Monday, December 31, 2012

Y Word of 2012: Horsy

It's true: horsy has nudged Tripoly to one side and claimed the spotlight.

Sam Sifton now has the dubious honor of being the chaperone of the Y Word of 2012 (as well as the final Y word of the year on this blog, ever). Congratulations to Mr. Sifton and to The New York Times Magazine, which exhibits the right kind of editorial spirit, regardless of whether Mr. Sifton had to fight for the word. I feel I should send him a cut-out y, but fear not: I shan't and I won't.

Instead I'll be setting my sights on other letters, other realities.


48 px specimen from the font Rocky Family, via Webtype



From Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. This is one of Mr Edwards' lines.

I am a draper mad with love. I love you more than all the flannelette and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino, tussore, cretonne, crépon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.

Does anyone -- man, woman, vegetable, or Other -- profess their love so ardently any more?

The OED's etymology tells: "In 15–16th cent. demytdimite, < Italian dimito ‘a kind of coarse cotton or flanell’ (Florio 1598), ‘a kind of course linzie-wolzie’ (Florio 1611) = medieval Latin dimitum (12th cent. in Du Cange), < Greek δίμιτος of double thread, n. dimity, < δι-δίς twice + μίτος thread of the warp. It is not certain how the final -y arose: could it represent Italian plural dimiti? Compare the plural in Du Cange's quot.: ‘amita, dimitaque, et trimita’, explained to mean fabrics woven with one, two, or three threads respectively. The relation to these of the Persian word dimyāṭī, explained as ‘a kind of cotton cloth, dimity’, which has the form of a derivative of Dimyāṭ, Damietta, is not clear."

Mr. Thomas was right to include dimity in Mr Edwards' list, seeing as it is a double thread.


If you are giving some thought to what Governor Cuomo is poised to loose upon New York State this winter, also please consider what you will do (send cookies, cakes, flowers, massage certificates, musicians) for the Governor if he draws upon the precautionary principle, shows a little backbone and waves bye-bye to this reckless, irresponsible industry. (Please don't fall for the specious suggestion that it's prudent to bring high-volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing* to but a handful counties in the state.)

From Sandra Steingraber's article (in 50 parts), "The Fracking of Rachel Carson," published in the September/October issue of Orion magazine.

12. Within the rumply state of Pennsylvania is a place called Triple Divide, where three adjacent springs feed the watersheds of three mighty rivers: the Allegheny (which flows west to the Mississippi River); the Susquehanna (which flows east to Chesapeake Bay); and the Genesee (which flows north to Lake Ontario).  . . . 

14. . . . only some of the frack water stays behind in the shale. The rest, now mixed with brine and radioactivity, shoots up to the surface with the gas. Finding a safe place to dispose of this toxic flowback is an unsolved problem. Sometimes, the waste from drilling is just dumped on the ground. That’s illegal, but it happens. Sometimes the waste is dumped down other holes. In 2010, 200,000 gallons were poured down an abandoned well on the edge of Allegheny National Forest. . . . 

26. April 2012 was a silent spring in Pennsylvania. Funds for a statewide heath registry—which would track illnesses in residents who live near drilling and fracking operations—were quietly removed from the state budget. At the same time, a new state law, Act 13, went into effect, which allows a physician in Pennsylvania access to proprietary chemical information for purposes of treating a possibly exposed patient—but only if he or she signs a confidentiality agreement. Confounded, Pennsylvania doctors began asking questions. Does that mean no contacting the public health department? What about talking to reporters or writing up case studies for the New England Journal of Medicine? Can a physician who signs the nondisclosure agreement (in order to treat a patient) and then issues an alert to the community at large (in order to fulfill an ethical obligation to prevent harm) be sued for breach of contract? . . . .

41. No comprehensive study on the human or animal health impacts of fracking has ever been conducted. . . . In cattle exposed to fracking fluid: stillborn calves, cleft palates, milk contamination, death.

