Notice of Change of Service

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As of December 21 terry colon dot com will be available for increasingly more hours of daylight and increasingly fewer hours of darkness. This policy will be in effect for at least the next six months. Some readers may experience a delayed warming sensation. Consult a local meteorologist to determine if this is normal for your area. Policy does not apply to Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa and South America. See globe to determine if applicable in your location.

The editors apologize for the lateness of this announcement and hope it has caused no consternation or inconvenience to readers.

Filed 12/26/17

Christmas Is Just Around the Corner


Our Christmas eve eve eve gift to you and yours. One more shopping weekend left. Hop to it.

Filed 12/22/17

Micro Electric Transport


Forget legs, wings and slithering on your belly to get around, think water screws. At least that’s what some bacteria think. Or do, we don’t imagine they really think about it much. They’ve no brains to speak of. But they do have electric motor-propellors. From the Thunderbolts Project:

According to researchers, there is a charge gradient in the cell wall of E-coli. The molecules that make up the stator, or stationary, portion of the flagellar motor, anchored in the peptidoglycan layer of the bacterium’s cell wall (see illustration) contain two proteins called MotA and MotB. A high concentration of protons exists outside the cell, while a lower concentration exists inside, so the positively charged protons flow into the MotB protein, binding to aspartic acid. This creates a change in the charge balance between the MotA and MotB proteins, causing a vertical repulsion between them, resulting in the first stroke of the motor. The protein is thought to engage a toothed gear-like structure as it moves downward, advancing the rotor step-wise each time the MotB protein receives a positive charge.

In other words, E-coli and its fellows are driven by electric motors.

Read it all: Flagellar Motors

You gotta ask, how else would micro­organisms get around? They’re too small to have muscles, right? Come to think of it, how do sperms swim? What wags the tail, eh?

Filed 12/20/17

It’s Pointless Animation Monday

trainBG train dot dot dot dot O1 O2 O3

Why? Why not. We like trains. We like animation. We like typography. Put it all together and you get… a logomotive. Did we mention we also like wordplay? In this case a portmanteau word.

Called a blend in linguistics, a port­manteau word comes from blending two or more words, or parts of words, into a single new word of combined meaning. Examples: smog (smoke + fog), brunch (breakfast + lunch), dramedy (drama + comedy). The term was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass in reference to the nonsensical poem Jabberwocky.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Humpty Dumpty explains, “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word … Well then, ‘mimsy’ is ‘flimsy and miserable’ (there’s another portmanteau for you).”

Rather than a smoke-spewing steam logomotive, perhaps electric motive power is your thing. Just beware of electrocution. Another portmanteau word coined by American newspapers in 1889 to describe the then novel, as yet unused, execution by electric chair. As in electro + execution. Later, the nascent electrical industry glommed onto that word to also apply to accidental death by electric shock. Which is how we use it today. Especially since nobody uses the electric chair any more.

Anyway, it beats any portmanteau word we can imagine for lethal electric shock. Electrotermination? Electrocroak? Electrifry?

Filed 12/18/17

Horse Power v. Horsepower


Per person we use only three times as much energy as our ancestors did 250 years ago. Hard to believe, but true. It’s just that we get a lot more work out of that energy due to increased efficiency. True, our total energy consumption has gone through the roof. But that’s because the population has gone through the roof. Yet while our per capita energy consump­tion tripled, our productivity has gone up fifty fold or so.

Folks used to burn stuff only for heat and light. Then came the idea that heat expanding gas could be harnessed for mechanical work. That’s work that otherwise would, and did, go up in smoke. Combustion engines provide a bigger bang for the buck than you get from working animals. After all, the vast majority of whatever energy, in the form of calories, you put into an animal is used by the animal just to stay alive. And you only get work out of them after they’ve grown up big enough to be of any use.

Whether all this extra work we get done is always worthwhile is another story. Something we’ve scratched the surface of here:

Compare & Save Big-Time Are You Paying Exaggerated Prices for Exaggerated Differences?

The Bigger Better Newer Improveder Rat Race How Middle Class Was Easier Fifty Years Ago

Filed 12/15/17

Frivia Monday

airborne2 airborne1

On average there are 61,000 people airborne over the US. In aircraft, that is. How many are airborne in other ways we have no figures on. Though we wonder if plunging counts as airborne. At any rate that’s your frivolous trivia for the day. And our thin excuse for rerunning an old bit of art. Or if you’d rather you can click on the pic and get an old Fortean Times bit of used art. Your choice. Aren’t you lucky?

Filed 12/11/17

Another Mixed Frivia Friday


The Mars candy bar was not named for the planet or the Roman war god, it was simply the company owners name, Mars. Their top selling candy bar was named after the Mars family’s favorite horse, Snickers. The horse was named after… who knows?

