Inedible Leftovers


sparts noun, plural. Spare parts left over when you build, rebuild, or repair something which still seems to work OK without them. For now.

Admit it, guys, our DIY projects often yield sparts. In which case DIY stands for Destroy It Yourself. Many sparts are washers of some kind. Which don’t seem all that essential, but they’re there for a reason only engineers seem to know. I mean, if they didn’t do anything all the various kinds of washers never would have been invented in the first place.

On the other hand there’s ghost parts. Screws, nuts, and do-dads that seem to have vanished somewhere during the process. Though they’re not really on the other hand, they’re not on hand at all. Springs are especially prone to bound off somewhere and hide. Oh well, I guess you really only need three lug nuts to hold that wheel on.

Anyway, sparts are simply tossed in the junk drawer or plunked in some dusty container in the garage where they eventually become mystery parts. Sort-of like all those keys in your desk drawer for doors and padlocks that may or may not exist. Maybe the padlocks are in some other dustier container in the attic. You may never know.

Also see duhjustment and dimprovement

Filed 12/16/14

What’s the Other Thing Coming?


Another where-did-that-expression-come-from-it-makes-no-sense entry. That’s the way with some idioms, figures of speech and expressions; we under­stand them, yet they seem rather nonsensical when parsed. Try the following on for size:

If you think (such-and-such), you have another thing coming.

Which basically means “Think so? Think again.” No confusion about that. Still, when you delve into it, what is the thing coming? What thing have we got where there’s to be a follow-up thing? How do we get a thing because we think the such-and-such? One explanation offered is the expression is a mishearing of the original:

If you think (such-and-such), you have another think coming.

This is closer to “Think so? Think again.” and so seems plausible. Except it’s grammatically awkward; a verb, think, replaces a noun, thing. You can think, have a thought, even think a thought, but can you have a think? Maybe, I’m not sure. Some verbs work as nouns. You can talk or have a talk. On the other hand, you can speak, but you can’t have a speak. So maybe the theory is right, I wonder.

My theory is the expression has always been, “you have another thing coming.” You know how you sometimes preface some additional thing you want to say with, “and another thing”? That’s what the expression is saying, that’s the thing you have coming, a correction for what you’re thinking or saying.

At least that’s my story. And if you think I’m going to change my mind, you have another think coming.

Filed 11/28/14

When Abbreviations Become Words


The Bosox fan exited the Soho gym and hailed a taxi cab. Spotting a burger ad on the side of a bus, he pulled out his cell phone and called the lab to see if lunch was ready.

Not much of a story, but an example of informal language. How so? Let’s repeat the paragraph to show what I’m getting at.

The Boston Red Sox fanatic exited the South of Houston gymnasium and hailed a taximeter cabriolet. Spotting a hamburger advertisement on the side of an omnibus, he pulled out his cellular telephone and called the laboratory to see if luncheon was ready.

The top paragraph uses short, informal versions of longer words in the second paragraph. In some cases the parent word is so out of use it’s archaic. People might still say ham­burger advertisement, but who says taximeter cabriolet now-a-days? The informal versions are sort-of abbre­viations without a period. Though in a case like bus they lopped off the first bit instead of the last. All the same, folks don’t speak in abbreviations. It might read mr. on the page, but you still say mister and not m-r.

In case you’re wondering, a cabriolet is a vehicle with separate driver and passenger compartments. Taxi means to move along the ground, like how a plane might taxi. A meter is a measuring device. Put it all together and you get a taxi cab.

Then again, you could simply call it a taxi or a cab. Or a hack, short for hackney carriage. A taxi is an auto, usually a car or a minivan. Auto is short for automobile, mini comes from miniature, van is short for caravan and car is from cart. Or you could take a limo… it just won’t stop.

While sox might seem like gimmick spelling that’s how they used to spell socks. You’ll sometimes see it in old books. Another thing you may run across in those dusty tomes is to-day and to-morrow. When, exactly, did they do away with the hyphens? And why were they ever there to begin with?