42. In cats and dogs: seizures, stillbirths, fur loss, vomiting.

43. In humans: headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, vomiting.

46. In May 2012, Stephen Cleghorn, a farmer, scattered the ashes of his wife, Lucinda—who died of lung cancer—on their farm in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, which is in Jefferson County. The ceremony was unusual. It included a press conference, during which Cleghorn announced that, with this deposition of ash, he was hereby consecrating his land and declaring it off-limits to fracking in perpetuity. . . . 

What I keep writing to Governor Cuomo is that is it better to deal with problems before they arise.

via Thalo 

*note to The New York Times: it would be better if the paper would call "fracking" by its full name.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Finalists of 2012

Reader, the finalists of 2012 are:




Clerkly was a close contender, but clerkly looks better to me with a lowercase c than an uppercase one. It's best if the word is appealing regardless of an initial capital letter.

What do the two finalists have going for them? Horsy is a prime example of the elasticity and suggestiveness of language. Tripoly includes the word poly (as in roly-poly) and has the good fortune of being embedded in a single sentence the character count of which, including spaces, is 889. A sentence of this length is as pretty as the Empire State Building lit in Steinbergian orange.

public garden, Paris circa 1930
Copyright © AFP / Harlingue / Collection Roger-Viollet
via Catwalk Yourself

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


From "Recollections of a Lost Seascape," a 1947 story in Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader, edited by Jason Weiss and published by Wesleyan University Press. The story begins by describing the island of Herm and goes on to say:

The owner of the island is, therefore, a feudatory of the duke and owes him at least nominal allegiance.

Just do not come across this word much, if at all.

I happened onto this book in the library. Stack-browsing usually brings on some kind of serendipity, doesn't it? Especially when one is searching for one book and finds another, more appropriate, one for the occasion of that particular day.

A Paul Metcalf collection was my intended. Then there was a volume criticizing Gertrude Stein (which I almost took, having seen Rachel Dickstein's newest play, The World is Round, in workshop last weekend at the JCC). And then I spotted a man's face on the spine of a book and took it down from the shelf. Who is Brion Gysin? Who was Brion Gysin? I had never heard of Brion Gysin (and probably because he brought to mind Weldon Kees and Jim Salter--really for no good reason), I wanted to know more.

He was a Canadian-born word player who learned to speak seven languages and traversed various artistic disciplines, from painting to collages, sound poetry (poésie sonore), and screenwriting (he wrote an unproduced screenplay based upon William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.)

Okay, he was also Burroughs' partner.

The book includes his Permutation Poems, which he discovered "upon seeing in print the Divine Tautology, 'I am that I am,' while reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception . . . [recalling to Jason Weiss in an interview] 'I saw the phrase on paper and I thought, "Ah, it looks a bit like the front of a Greek temple," only on the condition that I put the biggest word in the middle. So, I'll just change these others around, "am I," in the corner of the architrave. Then I realized, as soon as I did this, it asked a question. "I am that, am I?" And I said, "Wow, I've touched the oracle!' The full version of the poem I Am That I Am "as put through a computer by mathematician Ian Sommerville, was performed for BBC Radio in 1960, along with a "poem" assembled from a pistol shot recorded at five distances and layered variously. Philip Glass was one composer who was influenced by Gysin's sound poetry.