The Baby Ruth candy bar was likely really named after Babe Ruth. The oft-repeated story it was named for Grover Cleveland’s daughter, Ruth, could be a case of plausible deniability on the part of the Curtis company. That is, they didn’t want to pay Babe Ruth royalties, so they came up with this other, we’d say dubious, explanation.

Babe Ruth actually did have his own candy bar, Ruth’s Home Run Candy Bar. Then again, Ruth’s real first name was George, not Babe. But who wants to eat a candy bar called a Georgie Ruth?

To leave the world of confectionary behind and head in a different direction, Babe Ruth had two long-standing records broken in 1961, both by Yankees. The obvious is Roger Marris topping his 60 home runs in a season. The other was his 29 1/3 scoreless innings pitched in a single World Series, surpassed by Whitey Ford. Though Ruth’s pitching feat was done for the 1918 Boston Red Sox and not the Yankees, who he joined in 1919.

The Bosox 1918 World Series victory was four games to two over the Chicago Cubs. A year before the “Black Sox” threw the 1919 fall classic. Did that other Chicago team take a dive a year earlier against the Red Sox? Forget about it, Jake. It’s Chi-town.

Cubs threw 1918 World Series?

Filed 12/1/17

Faux Etymology (or Origins of the Specious)


While we have written an entire feature on folk etymology folks invent from whole cloth here, we decided to go one step further and weave our own. Strictly for entertainment purposes only. We call this endeavor faux etymology. Clyde Crashcup would be pleased, we’re sure.

‘Androgynous’ is an adjective derived from the name of the rare earth element androgyn, a colorless, odorless, and pretty drab and tasteless gas. Its chemical symbol is either Xx or Xy, no-one seems to really know. Androgyn has no known valence as other elements don’t know how to react to it. The amorphous gas is the primary constituant part of the mineral hermaphrodite found largely in Brazil. Canadian scientists believe there are over fifty isotopes of androgyn, each with its own chemical symbol and pronoun.

The reader might wonder what inspired this bit of nonsense. A client request, as a matter of fact. The art director wanted me to make one of the characters in an illustration androgynous. For no reason that had to do with the subject, the art director had just seen some androgynous characters in TV shows and wanted to include one. We respectfully declined.

Filed 11/29/17

Turkey Day on Tap


Happy Thanksgiving, tomorrow. Time to roast the turkey, bake the pumpkin pie and sing the Thanksgiving carols. What? You know, “Jingle Bells.” Which is actually a song about going to grandma’s for Thanksgiving. But we already did that one years ago on this blog before we called it a blog. ‘Blog’ comes from ‘web log,’ which is patterned after ‘logbook,’ or ‘ship’s log,’ or ‘captain’s log.’ Wadda ya know, another term with a nautical origin.

Sailing men used to determine the ship’s speed using what they called a log, chip log, or ship log. Basically a chunk of wood (log-board) attached to a rope (log-line) which they tossed over the side. This stayed roughly in place as the ship sailed away. The ship’s speed was determined by the length of log-line paid out in a specified time. The logbook recorded the particulars of a ship’s voyage, including its rate of progress as per the log readings.

Now then, why on a computer do we ‘log in’ and ‘log on’ instead of ‘sign in’ and ‘get on’? Here’s where it gets dicey. Adding an entry to a log book is where ‘log in’ comes from. Maybe. We’re not sure how, when, and where this came about, but that’s one story we heard, anyway. None of which has anything to do with Thanksgiving. What can we say? Except, have a good one.

Filed 11/22/17

Salty Language (or Common Phrases with Possible Nautical Origins)


Addendum to our multi-part series where we went from “I suspected it might be” sailor lingo to “Who’d’ve figured?” sea dog argot. Though in this case it’s all a big maybe.

The bitter end

A phrase meaning ‘to the last,’ a la dead enders. A bitt is a post on a ship’s deck for fastening cables and ropes. When a rope is played out to the bitter end there’s no more rope to be had, that’s all she wrote. Enter Captain John Smith with the earliest citation in print, Seaman’s Grammar, 1627:

“A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord.”

Sounds good, but it’s debatable whether that’s the true origin of the phrase. It might rather be the obvious. Bitter is bad tasting, unpleasant. Applying that to a losing effort might be all there is to it. The jury is out on this one.

Edging forward

Get a word in edgewise

The phrase ‘edging forward’ meaning slow but steady progress was first used in the 17th century, referring to a ship slowly advancing by repeated small tacking movements. As in Captain John Smith’s The generall historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles, 1624:

“After many tempests and foule weather, about the foureteenth of March we were in thirteene degrees and an halfe of Northerly latitude, where we descried a ship at hull; it being but a faire gale of wind, we edged towards her to see what she was.”

