I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Some innocent people are under the impression that writers prepare their manuscripts correctly, as the articles appear in the paper. Not so, my son. In many cases, if an article should appear as originally written, the author would refuse to father it and never make another effort. But they must be encouraged, and so their productions are trimmed up in the office and made presentable.

Unknown, as printed in the Arizona Daily Star, May 21, 1882


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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 1:32 AM Pacific

  09:51 AM

People everywhere tend to believe that their language is the finest of all the languages. This natural inclination can sometimes extend to a belief that their language must therefore be the mother of all languages.

If you also have a theological bent, this belief can take on religious overtones. What language did Adam and Eve speak in the Garden of Eden? This was a question of interest to scholars in the Middle Ages. And a 16th-century Dutch doctor named Johannes Goropius Becanus (born Jan Gerartsen van Gorp) reckoned he'd figured it out: they spoke Brabantic. By amazing coincidence, Brabantic—a dialect of Dutch—happened to be the good doctor's native tongue.

Gerartsen spent considerable effort on his theory, which included supposedly Brabantic origins for the names Adam and Eve. The theory did not find a lot of backers. In fact, it was so poorly received that it spawned this week's new-to-me word: goropism, based on the doctor's Latinized name. (The term goropism was supposedly coined by Leibnitz himself, who had unkind words for the doctor's work.)

Goropism actually describes two ideas. One is the notion that some language known today must have been the Ur-language. (Pro tip: no.) Goropism can also mean a madey-uppy word origin, which derives from Gerarsten's strained efforts to make names in Genesis seem to derive from Dutch.

One does encounter the first sense of goropism occasionally among particularly chauvinistic speakers of a language.[1] As for the second sense, you'll find plenty of examples of that. Has anyone ever told you that crap came from the name of the dude who invented the flush toilet, Thomas Crapper? Or that the word posh comes from "port outward, starboard home"?[2] Those are fabricated word origins, or to honor our boy today, goropisms. False etymologies. Another name for these, as coined by the linguist Lawrence Horn, is etymythologies.

I learned a bunch of this from a highly entertaining and very informative blog post by Brian Powers, who also tweets as Languages Around the Globe. A recommended follow.

Speaking of word origins—real ones this time—today I have fifth column. I’m reading Kate Atkinson’s novel Transcription, and ran across this:

… in which one of the characters says, "I presume you are familiar with the ins and outs of the fifth column."

I knew more or less what fifth column was, but I didn't know where the term came from. The generally accepted origin is in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. The story goes that as Nationalist forces converged on Madrid in four columns, the general Emilio Mola Vidal talked about a "fifth column" (tho in Spanish: quinta columna) that was undermining the Republican government from within the city. The expression got into English when it was used in 1936 by a New York Times reporter who was writing about the war.

There's some dispute about whether Mola Vidal actually ever talked about a quinta columna, or whether it was in fact used by a Communist leader about the Nationalist sympathizers. As if that didn't muddy things up enough, apparently the term might have been used as early as 1906 by an Austrian official about Serbian nationalists. For our purposes—that is, how we got the word in English—we can safely assume that it came from somewhere in the Spanish Civil War, and probably via the New York Times article.

As an aside, it's interesting to me that fifth in fifth column really has no significance in itself; it was just based on the number of military forces in play at the time. Now I'm wondering how many other numerically based terms we have (like fourth estate) that are the result of just … counting up.

[1] For example, I have personally tangled with some folks who maintained that Sanskrit was not just an ancient language, but the original language, and certainly the source of all European languages.

[2] The lexicographer Kory Stamper has this thought: "Acronymic etymologies are, by and large, total horseshit."

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  07:56 AM

I saw a headline the other day about a "market melt up." That made me scroll back to see what the heck they were talking about, because that was new to me.

Sure enough: there's such a thing in finance as a melt up, which an article in Bloomberg defines as "a sharp and unexpected gain driven by a stampede of investors who don’t want to miss out rather than [by] any fundamental improvements." When the market rises due to a kind of financial FOMO.

There are some interesting aspects to the term melt up. It seems safe to assume that it's based on the term meltdown, in which things are, broadly speaking, going to hell. The metaphor of meltdown at least has the image correct; when something melts, gravity tends to cause the liquid to flow downward. Many things can melt down: the Arctic; nuclear fuel cores; people under stress. (I can't offhand think of a use for meltdown when it's considered a positive, but let me know if I've overlooked one.)