I just finished Jess Walter's novel Beautiful Ruins (edited by Cal Morgan and published by HarperCollins) (and which made me miss my subway stop last night), it's time to leave Walter's Porto Vergogna and move on to the next book.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Reading the executive summary of the McKinsey Global Institute's November 2012 report "Manufacturing the future: The next era of global growth and innovation," I was surprised to see that “overall in the United States, trade and outsourcing explain only about 20 percent of the 5.8 million manufacturing
 jobs lost during the 2000-10 period; more than two-thirds of job losses can be attributed to continued productivity growth, which has been outpacing demand growth for the past decade.”
The full report [minus the Exhibits / graphics, which the Y blog IT department could not transfer successfully] explains MGI’s approach:
Given the sharp decline in manufacturing employment in advanced economies
 in the past two decades, during which globalization opened up new, low-cost production capacity in developing economies, it appears that trade accelerated job losses. Indeed, from 1980 to 2000, US manufacturing employment fell by
1.5 million, or about 6 percent, but from 2000 to 2010, it fell by 33 percent—or by an estimated 5.8 million jobs.
By decomposing changes in employment levels, we can see more clearly the role that trade has played. In Exhibit 9, we look at three drivers of manufacturing employment: growth in domestic final demand, changes in net trade position, and differences in productivity growth. The results of our analysis show that productivity growth accounted for 3.7 million of the lost jobs.11 This estimate is reduced by 600,000 to correct for cost savings related to offshoring, which we believe national accounts incorrectly record as productivity gains.12 Those jobs are more properly grouped with the 700,000 trade-related job losses during the decade, bringing the total to 1.3 million. So we see that trade and offshoring explain around 20 percent of the decline in manufacturing jobs—still a significant force, but not the main driver of job loss.13
Footnote Number 11 provides a fuller explanation of how the MGI arrived at the conclusion I find so interesting: 
    11    Our approach takes into account analytical difficulties that have been the subject of
academic debate; in particular, it compensates for the vast measured productivity increases from performance improvements in computers and electronics and lower-cost offshored intermediate inputs. These measurement issues are the focus of an ongoing debate among economists about the measurement of value added, which uses hedonic deflation (i.e., adjusting for processing power and so on) in computers and electronics products and also includes profits from sourcing low-cost components. Metrics probably reflect the value delivered to consumers and businesses in mature economies reasonably well. But we take the position that this kind of hedonic deflation and accounting is not appropriate when looking at the number of jobs required to achieve a certain level of output.
Correspondingly, we use non-deflated data for computers and electronics, which leads to a conservative downward revision to the impact of productivity in this sector. We also estimate the impact that lower-cost imports of components have on measured productivity and show the effects as offshoring gains explicitly rather than mixing them with other productivity effects. Of course, there are further uncertainties inherent to the national accounts 
source data. For instance, specialization along the value chain within sectors would affect productivity of the sector; our analysis suggests that the effect is moderate in aggregate, as there is both a shift toward high-value R&D activities and lower-value customer care. While we are not able to fully resolve issues inherent to source data, we believe our approach suggests that the key findings are robust even within the constraints of the data.
See appendix for more detail on methodology. For a detailed discussion of measurement issues in manufacturing output, see R. Atkinson, L. Stewart, S. Andes, and S. Ezell, Worse than the Great Depression: What experts are missing about American manufacturing decline, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, March 2012.
.     If we look at only productivity and demand, we also see that the collapse of demand during the past decade was the key departure from previous trends and caused manufacturing employment to “fall off a cliff” (Exhibit 10). While productivity growth continued to increase gradually, demand growth—which had kept up with productivity in the previous two decades—did not keep up in the 2000s.
     To put the trade-related job losses in perspective, if the United States were 
able to eliminate the entire 2010 current account deficit (3.2 percent of GDP) by increasing manufacturing exports, about 2.2 million jobs would be restored to the sector. While this is a sizable figure, it would bring US manufacturing employment back to 2007 levels but no higher. 
This analysis is not intended to suggest that there is no need to strive to improve the competitiveness of US manufacturing. Competitiveness, particularly through innovation, should be a top priority for policy makers in high-wage economies that need to compete on factors other than cost. The thrust of manufacturing policy—if such policy is contemplated—should focus on value added, productivity, terms of trade, and efforts to build on the competitive advantages that manufacturing sectors have in the global economy.

Value added is an interesting term. I have no idea what it means to each company, but from a consuming class member's point of view it means, Why is it preferable for me to spend money on this product versus these other ones? Cost is not the only factor, I don't think, for educated consumers. 

One example:

Yesterday I spent $5.49 to purchase 100 yards of a “100% Vegan Waxed” dental floss made by Eco-DenT. It comes in a coated (is coated paper recyclable?) container and relies upon the consumer to assemble what I will call the flossery. First, one must open the “flavor-saving protective bag” of floss; then, one must thread the floss.

