About

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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First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 11/20/2017

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:12 AM Pacific


  09:30 PM

I find it harder and harder these days to ride as a passenger when other people drive. Some of that is just part of getting old. But it's not just that; as I've noted before, learning to ride a motorcycle has helped make me a better driver.

One tactic I've worked on is how much space I leave between me and the driver in front of me. To my mind, most people follow too close. You really don't want to do that. Here's why.

Note: If you want the tl;dr, skip to So what do I do?

Speed and distance

Let's start by examining what sort of distance you're covering when you drive, because it might be more than you think. At 10 mph, in 1 second you cover about 15 feet. At 70 mph, in that same 1 second you cover 103 feet. Here's a graphic that illustrates this ratio.



An accepted measure of a car length is 10 feet. This means that if you're going 60 mph, in 1 second you will travel 9 car lengths. Even small differences in speed result in significant differences in how far you travel—the difference between driving at 60 and at 70 is that in 1 second at 70 you will travel an additional 15 feet (88 vs 103). More than one car length.


Braking distance

Let's imagine that for some reason you have to slam on the brakes. Alas, physics tells us that you cannot stop on the proverbial dime. The faster you're going, the longer it takes to get to zero mph.

There's no standard chart for stopping distance for cars. Cars weigh different amounts and they have different brakes; for example, newer cars have anti-lock brakes a.k.a. ABS. (Jeremy Clarkson of the TV show "Top Gear" also makes the case [video] that cars that are engineered to go fast are also engineered to stop quickly.) External factors also come into play, such as the road surface (wet? gravelly?) and the tires on the car. Also whether you're going uphill or downhill.

Anyway, it's complex. The best that people can offer is a minimum braking distance based on a formula that takes into account the initial speed, the car's mass (weight), and the friction coefficient of brakes and road. I'll spare you that here, but I'll suggest some ballpark numbers, as shown in the chart. (You'll see a variety of numbers for this measure if you look around; these are actually on the low end.)



Notice that braking distance at 60 is 180 feet—18 car lengths. That's about 1 city block. Going 70, which of course is only 10 mph faster, the braking distance goes up to almost 250 feet, or an additional 7 car lengths.[1]


Reaction ("thinking") distance

Braking distance is measured from the time the brakes are engaged. But everyone will remind you that there's a delay between the time you see that you have to brake and when you finally get your foot onto the pedal. Remember from the earlier bit that if you delay one second before you hit the brakes, your car might already have traveled many car lengths before you even start slowing down.

The combination of reaction distance and braking distance is referred to as the total stopping distance. Since I'm all about the pretty charts today, here's one from the UK that shows the total stopping distance as "thinking distance" plus braking distance (click to embiggen):



It's the total stopping distance that matters when you're driving behind someone: how far will you keep going before you can stop if something happens ahead of you? Or stated another way, is there enough room between you and the car ahead so that if they slammed on their brakes, you could avoid slamming into them?

As with braking distance, there's no standard measurement for reaction distance. Some people have faster reflexes than others. But even lightning-quick reflexes result in some delay between stimulus and reaction.

And much more importantly, some people pay closer attention to traffic than others. People text while they drive, they yack with their passengers, they watch their GPS, they fool with their radio, they search the passenger footwell for their dropped phone, they watch TV while driving. There have been accidents where the driver behind never hit the brakes at all. In our little car bubble, we sometimes forget that we're piloting 1 ton or more of iron at 88 feet per second, something that's not scary only because we're used to doing it.


And it's your fault

The law generally puts the responsibility on you to leave enough distance. If you rear-end someone, it will almost always considered your fault. There are a few circumstances when you can make a case that the driver in front contributed to the accident, but the default assumption will be that you were not driving in a safe manner. Not to mention, I suppose, that if you have an accident, you will have had an accident, with all the hassle that that entails.


Think of the traffic

Even if you have superhuman reflexes and a physics-defying vehicle that can stop on a dime, leaving a gap between you and the car in front can have benefits for overall traffic flow. By leaving a gap, you can actually minimize the accelerate-then-brake cycle that characterizes most heavy traffic.

