Friday, July 31, 2009

The Room Is Empty

But, in a sense, only temporarily so.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Transformed Teenage Lozenge Soldiers

Occasionally, while on YouTube, I end up watching footage from old video games or ones that weren’t ever released in the U.S. Occasionally, they make no sense.

Take this one, a Japan-only release for the Super Nintendo (and, by Super Nintendo, I mean its “over there” counterpart, the Super Famicom):

The plot, as I understand it: Five youths and a dog are walking to either a theme park called Jelly Land or the border between their home country and a neighboring nation called Jelly Land. At the front gate, some sort of demonic jester materializes and transforms them all — even the dog — into what looks to me like cough drops but which are probably the jellies mentioned in the title of the game, Jelly Boy 2. (I know, I know. We missed Jelly Boy 1. We’ll never grasp the context of what made this game great… and so memorable.) I’m not clear as to whether the youths and dog companion should have been surprised by this turn of events, as it may be what you get when you set foot in a place called Jelly Land. Also, the cough drops are color-coded based on what the characters were wearing when they underwent this transformation, so for our sake I suppose we should be glad that none of them wore similar outfits, as that would make differentiation difficult.

If it sounds like I’m mocking Jelly Boy 2, understand that it comes from a good place. I have nothing but respect for this brief foray into video games whose plots were drawn from real-life situations that kids should know about.

Bonus trivia: The title of this game is apparently sometimes transliterated as Jerry Boy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Aimez These Two, Also

Neither am I sure how to feel about these images of disembodies miniature heads.

I shall say nothing more on the matter.

Aimez Moi

This was sent to me with the note that it reminded the sender of me.

Not sure where to go with that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Headless Christmas

Merry Christmas! Here’s a disembodied head with tape in its hair.

If anyone can explain to me what hair tape is and why it’s not a nasty prank, I’d be happy to hear about it.

(Via the LiveJournal vintage ad community, via Spencer.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Game Nerd’s Vocabulary: Beyond 1-Up and Kill Screen

This week’s word of the week post is a threefer, and all of them are honest-to-god words that I didn’t know existed until I learned them in a video game. I feel it’s due, since I haven’t written much about video games here since my “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post last month. (Though, at 80,000 unique hits to that post alone, I guess it’s not much of a secret anymore. Thanks Destructoid! And Kotaku! And GayGamer! And Digg! And Mental Floss! And Pajiba!) Following that post, I’ve had some interesting email exchange with other linguistically minded game nerds. One in particular wrote me about word changes in Final Fantasy IV, a text-heavy game that’s evolved quite a bit since its clunky English release for the Super Nintendo in 1991 and the third reworking of it, which came out last year for the Nintendo DS. (And yes, I do realize the irony in that a game called Final Fantasy has been given multiple sequels and that those sequels have themselves been remade and remade again. Recently, game blogs have been circulated the explanation for why the first game had the word final in the title.) As time has passed, dumb-downed translations of the original Japanese have given way to GRE vocab selections and, perhaps most surprising, some actual character development. I’m not sure why the translator for this most recent version of the game chose to pick the words he did, but the end result was that I learned a few words.
epopt (ee-POPT or EE-popt) — noun: 1. an initiate into the ancient Greek cult of Demeter and Persephone, which was centered at the town of Eleusina. 2. one instructred in the mysteries of a secret system.
So, essentially, it means either an inductee of a specific, bygone order or any old inductee of any old order anywhere. Wiktionary traces the word only back to the Greek ἐπόπτης (epoptes), meaning “initiate into mysteries,” while another source puts it more broadly, saying the original Greek is “variously defined as supervision, beholding, revelation, unveiling.”

