Sesquipedalianistics

I love long words, but I don’t set out to use them in real life. For some reason, I find 20-letter words more satisfying than 19- or 21-letter words, or any other length. I started collecting them but the internet has made it less fun than randomly encountering them (search and I’m sure you’ll find). Recently I randomly encountered the word fundamentalistically. 

English words can gain prefixes and/or suffixes, but the latter are more likely than the former. Fundamentalistically is fundament (N) + al (adj) + ist (N) + ic (adj) + al (adj) + ly (adv). It is questionable whether fundamentalistical is a ‘real word’ and, if so, means anything different from fundamentalistic. Google shows 54 results for fundamentalistical, mostly on websites which I wouldn’t willingly read. Word for Mac doesn’t like fundamentalistically, autocorrecting it to fundamentalistic ally, then red-underlining it when I change it back, or fundamentalistical.

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Korean painters

I saw a tradesperson’s van announcing that:

WE ARE PROFESSIONAL KOREAN PAINTERS

I wouldn’t have thought that there was much money to be made from painting Koreans. Perhaps they should try painting houses instead. Ha ha. I wonder if any non-Koreans hire these painters because they are Korean, or because they are professional and experienced.

In 2015, during my second stay in Korea, my wife and I went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza. A number of young artists were painting caricature portraits of people. We got ours done. It was (and is, as I look at it now) very apparent that the artist was much more experienced in painting Koreans than foreigners. I’m recognisable, but that’s about all. (Looking at it again, I can see that’s it actually pastel.)

When I taught English, I had a set of flashcards of occupations (and still have them). Two were/are of a painter, which showed someone painting a house, and an artist, which showed someone painting a painting (which, when completed, really should be called a painted).

(Korean painters might also be these people.)

FALLING ROCKS DO NOT STOP

Thank you Captain Obvious of the roads department for that insight into the physics of rocks. They actually do stop, once they reach the bottom of the cliff or the top of your car, whichever comes first.

I’m being silly, of course. The two signs said falling rocks (warning) and do not stop (advice/direction).

little o

The Greek letter omicron has been in the news recently, with the World Health Organization giving that letter to the latest variant of COVID-19 (skipping over nu and xi).

I had known for a very long time that Greek had two letter Os (omicron O o and omega Ω ω , corresponding approximately to the sounds in hop and hope), but it took me a long time to learn or figure out that they are literally little O (o + micron) and big O (o + mega) respectively. (Compare Korean ㅓ and ㅗ, the same idea and approximately the same sounds. (I don’t know if Koreans conceptualise ㅓ and ㅗ as being ‘closer’ than, say ㅏ and ㅜ.))

In other contexts, Little O is something mathematical, which I won’t attempt to explain, and Big O means something different to mathematicians, watchers of Japanese anime, writers and readers of erotica (no link, obvs) and fans of Roy Orbison. (Is there any overlap between those categories? Have two people ever had a seriously embarrassing conversation by assuming that the other meant something different?)

(See also the many uses of omicron and omega in the pages linked above.)

PS 10 Dec: Numberphile has a video about some mathematical usages of omicron, which I won’t pretend to understand. I noticed that he pronounced omicron with a short ‘o’ all the time, and omega with a long ‘o’ most of the time, but once or twice with a short ‘o’. I suspect that once Hindu/Arabic numerals came into use in Europe, omicron was less used because it could be mistake for zero. Notice that at 5.37 of the video, the paper they discuss is titled Big omicron and big omega and big theta. Big omicron is literally big little o, and big omega is big big o.

“Where is Canada?”

A few days ago I messaged my sisters about some information I’d just found about the family of one of our great-great-grandmothers. We’d previously had information about her husband, but not her, except that they married in Canada in 1863 and she was born about 1843. One of my sisters replied:

Where is Canada?

This is a perfectly formed question and I can imagine a child or parent/teacher asking it in the context of learning/teaching about countries of the world, but it didn’t make immediate sense in this context. I’m sure she knows where Canada is, and meant “Where in Canada?”, so I answered that question, specifically Saint John, New Brunswick. But I’m puzzled about the typo of is for in, given that s and n are so far apart on the keyboard. (Maybe she’d typed something else and autocorrect changed it to the full question Where is Canada? rather than the elided question Where in Canada? (By itself in is more common.))

Some time ago, another sister commented on Facebook that she was looking forward to seeing one of her children (who lives some distance away) “in Thursday”. That is more easily explained: i and o are next to each other on the keyboard.

Ceiling wax

One song I remember from my childhood is Puff, the magic dragon, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton. For some time I wondered what

ceiling wax

is. I don’t know how I found out that it is, in fact

sealing wax.

I obviously knew about ceilings before I knew about sealings.

Ceiling is a strange word. It ends with -ing, but it’s not related to a verb; we don’t usually ceil ceilings like we build buildings. (Someone has flippantly suggested that we should call them builts.) In fact we do, or buildingers do, whether they call it that or not. Dictionary.com records the verb ceil, meaning

1. to overlay (the ceiling of a building or room) with wood, plaster, etc.
2. to provide with a ceiling 

dating from 1400–50, from late Middle English celen to cover, to panel, followed by a rather vague < ? 

Seal is ultimately from Latin signum and is related to sign. The animal seal is from Old English with cognates in Old Norse and Old High German. There is a story that one holder of the British government office of Lord Privy Seal objected to being addressed as such because he wasn’t a lord, a privy or a seal.  

While I was researching for this post, I found a blog called of ceiling wax, which is about “reading YA, graphic novels and the spaces in between”. Its not-immediately-named author quotes Lewis Carroll’s The walrus and the carpenter (text, Wikipedia), which I’m not as familiar with and didn’t think of. She/he also originally mistook this for ceiling wax.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” 

Some of Carroll’s poems are direct parodies of the poems Alice Liddell would have been familiar with, but this seems to be totally original. 

PS 3 Oct: information about the poems Carroll parodied.

Bondi

Some years ago (first guess, last century, more likely the 1980s than the 1990s) I heard a song Is ’e an Aussie, is ’e Lizzie? by the duo Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (I seem to remember simply ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’). At the time I didn’t have access to the resources of the internet but I have recently found that they were the English songwriter/pianist/tenor Bentley Collingwood Hilliam and the New Zealand bass Malcolm McEachern. They performed light comic “with mild social commentary” and sentimental songs. (I also accidentally found the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, who presumably don’t.)

Is ’e an Aussie is apparently typical. (I recently included a link in a comment to a recent post, and my number one commenter of recent times, Batchman, said that it didn’t work in the USA. Try here or here or here, or search for ‘Is ’e an Aussie Flotsam Jetsam’.) It features rapid-fire and witty rhyming, almost all of it to do with Australia. In fact, in the first rhyme, Lizzie tells her girlfriend:

Mary-Anne I’ve met a man who says he’s an Austray-lee-an 

She says that he:

Throws a fond eye, talks of Bondi

But later we learn that:

He, being well-born, lived in Melbourne

Hang on …

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Curiouser and curiouser

I recently discovered the Youtube channel It’s okay to be smart, hosted by Joe Hanson, which presents bite-sized chunks of general science at about my level of general science. He finishes each video saying “Stay curious”. I assume that means wondering and eager to learn or know, and not causing interest and speculation by being unusual. I assume the first meaning came first. Because of the two meanings, it is (just) possible to say “Very curious people are often very curious”.

A prescriptivist’s playlist

I’ve been listening to a lot of pop song compilations recently. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek:

All shaken up
Another somebody did somebody wrong song
Bobby McGee and I
Doesn’t it make my brown eyes blue?
I can’t get any satisfaction or I can get no satisfaction
I have you, babe or I’ve got you, babe 
Lie, lady, lie
Lo que será, será
Love me tenderly
Mrs Jones and I
There isn’t any mountain high enough or There’s no mountain high enough
Two fewer lonely people in the world
You haven’t seen anything yet or You’ve seen nothing yet

1) One of these definitely doesn’t belong here, because the original is unquestionably correct (or at least is questionable in another way). A free lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can point out which.

2) I stuck with titles, being easier to search for. I’m sure there are many more titles and many, many more lyrics. You can search for ‘pop music grammar errors’ to find more examples of ‘errors’, including within song lyrics. Some of these ‘errors’ actually are, but most of the lists fail to take into account that …

3) Informal spoken (or sung) English exists. I can (in some cases only just) accept each of the originals here as common informal spoken (or sung) English. That doesn’t mean that I say or write them, or would accept them without question in an ESL class. I said many times “Many people say X, but ‘correct, exam English’ is Y”.

[PS It’s possible that Two less lonely people in the world is prescriptively correct, too, if it is interpreted as Two + less lonely + people. But it’s hardly romantic to say “Before I met you, I was lonely. Now I am … less lonely.”]