Imagine that you’re behind someone and they tap their brakes to slow down by 5 mph. If you’re close, then you, too, have to tap your brakes to slow down. Even this small slowdown, and even if both of you immediately speed up again, creates a kind of wave that moves backward through traffic. In fact, this is sometimes the source of “phantom” slowdowns on the freeway, where everyone slows down for no apparent reason.

However, if you’re far enough behind someone, when they tap their brakes, you might not need to tap yours at all, or you can slow down enough just by easing off the accelerator. And if you don’t have to, the person behind you doesn’t either, and so on backwards through traffic. Result: possible traffic jam averted.

The engineer William Beatty refers to this as "eating" traffic waves. He explains:
By driving at the average speed of traffic, my car had been "eating" the traffic waves. Everyone ahead of me was caught in the stop/go cycle, while everyone behind me was forced to go at a nice smooth 35MPH or so. My single tiny car had erased miles and miles of stop-and-go traffic. Just one single "lubricant atom" had a profound effect on the turbulent particle flow within miles of "tube."
Obviously, there are limitations to this; if traffic is completely stopped, it’s just completely stopped. But if you can help reduce traffic jams by leaving a little extra space between you and the next person, isn’t that a worthy goal?


So what do I do?

When I got my license many decades ago, the rule was to leave 1 car length ahead of you for every 10 mph. If you're going 60 mph, 6 car lengths. As you can see from the various distances listed above, that's probably not enough. And that's even assuming that you can estimate car lengths correctly, which I think a lot of (most?) people cannot. (Little-known fact: the dashed white lines between lanes on the freeway are 10 feet long.)

When I got my motorcycle license, I learned a far more useful guideline: the three-second rule (PDF). The idea is that when the car ahead of you passes some landmark (a streetlight, a sign, anything static), you count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three." If you reach the landmark before you finish counting, you're following too close.

The rule is useful because it's independent of speed—the faster you're going, the longer the distance is that you go in 3 seconds, so it (kind of) works out. Naturally, this is just a rule of thumb, which has to take into account all the factors that go into how quickly you can stop. But it has the advantage that if you routinely practice counting off your 3 seconds as you drive on the highway, it means you're paying attention, and that's a very big factor in how safely you're driving.


Event horizon

As if it isn't hard enough just to pay attention to the car in front of, you really should be aware of what's going on in front of them. The same motorcycle manual that recommends the three-second rule suggests that you try to see what's happening 12 seconds ahead of you. This is sound advice, because the driver in front of you might not be paying close attention. If you see that the driver ahead will have to slow down even before they're aware of it, you can adjust your own driving accordingly. (This is captured in the concept of assured clear distance ahead, which you can read about in a particularly poorly written Wikipedia article.)

By the way, all of this applies also to cars behind you, and to your side. Driving safely is hard work.

If you can't see ahead of the car in front of you, it's best to leave even more room than you normally would. I actually have this problem a lot. The motorcycle isn’t very tall, of course. And my normal car is a MINI, which sits pretty low to the ground. In both cases, if I'm behind an SUV or pickup or anything larger than that, I have no clue what's going on up front.


Parting notes

People have pointed out that if you leave gaps ahead of you, other drivers will swoop in. That's true. If you have completely mastered the zen of good following practice, you just let them, and you slow down to again open up a suitable gap ahead of you. I will acknowledge that this is a state of driving enlightenment that most of us can only aspire to. Still, it has helped me to think holistically about safety and about traffic, and if I’m in just the right frame of mind (like, not late to an appointment), I can do a decent impression of someone who actually has mastered all this. And of course, if I'm on the motorcycle, I am ever mindful that even a small miscalculation in how closely I follow can have grave consequences.

