Pop!Tech, how I miss you


Last year I was lucky enough to go to Pop!Tech and give an incredibly geeky talk (you can see it here). How geeky was it? Well, it was called "All Your Text Are Belong To Us." (If you don't get the joke, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that You Are Not A Geek.)
Although I wish I were in gorgeous Camden, Maine, listening to the talks in the equally gorgeous Camden Opera House, I can, like a good little blogger, watch the 2007 live webcast at home while sitting on the exercise ball that pretends it's my office chair.
I'm really looking forward to some of the presenters in particular — Nina Jablonski sounds fascinating, and I'm a huge fan of Jonathan Harris already …
If you haven't heard of Pop!Tech — check it out!
[The image is a poster that was drawn during my talk by Peter Durand of Alphachimp.]

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A perfect example


wordsmith ambigram

I often talk about how some words seem to hover in the ether (or aether, if you prefer) and will themselves into being, often by jumping into multiple brains near-simultaneously. And now I have a great example of this phenomenon, which I can share with you.
I just (and by 'just', I mean 'in the past several weeks') got a lovely email from Anthony Durity, in response to my TED talk, and letting me know a word he invented, ygology. Ygology, is, of course, the study of palindromes.
Now, I thought, that's a cool word. Let's Google it. So I did, and found some competing coinage claims.
Which, frankly, only makes sense. Knowing what a palindrome is, and knowing the suffix -ology, ygology was inevitable. It had to be born; English almost demanded it.
It's probably possible (with some taking of depositions) to determine exactly who first used ygology, and when, and in response to what … but why bother? We have the word, which is the important thing, after all. I think coining claims should be like Nobels; nobody minds if two or three people win one together.
The illustration above is an ambigram, a kind of visual palindrome, done by John Langdon. Check out his website!

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“What Came First” in the Globe


I got to sub for the wonderful Jan Freeman and camp out in her usual space at the Boston Globe today — here's the column I wrote about antedating. (Registration may be required, or you can try BugMeNot.com for a password if you prefer not to register.)
Thanks again to Grant Barrett and Ben Zimmer for all their help and great examples …
(Don't worry, it doesn't have anything to do with the Geico Cavemen.)

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RIP Ned Sherrin

I was very sorry to hear that Ned Sherrin had died; he is the genius behind one of my favorite magazine features of all time, the funeral-review column in The Oldie, a magazine for British senior citizens. Yep, he would attend memorial service and review them — was the eulogy fitting? Where was it held? Did anyone unusual turn up? Were the hymns and readings appropriate?
I can't seem to find a link to one of his columns, but you can take my word for it — they were tremendously entertaining, even when you had no idea who any of the people mentioned were (which happens quite a bit with me and The Oldie — seeing as how I am at least thirty years younger than their target audience and American to boot, I have little to no recollection of B-list British celebrities and politicians of the 1950s and 60s).
I wonder who will review his memorial?

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Weird Words — ossicusp

Last week I got a query (directed to my other blog, but really more suited to this one), about whether or not there was a special word for someone who studies giraffes, the way people who study reptiles are called herpetologists.
Odd and disappointing as this may seem, this was not something I knew off the top of my head, so I went into research mode. First I did an "advanced search" in the OED, searching for any entry that contained the word giraffe in the definition. That didn't turn up any likely words, so I went to Google Book Search, looking for various strings including the words giraffe, scientist, zoologist, study etc.
That turned up Pursuing Giraffe: A 1950s Adventure, which looked amazing … and whose author, Anne Innis Dagg, was living and teaching in Canada.
So, a few more searches and I had an email address for Professor Dagg, and she replied, very graciously, that there were so few people studying giraffe (giraffe can have the same form for singular and plural, like deer) that there wasn't a special term that she knew of, although people have jokingly used giraffologist.
So that's one word query down (and roughly 500,000 still outstanding). The best parts of this query, as always, were the things I learned along the way: I've added Pursuing Giraffe to my to-read list (books on women's struggle to be taken seriously as scientists are always gripping reading) and I learned the word ossicusp — which is a very rare term for the skin-covered horns on the head of a giraffe (or an okapi).
How many times have you looked at a giraffe and never wondered if those funny horns had a special name? Now you know, and you'll never look at a giraffe (or, presumably, an okapi, should you run across one) the same way again.
[SECRET MESSAGE TO LITERARY SOJOURN ATTENDEES: The secret word is ossicusp. Write it down!]