So a melt up is sort of the opposite of a meltdown, right? Yes and no. The up part is an opposite; prices are going up. But if a meltdown is definitely a bad thing, a melt up is not necessarily a good thing. (It's temporarily positive, but the expectation is that prices are going up for the wrong reasons. As the Investopedia article says, "Melt ups often precede melt downs.") Most of all, the melt metaphor, while tying the idea to that of a meltdown, sort of doesn't make sense in melt up.

Finally, I wondered what the difference is, financially speaking, between a melt up and a bubble. Bloomberg makes the distinction that a melt up might end up being justified by market fundamentals, whereas a bubble by definition is when prices are no longer realistic. As I understand it.

This would all just be just lexical fun if the potential consequences of market melt ups were not so dire. So let's hope that we will not, in fact, be hearing this term much in the future.

On to origins. Last weekend, the grandboy surprised (and amused) us by telling us that there was "just a titch" of water left in his glass. It's apparent that he got this expression from his mother, who is a Pacific Northwest native, with some linguistic influence from family in Texas. And of course I immediately wondered where titch had come from.

If you look up titch in the dictionary, you find that there's a word titchy in British English, which means "very small, tiny." Perhaps surprisingly, the word titchy is an eponym; there was an actor whose stage name was Little Tich, who was small. Some people trace titch meaning "small quantity" back to this origin. Nancy Friedman has a writeup of this explanation on her blog (via the site World Wide Words), which notes that titch is British and Australian slang.

I also had a peek in the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka DARE), but it doesn't seem to have an entry for titch. When I poked around on various online forums, people from places like Iowa and central Canada likewise wondered about the term. (A Canadian fashion blogger has a blog named Just a Titch.)

You might wonder how some British slang based on an 19th-century actor managed to make its way to the western US and Canada and become established in the vernacular there. And the answer is … probably it didn't. Per the OED, titch is a variation of touch ("just a touch" to mean "just a small quantity"). Well, darn; if the OED is to be believed, British titchy is unrelated to "just a titch."

Of course, none of this decreases our enjoyment of hearing the kid pick up idiomatic expressions, which also of course will keep me reaching for the dictionary.

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  07:03 AM

This week's new-to-me word isn't actually a word, it's a number: 996. A few days ago I was at the coffee bar in our office, idly glancing at a copy of the New York Times, and there was an article about work culture in China. The 996 designation is a bit horrifying: it refers to working 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, 6 days a week. As it says in the NYT article, "Chinese tech employees have worked hours that make Silicon Valley’s workaholics seem pampered." Per various sources, this is not voluntary overtime: this is actual work-hours policy at some companies in the PRC.

The earliest reference I can find to 996 is from 2016 in an article about the company 58.com. The article talks about "the 996 culture" without quotation marks, suggesting that they think the term might be familiar to readers. In any event, there have been a lot of writeups since then; the NYT article is only one of dozens in the last couple of years.

The term 996 struck me for a couple of reasons. One, of course, was trying to wrap my head around what a company-mandated 72-hour work week would be like. The second reason was that 996 is another example of a numeronym, or number-based word. It joins other numeronyms like 24/7, 9-to-5, 180 ("do a 180"), K-9, Y2K, and 10-4, not to mention i18n ("internationalization") and E15 ("Eyjafjallajökull," the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010). I suppose whether these are all "true" numeronyms is subject to debate, but I'm inclined to be generous with the concept.

Once you've had a chance to consider how you'd cope with 996 culture, let's move on to origins. I was reading recently about something to do with the US president's cabinet, and got to wondering where we got the word secretary from. Here we have these very high-placed officials—Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense—whose title also refers to someone who's "employed to handle correspondence and do routine work in a business office," per Dictionary.com. Run a government department, handle routine work; these don't necessarily seem to be the same thing.

Yet there is a connection, and to my surprise, it's right there in the word itself. A secretary was originally someone who dealt with private matters—that is, with secrets. The name goes back directly to Latin, which had the term a secretis for the position.

The secret part is now clear. The -ary part is a combining form for "man who does [thing]," which we also find in words like actuary ("man who records court acts"), adversary ("man who is adverse"), and apothecary ("man who runs a shop").

