Don’t read “How to Name a Baby” to learn how to name a baby. Read it for insights into historical baby-naming trends and to confirm your hunches (e.g., “the popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans”). Also: charts!
Given names are “one of the last social acceptable frontiers of class war.”Also: nominative determination, implicit egotism, and how the Internet has made baby naming more difficult. Part 1 of a four-part podcast series about names from Australian radio network ABC. The presenter, Tiger Webb, has an interesting name story himself. (Hat tip: Superlinguo.)
The not-so-secret jargon of doctors is full of acronyms: a flea—fucking little esoteric asshole—is an intern, an FLK is a “funny-looking kid,” and an “SFU 50 dose” is the amount of sedative it takes for 50 percent of patients to shut the fuck up.
Ever wonder what value-creating winners do all day? Here’s Business Town to enlighten you. It’s “an ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.”
“The decision is made. The name won’t be changed.” – Tim Mahoney, head of marketing for Chevy, speaking to the Detroit Free Press about the Bolt electric vehicle, whose name is strikingly similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. In fact, a Spanish speaker would pronounce the two names identically. (Hat tip: Jonathon Owen.)
The Gyges effect takes its name from a story related in Plato’s Republic about the Ring of Gyges, which bestowed the power of invisibility on the wearer. Gyges was a historical king of Lydia, but the story centers on a mythical shepherd said to be Gyges’ ancestor; in the tale, the shepherd uses the cloak of invisibility to seduce the queen, murder the king, and seize the throne. In recounting the tale, Plato’s brother Glaucon asks “whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered,” and concludes that morality is a social construct.
The Ring of Gyges has taken on metaphorical significance in the Internet era. In an opinion piece about “the epidemic of facelessness” published in the New York Times on February 15, 2015, Stephen Marche writes about “the faceless communication social media creates, the linked distances between people, both provokes and mitigates the inherent capacity for monstrosity”:
The Gyges effect, the well-noted disinhibition created by communications over the distances of the Internet, in which all speech and image are muted and at arm’s reach, produces an inevitable reaction — the desire for impact at any cost, the desire to reach through the screen, to make somebody feel something, anything.
Cornell University, in addition to asking for the slow dance music proviso, forced an agency to include a clause which would prohibit the ork [orchestra] from smoking on the bandstand.
Bracketed definition supplied by the author.
Curious about the term, which was new to me, I emailed Ben Yagoda* and asked him whether it was a Billboard coinage. He replied that he thought it came from Variety, the daily paper, founded in 1905, that coined or popularized a lot of show-biz lingo, including B.O. (box office), cleffer (songwriter, from musical clef), and biopic (biographical picture). But when I did a little independent digging, I was unable to find a link between ork and Variety. Instead, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ork first appeared in print not in an industry journal but in a New York scandal rag called Brevities;the magazine favored illustrations of what were probably called scantily clad cuties and headlines like “Fair Gals Grab Stiffs!” The OED’s earliest citation for ork is from the April 24, 1933, issue of Brevities: “Joe Haymes’ Nut Club ork..has been compelled to take on a few Noo Yawk musicians.” The other citations are from the American jazz magazine Down Beat (1935) and Billboard (1949), and from a couple of British sources: Colin MacInnes’s 1959 novel Absolute Beginners and a 1988 article in the UK jazz magazine Wire.
Ork is also, of course, the home planet of TV’s Mork, played by the late Robin Williams. And orc is either “any of various whales, such as the killer or grampus,” or “one of an imaginary race of evil goblins, esp in the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien.”
The pluralized form of ork has a separate history in British slang. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, published in 2005, gives orks as a truncation of orchestra stalls, rhyming slang for “balls” (testicles). (“Orchestra stalls,” often shortened to “stalls,” are what American theatergoers would call “orchestra seats”—that is, seats not in the mezzanine or balcony.)
If you know your botanical etymology, you’re probably thinking what I thought: Wait a minute, doesn’t orchid mean testes? (Yes, it does, from the Greek orkhis.) So couldn’t orks = balls have a Greek source? Well … maybe. The OED gives separate etymologies for orchestra (from orkheisthai, to dance) and orchid. But in A Garden of Words, published in 2005, Martha Barnette, co-host of public radio’s “A Way with Words,” notes that orkhis—or orchis—comes from the Indo-European root ERGH- (“to mount”), and that “some scholars link orchis and ERGH- to the Greek word orkhein, which means “to dance” … the orchestra in an ancient Greek theater being the area where the chorus danced.”
And that’s as far as I got – I never located those mysterious orchestra-orchid scholars.
