Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seeing Things / Running Through Your Head

Sprawling and sinister though the clouds may have seemed, I was willing to give them a pass on size and character and instead just appreciate them for their color. I usually see chromatic displays like this only in the form of screensavers.

Then, on my drive home through L.A. traffic, it began to rain — just two days after the hottest day ever recorded in the city. Then thunder and lightening. And then a double rainbow. Yep, should have gone with my gut; these were clearly apocalypse clouds.

And I just moved all my stuff in, too.

Famous, Blue Teeth

I love words and brand names and anything that sounds like an urban legend, yet I'd never looked into the history of the term Bluetooth until friend/associate/fellow conspirator Katie brought to my attention where this term came from.

Bluetooth, which now serves as a catchall descriptor for all manner of wireless technology, came into the worldwide lexicon as a result of either a historically-minded techno geek or a technologically-minded history geek. It takes its name from Harald I of Denmark, in honor of his unification of dissonant Danish tribes, as Wikipedia puts it. Similarly, Bluetooth technology aims to do the same with modern communications. How amazing: A cool-sounding brand name with a sensible origin rooted in a figure historical but nonetheless obscure (at least to those who didn't grow up learning Scandinavian history). My first reaction, of course, was that that this must be a folk etymology, because things that sound too-cool-to-be-true often are.

Nope. It's legit.

Harald existed. Born in 920 BCE to Gorm the Old and Thyra Dannebod — and yes, this is some Lord of the Rings shit right here — Harald was known to his subjects as Harald Blåtand, which could be translated as "Harald Bluetooth" but, according to a Snopes message board thread, could also be "Harald the great man," "Harald the black man," "Harald the great chief" or "Harald the black chief," depending on who you ask. (BTW, "Greatman," "Blackman," "Greatchief" and "Blackchief" don't make such snappy brand names.) But none of these alternate translations explain how this Blåtand nickname got attached to Harald. Theories abound online — there's everything from a janky, rotten tooth to a predilection for blueberries — but I have yet to find a definitive answer. If you know, please don't hesitate to tell me.

I realize this very story has probably been reported to death on techie and word nerd blogs worldwide, but the history was just too weird for me to ignore, even if I technically ignored it for an entire month after Katie sent it to me. (Hi Katie!)

Personally, I would like to think that Harald's chompers remained blue only because his servants feared the man strong enough to unify warring viking tribes and therefore would not dare to point out that he had some blue crap in his teeth.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Happened to Kirby?

It shames me little to admit that I still receive emails from Nintendo about upcoming products that I may or may not be interested in. The gaming blogosphere actually keeps me informed of such happenings well in advance of these emails, but I still enjoy them — little candy-colored breaks during my day that remind me of the franchises that I so loved as a kid and (in many cases) still love today. Just this week, Nintendo sent out one about the first Wii to title starring Kirby, that pink puffball whose main attack against enemies is sucking them into his mouth.

Indeed, Nintendo, what did happen to Kirby? Did he take Viagra? Get a certain surgery to increase his manliness? (And if it’s the latter, should we be surprised, given that he can most easily be described with the words “pink puffball”?)

It’s no smutty joke, at least not intentionally, but still one must wonder why the Nintendo marketing team wouldn’t try to keep gamers’ minds from leaping straight into the gutter and wallowing in the filth therein.

Here’s the full image, by the way:

What at first glace would appear to be a humongo schlong is actually a shooting star — one of the iconic Kirby series items that seems to be making a reappearance in the new game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn Kotaku put it best when it dubbed the image “Kirby’s Epic Yard.” Bonus points for allowing me to feel like I’m not the only one who went there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Weirdness of the Lambs