From this "man who deals with secrets" sense, the word took a couple of paths (a process known as semantic broadening). The office-type secretary derived from the officer who dealt with the king's correspondence; that sense then generalized into a term for someone who primarily dealt with correspondence in general. The governmental sense of secretary originated in Elizabethan times; a Principal Secretary of State became a role involved not just in assisting the monarch with secrets and write-y things, but in helping to govern.

While we're on the topic of secrets, we have two verbs to secrete. One means "to hide, conceal," which shares a stem with secret and secretary. The other secrete means "to emit or discharge," as in "Some plants secrete a sweet juice." This second sense is a back-formation from secretion and is unrelated to secrets. So there you have it: all is revealed about secretaries and secrets.

Update: See Jim's comment about a common root for secret and secrete ("emit").

Here's some bonus etymology fun for you. In a Twitter thread this week, Lane Greene, the language columnist for the Economist, solicited ideas for words that are homonyms but aren't related. One of Greene's examples was pawn (the chess piece) and pawn ("to exchange for a loan"). Or there's bear ("to carry") and bear (fearsome animal). Anyway, have a look—lots of fun terms.

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[2] |

  12:07 PM

Before M*A*S*H was a TV series and before it was a movie, it was a novel written by someone who'd obviously been an Army surgeon in Korea. I read the book as a teenager, and weird little bits of it stuck with me over the years.

Warning Potentially distasteful content—surgery, unpleasant metaphors.

One that remains oddly relevant to my work is the idea of meatball surgery. Here are a couple of those bits, which concern Captain Pinkham, a newly arrived surgeon who's still trying to get the hang of field surgery.

Captain Pinkham, in particular, still tended to get bogged down in detail. He would become completely absorbed in repairing damage to a hand and ignore or sublimate the obvious fact that the patient could die of his abdominal wounds. Once, in fact, he spent six hours on a case that should not have taken more than two hours and managed to miss a hole in the upper part of the stomach. The patient almost died, early, from too much surgery and, later, from the missed hole.

After Hawkeye catches and fixes this error, he takes Captain Pinkham aside and offers him some advice:

This is certainly meatball surgery that we do around here, but I think you can see now that meatball surgery is a specialty in itself. We are not concerned with the ultimate reconstruction of the patient. We are concerned only with getting the kid out of here alive enough for someone else to reconstruct him. Up to a point we are concerned with fingers, hands, arms and legs, but sometimes we deliberately sacrifice a leg in order to save a life, if the other wounds are more important. In fact, now and then we may lose a leg because, if we spent an extra hour trying to save it, another guy in the preop ward could die from being operated on too late.

I don't do surgery, obviously, and my work doesn't involve life-and-death decisions. (Thank goodness.) Still, this passage stuck with me over the years as a lesson about prioritization.

We normally maintain a doable pace for our edits, and articles get one or more development edit passes and a couple of copy edit passes. But now and then we'll have hard dates, as when articles need to go out that are keyed to an upcoming trade show or product announcement. At rare intervals we might be asked to review something that needs to go out, like, tomorrow.

This type of crunch-mode workload—and especially the hard dates—forces us to prioritize. Or to echo Hawkeye, we might have to practice a form of "meatball editing." If I have 120 pages' worth of articles that will be referenced in presentations starting next Monday at 9:00 AM, I'm going to worry about editorial issues that have big impact. Are the product names right? Are we saying something dodgy about security? Are the code snippets missing or mangled? Are there sentences that just stop halfway through? Under circumstances like these, I usually can't afford the careful scrutiny and multiple re-reads (not to mention the iterations with the author) that are required in order to sort out issues like whether we actually need to include this paragraph, or whether this table would be better as a list, or whether that's an infelicitous use of the passive.

It's not that we don't care about these issues. Given a more leisurely schedule, we'll dig in on the text. (Sometimes, perhaps, to the exasperation of the author, haha.) And we do often get a chance to go back to the pieces that got only a meatball edit and do a more thorough edit.

The expression "meatball surgery" is distasteful; it suggests a crude way to do something that requires finesse, and I hesitated about using the expression "meatball editing." But as explained by Hawkeye, sometimes you need to address the big issues and deal with the small ones later. True for battlefield surgery, and sometimes true for editing as well.