The fact that the Eleusinian Mysteries would focus on two of Greek mythology’s major goddesses is particularly appropriate for the Final Fantasy IV epopts because they exist in a city dominated by women: female soldiers, generals and merchants, with eight epopts calling the shots from atop the social hierarchy. In the original version of the game, these ruling women were referred to only as clerics, which, if you take the newest version of the game as the “correct” one, isn’t inaccurate, per se, just less evocative of some higher female divinity. The direct sequel to Final Fantasy IV, The After Years, features a playable epopt, Leonora, who is a proficient magic user and also a cute-as-a-button blondie, as even the mightily spiritual video game heroines must be aesthetically appealing.

final fantasy iv’s epopts and cutie pie epopt leonora
actual epopts participating in rites of the cult of seasonal goddesses
I suppose as far as video games using obscure words drawn from mythology, the mention of epopt in Final Fantasy IV is a fairly appropriate one.
seneschal (SEN-ə-shəl) — noun: an official in a medieval noble household in charge of domestic arrangements and the administration of servants; a steward or major-domo.
What the new versions of the Final Fantasy IV refer to as a seneschal was previously just advisor or chancellor or something similar, if I remember correctly. Perhaps only by virtue of being more esoteric, the title seneschal lends the character a loftier sense of importance. I intend to refer to my butler as my seneschal. When I hire him, of course. According to Wiktionary, the term comes from the Proto-Germanic word parts sini-, meaning “senior,” and skalk, meaning “servant.” (That skalk apparently also morphed into the second syllable of the word marshal, literally “horse servant.”) Seneschal may be more familiar to French speakers, as it is a cognate with sénéchal (“a representative of the king, charged with the application of justice and control of the administration under the Ancien Régime of southern France”), which would be the person in charge of a sénéchaussée.
eidolon (eye-DOH-lən) — noun: 1. an unsubstantial image, a phantom. 2. an ideal.
Of these three words, I would have guessed that eiodolon would be a Final Fantasy-specific word. (The game does have its own terminology, after all. The fictional ratite known as the chocobo, for example.) But this word did, in fact, exist before the advent of video games. In theosophy, the eidolon essentially means “astral double” — “a phantom-double of the human form; a shade or perispirit; the kamarupa after death, before its disintegration.” Etymologically, the term is related to idol.

In many of the Final Fantasy titles, certain characters can fight by calling various monsters to do battle on their behalf. It’s sort of like having the index to Encyclopedia Mythica at your beck and call including but not limited to a titan, a siren, a phoenix, Fenrir from Norse mythology, Paracelsian sylphs, Leviathan from the Bible, as well as more obscure ones like Catoblepas, a heavy-headed, downward looking, bovine-porcine combo that ancient peoples believed could turn things to stone by breathing upon or looking at them. (Wikipedia notes that this creature may have actually been a wildebeest or gnu, which can do neither.)

catoblepas or just a stupid gnu?

Early in the series, the English version of the games just refer to these creatures as summons or summoned monsters. The ninth game used the term eidolon, and it was then retroactively applied in many remakes and sequels to previous titles. It’s so widespread, in fact, that a simple Google search for eidolon brings up the Final Fantasy-related version of the word first.

Thus, three words I didn’t know until video games taught them to me. Perhaps not the most useful words in the English language, but something to show for hours wasted in front of a television set, right?


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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Undisputed Master of Apples to Apples

During a game of Appples to Apples, Spencer got two of the best hands in recent memory. First, the world’s best shopping list.


A second, the toughest of tough decisions.


Apples to Apples — truly it is the game of kings.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Or Would You Rather Be a Pig?

On the show Out of This World — the one about the girl who was half-alien and whose superpowers included freezing time by touching her index fingers together and making children who watched Out of This World attempt to freeze time by touching their index fingers together — the father alien who spoke to the daughter though that weird translucent diamond — or perhaps was the weird translucent diamond — was voiced by Burt Reynolds. Was I the only one who didn’t know that?

The post on Yesterday’s Faces Today that informed me of this also conjectures that another actor on the show, Doug McClure, was one-half the inspiration for the Simpsons character Troy McClure, along with fellow C-lister Troy Donahue.

Previous pop culture minutiae:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Bride Was a Pine Tree

Jill, who may be familiar to some readers as the girl with the phony MySpace account and who has been blogging about her travels through China with her manfriend over at Jill Uses Chopsticks, has finally posted her wedding photos. And that’s weird, because she’s not getting married. As she — or rather Manfriend Brook, writing as her — explained it, the custom of Chinese wedding photos has bridge and groom dressing up in some attractive outfits and some Lady Gaga ridiculous outfits months before the wedding, a kind of movie star-for-a-day treatment that, I’d imagine, makes fashionable couples look even more chic and the frumpy ones look uncomfortable and sad.

