December 2005 Archives
The Dominant Animals: Insects: entomology; metamorphosis; chiten (integument); insectifuge; blattoid (bdelloid); lepidoptera; imago
Anti-Black Discrimination: redlining; underground railroad;
grandfather clause (to grandfather); DWB (FWM);
More Christmas-Carol Words: cloven; gladsome; swathe, swaddle (snath, snathe or snead); to pine; babel; roundelay (rondelle, rondel, rondeau, rondel)
Odd and Amusing Scientific Names: draculin; manxane (manxine; triskelion); cummingtonite (polymorphism); cristane (crissum; cloaca; skatole; cubane; cadaverine; putrescine); erotic acid; methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosyl- (etc.); NanoPutians
Insects rule the world. Count species? They have over a million, outnumbering all other animals combined. Count sheer mass? I've read that they have the clear majority of all the animal protoplasm on earth. Yet our themes have included only a single insect-word (pooter).
So this week we pay homage to earth's dominant animals.
entomology the scientific study of insects [not to be confused with etymology]
An interesting word-history. Biologically, an insect in an six-legged arthropod with a body divided into three segments (head, thorax bearing all six legs, and abdomen). The narrow body parts between segments seem like notches cut into the body. Pliny took the Latin for cut (akin to section; as in bisect); thus an in-cut animal = in sect yields the word insect. But the concept was Aristotle's: Pliny used the Greek name Aristotle had coined on the same basis, and changed to Latin the Greek roots Aristotle had used. Greek en- +temnein (in+cut) yielded entomos "having a notch", from which Aristotle called the beastie entomon. That name survives in today's word.
Here's an article published yesterday.
Thomas H. Maugh II, Scientists Vindicated: Bees Can Fly,
Scientists have long been derided because of mathematical calculations made in 1934 by French entomologist August Magnan proving that the flight of bees is "impossible." But now bioengineer Michael H. Dickinson and colleagues have shown conclusively how the hefty insects manage.
The secret is a combination of short wing strokes, rapid rotation of the wing as it changes direction and a very fast flapping frequency. Virtually all insects flap their wings through a wide arc of about 165 degrees. The larger the insect, the slower the wings beat. Mosquitoes flap at about 400 beats per second, fruit flies at 200, [contrast] about 50 for hummingbirds.
[But] bees, which are 80 times as large as fruit flies, flap their wings 230 times per second through an arc of about 90 degrees. Though most insects produce the majority of lift about halfway through the stroke, when the wing is moving fastest, bees get an equally large contribution at the beginning and end of the stroke from the rotation of the wing.
metamorphosis a dramatic change in form or nature, as from a caterpillar to a butterfly. The change is so great that it might seem by witchcraft; the original and changed versions are so totally different as to seem unrelated.
For example, the change of a caterpillar to a butterfly, or the change of coal, under pressure, into diamond. Insects that thus change are called metamorphic insects; rocks produced by such change are called metamorphic rocks.
went from good to great, the transformations never happened in one feel swoop.
[It is] a cumulative process that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.
Yet to read media accounts of the companies, you might draw an entirely
different conclusion. Often, the media does not cover a company until [very
late], making it seem as if [such transformations] jumped right to breakthrough
as some sort of an overnight metamorphosis.
Jim Collins, Good to Great
chiten the stiff substance that covers the body of insects, crabs, etc., forming an integument. (i.e., the crunchy part of a bug)
Bonus word: integument a natural outer covering, typically protective (such as skin, membrane, or husk); also figurative (see last quote)
"Show me your hands. Still more raw flesh than undamaged skin, I see. You
will have to wear mittens, when you hale upon a rope again: canvas mittens,
until the horny integument shall have had time to grow."
frequently repeated messages will be appeals to purchase detergents,
deodorants, headache tablets
The most noticeable messages will be those
broadcast simultaneously by many transmitters for example, speeches in times
of international crisis by the President. The mindless contents of commercial
television and the integuments of international crisis and
internecine warfare within the human familyare the
principal messages about life on Earth that we choose to broadcast to the
Cosmos. What must they think of us?
Carl Sagan, Cosmos
A reader notes: "Integument" is used in medicine, and in humans the "integumentary system" consists of the skin and its associated structures, such as the hair, nails, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands.
insectifuge - a substance that repels insects
[the last syllable as in 'centrifuge'. Contrast an insecticide, which does not repel; it kills.]
is also a
disinfectant by reason of its bacteriostatic and
bactericidal action. The essential oil may be utilized for the same purposes
and also serves as an insectifuge and
Stanley Schuler, Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices
Two words today, which in my strange mind make a fine pair.
blattoid like a cockroach
bdelloid like a leech [the b is silent]
OK, the latter word doesn't fit the theme, but I have several reasons to include it. For one thing, the two words pair up to make the wonderful insult of calling someone 'blattoid and bdelloid". (Especially fine since, with the silent b, he will not be able to look it up and find out what you called him!) For another well, how many words do you know that start with bd?