I cannot turn down a chance to look at something alleged to be weird. So when I see a headline “Those Catherine trailers aren’t getting any less bizarre” in Google Reader, I click through, knowing full well the article will tell me about some video game I won’t ever play. Anyway, yeah, I watch the trailer, which is weird even for me but is also from Japan, where people fly robots to work and, like, marry houseplants in lavish ceremonies. Our weird, to the Japanese, is normal and their weird, frequently, is brain-melting. Click through and watch for yourself, if you must. (In may not be safe for work, unless you work in Japan, in which case you probably watched it on the hologram screens on the subway on the way to work.) But you only need to know that what I saw was weird enough that I looked up the Wikipedia page for this game Catherine to see why I just watched these things. And I found a passage that I honestly didn’t think I’d read today or ever:
It is stated, from [gaming magazine] Famitsu, that Vincent will not be alone in his nightmares and that he’ll be encountering a large number of lambs. In a dream sequence, the lambs, as well as Vincent, are being chased by a giant pair of hands, one of them holding a blood-covered fork.
This is under the section “Gameplay.”

So yeah, I wouldn’t have thought to do that.

And in case you might think that I just happened across the page after it got vandalized, there was also this:

Story checks out. Inasmuch as it could, I mean.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Up There With Schenectady, Sheboygan and Rancho Cucamonga

A brief open letter to a reader in Walla Walla:
Hi there, reader. I have noticed you in my Google Analytics because you visit the blog fairly regular, but also because I think your city name is funny. But you always find this blog by Googling my name. May I ask why? I mean no offense, I’m just curious as to why you always Google my name instead of just bookmarking my site.

Do you think your town name is funny too?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Find the Hidden Galoshes on the U.S. Dollar Bill!

Most of my words-of-the-week tend to be ones normal people would never use, either because these words refer to obscure things or because a more familiar term already exists. However, I occasionally offer words for things that you might encounter on a daily basis but which you did not realize have specific names. Those — the “There’s a word for that?” posts — are probably my favorites. And this is one.
guilloche (gi-LOHSH or GEE-yohsh, with either one rhyming with brioche) — noun: : 1. an architectural ornament formed of two or more interlaced bands with openings containing round devices. 2. a pattern (as on metalwork) made by interlacing curved lines.
It’s that second definition that should be notable to anyone whose exchanged American paper currency for goods or services, as guilloche can refer to that intricate “webbing” pattern that appears in the background of the various dollar notes. (Hat tip to Kottke.) I would have guessed that the second definition referred to mechanical, hand-directed processes, but apparently these designs are today more likely created by feeding mathematical formulas into computers.

Now get lost in some guillocity.

The etymology of guilloche seems to be debated. (It’s one of the first words-of-the-week in a long time to not have an entry at Online Etymology Dictionary.) The American Heritage Dictionary says the term comes from either the French word for the tool used to make this type of ornamentation or from the French guillochis, which, confusingly, seems to mean “guilloche.” This Merriam-Webster etymology gives only guillochis, but a different Webster definition cited by the less reliable traces the history back to Latin: from guillochis to the French guillocher, “to ornament with lines,” to the Old Italian ghiocciare, “to drop or drip” and ultimately to the Latin gutta, “a drop.” Wikipedia’s article on guilloche (or, rather, guilloché) claims the term comes from a French engraver Guillot, who invented the technique. Finally, — which isn’t exactly trustworthy — reports the Collins Dictionary — which I’ve never heard of before — states that guilloche could trace back to the French name Guillaume, “William.” So make of that what you will.

Fun fact: Have you ever tried to scan a dollar bill? Oh, the fun little threatening messages you get when you do that. Also: “Encyclopedia Drew and the Case of the Mixed-Up Currency”and the purported history of the U.S. dollar sign.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Doors, Windows and Politely Shooing Away Unwanted Persons

For no particular reason, I recalled a sentence often spoken by unpleasant, uncreative people to those who tread into their line of sight: “You make a better door than a window.”

If you have spoken this phrase, you may well be awful.