A few of the photos made it to the blog. Some are very nice and would make for acceptable wedding cards in any country. Others gives Jill orange skin, purple lips and visible pores — which is, perhaps, a look that has yet to catch on in the States. My absolute favorite, however, would have to be the one that makes Jill look like some kind of plant monster or half-plant, half-woman amalgamonster from Greek mythology — Poison Piney, if you will — or perhaps album art one of the trippier Goldfrapp albums.

This is what it looks like:


I am very impressed, with the photographers, the make-up artists and anyone who helped convince Jill that she should do this. I say this as someone who once “clowned” her house and who also once convinced a good chunk of her associates that she had changed her email address to Bravo, people. Bravo.

Google Books Is Not Robots

Or, at least, if Google Books are scanned page-by-page by robots, said mechanomen are designed to have realistic, feminine-looking fingers. Really, if any company could afford to assemble such a contraption, should Google not be it?

This slip of the hand comes to you via Spencer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Debonair Criminal

The following is a reproduction of a conversation between Hasan and me. It began with him sending me a link to the following image, which is purported to be scan from an 1985 issue of Ebony magazine that envisioned what the stars of the era might look like in the year 2000.

click to enlarge
me: good god. what could have been. could you imagine what life would be like if michael jackson stayed cool? it would be a different world

hasan: i like how they just blended a picture of MJ and Billy Dee

me: what we should do is invent a program that blends anyone’s photo with billy dee Williams. people would love it

hasan: sanam would look awesome

me: well, i feel like it should be, like, cicely tyson or cch pounder for ladies… whatever the girl equivalent of billy dee is

hasan: nell carter

me: there you go

me: hey, did you know that sanam once thought that cch pounder’s name wasn’t supposed to be pronounced with just the letters?

hasan: so how did she pronounce it?

me: like, it wasn’t “C C H” but “sscchh pounder”

hasan: haha

me: this was suggested to be as if it were fact

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Penchant for Pipes

In case its reproduction on this blog renders unreadable the noteworthy text, know that it says “Please… May I sniff your Klompen Kloggen?”

The mind boggles.

(Via the LiveJournal vintage ads community, via Spencer.)

Advertising, previously:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Volcano in Ventura

On the heels of last week’s post, “The Ghosts of Garden Street,” I have the following: another old report of Santa Barbara goings-on that made it into print in the L.A. Times and that also hinges around something that could potentially draw tourists to the area. Kind of gives you an idea of what Santa Barbara’s significance was to the rest of California. Not sure that’s changed, really.

This article comes from the September 29, 1883, issue and details an apparent feud between the editor of the Santa Barbara Independent and the ownership of a volcano that apparently resided in Ventura County at the time.

For context’s sake, the immediately following article was about a murder-suicide in New Jerusalem, a Ventura County settlement that apparently doesn’t exist anymore. As for the volcano, I don’t have a clue where it might be. A Google search turned up little of interest, save for a relatively recent article in the Ventura County Star about a small patch of land in Little Sespe Canyon, near Fillmore, that had been mysteriously smoldering for a while and may still be doing so. I feel like if it was doing so back in 1883 and making people worry back then that they were neighbors with a nascent volcano, it should be better-known today. Or it should be, you know, a fucking volcano. Why the Independent editor would be getting the county lines redrawn to include Fillmore is completely beyond me.

“Honey, My Water Broke Too!”

In short, anything you can do, I can do too — not necessarily better, but in my own little way nonetheless.
couvade (koo-VAYD) — noun: 1. a custom in some cultures in which when a child is born the father takes to bed as if bearing the child and submits himself to fasting, purification, or taboos. 2. a medical condition involving a father experiencing some of the behavior of his wife at near the time of childbirth, including her birth pains, postpartum seclusion, food restrictions, and sex taboos.
A strange concept that I learned about in A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All, couvade can be both a rare medical phenomenon that can occur anywhere and a specific custom of the Basque people in which the man deliberately takes to a bed and imitates the mother of his about-to-be-born child. This is my understanding of the latter case, anyway — that it seems to be a more of a conscious choice inasmuch as participation societal traditions can be voluntary. It may seem silly to some, but I suppose the notion of paternity leave might have seemed strange to people not to long ago.

