ichor is often misused in fantasy contexts by authors trying to find a different word for blood or ooze, to the point that it has become cliché. Author Ursula LeGuin, in From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, calls the term “the infallible touchstone of the seventh-rate.”) Reading petros and ichor together, according to World Wide Words’s Michael Quinion, suggests the literal meaning “essence of rock,” which itself is pretty poetic — and also prettily poetic.

In conclusion, I’ll note a certain wistfulness sensation I felt as I posted this entry less than twenty-four hours after the hottest day Santa Barbara has seen so far in 2009. Late October, I have my eye on you.

And by eye, I mean nose.

But not literally.

Previous words of the week:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Really Want to Know

Though I doubt it will pick up the steam that the Twenty-Five Things craze did, the latest Facebook trend seems to be those “What X Are You?” quizzes, with “X” being a city, article of clothing, cocktail, breed of cat, sandwich spread, 80s-era X-Man, or brand of toothpaste that someone, somewhere has deemed to be representative of basic personality types. I want to program these quizzes. And I want them to punish, specifically through assigning every quiz-taker the worst possible evaluation, regardless of their answers.

Example: The “What State Would You Be?” would assign out Delaware with the only explanation being simply “Bland. Forgettable.”

Q: What Sea Animal Are You?
A: Longshoreman.

Q: What Color Are You?
A: Clear.

Q: What Body Part Are You?
A: Nail polish painted on nail-less pinky toe to make it look like it has a nail.

Q: What Language Are You?
A: Midwestern-accented English, slurred loudly.

Q: What Vegetable Are You?
A: An ornamental gourd — pimply, lacquered, inedible.

Q: What Kind of Lunchmeat Are You?
A: Lunchables slice. Discarded.

Q: What Beverage Are You?
A: Brackish water in a Dixie cup.

Q: What Famous Cartoon Character Are You?
A: You would be an unfamous cartoon character.

Q: What 70s Movie Are You?
A: Series of educational films. Released December 1979.

Q: What New York Restaurant Are You?
A: A soup kitchen in New York.

Q: What Book Are You?
A: Title unimportant. Is dropped in a puddle. No one cares.

Q: Which Ninja Turtles character Are You?
A: Irma Langinstein, homely co-worker to April O’Neil.

Q: What Spice Are You?
A: You are not a spice. You are flour.

Q: What Accessory Are You?
A: Polio brace.

Q: What TV Network Are You?
A: The DuMont Network.

Q: What Renaissance Painting Are You?
A: You are a postcard of the Louvre, purchased at Charles de Gaulle.

Q: What Musical Instrument Are You?
A: A garbage can, which technically was used as an instrument in Stomp.

Q: What SNL Cast Member Are You?
A: Laurie Metcalf.

Q: What Kind of Tree Are You?
A: Model tree on train set in sex offender’s basement.

Q: What Kind of House Are You?
A: Whore shanty.

Q: What Looney Tunes Character Are You?
A: You are the human who couldn’t get the frog to sing and dance when he wanted to.

Q: What Mode of Transportation Are You?
A: A two-by-four with rollerskates taped to the bottom by children who lack adult supervision and sufficient funds to purchase an actual skateboard.
Also, all the better if I can design the quiz to interrupt the taker halfway through with the message that it does not matter what he or she picks for the remaining questions because it’s already tabulated the answer.

I will not take on your Top Fives tonight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Boogie Woogie Feng Shui

Two more curiosities for my own online wunderkammer, the first coming via Spencer from the Wikipedia page on hermits.


Obviously, it depicts the Russian mystic St. Seraphim of Sarov, sharing his meal with a bear. (Bonus hermit info: Under the subsection “In philosophy and fiction,” the same Wikipedia page notes that “Herman’s Hermits were not hermits at all, but instead a creatively named popular music band.”)

The second comes via Sanam from the blog Shorpy. Sanam sent it over in response to my “dogz ‘n’ ladeez” post.