‘Edgeways or edgewise’ simply means ‘proceeding edge first’. You know, sidling. As in edging through small gaps in a crowd. This practice of ‘edging’ was used with reference to folks having conversations by David Abercromby, in Art of Converse, 1683:

“Without giving them so much time as to edge in a word.”

‘A word in edgewise’ (or edgeways) was an expression coined in the UK in the 1800s. Whether it comes from nautical edging is not certain. The first written example is from the 1821 play Twelve Precisely! or, A night at Dover:

Sir F. (Aside.): Curse me, if I can get a word in edgeways!

Hand over fist

The allusion here is to pulling on a rope. The hand grasping the rope is in a fist, the open hand goes over the top to grab the rope forward of the fist. Repeat as needed. This is probably, but not definitely of naval origin. The earliest known reference to it doesn’t specifically mention ships. This term later turns up in William Glascock’s The naval Sketchbook, 1825:

“The French … weathered our wake, coming up with us, ‘hand over fist’, in three divisions.”

These days the term is used to suggest speed, especially in financial dealings, as in ‘making money, hand over fist.’ This alludes to grabbing fistfuls of money and pocketing it at a prodigious rate. This coming fast on the heels of the other is from The life and Writings of Major Jack Downing, by Seba Smith, 1833:

“They… clawed the money off of his table, hand over fist.”

Touch and go

This phrase has several meanings of different origins, but we only care about the most common one: a precarious or delicate case, on the razor’s edge, walking a tightrope, and like that. Whether this old phrase started asea or ashore is unclear.

This meaning is an allusion to ships or stagecoaches giving a glancing blow against some obstruction or other before continuing on its way. While a collision could spell disaster, a bump meant a narrow escape and the ship or coach could carry on. As defined by Admiral W. H. Smyth in Sailor’s Word-book, 1867:

“Touch-and-go, said of anything within an ace of ruin; as in rounding a ship very narrowly to escape rocks, &c., or when, under sail, she rubs against the ground with her keel, without much diminution of her velocity.”

The whole nine yards

Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Contrary to popular belief these two are NOT of nautical origin. Nobody really knows where either actually came from, though both have a number of colorful, more likely than not false folk etymologies.

Sailing ships were never noted for having some type of standard nine yards of sails. Anyway, a yard on a sailing ship was a cylindrical tapered spar slung across a mast for a sail to hang from. Still, ships didn’t typically have nine of them.

Pirates sometimes had monkeys, but they were’t brass. Old navy ships had ‘powder monkeys,’ boys that delivered charges for the guns. They weren’t brass, either. There was no device, of whatever metal, to hold canon balls aboard a ship called a monkey.

Filed 11/20/17

You Can’t Fool Mother Nature and Get Away with It


“It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature.” Readers old enough might remember that line from a margarine commercial. Mother Nature tasted the margarine, declared it butter, was told it was margarine, said the line, and summoned thunder and lightning. It’s not as easy to fool Mother Nature as margarine makers or advertising copywriters might think. More likely, Mother Nature will fool you.

Take the case of Yellowstone National Park. In the 1890s, believing the elk were disappearing, Yellowstone’s caretakers took every effort to increase their numbers. By 1912, there were 30,000, and 35,000 by 1914. Bears, moose and bison were increasing, too. But there was a fly in the ointment, antelope and deer began to decline.

Park rangers started killing predators to stem the loss of ruminants. They wiped out the wolf and cougar and were targeting coyote. Then studies showed it was overgrazing from excess elk causing the declines, not predators. The growing elk herds devoured the aspen and willows which did not regenerate. The policy of killing predators had only made it worse.

The biota changed. Once plentiful aspen trees where practically all destroyed. Without the aspen, beavers couldn’t build dams, which were essential to natural hydrology. Without beaver dams meadows dried up in the summer, so more wildlife vanished. By the 1930s all the predators and beavers were gone. And so it went, measures to save the park devastated it instead. A sightseer today is visiting something of a pale imitation of the Yellowstone they tried to preserve.

Nowadays there are no end of folks who think they’re smart enough to “fix” the climate. What could possibly go wrong?

Filed 11/15/17

What’s the R in Mrs For?


Like ‘lb’ for pound and ‘oz’ for ounce we have ‘Mrs’ for Missus. Not that ‘Mrs’ is a measure, but try finding an L or B in pound, a Z in ounce, or an R in missus. Don’t imagine folks much look for it in there, after all who ever spells out ‘Missus’ anyway? Still, does tacking an S on the end of ‘Mr’ feminize it somehow? Well, it sort-of does. Just think of these: waiter-waitress, steward-stewardess, poet-poetess, tailor-seamstress. OK, that last one isn’t quite right, but you get the idea. Following this line of thought we get mister-mistress. There’s the answer.