For the most part, driving is uneventful. Even if we speed, even if we speed and follow too closely, mostly things don't happen. But it's this very uneventfulness that can make us complacent and lead us to stop paying close enough attention to an activity that can wreak mayhem in the "unlikely event of" a crash.[2]


[1] I'm not sure how clear this is, but the "safety" of a large vehicle like an SUV has to do with how well it survives a crash, not in how well it can avoid one by, for example, stopping quickly.

[2] There's a movement to stop using the word "accident" and instead use the word "crash" in order to emphasize that almost all crashes are caused by drivers. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation puts it this way: "Using the word accident tends to make people think safety is a matter of luck, and it isn't."


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  06:51 AM

I just realized that I missed the second anniversary for Friday Words; I made the first post under that name on October 29, 2015. Somebody asked me the other day whether it's hard to find terms. Perhaps surprisingly, not very. Once you start listening for new(-to-you) terms or start to wonder about etymologies, it's more a matter of keeping up.

Speaking of new-to-me-terms. Facebook Friend Doug introduced me this week to the, uh, colorful term Cletus safari. Aside from the cleverness of the construction, I was interested in how the term manages to be a kind of double insult.

A Cletus safari is the kind of news article in which the writer makes an expedition from some enclave of sophistication—New York City, let's say—to go talk to the exotic folk out in the hinterlands to get their take on an issue of interest. Those of us who read the failing mainstream media have undoubtedly seen a hundred articles like this in the last year, in which still-surprised journalists go talk to voters in counties that voted for Trump to try to suss out what is going on with these people.

Cletus is a not-flattering term for a rural denizen—one definition in Urban Dictionary has it as "Also can be synonymous with hillbilly." (That's one of the more neutral entries for the term in that dictionary.) The word is actually a traditional boy's name, but by a kind of onomastic metonymy can be used to refer to people who might use such a (currently unfashionable) name, i.e., them rednecks. Compare Billy Bob or Bubba. I suspect that this stereotype was strongly reinforced by (or perhaps introduced by) the character of Cletus Del Roy Spuckler in The Simpsons.

So Cletus is not a nice word. But to my mind, Cletus safari is also a disparaging term, namely toward the journalists who write these sorts of pieces. As a writer in Deadspin put it:
The world demonstrably does not need another Cletus safari into the heart of Trump’s America, but The Politico has one for you anyway.
The term is pretty new. The earliest reference I can find is in a tweet by Tommy Craggs back in February, tho it's not clear whether Craggs invented the term:


I think that we can agree that Craggs is not using Cletus safari here in admiration. Anyway, think about this the next time you read another analysis in which a journalist is out talking to the general populace.

As if that weren't unexpected enough, let's talk about unexpected etymologies. This week I was reading about World War II again and ran across a concise little history of the word Molotov cocktail. This is an improvised weapon consisting of a glass bottle filled with gasoline or kerosene, with a rag as a fuse. You light the rag on fire and throw your bomb at a convenient tank or something.

The term is obviously an eponym, but I had never read the whole story. It comes specifically from the Russian invasion of Finland in 1939. At the beginning of the war, the Russians had wanted to negotiate an extension of their borders into Finnish territory, an offer the Finns declined. The Red Army invaded Finland, and despite overwhelming numerical superiority, was initially driven back by a combination of weather, inhospitable geography, and brilliant tactics by the Finns that included unconventional ways to combat Soviet armor. Like improvised bombs. (Come warmer weather, the Finns were obliged to sue for peace.)

Molotov was the Russian foreign minister who was doing all this negotiating, and was responsible for the propaganda that tried to sell the Finns on the Russians' offer. As the story is told, while the Russians were dropping bombs on Finland, Molotov was on the radio telling the Finns that Russians were in fact making food deliveries. The incendiary device was then derisively named by the Finns for Molotov, a "cocktail" to accompany this "food" the Russians were delivering.

The Finns didn't actually invent the device—apparently that credit goes to an underequipped but clever soldier from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. But the Finns' sardonic name has become our standard term for the device.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  11:39 PM

Between the semi-annual change for daylight saving time and Twitter's rollout of the 280-character limit, it's been a week of much grousing. As a respite, let's think instead about words.