Obviously, it’s Miss Nancy Weeks with Mr. Rowe. It may initially seem obvious who is who, but think about it for a moment and you too will wonder if your first guess was correct.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Speaking of the Unspeakable

As a follow-up to my ball-chopper of a word-of-the-week, I can offer this: Wikipedia’s list of proper terminology for neutered animals, which, of course, is more extensive than I would have guessed.
  • wether — a castrated sheep or goat. (Not from the phrase “I don’t know whether it’s a ram or a ewe now,” fun though that would be, but instead from a similar old English word for “ram” that also gives us the term bellwether.)
  • ox, steer and bullock — all terms for castrated bulls. (With ox being a barely changed evolution of the Proto Indo-European root uks-en-, which itself translates to “bull” but which literally translates as “besprinkler,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, anyway. Steer goes back to the Old English steor, which may descend from the same Proto Indo-European root as the word taurus. And bullock comes from the Old English bulluc, “a young bull.” Didn’t know about this last one until today. Makes me think of the impotent, sputtering Batman character differently. Weirdly, there doesn’t seem to be a direct relationship between bullock and bollocks, as in “Never Mind the Bollocks.” This British word for those special types of Easter eggs seems to be associated more with the verb bollix, “to botch” or “to bungle,” than with the actual bull himself. It’s worth noting, I guess, that both bull and ball supposedly come from the same Proto Indo-European root bhel-, meaning “to inflate” or “to swell.”)
  • capon — a castrated cock, though in the larger sense. (From a similar Old English word referring to a castrated clucker, just as its contemporary counterpart does. Makes me think of the string-clamping guitar tool, the capo. Apologies for that, Mr. Guitar, though I loved how it made you sing in a higher pitch.)
  • gelding — a castrated horse. (From the verb to geld, “to castrate,” though why we call these poor creatures geldings and not geldeds is beyond me.)
  • gib — a castrated cat or ferret. (Another new one. American Heritage Dictionary and Merrian-Webster both claim it comes from a nickname for Gilbert without offering any reason why such a nickname would become associated with nicked cats and ferrets. Poor Gilbert, I guess.)
  • havier — a castrated deer. (Although I should note that none of the dictionaries I use offer this word. Perhaps Wikipedia is wrong. Or perhaps someone named Javier does, in fact, shares a certain shame with Gilbert.)
  • barrow — a castrated boar. (I would assume that this one would be connected to the other barrow — something that carries a load, in the sense of a wheelbarrow — since castrated male animals tend to grow large, strong and steady. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. AHD is unusually quite on this word’s origins, citing only the Old English bearg as an ancestor. The more common barrow goes back differently, though I suppose they could converge at some point.)
  • lapin — a castrated rabbit. (Without giving any clue as to where this word might come from, Merriam-Webster claims it can refer to either what Wikipedia posits or a certain kind of processed rabbit fur. AHD offers only the second definition.)
  • stag — a castrated bull or sheep. (Probably the strangest of the lot, given the proliferation of the term stag party and the fact that stag parties would be best enjoyed by non-castrated males. With deer, it refers to non-castrated males, but the stags of other species are not so lucky. The Online Etymology Dictionary places its origins likely with the Old English stagga, meaning the same. It also notes, amazingly, that the Old Norse equivalent “was used for male foxes, tomcats and dragons.” I’m sure the need to differentiate between male and female dragons was important at some point, to someone.)
Not that the majority of my readership has much reason to use these in the near future, but good to know they exist. Also awful to know they exist, but whatever.

The lesson:


Don’t ask “Why is that cat sad?” Instead say “I know exactly why that gib is sad. Leave him alone.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tony Has to Hide His Love Away

I had a thought that virtually no one who reads this blog will understand or care about one way or the other. The thought involves Earthbound. Bored yet? Confused? Yes, well, I encourage you to ignore this one, regular readers; this post, I am certain, is for the Googlers — the people who don’t know me but are somehow fascinated with the same pop culture minutiae that I am.

