(The Blog)

And now for a few words about words (and many other things)...

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Words and remembrance

If you need a Sunday diversion, my newest post is up now on Book Riot:

It’s commonly accepted (and, I suppose, scientifically confirmed) that as we get older, our memory starts to fade. Of course, this does not happen evenly—how else to explain that while I have forgotten just about everything I ever heard in high-school calculus class, I can still recall nearly every line of dialogue from So I Married an Axe Murderer…, which I saw and was encoded onto my brain at roughly the same time in my life? More specifically, when it comes to language, why do some things make it into our long-term memories while other moments and phrases never stand a chance?

Don't worry, a team of computer scientists at Cornell seems to have come up with a theory, based on memorable quotes from movies. Also you can try your hand at recognizing (remembering?) so-called memorable lines from classic books (after all, this is Book Riot).

See the whole thing here.


After all, it is called the mother tongue...

Happy Mother's Day all. While everyone is busy appreciating all that mom has done for them, I take a look at how much our language—that is, our mother tongue—also owes to dear “mother,” in my newest Book Riot column:

...There’s Mother Nature, Mother Goose, motherboard, mother lode, mother-of-pearl, and, thanks to Saddam Hussein’s popularization of an Arabic expression, “the mother of all [relevant noun!]”

But there are also a number of wonderful words out there that owe their existence to “mother,” though you may never know it to look at them. (Not that “mother” is looking for any credit or gratitude. Sigh.) Here are just a few...

Read the whole thing. And then share it with your mom.


I did something cool, and all I got was this cool t-shirt...

This past Friday, we had the chance to escape the sububble (“suburban bubble” sounds more redundant) for our first First Friday in quite some time. How exciting it was to drive down to the Crossroads, spend 20 expletive-laced minutes searching for parking, and see the pedestrian traffic swarming downtown Kansas City like it was a normal Tuesday evening on the Upper West Side. And the crowds were young. It was actually nice to feel a bit old, and the hipster/weirdness quotient—the kind you would expect to find in most any urban core—both delighted and disturbed me a little.

At the corner of 19th Street and Baltimore, we ran into Greg Azorsky, the creator and vendor of, among other things, KC Cool, a new line of (truly) original t-shirts that project a slightly sardonic attitude, meant to be worn and seen by people who take an insider’s pride in Kansas City’s up-and-coming present (and storied past) as a center of arts, culture, and food.

I had the opportunity, not long ago, to help Greg by writing the copy for his web site. So rather than reinvent the wheel here, I’ll let you click over to kc-cool.com, where you can see, you know, the original wheel.

If only to prove that I could never in good conscience work for an organization I did not support, I purchased one of Greg’s fine shirts, similar to the one pictured here (my physique is not currently quite as similar to the one pictured here).

What are those? Shuttlecocks? Hey, if you’re KC Cool, you’ll get it.

I’m sure Greg happily would have paid me in t-shirts in the first place, but this way, he was able to see a direct return on his investment. You, too, should get one or more, at the next First Friday, or now on the web (open every Friday and all the days in between). A great gift for anyone with a torso.


Gathering eggcorns can be hobby-forming

One of the most important reasons to care about language and to always be delving deeper into its origins and usage, aside from the occasional opportunity to stand in self-righteous judgment over others, is that language can be fun!*

*And judging others is way fun! Duh!

The fun language phenomenon I’ve discovered today—and many of you may already be aware of this, in which case you may stand in self-righteous judgment over me—is the eggcorn. Though given its name by the good folks at Language Log (and more on the origin of the name can be found here), I’m sure eggcorns have been a curious occurrence in language for as long as language has been occurring.

In short, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for another word or words that sound the same in the speaker’s dialect. The new word or phrase—and here’s where it gets interesting and distinct from a mere malapropism—has a different meaning, but one that could be plausible in the context. For example, “eggcorn:” since acorns are somewhat shaped like eggs and are considered seeds or corns, “eggcorn” (or “egg corn”) would make more sense than “acorn” to someone who had never seen the word spelled out. Essentially, an eggcorn is an unintentional pun—the best kind of pun there is.

So to anyone who thinks language is boring, I offer eggcorns as antidotal evidence. Here is some advice, as a simple curtsey to my readers, without putting too much of an explanation point on it, in basic lame man’s terms: playing around with words is one of the best ways to buy one’s time—since it’s free (and if you believe that, I know a guy named Jack who’d like to sell you his bean stock).

Click to read more ...


But what do you "do?"

So I am in the process of repurposing (or, really, purposing) this blog/journal/unlimited space for words on the web into something that I hope will—in addition to offer intriguing bits about words and the writing and reading of them—give those who happen by a better sense of who I am and what I “do,” in the multiple senses of that verb.

I once met a rather genteel older gentleman at a party—I think he was some kind of professor—who, after I responded to his polite inquiry as to what I do by explaining where I worked, shook his head and said, “No, I mean what do you do?”

Sure, it's a bit overly dramatic (and, FYI, not so great as a pickup line with the ladies when later repeated with the same tone by a not-so-genteel twentysomething), but thoughtful, too. And not so easily—or succintly—answered.

In this space I will attempt to finally respond to his question, different forms of which I, probably like you, continually encounter. It will be a long, ongoing answer. But given that what I do for work and what I do are integrally intertwined, it seems like the best approach.* Hopefully, I can shed some light on the kinds of projects, writing and otherwise, in which I involve myself; the types of outside (and inward) pursuits I…pursue; the natural and societal phenomena I find most interesting; and, perhaps, some reasons why.

*For now, or for anyone who cares less about what I do and simply wants to know what I’m about, there’s this.