Different websites offer different etymologies for the term. Most claim it comes from the French couvade, meaning “brooding.” Merriam-Webster traces it back to a Middle French term for “cowardly inactivity” that in turn comes from cover, “to sit on, brood over.” It relates the word to covey, “a mature bird or pair of birds with a brood of young.”

I’m sure there’s a joke about Thomas Beatie in all this, but I’ll leave you all to form it in your own minds.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Already Secretly Married

I know little of the work of Emilie Loring, though I can surmise quite a bit by scanning the titles of her books. You, who may also know little of Loring, can do the same.
  • Beckoning Trails
  • When Hearts are Light Again
  • Throw Wide the Door
  • How Can the Heart Forget?
  • Forever and a Day
  • I Hear Adventure Calling
  • Love Came Laughing By
  • Love with Honor
  • A Candle in the Heart
  • Rainbow at Dusk
  • Spring Always Comes
  • Behind the Cloud
  • Where Beauty Dwells
  • With This Ring
  • Gay Courage
Okay, Gay Courage sounds a little weird, but based on what she chose to title her other books, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Loring might have enjoyed Nights in Rodanthe, though even she would have thought better than to have saddled a book with a clunker title like that one. Of the covers I found online, the one for Uncharted Seas.

Can you see what’s wrong with this book cover? I’d say it’s either that Loring picked the worst possible title for a novel about the horsey set or that whoever painted the art read neither the book nor its title.

Easily the best part of my quick glimpse into the life of this prolific author, however, would be the following note on her Wikipedia page, which speaks more of Loring’s authorial tendencies than a mere list of here titles can. I quote:
There are several repeating motifs in her work that annoy some readers and amuse others. Among them are a girl who is twenty-three with red hair, a dark-haired lawyer or aspiring politician for a hero, a quotation-spouting secondary character, a fan back chair, a Mandarin coat, a Chinese lacquer screen (room divider), New England as a setting or character trait (“New England granite”), and a black-and-white spotted dog…. She has a habit of describing every flower in sight, as well as the outfits of the heroine and supporting characters in detail. Like time capsules, a great deal can be learned about the dress, etiquette, social classes, and political and economic conditions of the year each book was written in. Commonly used plot-lines in her novels are the Lost Will, Ward Grows Up, Orphaned Girl, Sickly Sister, Marriage of Convenience/Contract, and Already Secretly Married.
By the way, every entry in that list of recycled plotlines would have made for an appropriately Loringesque novel title — Already Secretly Married particular. They’d also make for good band names — again, Already Secretly Married in particular.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chauncey Peppertooth Did Something Bad

Mr. C. Peppertooth is an energetic, young dog. He belongs to Hilly.


The chick on the right presumably once looked much the like the one on the left. That is all there is to say.

(Chick pic courtesy Hilly’s Facebook.)

Other things I consider creepy or horrifying:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Ghosts of Garden Street

I could say little to better introduce the following news article other than to note that it is a report that ran in the May 19, 1888, edition of the L.A. Times about repeated ghost sightings fairly close to where I live now. The report was drawn from an incarnation of the Santa Barbara Independent, which happens to be the name of the paper for which I now work.

Not sure what to love more — the concluding sentence, the overall dumbness of the whole article or the fact that in spite of this dumbness the author still pointedly noted that the alleged street corner haunting could be a profitable tourist draw. I feel that if anyone at my paper is ever accused of writing something that does not measure up to the journalistic standards mandated by the Independent’s history, they need only to recall this article.

Ghosts, previously:

Saturday, July 11, 2009


For my birthday, Nate bought me a copy of Patricia T. O’Conner’s new book, Origin of the Specious. In it, O’Conner blasts apart grammatical and linguistic myths in her characteristically straightforward, sensible way. She explains why English has been beset by phony no-nos, like the prohibition on using like when you could instead use such as, but she also tackles broader-in-scope mysteries, like when and how Americans lost their British accents. (As she tells it, we didn’t. The plumminess of British English developed over there, after the North American colonies were established. The way we speak is closer to how our founding British fathers spoke than current day Britons’ speech is.) For someone like me, it’s a fun read.