I’ve mentioned it several times previously on this blog: Earthbound is one of my favorite video games ever, not only because it’s fun to play but because it layers the allusions and references on thick in a way that keeps my English major brain happy. One of the major themes is the music of The Beatles. Most appear through subtle musical cues — songs that sound somewhat like Beatles songs and others that appear to take actual samples form them. (There’s a fairly extensive list of these here.) Other references are more obvious. For example, at one point, the heroes stumble upon an actual yellow submarine.

image source:

There’s another big one that was deleted from the American version, possibly in an effort to make the Beatles references less obvious, possibly for legal reasons. In either version, when starting a new game, the player has the option to rename the four heroes, the main character’s dog, a favorite food and a favorite “thing.” The player can enter whatever he or she wants but can also cycle through several sets of predetermined options. In the Japanese version, one is distinctly Beatles-themed. Protagonist Ness can be “John,” love interested Paula can be “Yoko,” sidekick Jeff can be “Paul,” too-cool karate kid Poo can be “George,” the dog can be “Ringo,” the food can be “honey pie,” and the thing can be “Love” — as in “All You Need Is Love.” Clearly, it’s not reaching to assume that the Beatles were on the minds of Earthbound‘s creators.

I suspect that another Beatles reference may lie in an extremely minor character, Tony. He’s a strange one in a cast of oddballs. (Really, it’s too bad that the boring silent protagonist Ness is the character most people are familiar with, as a result of his appearances in the Smash Bros. games.) Tony appears briefly in the story as the unusually affectionate schoolmate and roommate of Jeff Andonuts, the science whiz kid who eventually joins the main characters in their quest to save the world. Tony’s devotion to Jeff is such that he helps Jeff break out of Snow Wood Boarding House, even crawling onto all fours to allow Jeff to use him as a stepping stool to scale the school’s main gate.

tony earthbound gay

After this point, the two separate, and Tony isn’t seen again until the game’s ending sequence. He’s heard at one point, so to speak. In one of the game’s many breaking-the-fourth-wall moments, Tony calls the heroes later in the game and asks for the player’s name. I mean, the person holding the controller can enter Gaylord Q. Tinkledink, for what it’s worth, but Tony specifically states that he’d like to get the player’s real name. The reason this happens is to allow the game’s final credits to thank the player by name, but Tony offers the reason that he needs it for a school project.

As I said earlier, Tony doesn’t behave like most video game characters do. Despite that Tony is young, his attachment to Jeff is portrayed in a way that very much so seems to suggest his feelings are more than platonic. For example, the pair are first introduced when Jeff wakes up Tony one night in their dorm room. Tony’s response is this: “Ah, Jeff, I just dreamt that you and I were taking a walk. ...What’s wrong?” Not typical schoolmate small talk.

And in the game’s ending, Jeff receives a letter from Tony that reads as follows:
Dear Jeff,

Everything’s really going great here. I wish I could have gone with you on your adventure, even just part of the way, but instead I’m sitting here, waiting for you in Winters. I want to see you again as soon as possible. I can’t wait to see your cheerful face. I bet your glasses are dirty... If you come back, I’ll clean them for you! Like I said, I’m waiting for you.

Yours truly,

P.S. Don’t show this letter to anyone!
As if to beat legions of slash fiction-writing Earthbound devotees to the punch, the game’s creator and writer, Shigesato Itoi, has stated that such a reading of Tony’s character is correct: He intended Tony to be gay.

In a strange way, Tony stood out even before I learned that he was supposed to be gay. (Though, in being so, he’s even more remarkable, as video games feature very few explicitly gay characters, much less any video games that came out in the U.S. back in 1994.) First, it always seemed glaringly normal that his name was Tony. The rest of the game’s characters sport far stranger names, such as Mister Carpainter, No Name Mouse, Gerardo Montague, Brick Road, The Apple Kid, and Lardna Minch. By contrast, Tony’s name seems very un-Earthbound-like. In light of all the Beatles references — and the game’s alternate name set, which transposes the identities of The Beatles and Yoko Ono onto the main characters — I wonder if Tony might take his name from one of the two Tonys known for their work with the Fab Four. There’s Tony Sheridan — an early collaborator of The Beatles who dropped out when the band went onto bigger and better things, much in the way Earthbound‘s Tony technically joins the party briefly but then lets the main foursome pass on without him. And then there’s Tony Barrow — a press officer who also worked with The Beatles early in their career, though later than Tony Sheridan did. Barrow seems like a less likely candidate, even if Earthbound Tony’s call to get information about the heroes’ progress has the vaguest of similarities to what a press agent would do.