And finally, we have a fine quote about bdelloid rotifer, leech-shaped microscopic critters. Trust me, you'll enjoy reading the full story here.
Talk about a dry
spell. Microscopic bdelloid rotifers
have seemingly evolved without sex for millions of years.
Susan Milius, Science News Online, May 20, 2000
A reader notes: Greek has more than a few words that begin with bd. It has other weird consonant clusters word initially: e.g., ps as in psykhe 'soul', khth as in khthon[/i] 'earth', ks as in ksenos 'guest, friend; stranger'.
lepidoptera butterflies and moths [more exactly, the biological order composed of them]
[coined by Linnaeas, from the Greek words for 'scale' and 'wing'.]
I would think 'lepidopterist' would be one who engages in the gentle hobby of butterfly collecting. But in fact it is a scientist who studies butterflies or moths.
A figurative use, edited for brevity:
The Washington-Gonzaga series dates to 1910, when the UW won in a walk,
albeit a slow one, 23-14. [In] recent history, Gonzaga
had dominated the way
10,000 fans at Hec Edmundson Pavilion will be talking about it into their dotage. When Altidor-Cespedes hit two free throws to cut the Huskies' lead to five points, Hec Ed had become Lepidoptera Central, as nervous butterflies awakened throughout the gym.
imago 1. entomology: an insect in its adult stage, after metamorphosis. 2. psychology: an idealized childhood image, persisting into adulthood, of another person (e.g., a parent) or oneself
I believe the latter sense was coined by Jung. We have an intriguingly clinical quote on that usage.
This essay treats
those insects that cycle through the classic stages of complete metamorphosis:
egg, larva, pupa, and imago.
Stephen Jay Gould, Glow, Big Glowworm, in Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (1992)
Because Peter seemed to match
Harville Hendrix, Getting the Love You Want (2001)
Words concerning Anti-Black Discrimination
There has been one theme I have wanted to do throughout the 3+ years I have been sending our words-a-day. Yet I hesitated, facing a dilemma. A somber tone would not be appropriate for this daily messages. Yet a light tone would risk being seriously offensive and inappropriate for the serious subject.
Today I take that risk. If I offend, please forgive me. Our theme will be "words of discrimination against blacks".
redlining a policy of refusing home mortgages or home insurance to specific areas typically areas of black residence
[From practices of encircling the neighborhood, on a map, with thick red lines]
[The asserted rationale will be financial risk, of course, but the policy sweeps all loans in the area, however secure, into the same blanket prohibition.]
bank presidents who offer gifts to help our segregated schools," a mother
Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in
underground railroad a secret network of persons and "safe houses", for the clandestine movement of people.
[Originally used for slaves fleeing the US South before 1865. Uses today can be laudable (e.g., children flee a parent's child abuse) or sinister.]
bombers Zarqawi [Abu Mussab
al-Zarqawi. leader of Al Qaeda in
Rod Nordland, Terror For Export:
grandfather clause an exemption, from a new law or regulation, allowing pre-existing conditions.
to grandfather to so exempt a pre-existing circumstance
[Origin: rules adopted by former slave states, imposing high literacy/property qualifications for voters, but exempting those whose ancestors had been voters before 1867 -- a time when slaves were denied the vote.]
A grandfather clause be a sensible way to neutralize opposition to the regulation, particularly when the pre-existing use will naturally phase itself out.
the second phase
of the law took to make pit bull puppies illegal
means all pit bull puppies
born from now on must be destroyed or shipped out of the province.
already in the province are grandfathered.
When today's term is used, an explanation almost always follows, perhaps for the benefit of whites.
DWB "driving while black". When a black driver is pulled over by a police officer, often the real reason, notwithstanding any pretext, is the offense of DWB.
I got pulled over
when I was behind the wheel of a Porsche in Philly once for what we call DWB
- Driving While Black.
in certain parts of Philly sometimes you feel like
you're being subjected to the Klan without the sheets.
Charles Barkley, I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It
The room spun with directives about where in Roxbury to get something called a Press and Curl, how Bob the Chef's was the only place to get good "greens," what sections of Boston were worst for DWB (a condition eliciting many knowing looks and weary head shakes) ...
Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun
DWB has a recent spinoff.
flying while Muslim (occasionally FWM) refers to subjecting an airline passenger to special scrutiny solely because the person appears to be a Muslim.