Her passage on English’s problematic lack of a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun reminded me of a word that essentially exists in a way similar to those old contraptions you see in black-and-white footage of people who tried to invent flying machines. Like the machines that invariably dumped their pilots out of trees and off balconies or simply sputtered to a stop, this word is a failure, yet kind of a noble one. Though some record of its existence should be preserved, you can’t mention it without also noting that it didn’t perform the function its daddy intended.
thon — noun: an epicene pronoun invented in 1858 in an effort to replace the genderless he.
Note that didn’t list a pronunciation. At the moment, I’ve found exactly two sites that note how the word should be pronounced: one that suggests the “TH” should sound like the one in thin and another that says it should be like the one in those. I’m inclined to think it should sound like the ones in thee and thou, since those would seem to be the cuttings from which this strange flower grew.

Thon was dreamed up by Charles Crozat Converse, an attorney who, as both O’Conner and Wikipedia note, is primarily known for writing the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” (Wikipedia — but not O’Conner — also notes that his “runner-up” contribution seems to be the arrangement for “The Death of Minnehaha.”) Thon also appears to have found some success. O’Conner claims that the word actually appeared in dictionaries and can still be found in those published as recently as fifty years ago. Today, searching for thon is more difficult, as most dictionaries list it as a variant of that -athon suffix so beloved my elementary school fundraisers. And, because it’s the internet, you get a lot of hits for the Thon, a triceratops-like thing from Star Wars, or at least so says the Wookieepedia.

Among the less successful attempts to rid English of the awkwardness inherent in asking every student to take his desk are the following less glorious failed attempts: ne, heer, ha, co, hy, ve, xe, ze, the unusual combo of ze and mer, the triplet team of ze-zam-zerz, and finally the so-called Spivak pronoun. Not all of these are honest attempts at reforming English. Co, Wikipedia claims, is used “in is used in contemporary everyday language by the 100 people who live at Twin Oaks community in Virginia, USA. It is used to mean s/he in the case in which the gender is not known or is irrelevant.” My personal favorite is the Spivak pronoun, which is essentially the forms of the word they with the “TH” chopped off: Ey laughed, I called em, Eir eyes gleam, etc. (See Wikipedia’s chart on how these words work if you’d like to know how they’d plug into actual sentences.) A Random House word-of-the-day post includes even more — including oddities like tey, en, po and jhe — that allegedly arose during the American feminist movement.

Most with a verbally-minded brain guess that English will probably never had a word that fulfills the function that thon would have, had it endured. The American Heritage Book of English has this to offer the subject:
Like most efforts at language reform, these well-intended suggestions have been largely ignored by the general English-speaking public, and the project to supplement the English pronoun system has proved to be an ongoing exercise in futility. Pronouns are one of the most basic components of a language, and most speakers appear to have little interest in adopting invented ones.
Is this, I wonder, similar to how consumers let Betamax die and opted not to teach the metric system?

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Friday, July 10, 2009

A Message of Peace From Planet Xarbdoz

I don’t question that Lady Gaga comes from another planet. This must be the truth. And also it must be true that Lady Gaga is treading around on our little sphere to spread a message of love and harmony that can only be communicated through upbeat dance anthems. I have to admit that I don’t really mind Lady Gaga doing this. Lady Gaga’s attempts to speak to us Earthlings constitute fairly good pop music, especially in comparison to what all else takes up Top 40 charts.

(NOTE: At this point, you may have noticed that I’ve avoided using pronouns to refer to Lady Gaga. This results from neither some weird reverence for Lady Gaga. From what I know about the artist’s home planet of Xarbdoz, the correct English pronoun in this situation would be they, but that’s a little awkward and I’d rather skirt the issue altogether.)

I recently watched a clip of Lady Gaga performing an acoustic(ish) rendition of “Pokerface” as part of the AOL Sessions series. It, in my opinion, is irrefutable proof of The Gag’s status as an alien. I encourage you to watch, even if you don’t enjoy her work.


