Archive for November, 2014

Annals of etymythology: to pass for

November 26, 2014

In a Harper’s Magazine review (Dec. 2014, pp. 84-6) of Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life (Harvard) by Joshua Cohen, we read about the sad history of “black” people passing as “white”, with a story about the origin of the usage:

The term “passing” seems to come from the passes that slaves had to carry, which allowed them to visit their relatives on other plantations or when they were rented out for day labor.

Lexicographers and linguists will immediately smell a rat: the story is detailed and grounded in a very specific piece of history (and so is attractive to many people). But it’s only too specific: in fact, the usage is quite general, not restricted to blacks passing for whites, or to situations where some sort of pass is involved. Cohen’s account looks like an etymythology (aka mythetymology).


Pat Suppes

November 25, 2014

From today’s Stanford Report, an obit for Patrick Suppes: “Patrick Suppes, Stanford philosopher, scientist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur, dies at 92” by Michael Friedman.

The overview:

Patrick Suppes’ long career at Stanford began in 1950. As both a philosopher and scientist, he influenced a large number of fields. Drawing on his experience as an army meteorologist, he once compared predicting the weather to economics, both handling a vast flow of non-experimental data. As a successful entrepreneur he was also a leading donor to educational activities at Stanford.


Two cartoons and a parody

November 25, 2014

Two cartoons from the latest (December 2014) Funny Times (by Jen Sorenson and L.J. Kopf), plus a Eurythmics parody passed along on Facebook.



November 24, 2014

Two usage queries came to me recently: one on uses of a noun doxy; one on two informal idioms (the whole shooting match and wham, bam, thank you ma’am (with some variant versions)): Max Vasilatos reported coming across two Californian young men, one of whom didn’t understand the first, the other of whom didn’t understand the second.


I hurt myself today

November 24, 2014

(about words and music)

Several weeks ago I played a compilation of songs from Johnny Cash’s last album (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002) for a friend who didn’t know it — a compilation I put together for another friend who’s a great fan of Cash’s. Cash’s songs are covers, and I matched his versions (full of loss and regret, sung plain and clear) to earlier models. Item 1: “Hurt”, from Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, with Trent Reznor’s poetic text maintained exactly (except for a shift of Reznor’s crown of shit in verse 2 to the explicitly Christian crown of thorns). Now a visit to the compilation.


fairy X

November 24, 2014

From Anne Cutler a while ago, a postcard from Tasmania (where she and Bill were visiting their childhood haunts) depicting Little Penguins (“the smallest of the 17 species of penguin and … the only one to breed in southern Australia”). From Wikipedia:

The Little penguin (Eudyptula minor) is the smallest species of penguin. It grows to an average of 33 cm (13 in) in height and 43 cm (17 in) in length, though specific measurements vary by subspecies. It is found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand, with possible records from Chile. In Australia, they are often called Fairy penguins. In New Zealand, they are more commonly known as Little blue penguins or Blue penguins, owing to their slate-blue plumage. They are also known by their Māori name: kororā.

At the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach CA:


On to fairies and fairy X (with fairy as a modifier), as in fairy penguin.


Phallic art

November 24, 2014

Over on AZBlogX, a piece of phallic art, with the phallus represented as a creature on its own, self-contained, independent of the rest of a male body, and in a totally non-carnal color (nobody has a purple penis). Gives new meaning to “detachable penis”.

Unfortunately, this artwork came to me without any attribution for the original source or credit to the artist — another case in which anything found on the net counts as public property, to be passed around without regard to those who created it.

[Added later: my source for the image, Mike McKinley, found it on a site ( devoted to sexy images of naked men, but not to attribution.]

Pumpkin spice days

November 24, 2014

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a distant pun (die / pie) for the season:

What with Halloween and Thanksgiving, pumpkin spice is all the rage in my country — in lattes, ice cream, and so on, in addition to the traditional pumpkin pie (which actually has pumpkin in it, not just the spice).

Ciao, Carpaccio!

November 24, 2014

In The American Scholar, Autumn 2014 (pp. 87-91), a piece by Jan Morris, “Carnival of the Animals: The Italian artist Carpaccio cast a careful, loving eye on his many nonhuman subjects” — an essay adapted from her book Ciao, Carpaccio!: An Infatuation (published on November 3rd). The book is an appreciation (with lots of color plates) of the 15th-century Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, and this essay is an appreciation of Carpaccio’s depictions of animals and birds, as in the Flight Into Egypt:

Morris writes that the ass bearing the Holy Family away from Herod’s slaughter is “as elegant as any Golden Stallion, and as beautifully groomed.”


Huffing and puffing over the Man Booker Prize

November 23, 2014

In the 12/4/14 New York Review of Books, a piece on the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction in English (James Walton’s “Star Fiction”, reviewing The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton) begins with this year’s controversy over the prize (with the bit I’m going to focus on bold-faced):

The year 2014 was famously the first time that Americans have been eligible for the [Man Booker Prize], alongside those from Britain, the British Commonwealth, and Ireland. It was a change of rules that had been discussed for years, but when the decision was finally announced, the reaction was not – I think it’s fair to say – wholly positive. The 2011 winner Julian Barnes called it simply “a bad idea,” while Philip Hensher, former judge and shortlistee, wrote a piece in The Guardian headlined, “Well, that’s tbe end of the Booker prize, then.” Just days before this year’s ceremony Peter Carey – who holds dual US-Australian citizenship, and is one of the prize’s few double winners – lamented the “particular cultural flavour” that will be lost: “There was and there is a real Commonwealth culture. It’s different. America doesn’t really feel to be a part of that.”

Ah, the US isn’t really Commonwealth material, Carey sniffs, alluding to a fantasized cultural commonality sentimentally uniting the Commonwealth of Nations under the reigning monarch of the UK (currently Queen Elizabeth II).