A couple of new-to-me terms this week. The first is, for a change, very recent. I saw it in this headline:


I'm not finding any other references to this, so it's possible that the headline writer invented the term. The article itself doesn't use the term as such; instead, the headline seems to point to this closing paragraph of the article:
Moore will be the highest-profile politician to face accounts of sexual molestation on the campaign trail since the Weinstein revelations. Breitbart, the conservative website operated by erstwhile Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, worked with Moore’s campaign to publish a story denying the accusations and characterizing the story as a smear. On the other hand, several Republican senators, including majority leader Mitch McConnell said that if the allegations are true, Moore should end his campaign. What will they do if he does not?
So what does the Weinstein test mean here? I can see it two ways. One possible take is that it refers to how a person's tribe reacts when unsavory revelations come to light. Does the tribe close ranks and protect the accused, or does it condemn and cast them out? Alternatively, it can refer not to a test of how (in this case) the GOP will react, but how the GOP will be tested in the face of these accusations. Please send your votes, along with a crisp dollar bill, to me here at Friday Words. Haha. Or if that doesn’t work for you, maybe just leave a comment.

Anyway, this is quite possibly a one-off term, never to be seen again: a nonce word. Given the cadence of these scandals, tho, who knows.

Update My wife points out that Weinstein has become a productive qualifier for talking about (at least) this flavor of scandal. Another example is the Weinstein effect ("the wider reckoning sparked by women coming forward with sexual-assault allegations against the mega-producer Harvey Weinstein"), a term that has a better foothold at the moment than Weinstein test.

As a second term, I have another one that’s scandal related. From FB Friend Sam I picked up the word volkswagened, which refers to rigging something so that it performs in a specific way when being tested, and a different way under more normal circumstances. This of course comes from the Volkswagen emissions scandal (a.k.a. dieselgate), when the company was caught with software in their diesel cars that could detect when the engine was being emissions-tested and adjust the engine for cleaner exhaust.

Friend Sam is in the software biz and encountered volkswagened at work. There's an Urban Dictionary entry that captures a generic definition: "The act of deliberately hiding bugs and issues from testers to get a product approved." Interestingly, I also found the term used in a slightly broader way just to refer to a bi-modal motor, in this case for electric bikes—a limited mode for flat roads, a "turbo mode" for hills. This usage strikes me as not quite correct, because it doesn't include the sense of subterfuge that defined the Volkswagen scandal. (In fact, this last usage just describes a governor, in the engineering sense.) But who am I to tell people how to use the term?

For word origins today, why do we say that something is "blown to smithereens"? First, of course, what the heck are smithereens? "Small pieces," okay. And whence this interesting term? Irish, apparently, from the word smidirín, meaning "fragment." There is or was apparently a variant English word that was just smithers. The OED has an example from 1847: "One brother is a rascal—another a spend-thrift..—the family all gone to smithers." Their most recent example is from 1865.

Something fun (even more fun than the word smithers) is that the -een ending is a diminutive. The such-as example that everyone gives is the name Colleen, which is from Irish caile (girl) plus the diminutive (-ín). Similar diminutives in English are something like Mike > Mikey. Ahem.

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  08:35 PM

It got cold quite suddenly today, although it's true that Seattle has a different range of "cold" and "hot" than other parts of the world. Which is to say, we're weenies about both hot and cold. Be informed, therefore, that wordery will be coming to you from warm, inside locations until further notice.

Today's new-to-me word is one that Michael Quinion calls "a word of singular shyness," meaning you're not going to be finding it often. The term is chrestomathy, which refers to an anthology or collection of readings. The word has the connotation that the collection is for pedagogic purposes, especially for learning a language. Thus on Amazon you'll find A Coptic Grammar: With Chrestomathy and Glossary. But the term can also just mean any collection of readings, so you'll also find WEREWOLF! A Chrestomathy of Lycanthropy. (The author of this latter clearly likes the word chrestomathy, because he also has a chrestomathy of voodoo.)