Lady Gaga actually has a good voice. This isn’t really apparent from Lady Gaga’s studio tracks, which are all glossed over in the way that can makes talentless singers sound decent, if inauthentic. However, Lady Gaga may not have a good brain, as Lady Gaga apparently decided that an appropriate outfit for an acoustic performance included Diane Keaton’s sunglasses and shiny black clothes that kind of look like the armor worn by the Knights of the Evil Round Table. (Lady Gaga would have been better served wearing the “Mickey Mouse” shades from the video for “Paparazzi.” ) Now that I think about it, Lady Gaga’s earth vocabulary probably doesn’t contain the phrase appropriate outfit.

Lady Gaga can also play the piano, though Lady Gaga does so in a manner that looks like someone who actually doesn’t know how to play the instrument and just exaggeratedly mimes his or her hands above the keys.

(at 0:34) Lady Gaga will not let the restraints of an acoustic set prevent Lady Gaga from throwing in a little flair. What that finger waggle means to Lady Gaga, however, is known only to Lady Gaga.

(at 1:22) Nor does anyone besides Lady Gaga know what that flashed hand signal means. The letter “C”? Or “I’m this close to my power crystal from running out. Need replacement, space assistant.”

(at 1:32) Lady Gaga hunched over, motionless except for the mouth intoning “ba ba ba ba” creeps me out. I feel like I’m actually watching the 70-year-old Lady Gaga of the Future on a post-post-retirement tour. Oh, what a world that will be.

(at 2:12) This is Lady Gaga’s true, extraterrestrial voice emerging, much like the facehugger from Bishop’s chest in Alien.

(3:06) Lady Gaga is a bird now!

(3:09) Now Lady Gaga is playing the keyboard with Lady Gaga’s own high heel-clad foot. This sounds cooler written out than it does in practice. I mean, I could play the keyboard with my foot about as well as this.

(3:26) True alien voice returns. It does not seem as interested in world peace as normal Lady Gaga voice.

(3:34) Now Lady Gaga is swimming. Everybody, Lady Gaga is swimming!

Conclusion: Total alien. That whole story about Lady Gaga being born in Yonkers as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta — and, yes, that is the purported real name, and, yes, it seems somehow even stranger than Lady Gaga — is a total crock. I’m just awaiting the announcement that Lady Gaga has chosen to place the accent on the second syllable. Gah-GAH! Gah-GAH! Lady Gaga is a bird again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cyclops Construction

I never thought I’d have to make the distinction between construction materials and the optic blast-enabling superpowers, but I had to today.

two kinds of beams

Today I called Palmer, our copy editor, and asked how we write out the term that, when spoken, sounds like either “eye beam” or “I-beam.” I meant the latter version. I suppose that should have been obvious and I might have been the only person in the office who might have reason to use either, but I felt compelled to clarify the moment I said it. “I mean the metal beam that’s shaped like the letter ‘I,’ not laser beams you shoot from your eyes.”

Palmer politely explained that it would make sense that it would follow the pattern established with T-shirt.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One by One, But Sometimes Four at a Time

There was no new Harper’s Island last Saturday, I’d imagine because this day happened to be the Fourth of July and CBS chose instead to air footage of fireworks blowing up Uncle Sam or whatever else constitutes patriotic primetime fare. It doesn’t matter what CBS aired, I say, because no one should have been home watching TV so long as there were watermelon slices to be eaten and grassy hills to roll down. The final episodes of Harper’s Island will air next Saturday — and for two hours, no less. But because no freshly DVRed episode awaited me this past Sunday, I’m getting my fix by writing about the show.

Harper’s Island may not be the next V or the next first-seven-episodes-of-Twin Peaks or even the next Wild Palms, but as far as hourlong, thriller-verging-on-horror miniseries go, it’s not bad. I’m happy that someone has apparently realized my major problem with many slasher movies — that I don’t give a damn about the victims, who so often lose their heads, their lives and any hope of being in the sequel before I’ve had time to learn their names — and then taken steps to remedy the problem by restructuring the genre as a miniseries, wherein characters get actual screen time and development before they bite the big one. Harper’s Island got off to a slow start, with only nobodies and Harry Hamlin initially falling victim to the mysterious killer, but it has tightened up considerably as the final episode drew nearer and nearer. Most remarkably, the show proved it had the guts to kill off major characters. The previous episode, for example, reduced the very likable Cal the British guy and Blonde Chloe to corpses floating down a river. It was a daring move, considering that most mainstream network shows seem like they would broken traditional horror movie rules and given the couple a happy ending.

