Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moustache Movement Update

Just an update on the Moustache Movement. I did some online research only to find out that I did not discover what was going on. I am relatively late in studying the scope and timeline of this phenomenon. I'm still quite fuzzy (no pun intended) on the foundations--maybe that is something that we won't be able to see for years to come, but I think that I have discovered the flash point. Brad Pitt grew a moustache in 2008, reputedly for his film Inglorious Bastards, but he wore it proudly off set, even out to Hollywood social events.

And let's face it, Brad Pitt is like the Queen of England. Not so much Elizabeth II, but Elizabeth I. If any of you have taken a college Shakespeare class you probably know that the Queen was the trend setter in terms of fashion. Men's and women's fashion changed in "Elizabethan England" depending on what the Queen wore. Who knows, maybe someday historians will call our time Pittian America. Okay, so that's going a little too far, but seriously, Brad Pitt is a force to be reckoned with.

Okay, so the moustache has had no credibility for over a decade, and during that time you risked looking like a pedophile to wear one. But put one on Brad Pitt, the man who consistently wins "Sexiest Man Alive" (and is a family man to boot)and some of that pedophile exoskeleton begins to be chipped away.
So what happened after that? That's right, George Clooney--bosom pal of Mr. Pitt and another Sexiest Man Alive emeritus grows one. When you have that kind of credibility behind a moustache people are going to start questioning those negative assumptions that they had. Since the Pitt-stache, Mel Gibson, Matt Damon, Orlando Bloom, and Jude Law have been caught with Moustaches. I predict that once the entire cast of Ocean's 11 (including Julia Roberts) has had one, moustaches will be fully embraced by American society.

There is still an element of humour behind this movement. I still maintain that no one is wearing one in the same spirit that they would wear Prada, though it certainly is a statement either way. Wearing a moustache is also a sign of supreme confidence. You have to be very secure in yourself, and your appeal, to disregard the usual connotations. But now people can say, even if it is only subconsciously,"Well, Brad Pitt had one; why not?"

I typed in "moustache comeback" into Google, and there is no end to people with pictures of themselves who are bravely "reclaiming the moustache." This grassroots movement smacks of freedom and is marked by bold self-expression. Again, I find myself being seduced by the message. I have been appalled in the past by the negative connotations that have unfairly been attached to lip-hair, and it is high time we stopped discriminating against and porn-profiling those who choose to have a push-broom on their face.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A day late and a dollar short: Movember

Okay, I know that November was so yesterday, but I have been wanting to post about Movember all month. Yeah, that's right--Moustache November baby.

During the second half of November I couldn't help noticing that mustaches were on the rise, growing, perhaps, to epidemic proportions. Could it be that mustaches are making a comeback? Something must be horribly wrong, I thought. I have been having flashbacks to the 70s, even though I never lived in that decade, and my fear of being mugged or molested has increased. Come on, mustaches have very few positive connotations these days. I must admit, though, in all honesty that I think it is very sad that they have come to be associated with pedophiles--I think that is pretty unfair. But I am a product of the aesthetics of my time in that I only know about 10 people who look good in a mustache. I should mention here that my father is one of those people, and he's one of the least creepy people on the planet. He just looks like a Tom Selleck throw-back from the seventies--harmless.

So, despite the fact that a well trimmed beard or goat-tee looks infinitely more respectable these days than a stash, my university's grooming standards only allow facial hair on the upper lip. Unless you are a woman, of course, in which case you could look like Karl Marx if you could grow it. Perhaps the University knew that only those men who didn't care about getting dates, and didn't mind frightening small children, would grow one. Perhaps this was the master plan to achieve bare faces across campus. Anyway, so when I started seeing all of these moustaches last month I thought it evidence of an organized, underground, cabal--bent on reclaiming at least a modicum of facial freedom. There is even a prominent work of art on campus, that appeared in early November, of a large metal-tubed moustache that is apparently filled with kerosene because at night it becomes a flaming stash. It's even in the style of the 19th century saloon keeper moustache--you know, it perks up at the ends, like an extra, hairy smile. Well, the work is entitled, "Self-Portrait" and I have seen the artist--who looks like he must be the leader of the underground movement.