In the column, I expand on a Word of the Week entry from earlier this year, tracking the word’s long and interesting history (Chaucer! Shakespeare! Eighteenth-century slang!), reporting on “apothecary” sightings far and wide (from medical marijuana dispensaries to a gastropub), and speculating on the reasons for the word’s new popularity (steampunk, perchance?).
Apothecary is fun to say, but, as I note in the column, it’s no laughing matter legally:
Here in California (and maybe elsewhere), the use of “apothecary” is legally restricted to licensed pharmacies. The state board of pharmacy has, on at least a couple of occasions, wielded that law—enacted in 1905—against non-druggist apothecaries. In 2008, the board warned Apothecary, the San Francisco children’s-clothing store, to either change its name or close its doors. “Imagine ending up in legal hot water for not selling drugs,” a local newspaper wryly commented. The store owner chose to go out of business rather than rebrand.
Logodaedaly: Skill in adorning a speech; verbal legerdemain. From Greek logos (word) and daedalus (clever worker). If you recognize Daedalus, mythical father of flew-too-close-to-the-sun Icarus, go to the head of the class, you clever worker.
Logodaedaly was one of the many rare or obscure words presented to young contestants (age 8 through 15) during last week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Things got a little silly in round nine. Everyone in the ballroom had a good laugh when Mary Horton got the word “logodaedaly” (pronounced “log-a-deedle-y”), because it means arbitrary or capricious coinage of words. -- Sylvia Killingsworth, New Yorker Culture Desk blog, May 30, 2014
Mary Horton, a 13-year-old from Orlando, Florida, advanced to the finals but stumbled on aetites, “a hollow piece of clay ironstone the size of a walnut.”
For the first time since 1962, the Spelling Bee had two champions: Ansun Sujoe, 13, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathway, 14, of Painted Post, New York. (The bee ends in a tie when the final two contestants continue to spell correctly until the pronouncer runs out of available words.) The final words were feuilleton (a part of a European newspaper or magazine devoted to material designed to entertain the general reader; also a short literary composition) and stichomythia (dialogue of altercation or dispute).
Trend Watch: Both "feuilleton" & "stichomythia" are spiking after the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie. http://t.co/Zj4jZETIHP
Earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed marketing of a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device “specifically authorized for use prior to the onset of pain.” It’s the first FDA-approved device for preventing migraine symptoms.
My brother Michael, who knows I collect examples of names that end in -ly—I’ve pinned 213 215 such names on a Pinterest board—forwarded the FDA’s March 14 press release to me. But something told me Cefaly didn’t fit the adverbial pattern I’ve been tracking (Respondly, Sleevely, Yummly, Leafly, et al.). So I did a little sleuthing.
The Cefaly device, it turns out, is made by Cefaly Technology, founded in 2004 as STX-Med and headquartered in Liege, Belgium. The device’s introductory market, in 2012, was France, and the company’s primary language is French. (See this YouTube video.)
Could “Cefaly” be a simplified spelling of a French word I wasn’t familiar with?
Sure enough, I quickly discovered cephalée, the technical term for “headache” (as opposed to mal de tête, the common term everyone learns in French 1).
The root of cephalée, you’ve probably guessed, is cephalo-, the Latin form of kephale, the classical Greek word for “head.” Cephalo shows up in many English words, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), electroencephalogram (EEG), and cephalopod (a class of marine mollusks; literally “head-foot”).
In short, Cefaly is named for the malady it’s intended to alleviate. It’s as though an American headache-device company were named Hedake. Or a chemotherapeutics lab were named Kansur.
Of course, to an Anglophone “Cefaly” sounds pleasant, even elegant. What, I wonder, do native French speakers make of it? If you know, leave a comment below.
Klotho: A gene that plays a role in regulating the aging process in animals. Sometimes spelled in all capital letters and often abbreviated as KL, the gene was named for Klotho, the Greek goddess of fate who spins the thread of the life. Klotho’s sister-Fates, or Moirae, are Lachesis, who determines the length of life, and Atropos, who cuts the thread. Klotho is also the name of a pleiotropic protein (pleiotropic: producing more than one effect) encoded in the KL gene.
Klotho was discovered in 1997 by a team of Japanese scientists. It was in the news last week when scientists at UC San Francisco and the Gladstone Institutes (also in San Francisco) announced the discovery of a KL variant that improves learning and memory. The findings were published in Cell Reports.
The researchers found that people who carry a single copy of the KL-VS variant of the KLOTHO gene perform better on a wide variety of cognitive tests. When the researchers modeled the effects in mice, they found it strengthened the connections between neurons that make learning possible – what is known as synaptic plasticity – by increasing the action of a cell receptor critical to forming memories.
