Saturday, July 30, 2011


This is just a funny word, said aloud by a friend today near the Little Red Lighthouse.

It reminded me of another friend calling people who'd been together in what struck me as an excellent many-years-long relationship "coupled out".

Years ago I went out with a man who made it very clear that I was never to call him my "partner in crime." It would never have occurred to me to use that expression.

Another boyfriend was very particular about whether we were going out, seeing each other, dating, or involved.

I don't know if I like the idea of being in a serious relationship with a man who's relationshippy (the silliness of the word says it all), but coupling out seems all right.


Here the word is ordinary and the date of origin is surprising. The OED dates the adjective to the beginning of the 15th century. Anybody who wants to know what pithy means need only think of the core of a stem.

Pith itself is an Old English word (peoþa or piða).

My favorite spelling and example of the adjective is from 1529. Little bit of python in there.

T. More Supplyc. Soulys i. f. xv, The sore pyththy poynt where wyth he knytteth vppe all hys heuy matter.

Monday, July 25, 2011


From John Rockwell's March 12, 1981, Times review of Musica Sacra's performance of Haydn's 'Creation' (the but might have been supplanted by an and):

From Kathleen Battle's fluty but commanding soprano, deliciously articulating the trills and ornaments, to John Aler's manly and idiomatic tenor to Simon Estes's richly sonorous, sweetly controlled bass, these were vocal performances fully capable of investing Haydn's time-bound vision with the profundity still inherent in it.

No comment on manly, a word I know best via the mouth of Melissa Gilbert.

There were some good music critics in the deep old days. Bill Zakariasen and Speight Jenkins also had a thing or two to say.

There is flutey as well but visually speaking fluty is more flute-like.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


From African Violets, Gloxinias, and their relatives: A Guide to the Cultivated Gesneriads, by Harold E. Moore, Jr., with illustrations by Marion Ruff Sheehan (Plate II from the book borrowed from the Central Coast Geranium Society's site).

There's lots of hairiness in here: short-hairy, glandular-hairy, pale-hairy, softly hairy, velvety-hairy, soft-velvety-hairy, stiffly hairy, appressed-hairy, rough-hairy, shortly hairy, finely hairy, reddish-hairy, rusty-hairy, sparsely hairy, white hairy, harshly hairy, red-brown hairy, brownish-purple hairy, minutely hairy, sparingly hairy.

Bristly-hairy is a sort of late fall afternoon honey on good bread kind of phrase.

Read aloud, Dr. Moore's book brings to mind Under Milk Wood.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Y, Utopian

Though I did pass some y words on a vegetable table today at the Greenmarket outside of Columbia's gates (my purchase: organic cherry tomatoes), they did not rate. Sorry, farmers.

Continuing in my best imitation today of a librarian: from The Open Utopia site, reprinting the alphabet "from a facsimile of the woodcut, first edition, Louvain: 1516, reproduced in The Utopia of Sir Thomas More, translated by Ralph Robinson, edited and additional translation, J. H. Lupton, Oxford: Clare[n]don Press, 1895."

To the average reader, the Utopian y likely brings to mind the Soap and Detergent Association's symbol for

Cool/Cold (water temperature, machine wash)

and Low (heat setting, tumble dry)


Thursday, July 14, 2011


As I have discovered today, this should not be confused with anthropogenic.

I had been thinking about music and white noise and the increasing number of helicopters along the East River (and daydreaming about weekend quietude). An article in the National Park Service Park Science newsletter (Volume 26, Number 3, Winter 2009-2010) referred to that which should not be confused with anthropogeny:

With greater knowledge and understanding of the important role the acoustic environment plays in overall ecosystem health and visitor enjoyment as well as the potential impacts of anthropogenic noise, protection of the acoustic environment has received growing attention by managers and policy makers.

This makes me recall cringing years ago when I read that snowmobiles would be allowed in the parks, and also about an excellent short article in the Times a year or two ago.

The article was about how quiet the publishing industry had become, and what had been lost. I wondered what publishing people thought of it, both the old guard and the newly networked. No doubt some thought it was just another lament about the snows of yesteryear.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Back in November of 2005, I saved to email an idea I'd hatched a few years earlier:

The Smashatorium: a different kind of spa.

My notes read:

For anybody who needs a healthy alternative to yoga, meditation, swimming, jogging, crying jags, passive aggressive gestures, drama-queen scenes, facials, the bar.