Then I heard of no-shave November and figured that growing a stash is the only thing that BYU students can do, so no surprise there. Though it is definitely more prominent this year than ever. Well, then I stumbled upon Movember in the urban dictionary. People grow moustaches in November and then compare them at the end to see who grew the best one. What a fabulous fad--or is it only a fad? I am going to keep my eyes open today to see if they begin to disappear. I'm going to make a prediction, however, that Moustaches will make a brief comeback in the next few years.

First, they have to get past the ridiculousness that moustaches seem to invoke right now. Moustaches have to be brought back into fashion through a joke. There's no feeling on campus that people are growing moustaches because they seriously think that they look good. There's really something tongue and cheek about it, with a bit of a wink, wink in every moustache that I see. It's a bold, slightly subversive, expression of whimsy and I think I like it. I am tempted to be part of this group myself, but now I fear it is too late. If I grow one now I will be that guy who is still making April fools jokes on April 2nd. So, I'm going to keep watching faces to see if the lip hair trend continues. Time will tell whether this was just a Movember thing or if there really is an underground coterie that will accept me into its ranks.

P.S. Notice the two different accepted spellings of moustache/mustache--nifty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Aposematic: "That red head of hers is no lie."

I have been thinking about aposematic coloration, or "warning coloration" lately. This term is usually applied to many of those bright colored animals--often insects, frogs, snakes, etc... that you might see in a nature program. These bright colors, most often red, act as the opposite of camouflage. They are a clear signal to anyone that there is something toxic, obnoxious, foul- smelling, distasteful, or generally dangerous about the creature that bears them.

So what about red-headed people? Is this aposematic coloring, or does this rule only apply to non-humans? My wife is a redhead, so I occasionally tease her about this when I think she is being a bit "fiery."

Certainly, tradition would hold that the redness of a person's hair tells you something about their personality. Everybody has probably heard at one point or another that redheads are hot-tempered and feisty. This may be true, but I would have to question whether it has to do with some sort of genetic predisposition or the fact that they are so stereotyped. You know, I might be a little testy as well, if I was painted with such a reputation. Perhaps it is easy to marginalize redheads because red hair really is something of an anomaly. Less than four percent of the world's population have naturally red hair (though, somehow, the highest percentage of hair-dye jobs are red). There is, in fact, a gene for red hair (amazingly not discovered until 1995), though it has often been called a "genetic mutation." Well, it's been called worse things before.

In the middle ages women with red hair were often taken for witches, not only for their fiery mane, but freckles ("marks of the devil") were also seen as a sign of witchcraft--oh, and then there was that "temper" of course. Egyptians went so far as to burn redheaded maidens, as the color was considered unlucky. Ah, those crazy, brilliant Egyptians--not brilliant because they burned redheads, but you know...the pyramids and stuff. In many early depictions of Adam and Eve, Eve is either blond or brunette before the Fall and becomes a redhead after partaking of the forbidden fruit. Judas also is usually a ginger knob in paintings. (Hey, maybe "Ginger Knobs and Broomsticks" would have been a better title for this post.)

At the same, time humans seem to be attracted to the color red, well, at least men do. A recent study suggested that men can't help but be affected by the color--not just with hair but in clothing, etc. The study had men look at different pictures of women, and they would photo-shop in different colors of shirts. The results: when the photos included a red shirt, the women appeared more attractive. It had nothing to do with her eyes, the shade of her hair, or any of those types of factors because it was always the same shirt and the same woman, just a different color.

There is really no need for me to bring up the many connotations of the color red in society, but--Valentines Day, red-light district, I love Lucy--need I say more? The article I read with the red-shirt study was even rude enough to draw a correlation between the results of the study and the fact that the....uh...the..."posterior" of female baboons turns red during ovulation. If you have ever read any of those Georgia Nicolson books, you will be familiar with the term "red-bottomosity." Anyway, I don't think I would go that far, but there does seem to be something going on here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hypergraphia: Disorder or Sweet Nectar of Life?

