Archive for the ‘Language and plants’ Category


November 23, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the product ExtenZe,

a herbal nutritional supplement claiming to promote “natural male enhancement”, a euphemism for penis enlargement. Additionally, television commercials and advertisements claim an “improved” or “arousing” sexual experience [longer, stronger, harder erections]. (from Wikipedia)

Now another product has come along and is advertising heavily on cable tv, especially at night. Unlike ExtenZe, which contains small anounts of virtually every substance believed (in some tradition or another) to be of some efficacy in enlarging the penis or improving sexual performance, Nugenix has a small ingredients list, which includes one herb, fenugreek seed, that is not in ExtenZe.


The water frog, the ground squirrel, and the little thrush

November 11, 2015

From Xopher Walker, back in the spring, a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation greeting card with a reproduction of a charming 1754 etching by Mark Catesby showing a “water frog” (billed as Rana aquatica) together with a purple pitcher plant:




November 8, 2015

(It’s going to be penis penis penis in this posting. But fairly decorously, and with some discussion of names, plants, and medicine.)

Every so often there’s an outbreak of ExtenZe commercials on late-night cable television. Well, the same commercial, over and over again. The current ad features former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who became the official spokesman for ExtenZe in 2010:

Here’s comic Jim Gaffigan riffing on this commercial:

Note Gaffigan’s playing on Jimmy Johnson‘s name as a possible factor in his choice as spokesman; Gaffigan mentions (former Chicago Bears linebacker) Dick Butkus as an alternative. I suppose it’s too bad that actor Peter O’Toole is no longer available. (In a while I’ll consider Willy / Willie candidates.)

But first some ExtenZe background.


Mornings and mangelwurzels

October 18, 2015

Saturday’s morning name: mangelwurzel, the root vegetable. A beet by another name, a really big beet.


Fodder beet: Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. crassa


Non-parallel gaps in Jackson Hole

October 5, 2015

(Mostly geekily technical, but I hope you’ll persevere.)

From John Lawler a while back, a link to an Industry Tap story of 2/27/15, “Wyoming Vertical Farm Produces 37,000 Pounds of Greens on the Side of a Parking Garage!” by Marshall Smith. As John said, along with the intrinsic interest of the story (a bit more below), there’s this opening sentence:

(1) Jackson Hole, Wyoming, may not be a place many people pick out on a map to travel to, let alone even know exists.

(with a continuation about it still garnering significant tourist numbers). People will tend to judge (1) as a WTF sentence, awkward and hard to understand at best, simply ungrammatical at worst. The ingredients of the problem are the let alone construction and the gaps of relativization in two contrasted constituents. Both ingredients have been studied in some detail, but not, so far as I know, in combination as in (1).



September 30, 2015

In a conversation recently with a friend at Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, he told me about a plant familiar to him from Mexico, which turned out to be Roselle. From Wikipedia:

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a species of Hibiscus native to West Africa, used for the production of bast fibre and as an infusion, in which it may also be known as carcade. It is an annual or perennial herb or woody-based subshrub, growing to 2–2.5 m (7–8 ft) tall.


A stem of Hibiscus sabdariffa showing flower, calyx and leaves, at Wave Hill, the Bronx


Muhly grass

September 30, 2015

From a recent visit to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, a glimpse of a very pretty ornamental grass. Photo from the web:


This is a white variant (White Cloud) of Muhlenbergia capillaris, Muhlenbergia being the genus of muhly grasses. (Note that the common name is derived by clipping from the botanical name.)

The botanical name will take us on an adventure in U.S. history, starting in the early 18th century.


Monkey puzzle tree

September 25, 2015

In my posting on the N + N compound monkey bread, referring to a sweet breadstuff whose relationship to monkeys is not at all obvious, I noted that some have suggested a connection to the monkey puzzle tree, since the bread is sometimes called monkey puzzle bread: perhaps the connection involves a perceived similarity between the bread and the fruit of the tree. That sent me looking for information about the tree, which I became acquainted with in England many years ago. Though I don’t see much resemblance between the bread and the fruit of the tree, the tree is fascinating in its own right, and its name presents another origins problem — what does the tree have to do with monkeys and puzzles? — but one whose (again, not at all obvious) answer seems to be known. In any case, worth posting about.


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.


Golden yellow for the end of summer

September 11, 2015

Oh, it’s a long, long time from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September

And as the days grow short, the goldenrods burst into bloom. At the same time, hay fever afflicts the allergic. The goldenrods are the showiest, most visible plants of the season, and they are all over the place. So people take concurrence to be causation, and blame the goldenrods. But it’s not their fault.




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