Here were the decisions that affected my purchase: purchase at an independent store, which anchors the street life of my local neighborhood; and purchase a product using minimal packaging that is aesthetically pleasing and, ideally, biodegradable. (The executive summary of the McKinsey report refers to on-the-ground research which informed a frustrated consumer products manufacturer attempting to enter an emerging market that "unlike in every other nation where it sold this particular product, consumers in this emerging market required packaging that could be reused for other purposes after the contents were used up." People really do have their preferences.)

The Eco-DenT packaging reminds me of a cleanup day I participated in several years ago, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. For hours we fished all kinds of mostly plastic debris from the Hudson River. I was very disturbed by the number of Styrofoam pieces sunken and floating along that shoreline. (After that day and a subsequent one spent at a Cooper-Hewitt exhibit viewing packaging materials, I began to pay more attention to which restaurants use Styrofoam takeout containers.] 

My Eco-DenT purchase perhaps relates to a piece of news reported yesterday by the Surfrider Foundation, about President Obama’s signing of the Marine Debris Act Amendments (Farr - H.R. 1171) into law on Thursday. Part of the Coast Guard Maritime Transportation Act (H.R. 2838), the Marine Debris Act Amendments “reauthorizes and amends the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act to create a marine debris program to address the billions of pounds of litter that travel to our ocean every year.  Specifically, the bill requires NOAA to identify, determine sources of, assess, prevent, reduce and remove marine debris and address its adverse impacts on the national economy, the marine environment, and navigation safety.” How much of that debris is plastic? Quite a bit.

The McKinsey Global Institute (whose research, by the way, "is not commissioned by any business, government, or other institution") might classify plastic ocean pollution as one of the “societal challenges” manufacturers face year in, year out.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Note about Voting

Commenters: when you cast your vote, say a little something.

To the commenter who voted for horsy, I ask: Why? Why are you voting for horsy? I know why I like horsy; I'm curious why you like  it.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Semifinalists of 2012

The semifinalists are:


From the December 16 print and online editions of The New York Times Sunday Magazine article about Mark Bittman and Sam Sifton's "Feast in a Day":

S.S.: When we were at the vegetable market, which was basically a deli, the produce wasn’t great. The carrots were horsy, the turnips looked like they were distantly related to turnips.

I read this and thought Clearly a bid for inclusion in this soon-to-be-shuttered blog. What people will write . . . because of course there is no such thing as a horsy carrot, right? And, yet, I and probably everybody in the greater New York area who read that sentence know exactly what Mr. Sifton was talking about. We know horsy carrots! (And we know Whole Foods generally does not carry them. Even Fairway's are, at worst, pony carrots.)

In short, this is an inspired application of the word horsy, and catapults horsy into the semifinalists circle. 

NOT a horsy carrot
[via Edith Zimmerman's Food + Art
at ]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Phenology focuses on the rhythms of biological phenomena.

As the blog approaches its closing day (please vote if you are so moved), consider the pileated woodpecker, chipping away.

[video credit: Woodfibrebird via BirdNote]

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Friday night on the uptown 1 after seeing Volpone at the Lucille Lortel,* I rode with musician-actors from the play.

Even though the musical numbers could have been more lush (read: with more instruments), the very fact of their presence was welcome. So many period plays feature music in a way that comes off as clunky, unnatural, distracting. The music here contributed; it did not detract.

Alex Sovronsky I knew from seeing him work a stringed instrument in Shakespeare in the Park's production of Romeo and Juliet, and ran into last week at a performance of The Inner House at the Society Library. His friends Jen Eden and Pearl Rhein I'd never met.

Each one can play umpteen instruments. While listing the instruments she plays, Jen included the bari sax--"baritone sax," Alex added.

This kind of slang reminds me of the way musicians refer to the New York Philharmonic as the NY Phil. I never get over that, the Phil. I hear Phil as a man's name.

Bari, Italy

[ * My friend and I admire Stephen Spinella but would have preferred him cast as Mosca. To me Christina Pumariega, playing the Merchant's wife, and Gregory Wooddell, playing Bonario, delivered the only truly overblown Types, hermetically sealed, players upon a stage.]

