Category Archives: words


Last night, amidst the feeble attempts to do work while manically checking election results, the hard drive of my laptop began its death throes. While I was able to access web pages (albeit slowly), I was unable to save files or send emails. Happily, I knew I had backed up only a couple of days before, and what work I’d done in the time since was mostly things like lab meeting notes and emails, most of which could probably be reconstructed.

When the very exciting election results came rolling in, it felt like everything–all the angst and the effort–was worth it. I was willing to count the loss of my hard drive and of my day’s productivity as acceptable sacrifices for the greater good.

Of course, my hard drive was not really a blood sacrifice to the cause of the election. Just a weird coincidence. And happily, I live with someone who is expert in dealing with computer trauma. Today, John went out and got me a new hard drive, and got it up and running with all my data, restored from my back-up, by dinner time. In the meantime, I had dug out my old laptop, a slow beast with a tendency to overheat when working with large media files (which I need to do for much of my work).

Here it is evening, and I am back on my proper laptop, with its shiny new hard drive. (Not that I can see it. I’m just sort of assuming that it’s shiny. Maybe even *sparkly*.) And I have to get moving on some work stuff for Friday. But it would seem that I have lost a good deal of my drive to do so.

I’m feeling downright zonked, possibly coming down with (yet another) cold. I think that part of this is post-election exhaustion.

I also am trying to decide about what to do tomorrow, as I had planned to drive into Cambridge to see a talk my advisor is giving at MIT. It would be good if I were there, but I don’t really *need* to be. And now that I’ve lost a solid day’s work time to hard drive failure, I could really use those 2+ hours that would be eaten up by the drive. Also, the weather is icky. We have had our first snow of the season, and a mix of driving rain and snow are forecast for tomorrow.

With this change in the weather, my thoughts are with those who are still without adequate power and shelter in New York and New Jersey. There have been several local drives to collect for victims of Sandy, and I am investigating what contributions will be most useful. (I hope to be mindful of not being part of the “disaster after the disaster,” resulting from well-meaning people giving a flood of items that aren’t needed.) I have also been very impressed by the Occupy Sandy Amazon registry, where volunteers on the ground in New York are requesting specific needed items. As the wind blew through my too-thin-for-the-day coat today, I thought of those who lost their homes, and those who are still in their homes but without power, and those who are working heroically to help them. I wish them warmth and shelter and safety.

acting normal

With my poster sent off to the printer for the conference I’m attending next week, I felt a bit of the pressure ease up. I figured I’d put something up here. When I haven’t been posting regularly, though, I often wonder where to start back in. There are just too many possibilities, with all that’s going on in my life and in my head. Often, I resort to looking back through my photos to see what I’ve been saving. The trouble is, there again are just too many possibilities. I like like to have some sort of rhyme or reason when I post, and of course what I like best is some sort of theme.¹

Happily, the title of my previous post provided, because I came across this photo from a January trip to the Boston Museum of Science. Here are Phoebe and Theo, standing in front of a display demonstrating normal distribution.² (I learned tonight that this type of set-up is called a bean machine, which is a cool thing to be called. Not that I’m saying I want to be called a bean machine.) Anyhow, I couldn’t refrain from making “normal” jokes. I asked Phoebe and Theo to try to look normal as they posed in front of the normal curve.

My two children, acting normal in front of the normal distribution.

¹ I can spend far more time thinking about posting than actually posting.
² I realized that this is a lovely spontaneous usage of a sentence with attachment ambiguity.³ One could read this as “Phoebe and Theo demonstrating normal distribution, in front of a display” which would be high attachment. In case it wasn’t clear, I intended the low attachment reading, with the display doing the demonstrating. If Phoebe and Theo were to try to demonstrate a distribution in front of a display, I expect they’d have an easier time trying to do something bimodal.
³ It’s totally normal to reflect on attachment ambiguities.

my so-called doodles

Not the most productive day, but Phoebe and I spent some time drawing together, which I enjoyed. She had picked out a set of oil pastels for my birthday present, and I had yet to try them out. They turned out to work out quite well for the sort of doodley shapes I like to draw. (My previous doodles, which live here on my blog, were done in crayon.) This doodle is not yet done, but I don’t when I’m likely to finish it.

