Sunday, October 31, 2010

hobgoblin


\HAHB-gahb-lin\

noun

1 : a mischievous goblin
2 : a source of fear, perplexity, or harassment

Question: Are there goblins that aren't mischievous?

Answer: M-W defines goblin as "an ugly or grotesque sprite that is usually mischievous and sometime evil and malicious. This would suggest that the hob holds the mischief. However, in the backwards world in which we live, it is the hob that translates to "sprite" or "elf," and the goblin that translates to "rogue." I think of Labyrinth, perhaps the modern authority on goblins. I would say, most of the film's goblins are recklessly mischievous. Hoggle is the exception, but he makes it clear to the audience early on that he is a dwarf. Or maybe an elf. I can't remember. But we know he's not a fairy or a goblin, which explains his redeemable qualities.

According to HauntedBay.com, not all goblins are bad:

In some cultures the prefix "hob" means good so that a hobgoblin referrers to a good goblin. In those cultures HOBGOBLINS are sometimes thought to, when in a good mood, help the household residents by doing chores while they sleep or even going so far as to help with the parenting by disciplining bad children and delivering gifts or good fortune to the good. However, in the American tradition all goblins are evil regardless of the hob prefix.

Curious. So, in this text it is the hob that designates the presence of good or evil. At least, in traditional goblin culture.
I wonder what it is about American goblins that make them so bitter and vindictive? Perhaps it's just a general European immigrant complex. Maybe goblins are the WOPs of the underworld.

Chew on this: if the hob means bad in certain cultural contexts, would that render HOBGOBLIN a double negative?



Saturday, October 30, 2010

misconstrue


\miss-kun-STROO\

verb

: to understand or explain wrongly : misinterpret

I think of the game of telephone—a game constructed on the humor inherent in the act of MISCONSTRUING information. Telephone was a game played regularly at birthday parties or social events or almost any occasion that demanded a group of girls sit around a table, between the years of being 7 or 8 to 13 or 14. For a child that hated played most games, I adored telephone and thought it to be the most hilarious activity. I laughed harder playing this game than I probably did at any other time during my childhood.*

To make a blanket statement, miscommunication is just funny. The hilarity of telephone came from the fact that one message could move through several sets of ears and lips and come out something completely different. My favorite show is Charles in Charge, twelve girls later could emerge as, I ate a bowl of chicken and stars. The funniest part was going back through the circle and hearing everyone's MISCONSTRUCTIONS. Each young ear interpreted the phrase differently, and each whispering voice disguised itself in mumbles to further complicate the message.

I thought little about the greater implications of the game. It never occurred to me that this pastime suggested the difficulties of subjective interpretation in human interaction, the self-interest in information exchange and the simple truth that people often hear what they want to hear.

One time while playing telephone at a birthday party, I laughed so hard that I threw up. I was discreet, but it was humbling.



*Except for one memorable instance of playing Barbies with my mother, during which she prompted the anatomically indifferent Ken to respond to the question of his surname as, "Doll." We cried.

Friday, October 29, 2010

vanguard


\VAN-gahrd\

noun

1 : the troops moving at the head of an army
2 : the forefront of an action or movement

The VANGUARD is my current university's student-run newspaper. This makes sense—the forefront of a movement. Logical. At my undergraduate alma mater, Rhode Island College, students published The Anchor—(figuratively) a source of stability/security. Fair. My high school newspaper was The Trident—a three-pronged fork or weapon.

Hm.

I self-published a "newspaper" when I was nine-years-old. It was called Opper House. Simple. To the point. The front page (there were only two pages) headline is, "Kyle Went to see Bugs Bunny." Kyle was my brothers' half brother. I usually called him my cousin to avoid extraneous explanation. Under the headline there is a small line drawing of Bugs Bunny's head next to a Xerox of Kyle's school picture. No article.