‘Mrs’ started life as an abbreviation for Mistress, the lady of the house. Then folks got sloppy and lazy and stopped bothering to pronounce the TR part of the word and just said ‘Missus.’ And, being still lazy, they never bothered to change the abbreviation to match. How a mistress went from being a wife to “the other woman” we don’t know. Maybe it was an attempt to obfuscate the fact the man of the house was an adulterer? And true to form we also have the female counterpart, adulteress.

Filed 11/10/17

Sea Dog Argot (or Even More Common Phrases with Nautical Origins)


Part three of our multi-part series where we go from “I suspected it might be” sailor lingo to “Who’d’ve figured?” sea dog argot. Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

By and large

First, it’s not by in large. Next, we need to understand the old sailing terms ‘by’ and ‘large.’ The wind blowing from behind a ship’s direction of travel is said to be ‘large.’ ‘By’ means ‘in the general direction of.’ For sailors ‘by the wind’ would be heading into the wind, give or take six compass points. So, ‘by and large’ is the ability to sail downwind and also against the wind. Which might seem impossible unless you know how triangular sails work. But that’s another story, you’ll just have to trust us sailboats can sail into the wind.

Anyway, that’s where the phrase came from. How it came to mean ‘on the whole; generally speaking; all things considered’ is taken from the idea of how a ship could sail under any conditions, regardless. Don’t know if we made that clear, but the phrase has a nautical origin which is mostly what we care about.

In the offing

What’s an ‘offing’ and what’s in it? Good question. Let’s dispense with one thing, it isn’t a shortening of ‘offering.’ The phrase starts to make sense once you know ‘the offing’ was old-timey seafaring speak for the part of the sea that can be seen from land, minus the bit near the shore. Early texts also have it as ‘offen’ or ‘offin.’ Someone on the lookout for a ship’s arrival would first see it far from shore ‘in the offing’ as it approached. ‘The offing’ is a noun formed from the adjective ‘off’, used since at least the 14th century to mean ‘away from’ –as in ‘casting off’ and ‘setting off.’

The current figurative meaning of the phrase to describe any event that is imminent began to be used in the U.S. about mid 19th century. An early example comes from Portland Reference Book and City Directory by S. (b) Beckett, 1850:

“We have known wives to forget that they had husbands..., especially when they supposed that a tax bill or a notification to do military duty was in the offing.”

Slush fund

Unless you’re selling sno-cones or slurpees there wouldn’t seem to be enough money in slush to fund much of anything let alone a cunning plan. Leave it to sailors to find a way. Which was to call something other than half-melted snow ‘slush.’ In the the 1700s fat or grease rendered from meat boiled aboard ship sailors called ‘slush’, or ‘slosh.’

Since folks back then were fat phobia free, this slush was a valuable commodity for cooking, making soap and whatnot. Selling slush to landlubbers in ports of call was a perk for ships’ cooks and crew. This perquisite (perk) became known as a ‘slush fund’ and eventually worked its way from ship to shore as a figure of speech where there was no actual slush of any kind involved.

While most folks don’t know this story, maybe the writers of The Simpsons did. In the episode “Lard of the Dance,” Homer and Bart concoct a scheme to make money by collecting and selling grease. They go after Groundskeeper Willie’s fat stores obtained from the school kitchen. Willie’s ‘retirement grease’ thus being a literal slush fund.

Taken aback

The word aback has the same construction as the words around, aloft, and aport. Tacking an A to the front means ‘in the direction of.’ So ‘around’ means in a circular (round) direction. ‘Aback’ means in a backward direction, toward the rear. In old seaman argot sails would be ‘aback’ when the wind blows them back against the supporting masts and spars.

Now we add the ‘taken’ bit. In the world of sailing in days of yore, when the wind turned abruptly so a ship was suddenly facing into the wind, the ship was said to be ‘taken aback.’ A 16th century written example comes from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society:

“If they luff up, they will be taken aback, and run the hazard of being dismasted.”

The figurative use of meaning surprised rather than physically pushed back, came about in the 19th century. For instance Charles Dickens’ use of the phrase in his American Notes in 1842:

“I don’t think I was ever so taken aback in all my life.”

Tide over

The original ‘tiding over’ was a seafaring term meaning ‘in the lack of wind to fill the sails, float with the tide.’ This usage was recorded by English seaman Captain John Smith (the Jamestown Colony guy) in his influential sailor’s manual A Sea Grammar, 1627, which includes this first known citation of ‘tide over’:

“To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”

That meaning of tiding over was supplanted by the ‘coping with a short-term problem’ figurative usage in the early 1800s. This meaning alludes to the imagery of ships floating over obstacles on a rising tide. In the absence of wind you make do with what you got. We think that’s the gist of it.

Filed 11/6/17

Tar Talk (or More Common Phrases with Nautical Origins)


Part two of our multi-part series where we go from “I suspected it might be” sailor lingo to “Who’d’ve figured?” sea dog argot. Let’s get to it, shall we?