Quarter Finalists of 2012


This blog is coming to a close. It's true! (It's time.)

The quarter finalists for 2012 are:

Saturday, December 1, 2012


The daily question: Whither the book?

In these differently illuminated days of electronic media, universities must become ever more creative in their attempts to shake off any perception of mustiness. Digitized collections are one way; they enable a wired scholar in, say, Perugia, to conduct at least preliminary research about forestry or Britain or komonjo.

And university English departments in particular must invent new ways to attract students to the yellowing pages of previous centuries. Perhaps towards that end, the Texas Institute for Literary & Textual Studies (TILTS), a multidisciplinary initiative affiliated with UT Austin's Department of English, launched a book-minded effort this fall. As part of an event yesterday at the Harry Ransom Centerthe English department presented a project produced in collaboration with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology.

The project, Migrographia, probes a physical book at the microscopic and atomic level. Specifically it takes a single page from Robert Hooke's pioneering 1664 work Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses : with Observations and Inquiries thereupon and puts it under a microscope in a big way.

Amplified and projected across 80 individual 30-inch computer screens, the page publicizes what is surely a work of major modern microscopy. Possibly the intention is to give us an idea of how Hooke's images would have astonished the eyes of a 17th century individual.

As published in the UT Austin publication Know:

First, the team is creating a microscopic panorama of a single page of Micrographia (from a 1667 second-edition copy) by stitching together hundreds of photos taken with a stereo dissection microscope in the genetics lab of Janice Fischer, a professor in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology.

The photos were painstakingly shot one by one, moving the microscope’s camera across the page in millimeter increments. These photos were then stitched together into an integrated image using the expertise and processing software at the TACC/ACES Visualization Laboratory (Vislab).

Digitally suturing the images, or tiles, together makes it possible to create a single image of the entire page that contains an incredible amount of microscopic detail. However, because the final image is so large, only a tiny portion of the image would be viewable on a standard computer monitor. To view the image in its full glory, the researchers loaded it on the 36-foot-wide “Stallion” display wall at the TACC/ACES Vislab.

Made up of 80 individual monitors, Stallion boasts a whopping 328-megapixel resolution, making it the highest-resolution-tiled display in the world. Seen in this way, the team’s images of Hooke’s book have the same blow-your-mind-wow-factor that Hooke’s oversized engravings must have had in the 1660s.

Finally, to get an even “deeper” perspective on the book, the team turned to scanning electron microscope technology, which can create images down to the atomic level. Electron Microscopy Specialist Dwight Romanovicz ran samples taken from the Micrographia’s pages through the Zeiss Supra 40 VP Scanning Electron Microscope, a facility of the ICMB. The SEM image takes the microscopic view further than Hooke, who coined the term “cell,” could have imagined in the 17th century — and does so using his own work as the subject.

Observ. XXV. 
Of the stinging points and juice of Nettles
and some other venomous Plants
[ Project Gutenberg ]

I don't know if the word Tripoly made it into the lab. From Hooke's preface: 

And hence it is, that if you take a very clear piece of a broken Venice Glass, and in a Lamp draw it out into very small hairs or threads, then holding the ends of these threads in the flame, till they melt and run into a small round Globul, or drop, which will hang at the end of the thread; and if further you stick several of these upon the end of a stick with a little sealing Wax, so as that the threads stand upwards, and then on a Whetstone first grind off a good part of them, and afterward on a smooth Metal plate, with a little Tripoly, rub them till they come to be very smooth; if one of these be fixt with a little soft Wax against a small needle hole, prick'd through a thin Plate of Brass, Lead, Pewter, or any other Metal, and an Object, plac'd very near, be look'd at through it, it will both magnifie and make some Objects more distinct then any of the great Microscopes.

A Brief Intermission

Around midnight yesterday, on Hudson Street, if one looked up, one would have seen bands of light coming from the West and shooting into the sky. Okay, a light exhibit of sorts, that's fine. We know, we've seen. We get it. It's a 21st century "global city" kind of thang.

But by Varick street it was clear that the bands weren't just shooting into the night sky. They were arcing and coming down somewhere beyond Manhattan. They were ROY G BIV.