Filed 11/13/14

Everybody Agrees It’s Gotta Be Right


A pair of quotes without comment from Bertrand Russell:

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

Filed 11/4/14

Confabulation –That’s Not the Way I Remember It


Some time back I was telling a story of something that happened to me. I don’t recall the story, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, after telling the tale my brother says, “Wait a second. That wasn’t you, it was me.” Oops.

Now, I’m not the only one this sort of thing happens to. A woman I knew said she remembered me doing a back-flip on the dance floor in some club. I’ve never done a back-flip in my life, and told her so. She insisted I was wrong, she remembered it distinctly. Which leads us to definition two below…

confabulate (kən făb′ yə-lāt) intr.v. 1. To talk informally, chat.  2. To replace fact with fantasy in memory.

Perhaps you’ve fallen victim to this. You’re pretty sure it happened, but was it a dream maybe? Or something you heard or read? Or some repressed memory some psychiatrist helped you “recover”? Memory is a funny thing. It can fool you.

A lot like the supposed 150,000 or so people who distinctly remembered being at the game where Babe Ruth called his homerun. In my case the remembered event actually happened, just not to me. Whether that’s true confabulation or something else I can’t say. But it’s close enough for Blab.

You don’t run across the word con­fabulation very often, though you’ve likely come across the shortened, informal version of definition one: confab. Perhaps those same baseball fans also recall a confab on the mound after the Bambino’s called shot.

Filed 10/31/14

Piglet Hamlet in Town


A booklet is a small book. A piglet is a small pig. Is a hamlet a small ham from a piglet? No, it’s a small town. So, is a ham a town? Ever heard of Birmingham, Cheltenham, Tottenham, West Ham? Seems a ham IS a town. So is a burg. What, then, is Hamburg?

Now then, what’s the difference between a pig and a hog? Well, there is an old saying, “Pigs go to market, hogs go to slaughter.” Though there doesn’t seem to be much difference between going to market or going to slaughter. I mean, the pigs aren’t shopping at the market.

Then again, maybe there’s a pig market where pig farmers buy live pigs. Still, why pig farmer and not pig rancher? A farm is for growing food and a ranch is for grazing animals. On a ranch you can herd cattle or herd sheep, though sheep come in flocks and not herds. Pigs come in herds, teams, drifts, droves, or pogs, but don’t graze; they root. I’ve never heard of a pog of pigs. Then again, I’m not a pig herder. Or would that be pig pogger?

A pig pog rooting is… this is where my train of thought has gone off the rails. Meaning I never did get to Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and famous Danish ham.

Filed 10/23/14

Everyone Agrees To Be Different


“Why do you have to be a noncon­formist like everybody else?”
—James Thurber

Or as my brother said, “Don’t be different, be alternative.” Unless, of course, there’s a consensus, in which case…

Filed 10/2/14

A little Word Frivia


Five Longest English Words
Strength –longest one vowel word
Squirreled –longest one syllable word
Abstentious –longest word with all five vowels used once in alphabetical order
Rotavator –longest one word palindrome
Smiles –longest word by riddle

One might argue whether squirreled is really one syllable, but most people rather pronounce it as one: “skrwurld.” Though there can be a slight break between “skwur” and “ld.” Maybe it’s one and a half syllables, if that’s possible.

The word abstentious isn’t in my dictionary, so I offer an alternative which is: abstemiously. That has six vowels once each in alphabetical order. After all, aren’t the vowels “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y”? Abstem­iously is one letter longer than absten­tious. Though if there happens to be an abstentiously…

Smiles has a mile between the first and last S making it over a mile long. An old joke riddle. I couldn’t resist.

Filed 7/14/14

Remember Odessa!

Let’s say some people from country A settle a region of bordering country B to the south. The ethnically differ­ent settlers become the majority in the region which breaks away from mother country B and joins country A. Ask yourself, legitimate or not?

While couched as a hypothetical, you probably suspect I’m talking about real events. And you’d be right. The breakaway region is Texas, the mother country is Mexico, and the bordering country to the north is the United States. Sounds a lot like something else more recent, eh?