Meaning crammed together cheek by jowl. Forget the cheeks or jowls, that’s got to do with pigs or something. Just think ‘jam-packed.’ Chocks are wedges holding wheels in place. Which maybe comes from choke. Who knows?

To zero in on the nautical bit we get to ‘block.’ As in block and tackle, a pulley system used on sailing ships to hoist the sails. ‘Chock-a-block’ describes what happens when sails are raised fully, when there is no more rope free and the blocks jam together as if chocked in place.

Close quarters

Which means at close contact with, especially in a military context. This one involves our favorite type of wordplay, a pair of heteronyms.

close (klōs) adj. Near.

close (klōz) trans.v. 1. To shut. 2. To bar or obstruct. 3. To enclose on all sides. –noun An enclosed space, especially land surrounding or beside a cathedral or building.

In the 17th century sailors laid protective barriers across a ship’s deck called close-fights. (Think ‘klōz’ and not ‘klōs.’) These structures closed off part of the ship as a defensive measure. By the mid 18th century that confined defensive space came to be called ‘close quarters.’ From An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, by William Falconer, 1769:

“Close-quarters, certain strong barriers of wood stretching across a merchant-ship in several places. They are used as a place of retreat when a ship is boarded by her adversary, and are … fitted with … loop holes, through which to fire.

Over time ‘close quarters’ came to mean near enough for hand to hand combat. Though nowadays it just means close together, with or without any actual fighting. When exactly it went from klōz to klōs we simply don’t know. Pretty hard to suss out pronunciations from written sources, eh?

Cut and run

This is the shortened form of the earlier phrases ‘cut and run away’ and ‘cut and run off’. Some have it referring to ships making a quick getaway by cutting the anchor rope and running before the wind. Maybe. Another possibility is ‘cut’ doesn’t mean rope actually being severed, but is an allusion to cutting in the sense of passing straight though. You know, like cutting in line, taking cuts. Whatever the case it first appears in writing about ships, so it is indeed tar talk.

Go by the board

Most early references to this phrase relate to masts of sailing ships having fallen ‘by the board.’ The board is the side or the decking of a ship. It isn’t exactly clear whether the phrase originally meant ‘gone over the side’ or ‘fallen onto the deck.’ Still, either way it was out of use, kaput. From The Sailor’s Word-book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, by Admiral William Henry Smyth, 1865:

“By the board. Over the ship’s side. When a mast is carried away near the deck it is said to go by the board.

These days lots of things besides masts go by the board. They get jettisoned. Which is also sailor talk, but we won’t go into that here.


This one you might have already guessed at the origin just from its appearing on the list. What did sailors drink to become drunken sailors? Grog, of course. Grog is a mixture of half rum and half water. From here it should be easy to connect the dots between grog and groggy.

The reader might ask, why is this diluted rum called grog? This bit is not so obvious. There was a coarsely-woven fabric called grogram, a shortened form of ‘gros-grain,’ meaning ‘coarse-grained.’ Enter an officer in the British Royal Navy who served with distinction in the West Indies and elsewhere, Admiral Edward Vernon. The good admiral was known for wearing grogram jackets for warmth and also for watering down his crew’s rum ration to make it less intoxicating. Vernon was nicknamed ‘Old Grog’ for his grogram attire and ‘grog’ was the name his crew contemptuously gave to the watery rum he foisted upon them.

OK, we admit this last one is a single word and not a phrase. So sue us.

Filed 11/3/17

Sailor Lingo (or Common Phrases with Nautical Origins)


Even if you don’t sail or boat or go anywhere near water that doesn’t come out of a spigot or in a plastic bottle, you, too, can talk like a sailor. In fact, you already do. At times. Many everyday figures of speech have nautical origins. Many are obvious even to landlubbers who have no sea legs: i.e., plain sailing, batten down the hatches, a shot across the bow. Others only the saltiest old tar would know were ship born, if you’ll pardon the pun.

In our multi-part series we go from “I suspected it might be” sailor lingo to “Who’d’ve figured?” sea dog argot. Without further ado let’s get underway.

Get underway

This means get going, you know, set sail. (Which is also sea talk, but we’re not doing that one.) But what way and why under it? ‘Way’ here doesn’t mean road or route (as in the way home) but is nautical speak for ‘the progress of a ship though the water,’ or the wake the ship leaves behind. ‘Way’ was used like that since at least the 17th century. Though no-one uses ‘way’ that way anymore.

So, are we under the wake when underway? Don’t think you’ll make much progress through the water that way. The ‘under’ was originally ‘on the.’ So, rather than under, we’re on the wake, or on the ship’s progress. ‘On the way’ eventually became ‘underway,’ possibly influenced by the Dutch word onderweg, which translates into English as ‘underway.’ Which sounds suspiciously circular, but that’s the story.