I'm not sure that my mojo (if I have one) is with me today or not, but once again I feel the need to do a little rambling. My other work is calling pretty loudly, so I feel a bit like a I am ditching school right now.
And, by the way, you should note the striking resemblance of this picture of Dostoevsky to my Halloween profile picutre.

So, hypergraphia really is interesting, even if the OED and Webster's dropped the ball on definitions. Wikipedia was a good place to start, but I soon found myself on a medical website. Basically, they said that hypergraphia is the overwhelming urge, or compulsion to write. It compels some to keep a voluminous journal, others to write some of the longest novels in history, others to write on any surface they can find (including toilet paper and their own skin), and still others to keep up staggering correspondence (including letters to editors, etc.). It was interesting to me that almost all of the instances I found discussed online referred to writing on paper, as opposed to typing. Was this because there is something inherent in writing with pen/pencil and paper that is tied to the pathology of this "disorder", or was it because most of the famous examples of this were authors who wrote in the days before computers?

It seems to me that, essentially, the urge in both cases comes from the same place--the urge for expression and/or communication. Some scientists suggest a connection to lesions in the temporal lobe, or more specifically--temporal lobe epilepsy. Others have suggested that in some cases the part of the brain affected is also used to control movement in the hands. For me, the urge to write seems to come from that expressive place, though I must admit that I haven't had a good look at my temporal lobe lately. But hey, I should not be working from the assumption that I have hypergraphia. None of the places that I looked gave a fool-proof formula for diagnosis--except extreme volume of material of course.

I wouldn't consider myself extreme. I do keep a journal that I write in everyday (I miss probably two days a month). Some entries are very short--a couple of lines--others go on for 3 or 4 pages. I have been doing this for a little over ten years (since 1998) and I am currently on volume 11--I have never counted pages, but I think that for the last couple of years I have averaged 280 or so pages a year.

And now I have felt the need to add a blog. I remember when I was ten or so, writing in a notebook and writing crap really (and I knew even then it was crap--you may wonder why I haven't changed since I was ten) but really enjoying watching the pages fill up with ink. I contemplated how many pages of material I had written in my 10 years, and wondered what the pile would look like if all of my family stacked everything they had ever written in one place. It was terribly fascinating to me, but I still don't think that I have hypergraphia.

The real hypergraphics that you encounter in articles, etc. fill up a notebook every two or three days, or write 1000-paged novels (maybe people of Russian descent are more prone to it). I just keep a journal and write a blog. Maybe all that I really have is "hypergraphic envy". It sounds terribly romantic to me--writing constantly, head down, in an almost frenzied passion. Fingers flying across the keyboard like you are the Beethoven of word processors. Ahhhhh, fits of passion are marvelous, though perhaps a little narcotic-like. Most hypergraphics, according to a Psychology Today article, certainly don't feel that it is a disorder, but a gift. Some called it the opposite of writer's block. It is quite enjoyable, except when you are writing poor quality stuff, of course. But hey, if being more interested in volume than quality is a symptom, then maybe--just maybe--I am afflicted with this delicious disorder. Part of me really wants it to fester and spread know, something that spreads: flesh-eating viruses, bacteria, dandelions--take your pick.

P.S. Famous Authors who were/are possibly under the influence of hypergraphia--Dostoevsky, Poe, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lewis Carroll.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

OED: An Affair to Remember.

It has been a few days so I have to write something. I really don't have time at the moment; I really should be studying Russian right now--no really, I have a class. I find that if I don't write I hear the siren call of the blog, all day, and nothing will silence it but writing something. Unfortunately, even if it is a crappy something I feel a little better. Yes, I am writing for writing's sake.

You know, several times I have wondered whether or not I am suffering from hypergraphia. Hypergraphia is an uncommonly strong urge to write, by the way. I wish I had a better definition, but the OED doesn't have an entry for this word, and it's driving me crazy. This is the first time in a long time that the OED has let me down. She has enriched my world, the OED, but I must admit that I am disappointed today--left wanting. You may not know this about me, but I anthropomorphize dictionaries. One of my dear friends is a dictionary that I bought in 1998; it was the first dictionary I ever bought. It is a red-covered Webster's dictionary, and his name is Winston. I really don't know why that is his name--it is almost as if he told me. I used to highlight words in it, and I aspired to have several highlighted words on each page. Eventually, I wanted to know them all, of course. But as it is now, there is probably only an average of one highlight per page.