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Which may be the most famous quote of Mr. Twain’s about history, though not the only one. He doesn’t repeat himself, but he does sort-of rhyme.

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”

“The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes.”

“History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.”

Filed 4/7/14

Wodin Was There on Wednesday, But No More

wodin1 wodin1

Do Brits make fun of the way you say mirror? They did me. Even English-speaking Brazilians thought the way I said mirror was amusing. To them it sounded like I was saying mere with one syllable, and not mirror with two. Still, in England they call a vest a waistcoat, and pronounce it weskit. Which leads us to…

haplology (hăp lŏl′ ə-jē) noun. Phonetics. The short­ening of a word by contraction of a sound or syllable in its pronunciation.

syncope (sĭn′ kə-pē) noun. Grammar. The shortening of a word by the omission of a sound, letter, or syllable from the middle of the word.

Which one of those applies to how I say mirror I don’t know. In any case, we also have the word drawer which sounds like roar with a D tacked on the front end. Then there’s Wednesday, which started as Wodin’s day, and now is said simply as wenzday. While the spelling still reflects its Norse origin, Wodin himself has faded away.

When it comes to word mumbling, sailors take an aft seat to nobody. Thanks to old swabbies we wind up with forecastle (fōk′ səl), and boat­swain (bō′ sən). Forecastle has been said this way so long there’s an accepted alternate spelling, fo’c’s’le.

Filed 4/4/14

Hello Then


Common idiomatic sayings that don’t make much sense if you examine them too much:

Hello there
Bye now
Don’t mention it
There, there

“Hello here” and “hello yonder” don’t make any sense, so what’s with “hello there”? What’s location got to do with it?

I get “buy now!” but “bye now”? Is that a farewell with an expiration date? You wouldn’t say “bye later“ or “bye tomorrow” would you? Though folks sometimes say “bye then.” Which means the same thing as “bye now.” When is it, now or then? I don’t get it.

People only say “don’t mention it” after someone just mentioned it. Wouldn’t you have to say “don’t mention it” before they mention it? Saying it after is too late, the cat’s already out of the bag. Why there was a cat in the bag is another mystery. Kind of a creepy thing, keeping a cat in a bag.

“There, there” is what we say to comfort people in distress. There what? There where? What’s there? It doesn’t seem to mean anything at all. It might as well be any two words as far as I can tell. My, my.

Filed 3/31/14

Expand Your Nearly Useless Vocabulary


Every now and again you run across the odd odd word you don’t run across very often. Some are technical terms or jargon. Others just strike you as peculiar words. They look strange and sound weird when you say them in your head. I ran across a few in the last couple of days.

octothorpe (ŏk′ tō thōrp) noun. The symbol (#).

Octothorpe was coined by Bell Labs in the 1960s. It’s what we call the pound sign, the number sign, or a hashtag. Somehow octothorpe never caught on outside the laboratory. I wonder if they even use it there.

jeremiad (jĕr ə-mī′-əd) noun. A prolonged literary lamentation or complaint; a written cautionary or angry harangue. (From the 1700s in reference to Jeremiah’s Lamentations.)

phlogiston (flō-jĭs′ tŏn) noun. Hypo­thetical component of combustible substances; a hypothetical element that some early scientists, before the discovery of oxygen, believed to be present in all combustible substances to make them burn.

If you collect vocabulary arcana, these may be just the ticket for filling out that file of nearly useless words that are hard to work into a conver­sation.

Filed 2/24/14

Wit and Wisdom of Fred Reed


And now, some pithy quotes from the Hillbilly Mencken, Fred Reed. Born and raised in West Virginia, the only state to secede during the war to prevent secession.

“The problem with being a nation of laws is that whoever controls the laws then controls the nation.”

“Much of the unpleasantness of modern life occurs because we will say 'No' to almost nothing.”

“We’re in the middle of learning whether there is anything at all that cannot be inflicted on the American public — whether people with cable TV can rouse themselves to resist, well, anything.”