Don’t confuse underway with under sail, though they mean almost the same thing. The ‘under’ in that case is literal, the sails are at the top and the ship is under them. At least if you’re doing it right.

High and dry

Which means stranded, without help or hope of recovery. Hardly a surprise this has a seafaring origin referring to a beached ship. ‘High’ means above the water, ‘dry’ implies it had been for some time and would likely remain that way.

Know the ropes

Which is having skills, experience, being an old hand at something. Old sailing ships are positively chock full of ropes, you know, rigging. A sailor has to know which of these multiplicity of ropes is attached to what and what to do with them to make the ship work. They have to learn the ropes, and so then know the ropes. This is obviously an old nautical phrase.

Or is it? Some say it comes from the theater where stage hands also dealt with a whole smattering of ropes to work the curtains, sets and whatnot. But, we prefer sailors to actors so we like the first explanation better and are going with that.

Tell it to the marines

This is a scornful response to an unbelieved fish story, a la a sarcastic, “Yeah, right. Pull the other one.” The marines in question are not the USMC but the Royal Marines of Ye Olde British Navy. Where exactly this comes from is unclear, but the earliest recorded versions have it “You may tell that to the marines, but the sailors will not believe it.” Apparently marines are gullible. Hey, they’re basically landlubbers after all, what do they know about sailing or fishing?

Three sheets to the wind

It means very drunk, which sailors have been know to be while spending money. There are dozens of other words and phrases for being blotto, smashed, plastered, but this one is colorful and nautical so we get to use it. The surprise in this saying is the sheets referred to aren’t sails, but ropes fixed to the lower corners of sails to hold them in place. If three sheets are loose the sails will flap and the boat will lurch about like a drunken sailor. And metaphorically vice-versa.

The original phrase was ‘three sheets in the wind’ and was falling down drunk on the sailor’s number of sheets scale of inebriation. One sheet to the wind was tipsy. The earliest written example is from The Journal of Rev. Francis Asbury of 1815, recounting his travels through Kentucky.

“The tavernkeepers were kind and polite, as Southern folks should be and as Southern folks ought not to be; they were sometimes two sheets in the wind. O, that liquid fire!”

Whether the good reverend got the phrase from the locals or brought it with him from his native England or coined it himself nobody knows for sure.

Filed 11/1/17

English as It Coulda Been


Let’s play counterfactuals, you know, historical what-ifs. What if the Greeks had lost the Battle of Marathon? What if Julius Caesar had been killed in the Gallic Wars? What if William the Conqueror had lost the Battle of Hastings? Would we much remember the Greeks? Would Gaius Julius be just an historical footnote? Would anyone talk about William the Loser?

Those are some pretty big what-ifs. Let’s narrow the focus, what if the English language never got Greeked up, Latinized, and Frenchified? What would a purely Anglo-Saxon-Briton language be like? That’s a question nobody but Englishman William Barnes seemed to want answered. Which he did in the 1800s. Here are some of his Englisher English replacements for the Greco-Latin-Franco bastard words we all use instead.

Want to know more? Read Mr. Barnes’ book at the Gutenberg Project:

An Outline of English Speech-Craft

Filed 10/27/17

The Casual Sportsman

Who Came up with Polish Spelling? Sheesh!


Poland has qualified for the World Cup. Know what that means? It means there’ll be a lot of impossible to pronounce and/or spell names. At least for the Casual Sportsman. We’re sure it all makes sense to the Poles, but we find it all a bit of a tongue twisting nightmare. We don’t have much problem with star striker Robert Lewandowski, we simply swap V for W, “Levandovski.” But when it comes to Wojciech Szczesny… we don’t know what to say.

Below is the Poland national team roster. How many of those can you pronounce? Keep in mind Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is said as “Shashevski.” If you can explain that one you’re our hero ‘cause we can’t figure it. So, you want to be a soccer play-by-play announcer? Good luck.

You may have noticed half the names end with -ski. It’s no wonder that’s such a cliché. Stereotypes come from some­where, eh? Anyway, the -ski suffix is a sign of nobility, or once was. It means “estate of.”

Not in the lineup is anyone with the surname Szczyz. Not a typo, not the result of a monkey banging on a keyboard, a real Polish name. One guess as to how to say that. OK, take two or three stabs at it, you probably won’t come up with it. They tell us Szczyz is said as “Sscheesh.” Uh, OK.

For the explanation of the pic, see:

Winged Hussars: Facts and History

Filed 10/25/17

Coywolf –a New Species, Subspecies, Dog Breed, or What?


Ten percent dog, quarter wolf and the rest coyote and coming to a town near you soon? The combo-canine coywolf, alive and well in the northeastern U.S. and Ontario, Canada. Millions of them. An animal big enough to take down deer and eat a cat whole. Country, town, suburb, city; it’s all good for the crafty coywolf. Brings a new meaning to, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”


Filed 10/23/17

Argh, Wilderness!