Winston and I haven't been as close lately--for the past couple of years actually--we haven't hung out as much. And I must confess that it began when I met the OED online. I had heard about the OED for years, and her lexical prowess, but I had never actually seen her printed words or smelled her pages. (I really love the smell of books, by the way--even the old ones) Then one day, someone told me that through my university's web-site I could access her for free. I was hesitant at first, as I generally preferred something more tangible--something I could hold in my hands to read, but out of curiosity I checked it out. And I ended up spending several hours that day feasting upon etymology. Oh, the examples, so many examples--all the way back to Middle-English it seemed, and even some contemporary references.

However, I must admit that, these days, I am even shamelessly neglectful of her. Hey, life's busy--it's not like she ever calls me. It is really this blog that has helped me to reconnect. Poor old Winston though, I'm afraid I will never spend the kind of time with him that I once did. Obviously, he hasn't been able to add any words in over a decade, and his etymological notes are never anything more that stepping stone for me. We were real pals once. I came to him for advice, and trusted his every word. He still knows more than I do, obviously--and I still look stuff up in him on occasion. We have a laugh now and again. He's still my buddy, even though the OED has come between us.

Well, OED, I will still come to you often, but I have to tell you--Wikipedia was the only good source today for "hypergraphia". In the words of my friend KP (not a dictionary)--you are going to have to bring your 'A' game in the future.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Anglo-Norman Extraction

Warning: today's post is quite NERDY, but fun. Give nerds a chance.
Not too long ago my wife was reading a book that included a section on names--their meanings, implications, and which names give you the greatest chances for success. We found this at least mildly interesting as we plan on adding to our brood in the future, and are always on the look-out for potential baby names. And no, in case anyone jumps to this, my wife is not pregnant. Well, one prefix we will not be considering for a future name is "Fitz." Not for the reason that I am about to divulge, but because there aren't any Fitz-names that have the right ring for us. So anyway, what we learned about Fitz is that it was used by royalty to create surnames for their illegitimate sons. The book was in the category of pop-non-fiction, and wasn't great about citations so I had to look this up for myself today.

Etymologically, "Fitz" is the Anglo-French word for son (thank you OED). It was used for patronymic designations. I'm sorry if this is "patronizing" to anyone, but I will digress for a second to define patronym. (I'm also sorry for the pun I just made on the root--"patron", meaning father--I'm sure that my wife is rolling her eyes as we speak). A patronym is a name derived from the name of one's father. So if you were ever reading Anna Karenina and were lost because of all of the different names people could be called by, that was partly because of the Russian use of patronyms. In Russian a person's middle name is always the name of their father with the appropriate ending for a male or a female. So, if you saw someone in a Russian novel called Masha Petrovna, whose brother's name was Oleg Petrovich, then you would know that their father's name was the Russian equivalent of Peter. Anyway, back to Fitz--so if a King's name was William, for example, his progeny through the local milk maid very well might have had the last name Fitzwilliam.

You've probably heard of names like Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, etc...and you might be thinking, "Hey, isn't that more of an Irish thing than an English one?" And if we were watching Blues Clues I would reply, "Wow, you're really smart!" Several hundred years after the use of this Anglo-French word for illegitimate children of royalty in England, it became a common prefix for surnames of Irish families of Anglo-Norman extraction--which basically means (though I am oversimplifying) that these families were living in England sometime around the Norman conquest (including its aftermath of amalgamation of so many things Saxon and Norman) and then they relocated to Ireland, establishing themselves there.

In my original conversation about this topic with my wife, we noted that in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy's first name is Fitzwilliam. Now, by the early 19th century, when Pride and Prejudice was published, the connotation if illegitimacy with the prefix "Fitz" had more or less gone out. But in the earlier parts of the novel I'm almost surprised that Lizzie never remarked to Jane that Darcy was a bona fide bastard.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Opossums: everyday pest, or fiends of the underworld?

