Category Archives: Word Geek

The Cutest Dictionary Illustration Never Published (Until Now)

Remember last week I posted the reminder about the upcoming Dictionary Society of North America is occurring this week. Head on over to Erin McKean‘s blog ‘Dictionary Evangelist‘ to see what’s going on in the conference including the cutest dictionary illustration never published. If her name sounds familiar does Word-Lover’s Boot Camp (‘crappyjack’) help ring a bell?

Anyway, today she informs us about about a presentation at the conference that gives us a taste of an art book called the Pictorial Webster’s which is essentially a visual reference book containing the artists renditions of important words or subjects or people from the 19th century using the original engravings that appeared in dictionaries at the time. These were, for the most part, the things that were deemed important to that era.

Read about the project and how it came to be a labor of love at Quercus Press. At roughly $4000 we won’t be seeing this in Amazon soon, but I’ll hold out hope of one day getting a copy in my own hands.

Pictorial Websters

Reminder: Dictionary Society of North America Meeting Soon!


I know you’re all busy and I hope this didn’t fall off your calendar, but here’s a friendly reminder that the Dictionary Society of North America has it’s biennial meeting June13-17 in Chicago.

In fact June 16 at 4:30pm- 5:45pm is ‘New Word Open Mic’ , so if you have a new word and want to try it out on the attendees, this is your opportunity to shine. 😀

For the newcomers, in case you’re interested –

The Dictionary Society of North America was formed in 1975 to bring together people interested in dictionary making, study, collection, and use.  The 500 members who live in 42 countries around the world include people working on dictionaries, academics who engage in research and writing about dictionaries, dictionary collectors, librarians, booksellers, translators, linguists, publishers, writers, collectors, journalists, and people with an avocational interest in dictionaries.

The only requirement for membership is an expression of interest in language, in words, dictionaries and lexicography, or any combination of these.

The DSNA was founded by participants in a colloquium entitled “Research on the History of English Dictionaries” held at Indiana State University, in Terre Haute, Indiana, on May 20-21, 1975.

As stated in its handbook:

 “The purpose of the Society is to foster scholarly and professional activities relating to dictionaries” (defined as lists of words or other vocabulary items, with information about their meaning or other linguistic properties).  “The Society shall carry out its stated purpose by promoting the exchange of information and ideas among members through meetings, research projects, publications (such as a newsletter, a journal, bibliographies, directories) and any other means it may deem appropriate.”

Here’s the latest newsletter: DSNA – Spring 2007

Here’s the registration information for the event.

Here’s the schedule of events.

Breaking: Evan O’Dorney Spells ‘Serrefine’ To Win National Spelling Bee!

Our 2007 Scripps Spelling Bee national champion is Evan O’Dorney of Danville, Calif., who spelled “serrefine” in the 13th round to win more than $45,000 in cash and prizes and a lifetime supply of bragging rights. He beat 285 of the best young spellers despite missing his pre-bee ritual which is to eat fish, specifically a Tuna fish sandwich from Subway because “fish is good for the brain” he said.

Samir Patel’s was considered to be this year’s favorite (2nd place last year) and in one quick moment of the 5th round his dreams were dashed with the word “clevis.” His mother lodged a protest over the subtleties in the difference with ‘clevice’ but the judges denied the request to reinstate him.

serre-fine (sar-fn, sr-)
n.  A small spring forceps used for approximating the edges of a wound, or for temporarily closing an artery during surgery.

clev-is (klev-is)
n.  A U-shaped yoke at the end of a chain or rod, between the ends of which a lever, hook, etc., can be pinned or bolted.

These were the 15 finalists at the 80th Scripps Bee:

Jonathan Horton, 14, Gilbert, Ariz.

Evan O’Dorney, 13, Danville, Calif.

Tia Thomas, 12, Coarsegold, Calif.

Cody Wang, 13, Calgary, Alberta

Nate Gartke, 13, Spruce Grove, Alberta

Anqi Dong, 12, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Joseph Henares, 14, Avon, Conn.

Claire Zhang, 14, Jupiter, Fla.

Kavya Shivashankar, 11, Olathe, Kan.

Nithya Vijayakumar, 13, Canton, Mich.

Connor Spencer, 14, Platte City, Mo.

Matthew Evans, 12, Albuquerque, N.M.

Prateek Kohli, 13, Westbury, N.Y.

Amy Chyao, 13, Richardson, Texas

Isabel Jacobson, 14, Madison, Wis.

100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know

The Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries have compiled a list of 100 words they recommend all High School graduates should know and they released it as a book.

The intent of this list is to help parents and students measure the readiness of the student by gauging their command of the English language.

