Few of us are likely to duplicate the feat of Ammon Shea, who read all 21,730 pages of the Oxford English Dictionary and in 2008 published a book about his accomplishment. (I wrote about Reading the OED here and here.) But anyone with a spare 45 minutes can easily and pleasurably gambol through the 400 or so words in The Dictionary of Difficult Words, a pulchritudinous and edifying new book by Dictionary.com lexicographer Jane Solomon, with cheerful illustrations by Louise Lockhart.
The book’s primary audience is children between the ages of 7 and 12, but as Jane* writes in an author’s note, “it’s written to appeal to adults as well. … This book welcomes all readers, even those who would never sit down and read a traditional dictionary cover to cover.”
And even adults who are possessed of a reasonably expansive vocabulary and pretty good Scrabble skills will discover new words in The Dictionary of Difficult Words. I certainly did.
My May column for the Visual Thesaurustalks about how we talk about e-scooters, the rentable two-wheelers from companies like Lime, Bird, Skip, and Spin that have swooped into San Francisco, Oakland, and many other cities.
Lime e-scooters at a downtown Oakland BART station.
Full access is restricted to subscribers for three months; here’s an excerpt:
Today’s electric scooters weigh between 25 and 40 pounds and are sometimes called LEVs, or “light electric vehicles.” (Almost all of them have four-letter brand names, for no reason I can discern other than copycatting.) Proponents tout them as a solution to the challenges of first-mile and last-mile transportation, terms that originated in the freight and supply-chain industries and now refer to getting people from their starting point to a transportation hub (bus stop, train station) or from the hub to a final destination. Naysayers have taken to prophesying scootergeddon: an aggressive “invasion” of two-wheeled vehicles as dire as the End of Days.
Then there are those who look at the big picture, regarding e-scooters as a necessary element of the micro-mobility movement, which seeks to shift the balance of city transportation from gas-powered cars to human-powered bicycles and to scooters and small cars powered by electricity. There’s even serious talk about Universal Basic Mobility, or UBM. Modeled on the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), UBM recognizes freedom of movement as a basic human right. It might be implemented through a platform called mobility as a service (MaaS), a term modeled on “software as a service” (SaaS), which emerged during the late 1990s in the first dot-com boom. MaaS combines transportation services from public and private transportation providers “through a unified gateway that creates and manages the trip, which users can pay for with a single account,” according to a Wikipedia entry.
When I’m asked to rename a brand, it’s usually for one of two reasons: a legal challenge (someone has a prior claim to the name) or a major shift in the organization’s direction (we used to sell housewares; now we sell jewelry).
Neither of those scenarios applied to Resourceful HR, a 10-year-old Seattle human-resources consultancy that approached me last autumn about a name change. The company was thriving. It had successfully registered RESOURCEFUL as a trademark. And its business plan involved a refinement, not a revolution.
Still, company founder and CEO Jennifer Olsen told me with a sigh, it was probably time to change the name. For starters, her graphic designer had “taken the brand imagery as far as it could go.” And the brand strategist she’d hired, Catherine Carr of Vitamin C Creative, had done some interviews and concluded that “what she was hearing from us was more exciting than what she was seeing in our materials.”
I had not expected to be sent to the dictionary by “Schitt’s Creek,” the Canadian comedy series starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as temporarily embarrassed multimillionaires Johnny and Moira Rose, who’ve been divested of all their assets except their fabulous wardrobes, their helpless adult children, and the town of the title, which Johnny had long ago bought—yes, the whole town—as a joke gift for his son. But the show, which originated on CBC, is full of surprises. (You can catch the first four seasons on Netflix; the fifth is currently airing on the Pop network.) It’s “a comedy sleeper hit” (Rolling Stone), “Canada’s kindest and wiggiest sitcom” (Vulture), and “so much more than its title” (Vox).
I’ve finally gotten around to watching “Unforgotten,” the British detective show, now on Netflix, starring Nicola Walker (whom I liked a lot in “Last Tango in Halifax” and the National Theatre’s brilliant Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). Something about the title jogged my memory: It felt like I’d been seeing a lot of un- titles and names lately. So I did some digging. And I was right.