Etymology, mapped.

Just take a look at this and tell me it isn’t as wonderful as it is amusing.pineapple

And thanks to Reddit user Bezbojnicul, via The Guardian, there’s more where that came from.

I was actually looking for something completely different — an old bookmark to 100 Famous Movie Quotes, Visualised — when I found this map, but some fatefully circuitous navigation that would make Dirk Gently proud led me to the treasure trove that is Flowing Data. If you love high-brow infographics, follow my lead.

Oh, and that movie quote thing? Totally worth the search:

afi-movie-quotes-v2-1800

Highlights include King Kong and A League of Their Own. (You’ll get a better view over at the original FlowingData post.)

To learn and love a language.

My vocabulary is beginning to improve. I treasure each acquisition, remembering the exact circumstances—time, place, company—under which it was made. English is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of French I’ve banked… 

Schnapsidee—the way a German would describe a plan he’d hatched under the influence of alcohol. Pilkunnussija—Finnish for “comma fucker,” a grammar pedant. In Mundari, ribuy-tibuy refers to the sight, sound, and motion of a fat person’s buttocks. Jayus, in Indonesian, denotes a joke told so poorly that people can’t help but laugh. Knullrufs is Swedish for “post-sex hair.” Gümüş servi means “moonlight shining on the water” in Turkish. Culaccino is the Italian word for the mark left on a table by a cold glass. 

Words like these are marvellous. We make lists of them, compile them into treasuries, trade them over any dinner table at which holders of various passports have convened. (The German, armed with Kummerspeck—“grief bacon”—will always win the day.) They’re fun to say. They’re funny to think about, in their Seinfeldian particularity. They expand and concentrate the world, making it bigger-spirited while at the same time more specific. In Russian, you can’t call the sky “blue.” The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.

— from Lauren Collins, Love In Translation. Go and read the whole thing; it’s very much worth the investment.

Frozen in time?

Two ideas:

1. While London was undergoing arguably the period of greatest growth and change in its history, the London perpetuated in literature barely changed:

Even as physical London expanded madly, fictional London stayed small, contained within the historic city center and the wealthy West End… The rest of London—where most of the growth was actually taking place—never really mattered. In the course of the nineteenth century, real London radically changed—and fictional London hardly at all.

Sarah Laskow for Atlas Obscura

2. We all have some concept of London as a snowy winter wonderland because Charles Dickens grew up in an Ice Age:

There happened to be snow every Christmas of the first eight years of Charles Dickens’ life, which probably explains why white Christmases are a consistent feature of his stories. His snowy childhood has its origins in the colder climate of the period 1550-1850 when Britain was in the grip of a ‘Little Ice Age’. Winters were particularly persistent and severe – 1813-14 was the last winter that a ‘frost fair’ was held on the frozen River Thames in London. Before the change of calendar in 1752, which effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days, snow was even more likely as Christmas comes at the beginning of the season for snow. Wintry weather is more likely in January.

QI

And two observations:

  1. If writers only write what they’re familiar with, and readers only read what they’re comfortable with, the blinkers stay on.
  2. The stories we read (or see or hear) don’t always tell the whole story. Nobody’s life is as beautiful as their Instagram account, and it’s probably unwise to get all your news from Twitter. (Man, I swear I was writing cautionary Media Law essays about this a decade ago, and yet here we are.)

Anyway, to my main point: Read something you wouldn’t usually read today. It doesn’t have to be long, although more than 140 characters is a good idea.

  • Don’t much go for finance? Pick a story on Bloomberg.
  • A sucker for political analysis? Get some poetry in you.
  • Head-in-the-clouds fiction lover? Take a moment for something sober.
  • Filling your days with serious work and serious learning and serious thoughts? Take a break for something silly.
  • Don’t really read anything much (except this blog, it seems)? Read anything!

 

Don’t be like 1800s literary London. Expand your horizons. Realise there are perspectives other than your own. Open your mind and pop something new in there. Knowledge is a known antidote for fear of the unknown.

 

PS. I wasn’t expecting to get from Dickens to Instagram, but in 2017 that’s somehow not so surprising.

It’s been a while…

I’ve been remiss. I’m nestled Smaug-like on a mountain of internet gems, but like so many bedside reading lists, it just sits there getting taller while I get distracted by work and blizzards and month-long holidays* and the whole country slipping into a nightmare parallel universe where it seems no-one has read Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Although at least two of these things do warrant significant attention, I’ve realised it’s also important to feed one’s brain with nourishing information and analysis not related to the coming apocalypse — at least every now and then.

So I’m going to focus on my forté — reading things about words then sharing those things with anyone who will listen — while keeping it mostly non-political (which is not the same as apolitical).

…Okay except for maybe this one thing.

A new Facebook event called “Bury the White House in Books on Valentine’s Day!” is urging opponents to send the president mountains of his least favorite form of entertainment.

 

*Go to Palm Springs in winter; you won’t regret it.

Space mission patches are the best.

