Monday, July 29, 2013

Wheather* (for Whether* or Weather*)

I was once lucky enough to get a word in a spelling bee that I had actually just seen on a study list, and therefore was able to get right. The word was bellwether, a rather nice-sounding word, in fact, that means "any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings." (In this case, the word bellwether was wonderfully behaving as an example of its own meaning, and if there's a word for that, I'd love to know what it is.) According to Wikipedia, it derives from the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (or wether) leading his flock of sheep: "The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight." Whether it's sheep that you're raising or wheat bread that's rising, it always helps to plan ahead. We encountered a little weather around today's typo, which was detected twice in OhioLINK, and 286 times in WorldCat.

(The Wheat Sifters, by Gustave Courbet, 1855, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, July 22, 2013

Appox* (for Approx*)

Today is a good day for cutting things off. Whereas March 14 is the official "Pi Day" (314 being the first three digits in the never-ending number known as pi), it appears that July 22 is "Pi Approximation Day," since the fraction 22/7 is commonly considered close enough. You might dream of owning two homes, but one with pi as the street address would be a real nightmare ... a pox, so to say, on both your houses! And speaking of houses, here's a little circumference joke for you, which brought down the house recently when my nephew told it to us. It's from a book containing egregiously absurd examples of metaphor and analogy in high school essays and it goes like this: "Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper." You could clip approximately 100 feet off of pi and still have a long way to go. There were four cases of today's typo discovered in OhioLINK, and 291 in WorldCat.

("Thousand digits of pi," red numerals on a graduated grey background, 19 March 2012, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, July 15, 2013

Illnois* (for Illinois*)

A scandal at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois has resulted in the ouster of its director after it was revealed that over 9,000 nonfiction books had been weeded from the collection in less than a week's time. Two hundred and fifty-nine boxes of books were later retrieved from the retailer where they had been sent after a protest was lodged by the library's board and patrons, although it wasn't clear exactly how many items that included. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, but lemme do the math for ya. That's one book identified, rejected, pulled from the shelf, and boxed up approximately once every ten seconds. It's hard to imagine how that many titles could even be blindly crossed off a list, or randomly selected for deletion, in such a short amount of time, much less by using "normal professional judgment," something the discarded library director later suggested her pressured staff should have been employing. Maybe someone should suspend normal profession judgment and create a GIF of a wild-eyed librarian frantically defenestrating books, over a banner reading: "9,600 books thrown out of the UFL in just 4 days!" Shades of SNL's Linda Richman, one Urbana resident observed that the library's strategic plan was "neither strategic nor planned." This particular weeding crisis ended relatively happily, but not all of them do. For a true cautionary tale, I recommend checking out "The Author vs. the Library" by Nicholson Baker, which is about the building of the San Francisco New Main Library, and was published in the New Yorker on October 14, 1996. To illustrate the thorny issue of "weeding," I chose the one pictured here out of a great many featured, free for the picking, on Wikimedia Commons, for several reasons: firstly, because it's one of the most commonly known weeds in the world; secondly, because its Latin name (Taraxacum officinale) sounds like a mash-up of Taxpayers and Officials, both of which effectively came together to respond to this back-door book-booting brouhaha; and thirdly, because the word dandelion always puts me in mind of Patience and Fortitude, the two big dapper cats guarding the New York Public Library, which houses a very large collection of books and certainly isn't above a few scandals of its own. We found 20 examples of Illnois* in OhioLINK today, and 307 in WorldCat.

(Smetánka lékařská - zralá semena, by Jakub Kolář, 11.5.2008, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dicuss* (for Discuss*)

In the erstwhile SNL sketch "Coffee Talk with Linda Richman," comedian Mike Myers was satirizing his own real-life mother-in-law. According to Wikipedia: "Whenever Richman would get upset, she would put her hand on her chest and say 'I'm all verklempt.' Then she would say, 'Talk amongst yourselves,' sometimes waving her hand in a dismissive gesture toward the audience." She would helpfully add, "I'll give you a topic," which would follow the format: "[Two- or three-part phrase] is neither [first part], nor [second part], nor [third part]). Discuss." Barbra Streisand, whom Myers had often called the greatest actress of all time ("like buttah"), re-spoofed this spoof at a 1993 New Year's Eve concert by stating: "The Prince of Tides is neither about a prince nor tides—discuss." Another famous quotation on discussion (although definitive authorship is lacking) goes like this: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." The saying is generally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but frankly, it's hard to imagine such a passionate, outspoken, compassionate, and outgoing person entirely eschewing the topic of others. Besides, in another epigrammatic piece of advice, she says, "Think as much as possible about other people." Perhaps ER's unfaithful spouse, as well as her own same-sex leanings, had led the First Lady to develop an outsize loathing (or well-founded apprehension) of "gossip." Browsing the web for a bit more discussion of this, I found a lot to both agree and disagree with. But I also found myself nodding at certain lines like these: "I've always thought of it as pretentious navel-gazing, personally. It's the sort of thing that only the kind of people who fancy themselves in the first category would say ... Most of the people I've met who claim to have something along the lines of a 'great mind' are slightly above average at best. The ones I know who truly do have incredibly powerful minds, though, don't bother with insulting other people's intellect with sideways comments like this ... I know plenty of people who will discuss all of their big ideas with you and will also likely never leave their mom's basement ... I'm surrounded by people I find endlessly fascinating and brilliant and the only thing they all have in common is that they'd all scoff at this statement..." And last but not least: "I like another Roosevelt quote on the subject: 'If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me'― Alice Roosevelt Longworth." To my mind, it's obvious that people, ideas, and events are inextricably linked and far from mutually exclusive, but I suppose if I really had to choose, I too might pick people. A 2012 essay in the Paris Review makes a very good case for gossip, the word for which supposedly derives from either "god-sibling" or "go sip," which are both rather lovely, people-centric theories. I'm not exactly sure what or whom I'm discussing when I say there were 73 cases of today's typo in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. But instead of cussing the causes of our deteriorating databases, come sit next to me and we'll all get "catty" with it!

(Portrait of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's eldest daughter, uploaded 19 February 2006, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, July 1, 2013

Patteren* (for Pattern*)

This fantastically prehistoric-looking cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower caught my wandering eye in the produce section the other day. It sort of resembles the succulents you plant in a rock garden and it goes by the enticing Italian name of Romanesco. I haven't tried it yet, but Wikipedia says that "when compared to a traditional cauliflower ... its texture is far more crunchy, and its flavour is not as assertive, being delicate and nutty." According to Gardening Know How, Romanesco's "neon green color is unearthly" and at first it "appears to be from Mars." But the most fascinating detail here may be the fact that "its form is a natural approximation of a fractal" and the number of spirals on its head a Fibonacci number. What that actually means is hard for a non-science geek like me to explain, but I do know it has something to do with naturally occurring patterns in the world, prompting some people to cite it as proof of "intelligent design." This gorgeously green vegetable shares that feature with a pineapple, an artichoke, a fern, and a pine cone. (Almost like the set-up to a joke: A priest, a rabbi, a pineapple, and a pine cone walk into a fern bar, wondering about the meaning of life...) Speaking of number patterns, there were three cases of today's typo found in OhioLINK, and 141 in WorldCat.

(Photo of "brocciflower, posted 23 October 2006, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid