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Etymology of ‘Smurf’

Have you ever wondered what the smurf those Smurfs are smurfing about the whole day long? Or how the Smurfs can possibly understand each other when they use the word smurf for nearly everything?

Though it is difficult to refer to “Smurf language” as an actual language (it’s more like a nonsense argot), its use and purpose align with other artificial languages such as Gromalot. In Smurf language, the ever-present word smurf serves as linguistic construct known in the computer science community as a metasyntactic variable whose meaning is inferred through pragmatics.

But where does the word smurf come from? Well, according to legend, in 1958 Belgian comic creator Pierre Culliford (known by the mononym Peyo) was dining with fellow comic artist André Franquin and momentarily forgot the word for salt so instead asked Franquin to pass the “Schtroumpf” (pronounced like the German word for stocking). Excited by their newly coined nonce word, the two gigglepusses continued the day schtroumpfing about until someone had the genius idea to turn it into a comic book.

In the original French, The Smurfs is actually know as Les Schtroumpfs, but as the comic gained popularity and began translation into other languages, Les Schtroumpfs became The Smurfs in Dutch (and subsequently English)—apparently because the word smurf makes so more sense…and probably because contains fewer consonants.

So what does smurf mean? Well, it either means ‘salt’ or it means ‘stocking’ or it means whatever the smurf you want it to mean.

Irregardless Dictionary of Nonwords (entry #3)

afterwaft – (n.) a grace period taken after engaging in certain private activities in which etiquette dictates one should take a moment for ventilation of mind and odors before reentering public spaces

anakronphobia – (n.) the fear of living anywhere other than Akron, Ohio

arthuritis – (n.) a mental disorder (not yet cataloged in the DSM) in which the sufferer believes that he or she is the legendary King Arthur or another mediæval knight

symptoms include: overenthusiastic LARPing, unwarranted aggression towards windmills, pain in joints and swelling, and a socially unacceptable amount of time searching eBay for antique cups

babelnym (n.) – a word that does not have any precise or direct meaning other than in its language of origin

jovenistic – (adj.) feeling or displaying aggressive or exaggerated youthfulness; displaying prejudiced support for those of a youthful age

literally – (adv.) a nonsense word sometimes thrown into conversations for effect (sometimes referred to as a discourse participle)

praefornitor – (n.) a person typically employed by a monarch in fear of assassination to test sexual partners for sexually transmitted diseases

scatagories – (n.) a classification system devised for cataloging different varieties of poop (ie chalky white sidewalk poop, rabbit pellets, doo doo butter, etc)

sthlee – (n.) spittle collected in reservoirs at the corners of one’s mouth

Goldilocks, Spurtles and World Porridge Day

World Porridge Day was established five years ago by the Golden Spurtle—the organizing body of the World Porridge Making Championship in Scotland—along with with Mary’s Meals (a charity striving to feed schoolchildren across the world). On this day, humans and bears join to break the fast with a bowl of porridge while also making an effort to feed small children who are hungry for food and knowledge (whether they be golden-haired or not).

You may be wondering, ‘What is a spurtle, some kind of squirrel/turtle hybrid?’ Well to the world-class porridge maker, a spurtle an essential cooking utensil that is the only thing separating us from savages. You see, when stirring your porridge, the broad concave design of a spoon tends to collect the oatmeal into globs resulting in a lumpy and chunky porridge, but a spurtle is evenly convex on all sides, and so it helps to maintain a smooth and even-textured porridge.

Reductionists may say, ‘Well, that’s just a stick’, but if we’re going to start accusing things of being sticks couldn’t you easily say a rolling pin is just a stick or chopsticks are just…sticks? A spurtle is much more than a stick, it’s the porridge maker’s magic wand transfiguring grain kernels into creamy, fiber-rich goodness like only Professor McGonagall could. In terms of aesthetics, a Scottish “thistle top” is traditional, though I suppose a broad, wooden dowel will do for those who hate fun.

Spurtles aren’t just for oatmeal either. Technically porridge can refer to oat porridge (oatmeal), wheat porridge (cream of wheat) or even maize porridge (grits or polenta) which all benefit from the spurtle’s power to please fussy little eaters. Speaking of which, did you know that in Robert Southey’s original tale of the three bears, the character of Goldilocks was initially a mean old lady? And Goldilocks didn’t always have locks of gold either. For a while she was known as Silver-hair.

Oat porridge is a nutritious and delicious slow food, so why not try this recipe for honey and ginger porridge from none other than the Porridge Lady (because if there’s anything bears love more than porridge, it’s honey). Or you can search through these award winning recipes to find one that’s just right. Go ahead, take the morning to break out your trusty spurtle, welcome in any would-be home intruders and help feed a hungry child.

Digital Writers and Editors Need to Know Code

In the early 20th century, innovative writers like EE Cummings pushed the boundaries of what poetry could look like with the tools they created with. Just as dramatists and orators of the classical era used devices like rhyme, alliteration and meter to make their works easier to memorize, Cummings crafted his poems to suit the constraints of his medium—namely, the typewriter. And decades later, Jack Kerouac became famous for his “spontaneous prose”, a writing style nurtured by using his augmented Underwood fixed with scroll attachment. Writers who seek to innovate do so by exploring the options their medium provides.

In the years since Cummings, the tools have changed. Though many written works are migrating to digital platforms—and online literary magazines are becoming increasingly popular—many writers still haven’t learned the intricacies of digital culture. If modern writers want to push the boundaries of typography, design and writing, they will need a contemporary understanding of all three fields.

Many writers seeking to innovate are still caught in the typewriter frame of mind, and they don’t realize that while digital word processors present a whole new host of options for how words can appear on a page, they bring new constraints as well. The traditions of concrete poetry leave writers trying to apply typewriter tricks on the Web which will only lead to frustration when those tricks don’t translate. Writers and editors need to understand and be able to manipulate the codes that comprise their written works so that they can develop new tricks for the new medium. Continue reading

Defining ‘Continental’ and ‘Contiguous’

Americans who frequent online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy—or those who like to keep things old school and still make mail order purchases—may notice that certain phrases often appear during the checkout process: Because delivery outside of the lower 48 states of America can become quite expensive, it is not uncommon to see sellers designating delivery only to the continental United States or the 48 continental states.

Here’s the problem: there are in fact 49 continental states. I won’t list them all here, but in short, there are the lower 48…and then there’s lonely, old Alaska, which, as any map of North America will tell you, is on the continent.

The states often referred to as the “lower 48” are more specifically contiguous, which means ‘touching or connected throughout in an unbroken sequence‘, so anyone designating shipping to the continental USA should actually be designating contiguous USA.

Naturally, there’s only one way to solve this miscarriage of grammatical justice: a reverse boycott (sometimes called a carrotmob).  Alaskans (or Alaska-friendlies), anytime you come across a product that advertises delivery to the continental US, use the hashtag #ContinentalAlaska to tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, party-line it, whatever you need to do to get it out there so that our friends to the north can order this product and ask for delivery to their lovely, majestic, continental Alaskan homes. For the sake of grammarians and geographers everywhere, get this out to the public so that we may present a united front to this injustice.

Etymology of ‘Cancer’

For anyone born between June 22 and July 21, the western zodiac can bring up some curious questions. For one, “How did I end up being named after a deadly disease?” and another, “What does cancer have to do with crabs?”

Ask these questions to an English speaker, and they might reply, “It’s all Greek to me.” And they’d be right. Our English word cancer comes from the ancient Greek word karkinos meaning ‘crab’.  The constellation Cancer (resembling a clawed creature) a is a member of the zodiac, a group of constellations which the Sun passes through along the ecliptic.

So if cancer means ‘crab’, then what does a malignant tumor have to do with crabs? Well according to Hypocrites, the Godfather of Medicine, tumors very much resemble crabs. There is debate over which aspect of the crab ancient oncologists ascribed to tumors, but Howard Markel, a historian of medicine, reports that it could have been anything from the ‘hard shell’ of tumors, to the ‘pinching’ pain of tumors, to even the ‘stubbornness’ of the unfortunate malady which reminded these doctors of a crab.

So if you June/July births have ever wondered why you were named after ‘the c word’, don’t fret because cancer was actually named after you!

Research as a Necessary Part of Creation

I’ve been helping a friend of mine with his story about addiction and mental illness. We got into a discussion on how best to represent his characters, and I told him that as long as he was developing his characters with knowledge and respect, then he should be all right.

He questioned whether this was even necessary. He’s just trying to tell a story—create art. Is that really his responsibility?

My argument was yes, absolutely.

When you create art you enter a conversation with your community, and as with any conversation you enter, you have a responsibility to know what the **** you’re talking about—when you open your mouth you’re responsible for what comes out of it.

I’ve discussed before the effects that pop culture can have on society, and these effects do not leave art immune to criticism. Creative people often misinterpret “free speech” as meaning that there can be no consequences to their creative acts, but depending on the potency of the act, the consequences can be exponentially greater.

Etymology of ‘Cummerbund’

It’s prom season, and all over the United States high schoolers are making feeble attempts at formal wear (well, technically semi-formal wear).

For anyone trying on their first tuxedo, you may be wondering “What’s with the girdle? Who am I, Captain Kirk?” Well, that girdle is called a cummerbund, and it’s a staple of proms across the nation (by the way, prom is short for promenade. Classy, huh?).

