Looking for ten decimates

Ben Zimmer reviews the fifth-edition American Heritage Dictionary, which may or may not be the Last Print Dictionary Ever, but which, like its predecessors, is informed by a Usage Panel, people outside lexicography who work with words for a living. The panel doesn’t overrule the editors, but its members always have something to say. This time:

The often conservative pronouncements of the Usage Panel have never greatly interfered with the descriptive work of AHD’s lexicographers — who, after all, were the first to include the full panoply of vulgar four-letter words in 1969 (complete with careful etymological notes). Over the years, however, the panelists have grown less reactionary, and the notes derived from their opinions are more accepting of informal, not-quite-standard styles.

The new chair of the Usage Panel, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, observes in his introductory essay that “resistance is melting” to formerly nettlesome usage points involving such words as “comprise,” “decimate,” “graduate,” “moot,” and “quote.” Pinker examined the survey responses to one item of particular interest to him: the rise of the irregular past-tense verb “snuck” at the expense of the regular “sneaked,” as discussed in his 1999 book, Words and Rules. He found that the shift has been precipitated not so much by a mellowing of the panelists as they grow older but by “an increasing number of younger panelists who have no problem with ‘snuck’.” Thus are innovations snuck into the language.

As for “moot,” it seems to have drifted from “open to debate” to “of no consequence,” nearly a reversal of its original meaning: after all, if it’s of no consequence, it’s barely worth debating, amirite? (And what are the chances that “amirite” merits an entry in AHD 5?) “Moot” isn’t the first word that’s gone that way, either: when I see “peruse” these days, it’s more likely to indicate “glance at perfunctorily” rather than its original “study in great detail.” Explaining how that snuck in is definitely above my pay grade.

I don’t expect AHD 5 to be quite as controversial as Webster’s Third New International, arguably the least-prescriptive dictionary on earth and reviled in some circles for abandoning that responsibility, but I have to figure that someone will find a reason to dislike it. Someone always does.

(Via Language Log.)

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Rah, rah, ree

Prepare to feel as though you’ve been hit in the knee. The very first cheerleaders, explains Michael Kaplan, were men:

These are liberal German nationalists of the 1830s, dreaming of a time when the repressive petty monarchies imposed on a great people by the cynical Congress of Vienna would be swept away in a surge of popular vigor and national virility, creating a single, democratic Germany under the red, black and gold. In preparation — realizing that, say, “Revolutionary Training Clubs” might attract official attention — they formed indoor sporting groups to strengthen mind and body for the struggle, practicing unarmed exercises to which they gave the classical name of gymnastik (though they stopped short of doing what the Greek word actually means: “that which is performed nude”).

When their glorious moment arrived in 1848, the revolutionary gymnasts bounded out of hiding — and were utterly defeated. Faced with certain death or prison, many chose emigration to America, where, as university graduates already knowing a foreign language, they quickly got jobs in the forest of new colleges springing up in the Midwest. Their indoor gymnastik seemed an ideal sport for institutions battling hard winters and tight budgets — and thereafter, who could be better to lead the new fad of massed cheering then men trained for rhythmic movement in a somewhat Germanic atmosphere?

And it took rather a long time for them to be replaced by women, unlike the case with, for instance, telephone operators:

When telephone companies began hiring operators, they chose teenage boys for the job. But the companies soon regretted their decision. Boys had done a great job working in telegraph offices. And they worked for low wages. But being a telephone operator was a tough job that required lots of patience — something the boys didn’t have. The boy operators quickly turned telephone offices upside down. They wrestled instead of worked. They pulled pranks on callers, and even cursed at them.

In 1878, the Boston Telephone Despatch company began hiring women operators instead. Women, the companies thought, would behave better than boys. Women had pleasant voices that customers — most of whom were men — would like. And because society did not treat women equally, they could be paid less and supervised more strictly than men.

The difference today, of course, is that former operators are still considered to be actual Serious People, while former cheerleaders, regardless of their credentials, are hardly ever taken seriously.

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Forever tasteless

If you’re contemplating the Forever Lazy, be aware that you will be judged:

I normally don’t care about people’s clothing choices but damn, this is just wrong. It’s worse than yoga pants at work. It’s worse than wearing leggings as pants with a cropped shirt. It’s worse than sweats with words on the ass. It’s the ultimate in loss of self-respect, the final way to say “I quit. I’m done. It’s over.”