A three month experiment in a space between tenants—raw space OR like traveling nightclub, moves

(Bitters) bottles, plates, fine crystal stemware

Bring your own—different pricing

Special requests taken; could have artists assemble room with a token piece of familiar furniture

Powder room—grind bottles to a fine powder with a _______ tool ; take home sand in a baggie to dispense as you please

Men’ s nights two nights a week

Need protective goggles

There was more to the spa services than just smashing bottles, but in time I realized I just wasn't finding the people I needed to find in order to turn the Smashatorium into a real place. I didn't present it as a recycling sport spot; I presented it as a therapeutic performance art installation.

I told a few friends about it. No luck intervened on behalf of my idea.

Today I came across a version of it, though the version has been around since May 2010.

Glassphemy is the name, and breaking glass is the game. My version did not include live people standing behind bulletproof--shattering-glass-proof--glass; it called upon the glass thrower to take an imaginative leap, or aim at a photograph. Bulletproof glass is a good idea. There's a video of the wife of one of the creator's throwing a bottle at her husband.

I like Smashatorium better than Glassphemy. Glassphemy doesn't make sense to me. For one thing, nobody's throwing the bottles in a house of worship.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Had to look up J. Alfred's love song in my old Norton Anthology, and passed this on the way, from Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Duns Scotus's Oxford":

Towery city and branchy between towers;

And then it goes on to "Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded;," which I quote for no very good reason except the stresses and all the work one's mouth must do to say this line, as if practicing Italian in the mirror.

Towery is so lightly touched in the center of word, it looks more substantial than its actual "mouthfeel".

More fun than reading "Pied Beauty" aloud, and Duns Scotus leads to more y words (quiddity, haecceity, univocity).

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Yesterday I and several other people apparently in the throes of puppy withdrawl set upon a several-months old golden retriever on a Long Island beach, and one of the women called him not cute or sweet or smouchy, but chewy.

What a chewy puppy, she said, or He's a chewy puppy.

I was in the midst of trying to get my ring finger out of his mouth, so I can't quite remember how she said it. The phrase was definitely chewy puppy, and it occurred to me that she was saying something unique unto herself.

I appreciated it in a new light after hearing one of my sisters' friends talk about personal vocabularies. Before I tell you what this woman said, though, I want to mention how, many years ago, I started to take an interest in the books read by a man I knew. He'd read whatever he was reading, and I'd happen to read whatever he was reading--until the day he noticed what I was doing and told me that I really needed to get out of his wake. Which I did.

Even before that, there was a very short piece in the Observer called Cock A-Doodle Don't. I think either Phil Weiss or Peter Stevenson wrote it, or maybe it was that Stevenson wrote a parody of a book Phil Weiss wrote....? Something like that. It was a good piece, regardless, and in it there was this instance of an assistant to a Graydon Carter-like man using a word that the Carter-like man would have used. The assistant plucked a word from his boss's lexicon/wardrobe/arsenal and used it on his own lips.

Why I bring this up is because my sister's friend happened to articulate one of the best language practices going--best in my opinion, at least, because it speaks to (sorry) everything that is the opposite of salesmanship and slick, quick insta-relationships one-sidingly calculated and supposedly rooted in an organic common language .

The friend of my sister was talking about how nice it was to have a conversation with a certain architect we all know. It was nice, she said, because after she and her husband explained their thoughts about a project, the architect demonstrated his understanding of what they'd said by explaining it all back to them using his own words.

His words, not their words.

What she was getting at, I think, was the intelligence at work during that conversation. She wasn't saying, "He heard everything we said, as evidenced by his repeating our words to us"; she was saying, "He heard everything we said, as evidenced by his responding to us in his own way."

I glanced at my sister's friend. She could not, I am certain, know how grateful I was to hear this. I was grateful because sometimes when people echo my words, I've sometimes wanted to say, as my reader friend said to me: "It would be better if you could find your own words, so that this doesn't wind up feeling like an act of co-optation or a linguistic hijacking."

What might be regarded as a benign movement toward common ground or a gesture of friendliness can actually feel like something invasive--though it could also represent an instance of linguistic migration, or some such (a phrasing I picked up from an editor I once knew). I doubt I'm the only person who feels this way. Certainly there's plenty of language to go around.

I still call golden retrievers golden retrievers, even though a man I used to know called them Connecticut dogs. I always thought that was hilarious. When I see them, I sometimes think to myself, There's a Connecticut dog, but I never say so aloud. When I saw the puppy on the beach, all I thought was I have to pet that puppy right now.

::UPDATE:: However, it must be said that when there's an established context and some level of familiarity between people, people who affirm one another's vocabulary words do so in affinity. Also, for whatever it's worth, in the past two weeks the words group and team (or perhaps I should say group vs. team) actually posed some difficulties for an entire group/team of people who didn't know one another except in a business context.