The biggest single
misunderstanding Muslims face is the unfair notion they are all terrorists. The
worst place for a Muslim or Arab, therefore, is the airport. ... Some Muslims
try to avoid flying, or as they call it, Flying While Brown or Flying
Muslims: from unseen to highly visible,
The dictionaries do not define today's term,
so in presenting it I will give extra examples. The term comes from the Bible:
"Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken;
neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for
the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be
married." Isaiah 62:4 (KJV) In Bunyan's Pilgrim's
[often connotes such a place reached after privation; sometimes connotes one as a temporary stop on the way to something even better]
... compared the
crossing of the Ohio River to the entry of the Israelites into the biblical
Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration
People were intoxicated by bewildering visions; they spoke dazedly, as if under the force of a spell. "... Go west, folks! ... The farther west, the better the land!" ... Men beheld in feverish dreams the endless plains, teeming with fruitfulness, glowing, out there where day sank into night a
Ole Edvart Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth
P. J. O'Rourke, Eat the Rich
[Gantry speaking] "Why I was thinking how happy well all be when we are purified and at rest in Beulah Land."
Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry
blockbusting inducing homeowners to sell hastily at a low prices, by stirring fear of minority encroachment and falling property values
[but more commonly used as a synonym for 'blockbuster', as in 'a blockbuster movie'. This sense seems to have begun as a sports usage in thte 1950s.]
real estate agents in Queens have been using "scare tactics"
analogous to the practice of "blockbusting" in the
1960s and '70s, when real estate agents used race to coerce families in some
city neighborhoods to sell their homes and move out, two City Council members
A reader's excellent comments on 'blockbusting' can be found here.
restrictive covenant a provision in a property deed, restricting the use by buyer and his successors
[can also refer to an employee's covenent not to enter competition with the employer]
A restrictive covenant can be benign: no
business usage serving alcohol. But there have been vicious race-based
covenants, restricting home-occupancy to Caucasians only, have been used. In
1949 they were held to be unconstitutional in the
the Kensington and Chelsea borough council said it was considering a plan that would restrict sales of new houses in the area to local residents. Under
Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg News, Nov. 30, 2005
Some things never change. The 1830s saw a music-mania akin to the Beatlemania of the 1960s.
a young lady in a
sort of inspired rapture, throwing her weight alternately upon the tendon
Achilles of the one, and the toes of the other foot, her left hand resting upon
her hip, her right
extended aloft, gyrating as the exigencies of the song
required, and singing Jim Crow at the top of her voice.
Y. S. Nathanson
Jim Crow pertaining to systematic segregation of Blacks
Jim Crow was the Black character in the
song-and-dance show of one Thomas Dartmouth Rice. Rice's show, beginning about
1828, was so popular that it traveled from the
Our first quotation is from a slave's autobiography.
Being in servitude
to the Anglo-Saxon race, I was not put into a "Jim Crow
car," on our way to Rockaway, neither was I invited to ride through the
streets on the top of trunks in a truck; but every where I found the same
manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and
represses the energies of the colored people.
Harriet Ann Jacobs, 1813-1897, Incidents in the life of a slave girl.: Written by herself., Edited by L. Maria Child (1861) [Similar in The Atlanta Constitution, October 13, 1870, p.1]
He told of the elderly man who got as far as Cincinnati and then took a train but became confused about which car he should ride in. A redcap went to great lengths to convince the old man that north of the
Milton C. Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land
These hundreds of thousands of black veterans [of WWII] had fought to make the world safe for democracy, not Jim Crow, and upon their return, they determined, many of them, to do something about what they found.
Robert Caro, Master of the Senate
At this time three years ago we had a theme of words from Christmas carols. This week, for the holiday, we'll present another half-dozen or so carol-words.
cloven split; divided
It came upon a midnight clear, / that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth / to touch their harps of gold:
'Peace on the earth, good will to men, / from heaven's all-gracious King!'
The world in solemn stillness lay / to hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come / with peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats / o'er all the weary world
Perhaps someone more theologically knowledgeable than I can explain the image of 'cloven' or 'split' skies.
gladsome causing or showing gladness or joy: a gladsome occasion; a gladsome smile
I leave it to you to decide whether our second usage-example is oxymoronic.
Sing we all Noel, hear the music all around.
Sing we all Noel, let the joy resound.
Sing we all Noel, the gladsome tidings bring
Lift our God on high as His praises now we sing.
Summing up William F. Buckley's achievements over the past half-century, the deputy director of public liaison at the White House, Timothy Goeglein, spoke of "a hopeful, cheerful, gladsome conservatism."
