Friday, 11 November 2016
I just spent about a week in Austin, TX. I was hoping for some fun dialectical exposure, but it seems that most of the people I interacted with weren't actually from Texas. Still, there are always new words, aren't there.
The first word today is something I ran across while investigating last week's words. It struck me because we have a set of conference rooms at work where people, even people who've worked in the building a while, frequently can't figure out whether to push or pull them.
Turns out that there is (of course) a name for this: these are Norman doors. This is a door where "the design tells you to do the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do." A second definition is "a door that gives the wrong signal and needs a sign to correct it."
In this expression, Norman refers not to, like, William the Conqueror, but to Donald Norman, whose book The Design of Everyday Things is a kind of popular bible for understanding, well, the design of everyday things. There’s a blog entry on the Nielsen site by Norman himself that discusses this very issue of poor door design. Here's a video done by some folks at Vox that illustrates the problem and gets some commentary from Norman himself:
According to an entry for Norman doors by Paul McFedries on his outstanding WordSpy.com site, the first cite is from Don Norman himself in 2004, tho he credits others with using the term: "to my dismay (and secret pride), really poorly designed doors are often called 'Norman doors.'"
I don't know how generally we can apply the Norman attribute. Not two hours ago I was in a bathroom where I found what might be termed a Norman faucet—not only did it require a sign, but the instructions were molded right into the faucet, as if they already knew at the factory that they had a Norman problem:
For etymology today, a short one. Try this: without looking it up, what do you supposed the origin is for the word bacteria? Ok, the smartass in the room will say "Simple, it's from bacterium." Yes. Which comes from … where?
It's logical enough, if not necessarily intuitive. The word was coined around 1838 from Greek, a diminutive of baktēría, which means "a staff." Or to put it in the common parlance, the Greek word means "little stick." Which makes sense if you see a picture of, say, E. coli, which are, as they say, rod shaped:
As it turns out, not all bacteria are rod shaped, so they were a bit premature in assigning a name. But that's what we use now.
I have been unable, even after several minutes of searching, to find other words in English that use the bakter root. Probably I'm just not looking in the right places.
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Friday words, language