Top eight comments and suggestions received by the U.S. Forest Service from park visitors

  1. Need more signs to keep area pristine.
  2. A small deer came into my camp and ate my bag of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed?
  3. Found a smoldering cigarette left by a horse.
  4. The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
  5. Too many rocks in the mountains.
  6. Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.
  7. Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
  8. A McDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.

We might suggest all trails only go downhill. An outdoors with less dirt all over the place would be nice. And could they arrange it so there’s no rain while we’re there?

Filed 10/21/17

Say What?

carback eyesback carfront eyesbot eyesdog
fish eyesfish
sign waves

Signs and instructions seen around the world. We understand what they mean. Or do we?

Filed 10/19/17

Solar System Road Trip


Which is closest to Earth? Select your answer from menu:

What’s the best car take on a driving tour of the solar system? Select your answer from menu:

The correct answer to question one, Venus is closest to Earth. That’s because they’re both towns in Texas. Some joke, huh? There is no correct answer to the second question. That’s because it’s all a matter of personal choice. Or maybe it’s just not possible to take a road trip to them all since Uranus is on Kodiak Island, Alaska, and you can’t drive there directly.

Mouseover to enlarge


OK, this is all pretty silly, but if you want to take a tour of the solar system on a budget, above is where you’ll find everything. You’ll have to figure out your own route. Which shouldn’t be too hard. It ain’t rocket science.

Filed 10/11/17

Wild Card Wednesday


Milton Corrêa stadium in Macapá, Brazil is situated so the midfield line runs along the equator. Meaning each team defends in one hemisphere and attacks in the other.

Daddy Longlegs: not poisonous, not a web spinner, not a spider, not an insect. It’s an arachnid, a distant relative of scorpions.

Lincoln Logs (remember them?) were invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Like they say, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. And then grows in its shadow. Is cut down and made into teeny-weeny houses. Or something.

There are more museums in the United States than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Still, don’t get carried away with the idea the country is overflowing with culture and history. While every McDonald’s is pretty much like every other one, not so much with museums which can run from highfalutin to pretty crass. For every Tate and Smithsonian there’s any number of Lawn Art and History of Bumpkinville museums.

Filed 10/4/17

Coining Words Like the Dickens


We like to invent brand spanking newish words, as on our Fauxcabulary page. Ours don’t get much traction however. After all, who are we? If we were as famous or widely read and respected as Charles Dickens it might be different. We’ve not had nearly as many books published as he did. As in we’ve had none. (We mean authored, not illustrated.) All the same we’ve got a globe spanning blog whereas Mr. Dickens doesn’t. So there.

Top Ten Words Coined by Charles Dickens

  1. catawumpus—fierce, as in the catawumpus storm hit Miami
  2. comfoozled—exhausted
  3. heeltap—sip of liquor left in a glass (with or without backwash we guess)
  4. marplot—meddler
  5. plenipotentiary—diplomatic agent
  6. rantipole—ill-behaved person
  7. sassigassity—cheeky attitude
  8. sawbones—a doctor, as in Leonard McCoy
  9. slangular—using street talk (we wish we’d come up with that)
  10. toadeater—fawning person (shorter version you all know: toady)

Filed 9/29/17

Don’t Order the Chef’s Surprise or the Catch of the Day


Actual Offerings from Real Restaurant Menus from around the World

Typos, spellcheck gone awry, bad translations or what? We don’t know. Still, we’ll go for the convolutions veal, it sounds like the least unappetizing item on the menu. We have no idea how to convolute food, but it might be tasty. Who can tell?

Filed 9/25/17



Fall is many folks favorite time of year. Not ours, other folks. This is one of those things people agree to disagree on. Without heated arguments. Fall people aren’t upset by spring people. Summer folk don’t find winter folk offensive. Peculiar, maybe, but not irksome. Unless they’re married to each other, maybe. But there might be something more to it in that case.

Fall people like it when the leaves turn, get their color. Well, their color other than green. Their true color, so they say. The underlying color minus the chlorophyl. Yellow, orange, red, maroon. We rather like that, too. Though we’d like it more if we lived in the woods and didn’t have to rake them up and stuff them in paper sacks.

Not like the old days when we’d rake them into a huge pile and set them ablaze. Hard to believe? In which case you’re obviously too young to remember that everyone disposed of fallen leaves that way. And the police and fire department were good with it. Back then when you said fall was in the air you meant that literally, as in the smell of burning leaves. And flying embers. Still, we never burnt down the house or the garage. Whether everyone could say as much we don’t know.

Do we miss those good old days? Not really. It was time consuming tending those fires. Worse if it was a rainy fall. Ever try to burn a pile of wet leaves? Don’t. That was then and now is now. Heck, these days folks don’t rake, they use leaf blowers or vacuum their yard. Or simply hire a lawn service and let them deal with it. And then go to the gym to burn off the excess calories they saved from those labor saving devices. Such is modern life.

