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Archive for December, 2015

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Is Santa Clause an NSA Spy?
(Sung to the tune of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town)

You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He’s making a list and
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out
who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you are really sick
Or faking a tummy ache!

He’s making a list
Whatever you say;
Sharing that list
With the NSA.
Santa Clause is coming to town!

(You can replace “Santa Clause” with “Donald Trump” if you think the Mr. Trump has supernatural powers.)

Origins of the Alphabet

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Paul Ogden, one of the Good Word editors, sent me this link to an article in the Times of Israel about a new piece of evidence in the early development of the alphabet.


Friday, December 11th, 2015
Here is a note from Christ Stewart that I received last month which I simply pass on here for those who are interested in such things.
I thought I would raise a little levity and bring in a term commonly used by those interested in the mysterious behavior of our universe. It may be suitable for an April 1 Good Word, except that it is no joke (which would mean those who thought it was, would be fooled).
If one approaches a black hole, then due to the inverse square law of gravity, one reaches a zone where the gravity gradient is so extreme that solid objects will be torn apart. Were an astronaut to fall into a black hole feet first, the gravitational force at his feet would become much larger than at his head. The net effect of the complex forces (which are dragging not just matter, but space and time from our universe into the black hole) is akin to squeezing out the contents of a toothpaste tube. The result would be for the astronaut to be stretched long and thin like a rubber band, a rather unfavourable irreversible situation from which there is no return.
This process is known as spaghettification, and one who undergoes it is said to have been spaghettified. Doubtless modern Spanish Inquisitors would gladly trade in their racks for a spaghettifier.
I could not find many on-line dictionaries with the word, but there are some. Quite a good explanation can be found at
–Chris Stewart

Is the Medium Still the Message?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
One of the Good Word editors, Luciano de Oliveira, caught this sentence in the New York Times:
“The particular ‘narrative’ of political journalists tended to emphasize the process dynamics — who’s up, who’s down — in addition to what the media itself are doing.”
Apparently the writer, Mark Leibovich, couldn’t make up as to whether to treat media as a singular mass noun or a plural noun. Most Americans treat media as a singular mass noun these days, though it is actually the plural of medium.
Oh, how I miss the old NYT.

Another ‘Lexical Gracenote’

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
This morning, when the Good Word was nomophobia, I received a two-part e-mail from my stalwart e-friend, Chris Stewart, of South Africa. I’ve conjoined the two e-mails:
“Surely nomophobia would logically be a fear of numbers?  The reason why I leapt to the conclusion that nomo– should refer to numbers, is that a nomogram is a specific kind of graph whose sole purpose is to derive a numerical value in one unit of measure from two other kinds of numbers. The most commonly found example here is a little nomogram in vehicle logbooks to derive a fuel consumption value.”
“According to Merriam-Webster a nomogram is ‘a graphic representation that consists of several lines marked off to scale and arranged in such a way that by using a straightedge to connect known values on two lines an unknown value can be read at the point of intersection with another line’.”

“I see that nomo from the Greek means ‘law or custom’, which makes sense in the mathematical context too. However, there are other colloquial uses, e.g. the Urban Dictionary, which could alter the whole sense of nomophobia. Tricky! On the other hand, the Wikipedia article is interesting.”

My reply refers to a 2007 entry in this blog, Lady Finger, Lady Birds, and Woolly Bears
Yes, nomogram should mean “fear of numbers” or “fear of names”. However, when it comes to language, what should be is often quite distant from what is, e.g. earwig, lady finger, woolly bear. Actually, homophobia should mean “fear of people” and “fear of sameness”, so why shouldn’t nomophobia mean “fear of being without a cellphone”. People created language; people can determine what the words of their language mean. They have regular means at their disposal, but also irregular ones.
In my 2007 blog I call such phenomena “lexical grace notes”, things we don’t expect but that make language more interesting.