I keep wanting to return to actual etymology, rather than the etymology of my life--if I may be so bold as to stretch the meaning of the word "etymology". Yes, the title of this blog has a double meaning. Forgive my sporting with your intelligence though, as I'm sure you already knew that. The more I read other blogs the more that I feel compelled to write about my life--not simply from peer pressure (though that is probably a factor), but from the joy and release of doing so. I'm also wondering about how to combine the two--the etymological and the personal.

One of my friends' blog posts that I read yesterday was about opossums, and I am wondering if he would mind terribly if I stole, or borrowed, the topic for today. I wonder if he would mind, but I'm not going to ask. Neither am I going to copy anything that he said. It's just that since yesterday I can't stop thinking about my own memories of opossums.

Speaking of etymology though, as far as I could find out this word is of Algonquian origin and entered our lexicon in the early 16oos, and means "white animal". "White Animal"? That's it? I thought for sure it would mean rodent of unusual size, or scary minion of satan. This should tell you something of my childhood memories of Opossums. I grew up in California, sort of out in the country--at least there was a fair amount of agrarian things going on near by. Anyway, when I was little there must have been more of these things than when I got older. It seemed that early in the morning and late at night they were every where. Mind you, when I was this young I wasn't out roaming the streets late at night or early in the morning, so most of my first encounters were looking through the windshield of the car. But I clearly remember beholding these hideous creatures that looked like gigantic rats with their beady, black eyes--eyes that would flash strange colors in the head-lights. They had these terrible long snouts with large fangs that they barred as they stared down the car--as they seemed to be saying, "Hit me, and I shall become more horrible than you can imagine!"--which is true if you have seen opossum road-kill.

It's really so anti-climactic now as I look at images of opossums on the Internet. Where are the demons of my youth? I swear the ones online are almost cute. I thought for sure that I was looking at the wrong breed or something. Has my childhood memory really played that much of a trick on me?

One of our cats, when I was in my teens, was particularly good at catching rats, mice, gophers, and even birds. His name was Rafael, after the ninja-turtle, and I didn't want to think about what the local rodent population would have been without him because he seemed to bring in one or two a day. I even saw him one day toying with a magpie that was half his size (and roughed up enough that it couldn't fly away). Later that day I saw just the head and a few feathers. He always left the heads of his prey, and one of the organs that I couldn't identify. I can't tell you how many times I have stepped on rodent heads. I was careful to always wear shoes outside.

Well, there was this period of time when Rafael kept begging for more cat food, which was impressive considering the amount of vermin he was eating. He wasn't getting fat either so we started to wonder whether or not he had a parasite. We had heard about rodents eating cat food before but considering his reputation with them we were sure that if that was happening it must have been at the times when Rafael was roaming the neighborhood--which he was wont to do in the evenings. He was such a cat, if I didn't know better I would have thought that we hadn't neutered him. Anyway, one night when we suspected that he was out, we heard the crunching of cat food. I slowly opened the door and there was an opossum, possibly larger than Rafael, eating his food with impunity. And there was the brave Rafael, the great rodent killer of the neighborhood, the vanquisher of voles, cowering in the corner with the most terrified look I have ever seen on his face. I made a move toward the opossum to scare it a way, and normally opossums hiss in the most horrible way when you confront them, but this was an obese opossum. It simply turned and waddled away.

I can imagine though, from Rafael's point of view, what that must have been like. He ate rats for breakfast, and now here is--as far as he's concerned--a rat, larger than himself, eating his dry cat food. Imagine walking into your kitchen and seeing a 200 pound chicken eating Captain Crunch. You might cower in a corner as well.

Okay, for those of you who have been annoyed this whole time because I have been insinuating that Opossums are rodents, let me take the edge off of your annoyance by saying that I am fully aware that they are marsupials. They just look like large rats to me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flirting with personal information

I decided to read a few blog posts of friends today before starting mine. They were all deeply personal and recorded memories that are important to their authors. I'm pretty new to this blogging world, but I have heard that many blogs are this way. In fact, another one of my friends said that he didn't want to start a blog because he didn't want to have people reading personal things about him. I wondered why, in his mind, a blog had to be about intimate stuff. Well, of course it doesn't, and I haven't had much intention of getting personal in mine--at least not directly, but I'm beginning to see some of the appeal.