Real-life Tonys aside, I feel like Earthbound’s Tony also merits a comparison to Brian Epstein — the Beatles’ manager and the best possible candidate for the position of “fifth Beatle,” according Paul McCartney. Though not publicly, Epstein was gay, and the stress of leading separate public and private lives inspired the band to write the song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” or so said John Lennon. And Earthbound Tony’s letter to Jeff certainly seems to be doing just that, especially with that postscript line “Don’t show this letter to anyone!”

Of course, I’m overthinking all this. Still, Earthbound is a game that seems to invite analysis, as a lot of what went into it doesn’t seem to be arbitrarily thrown in. I guess posts like this are the most I could ever hope to do in tribute to Itoi’s work: offering even his most minor creations a chance at being placed in popular culture at large.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Never Kick a Man in His Orchid

I’m posting this from the land of slow internet and clogged-up computers, so I’ll cut to the chase: the word of the week.
orchidectomy (OR-kid-EK-te-mee) — noun: removal of the testicles.
Yes, as if this horrific procedure needed another euphemistic name beyond gelding, neutering or fixing, we have orchidectomy, as in, “My name is Donald and I was the victim of an orchidectomy.” Even knowing what the word means, I’d hope against hope that Donald’s worst draw of luck would be the theft of his flowers and not his “man flower.”

keep your eyes on your own orchids, wild thingAlign Center
The word seems to be a less common and less fun variant of orchiectomy, which also names the unkindest cut of all. Don’t know if the “D” dropped in order to facilitate pronunciation or to make the term more similar to orchid, which also has its roots in all things testicular. If it happens to be the former, then I’m miffed in the same way I get when people say cremains. This word refers to an awful enough thing that we shouldn’t make it easier to say, if we must say it at all.

Regardless of what I think, Toothpaste for Dinner’s take on term uses the more popular spelling:

As I said, both orchid and orchidectomy both descend, so to speak, from the testicles — specifically the Greek orkhis, which means “testicle.” In case your wondering what the connection between orchids and male sex organs is, the American Heritage Dictionary states that the orchid got its name from the fact that its tubers resemble testicles. Strange, isn’t it, that the sex-organ looking things that grow on the roots would get to name the plant when the colorful, sex organ-looking flowers that grow on the visible part of the plant would get skipped over. I’ll refer back to my post on the obscene sexiness of orchids and how my orchid snapshot ended up as the lead image on an column about vaginoplasty.

All this makes me even more suspicious of the old ladies who fanatically collect and grow orchids. Apologies to your grandmother.

Previous words of the week:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Girls Bury Diana Friday Afternoon

Back in my piano lesson days, I was told to remember the order of notes on the treble staff with the mnemonic device “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”The sentence’s initial letters correspond to the notes that appear on the lines: E-G-B-D-F. Clearly, this device worked. It’s been a good twelve years since I studied piano and I can still bat it off as if it were my name and birthday.

While I’m pretty sure everyone learned this, the devices used to remember the bass clef notes — that is, the bottom staff, beginning below Middle C and moving down — seem to be less famous. In spite of the fact that it’s a sucky derivative of “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” the most widespread appears to be “Good Boys Do Fine Always.” I can’t imagine why both would be taught side-by-side, since a kid learning something as abstract as written music could easily confuse these two sound-alikes. Granted, you’re working with a limited range of options in that the scale has only seven notes named for seven letters, but “Good Boys Do Fine Always” nonetheless smacks of a lack of creativity.

Not that the one taught to me was much better. Mine, “Girls Buy Dolls From America,” might even out the gender ratio by giving boys and girls each a mnemonic device, but it’s also pretty sexist: Boys get the implication of being and doing good, while girls get stuck buying dolls. In any case, it doesn’t seem to be one with which too many people are familiar, at least according to Google.

Lame mnemonic devices seem to abound in music however. In Googling all this, I came across another one for remembering the order of sharps: “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.” (If a key only has one sharp, then that will be F-sharp. If it has two, it will be F- and C-sharp, etc.) The one offered for flats? “Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’s Father.” Boo.

Music previously pondered: