Friday, 9 September 2016
Here in Seattle, we made an extremely sudden transition from summer to fall (or autumn, for you Old World English speakers). But changes in the climate do not affect our interest in words!
The first new-to-me word for today is calligram, which refers to a piece of text in which the writing or typesetting creates an image that echoes the meaning of the word(s). The word is a mashup of calligraphy with -gram as we also see in telegram and diagram. I got this from an article that provided a gallery of 40+ calligrams by the designer Ji Lee. Here's an example so you get the idea, but you should check out the link to see the many excellent examples.
The word calligram is not new; it goes back at least to the 1930s. And as an art form, calligrams have been around a long time. For example, Islamic calligraphers have been doing beautiful calligrams for centuries using Arabic script to form pictures, as in this example:
On to more grounded things. I got the next new-to-me term from an interview with Seleta Reynolds, who's the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was talking about bicycles and "vehicular cycling"—the idea that bicycles should be integrated with, and treated as, traffic alongside cars. In her discussion, she noted that this has ended up being embraced primarily by MAMILs (pronounced "mammals"): middle aged men in lycra.
Ha, ha. The received story is that MAMIL is actually a demographic slice identified by a marketing firm in the UK in 2010. The definition seems to incorporate not just biking per se, but the clothing based on what professional racers wear, and the expensive bike, and (I guess) some whiff of classic middle age crisis. (It's hardly news that men can be fetishistic about gear, whether it's bicycles, cameras, guitars, or anything else.) Fun article: Oh the shame of being married to a MAMIL.
For etymology today we've got booze. Not a lot of related terms in English, eh? Besides the verb to booze, of course. We apparently borrowed this from our good friends and drinking buddies the Dutch, who have a verb busen or buizen, which means "to drink to excess." Hey, how many words in English do we have for drinking, anyway? That must say something about our worldview, right?! ;-)
As a bonus etymology, we've got grape. As Katherine Barber recently explained on her Wordlady blog, this word is effectively a mistake. When English borrowed grape-related terminology from the French, we confused the French word for grape (raisin) with a hook that was used to harvest grapes (grappe). Although as Barber points out, this gave us the unexpected advantage that we got for free a word that we could use to apply to dried grapes. So it all worked out in the end.
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