In somewhat related news, I’m amused (proud?) to see that my doodles are coming up in the world. When I google “doodle” (as opposed to “google doodle,” or opposed to doodling google), 2 of my posts come up on the first page. And one of my doodles is in the first 10 images on google images.

I must admit, though, that my use of the word doodle may not fully mesh with the standard doodle definition (and definitely not with the standard poodle definition). Cf. what can be seen on Wikipedia: “an unfocused drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied.” (This, by the way, is the definition for doodle, not poodle. Just so we’re clear.) I supposed that in each of my alleged acts of doodling, my attention has somewhat been otherwise occupied by parenting, but I have very intentionally set out to draw. Does that make it a doodle in your book? No, no, I’m not saying I’m doodling in your book. I don’t even doodle in my books. But I did used to doodle in my notebooks. I was an avid doodler in many of my classes. My recent so-called doodles have their roots in the margins of many class notes, scribbled along with the occasional haiku. I suppose the reason that I tend to call them doodles, as opposed to drawings, is that I don’t generally have a plan. I start off with a blob of some sort, and keep going. I’m pretty much doing what I used to do when doodling in the margins of my notebooks, except that I have more space. And more colors to work with. (Because, let’s face it, it wouldn’t have been too subtle to sit in class with a big tray of crayons during a lecture on semantics.)

teachable moments

Parenting small children can be tough. But what’s important is work with the challenges, and turn them into teachable moments.

Yesterday morning, Phoebe came to me and said: “Theo just called me ‘stupid bad Phoebe.'”

“Theo!” I scolded. “Is this true?” Theo instantly dropped to the floor and hid his face from me, an apparent admission of guilt.

“Theo, that’s a hurtful thing to say. Those things are just not true.” Theo continued to avoid looking at me.

“What’s more,” I continued, “your choice of words is both unoriginal and uninspired.” I whipped out the thesaurus. “Look here, Theo. Instead of ‘stupid,’ there are plenty of other words you could have chosen: brainless, doltish, simpleminded, half-witted, thick-headed..obtuse! Now there’s a good one.”

“Obsoot?” Theo tried, tentatively, still face down on the floor.

“And instead of ‘bad,’ you could have used…let’s see…beastly, deficientinferior, atrocious, substandardPutrid! There’s a nice colorful word. How about putting beastly and doltish together?”

“Beasty goldfish?” Theo turned to look at me.

“Or maybe we can learn from some famous insults…” I quickly googled famous insults. “Ah yes, here we go: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” Nice! But, no, no. That won’t do. Let’s not insult me! I’m your mother, too. Ooh, how about this? “You warthog-faced buffoon.” Yes, that’s the way. But better yet would be to make up your own. Think of an animal…or maybe a vegetable. Monkey…turnip…You can combine them with adjectives, like “doltish monkey” or “simpleminded turnip.” Or make compound nouns. How about calling her a substandard, simpleminded turnip-nosed monkey face? Brainless waterbuffalo? Putrid potato head? The combinations are endless! You just need to use your imagination.”

“Now, I want you to give Phoebe a hug and say you’re sorry,” I said sternly. “And next time you insult your sister, I expect to hear something more creative.”

Theo, thoroughly ashamed of his banal insult.

I’m going to borrow from Neil, here, and give a truth quotient. Let’s say 50%. I’ll let you guess which parts really happened.

the one about a halfalogue with QQ about cherpumple

Today, at the ISLE conference, I treated myself to going to some talks that have nothing to do with my subfield. Particularly fun was the session on internet idioms:

Section A (CAS 203)
Internet idioms (Chair: Daniel Donoghue)
10:50-11:20 Jon Bakos, “QQ More”
11:25-11:55 Daphné Kerremans and Susanne Stegmayr, “Neologisms on the internet”
12:00-12:30 Ursula Kirsten, “Development of SMS language from 2000 to 2010″

Actually, while it was the title of the session, only one of the three talks was technically about internet-specific idioms. One was on finding and tracking neologisms on the internet, as in using the web as a corpus to track the appearance and usage of new terms, but the neologisms themselves need not have internet origins. The speakers described a tool that they have been developing for this purpose, and illustrated the utility of the tool with a couple examples of neologisms they have tracked: cherpumple and halfalogue. (Cherpumple, by the way, is a dessert involving layers of cake with pies baked in and which may give me nightmares, and halfalogue is a term coined by a researcher to label overheard half conversations when someone nearby is on the phone.) There was also the talk on SMS language, or texting.