I imagine that more intimate posts can be pretty cathartic, and I also see the value of recording memories. The memories I read about today in the blogs of my friends had a certain beautiful, yet haunting quality, like a lot of my good memories do. Okay, I realize that you don't have the same context for this conversation that I do, because you probably didn't just read the same blogs that I did. I'm talking about the kind of memories that are triggered by something in the present, but plunge you into your past in an almost dream-like way. You could probably stop yourself from being swept away, but there is something sweet and kind of mystic in the indulgence. Honestly, there is something transcendent about these types of memories, for me. I can't just get myself in the mood for them, they sort of have to strike me, when I'm not expecting it. I would give you an example, but I'm not being struck today. I only just read about it happening to other people.

Anyway, when they do strike, I get the sense that my life stretches far beyond the usually perceived confines. There really is something of the eternal and infinite in these echos, or shadows of the past. (ugh, "shadows of the past?") I hate these cliche words I am using, by the way, but I can't seem to muster enough creativity today to come up with something more original.

Okay, now I feel a bit awkward about this post. I haven't actually shared any personal information, but I flirted with doing so to the point that I feel like I have. People who know me might find it strange that I feel somewhat uncomfortable being personal here, since in conversation I am usually a little too open. I think the reason is that I can't get my father's voice out of my head, warning me about putting any personal information on the Internet. He won't even purchase anything online because he seems to think that someone is just waiting to steal his identity. The fact that I am mentioning him at all online would probably make him sweat, if he knew about it. Anyway, my undergraduate degree is in acting--I usually quite enjoy vulnerability, but I'm not crazy about it right now. This will probably change.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Remember the London Beer Flood?

So, my once-a-day streak has ended. It wasn't' a very long run, but I'm pretty pleased that I kept it up during that first week. It's harder on the weekend because my desk-top at home is ancient--and by ancient, I mean five years old. And we don't get wi-fi at our apartment. My wife and I decided that in our future life (once I finish school) we should probably budget to buy a new computer every two years, if we want to stay relatively on top of things, and more importantly, if we don't want to waste large amounts of time waiting for our old, slow computer.

Well, I really wanted to post on Saturday because it marked the anniversary of a tragedy that I don't think nearly enough people are aware of. We talk about where we were for 9/11; our parents may remember where they were when Kennedy was shot; our grandparents may talk about where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but who ever talks about where their ancestors were for the Great London Beer Flood of 1814? That's right, on October 17th 1814 vats of porter, at the Henry Meux Brewing Company began to explode causing a chain reaction that released 1,224,000 litres of beer onto the unsuspecting, poverty-stricken local public. The beer burst through a brick wall, flooded the streets, destroyed two poorly build houses, and filled the basement dwellings of many of the local poor folks.

All of the sources that I consulted reported 9 dead. At least three of them drowned as their basement apartments filled too quickly with beer for them to escape and a few others were trampled in the attempt to reach higher ground. One heroic man died of alcohol poisoning, in an attempt to save those trapped by drinking as much beer as he possibly could. Others rushed to the street with pails and buckets, though many just used their hands to lap up the beer filled streets. In the aftermath, the police had to shut down a couple of operations where relatives of those drowned were displaying the corpses for a fee. In fact, before the police intervened, there was one case where too many people entered a room (to see one of the deceased) which caused the floor to collapse, plunging them all into the beer-filled cellar.

So, no etymology today, because I thought that we should take a moment's pause to remember this marginalized event.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Don't be a bamboozled Gypsy hater.

So, I wonder how long it will take for this new blog excitement to wear off. Right now, I feel like I could write all day, everyday and still be having a good time. In fact, it has become harder to concentrate on, and find the desire to do, the mountain of other things that are my responsibilities. I'm sure it is at least in part a phase, but who knows. It was suggested to me that I should cut back to once or twice a week, due to my schedule, but I'm afraid that I might stop doing it all together if I did that. I seem to need to establish a daily habit for things that I want to do regularly. This is why I write in my journal everyday, and exercise 6 days a week, and brush my teeth everyday (even twice a day most of the time).

Okay, so this personal stuff seems boring, I think that I will get back to my strange British words that people hardly use anymore. So Jingoism and Panjandrum were a bit obscure, but I bet you have heard of today's word: "bamboozle." When was the last time you said this word? You should try it--no really, give it a go. It does something wonderful for your inner child, at least it did to mine. As soon as I said it, I felt transported to a time when I was a lad, and in this transportation (sp?) I was at zoo, run by Dr. Seuss. I was standing next to the legs of people that were probably my parents, but I couldn't be bothered with the rest of them because I was holding a gigantic, multicolored lollipop--you know the kind that have that hypnotic swirly pattern--and I was gazing at the magnificent bamboozle that was climbing the tree in front of me...

Well, after I swore off unidentified mushrooms I decided to look the word up, as I wondered how closely related to "hoodwink" it was. OED says, "To deceive by trickery, hoax, cozen, impose upon." Other definitions included, "to practice trickery" and "to mystify, perplex, confound." So pretty close to hoodwink, which I might look at later. The most diverting part of this, however, is the fact that once again, this is a word that is very difficult to trace. It appears to be another made up word-ish. It appeared in the early 18th century, and was speculated to be of "gypsy" origin. Of course, that could have simply been prejudice because the person speculating was concerned with the "corruption of our English tongue."

This brings me to an interesting tangent. I recently learned that it's not okay to be prejudiced against Gypsies. Yeah, this should have been a no-brainer for me, I know, but I didn't realize that the term "Gypsy" could actually refer a race of people. See, I had been judging Gypsies by the content of their character, or, rather, defining them by their actions. If you lived in the forest under the rule of a Gypsy King and went into the city by day to steal from people--then you were a Gypsy in my book. Though, now that I have thought more deeply about it, I guess the only problem I have is with people who steal stuff. I think it's fine if you live in the forest under the rule of a Gypsy King, if that's what you want to do with your life. Anyway, I dearly hope that I haven't offended anyone in this post, unless you are a person who steals stuff.

P.S. Bamboozle is also the name of a popular U.K. quiz-based game show, as well as a New Jersey music festival.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Grand Panjandrum is comming...Look Busy.

Since I'm on a 19th-Century-British-word jag, today's word is "panjandrum." According to the OED, a panjandrum is, "A mock title for a mysterious (frequently imaginary) personage of great power or authority; a pompous or pretentious official; a self-important person in authority." The legend about this word is that Samuel Foote (1720-77) made it up in an extemporaneous speech meant to test the memory of Charles Maklin, who claimed to have total recall (not the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie). In that context Foote was referring to the "grand panjandrum"--some faux figure of great authority--entirely made up in the moment. That is one of the lovely things about this word: linguistically it impossible to trace. There is no Old French or Old Norse root or version of this word because it is completely made up. Now, normally I wouldn't say that a word describing an authority figure would be onomatopoeic (and it isn't exactly), but doesn't panjandrum just sound like some bloated muckamuk who has let his sense of self-importance run away with him?

Well, the phrase had fully arrived by the 19th century, but it took an unexpected turn, or roll, as the next case will show. Late in WWII the British tested a new weapon called the "Great Panjandrum." It was basically two huge, ten-foot in diameter, wooden wheels connected by a drum in the middle, which contained four thousand pounds of explosive. Oh, and it was rocket powered, and could apparently achieve speeds of 60-70 miles per hour. On the day of the final test,
"It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began...careering towards Klemantaski who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum...crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed"(Brian Johnson BBC).