However, I got hold of the word in a roundabout way from a friend who's been reading H. L. Mencken, the American journalist from early 20th century. In poking around for Mencken writings, I ran across A Mencken Chrestomathy, a collection that the author himself assembled in 1949 out of his own writings (a "self-anthology," someone called it).

As Quinion kind of suggests, it's not the sort of word that is going to come in handy in everyday use. Indeed, use it and you'll run the danger of cacozelia.

And so we move to word origins. This week, roundabout cousin Bronwyn posted a video on my Facebook feed that amusingly discussed "5 Innocent Words With Dirty Origins." One of the terms they cover is mastodon, the elephant-like critter, now extinct, that once roamed the earth. Now, you might look at that word and decide that -don probably has to do with teeth—elephant-like critters do, after all, tend to feature tusks. So maybe something like … "really big teeth"?

Nah, it's better than that. The -don part does indeed refer to teeth. (Whew) But masto is actually a Greek root meaning "breast." Yes, that kind of breast. In the early 1800s, George Cuvier, the "father of paleontology," assigned the name based on the fact that the animal's molars had nipple-like projections on the top of its molars. (Which distinguished it from other extinct elephant-like critters like mammoths.) If we want to get all crude (but assonant) about it, mastodons are therefore boob-tooths.

I confess that I had some skepticism about the video and the etymologies it purports. But they seem to check out, so you should check it out. If you like that sort of thing.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  02:36 PM

Here's a keen thing I learned about from a Vox article: a Chrome extension named Library Extension that adds library information when you're viewing books on Amazon or Goodreads. The extension tells you whether the book you're interested in is available in one or more library systems.

Let's say you're interested in the book The ABC of How We Learn, so you look it up on Amazon. In the bar at the top of the page, the library extension icon lights up to tell you that you're on an enabled site:


On the actual page where you're viewing book information, the extension displays library information:


If you want to get the book from the library, you click the Borrow button. This sends you to the library site with the book preloaded.

To configure the extension—for example, to tell it which libraries you want to look in—you click the icon in the toolbar, then click Options:


In the options dialog, you find the library you're interested in, then click the add (+) button:


I just started using this, so I don't know whether I'll end up liking it. It seems a bit intrusive to actually inject information into the page, instead of optionally displaying that information in a dialog or something. I also don't know how robust it is. Does the extension rely on Amazon APIs? Does it scrape information from the page? (A strategy known to be fragile.) How reliable will it be in terms of interacting with library sites?

But I like the concept just fine, since it reflects something I do a lot anyway—namely, look up books, then see if I can get them at the library. I'm curious whether others use this extension, or something like it, and what they think.

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  11:33 PM

This time next week, it'll be November. Good golly. Time sure flies when you're collecting words.

The first word today is from the world of entomology (not to be confused with etymology): frass. This is another term I got from reading Mary Roach's book Grunt. (See the recent discussion of toilet palsy.) Frass is, to quote Roach, insect poop. Slightly more formally than that, it's used to describe the stuff that insect larvae (caterpillars) excrete, and also to describe the fine crumbs of wood left behind by wood-boring bugs.

What appealed to me is that frass derives from the German word fressen. Somewhat curiously, German has two words for "to eat." Essen is what people do, as in Delicatessen. And fressen is what animals do, or when applied to humans, to eat in an animal-like way. Since bugs are animals, fressen applies to them, and frass is what becomes of what they et.

According to authoritative sources like Wikipedia, frass has many ecological benefits. Just like manure in general, I suppose. On the other hand, seeing little piles of wood dust near expensive parts of your house, can be, you know, a cause of concern. At least now you'll know how to describe it when you put in that urgent call to the exterminator.