Gary Shapiro, Buckley's
Birthday Bash, The
A long one today. We have some nice quotes, which we'll put before the carols.
swathe noun (also spelled 'swath'): a strip of material for so wrapping; also, any broad strip or area. verb: to wrap with cloth.
Bonus words: snath the long bent handle on a scythe; also called snathe or snead. also, to snathe to lop or prune
The snath has a handhold on it that enables an easy, comfortable, swinging motion, each arc swinging into the grain in front of you and cutting a swath about 2 feet across.
Carla Emery, The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book
swaddle to wrap, envelop and bind, as a baby in a blanket; the sense is both comforting and binding. also figurative, as below (noun: a strip of material so used)
● The team became we and fans rushed to swaddle themselves in team colors.
● His [George Bush's] father had helped to swaddle him with a foreign-policy "dream team"...
● Winter darkness swaddles the long evenings
● the comforting bands of ignorance that swaddle us.
● the ferns and low-hanging branches that swaddle the driveway
● swaddle themselves in waterproof raincoats.
Jere Longman, If Football's a Religion, Why Don't We Have a Prayer?; Maureen Dowd, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk; Joyce Rupp, Macrina Wiederkehr, The Circle Of Life; Dan Burton, David Grandy, Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization; W P Kinsella, Shoeless Joe; Elizabeth Abbott, A History of Celibacy
O come, little children, O come one and all,
God's son for a gift has been sent you this night
To be your redeemer, your joy and delight.
He's born in a stable for you and for me,
Draw near by the bright gleaming starlight to see,
In swaddling clothes lying so meek and so mild,
And purer than angels the heavenly Child.
While Shepherds watch their flocks by night / All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down /And glory shone around
"Fear not," said he for mighty dread / had seized their troubled mind
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring / To you and all man-kind"
"To you in David's town this day / Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord / And this shall me the sign
The heav'n'ly babe you there shall find / To human view displayed
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands / And in a manger laid".
Today's word has meanings that some consider separate but confusingly near-opposite. Let's start with the more common one.
pine (verb) to languish with intense desire; to be consumed with longing
the new-made bridegroom / For whom Juliet pined.
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
But how then to explain the Christmas carol that tells of "the world in sin and error pining"? Surely the world did not 'long for' sin and error! The explanation is a second meaning of 'to pine'.
pine (verb) to languish and waste away from grief or other intense suffering
O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Today's word is from a biblical story in which God, to frustrate a presumptuous plan by men, created mutually-incomprehensible languages so that the men could not work together. A rather dark commentary on the origin of languages.
babel; Babel a noisy confusion of sounds or voices; a scene of such confusion
[AHD and MW have identical definitions. Copying?]
No known connection with 'babble', by the way. For our last two quotes, credit MW's Dictionary of Allusions.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear; second verse:
Still through the cloven skies they come / With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats / O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains / They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds / The blessed angels sing.
the airline industry['s] fare structure that seems to have been structured during the lunch hour at the Tower of Babel.
Bill Conlin, Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 12, 1997
On Saturday nights, as many as 300 young women line the margins of E55, a Czech highway near the German border. Their costumes vary: light frocks, skimpy red dresses, glow-in-the-dark Spandex pants. They speak a babel of languages: Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German. But they have only one thing to sell: sex.
Margot Hornblower, The Skin Trade, Time, June 21, 1993
roundelay a song or poem in which a line or phrase is repeated as the refrain; or, a simply simple song with a refrain
[From Old Fr., tracing to rondel, circle]
Sing we all Noel, with a joyous roundelay.
Sing we all Noel, hear the news today.
[Many sites have 'rondelay', but this is either a typo or an antique version.]
Ah, leave me not to pine / Alone and desolate;
No fate seemed fair as mine, / No happiness so great!
And Nature, day by day, / Has sung in accents clear
This joyous roundelay,
"He loves thee he is here. / Fal, la, la, la, Fal, la, la, la.
He loves thee he is here. / Fal, la, la, Fal, la!"
Gilbert & Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance
rondelle, rondel a circular object; esp. a circular jewel or a ring containing one
rondeau (also rondel) a poem form of three verses, using lines from the 1st as a refrain
This week we'll present some odd scientific names, useless but fun.
If the name draculin reminds you of Dracula and vampires, you're right on the mark.
1. an anticoagulent enzyme in the saliva of vampire bats, which prevents the blood from clotting at the site at which the bat sucks.
---- and/or [the sources are unclear] ----
2. a blood-thinning medicine made from that saliva, or artificially, and used in heart attacks and strokes.