It actually is a good idea, a night rainbow (if a bit gimmicky). And it was nice not knowing about it in advance.

Then, driving uptown in a cab, the Empire State was top to bottom red--lobster red. (Yes, I'm sure I could have checked Time Out to see why.) Another surprise. (Debatably I saw more surprising lights In Chicago this summer, at the Shedd aquarium.)

Tonight the Carlyle Hotel had a few rings of what looked to be blue and green lights, and this on a night when PBS Kids was showing a cartoon in which a sheep and her friends were trying to help a bear get over her fear of the dark. They did so by "building" a word for her to carry: nightlight.

© Microscopy UK / Brian Johnson

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Hudson Clearwater, a restaurant in downtown-ish Manhattan, is now open for lunch, and the other day a bartender there shook his first (so he told us) Ramos Gin Fizz. This cocktail (sometimes characterized as "difficult") happens to be one of the best cocktails going.

The bartender's first official fizz was perhaps a bit too . . . heady? The foam had filled up most of the glass, although that's what it's supposed to do. He set it down for a co-worker and pronounced it too


I don't particularly like the sound of the word, but it brought on a quasi cross-sensory reaction and moved rapidly from meringue-y to merenge before landing at meringuey. Meringuey is not a word, except perhaps in this blog (I have not scoured the world to check). To me it looks better than the hyphenated version. It's pleasant because it looks like something other than what's it's supposed to be, i.e., hyphenated.

The best Ramos Gin Fizz I've had was concocted this summer by a restaurant in Chicago, Ill. Obviously Hudson Clearwater is much closer to home. I shall have to return to see how the bartender is coming along with his recipe, a variation on a New Orleans one, he said. Well: that makes sense.

Credit: Topical Press Agency
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 5, Slice 5

Sunday, November 25, 2012


From a February 2, 2004, Anime News Network review by Zac Bertschy of the "house musical" anime movie Interstella 5555 (The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem):

It's no deeper than a kiddy pool, but in terms of simple pleasures, it's best to just sit back and enjoy it.

Reviewer's license, I suppose, but it seems to me (recalling the bizarrerie issue of the summer of 2009) that kiddy is (in truth) an ie word.

( 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) Free desktop streaming application by Ustream

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The syllabary, the Cherokee Nation's written language, was developed in the early 19th century by a man whose name is now known as the name of giant trees. The word syllabary reminds me of those tiny New Yorker funnies with Constabulary Notes from All Over.

As reported last October 7 by Christina Good Voice, in the online Cherokee Phoenix, in the article "Apple co-founder Steve Jobs leaves legacy in Cherokee language":

In 2003, Apple began supporting the Cherokee language by including a font and keyboard in the company’s computer operating system, wrote CN Language Technologist Joseph Erb in an emailed statement.

“In 2010, Apple’s mobile operating system, now known as iOS, began supporting the Cherokee syllabary by including a font and keyboard as well,” Erb wrote. “Now, all iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches in the world include our language on them – out of the box.

“Anything a person can do in English can be done in Cherokee in part because of his innovations and his support of our language.” 

Students in the Cherokee Language Immersion Program use the Cherokee language on Apple MacBooks in class.

Granted, Steve Jobs did contribute to the well-being of a language that in December 2010 had all of 8000 fluent speakers, most of them over the age of 50, according to an Engadget report. But the Cherokee Nation did its part, too: It joined the Unicode Consortium, the non-profit organization which develops, maintains and promotes software internationalization standards and data. (The Cherokee Nation is listed on Unicode's website as one of many Liaison Members; Apple, Google, Microsoft, and IBM are among the two handfuls of full members.)

In 2011 the National Science Foundation and the NEH announced 10 fellowships and 24 institutional grants totaling $3.9 million in the agencies' ongoing Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program. One of the grants was awarded to the author of the definitive Cherokee-English dictionary and many Cherokee language books, a man named Durbin D. Feeling, "to study the prosody of Cherokee, a severely endangered Iroquoian language. This project will add information about lexical tone and vowel length for each entry in the Cherokee Electronic Dictionary, filling a gap in the available resources on Cherokee grammar."

