Odds and ends 8/16/13

Some more short takes, on a notable person, avoidance of non-taboo words, wordless instructions, typefaces, and a libfix.

1. John Lewis. In the NYT on the 14th, a substantial piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg on John Lewis, “Still Marching on Washington, 50 Years Later”:

Washington — John Lewis was the 23-year-old son of Alabama sharecroppers and already a veteran of the civil rights movement when he came to the capital 50 years ago this month to deliver a fiery call for justice on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Today Mr. Lewis is a congressman from Georgia and the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington in August 1963. His history makes him the closest thing to a moral voice in the divided Congress. At 73, he is still battling a half-century later.

Lewis is a hero of mine (and I was startled to realize that we are the same age).

On the MoW, from Wikipedia:

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom or “The Great March on Washington”, as styled in a sound recording released after the event, was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech advocating racial harmony…

King’s great speech overshadowed Lewis’s at the time, but Lewis went on to a distinguished career in politics and is currently fighting the retreat on the Voting Rights Act.

2. Bizarre taboo avoidance. First, from Robert Coren, in a comment on my “Fie on tech” posting:

I thought of the semi-baffling taboo avoidance I mentioned the other day, namely espn.com’s editing a quoted tweet to call someone a “jacka–“.

Ass avoidance, even though the ass of jackass (the name of an animal) is a different lexeme from ass ‘buttocks, anus’.

And then, even more bizarrely, in One Million Moms’ sniffy commentary on the Kraft ads featuring Zesty Anderson Davis:

A full 2-page ad features a n*ked man lying on a picnic blanket with only a small portion of the blanket barely covering his g*nitals. It is easy to see what the ad is really selling.

This isn’t really taboo word avoidance — more like taboo idea avoidance achieved by concealing (entirely inexpertly) non-taboo vocabulary in the domain.

3. Communicating through drawings and gestures. From Derek Wyckoff, his captioning of a drawing about Ikea and its reliance on wordless instructions (intended to be usable by speakers of any language):

4. Mixed case. In the Talk of the Town section of the New Yorker on 6/24/13, from “Clarity” by Katia Bachko:

New York City street signs have been shouting [in all-caps] for years. But soon  the city will provide a more subdued directional experience [with mixed-case signs]

… [According to Donald Meeker and James Montalbano, the designers of the new typeface,] the benefits of mixed case go beyond politesse; readers identify words by their shapes. When “Church Street” is set in mixed case, the pattern of verticals and curves helps drivers make out the words more quickly

5. Pseudonyms and pen names. In the NYT Sunday Review of 7/27/13, in the “Draft” column, “A Writer by Any Other Name”:

After J. K. Rowling admitted that she, and not a military veteran named “Robert Galbraith,” wrote the new mystery novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” The New York Times asked several writers to choose a hypothetical pen name and describe what kind of book they might write under — or perhaps behind — that name. (Note: This informal survey was conducted before any of them had a chance to consider “Carlos Danger” as an option.)

The writers and the names they suggested:

André Aciman: Valerie Scott Smythe, Lydia Davis: Percy, Ben Fountain: B. E. Fountainhead, Carl Hiassen: Rick O’Morris, Anne Lamott: Dr. Morris Fishback, Stacy Schiff: P. G. Wodehouse, Rebecca Skloot: Rhoda Stokol, John Wray [a pseudonym]: John Henderson [real name]

The full piece has the writers suggesting genres for their alter egos and discussing their choices.

6. Bots. From the NYT Sunday Review of 8/11/13, the beginning of “I Flirt and Tweet. Follow Me at #Socialbot.” by Ian Urbina (with the relevant words bold-faced):

From the earliest days of the Internet, robotic programs, or bots, have been trying to pass themselves off as human. Chatbots greet users when they enter an online chat room, for example, or kick them out when they get obnoxious. More insidiously, spambots indiscriminately churn out e-mails advertising miracle stocks and unattended bank accounts in Nigeria. Bimbots deploy photos of gorgeous women to hawk work-from-home job ploys and illegal pharmaceuticals.

Now come socialbots. These automated charlatans are programmed to tweet and retweet.

Three occurrences of the libfix bot, one of bot in the portmanteau bimbot (bimbo + bot), and one of bot as as an independent word. Bots everywhere.

The libfix bot has made it into Michael Quinion’s affixes list, as a word-forming element. Quinion’s entry:

Automatic or autonomous device or software program.
[The ending of English robot.]

Robot, an automatic or programmable machine, originally one resembling a human being, derives from Czech robota, forced labour.

One sense, directly derived from the concept of a robot, is that of an autonomous device, usually mobile, with a degree of awareness derived from computer technology; many examples are found in scientific or science fiction contexts, but few have become widely known. Examples include nanobot (Greek nanos, dwarf), a hypothetical robot of molecular dimensions; cryobot (Greek kruos, frost), a NASA-invented device for penetrating deep ice layers to examine what lies beneath; killerbot, an autonomous military killing machine; biobot, a robot which mimics biological behaviour.

The more common sense is of a semi-autonomous software program, usually linked to networking and especially to the Internet and the World Wide Webb. Well-known examples include cancelbot, a program that searches for and deletes specified mailings from Internet newsgroups; knowbot, a program which has reasoning and decision-making capabilities; and spambot, a program which scans Web pages in order to harvest e-mail addresses to which unsolicited commercial advertising (spam) can be sent.

Bot also exists as a word in its own right, in reference to a device of either kind.

Only spambot is shared by Urbina’s list and Quinion’s.

One Response to “Odds and ends 8/16/13”

  1. Anniversaries and holidays | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] in August I noted the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington (8/28), here. Now comes November, with two notable 50th anniversaries, of very different sorts: the JFK […]

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