Venezuelan researchers, working with the common vampire bat, isolated and named this substance in 1995.
I suppose draculin belongs on my list of eponyms!
of three bent legs, joined at the hip and radiating out from a center, appears
on the Manx flag (that is, the flag of the
A later varient molecule, with a different atom at the juncture point, was named manxine. Why? Because manxane and manxine sound like masculine and feminine forms, which is appropriate for items whose difference is at the juncture of the legs.
A reader notes: The Manx emblem is known in Greek as the triskelion, from three + legs. In turn, skelos (literally "bent") is related to "scalene" as in the side of a triangle. It is also related to "scoliosis" or curvature of the spine.
Notwithstanding its name, cummingtonite is not an aphrodisiac. It is a brown mineral, first found in Cummington, Massachusetts in 1825. Its scientific name is magnesium iron silicate hydroxide.
Cummintonite is also the name of a family of minerals, which includes related minerals grunerite and magnesiocummingtonite, with different proportions of magnesium to iron.
Anthophyllite has the exact same formula as cummingtonite but a different structure. That sort of situation is called polymorphism, and if it seems odd, recall the best known example of polymorphism: graphite and diamond are two forms of carbon, with different arrangements of the atoms.
Cristane (tricyclo[184.108.40.206]decane) was first discovered at Brown University. It seems that that evening, someone left the window to the lab open, and the next morning it was discovered that a pigeon had flown in and left deposits throughout.
Since a crissum is the anus of a bird, the new chemical was named cristane to honor the pigeon's contribution to science. That is, if you can view it as a contribution rather than an editorial comment.
(Note: I do not have 2-source confirmation for this tale.)
A reader notes: Actually, crissum refers to the feathers around the opening, which is called a cloaca. Birds have only one orifice for feces, urine and sex (the white part of the bird dropping on your windshield is urine).
Another reader notes squalene (or is it skatole?), "the chemical that gives feces its characteristic aroma, the odor if you will of living in squalor. There are a few geometrically-named compounds too, [including] a compound with eight linked carbon atoms with the formula C8H8, called cubane. (Conceiving the shape is left as an exercise for the reader.) And of course there is Buckminsterfullerene" carbon [atoms] arranged in the lattice of a geodesic dome, whence the name."
The former reader responds by noting cadaverine and putrescine, two short carbon chains found in rotting meat, formed when amino acids decompose.
Vitamin B-13, obviously an important chemical, is pyrimidinecarboxylic acid, otherwise known as orotic acid. But the latter name has so often been misspelled in the literature that one can also use the misspelled name, erotic acid. It is apparently a precursor chemical in the synthesis of certain narcotics.
Possibly the longest word (if you can call it a word)in English is chemical name for the protein tryptophan synthetase. It has 1913 letters and lists 278 amino acids. You'll find it in Mrs. Bryne's Dictionary and several on-line sources, They seem to have difficulty to typing it accurately, for every source I've found in fact has a different number of letters or of acids, or misnamings that are obvious once you find them. I will not burden you with the whole thing, which begins 'methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanyl-', and can be found on our board.
Have you ever thought that drawings of the structure of molecules resemble children's stick-figures? The most familiar stick-figure is that of a person. Inevitably, chemists have set out to create person-shaped molecules, as they explain in Journal of Organic Chemistry, in dry scientific language:
2-nm-tall anthropomorphic molecules in monomeric, dimeric, and polymeric form are called, as a class, NanoPutians. the ultimate in designed miniaturization can be attained while preparing the most widely recognized structures: those that resemble humans.
The population includes the NanoKid, NanoAthlete, NanoJester, NanoMonarch, NanoScholar, and others, pictured here, and even ballet dancers. The nanopopulation can link hands in a chain or in dancing pairs (see middle).
How were these little people named? Authors Chanteau and Tour explain, in science-talk.
Accepted common names such as "cubane", "dodecahedrane", "housane", and "chair-form" describe the constitution or conformation of cycloalkanes while "buckminsterfullerene" expresses chemical structure by its relation to the artisan that built macroscopic analogues. Utilizing such a license, the anthropomorphic molecules here are dubbed, as a class, NanoPutians, following the lead of the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift's classic, Gulliver's Travels.
They admit to taking liberties with the drawings, but maintain, "The liberties we take with the nonequilibrium conformational drawings are only minor when representing the main structural portions; conformational license is only used, in some cases, with the NanoPutians' head dressings." You are reminded that "many molecule types are routinely drawn in nonequilibrium conformations to enhance their rapid cognitive classification."
Whew! Glad to know they appreciate the benefits of 'rapid cognitive classification', a/k/a 'quick recognition'.