It has since been claimed by some historians that it was never intended to be used in battle--which it wasn't (surprise, surprise)--but rather intended to intimidate the Germans. Gee, it's too bad that Hitler never saw our rocket-powered spool of death. That would have ended the war for sure.
So, whether the panjandrums in our lives are jerk bosses, the proverbial "they", "the powers that be", a ten-foot flaming wheel, or all of the above at least we will know what to call it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Maybe The Jingo Ate Your Baby

One thing that I would like to do on this blog is have a "Word of the Day." There are so many fantastic words out there that just aren't getting used enough, or when we come across them we might think "that's a cool word," but we don't have time to look them up. So I would like to pause more often an savor some of these verbal delectables. My first choice would have to be "Jingoism." It just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? It makes me think of exotic foods or something. When I first saw it, I thought it must refer to a cult-following of some character from one of the off-shoot Star Wars novels (none of which I have ever read by the way--not that I think they are bad).

So I looked it up, and according to Webster's it means, "extreme chauvinism or nationalism, marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy." Well, that's nice, but to get some real etymology I did some more research. And etymology for me is the fine-dining of definition searching. A quick look in Websters is more like a banana with nuts (please no Freudian interpretations, it just happens to be my favorite snack these days--and sometimes a banana with nuts is just a banana with nuts). Websters is a wholesome snack, in other words, that tides me over until lunch, but leaves me feeling like I internalized something healthy.

Anyway, this usage of the word originated in Britain in the 1870s, referring to the ideology of the Jingos. Jingos were confident chaps that had a an aggressive stance towards Russia in that decade. In fact, (as I learned in the OED) it probably came from a song in 1878 with the lyrics-- referring to Russia-- "We don't want to fight yet, by Jingo! if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too." Apparently, the American version of this phrase in the 19th century was "spread-eagleism," which, by the way, I will not be putting into Google as search terms, so, sorry, there will be no future post on it. But the Yanks got around to adopting "Jingoism" by the turn of the 20th century.

So people have applied this term to many politicians like Teddy Roosevelt (of course), and even George W. Bush was accused of "reviving Jingoism in America" (surprise, surprise). I must say that, in my opinion, a little Patriotism never hurt anyone, but extreme nationalism, especially when it gets pushed as "my country is better than yours, or all others for that matter" is dangerous and possibly destructive. Yet, somehow, many Americans say that theirs is the greatest country in the world. Now, I love America, and am grateful for the sacrifices made for this country, and hey, maybe it is the greatest country in the world (depending on how you define "greatest"), but I don't think the phrase is helpful, and it can be harmful.

My Wife is Canadian and her brother recently came down from Canada to visit us. He brought a friend with him who wore his bright red Canadian sweatshirt with his Canadian hat (not made of beaver--just a regular ball cap). This "friend" kept going on and on about how Canada was the best country in the world, and that he can't believe how poorly Americans do everything. I like Canada a lot, and my kids are half-Canadian, but by the time he started trying to train my daughter to say that Canada was the best country in the world I was ready to poke him in the eye. Now, in this case, we are not talking about the kind of Jingoism that caused the Jingos to be ready to fight Russia, nor are we talking about invasion, etc...but on a micro level I really did want to deck him, by Jingo! Maybe we can start dismantling larger Jingos by being respectful and appreciative of the good in all countries. Sorry for the moral at the end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hello Cruel World

This was actually going to be the title of my blog, but I found out that a) it was already taken and b) it is apparently the name of album by a New Zealand band, as well as a book about alternatives to suicide. Anyway, the phrase just sort of popped into my head this morning in a positive light. I am adding the clarification of "positive" just in case I end up dead in the next few days. Let me be clear, I am NOT contemplating suicide, so if I do end up dead please look for a murderer. You can pretty much rule out my wife, or any of my family, and probably most of my friends. (James Goldberg didn't do it--please authorities, no beard profiling.) Though, there is this guy at the gym who looks at me funny sometimes. He wears a wife-beater (to the gym?) and drives a small, white pickup--definitely killer material. Well, okay, even he seems harmless, so I guess you will have to start from scratch. Okay, this is getting too morbid.
I'm not sure that I am ready for this. I have been contemplating starting a blog for some time, but I'm not clear yet on what, exactly, I want to do with it. For the time being, I will just use it as an outlet for expression--I know cliche, right? Well, I need something, as my schooling/work are making Cort a very dull boy. The business would seem to preclude the option of a blog, but I'm getting desperate to write something that I am not required to. Therefore, without any real ado, and not a trace of fanfare, I begin my blog.