  08:47 AM

Last week, my son posted on Facebook that he would be shoutcasting a sports match—sorry, an esports match—for a team the school where he teaches. I didn't know what the word shoutcasting meant, because my ignorance of the world of esports and Twitch, the video-game livestreaming service, is nearly total.

I asked my son and consulted some other sources, and I'm still not convinced I entirely get it, but here's what I've learned. Shoutcasting is essentially the same as sportscasting for any sort of sports match, except you're narrating a videogame. There are play-by-play casters and color casters, just like for football or whatever. My son contrasted shoutcasting with traditional sportscasting by suggesting that "a lot of the action happens all at once and involves multiple people," and it's the shoutcaster's job to try to keep everything straight for folks who are watching.

It seems obvious that the word shoutcast is based on broadcast. Fun fact: broadcasting was originally an agricultural term. To broadcast is to throw seed by hand; to cast is "to throw." It took on a metaphoric meaning of "to disseminate" in the 19th century, but really took off in the early 20th century when it became the verb for what radio and TV do. Once we had that sense of broadcast, we broke off the ‑cast part again and created new terms like sportscasting and podcasting.

But why shoutcasting? It's true (apparently) that video-game commenters can get very excited. But according to one source I found, Shoutcast was actually a piece of software that let you stream audio, i.e., broadcast on the internet. A video on YouTube recounts the history of how Shoutcast the software evolved into shoutcasting the activity.

I don't have a reason to think that that history is incorrect, and that's about as far as I care to get into the world of esports for now. But at least I know, or think I know, what it is my son is doing the next time he talks about it.

Turning now to fun origins, today's is both an etymological nugget and a mnemonic! The word is nonplussed, a term that has two meanings that are almost exactly opposites. Some people use it to mean "unfazed" or "unperturbed." Others use it to mean "at a loss" or "surprised and confused." (Both senses are in the dictionary; I'm sorry if this makes you unhappy.)

The "unfazed" meaning seems to come from the idea that the non- part means "un" or "not." Someone who is non-plussed is not … something. Fazed or perturbed. Or anyway, that's the theory. But the etymology tells a different story. The origin is non plus in Latin, which means "no more." A person who is nonplussed is someone who basically can't even, as the kids say.

Something that's not evident today is that nonplus started as a noun, meaning "a state in which no more can be said or done" (OED). Here's a cite from 1657 that describes a situation that I'm sure we all recognize even today: "Their often failings, had put them to often stops and nonplusses in the work."

The word was used as an adjective ("Soon his wits were Non plus") and also as a transitive verb meaning "to bring to a standstill." ("I know it will non-plus his power to work a true miracle.") That's the sense we have today, although you don't often see it used in the active voice like that. ("In sportsball today, the Fierce Mammals nonplussed the Large Raptors in an upset.") But nothing is stopping you from that approach, so feel free.

In any event, if you experience momentary or full-time confusion about what nonplussed means, remember the "no more" sense, and you'll be all right.

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  12:44 AM

Suppose you're reading an article about politics, and you run into a paragraph like this (which I just invented):

At a campaign stop this week, the candidate spoke about the "need for morals" in today's society. His platform literature repeatedly touts "moral values," and he has previously called for schools to include "moral education." Nonetheless, there is the candidate's well-documented history of legal troubles. When it comes to morality, he keeps using that word, but we do not think it means what he thinks it means.

The last sentence illustrates this week's new-to-me word, which (for a change) is actually new-new: Easter egg quotation. You might recognize that last sentence as a quote, slightly altered, from the movie The Princess Bride. But here's the thing: the sentence fits neatly and reasonably into the paragraph. If you don't know the lines from that movie, you don't lose any meaning in the paragraph. But if you do recognize the cite, you get a little extra joy.

Another example: at the beginning of the week, one of your colleagues says about a grumpy co-worker, "Uh-oh! It looks like someone's got a case of the Mondays!" Clear enough, probably, even if you've never heard of anything called "the Mondays." But it's a hidden gem for fans of the movie Office Space.