Klotho (the Latin form is Clotho) translates to “the spinner,” but it’s not related to English cloth, which comes to us almost unchanged from an Old English word, claþ—the last letter is thorn, pronounced th—that meant a cloth or a sail. The word for “spinner” in Old English was spinnan.
Chirality: In science, the property of asymmetry, or “handedness” (chirality comes from Greek kheir, “hand”), that determines that a three-dimensional form cannot be superimposed upon its mirror image. Pronounced k-rl-t.
The noun chirality and the adjective chiral were coined in 1894 by the Scottish mathematician and physicist Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, for whom the absolute temperature scale is named.* “I call any geometrical figure, or group of points, chiral, and say that it has chirality, if its image in a plane mirror, ideally realized, cannot be brought to coincide with itself,” Kelvin wrote.
Chirality is a running theme in “Breaking Bad,” the television series about a chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who becomes a methamphetamine cook and drug-empire builder, that ended its five-season run last night. In Season 1, Episode 2, protagonist Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, describes chirality to his high-school chemistry students. Although mirror-image molecular forms “may look the same,” he explains, “they don’t always behave the same.” He gives the example of thalidomide, a drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s: the right-handed isomer “a perfectly fine, good medicine,” while the left-handed isomer can cause “horrible birth defects.”
Methamphetamine also exhibits chirality. In one form (levomethamphetamine) it’s an over-the-counter nasal decongestant; in another (dextromethamphetamine) it’s the powerful stimulant cooked by Walt. Levo- comes from the Latin word meaning “on the left side”; dextro- means “on the right side.”
Chirality operates as a metaphor throughout “Breaking Bad.” In the series many characters, including Walt himself, exhibit flip sides to their personalities. White, for example, takes the nom de crime “Heisenberg” in implicit homage to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg,** who defined the Uncertainty Principle (“The position and momentum of a particle cannot be simultaneously measured with arbitrarily high precision”). As Heisenberg, White transforms into a powerful scientist—and a monster.
The science of “Breaking Bad” has been discussed with great enthusiasm in the scientific and popular media. (The series’ creator, Vince Gilligan, told the science-and-entertainment blog ScriptPhD that several scientists served as consultants to the production.) For more about the concept of chirality, see “Chirality Beyond Breaking Bad” in Science 2.0 and “Handedness and the One Who Knocks” in Heisenberg’s Chemistry. For more about the special effects used on the show, see “Breaking Bad” in Chemical & Engineering News. And for more about Walter White and the real Heisenberg, see “Who Is the Real Heisenberg?” in Bad Ass Digest.
For definitions of some other words used in the series—including the term “breaking bad” itself—see Wordnik’s posts about Season 5: first half and second half.
Also see TV Tropes for a list of tropes used in the series, from Abandoned Area to Your Mom. Although comprehensive, the list does not include “chirality.”
* Lord Kelvin also famously proclaimed, in 1900: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Five years later, Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity.
Hypnopompic: Of or relating to the process of awakening from sleep. From Greek hypno- (sleep) and pompē (a sending forth or escorting).
“Hypnopompic” was coined by the British poet and psychical researcher F.W.H. Myers (1843–1901). The word first appeared in print in Myers’s posthumously published Human Personality and Its Survival of Physical Death (1903):
To similar illusions accompanying the departure of sleep, as when a dream-figure persists for a few moments into waking life, I have given the name hypnopompic.
The counterpart of “hypnopompic” is “hypnogogic”: of or relating to the period just before one is fully asleep.
I encountered “hypnopompic” after a colleague sent me a link to the website for Shadow, “an innovative alarm clock that helps you record and remember your dreams.” The site is lovely but minimal—the tagline is “Community of Dreamers”—so I hunted around until I found a more explicit description on Crunchbase:
SHADOW is a mobile application that helps you remember and record your dreams. Modern alarm-clocks rip you through your hypnopompic sleep state so rapidly, it’s nearly impossible to remember your dream.
SHADOW uses an escalating alarm that gradually traditions [sic] you through your hypnopompic state and is ready to record when you turn off the alarm. 95% of all dreams are forgotten if not recorded in the first 5 minutes of waking up. We believe this is a huge data set that is literally being forgotten.
The value of this data set isn’t clear, at least to me*, but the Shadow site design is, well, dreamy. I like the Shadow name, too: it’s a good example of a suggestive (i.e., non-descriptive) mark, and the URL (discovershadow.com) proves that you don’t need a “pure” domain to effectively claim your territory. In May 2013 the blog Startup Plays included Shadow in its list of “the top 35 startups in tech that TechCrunch missed out on.”