Archive for the ‘Categorization and Labeling’ Category

Morning name: penumbra

November 30, 2015

Today’s name that just popped into my head, for no reason I could think of. From NOAD2:

penumbra  the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. [also figurative uses] ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: modern Latin, from Latin paene ‘almost’ + umbra ‘shadow’ [OED3 (Sept. 2005): Johannes Kepler Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena (1604)]

I think it’s wonderful that this was devised by Kepler as a technical term in astronomy. As a technical term in English it comes paired with umbra:

the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, especially the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse. (NOAD2)

A diagram illustrating both terms, without the complexities of eclipses:


Two parts to the word penumbra, pen(e)- and umbra, each putting the word into relationships with a cluster of other words in English.


stuffing, dressing, filling

November 26, 2015

The centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving meal:

A roasted turkey, with its body cavity filled with a mixture of ingredients that were inside it during the roasting. There is some dispute — well, variation in local usage, about which some people feel proprietary — as to what this mixture is called: stuffing (which is pretty transparent semantically) and dressing (which is puzzling) are the most common alternatives, but some Pennsylvania Dutch folk favor filling (pretty semantically transparent again). But matters are more complicated, since some things called stuffing are used as side dishes, not stuffed into anything.

Then there’s the puzzle of dressing, which turns out to have a surprising etymology, one that connects it to the piece of women’s clothing the dress.


cioppino, sopa de mariscos

November 14, 2015

Yesterday’s lunch special at the Mexican restaurant Reposado was billed as cioppino, though it was recognizably a Mexican-style sopa de mariscos ‘seafood soup’. Meanwhile, cioppino is standardly described as a fish stew (as in the Wikipedia article on the dish), though it too is a seafood soup, essentially a clear tomato soup with a whole lot of seafood (ncluding fish) in it. Exactly what Reposado was serving yesterday, with some significant differences in details: the basic soup at Reposado had no wine in it; the Reposado dish had a lot of vegetables in it (not just the sauteed onions in the basic sauce, but also potatoes, carrots, poblanos, and zucchini); and the Reposado dish had some Mexican ingredients (fresh chiles, cilantro, and lime) rather than the Mediterranean ingredients of classic cioppino (shallots and bay leaves, in particular; the two soups share basil, oregano, and an anise-flavored ingredient, either aniseed or fennel).

Cioppino is a San Francisco dish (so it’s no surprise that sopa de mariscos would be billed as cioppino in a Bay Area restaurant), but its roots lie in Italy; the sopas / estofados / caldos de mariscos of Latin America, Mexico included, have their roots in Spain; so both originate in the fish soups and stews of the maritime Mediterranean, from Greece and Italy to France and Spain, which vary locally but share a family resemblance.

After a celebration of cioppino and sopa de mariscos, I’ll go to a linguistic question, namely the soup vs. stew question.


Pasta fazool

October 16, 2015

Some time back I was assauted by the Dean Martin recording of “That’s Amore”, a hymn to love that includes the ugly lines

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool / That’s amore

The word drool just doesn’t belong in a song about love; nor for that matter does the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie”.  And what’s pasta-and-bean soup / stew doing in there?

The song is a play on all things Italian-American, including Martin using an Italian-American accent in English (which came to him legitimately, from childhood), where the Italian in question is the language (with its accompanying peasant culture) of Italian immigrants to the US, that is, primarily the Neapolitan language (and its accompanying culture), of the Italian south, and not by any means something approaching standard Italian. Along with the linguistic features come the peasant foods of the south, in particular pizza and pasta e faglioli (Ital.) / pasta fasule (Neap.).


Morning: the call of nature

October 13, 2015

Yesterday’s morning expression on awakening (with a need to answer the call of nature) was not exactly a name, but, well, the NP the call of nature. That led to the product Serutan — that is a name — and, in another direction, to the PP against nature, which I’ll reserve for another day.

Basic dictionary work. From NOAD2:

call of nature  used euphemistically to refer to a need to urinate or defecate.

and AHD5:

A need to urinate or defecate. Often used with answer: He left the room to answer the call of nature.

Idiom dictions are roughly similar, and some offer nature’s call as an alternative.


From the 80s

October 11, 2015

The restaurant Reposado, where I regularly have lunch, plays Mexican popular music, in Spanish (more on this below), on its sound system on weekdays, but popular music in English on weekends, when visitors to Palo Alto might prefer it. Yesterday I noticed that I recognized almost all of the songs, even while I was mostly concentrated on reading and taking notes. It started with Madonna’s “Material Girl” and went through a range of other songs. Here’s a list of the ones I caught, with the dates of their release:

“Material Girl” (1984), “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (1983), “Electric Avenue” (1982), “Relax” (1983), “(I’m) Bad” (1987), “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell version, 1981), “Take My Breath Away” (1986)

Oh my, hit songs of the 80s. The 80s were my 40s, and a very complex time in my life — my first stint at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, my wife’s death, the shift to an Ohio State/Stanford split schedule, and more — but I seem to have been attentive to the music of the decade.

Two things: the categories of popular music, the song “Relax”.



September 18, 2015

Big advertising campaign underway for Olive Garden’s “breadstick sandwiches”. Now the idea of a breadstick sandwich might strike you as absurd, if you think of breadsticks as pencil-thin and crisp, like the grissini here:


But OG’s breadsticks are wide grissini, and they are chewy rather than crisp, so they can serve as the bun in a sandwich.


Chaste trees and jumping spiders

September 12, 2015

Yesterday at the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, a plant note and an animal note: chaste trees and jumping spiders.


Plant family backlog

September 9, 2015

This is an assemblage of plant families that have been mentioned on this blog but not treated in any detail (I might well have missed some). I’ll start with those from my “Birthday flowers” posting, which referred to the olive family (including the genera Syringa and Jasminum) and to the violet family (including the genus Viola) and will lead to a few other families. Then I’ll go back through earlier postings, starting in 2012 and pick up some more.


Shooting stars, hydrangeas, and lemongrass

September 7, 2015

Yesterday’s investigations into plants, focusing on names, both common and botanical: mail from a friend, a gift plant for my birthday, and grass plants for cooking.



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