Filed 9/22/17

Degeneration Gap


“Youth is wasted on the young.”
–George Bernard Shaw

“Age is a high price to pay for maturity.” –Tom Stoppard

If the young didn’t have the blush of youth, what would they have? Certainly not knowledge, experience, wisdom and good judgement. Young and dumb isn’t a repeatable cliché for nothing. Strong bodies is what one needs to survive the stupid things young people do.

At the opposite end, experience, knowledge and wisdom undoubtedly helps one to endure the vicissitudes of aging. Anyway, having gone through the peak earning years of their fifties, older folks also have more money than the young. Possibly the only saving grace for those who grew old but never grew up. While it’s said experience is a great teacher, some folks never learn.

Another thing you have more of as you get older, if you’re an artist, is a stockpile of used art. Which explains the old spot repurposed for this bit. Don’t know that means we’re wise or just old and lazy.

Filed 9/20/17

See Dick Write. Write, Dick, Write.


Could you write a book with a vocabulary of fifty words? Let us qualify that, a popular book, with a story. With pictures. For kids. Responding to a challenge, Dr. Seuss did just that. His Green Eggs and Ham has only the fifty different words listed below.

A, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

Could you write a book using only those fifty words? Possibly so. But consider, this post, short as it is, minus the list, contains fifty-three different words.

Filed 9/18/17

On Not Filling the Odd Request


As professionals in the art biz we like to deal with other professionals in the art biz. They just understand how things work. They know what’s possible to depict and what’s not. They won’t, for instance, ask you to draw a generic “multicultural” person, someone without some indication of age, sex, and ethnicity. That’s hardly possible, with the possible exception of Helvetica Man or maybe Michael Jackson.

Still, we’ve been lucky and haven’t had the actual client requests other artists have had:

Of course, many a deadbeat client is not so upfront about not paying the poor independent artist struggling to eke out a living. Happens all too often. The worst offenders of the lot? Politicians running for election. Once the campaign is over the election organization goes poof. Then just try finding someone who’ll pay you. Or even answers the now disconnected phone.

Filed 9/15/17

How Many Hungarians Does It Take to Build a Bomb?


In The Right Stuff there’s a line about how the U.S. would win the race to the moon because, “Our Germans were better than their Germans.” How about building an atomic bomb? Forget Germans, you want better Hungarians.

The Manhattan Project was led by a packet of Hungarian geniuses born between 1890 and 1920. The group included project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and polymath John von Neumann. The Manhattan Project was so top heavy with Hungarians that some high level meetings were conducted in Hungarian rather than English.

What’s more, Wigner, Von Neumann, and possibly Teller all attended the same Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke that the atomic bomb was basically a Hungarian high school science fair project. Which would put to shame our baking soda generated volcano and Alka-Seltzer powered geyser in a bottle.

Filed 9/11/17

Maybe Our Eating over the Sink Ain’t Such a Good Idea after All


Do you go by the three second rule? That is, if it falls on the floor and you pick it up within three seconds it’s OK to eat. So, what’s the time rule for something that falls in the sink? After all, there averages 830 bacteria per square inch on the floor and 18,000 per square inch in the sink. We have no information about the amount of bacteria on a cutting board. Oh yeah, flies are twice as germy (if that’s a word) as cockroaches.

All the same, you’re more likely to get grit and hair and such on your food from the floor. Which, while not dangerous bacteria, is just plain unpleasant to chew on. As are flies and cockroaches for that matter. Anyway, we suggest rather than worrying about any of that you consider the following from French author Nicholas Chamfort…

Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.

Filed 9/8/17

Could You Power a Car with Aluminum?


Rather than waiting hours for that car battery pack to recharge, what if you could stop at an aluminum station, fill up and go in five minutes? Possible? We don’t know. Just imagining based on the article linked. Don’t know what it would cost either.

US Army creates powder that recharges equipment in the field

Excerpt from New Atlas dot com:

The unexpected discovery came when researchers mixed a nanogalvanic aluminum-based powder with water, and noticed that the water began bubbling away. On closer inspection, they soon realized the reaction was the product of hydrolysis, meaning the material was splitting the water into its composite molecules of oxygen and hydrogen.

“There are other researchers who have been searching their whole lives and their optimized product takes many hours to achieve, say 50 percent efficiency,” says Scott Grendahl, team leader on the project. “Ours does it to nearly 100 percent efficiency in less than three minutes.”

Remember at the end of Back to the Future where Professor Brown tossed an empty beer can in the Mr. Fusion™ to fuel up? Maybe they got that wrong. Maybe it should have been a Mr. Hydrolysis™.

Filed 9/1/17

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