The term Easter egg quotation was coined just recently by the linguist Arnold Zwicky on his blog. (Zwicky has coined a number of terms, including recency illusion and zombie rule.) He was exploring the use of these hidden citations in articles from The Economist, which has a reputation for wordplay. For his examples, Zwicky finds citations from Monty Python and Gertrude Stein hiding right there in Economist articles.

Why Easter egg? A simple answer is that an Easter egg is (to quote my wife) a "hidden prize." That's a general explanation, but the term Easter egg also has a specific meaning in the world of gaming and software. It refers to a surprise that the user can get to by making just the right sequence of gestures—click this box on that screen while holding down the Ctrl key, or type a special word at just the right place, or whatever[1]. Easter eggs started as a way to sneak the contributors' names into a piece of software, but sometimes became quite elaborate, revealing games or other fun stuff.

You could argue that an Easter egg quotation is a multi-media phenomenon. Musical improvisers often cite other works in their solos for the musically savvy to hear. Visual artists incorporate imagery that echoes other works. In fact, I was recently watching the movie Mean Girls (2004), in which Tina Fey plays a high school teacher who moonlights by working in a bar. Here she is on her way to her second job; if you've seen Office Space (1999), you will surely recognize those 37 pieces of flair:

Let's move on to origins. Where does the word asunder come from? Wait, we should probably review what it means: "into separate pieces," as in something like "She ripped the old dress asunder" or the phrase from Mark 10:9 "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

Asunder is an adverb that probably comes from on + sunder (well, on + sundrum). It goes way the heck back, about as far back as we have records of written English. The sunder part shows up in Frisian and Dutch and German in words that mean "special, apart, separate." (In modern German, it shows up as sondern, which is a verb meaning "to separate" and a conjunction that means "but, on the contrary.") In modern English, we still have sundry (as in "a collection of sundry items") and sundries (as in "pick up milk and sundries at the store"). I don't often come across words during these etymological investigations that have such a purely Germanic origin as this one! A nice little bonus.

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[1] I worked at Microsoft during a period when a fair bit of effort was put into creating Easter eggs in the software we shipped. That all came to an end in 2002, when it was declared that having hidden bits in the software tended to undermine the message of trustworthiness. It was fun while it lasted, though.


[1] |

  07:27 AM

The new-to-me word this week is one that could engender discussion, perhaps not all in a good way. But I'm here to learn about words, so let's see. The word is bougie and the related term boujee. I ran across bougie recently in a Twitter post by Sarah Tauber, a crop scientist, who was mocking show farms:

The word bougie was new to me, but for fun, I asked our kids, age range 20 to 31, if they knew the word. They all did. One definition offered up was "something that is fancy in a stupid way (like $18 avocado toast)." Another definition was "acting in a high class manner, with the implication that they are not high class." So that's how my kids understand the term, which is one demographic.

People seem to agree that bougie derives from bourgeoisie or bourgeois, referring to the people who lived in towns (burgs). These people were not aristocrats, nor did they work the land. Merchant class or professional class: pretty much the people we'd call middle class today.

When I asked the kids about bougie, there was some confusion. Did I mean boujee? This is a related term, but pretty clearly from the same root. Boujee seems to have originated in the African American community, and likewise refers to trappings of an affluent lifestyle. But boujee doesn't seem to have the negative connotations that bougie does; for example, people seek to look boujee (video: How to look bad and boujee on a budget). Per a Dictionary.com article, boujee pertains to achieving material success but remaining down to earth. I found the subtlety of the distinction between the terms very interesting.

I should note that when you research this term, you will inevitably run across the song Bad and Boujee by Migos, which might have had some influence in spreading the term to a wide audience.

Let us move on to fun origins. I can't believe it's never occurred to me to ask—especially considering how many documents I've formatted in my career—but I only recently looked up the etymology of indent. I bet as soon as I said that you can see it already: dent is "teeth," right? As in dentist. Yes, it is.

The verb came early ("Take hede thy mower mowe clene & holde downe the hyder hand of his sythe that he do nat endent the grasse," from a Middle Ages manual on husbandry.) The original sense is "to make tooth-like incision(s) in the edge of." Note that this definition applies to the shape of the cuts, not how they're made (by biting).

In the document sense, indent to mean "set back" goes back to the 17th century. A nice additional cite, courtesy of the OED: "You must indent your Line four Spaces at least." (Here we insert a joke about the ongoing debate in programming about whether to indent using spaces or tabs.)