Well, let’s see:

Yep.

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Drummed out of the Optimist Club

Gerard Van der Leun, having been granted, if not a new lease on life, certainly a much-desired renewal, is finding that it is not so easy to adjust to a pace he finds unremittingly slow:

It is only in the last few weeks that the virtue of patience is beginning to dawn on me. That virtue is, “If you are patient with yourself, you may live. If you insist on running the 4 minute mile this afternoon, you will be checked out of here in a wicker basket.” In short, “patience” is no longer an option but a requirement. My previous reaction to illness has been to get over it and then get back to work. No such option here.

Roger Bannister, who knows something about the 4 minute mile, had this to say:

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”

Sir Roger has thus far survived 57 years since that incident. But the best advice so far seems to have come from Ric Locke in Gerard’s comment section:

What you have to do is give over optimism, at least the sort of bumptious, forceful optimism that demands that the next thing be better. That’s how the OWS kiddies got where they are. No matter how well things turn out there’s always something not quite perfect, so they get disappointed and either bitter or furious, depending on personality. The true pessimist, on the other hand, goes through life with a spring in his step and a smile on his face; nothing happens that’s worse than expected, and all his surprises are happy ones.

After not being killed by the strongest earthquake in Oklahoma history Saturday night, I find this advice most useful.

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Strange search-engine queries (301)

Just once, I’d like to see something like this in the server logs, somewhere among the two-fifths of site visitors who arrive here via random searches:

“I am a person who wants to know things, or thinks he wants to know things. My desire for knowledge is exceeded only by my apparent inability to construct a functional search string. I am forced to scroll through hundreds of items to find the one I really want. Google must accept its responsibility to give me what I want, when I want it. I am the 40%.”

In the meantime, we have these:

“You have my full attention” meaning:  I’m sorry, did you say something?

normal rpm’s for a 96 mazda 626:  If it’s not running, zero. If it is running, higher than that.

making a poster about yourself “learn me better”:  And then bring it to English class and see if anyone notices.

transmission revil kit:  Just go to the customer waiting area of any auto repair shop. You’ll hear many transmissions being reviled.

illuminati hobby lobby david green:  I guess someone found out that Mr Green drives a Fnord F-150.

millionaire women ann Taylor loft:  If you’re that anxious to meet them, there are better places to stalk them.

silly gifts like bladeless knives without handles:  What’s silly about that? No moving parts, no choking hazard, no danger whatsoever. The government would certainly approve.

oklahoma rejects daylight saving time:  Um, no. What we reject is silly gifts like bladeless knives without handles.

lesbiterians:  Third-fastest growing denomination, trailing only the Methheadists and the Faptists.

halloween pranks naked:  Not a good idea, for two reasons: (1) it’s damn near November, and (2) someone without a costume tends to stand out.

why do they say don’t play with your food:  Because you might lose, and wouldn’t that be embarrassing, coming second best to a plate full of Brussels sprouts?

solutions of charles g. hill:  Forget it. That sucker won’t dissolve in anything.

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The new device hierarchy

We (by which I mean “I”) may as well get used to it:

The student directory at the local snoburbia middle school — always in paper booklet form — is now being delivered in “app” form: “The App is accessible through iPhone, Android, Blackberry and even your desktop computer.”

“Even” your desktop computer, obviously the lowest of the low — excepting of course my phone, which is generally ignorant of the entire concept of “app.”

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Gul Dukat expects you to watch

Keeping Up with the Cardassians

And you presumably do not wish to incur the wrath of the Obsidian Order, either.

(Snitched from Bill Walko’s Facebook page.)

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We’re sorry, this disease is unlisted

By now most people have had the disconcerting experience of having some medical procedure or other deemed Not Covered because the physician didn’t enter a code that passed muster with the insurance company. Dr. B used to say that “I could either know billing or know medicine.” But now there’s a whole new set of codes:

Physicians have gotten a few laughs from the new and voluminous set of diagnostic codes known as ICD-10, which distinguishes between being struck by a duck (W6162XA) and being bitten by a duck (W6161XA).

[Insert “quack” joke here.]