Link to the list of 100 words, I have to admit, there are about 15 or so that I can’t use in a sentence, though I’m willing to bet I heard them on West Wing back in the day. 🙄 

Here’s the book:

Word Of The Week: Antipodes

From Greek anti– “opposed” and pous “foot”. This translates to something along the lines of “those whose feet are on the other side’.

The antipodes of any place on the Earth is the place which is diametrically opposite of it. As in when you were a child, if you lived in the United States, you were probably raised to think that if you dug a hole through the earth you’d come out in China.

As you’ll see from the Antipodal Maps and references below, this concept that was used in ‘China Syndrome’ is incorrect (remember the movie of that name regarding a nuclear power plant suffering from thermal runaway was thought to potentially melt a hole through the earth to China?).

In fact, since 70% of the Earth is water, the odds are very likely that if you look 180% (Lat and Lon) from your point on the planet right now, your antipode will not have feet at all but would have fins.

Here’s a really cool use of Google Maps that shows a split view of your antipodes:

So what is at the opposite of China? A good portion of South America, the Andes to be more precise.


Word Of The Week: Blob

Your average geek and probably all non-geeks have different definitions for the word Blob. Comic Geeks think of the Marvel comic villain ‘The Blob’. To classic sci-fi movie aficionados ‘The Blob’ movie from 1958 (and 1988 remake) was an amoeba-like alien that terrorized a small community.

In the world of software however, BLOB usually stands for “Binary Large Object” and is used for storing information in databases. I say ‘usually’ because there are other obscure software references to the term. For instance ‘God Object‘ and ‘Meatballs‘ can also be known as blobs.

Also, before going further with the definition, ‘BLOB’ was not originally intended to be an acronym, in fact it’s a backronym (more on this after the definition).

A blob is a data type that can store binary data. This is different than most other data types used in databases, such as integers, floating point numbers, characters, and strings, which store letters and numbers. Since blobs can store binary data, they can be used to store images or other multimedia files. For example, a photo album could be stored in a database using a blob data type for the images, and a string data type for the captions.

Blobs are usually multimedia objects though they can also be executable code. They usually need much more space than other data types. The amount of data a blob can store varies depending on the database type, but some databases allow blob sizes of several gigs.

Blobs were originally just amorphous chunks of data invented by Jim Starkey at DEC in the ’90s, who described them as “the thing that ate Cincinnati, Cleveland, or whatever”. Later, a marketing person felt that it needed to be an acronymn and invented the backronym ‘Basic Large Object’. Not long after, an alternative backronym was created: ‘Binary Large Object’.

Here’s the e-mail thread from 1997 providing “The true story of BLOBs.

Web Economy BS Generator

Looking to beef up your software spec or your resume and want to add a flavor of the Web Economy to it?

Look no further than this Web Economy Bullshit Generator. It takes from a static pool of Verbs+Adjectives+Nouns.

For instance it generated these for me that i think i might actually be able to use: “grow global interfaces” , “incubate one-to-one mindshare” & “exploit value-added initiatives

These phrases are truly something our marketing folks might actually come up with.

Linguistic Geography of the Mainland US

This site has a high level breakdown of the 8 dialectic groups in the United States, identified by region and their linguistic markers.

For instance, the ‘Upper Midwest Dialects’ tend to borrow some Canadianisms while the westward migration has carried typically Northern features into the Pacific Northwest.

There’s no real surprises here, but interesting to see the general borders for the dialects.

Linguistic map1

Word of the Day: Trivium

The word trivium comes from the Latin prefix tri meaning “three,” and the Latin root via meaning “way,” or “road.” The word literally means “the three-fold way or road.”

In medieval schools, the trivium was the beginning of the liberal arts since it consisted of the three subjects taught first: logic, grammer and rhetoric. The English word  of trivial derives from the fact that the trivium contained the least complicated studies.

Word of the Day: “Erg” (aka Mosquito pushups)

Erg derives from the Greek word ‘ergon’ meaning “work” and so an erg is the unit of energy and mechanical work.

It’s equivalent to 1 micro joule, or put another way 1 million ergs equals a joule.

Well it’s about this point that you interject:

“come on Andy, what is a joule then?”

And as I open my mouth you immediately cut in with:

“and don’t try to say one joule is the work done or energy required to exert a force of one newton for a distance of one meter where a newton is the amount of force required to accelerate a mass of one kilogram at a rate of one meter per second squared because I’ll just get lost”.

OK, no problemo, i think i can further simplify this for you. On one of my submarines many years ago I asked our Engineer if he could define ‘erg’ for me and he said:

“An erg is the amount of work done by a mosquito doing a pushup”

Hmmm. Now *that* it is something you can relate to! So now you know that a joule is equal to 1 million mosquito pushups (aka ergs).

BTW, try searching google or for ‘mosquito erg pushup’ and you will see that my engineer at the time was clearly not making it up at the time as i had originally suspected since there are others in the physics world propagating this analogy.

Happy word geeking.


Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina.

Do you know what it means? If you did, please leave a comment below telling me your little story of how and when you learned this, i have something for you if you’re the first response.

Before the history lesson, please allow me to provide a little aside:

You may have noticed, as I have that the latin phrase ‘Deus Ex Machina’ seems to be fairly popular in Hollywood. Well, let’s be honest, for the most part Hollywood isn’t that original and you see relatively similar titles of movies or TV episodes quite often, not to mention they’re churning out so much content (I call it drivel, the wife calls it entertainment), that there’s bound to be some duplication of titles, right?

But duplication of a latin phrase? I don’t think its coincidence that you see the phrase quite often that the producers are running out of english titles that they have to recycle latin? Latin!? I guess it’s just ‘cool’ and will add a little something extra to the movie.
Check IMDB’s TV episode match for the phrase here, this is what you get (this is just TV):

  1. “Stargate SG-1: Ex Deus Machina (#9.7)” (2005)
  2. “RahXephon: Twenty-Fifth Movement: God’s Uncertain Sound/Deus Ex Machina (#1.25)” (2002)
  3. “Waking the Dead: Deus Ex Machina: Part 1 (#6.3)” (2007)
  4. “Lost: Deus Ex Machina (#1.19)” (2005)
  5. “Berlin, Berlin: Deus ex machina (#4.16)” (2005)

Did you see that #1 on the list from the Stargate episode last season reversed 2 of the words – ‘Ex Deus Machina’. As I recall it had something to do with Ba’al incongnito on Earth after losing his ‘god-like’ powers in defeat, this will make sense at the bottom with the full explanation of what the latin phrase means, please bear with me…


Word of the Week: Quine

In computing, quine is a program that produces its complete source code as its only output. For amusement, programmers sometimes attempt to develop the shortest possible quine in any given programming language.

Note that authoring the program to seek out and read its own source file to print is considered cheating.

Quines are named after philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000), who made an extensive study of indirect self-reference. He coined, among others, the following paradox-producing expression, known as Quine’s paradox: “‘Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation’ yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation.”

Here’s one example of a quine in BASIC:


I found many samples of quines in many programming languages from Gary Thompson’s site, include everything from Ada, Assembly, BASIC, LISP, Javascript, Logo, Perl, Python, Smalltalk and many, many more. Though it appears he’s looking for samples in some of the more, ahem, ‘classic’ languages like COBOL, and others.


– David Madore’s personal collection and tribute page to quines.
– The quine entry of the FOLDOC

Word of the Day: Heisenbug

A heisenbug is a computer bug that disappears or alters its characteristics when it is researched.

One common example is a bug that occurs in a release-mode compile of a program, but not when researched under debug-mode; another is a bug caused by a race condition. The name “heisenbug” is a pun on the “Heisenberg uncertainty principle,” a quantum physics term which is commonly (yet inaccurately) used to refer to the way in which observers affect the measurements of the things that they are observing, by the act of observing alone (this is actually the observer effect, and is commonly confused with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle).

One common reason for heisenbug-like behavior is that executing a program in debug mode often cleans memory before the program starts, and forces variables onto stack locations, instead of keeping them in registers. Another reason is that debuggers commonly provide watches or other user interfaces that cause code (such as property accessors) to be executed, which can, in turn, change the state of the program. Yet another reason is a fandango on core. Many Heisenbugs are caused by uninitialized variables. Once you have identified the problem as a Heisenbug, it is usually easy and trivial to find the error and fix it.

In an interview in ACM Queue vol. 2, no. 8 – November 2004, Bruce Lindsay tells of being there when the term was first used, and that it was created because Heisenberg said, “The more closely you look at one thing, the less closely can you see something else.”

From Wikipedia

Word of the Day: Schrodinger’s cat

“Schrodinger’s cat” is simply an illustration of the principle in quantum theory of superposition, proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. To further simply the term, it’s a thought experiement, a ‘what if’ hypothetical question that essentially asks “When does a quantum system stop existing as a mixture of states and become one or the other?”

Schrodinger said:

“One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid.If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.”

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.

Word Of The Day: Cyber

Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was an American theoretical and applied mathematician. He was a pioneer in the study of stochastic and noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication and control systems. Wiener is perhaps best known as the founder of cybernetics, a field that formalizes the notion of feedback and has implications for engineering, systems control, computer science, biology, philosophy, and the organization of society.

The word cyber, used in such terms as cybernetics and cyberspace, was coined in 1948 by Wiener when he wrote a book titled ‘Cybernetics’. He derived it from the Greek ‘kubernetes’, or steersman, which is also the root of the word ‘govern’. Here’s a quote from the book describing his new word:

We have decided to call the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name Cybernetics.

Wiener may have based his word on an 1830s French usage of cybernétique, which meant the art of governing.