Couple of additional thoughts. In terms of formatting documents, the verb indent spawned the verb to outdent; if indenting means setting a line back from the margin, outdenting means moving it toward the margin. You might not find the word outdent in your favorite dictionary, but it's a well-understood term in discussions about formatting.

And finally, the dent of indent is not directly related to the dent of "There's a dent in my car." To dent as in "to make a depression in" is related to dint ("by dint of"), which is a term that was kindly lent to us from Old Norse and that refers to "a stroke or blow." If you know your English history, you'll know that the Old Norsemen dealt out quite a few strokes or blows in their day. I guess that made an impression, haha.

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[1] |

  07:32 AM

Today's new-to-me word (well, term) is one that occasionally pops up and that I have to look up each time. So I thought I'd try to nail it down for myself, and possibly for you.

The term is the IKEA effect, which does indeed have something to do with the Swedish home-goods store. It does not describe the effect of overindulgence in their delicious meatballs, nor does it refer to a home that's kitted out with a bunch of furniture that's very nearly well designed.

No, IKEA effect involves the way their furniture comes packaged—namely, in pieces—and the fact that you have to assemble it yourself. Even though this effort is pretty minimal, at least when compared to actually building furniture yourself, the small effort makes us more attached to the furniture than we would be if we just ordered it up from Amazon or something.

We're probably all familiar with how we like something that we ourselves crafted—a ceramic mug, a painting, a knitted sweater, a loaf of bread—even if in absolute terms the thing might not have high market value. (Experiment: as you Kondoize your belongings, try to determine whether something you created yourself "sparks joy" more than something you bought whole or got as a gift.) The surprising aspect of the IKEA effect is, as noted, that it doesn't take much to go from pure consumer to "co-creator of value," as it says on the Wikipedia.

The IKEA effect is a perhaps a subset of the idea of effort justification, which describes how we put value on something that exhibits labor; the more labor appears to go into something, the more we value it. Something that clearly seems to have taken extraordinary effort will accrue value by that measure alone.

And speaking of extraordinary effort and value, let's turn our attention to ceilings. For this week's origins, I have a proper noun for a change. I'm sure you know about the Sistine Chapel, a chapel in Vatican City whose ceiling was painted by Michelangelo. Have you ever wondered why it’s called the Sistine Chapel? I hadn’t until recently.

The answer is straightforward, if not necessarily obvious. In Italian, the word sistine is an adjectival form (“of or relating to”) the the pope name Sixtus. And sure enough, the Sistine Chapel was named for Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned a restoration in the late 1400s. (A surprising detour here is that Sixtus does not mean “sixth”—that would be Sextus—but is an old Roman name.) A sort of fun fact is that it wasn’t Sixtus IV who hired Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling. That work was done several popes and about 30 years later under Julius II. Alas, not only did Julius II not get naming rights to the chapel's ceiling, he isn't responsible for the Julian calendar, either. Clearly he needed a better PR department.

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  04:27 AM

I’m at an editors conference (editors’ conference) this week, so the new-to-me word this week is sort of thematically appropriate. The term is rogeting, which refers to a way to plagiarize a document: you swap all the substantive words out for synonyms. The idea is that your rogeted paper says the same thing as the original, but in a different way. The real idea is to fool plagiarism checkers, which work primarily by looking for exact matches of text in a document.

Students have always appreciated the, um, benefits of plagiarism. But apparently there is some way to profit (don’t ask me how) by republishing academic papers. However, since exact copies of the papers are relatively easy to find, the plagiarizer rogets the text of a paper authored by someone else. If they do this using a software tool, the result can be particularly clumsy; it was from a discussion of one such example where I learned about the term.

The verb to roget of course comes from Peter Mark Roget, the inventor of the thesaurus. The noun Roget is a synonym for a thesaurus, at least in countries where the name Roget is not trademarked (like the UK, apparently). It’s a nice leap to verbize to roget, especially since the alternatives—to synonymize, to thesaurusize—are sort of awkward.

I tie this to the Editor Fest because I occasionally find myself hunting suspected instances of, um, borrowing in documents that I edit. This usually turns out to be either legit (the author copied text from elsewhere in the company) or a misunderstanding about what an author is allowed to copy (authors sometimes think that copying someone else’s text is exactly the right thing to do). I don’t run a plagiarism checker, but even if I did, if a determined author rogeted their text, the software might miss the copy.