One more today. Recently I was reading about the country singer Toby Keith and ran across a term for "rap-influenced country music": hick-hop. This genre has been around for about 15 years. I'm not sure about the term itself, but I find it (with new-term-y quotes) in 2014. I don't follow country music, so this was new to me. If it's new to you also, here's an example from the artist Colt Ford:



I think the word hick-hop is clever, if potentially snotty. (Depends on how the artists see it, I guess.) There are always limits to spawning words based on wordplay, but the assonance with hip-hop works in this case. For me, anyway.

Not long ago the question came up about where the word shot came from in the sense of drinking ("a dram of spirits," as the OED says). The theory is that it comes from an old word for "payment," which we still see in scot-free, i.e., without penalty. Given the antiquity of this origin, the earliest cites for shot as a quantity of drink are surprisingly recent—the OED has it at 1928 in the works of P. G. Wodehouse. Where the word doesn't come from is the idea that people in the Old West paid for drinks with bullets, as Michael Quinion explains.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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  10:26 PM

Now that it's getting darker earlier, I'll have less time in the evenings to not do the outdoor exercise that I wasn't doing anyway. I guess I'll concentrate on words instead.

Recently I picked up a couple of phobia-type terms:
  • koumpounophobia: fear (and/or loathing) of buttons. Apparently this is a thing. Per the blog post where I found the word, Steve Jobs suffered this phobia, which accounted in part for his particular sartorial style.

  • trypophobia: aversion to patterns of small holes. (The Wikipedia page refers to this as a "proposed" definition; I have a thought about that later.) Examples of triggers, which I won't show, include honeycombs, soap bubbles, "aerated chocolate," and lotus pods. According to an article in The Atlantic, 16% of people experience this, and the article discusses why this phobia might be useful. I ran across the word recently in a piece about an artist who creates sculptures that, um, play with this visual stimulus. If you think you don't react to trypophobic stimuli, you might have a peek, but be prepared; the stuff is kind of grotesque.
Trypophobia isn't a formally recognized affliction, and that gets to an issue with the names for all these various phobias. Speaking from a purely lexicographic point of view, finding a "new term" that names a phobia is about as hard as finding shells on a beach. The -phobia morpheme is so productive that you could put practically anything in front of it and declare a new word. Especially if you use one of them fancy classical languages. I happen to find these two examples interesting (well, strange), but I won't make a habit of listing phobias as new-to-me words.

Let's turn to technology. Of late I've seen the term copypasta (alternatively copy-pasta) kind of a lot.[1] This isn't a new term—it was spotted at least as far back as 2006. Copypasta refers to stuff to be copy-and-pasted, specifically with the sense of something that is copied repeatedly. I ran across it in a pretty neutral setting; I saw an email at work in which someone discussed "a template that gives people copy-pasta for codeblocks, notes, etc." In this spirit, someone created an app named Copypasta that lets you copy text between your phone and your computer.

A somewhat less innocuous sense involves copypasta that people craft specifically to be spread via social networks as a kind of manual spam. (There's a subreddit; usual caveats apply.) The Know Your Meme site has a good writeup.

Update: See Jerry's comment for more thoughts about copypasta.

To my mind, copypasta fills a semantic hole, and it's useful for the neutral sense that I saw at work. But I doubt that we in the software world will be using it in documentation anytime soon.

And one final term today, even tho this is long already! Last year I learned the word confirmshaming, which is a practice where to decline an offer on a web page, you have to click an insulting or condescending button. For example, you click a button that says "No, thanks, I don't want to be fit" for an exercise product. I just learned another term for this: manipulink.

Let's pivot, as they say, to unexpected origins. You've probably heard this old joke: "I just bought a thesaurus and when I got it home, all the pages were blank. I have no words to describe how angry I am." We know what a thesaurus is, but do you know where the word came from? I sure didn't. But I learned from the slightly insufferable Simon Winchester that Peter Mark Roget both invented the idea of a book of synonyms and decided on the name for it. The term thesaurus is more or less directly from Greek, and means "treasury." However, there are older instances of thesaurus in English (back to 1565 at least) in the wider sense of a "storehouse of knowledge," as for example an encyclopedia. These days, I think it's pretty safe to say that if you hear thesaurus, it's Roget's meaning that is intended.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

[1] It's possible that copypasta is a part of the Google lexical culture, which might explain why I seem to be running into it a lot lately. Dunno.