This week, Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) became Google's 57th language to become Gmailable. Email in Cherokee means the newly coined phrase "lightning paper," an echo (to me, anyway) of the 19th-century phrase "paper leaves."


*   *   * 

November 2017: Here's a tidbit about the history of the syllabary, from an online-published essay by Krissy Clark and Geoff McGhee, entitled "Did the West Make Newspapers, or Did Newspapers Make the West?" Find it at the website for The Bill Lane Center for the American West.
. . . In Oklahoma, for example, a young, Princeton-educated silversmith by the name of Sequoyah began developing an alphabet for the Cherokee language in 1809, with the hope of making written communication possible for his tribe. In 1828, the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Indian newspaper, came off of a press in Georgia that was typeset in his syllabary. It is instructive of the relationship between the natives and the coming settlers that one of the later papers to use the alphabet was not a newspaper at all, but a publication called the Cherokee Messenger, meant to proselytize Christianity in 1844.7 
7 Karolevitz, Robert F., Newspapering In the Old West: A Pictorial History of Journalism and Printing On the Frontier. [1st ed.] (Seattle: Superior Pub. Co, 1965), p. 122. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


What could be the reason for calling the turkey (short for turkey-cock) by its given name and presenting "as a recognizable bird in all its birdness" at the holiday table?

AgriCulture blogger Mark Scherzer, a co-owner of Turkana Farms in Germantown, NY, has some thoughts about this. In the most recent post on Rural Intelligence's AgriCulture blog, he writes: 

Starting from the descriptive terms we use, we try to mask the source of most of the meats we eat. We do not eat “cow” or “calf.”  Instead we dine on “beef” or “veal.” Nor do we eat “pigs.” It is “pork” that arrives on our tables. “Sheep”?  Never tasted them, it’s “mutton” instead.  Where mammals are concerned, our language suggests that we are eating something other than the actual animal when we fork into a serving of meat.

. . . 

Why such a ready acceptance of the turkey presented intact on the Thanksgiving table? One factor may certainly be the ritual nature of this harvest celebration meal, which dates back even beyond the American colonial period to sixteenth century Europe. The very nature of a ritual is that it is something repeated as it always has been. Our traditional presentation of the turkey may be, in part, a historical survival from a time when reminding us of the animal source of our food was considered highly desirable and in good taste. 

. . . 

In a famous letter to his daughter in 1784, Benjamin Franklin bemoaned the choice of the bald eagle as a national symbol, complaining that eagles were lazy and cowardly, and subject to being chased away by birds as small as sparrows. They scavenge as much as capture their own prey. He noted that the images of eagles depicted on coins looked a lot like turkeys, and opined that the turkey would have been a better choice as our symbol because it was also native to America but far braver than the eagle. The turkey, he noted, would even attack a British grenadier.

To the turkey’s quality of courage I would add a good natured inquisitiveness as well as a wily sort of intelligence. And then, perhaps the most American of all characteristics, the sort of open friendliness we have long valued as a society. 

Post-post tidbits: from the OED.

Etymology:  < Turkey n.1 + cock n.1 In the 16th cent. synonymous with Guinea-cock orGuinea-fowl, an African bird known to the ancients (the μελεαγρίς of Aristotle,meleagris of Varro and Pliny), the American bird being at first identified with or treated as a species of this. The African bird is believed to have been so called as originally imported through the Turkish dominions; it was called Guinea-fowl when brought by the Portuguese from Guinea in West Africa. After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Meleagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird.

1860   E. B. Tylor Anahuac (1861) ix. 228   The turkey, which was introduced into Europe from Mexico, was called ‘huexolotl’ from the gobbling noise it makes.

What Thanksgiving means for most of New York City
Macy's "first ever giant inflatable balloon," 1927
(according to U.S. News & World Report)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Charming typo alert:

From the Financial Times.