“The genius of television is that, to shape a people as you want, you don’t need unrestrained govern­mental authority, nor do you need to tell people what you want of them. Indeed, if you told them what to do, they would be likely to refuse…. No. You merely have to show them, over and over, day after day, the behavior you wish to instill… and slowly, unconsciously, people will come to accept and then imitate them.”

“As empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our sav­ages are already inside…. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Filed 2/22/14

Errant v. Arrant


Is it “errant nonsense” or “arrant nonsense”? I’ve often heard people speak the phrase, but which are they actually saying? I’d always assumed it was errant and not arrant, but perhaps that was an errant assumption.

errant (ĕr′ ənt) adj. Straying from the proper course or standards; erring.

arrant (ăr′ ənt) adj. Egregious; unmitigated; thoroughgoing.

Thing is, nonsense pretty much means something incorrect, in error. So “errant nonsense” would be redun­dant. Thus “arrant nonsense” makes more sense. Though that sentence seems self-contradictory. Or would be if not for the quote marks.

Then again, nonsense can also be used to mean silliness, frivolity, just goofing around. Indulging in nonsense would be intentional and not errant. We might call it being nonsensical, though folks rarely use the old word for the opposite, sensical. Instead we say sensible. Still, it seems you rarely run across either arrant or errant except when preceding nonsense.

Both words sound almost the same in any case. The letter R tends to have that effect following short vowels. Easy to get them mixed up in the hearing. If you say it instead of write it, no-one will know anyway.

Filed 2/17/14

Funny Physics


Two theoretical physicists are hope­lessly lost in the mountains. One pulls out a map and a calculator and starts punching in numbers. After a few minutes he turns to the other theore­tical physicist and says: “I’ve figured it out. Do you see that mountain over there? That’s where we are.”

Why is that funny? Perhaps because you suspect a lot of theoretical physics based on complex math is not quite modeling reality, but leading science down the garden path where errant nonsense is “proved” because, “We have a formula for that.” If so, you’re not the only one.

“Today’s scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.”
—Nikola Tesla

“If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get very far in our understanding of the physical world.”
—Vannevar Bush

“Many of them [astrophysicists] still believe in formulas which we know from laboratory experiments to be wrong… They are 'generally accepted' by most theoreticians, they are developed with the most sophist­icated mathematical methods; and it is only the plasma itself which does not 'understand' how beautiful the theories are and absolutely refuses to obey them.”
—Hannes Alfvén

“Mathematics is well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.”
—Albert Einstein

Ironic to have an Einstein quote here. The dominance of mathematics over experiment and observation in physics pretty much began with Einstein. Thought experiments are okay as far as they go, but they exist in the mind and not in the real world. Mother Nature may have other ideas.

Filed 1/21/14

You Hear Something?


inkling (ĭnk′ lĭng) noun, a vague intimation of; a slight knowledge of.

This word just sounds like it’d be something tiny, along the lines of tingling, tickling, tinkling, wrinkling. Though while there is a tingle, tickle, tinkle, and wrinkle there is no inkle. Much like a tinkling is a feint sound, inkling was originally the indistinct hearing of one’s name being spoken. So, you prick up your ears because someone is talking about you. You don’t know what they’re saying about you, though you suspect it’s some­thing, you have an inkling.

This is another of those words that at one time began with the letter N and lost it. Other examples are a napple (an apple), a napron (an apron), and a nadder (an adder). This switch is called metanalysis. In other cases words gained an N. Like how an ewt became a newt or an ekename became a nekename (nickname).

Another word that lost its N was orange, though it never had an N in English. It was the French who seem to have misplaced it, going from une narange and winding up with une arange. Orange traces its roots to the Sanskrit naranga. The English imported orange already sans N from the French because, well, oranges don’t grow in England.

How the House of Orange fits into any of this I have no idea. William of Orange was once the King of England. But he was Dutch and not French. Though maybe I’m comparing napples to noranges.

Filed 1/30/14

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