In addition to being a rude way to ask someone else to move, this cliché doesn’t hold up to careful consideration. It infers that a door always blocks one from viewing something in a way that a window does not. But doors don’t always impede vision. Aside from exceptions like glass doors, screen doors and doors that themselves have windows in them, even regular, opaque doors should be open at least sometimes. That’s their function: opening occasionally to allow passage through. So to accuse someone of being a door doesn’t really make sense, unless this person facilitates travel from one side of something to another, in which case being called “door” could actually be a compliment. But if you share literal qualities with doors — that is, the ability to let something pass easily from one side of you, through you, and over to the other side — you may want to see a doctor, for you’ve likely been shot with a high-powered rifle.

If you really wanted to accuse someone of blocking your view, you should accuse them of being “a wall without windows or doors.” Excluding the glass ones that prevent their owners from throwing stones, walls are opaque, permanent structure and are in most cases prevent people from crossing from one side to the other. If you frequently tell people about how their door-like attributes surpass their window-like attributes, you might want to reconsider how you use doors. If, for example, you have a door that you never open, you’re not really taking advantage of your full door benefits. You might as well have a wall without windows or doors. Hence my new coinage, “You make a better wall without windows or doors than a window.”

Rene Magritte's "The Human Condition"

And yes, you can blame Chuck Klosterman’s attack on “like comparing apples to oranges” for this little essay.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Queen Sirloin, I Am Done With You

Sometimes, a purse made of meat is just a purse made of meat. Apparently.

I watched and enjoyed the Bravo reality competition Work of Art. It, like its fellow Magical Elves productions, managed to teach me a bit about the subject at hand. For example, among the show’s contestants was a performance artist named Nao Bustamante. Not understanding performance art, I usually gave Bustamante’s work a pass. However, the judges felt differently, and despite Bustamante’s seniority over the rest of the show’s cast and her apparent status as the show’s resident troublemaker, she got the boot the in fourth episode. One judge, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, seemed particularly irked by Bustamante’s decision to respond to the Andres Serrano-inspired “shocking art” challenge with a performance as some kind of incontinent, Matthew Barney-esque bag lady. Rohatyn called it “a scatological mess,” I remember. But the problems seemed to lie less in the performance itself so much as Bustamante’s explanation of it. In short, she couldn’t say what she was trying to do. And while I’m sure many artists and art buffs might quibble with the notion that an artist must have a specific intent with their work, Rohatyn’s criticism stuck with me. It turns out that I too may be someone who also thinks that good art can’t come from someone who has no plan, no reason for doing a given thing, no justification for making a viewer observe their creation.

I thought of Nao Bustamante and her bag of shit today when reading blogs about MTV’s Video Music Awards and seeing that Lady Gaga wore another meat dress. I’m not breaking any ground by claiming that Lady Gaga’s schtick incorporates a lot of performance art and that it’s sometimes more performance art than anything else, but I usually let her antics slide because she’s doing something unique — unpleasant, weird and challenging to mainstream values — and somehow still winning the hearts worldwide. That, and “Paparazzi” was a near-perfect pop song with a kickass music video. But the meat dress — the item of Slim Jim couture — I have issues with. The dress, which seems to be an updated version of what she sported recently on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan seemed like an attention-getter and nothing more. It didn’t seem to have any connection with her work so far or anything else she brought to the show — like, say, the space princess-looking Alexander McQueen dress she wore on the red carpet or the retinue of discharged gay soldiers that accompanied her — and I felt like she must have worn it to stir up controversy more than anything else. (Hasn’t she thought about her vegetarian fans? Is she criticizing the meat industry? The fashion industry? Her sexy image, playing off the connection between lustful carnality and the more mundane kind you see in butcher shops? At least she has to be doing something with the matching meat handbag and the term spam purse, right?)

(via huffpo)

I might feel differently if Gaga had given any reason for why she wore such an objectionably eye-catching dress, but she didn’t. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday, she offered only this Sarah Palin-worthy string of nonsense:
Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth… However, it has many interpretations but for me this evening. If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.
That doesn’t mean anything. Not a word of it.