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  10:44 PM

We were on vacation the last two Fridays, which resulted in a not-entirely-expected break for Friday Words. But we're back, and since we have a wee backlog, an extra word.

The first new-to-me word is a word that you know, at least in some meanings: snipe. But unless you've had some exposure to the US Navy, you might not know that this is a slang term in that branch for a seaman who's a member of the engineering crew, as distinct from one who works on the deck crew. Snipes have traditionally had dirty and dangerous jobs involving all things mechanical. This was originally the boilers and machinery for steam ships, but now also involves the nuclear powerplant on (some) ships, as well as firefighting, electrical work, and … well, whatever keeps the ship running. You can read a little more here and here.

The word doesn't show up with this definition in standard dictionaries, but it's clearly well established as Navy slang. Why snipe? One page of perhaps dubious etymological credibility says the term originated from the name of a certain John Snipe who ran a crew that became known as Snipe's men. I guess that's not impossible.

As a second term today, I have another one that I ran across in a military context. I've been reading Mary Roach's book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. At one point she's talking about soldiers who are riding in personnel carriers and have to keep their legs up off the floor in case an IED explodes below the vehicle. Keeping one's legs up like this can, as she says, "make the butt go numb." One of her informants refers to this as toilet palsy, "like when you're reading on the toilet too long."

I lol'd, as the kids (used to) say. I immediately stopped reading and looked that one up, because really? Yeah, pretty much. There's a recognized condition, formally called sciatic neuropathy (because it involves the sciatic nerve). Because it can happen to people who sit for long periods on the throne, whether from GI-tract illness or from falling asleep, even in the literature it's referred to as toilet seat neuropathy or Saturday night palsy, the latter a nod to all this as the result of too much partying. Amusing except, of course, to those suffering from it as either a temporary or (ack) permanent condition.

Let us turn to word origins. Only this week I learned from FB Friend Heather the unexpected origins of the word moxie, meaning "courage" or "fortitude." Had you asked me last week, I would have guessed that we got the word from Yiddish. Not at all. Moxie was originally a soft drink that was advertised as a way to build nerve. The product actually goes all the way back to 1884, which makes it about a year older than Coca-Cola. You can still buy it today, or anyway, something that's sold under that name.

The original brand name spun off the word moxie as a common noun, which seems to live contentedly side by side with the trademark. The generic word was in use at least as early as 1930, when Damon Runyon of Guys and Dolls fame used it in an article: "Personally, I always figure Louie a petty-larceny kind of guy, with no more moxie than a canary bird."

The name used for the soft drink might actually have come from an earlier term. The OED suggests as much but defers to other reference works for the details. Douglas Harper takes a bash and suggests that it's possible that it came from a Native American word meaning "dark water." Which also describes Coca-Cola, hmm. Ah, the mysteries of patent medicines.

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  11:00 AM

Equinox was a couple of days ago, meaning that up here in the northern hemisphere, today is shorter than yesterday, and tomorrow will be shorter yet. Best not to think about that, tho, and to think instead about words.

I ran across today’s new-to-me word on a social media feed and thought that it had to be something from The Onion. But no. The word is scrotox/scrotoxing, which refers to a botox treatment for that man’s special area that begins with scro. As with botox treatments elsewhere, this is done for, you know, aesthetic reasons. You can read more here, and if you're curious, you can see some before-n-after pictures (NSFW, right?).

I guess I'm old enough to remember when botoxing became a thing, and how very odd it seemed that people were deliberately being injected with a substance that was related to botulism. And then to do the same for a man's special area, whoo.

But I digress. Scrotox is of course a portmanteau: scrotum + botox. As has come up a few times here before, this is what various of us variously call a telescoping or recursive or second-order blend; botox is itself a portmanteau of botulin and toxin. (Gah. See preceding paragraph.)