Let’s turn to fun origins. Since we’re on the topic of editing, where does edit/editing/editor come from, anyway? The not-surprising part is that it comes from Latin, without (as far as I can tell) any stops in Romance languages along the way.

The more surprising part is that to edit originally meant “to publish.” The roots are ex (“out”) and dare (“to give,” related to Spanish dar). From that verb the term editor evolved, but keeping the sense of one who publishes. We still see this in titles like editor-in-chief as the person who’s overall in charge of publishing a newspaper, magazine, etc.

But the sense of “one who publishes” grew to encompass the tasks associated with preparing something for publishing. Different people took on different aspects of this preparation; the conference I’m at is specifically for copy editors, which is to say, editors who prepare the actual copy (text).

Anyway, the job title of editor generated a new sense of to edit via the magic of back-formation, and we got the verb to edit in the sense of preparing text. This sense was extended to other media, so that someone can edit film or video or photos.

With that, it’s time to edit this post, in all senses.

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[2] |

  06:55 AM

The recent college-admissions scandal in the US was certainly shocking (or not), but it did have the benefit of introducing me to a couple of terms. Most people probably know about helicopter parents—parents who are constantly hovering over their children. Two terms that the scandal taught me were lawnmower parents and snowplow parents.

Both expressions refer to parents who clear the path for their children, or as one description has it, "parents who rush ahead to intervene, saving the child from any potential inconvenience, problem or discomfort." The same article suggests alternative terms bulldozer parents and—heh—curling parents, from the sport played on ice.

These terms are relatively new—snowplow parent goes back to about 2008, lawnmower parent maybe to 2016. We can safely assume, I think, that the phenomenon being described is not new, nor of course is the criticism of how other people do their parenting.

For fun origins today it's spa. At work we have spa water, which is water infused with fruit or vegetables or herbs (or all three).[1]

This seems like a relatively ordinary thing, but there's a surprisingly large, um, literature on spa water of this sort, including hardback books with recipes. Exploring the origins of the term spa water took me on a little journey, which I'll share with you.

Spa water at our work is inspired by water that's provided at spas. What is a spa? Well, that's in the eye of the beholder. It's a place you can get beauty treatments; I guess I envision luxury retreats where you wear a fluffy robe and soak in the waters. But in the narrow definition—a spa is about beauty treatment—a modest nail salon can call itself a spa, or perhaps if they offer a few extra amenities, not forgetting the spa water. (As Jimmy McGill's landlady reminds us in Better Call Saul, cucumber water is for customers, not for shady lawyers renting out her back room.)[2]

The water is the salient part of a spa here. Before spa water was infused water, it was mineral water bottled and sold for its health-giving properties. There are many places whose water is reputed to have these properties, but there is one original spa water: the water from springs at the town of Spa, Belgium. They've been selling their labeled Spa water since the 17th century. (Apparently in Dutch, the brand Spa has been genericized to refer to any mineral water.)

One thing that's not clear is how the town of Spa got its name. It's possible that it's from an old Walloon word for "spring" or "fountain," which would certainly make sense.

There's some evidence that the Romans knew about the water from Spa. But the Romans didn't just drink exotic waters, they were enthusiastic bathers. And that's the other definition of spa: a place you take the waters. (I was delighted to learn that this is known as balneotherapy, and it apparently can have some benefit.) This sense of spa is generic; for example, there's Leamington Spa in England, which was renamed from Leamington Priors in 1838 to match the name of the Belgian town. And from there we get back to our more modern sense of a spa, a place where you take treatments for, you know, health and beauty.

The bathing sense of spa has another offshoot—it's used as a synonym for a hot tub. In my wanderings, I ran across spa water as water that's in hot tubs. At least there's not much danger that you'd confuse your fruit-infused drink with the stuff bubbling in your hot tub. At least, I hope not.

[1] The most creative and least popular combination I've ever seen at work was tomato-basil water, gah.

[2] After reading rather a lot of pages about the hydration and detoxifying and revivifying benefits of spa water, I was sort of relieved to see that someone has invented a cocktail called Spa Water.

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