The modern cummerbund comes from an Indian sash called a kamarband (apparently, Hindustani for “loin band”), and was brought to western menswear via the British military during the Victorian Era. Spellings varied from kamar-band to kummerbund to cummerband over the decades until the current cummerbund finally won out (cumberbun has never been correct).

The pleats in the modern cummerbund are meant to imitate the folds of the original kamarband sash. It’s a common myth that these pleats are used to catch crumbs, but come on. Classic menswear is much cooler than that. Really, they were historically used to hide opera tickets, knives, and fat stacks of cash.

In modern menswear, the cummerbund is used as a waist covering and a way to create a softer transition from the shirt to the trousers. Clean lines are a method of creating formality, so you’ll notice many methods of hiding seems, softening transitions and simplifying the silhouette in formal and semi-formal wear.

And fun fact, the word tuxedo is named after Tuxedo Park in Orange County, New York and refers specifically to the tuxedo jacket (a formal jacket without tails). The use of tuxedo as a synonym for black tie or semi-formal wear is generally considered an Americanism.

Etymology of ‘Pee Like a Racehorse’

The Kentucky Derby is this weekend, and fancy hats, desperate bets, and odd horse names have people off to the races. But if you’ve had to relieve yourself recently, you may have wondered where the phrase I’ve got to pee like a racehorse came from.

Euphemisms for urination are sometimes bizarre and incomprehensible, but this one may be more obvious to anyone who has actually seen a horse pee. If you haven’t, you’ll find that it’s quite the spectacle; large mammals like horses produce quite a lot of fluid. The matter of racehorses in particular is still contended, though.

Some trace the logic back to a diuretic given to racehorses called furosemide. It has been used for many dubious reasons, but one side effect is a ‘flushing of the system’ which would impress anyone.

While this particular case might make the urinary behaviors of racehorses a feat to behold, others insist that it has nothing to do with racehorses specifically and that the addition of race was just a “rhetorical flourish” used to emphasize the urgency of the matter.

It should be noted that in some circles, additional qualifiers are included such as Russian racehorse or Chinese racehorse. These don’t seem to have any significance other than including a classic touch of racial insensitivity. During the Cold War, Russia took the brunt of western ire, and in present times China has fulfilled that role.

The Writer Is an Artist, the Editor Is a Rhetorician

The digital revolution has fostered a homegrown trend that is changing the way artists connect with their fans. Podcasts have allowed amateur broadcasters to bypass creatively-stunted radio, affordable production software has allowed amateur musicians and filmmakers to arrange their work without the need for corporate producers, and every year more and more first-time authors are self-publishing their e-books on Amazon’s Kindle Store with great success.

The DIY artistic movement is proving that artists don’t need corporate middlemen, so why should a creative writer waste time and money on an editor? Well, because the editor’s role is more than just being a greasy pusher hired to do the dirty sales work so that writers can keep their artistic integrity. While some may see editors and publishers as expensive vestiges of an archaic system, writers really should strive to develop symbiotic relationships with their editors rather than antagonistic ones.

Whether it be how the Romantics responded to the increased industrialization of the Enlightenment, or how the Renaissance artists who valued symmetry and the “perfect” ultimately gave rise to the Baroque (French for ‘imperfect pearl’), all artists respond to outside stimuli and communicate to audiences. And this makes art rhetorical.

Editors bring value to creative works by providing a rhetorical framework for the creative process. Artists pour themselves into a work and seek to create something real and human. But this sometimes fosters too personal of a relationship with the work. These kinds of artists will often reject criticism and critique, hoping to stop others from “corrupting” their work, but this is the wrong way to think about creativity. It’s not about the artist, it’s about the audience.

Maxwell Perkins, probably the most famous literary editor, is known for the close relationships he nurtured with his writers—among them Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Wolfe. Perkins became the model for successful editing because he ensured that his writers’ visions were conveyed clearly, but also stayed in tune with how readers read (rather than how books sell). In a letter to writer and artist Joseph Pennell, Perkins once said, “The trouble with reviewers, and with editors, is so simple that nobody gets it. They ought to just take a book and give themselves to it, and read it like a regular citizen.”

A good artist can see the world differently than everyone else, but it’s the artist’s job to also help audiences see what they see. In this way of thinking, the written work is a lens worn by the audience. Natural light—that initial stimulus that inspired the writer—passes through the lens and is altered by the writer’s perspective. The editor, whose main concern is audience, is like an optometrist who calibrates the lens and prescribes it for the appropriate audience. While writers may write for themselves, the editor is the one who can take a step back and coordinate the entire situation.

Some may say that editors and publishers only serve a purpose for those with capitalistic pursuits, but the back and forth that writers have with their editor helps ensure that the writer’s message is being conveyed clearly and effectively. Essentially, editors make for better art.