The new codes were required as part of HIPAA. As it happens, ICD-10 is five times the size of the old ICD-9, and it’s not so hard to see why:

ICD-9, for example, recognizes that patients may seek treatment because they were bitten, and gives clinicians a few choices, such as dog, rat, snake, arthropod, unspecified animal, or human.

ICD-10, in contrast, is a veritable zoo of bite codes — horse, cow, cat, pig, shark, dolphin, sea lion, alligator, macaw, parrot, and duck, to name just a few new kinds of jaws. And for each kind of bite, physicians can pick a code for an initial encounter, subsequent encounter, or sequela.

And from the Just Try to Top This file:

Some accident codes, however, defy the imagination, such as the famous V9107XA: burn due to water-skis on fire, initial encounter.

But there’s still no code for being turned into a newt, or for recovery therefrom.

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Shouldering my responsibilities

There’s only a three-week window of opportunity, so yesterday I ventured forth in search of McRib.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve heard it all. And I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the apotheosis of Mystery Meat. A baffled rep from the Timese machine tried to make sense of it, but gave up:

I just don’t understand why it’s so coveted. Is this some contrived scheme from McDonald’s? We want what we can’t have. But we shouldn’t want this. If they offered it year round, it simply wouldn’t sell!

It’s got a chemical from gym mats banned in Europe, for crying out loud! And its look is not appealing, plain and simple.

In fact, McRib was offered year-round starting in 1981, and was dropped for lackluster sales four years later, only to be reinstated in 1994. The first “farewell tour” was in 2005, and ever since then McRib has been available only sporadically.

The gym-mat chemical, incidentally, is azodicarbonamide, aka E927, used to enhance the bun. US law permits up to 45 parts per million. The European Union considers the stuff “harmful.” I’m guessing that the German McRib, which doesn’t go on hiatus, doesn’t have it.

But maybe Time got the last laugh: they include a link to “Our Ten Favorite McFoods,” which seems to contain nothing at all.

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A pocketful of mumbles

Over at Roger’s, the case is made for “The Boxer” as the finest record in the Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre:

Very few major artists could get away with the opening line to this song, but Simon’s delivery not only suspends mundane reality, it welcomes the listener into a story so matter-of-factly that one simply assumes its authenticity. Garfunkel’s intimate, intuitive harmony is so finely crafted and performed that it’s nearly transparent; like the guitars, it focuses attention on the song, rather than itself. The inclusion of the bass harmonica compliments and emphasizes the narrative so well, that it achieves an aura of inevitability.

Roger, incidentally, says he didn’t write that: a spammer, he says, left it, and he decided to make use of it. I conclude that he gets higher-quality spammers than I do.

Incidentally, even people who don’t particularly care for S&G endorse “The Boxer.” Dave Marsh, circa 1988, considered it the 801st best song of the rock era:

More than any of their other sixties collaborations, “The Boxer” remains a record, meaning its gimmicks mainly outweigh its pretensions, that the performance brings the composition to life, and that filtering in the orchestration toward the end actually works as something other than a post-Beatles pop convention.

Which is something you’d never say of, for instance, “A Simple Desultory Philippic.”

“The Boxer” is, you should know, one of my top three S&G tracks, alongside “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” which makes no damn sense at all but which brings a chill every time I hear it, and the non-LP “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies,” by far the nastiest lyric Simon ever aimed at anyone in those days, which is probably why it was buried on the B-side of “Fakin’ It.” They did play it live in New York in 1967, though Simon said at the time that it wasn’t finished yet.

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We got shakin’ in the barn

Whose barn? What barn? Darn near everybody’s barn in this part of the world. At 10:53 an earthquake tentatively estimated at 5.2 struck, rattling all manner of things and the people sitting near them. (My monitor almost did a half-gainer off the desk.)

The epicenter was between Sparks and Davenport, about 45 miles east of Oklahoma City. The Twitterverse reported rumbles as far away as Fort Worth and Kansas City.

I dutifully turned in a report to the US Geological Survey, though I have to tell you, I had to go back and redo several fields: I was shaking myself for the first few minutes.

Update: USGS now says 5.6.

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NaBloPoMo: so-so

These days, we’re told that we need a content creation strategy, whatever the heck that’s supposed to be, and you can’t have a strategy without some sort of gimmick: hence there exists a National Blog Posting Month.