November 21, 2012 12:49 am

News Corp eyes Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The conveniently located Upper West Side Trader Joe's sells milk that is not Fairway's grassfed milk (Q: what, exactly, does the carton mean when it says the organic milk contained within is "produced with milk from local family farmers"?)

The store also offers its own brand of natural mountain spring water, from Benton, Tenn., possibly Peacock Spring.

Wouldn't it be super groovy cool if Trader Joe's

1) stopped selling bottled water in plastic bottles and set up a San Francisco-airport style water station (note: because NYC tap water tastes so good, people from out of town have been known to actually fill jugs to bring it "back with them")


2) looked west to the Okanogan Highlands Bottling Company, and figured out a way to make more of their own bottles ?


The word transboundary did not announce itself in the middle of a grocery outpost, however.  It appears in a November 19 piece, "A Global Treaty on Rivers: Key to True Water Security," by Fred Pearce, in Yale environment360. The catalyst for the piece: Two global river treaties are close to being approved – a UN agreement adopted in 1997 looks to be on the verge of being ratified, and European nations are close to ratifying their own river treaty. Mr. Pearce writes,

"More than 40 percent of the world’s people live in 263 river basins that straddle international borders. The Danube, Rhine, Congo, Nile, Niger, and Zambezi rivers all pass through nine or more countries. Transboundary rivers contain 60 percent of the world’s river flows — for two-thirds of them, there are no agreements on water sharing."

The article is about the possibility (in time for the 2013 U.N.'s International Year of Water Cooperation) for a global agreement on sharing international rivers. It sounds as though the outcome of a Rome meeting of the Helsinki convention set for November 28-30 will determine the way forward for an agreement.

"The Rome meeting of the Helsinki convention is also likely to extend its purview to drawing up rules for sharing underground water reserves," Mr. Pearce writes. "It could, for instance, help save the ancient water beneath Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which the two countries are currently racing to pump out before the other does. Likewise, it could manage the Nubian aquifer beneath Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Chad, which is currently being tapped by Libya; and the Guarani aquifer that straddles the borders between Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina."

Mr. Pearce describes China as "the water tower of Asia."

Canadian Geographic has a glossary which defines transboundary as "Crossing a provincial, territorial or national boundary or border." Note that the definition relies on a suface model, not a, let's say, hydrogeologic one.

Here in New York State we are facing some boundary issues, having to do with concrete casings, hazardous waste laws, sewage treatment plants, and money. New York City and every other county that will be affected by activities in the state's Southern Tier are having our own transboundary time of it, thanks to the advent of high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing and its imminent long-term visitation upon to the Empire State. 

Sometimes I think about China's Three Gorges Dam and "the wobble" and its supposed 15-day fill period; other times I think about what is going on here in New York State, and about the simple offer of an ordinary glass of tap water at a restaurant, and as a New York City resident I think--seriously--about the choices one will have if this technology really comes to stay. 

Water takes the shape of its container. 

What is its container? Some say it's Earth.

 [credit: Daily Mail, Oct 15 2008]


After the bee, in a long high-ceilinged room on the third floor of The Standard Hotel, we learned the correct way to pronounce antimony. It's pronounced like alimony, not like anemone. The OED's Jesse Sheidlower, a man of few and myriad words and one of the BMOCs in the room, walked us through the word.

Before the bee began in earnest, at the outset, emcee Ben Greenman told the participants, "Think about the alphabet."

And during the bee, a spelling bee to benefit the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, many words were broadcast for the enjoyment of all and sundry. Some words were quite nice (tierce, timbale), some quite rather easy (litigiousgluttonously, and succotash--a Narragansett word, according to Mr Sheidlower), and a few, such as sculpin, a little out-there.

As is the annual tradition, sacrilegious felled a couple of participants. Mr Sheidlower was nonplussed at this (in the traditional sense of the word).

Colophon proved a stumper, too.

One of the participants -- was it Patricia Marx? -- asked for the definition of uncomplimentary before she spelt it. A wise woman.

Until Mr Sheidlower read the word chordal aloud in a sentence, I imagined it as something difficult, out of the Aztecs. That Roseanne Cash received the word was a sweet coincidence.

from a letter c. 1517