I’ve even been impressed with the series’ treatment of lesser characters, like Katherine the Unfaithful Stepmother (the amazingly named Claudette Mink, who sometimes looks like Saturday Night Live’s Casey Wilson and sometimes looks like Mulholland Drive’s Laura Elena Harring). Usually when a slasher movie B- or C-listers hover in the background, tagging along with the A-Team when they don’t really need to, they just get picked off, their deaths only being a means to shed a bit more blood while the heroes and heroines run around screaming. Katherine, whose on-the-side hanky-panky seemed like an express ticket to the boneyard, made it quite a bit farther than I would have expected, continuing to develop as a character when an analogue in a “proper” horror movie wouldn’t have lasted through the first reel. And when Katherine did meet her doom, it was a gorier death than I would have expected from the network that gives us NCIS: stabbed with gardening shears through the wicker chair she had been sitting in.

As I said at the beginning of this post, Harper’s Island hasn’t been a complete success. Its sprawling cast meant that even someone invested in the show probably didn’t care about all the characters. And I’ve quickly grown bored with two that have received the most screentime — Final Girl Abby (Elaine Cassidy) and mopey hometown boy Jimmy (C.J. Thomason), who seem to have been patterned on Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich even on a molecular level. If the final episode reveals that Jimmy, like Ulrich’s character in Scream, is responsible for the killings, I may well drop my overall grade for the show a full letter, from B+ to C+.

sidney and billy, island-bound

I hope this isn’t the case. In fact, I hope the big finale ties the killings and the killer back to the other candidate for Final Girl, Trish the Bride (Katie Cassidy, no relation to Elaine but yes relation to Partridge Family son David). The savagery with which Trish’s father and brother-in-law were dispatched, the fact that Trish and her sister and niece have so far emerged unscathed, and the absence of a Wellington family matriarch have me speculating that the family tree branches into the psychokiller gene pool.

Next Saturday’s episode — which I, along with most of the show’s fanbase, will watch on Sunday — will prove my guess right or wrong as well as settle the fates of the eight remaining characters, at which point this miniseries will probably be forgotten, excluding the chance of a spiritual sequel knocking off innocents one-by-one, week-by-week in some other remote resort location. (A ski lodge during a blizzard? A cruise ship trapped at sea? A penthouse with an out-of-service elevator… and lazy occupants who refuse to use the stairs?) Of course, I would be remiss if I wrote about my summer fling with Harper’s Island without mentioning the episode titles. As those of us with an INFO button on our remote controls realized, each title is a sound effect referring to noise heard when a victim dies. As in the fairly un-encyclopedically-written page on the show notes, these onomatopoeia of doom are, in order:
  • “Whap” (Cousin Ben’s underwater adventure)
  • “Crackle” (Bridesmaid Lucy’s impromptu barbecue)
  • “Ka-Blam” (Scorned Ex Hunter boombox surprise)
  • “Bang” (Booth lamely doing himself in and remind us of the importance of gun safety)
  • “Thwack” (Mr. Wellington teaching non-seafaring viewers what a headspade is)
  • “Sploosh” (Richard finds that a harpoon has mysteriously entered his torso)
  • “Thrack, Splat, Sizzle” (The three-step process that sent Hurley knock-off Malcolm into the furnace)
  • “Gurgle” (J.D. loses fluids)
  • “Seep” (Katherine ruins perfectly good patio chair)
  • “Snap” (Sheriff Mills suffers the wrath of a Rube Goldbergian gallows)
  • “Splash” (Chloe takes a dive)
One wonders what to make of the titles of the last two episodes, “Gasp” and “Sigh.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Superman’s New Friend, Lloyd the Llama

A post by John Kricfalusi on the Wayne Boring school of Superman drawing ended up teaching me about yet another double “L” character inhabiting the stretch of galaxy between Metropolis and Krypton: Lyla Lerrol (a.k.a. Lyla Ler-rol), a vaguely Marilyn Monroe-looking Kryptonian actress whom Superman meets after stumbling back in time to a point when his home planet hadn’t yet sploded.

