Friday, January 30, 2009

Two timer

Recently I heard the misuse of the word "duplicity". While hilarious for its implication--that is, the number of widgets on facebook defrauds the user--it was, after all, cringe-inspiring. The intended word redundancy, and, other than the sonic parody of the word "double", duplicity did not communicate this idea.

However it seemed odd a word such as duplicity (i.e. a word containing a form of "duple-") would have nothing in common with the root of double. An online etymology dictionary confirms this suspicion. Duplicity can be traced to Middle French duplicite, a derivative of the Late Latin duplicitatem (nom. duplicitas), meaning "doubleness". Notably, the Medieval Latin root, duplex (gen. duplicis), equates to "ambiguity". Hence, the root is grounded in the concept of double-speak and being two-faced.

While still a misuse, exchanging fraudulence for redundancy is not that far off.

Word of the week: Jabot

jabot-\zha-ˈbō, ˈja-ˌbō\ , noun

1: a fall of lace or cloth attached to the front of a neckband and worn especially by men in the 18th century

2: a pleated frill of cloth or lace attached down the center front of a woman's blouse or dress

Friday, January 23, 2009

140 or bust: medium making

This is a fact: media beget media. In an all-too-simplistic teleology, glyphs led to simple text which led to long-form writing which led to print and so on and so forth. As top-level abstract constructions become more ingrained, and so transparent, we begin to lower their status and treat them as transmission layers. (For anyone studying at Georgia Tech, this is the first few lectures of 6313; that is, here I'm a transmission layer.) This process of deprecating representation layers to transmission (and further inscription) layers allows for new forms of manifest expression.

Here I propose a challenge: Twitter poetry.

For the next few weeks, I would like us to explore the possibilities of the limited format of Twitter (140-characters, including spaces and punctuation; no page formatting) as tantamount to constraints of, say, a sonnet. Let Twitter not be the layer of representation, but that of transmission. Use its form to shape certain constraints, while delving into what is medium specific.

As for the resulting poems, please post them in the comments (either in full or as links to the full text somewhere else, such as a Twitter page).

Tweet tweet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The impossiblity of dark blond

The word blond (also spelled blonde) grew from two possible origins: Medieval Latin's blundus or Vulgar Latin's flavus--both of which mean "yellow". Though the associated hair color could be described as yellow, blond entered into language as a replacement of fæger-- formally meaning "beautiful, good-looking, attractive", but practically overriding (and solidifying) blond meaning "fair".

The possible roots would indicate that blond is a color, and so would current usages. This is not untrue--it is just skewed. In replacing "fair", blond became an conceptual adjective describing the amount of pigment rather than the color of that pigment. (Another good example of conceptually-skewed adjective is robust, truly a better as a descriptor of coffee's flavor than information's breadth.) The link between concept and physicality has led to a conflation of the idea captured by blond.

A troubling use (at least, a troubling use for me) of this shifted meaning is dark blond, literally meaning "dark light-toned" as opposed to the intended "yellow-brown". This oxymoron is hidden behind years of misuse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Technology Terminology

If you're a user of Gmail, I invite you to visit the 'Trash' folder of your account and view the origin of this screenshot. I'm willing to bet that most people don't see their Trash on a regular basis, as one of the selling points (or giving-away-free points) of Gmail is the mass storage space that supports the 'Archive' feature which lets people move their messages out of their Inbox without worrying about where it needs to be filed.

If you delete a message from your Inbox it goes to the Trash. If you delete a message from the Trash... does it return to the Trash? Or is there a secondary Trash Can? We have grown accustom to the Empty verb that is associated with the Trash Can metaphor. Have you ever emptied only part of your kitchen refuse bin? If you're like me, sometimes you set aside garbage—like that over-sized pizza box that's too awkward to fit in your tiny trash can— so as to throw it away individually.

So how does Google approach the breakdown of the Trash Can metaphor in the case of singularly removing messages? 'Delete Forever.' Pictured above, this button allows users to select individual messages to remove from their mailbox Trash without deleting everything. Yet this seemingly innocuous button carries a significant amount of gravity. Computer users delete files, discard messages, and empty Recycle Bins without ever being faced with the kind of linguistic finality that is forever. I have found that this term causes me to reconsider that which comes so naturally. Let 'Delete Forever' exemplify the interface terminology we take for granted that shapes our technological interactions.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Haiku contest: disclaimers/warnings

Branch and Leaf's first semi-periodic haiku contest begins today and extends to next Friday (Jan 23rd) at 5 pm.

All haikus must, directly or indirectly, deal with the topic of "Disclaimers/Warnings".

Submissions should be posted as comments to this post and will be judged by popular vote in the subsequent week.

Participants may submit any number of haikus. (The more, the better!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Call to arms

Our haiku contest
needs a topic of focus.
Submit by Friday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inequities in Idiom: Hell or High Water

The phrase "come hell or high water" is used to describe obstacles that will be overcome in order to reach a goal. 'Historians' date the saying back to the mid-19th century where it originated as "hell and high water." 

I will make it to my 8AM class come hell or high water.

While I don't mean to slight those caught in their cars in Bethesda, MD as a water main broke ruptured on ironically named River Road, this level of high water does not seem to be equivalent to the obstacle that would be hell. Something on the level of the flooding of Hurricane Katrina is a living hell, but high water in general not so much. Perhaps it was a product of its time—when your whole town is built of wood a little high water can do a world of damage. I don't think we can appreciate that contextual equivalency today. 

Though perhaps I am mistaken. I am assuming hell in this situation is referring to an actual space—the proper noun Hell. If we're thinking of hell as an adjective meaning "hellish things," the idiom may still stand. That brings up a whole other issue, however.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Colloquialism of the week: Scantless

Courtesy of Brooke Hatfield, a language humorist:

scantless, adj. (ˈskant-ˈles)

1. a particularly delicious foodstuff.
Laura Barrett’s salad dressing was just scantless.

Origin: I really think my mom made this word up.

Editor's note: According to Urban Dictionary, scantless means (through tongue-laze and aural-rounding) "scandalous."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Word of the week: Onanism

Onanism1,2, n. 'nə-nĭz'əm)

1. withdrawal in sexual intercourse before ejaculation
2. masturbation [after Onan: see Genesis 38:9]

1. Definition source: {}.
2. I stumbled on this term while reading The computer game as fictional form.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Language Log is awesome and so are YOU

My friend meg posted this on facebook, and it's the sort of slip I always find noteworthy:

Make due vs. Make Do- Language Log

As such a phrase is so commonly aural, the mistake is slight, but still significant, especially when Wired suggests : The Air Force can't make due on $144 billion a year. The service is telling Congress it needs nearly another $19 billion for fiscal year 2009 -- including about $1.7 billion worth of extra fighter jets.
(Emphasis mine)

It simply doesn't make sense. Just like all those folks who tell me we'll have to "play it by year" to arrive at an outcome... haven't considered the actual content of the expression.

I'm a bad word blogger. hai.