The meaning of scrotox is pretty clear from the word itself, which per some researchers is a characteristic of a good blended word. If we want to go there, we can speculate how to create words to describe botox treatments for other body areas, and how effective those would be without the advantage of rhyme.

The unexpected etymology today came via my wife, who was reading a book that mentioned the origins of the word story to mean the floor of a building. ("A seven-story building," or in Britain, "a seven-storey building.") It turns out that the architectural sense is directly related to the sense of story as a narrative, who knew. Both senses derive from Latin historia, which of course gives us history.

In olden times, the outsides of buildings, especially churches, might be decorated in ways that suggested a narrative: sculptures, painted or stained windows, or paintings on the walls. This sense of a narrative story then became associated with the layer of the building where these stories were, and more generally, with building layers in general. A kind of self-conscious version of external narrative wall painting can be found in the German-speaking highlands of Europe, if you like that sort of thing:


This photo of Old Town Lucerne is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The overlap of story as a building floor and as a narrative gives extra resonance to the term second-story man as a term for a burglar. I think, anyway.

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  10:26 PM

Some weeks ago I joined Google as a technical editor. During orientation my first week, I learned a lot about configuring my computer and about my healthcare options, which is to say that it was a lot like joining any new company. Something that was not specifically on the agenda that week, but that was of keen interest to me, was an introduction to a whole lot of new vocabulary.

Companies tend to develop their own lexicons. In my years at Microsoft, I become fluent in Microspeak (blue badge, a-dash, S+, little-r me). A stint at Amazon taught me another batch of terms, including 6-pagers, dogs not barking, bar raisers, frupidity, and undifferentiated heavy lifting. Right from my start at Google I started writing down terms, and I'm still going. Here I'll list some terms I like.

We should probably start with the company name itself, a story that some people don't know. Google is (it has been reported) a misspelling of the word googol, a term in math for 10 to the 100th power.

The company uses Google as a combining word with gusto. Company headquarters are in Mountain View, California at a campus that's known as the Googleplex. Employees are Googlers; new employees are Nooglers. Ex-employees are Xooglers. Older employees are Grayglers or Greyglers. Google is a dog-friendly company, and four-legged friends on campus are Dooglers. Embodying aspects of the company culture means that you're Googley.


My Noogler beanie

As with many (most? all?) companies, acronyms and initialisms are everywhere. There are cafeterias in many of the buildings, and smaller areas in each building where you can grab drinks. These are MKs, or "mini kitchens." My email address—what I learned elsewhere to call my email alias—is now my LDAP. That one amused me, for two reasons. One is that it's a technical term (LDAP name) that sort of escaped into general usage. And two is that hardly anyone can tell you want LDAP actually stands for.

The weekly all-hands is referred to as TGIF. You might think that means that the meetings are held on Fridays. And apparently they once were, but not anymore; even so, the name stuck. Slightly amusing: internally, the name Mountain View is abbreviated as MTV, which threw me more times than you'd think when I first encountered it. And an initialism that I hear all the time now is LGTM: Looks Good To Me, which can conveniently function as a verb ("Can you LGTM this for me?")

I don't know if we can consider this acronymic, but even the G in Google gets pressed into service. When I was in Mountain View, I noticed a lot of people using GBikes to get around. (Which seemed smart, given the big campus, clement weather, and flat terrain.) Similarly, in some places folks can commute on a GBus.

Here's a term that I haven't sorted out yet, nor has anyone I've asked. For messaging one another at work, we use Google Hangouts, as you'd expect. Just today I was talking to a colleague and explaining that someone had ... Hangouted me? ... a message. We had to ponder that one for a bit.

It's a lot of fun, this cavalcade of new words. I do still occasionally have to take someone aside and ask them to explain some term or acronym. Or in one case, my boss had to take me aside and explain that I was using a term wrong. But c'mon ... such things are to be expected from Nooglers, right?

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