I suppose she’s not all that important in the scope of Superman mythos, but her existence makes the list of characters with the initials “L.L.” at least fifteen strong:
Rooting around online didn’t immediately turn up an explanation for this strange, Superman-specific trend. (And yes, while alliterative initials are common in comics, particularly in the Stan Lee-created Marvel series, the “L.L.” characters appear in the various Superman series with peculiar regularity.) Allegedly one comic has Mr. Mxyztplk surmising that the paired letters have a special significance in Kryptonian language, but I’d guess such an explanation happened after-the-fact, maybe even in response to readers wondering what the “L” the deal is.

A message board at reprints a no-longer-extant online exchange about the mysterious initials. It notes that Lois came first and that Lex Luthor didn’t debut as an “L.L.” but just as one “L”: Luthor. Lana was invented to be a Lois analogue for the stories of young Clark Kent and therefore was giving the double initials as well. These three apparently made for enough of a trend that writers continued to name later characters — especially female characters and especially especially women that Superman falls for — in the same style. It seems as plausible an explanation as any other.

I do hope that any Superman-savvy people Googling their way here will share any thoughts on how this odd naming trend came to be.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mother, May I Pet the Pangolin?

From the IMDb trivia listing for the 1996 Tori Spelling TV movie Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?:
During the early stages of filming, Spelling was bitten quite severely by a tame pangolin being used in an adjacent production. In certain scenes, bruising from her rabies inoculations are clearly visible.
In case you’re wondering, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? happens to be airing on TV right now. I saw it while flipping through channels and had a who’s-that-guy? moment. Turned out it was Lochlyn Munro. I feel like it’s always Lochlyn Munro.

The Fear of Hippos Using Monstrous Words

A new half of the year, a new cycle of strange and wonderful words. I’m not going to keep alphabetical order for this run-through, and I’ve this week decided to go with an “H” word, if only because honorificabilitudinitatibus was starting to look lonely.

In the way that the proper term for the inability to pronounce the letter “S” actually has an “S” in it and the proper term for the inability to pronounce the letter “R” actually has an “R” in it, it seems similarly unjust that the word for the fear of long words would itself be obscenely long.
hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (hi-pe-POT-e-mon-stre-SES-kwi-pe-DAY-lee-an) — noun: the fear of long words.
Of course, it’s not a generally accepted term. According to those with a knowledge of words and, really, anyone with common sense, it’s a joke that word that lengthens the already unwieldy word sesquipedaliophobia, which itself means “fear of long words” and which seems to based off the word sesquipedalian. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, sesquipedalian goes back to the Latin phrase sesquipedalia verba, literally “words a food-and-a-half-long,” which Horace uses in his Ars Poetica to illustrate the very thing he is criticizing. Presumably, Horace chose this phrase for the same reason someone would centuries later tack parts of the words hippopotamus and monstrous onto sesquipedalian to make it even more humorously long.

Wiktionary notes that with these additions, hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia could be read to mean “the hippopotamus- and monster-related fear of long words.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but I must agree with another assertion: the four syllable phrase fear of long words gets to the point just as easily.

Credit to June Casagrande, whose word blog, Conjugate Visits, introduced me to hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia to begin with.

Previous words of the week:
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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Gobacken Sidonna

Five unrelated photos.

One: A Complex magazine cover rendered awkward by the fact that it was already sitting on store shelves the day Michael Jackson died. Jonah Hill probably blames himself. I do, anyway.

Two: Newly emptied shelf space — and not the first time such an occurrence has been noted on this blog.

Three: Inexplicable graffiti in a Ventura gas station bathroom.

Four: A co-worker’s vehicle, dust tagged in her honor.

Five: A copy of a Jimmy Buffet record, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, deservedly set beside my apartment building’s dumpster.


empty shelf