Saying something is not disrespectful doesn’t make it not disrespectful. Saying an action has many interpretations doesn’t justify it. And claiming that “if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones” strikes me as especially bizarre, given the gradual widening of the American waistline. (Do heavy people enjoy greater liberty?) Gaga’s explanation of the meat dress stunt forces any thoughtful person to conclude either that she had no idea what she was doing or she wore it just for attention and couldn’t even half-ass a phony explanation — not even to Ellen, who is not exactly the most hard-hitting of interviewers.

I don’t feel that an artist needs to spell out everything they were trying to do, because mystery enhances the viewer’s experience of a given art piece. To take the point back to Work of Art, I’m not sure Andres Serrano has ever explained his piece “Piss Christ”, and its ambiguity led to an interesting back-and-forth on what it could mean on Work of Art, to say nothing about the uproar it caused back when it debuted. But if the artist does chose to open his or her mouth, the words coming out had better make sense. If they don’t, smart people will think less of the blabbering artist than they do of the one who keeps quiet.

As for Lady Gaga, I feel the meat dress puts her in an awkward position, professionally speaking, because she now has to not only one-up herself but also do so without sounding like more of an attention-seeker. I think Lady Gaga is a talented singer-songwriter who has eye for spectacle and who has the potential to affect positive social change, even if I mostly agree with Camille Paglia that her tendency to cloak herself with the cause of gay rights and misfit liberation is tiresome and sometimes even manipulative. But this latest stunt has me rethinking Gaga-ness, for what once seemed fresh now stinks like raw meat that spoiled beneath bright stagelights.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mr. Ghostface Goes to Prom

Spotted on Pico: A terrifying window display that suggests the killer from Scream dressing in drag to go to a rave.

scream costume

Still doesn’t unseat the Halloween costume I’m suggesting to anyone who will listen: Temple Gradin. Visualize it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Special Hobo Flavor

Who goes there? Oh, it’s just you, antiquated, faint taint of rot! Why don’t you step over and be the word of the week?
hogo (HOH-goh) — noun: a subtle flavor of decay
As far as concepts closely associated with the Richie Riches of yesteryear, I can think of few more symbolically appropriate than that of hogo. The term — a sloppy Anglicization of the French haut goût, “high taste” — was often used to describe a once-desirable flavor in meats: the beginning of rot. I’m fairly certain that I’ve never tasted this flavor, mostly because people today are reluctant to let living animals kill them, much less dead and butchered ones.

The credit for this week’s word comes from David Wondrich’s article in the current Esquire on how rum ain’t like it used to be. Today, rum tastes all fun and pirate-y, but long ago those aforementioned Richie Riches of yore drank rum that had hint of piss — what Wondrich calls “a sulfurous, funky tang.” It still exists in some rums and can be masked with limes and sugar to make an overall flavor more complex than those mere good-tasting spirits you’ve been wasting your time with. Tasty! (Allegedly.)

Along the same lines, for you boozy and wordy readers: the list of terms the American Homebrewers Association uses to pinpoint the taste of beer. What’s a twelve-letter word for “tastes like green apples”?

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Sunday, September 5, 2010

The New Season

I can’t decide which makes the better life-as-TV metaphor: that The Drew Show has ceased to air and instead has been spun off into a more focused series (minus most of the supporting cast of the past few seasons) or that shifting among the network higher-ups has resulted in a massive retooling of The Drew Show, whose lousy ratings prompted its reinvention as something wholly different than it ever was before. Either way, the programming will continue but not as it has in the past. (The recent hiatus should not be interpreted as a cancellation, please note.) The setting of the show has shifted to something more familiar to the masses. Look for more flashbulbs and city lights in the background. Await the reintroduction of minor players from seasons past. And, finally, expect some indication of where this show will go in the years to come.

Heavy-handed, wasn’t it? Damn, I knew I was beating it to death.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Some Hybrid Animal Math

An animal of one species plus one of another species usually results in two animals wondering why they were confined to the same enclosed area. Or, you know, lunch. But as our friend the zedonk has taught us, some species can interbreed, creating hybrid offspring that are often tragically infertile but always adorably named.

