Archive for the 'words' Category

Tuesday’s Tools: I, Rearrangement Servant

February 19, 2008

For what might be the most random and unpractical Tool ever, I present’s Internet Anagram Server (or “I, Rearrangement Servant”). I suppose this would come in handy when you needed to be witty, or if you had a character in your novel who loved anagrams, or if you were a blogger trying to come up with intelligent things to talk about (did you know “New York Times” can be anagrammed to “Timeworn Keys?”)…but really this is mostly a timewaster if I ever saw one.  The page has recently been updated to display anagrams in title case caps (The Quick Brown Fox…) rather than all caps (WHICH IS REALLY ANNOYING) so, props to the anagram folks.

(More: Washington Post ->Hating Now Stops. Los Angeles Times -> Elegant Semi Loss. Fitting, no?)


A glossary of journalism terms

February 7, 2008

Flickr: Thomas Hawk
Found while trawling the web: a five page (!) glossary of newspaper terms.
Many of these are amusingly archaic (does anyone need to know “cablese” anymore?) but there will be times when you, a reporter, will be asked to write a “hed” and “deck” for your 10-“inch” story–or to go to the “morgue,” or to rewrite your “lede,” or to stay until the day’s paper is “put to bed.” And I don’t know what they teach you in big-name J-schools, but where I went to school, we weren’t taught this in a class. (Actual quote from a teacher, reading from a handout: “Lede…? What’s that?”)

Many of these terms are artifacts from the green-eyeshade era. In fact, maybe nobody really needs to know what a lede is (it’s the beginning of your story, also written using the more traditional spelling lead, but spelled differently to prevent confusion with lead, the metal that made up the letters that were rearranged on a plate and put into the printing press to print the newspaper–no lead, no need for lede.) I’ve worked places that asked for 500 words, rather than 15 inches. I’ve also worked places that assumed I knew what all these terms meant (you can imagine my terror when, as a complete newbie, I was told to “keep [my] budget up to date.” What? I’m not an accountant!)

But it can’t hurt to be prepared.

Extra credit: Here’s a Palo Alto Times piece that describes the words used by the printers themselves–which didn’t exactly overlap with what reporters and editors used at the time. Wonderful words that just roll off the tongue: quoin, hellbox, chase, turtle.

Quickie: an irrepressible love for “maven”

February 1, 2008

I really really love the word maven. I don’t know why. It’s just something about the way it sounds, maybe, the drawn-out maaaaaaaaaay followed by the short ven. Maybe because there are few words that rhyme with it: haven, raven, shaven. Maybe I just like it. A maven, the dictionary tells us, is “A person who has special knowledge or experience; an expert.” It’s originally a Yiddish word, and we didn’t start using it in English until 1952. Heck, just read what has to say about the word:

What’s the word for a know-it-all who really knows it all? We didn’t have one until Yiddish gave us maven in the mid-twentieth century. A maven is more adept than a mere expert, more authoritative than a mere authority, sharper than a pundit, more up-to-date than a past master.

Since the word was introduced to English (with attestations going back to 1952), we have been blessed with a multitude of mavens…

Regrettably, this word was not in the English language when Edgar Allan Poe wrote his most famous poem. He would have found it useful: “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou, I said, art sure no maven, Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore.”

English should be so lucky to get words from Yiddish! [source]

Ah, vocabulary…

Quickie: Etymology of “heretic”

January 28, 2008

One of my favorite etymologies (this is how you know I’m a nerd) is that of the word “heretic.” Merriam-Webster defines heretic as:

1: a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially: a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth

2: one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine: see also NONCONFORMIST

There’s a negative connotation, though–as anyone who dissents from the established doctrine is therefore “rocking the boat” and otherwise causing trouble and contributing to the decline of the establishment.

So it’s wonderful that this word should come (in a long and complicated journey) from the Greek hairetikos–“able to choose.

“Let the Decadence Begin”

January 18, 2008


Godiva’ s new ad campaign, as seen on a poster in a Metro station:

A woman in a slinky dress kneels on the floor next to an enormous chocolate box. She’s tearing the ribbon off to get to the chocolates, which are at least the size of her head. Tagline: “Let the decadence begin.”

Now, BusinessWeek apparently has a problem with this slogan because Godiva isn’t decadent enough for them. But linguaphiles should point out another problem: the word itself.

“Decadence” comes from the same root word as “decay.” It means “a period of decline, downfall.” “Decadent,” a back-formation from decadence, is “marked by decline or decay.” The etymology is right there in your face.

In modern usage, the word “decadent” can be applied to self-indulgent pleasures (“this cake is so decadent”) but that definition is listed third on Merriam-Webster. I don’t hear the “decay” in most sentences using “decadence” or “decadent,” but this ad just seems to bring out the rot. There’s something sinister about the way the woman tears into the chocolate box (shades of Turkish Delight?), and of course, everyone knows that chocolate makes your teeth decay. It’s as if the ad is inviting the comparison between chocolate (not, on the whole, a bad food item) and this unwholesome rot. In this context, I get an extremely visceral reaction from this word and this ad.

Time to go buy some Cadbury…