I really enjoyed the talk on “QQ,” and learned some new stuff. Such as the meaning of QQ. It’s a generally pejorative term used primarily (or even exclusively?) in online gaming circles, mainly World of Warcraft, and means more-or-less “whining.” It has two competing etymologies, one of which is that it is based on an old game command to suddenly quit a match (Alt + Q + Q), the use of which caused annoyance to other players. The other possible origin is from an emoticon: Q_Q. It makes a little sad face, with the Q tails looking like tears. I’m really intrigued and amused by the idea of a term originating in an emoticon. It’s a strange new world. Or a strange new word. (Plus it’s so gosh-darned cute!) The talk was full of entertaining usage examples, showing (among other things) that QQ usage reflects productive morphology (use as different parts of speech, with affixes, etc.). People will toss around accusations of QQing or being a QQer, or call a discussion a QQ thread. But then it’s also sometimes used sort of self-mockingly or playfully. I found myself wondering whether this term will take off out of those circles, and whether it will make its way into spoken language.

I have to say, I find it more appealing than a cherpumple.

talking tomatoes

We’re in the kitchen eating breakfast. Phoebe gets up to use the bathroom.

Phoebe: Don’t eat all the pear while I’m gone!
Me: I won’t. What if I eat all the oatmeal?
Phoebe: Don’t eat all the oatmeal! I want some.
Me: What if I eat all the sassafrass?
Phoebe: I don’t think we have any sassafrass.
Me: What if I eat all the… tomatillos?
Phoebe: I don’t think he would like that.
Me: [?] Tomatillo is a kind of tomato.
Phoebe: …that they eat in Spain?
Me: Does it sound like a Spanish word to you?
Phoebe: Yes.
Me: You’re right. It is a Spanish word.
Phoebe: Then they must be in Spain!
Me: I’m not actually sure. You know, there are other places in the world where they speak Spanish.
Phoebe: Tomatoes don’t speak!

Phoebe enjoys her breakfast with pears, oatmeal and reference-resolution adventures.

the penultimate post

Oof. It’s 11:00 p.m., and I have yet to post anything. It would be kinda silly to make it this far into NaBloPoMo and blow it on the penultimate day.

I’m quite fond of the word penultimate. It’s one of those words that gets misused frequently, often in a way suggesting that the user thinks it means something like “more ultimate that ultimate.” But ultimate is just that: final, unique. The end all. Penultimate? It’s the second to last. It’s not quite the be-all and end-all of ultimate.

I suppose that’s much of the appeal. It’s the not-quite. Most of us never achieve the level of ultimate for most things. Who among us will get to be the ultimate authority on some subject? Will we ever achieve ultimate happiness? Ultimate calm? Bake the ultimate chocolate cake? I, for one, am not sure I’d want to. Because wouldn’t that mean I’d reached the end?

Penultimate is a word that gets used frequently in phonology. We talk a lot about the penultimate syllable of word. For example, in a given language it might be the penultimate syllable, or the penult (as many like to call it, skipping the formality of the polysyllabic phrase) that bears the word-level stress. Or you might talk about the antepenultimate syllable. Or even the preantepenultimate. It really amuses me that there is a word that means “4th from the end.” (Mind you, when talking “ultimate” syllables, phonologists tend to say “final.” It’s seems somewhat anticlimactic.)

As usual, there is a backlog of posts I’d like to write, but clearly I’m not going to manage anything of them now. (Have I mentioned that I am a very slow writer? I type, I delete, I re-type, I edit. And often I delete and re-type once more.) So rather than write about something that might take some thinking, I’m apparently going to just ramble on for a bit just for the sake of rambling. Because ultimately, that’s what’s blogging is often about.

Oh, and one last thing, since I like to have at least one picture in a post. Can anyone identify this?