Beefalo (domestic cattle + American bison)

Yakow (a.k.a. dzo or zho; domestic cattle + yak)

Yakalo (a.k.a. alternative bison; yak + American bison)

EDIT: A reader has informed me that the animal pictured here is not a yakalo but a Himalayan ovine called the takin. There is a photo of a yakalo in this Modern Farmer piece, however.

Zubron (domestic cattle + wisent, the European bison known in Polish as żubr)

Note: Zubron beat out hundreds of other choices in a Polish contest to name this creature in 1969. I love learning about other countries’ national pastimes.

Geep (sheep + goat)

Note: A sheep-goat hybrid can also be called a shoat, but let’s not since that word already refers to a baby pig. We don’t want to throw a third animal into this mess.

Cama (camel + llama)

Note: The resemblance to cama, the Spanish word for “bed,” is entirely coincidental, as these hybrid beasts of burden are used not for sleeping but instead more as one might use a loveseat.

Huarizo (male llama + female alpaca)

Note: I would have called it a alallamapacala.

Coydog (male coyote + female dog)

Note: The product of love between a male dog and a female coyote, however, would be a dogote. I’m perplexed about animals that take their names regardless of the gender of their parents, as opposed to animals like this one whose parents’ genders seem to dictate its name. A coyote-wolf hybrids seem to be called a coywolf in all instances — a pity, since wolfote is fun to say. Also, dog-wolf hybrids are known variously as the Kunming Wolfdog, the Saarlooswolfhond and other names, but tragically never as the dolf or the wog.

Wholphin (whale + dolphin)

Note: Thank Dave Eggers for making you know this.

Mule (male donkey + female horse) and hinny (male horse + female donkey)

Note: Pictured here are hinnies. Because god dammit you should have seen a mule by this point in your life.

Yet even more zebroid madness:
Donkra (male donkey + female zebra)
Zorse or Zebrule (male zebra + female horse)
Zony (male zebra + female pony)
Zetland (male zebra + female Shetland)
Zebrass (male zebra + any female ass)
Zebret or Zebrinny (female zebra + male donkey)
Hebra or Horbra (female zebra + male horse)

Note: A peculiarly high number of names exist for zebra hybrids. I can only assume that zebras are the most sex-positive members of the equine family.

Wallaroo (wallaby + kangaroo)

Note: The casual observer would have difficulty in differentiating the kangaroo-wallaby offspring from mere smallish kangaroos and largish wallabies. Veterans of the Australian outback, however, can spot the hybrids easily, as wallaroos tend to spend their day seeing how many small rocks they can stuff in their pouches and then try to show off to their full-blooded counterparts.

Blynx (lynx + bobcat)

Note: Pictured feline is not a blynx. I could not find any pictures clearly marked as being of bobcat-lynx hybrids, so Pretty Kitty is subbing in. But isn’t Pretty Kitty pretty? Yes him is! Yes him is!

Caraval (female serval + male caracal)

Note: After much searching, I found the above image, which I understand to depict a typical caraval, known worldwide for its elaborate parades and buxom dancers. The offspring of a male serval and a female caracal would be a servical. Whereas caravals are celebrated by many South Americans on the last day before Lent, servicals are celebrated by Ecuadorians twelve days after Christmas, on the day known to Catholics as Epiphany.

Pumapard (puma + leopard)

Note: Is fun to say! This particular pumapard, however, is sad to look at.

Note: If zebras are harlots, making stripey babies with any member of the equine world that trots their way and offers them a sugar cube, then the Panthera genus is a sort of megafeline swinger party. Wikipedia lays out the various combinations that can result from the mating of lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards and notes the names of each. (Personal favorites: Leopon, Leguar and the puzzling Dogla.) No pictures needed. They all look about the same — like cats, but bigger. Read about them at your local Wikipedia!

The Grizzly-polar hybrid bear (a.k.a. the Pizzly or the Grolar)

Note: Is last because the best picture I could find depicts a dead pizzly. Whamp-whamp.

Now that you know some of the more famous mammal hybrids, can you make your own new crimes against nature? Let your imagination run wild! But please — show your work.