The Friar describes his own experience:

November is the month bloggers are encouraged to post every day; it has some squashed-together name but I can never remember it. I’ve done that the last couple of years, but last year, when December 1 came around, I thought I might try to continue the schedule and see how far I could take it. Today’s post means I have posted at least one entry every day for a year. I haven’t done that much continuous writing since I worked for the newspaper.

Of course, having a life can get in the way:

So when I was going to be at church camp, I could pre-write a few posts and set them up to show up one a day. Some may call that cheating, to which I have to reply, there’s a rulebook for this? And, bite me.

Disclosure: At any given moment, I generally have one to five posts in the can, ready to go. (At one point last week, I had nine.) This enables me to dole them out on a schedule that creates the impression that I do this all day, every day, which is obviously not true since I have a day job for 45-50 hours a week and I really don’t have time to write at work. Almost all the stuff you see here Monday will have been written Sunday, possibly even on Saturday.

Still, I do manage to squeeze out at least one post a day, and have done so since, let’s see, June 23, 2000. So my personal “content creation strategy” is actually health-related: should I miss a day, you should probably assume that something horrible has happened to me. In fact, this may be the only way anyone would know, given my tendency to play my real-life cards close to the vest.

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Onatopp of two wheels

Somebody, somewhere, is imagining Famke Janssen on a bicycle. If it’s you, then this is what you’re looking for:

Famke Janssen riding a bicycle

So far as I can tell, this dates to mid-August, but she’s been an avid cyclist for some time.

And today she’s 46 years old, which seems as improbable to me as it might to you.

(Title source, in case you missed it.)

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Copywrong 2011

I grumble a lot about Yahoo! Answers, but I continue to hang out there, generally confining myself to subjects I know something about, motivated by the fact that there are lots of people even dumber than I am.

Which is why this is so dispiriting:

A growing number of college presidents and faculty are concerned about student plagiarism in the Internet age. But the questions raised by this analysis go beyond ethics. Wouldn’t professors be disheartened to learn that a significant share of students are harvesting their facts not from an old-fashioned encyclopedia but from Yahoo Answers?

Y!A, apparently, is second only to Wikipedia as a source of, um, “borrowed content,” despite this:

On this site … accuracy is determined by a popular vote. Fact and opinion dwell side by side.

Disclosure: I got a Best Answer this week for something I answered a year ago; the answer turned out to be wrong after all — the company changed its plans — but it’s too late to do anything about it now.

(Via Fark.)

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Across the state from Anthony Weiner

It was just yesterday that I snapped up this quotation:

The lack of creativity and innovation in these accusations leads me to believe we’re definitely dealing with a GOP inside job. Liberals always get way better stuff, like that time you were trolling Chuck E. Cheese in a tiger costume holding a bottle of Maker’s Mark.

Then again, once in a blue moon — and in this case, in a blue stateRepublicans find something with marginal entertainment value:

A Monroe County [New York] legislator running for re-election on Tuesday has admitted that he posted naked photos of himself on a personal website.

C. Stephen Eckel removed two of the photos Friday after 13WHAM’s Sean Carroll questioned Eckel about the photographs. Eckel confirmed he took the photos, which he describes as artistic.

Well, yeah, he would. Then again, he has served as adjunct professor of photography at a local community college, and God knows they don’t pay adjuncts enough to hire models.

Eckel’s official statement:

“Today, we have seen Monroe County Republicans stoop to a new low in order to distract the public from the real issues facing county taxpayers — the crushing property tax burden, need for jobs and the culture of corruption that has plagued county government. My opponent has run a negative smear campaign that has distorted the facts.”

First question: are there positive smear campaigns?

I didn’t see any references to it, or to much of anything, on his opponent’s Web site, which is bland to the max, though said opponent does contribute the expected sound bite to the story.

However, Eckel’s claim (in the video) that he didn’t realize these shots were so easily Googleable makes him look like a hopeless naïf. Were I running GOP campaigns in the Rochester area, that’s the angle I’d be hitting.

(Via this nudiarist tweet.)

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Surrounded by the best

Last month I tossed out what might have seemed to be a throwaway line about living “in a Neighborhood of the Year nominee.”

Well, now you can amend “nominee” to read “winner.”

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