Valentina Tereshkova patch

The history of Soviet mission patches begins with one of space travel’s most significant achievements. In 1963, Valentina Teresknova made history as the first woman in space. Her call sign was Chayka—Seagull—and under it, she completed 48 orbits of Earth. As she did so, hidden from view, sewn onto the thermal garment under her orange space suit, was the first mission emblem. It depicted a dove of peace flying in the sun’s rays, and underneath, in blocky red text, the letters CCCP. Teresknova called it a seagull, after her call sign.

Atlas Obscura

A few months ago I met an astronaut at the Intrepid Museum. He was extremely extremely cool — patient, friendly, relaxed in front of a crowd, excited about his work and the bigger picture of doing science in space. And he had the coolest collection of patches (including one for 100 days in space).

They’re a bit like grown-up Boy Scouts/Girl Guides patches — or a more child-like, illustrated version of standard military ribbons/medals. Either way, I’ve always found the visual symbolism — narrative, yet independent of spoken or written language — fascinating and delightful.

Apollo 11 Patch

In other words, I really want this book.

Typeset in the Future

AKA My New Favourite Place On The Internet

There’s not much I can say about Typeset in the Future except that as soon as I found it I knew, completely and absolutely, that it was the most relevant-to-my-niche-interests place on the internet. It was like… mmmmagic.

There is even a Venn diagram to describe the target audience, and we know how much I love Venn diagrams*.

overlap

That overlap is my niche. It’s escapist and utopian, and the kerning is always perfect.

To illustrate, an excerpt from the end of the 2001: A Space Odyssey analysis:

This final part of the film is visually eclectic, aurally stunning and philosophically challenging. Many thousands of words have been penned over the decades to try and fathom the meaning of the monolith, and the genesis and future of the space-baby. However, none of this act contains typography, and it is therefore of no concern to us. Let’s skip to the end credits.

2001_directed

It’s Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don’t recognize from anywhere. Goodnight!

*Remind me to update those images some time. Yeesh.

Aviation English and the “high romance of flight”.

Flying highThe language of the skies is a special one, and commercial air travel is my favourite thing on (above?) earth. Have you ever listened in on the in-seat cockpit-to-air-traffic-control radio channel? Try it some time. But also read this lovely piece about the parlance of pilots.

“I like how different the language of the sky is from everyday English – indeed, we might give it its own name, Aeroese (though it’s also sometimes, and less aspirationally, called Aviation English). Above all, I love how Aeroese can somehow manage, in its technical, obscuring precision, to capture the high romance of flight – an aspect of my job, no matter how much I love it, that in the cockpit we rarely have reason to consider directly.

…Imagine a plane that flies from London to Bangkok. The pilots speak first to British air-traffic controllers but, just a few minutes after takeoff, the British controllers hand them over to Belgian or Dutch ones, who soon pass them to German controllers, and then to Czech, to Hungarian, to Romanian, to Turkish, to Iranian ones, and so on. It’s hard to imagine a system more in need of a common language. And that language is English (or English-derived Aeroese). When a Venezuelan pilot speaks to a New York air-traffic controller, or when a pilot from Brooklyn speaks to a controller in Caracas, they speak in English. It’s something to marvel at, the first time you fly to Tokyo, say, and you hear an exchange between a Japanese pilot and a Japanese air-traffic controller, both speaking carefully in Japanese-accented English. It’s standardisation and globalisation by force of bare necessity, by force of speed.

Though Aeroese has predominantly English roots, a handful of common meteorological abbreviations have French origins (as do the words fuselage and aileron, of course). BR is Mist (brouillard) GR is Hail (grêle); HN is Sunset to Sunrise (horaire de nuit). MI is Shallow (a usage derived from mince) and BC is Patches (from bancs).

In a heavens-transiting industry, angels are ‘an echo caused by physical phenomena not discernible to the eye… sometimes attributed to insects or birds flying in the radar beam’… Dry snow ‘can be blown if loose, or, if compacted by hand, will fall apart on release’, while Wet snow, ‘if compacted by hand, will stick together and tend to form a snowball; specific gravity: 0.35 up to but not including 0.5’.”

— Mark Vanhoenacker, The Parlance of Pilots

Other highlights:

  • On approaching touchdown, a disembodied voice tells pilots to “DECIDE” whether to proceed or back out.
  • “Speedbird” is cockpit shorthand for a British Airways flight. The maintenance office is “Speedbird Library”.
  • There are set pronunciation rules, especially for numbers, to avoid confusion.
  • Waypoints are identified by five-letter abbreviations, some very wry. “Many waypoint names are gibberish, but others are more colourful – DRAKE in the English Channel (for Sir Francis); BARBQ near Kansas City; WHALE in the Mediterranean, off Benghazi. When descending to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, fans of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons will enjoy this sequence: ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT (followed by IDEED).”
  • The on-board satellite phone is actually called the Batphone.
  • The pilot-to-pilot ‘chat’ frequency is 123.45Hz.