The next section is titled, "Associated With Problems." The following text is based off a survey I conducted among my immediate family members, as well as an actual cousin, Dicky, who was visiting on the day of publication. I imagine I asked them about their troubles:

Dicky - Slipery [sic] road.
Marcelle - Slipery road again.
Jane - Crying baby
Heath - He doesn't want to tell.
Zander - N.O.

After this is the Weather section:

Sunday rainy and icey [sic].
Monday sun might come out.

Following the weather is "future events," based on another survey:

Marcelle - Whants [sic] (the "h" is subsequently crossed out with an X) to go to New York.
Dicky - Is going to train show.
Jane - Celebrates Valentines day.
Heath - Sees Newspaper! WOW!
Alexzander [sic] - Is going to be in a play.

Page two gets a bit more speculative with the section, "What is happening in outer Space."

Dicky - toilet paper floating with garbage.
Marcelle - toilets on Mars.
Jane - The man on the moon ate green cheese.
Alexzander - Rainbow Bright went to the moon.
(Heath must have neglected to comment)

It is quite possible my family took drugs before answering this last question.

The paper closes with a hand-drawn maze, titled "Puzzles," although there is only one. Perhaps I had greater intentions. Needless to say, I did not posit myself at the VANGUARD of puzzle-making.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

incognito


\in-kahg-NEE-toh\

adverb or adjective

: with one's identity concealed

I want to say this is one of M-W's holiday/seasonal efforts (i.e.: puerile on April Fool's day, callithump on Memorial day) in regards to the forthcoming Halloween—the one day a year you are encouraged to be what you are not (or what you truly are). We ignore how most people go INCOGNITO every day of their short lives. That said, the act of concealing one's own identity is part of understanding the nature of identity as well.

But back to Halloween. Since I'd rather not get into a discussion about the nature of identity at 8:30 p.m. on a night before I have to open a bakery before dawn, I'm going to keep this light.

Here is an incomplete list of my past Halloween costumes, as best I can remember:

1985: a witch
1986: Bugs Bunny
1987: Dorothy
1988: Jessica Rabbit (slutty)
1989: a gypsy
1990: What my mother called a "1950's greaser;" I looked more like a 1990's prostitute (slutty)
1991: a can-can dancer (slutty)
1992: a vampire
1993: a wizard
1994: a jailbird (laziest costume to date)
1995: Dorothy again (regressing?)
1996: dead cheerleader (slutty)
1997: I don't remember this year; I do remember sulking because my hand was all cut up and wrapped in a cast from a knife accident.
1998: I made some crazy long white gown and drew spiders all over it with a black sharpie. This took forever.
1999: a medieval something or other. Princess? It involved another long gown
2000: Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas
2001: First year away from home; probably too depressed to dress up.
2002: Spent Halloween at a Beck show in Manhattan; felt guilty about not dressing up.
2003: Absolutely no recollection at all.
2004: Princess Leia
2005: Attended a fancy wedding on or around this Halloween; I remember what I wore to the wedding, but don't remember if there was a costume later.
2006: First few weeks in Portland; Worked that night. I remember walking from the bus back to my friend's house where I was crashing. It was clear and crisp out. The next day I would move into my first studio apartment. I saw a plastic bag floating around in the night breeze, vis a vis American Beauty, and I read it as a good omen.
2007: Nothing. But I did go to see Nosferatu accompanied by live music at a beer theatre.
2008: Slash
2009: Peg Bundy (slutty)

And that's my life. Read into it and get back to me.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

notch


\NAHTCH\

noun

1 : a V-shaped hollow in an edge or surface
2 : a narrow pass between two mountains
3 : degree, step

Perhaps the most infamous NOTCH:

- the moment with Emeril Lagasse when things get one step crazier.

[BAM]

An underrated NOTCH:

- the NOTCH signaling pathway between cells that is indispensable to cell-cell communication.

Use of NOTCH in a colloquial adjective:

- Top NOTCH: first rate

NOTCHES I have known:

- a small chip in one of the keys of the major scale on my mother's piano; I cannot recall the particular note.
- I once drove through some mountains in Wyoming
- the second tightest hole on my Swatch band
- five in my headboard (figuratively)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

lethargic


\luh-THAHR-jik\

adjective

1 : of, relating to, or characterized by lethargy : sluggish
2 : indifferent, apathetic

The word LETHARGIC has one of those outlandish histories, one that surprises you in the same way you might be surprised finding out one of your friends is secretly a Hare Krishna. That sort of information makes you think back to all of your interactions, trying to find clues. You end up sitting in a room, by yourself, saying,

Huh. I guess that sort of makes sense.

Anyway, LETHARGIC comes from the Greek Lethe, which in mythology is the "River of Unmindfulness." According to legend, when someone died he would drink from the River Lethe in order to forget the events of his past life. The act of forgetting of course had its side effects, the most prevalent being sluggishness, inactivity, or indifference. Hence, LETHARGY.

Contemporarily, LETHARGY is a symptom of various lifestyles and disorders. Some of note: lack of fluids, overdose of heavy foods, oversleep, kidney failure, jaundice, hepatitis, bipolar disorder, depression, and menopause.

What intrigues me about this history is that LETHARGY serves as a result of a conscious act of forgetfulness. It almost seems like a punishment, a side effect of rebounding into the afterlife. Seriously though, does active forgetting have side effects? If so, I feel like they would lean more toward symptoms like constipation or ulcers—something resulting from the act of repression. But that could be the influence of my post-Freudian conceptualizing of the act. Psychoanalysis did not exist in ancient Greece. Maybe they just forgot. And it made them tired and disinterested. It's possible.

Monday, October 25, 2010

sea change


  • \SEE-CHAYNJ\

noun

: a marked change : transformation

Beck's released his album, SEA CHANGE, in the autumn of 2002, the same autumn I started at Rhode Island College. I was 22. I had never before been to college.

That first semester I took two studio art classes that met at 8 am, four days a week, for three hours a day. The professor of my still-life drawing class was a middle-aged blonde woman whose name I can't remember. She often wore sleeveless shirts tucked into cargo pants and tied her course hair into a loose bun at the base of her head. She encouraged the students to bring music into the class as the soundtrack to our drawing sessions, as long as it was "mellow." I brought SEA CHANGE. As it played, the boy next to me asked, "Who is this?" The boys name was Justin. He was eighteen, wore a baseball cap, and had been born and raised in Rhode Island.

"Beck." I said.
"Beck? As in Loser?"
"Yup."
His eyes widened and he cocked his head in disbelief. I saw this in my periphery. I didn't look away from my drawing.

This was before iPods. I listened to SEA CHANGE on the boombox in my bedroom, a piece of stereo equipment given to me for my fourteenth birthday. I also listened to the album in a discman through my car stereo via a cassette adaptor. The songs remind me of brushing frost from my cold windshield with the side of a knit glove.

That autumn was the first time in my life I experienced insomnia. I tried everything for sleep. Music helped, occasionally. SEA CHANGE cameoed in my "sleep" rotation. Although the problem with listening to albums was that I knew they were going to end, and that I would have to get up at put another one on. Some nights I would lie awake until 4 am, staring at the glow the streetlights painted on my low ceiling. Then I would get up at 6:30 to go to my studio.

I only missed one drawing class because of lack of sleep. I called my professor at home to apologize. She had typed her phone number on the syllabus. I didn't think it was weird or inappropriate. Her husband answered and told me to hold on, she was in the bath. She came to the phone. I told her I was sorry, and asked when I could make up the work. She laughed.

"It's fine, Candace. We'll talk about it in class."
I pictured her holding a glass of wine.

My boyfriend Josh and I lived in a half-basement apartment. When you looked out the window you saw the ground. I could reach the ceiling by extending my arm into the air. We paid $725/month for rent. An old Italian couple lived upstairs from us. They grew vegetables in a small garden that lined the front of the three story brick building. One time a cucumber grew into the chain link fence that bordered the garden. I thought it looked cool and wanted to take a picture, but by the time I returned, they had removed it from the fence. I couldn't understand this. I'm not sure I can now, either. I found the image to be inspiring and thought-provoking. I would have left it there for someone else to encounter. I still would.

At the same time I started school, I also started my part-time job at Guitar Center, working the front desk. My first shift was nine hours long. I spent most of the time in silence doodling on the back of a promotional postcard. It was boring and no one talked to me. There's no way I can work here, I thought. I stayed there for four years.

Shortly after I started, they hired a girl named Melissa. She and I quickly became friends. We looked sort of like each other—long black hair, square-rimmed glasses. She was way skinnier than me and her glasses were fake. She smoked pot on her way into work and always stopped at Dunkin Donuts to get a large iced coffee. The mix of those two things made her breath pretty awful, but I never told her. That Christmas she gave me a scented candle and a burned copy of a Mad Season album.

On Halloween Josh and I and our friend Joe went to see Beck perform at Lincoln Center. We had to sit separate from each other because tickets were so scarce. It was the first time I sat alone at a show. The hall was grand and almost everyone was in costume. I felt guilty for not dressing up. The Flaming Lips opened. During the intermission I saw David Cross talking to someone in the center aisle.

For the first part of Beck's set, he sat alone on a stool and played songs from SEA CHANGE on an acoustic guitar. I wanted those songs to go on forever. I didn't want to return to reality.

On our way from the venue back to the subway, a girl stopped me in the middle of a crosswalk. She grabbed my arm and looked into my eyes.

"You are so beautiful." Her skin was glistening. She was probably on a lot of drugs, but I let myself be flattered.

One of my favorite songs on SEA CHANGE was Paper Tiger. I really liked the lyrics, especially the last four lines of the song:

There's one road to the morning
There's one road to the truth
There's one road back to civilization
But there's no road back to youth.

Years later, a friend broke the news to me that he was saying "you" and not "youth."

I was disappointed. I still hear "youth."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

mendacious


\men-DAY-shus\

adjective

: given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth

Today, while procrastinating the writing of this blog, I watched an episode of True Blood during which our word-of-the-day was mentioned.

"A testimony from the MENDACIOUS Mr. Compton."

I actually said "Ooh!" out loud from my bed. I leapt up to pause the show and type out the quote, verbatim. So, there it is, MENDACIOUS, inadvertently used in a sentence by a fictional vampire. And I am none the wiser.

This is what I consider to be a thought-provoking coincidence. On a scale of one to five, one being fairly ordinary (bumping into a former coworker on the street) and five being absurdly extraordinary (bumping into a former coworker on a bus in Munich) I would deem this coincidence a 2.8. According to wordcount.org, MENDACIOUS ranks 77,235 out of the 86,800 most used words in the English language, falling between kovacs* and myriophyllum.** That means it lands within only the top 89th percentile. I would call that infrequent. The fact that I happened to watch this episode of True Blood on the same day I received this word from Merriam-Webster adds to the obscurity of these concomitant events. If I knew more about math I would conjure up some equation blending that 89th percentile (which I did figure with my 12-year-old scientific calculator) with the number of times the word MENDACIOUS is featured on the show True Blood (although I'm sure this information is harder to come by) and somehow arrive at 2.8.

Until I learn more math, I'm standing by my estimate.


*Unclear as to the meaning of this one. The singular form of this word is the slavic word for blacksmith. Kovacs just seems to be a surname.
**A genus of freshwater aquatic plants.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

qualm


\KWAHM\

noun

1 : a sudden attack of illness, faintness, or nausea
2 : a sudden fear
3 : a feeling of doubt or indecision in matters of right and wrong

A bad feeling. Doubt. Meaning has grown less severe. Once inspired illness. Going against one's instincts led to physical rejection of bad morals. Linked to something intuitive, instinctual.

I think of Buffy (as in, the vampire slayer), who experienced a wave of uterine pains and overall wooziness when in the presence of a vampire. When she was about to kill. That's almost sexual. Carnal QUALMS.

Perhaps also the precursor for anxiety. Essentially the same end. Anxiety took the mental route, QUALM the physical. Although I would argue both feelings equally stem from the brain and the gut.

Devo's "Gut Feeling." A good song. There's a message in your movements that really gets my goat.

"Gets my goat" suggests irritation. Various theories of origin. Possibly American. May be related to verb goad : to prod, incite. Also may be French, prendre la chevre, to take the goat, to steal someone's lifeblood, an act of peculation, most definitely inspiring a QUALM.

I would have a bad feeling if someone stole my goat. I might also have a bad feeling if I woke up and realized I was the owner of a goat.

Friday, October 22, 2010

jawboning


\JAW-boh-ning\

noun

: the use of public appeals (as by a president) to influence the actions especially of business and labor leaders; broadly : the use of spoken persuasion

The word JAWBONING, in its presidential sense, specifically refers to the work of Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960's. To deal with increasing inflationary measures, the administration JAWBONED big businesses into following government-imposed restrictions on price/wage increases, essentially to bribe said businesses with the freedom from future government regulation of industry. To add some more bodily metaphors: arm-twisting; also, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

The word's core, JAWBONE, is a little less specific, and points in several directions:

1) A percussion instrument made from the jaw bone of a donkey, horse or mule. After the jaw bone is removed and cleansed, the teeth become loose and produce a rattling sound. Modern version: the vibra-slap.
2) One-man band, led by Bob Zabor. Renaissance man, of sorts. Also father of two. Runs Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale, Michigan.
3) Manufacturer of "CNET's Highest Rated Headset. Ever." Military grade technology. Eliminates background noise. Apparently the headset "feels" your speech. The headset's glamorous appearance represents a "level of design innovation never before achieved in consumer electronics."

I beg to differ. Case in point: rhinestone calculators.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

renovate


\REN-uh-vayt\

verb

1 : to restore to a former better state (as by cleaning, repairing, or rebuilding)
2 : to restore to life, vigor, or activity : revive

As M-W's etymologist kindly points out, RENOVATE is part of a family of words suggesting an overhaul, all resting on the prefix re-. Some to wet your appetite:

recondition
reconstitute
recreate
reform
refresh
refurbish
rehabilitate
remake
remodel
renew
repair
restore
resurrect
resuscitate
revitalize
revive

All slightly different from the next, like the bin of kaiser rolls you peruse with one of those thin sheets of food-service-quality tissue paper, trying to find the most robust, crusty specimen. Anyhow, that's what I do.

But like snowflakes and kaiser rolls and remote controls, every above synonym is unique. So, let's talk about RENOVATE since that's what we're here for.

The above definition of RENOVATE specifically suggests a repair or rebuild with the intention of going back to a "former better state." If we're talking structurally (the context in which this word is most often used) the first thing I'd like to point out is that RENOVATIONS don't normally lead to a former state as much as they lead to a new, different, better state. One a building undergoes RENOVATIONS, it's not often to restore it to its past condition; the goal is to add/change/bring the structure up to a more modern/useful application. I question the use of the word "former" in this definition. Maybe I'm misinterpreting. Maybe M-W suggests former in a more abstract sense, as in, a former time when things were better. An former ideal. Not a former structure.

Moving right along...

Novate. I have never heard anyone use this word. I never considered the existence of this word until moments ago.

novate : to replace with something new

Okay. So, does that make RENOVATE a replacement of the replacement? Is there a group of people who novate buildings, only to be trumped by the RENOVATORS? Is this an underrepresented trade? Novation?

This is not to be confused with Novatian—the second antipope in papal history, broke from the Christian church circa 251 C.E. during the Novatian-Schism, with a group that condemned apostasy. Actual Roman name: Novatinus.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the word schism.

Novation is also a manufacturer of midi-controlers and various other DJ equipment. Their website claims that since their start in 1992, "the company name has become synonymous with world-class analogue modeling synthesizers and unrivaled midi-controller keyboards and solutions."

I suppose that's why the words novate and novation don't mean much in the field of building construction. Fancy digital keyboards have already cornered the market on that one.