New Year, New Words

The new year is upon us, and a new year calls for new words. Well, new to me, and new for now. Though I expect the recency illusion will do its magic soon enough.

1: Banjaxed

Official definition:

Wiki definition: Broken, ruined, shattered. Tired, sleepy, and cream crackered (which, it turns out, is Cockney rhyming slang for ‘knackered’. Thank you, Wiktionary).

My definition: Scattered, spent, shagged out after a long squawk.

First encountered: When used by a jetlagged and tweeting Stephen Fry: “I’m wandering about in a spaced-out daze, still banjaxed by the loss of Monday”. I’m going to borrow that, soon, and in the same context. I have a feeling that banjaxed is the perfect way to describe the state of one’s mind, having flown to the other side of the planet, arriving several hours before the departure time.

Liked because: As a word it is apt, yet somewhat goofy. Banjaxed. It rings with the stereotypical 1930s era from whence it came (streetcars, zoot suits and speakeasy slang).

2:  Tephra

Official definition:

Wiki definition: Solid material thrown into the air by volcanic eruption. An uncountable noun — like fish, sheep, etcetera (not fishes, sheeps, etceteras).

My definition: Not the liquid hot magma bit. More than just the ash, and not just the rock. Rather, all the rock and ash and pumice and dust and silt and ‘stuff’. Tephra is all the dangerous, damaging bits. Just ask Pompeii.

First encountered: In National Geographic Magazine, ‘Reuniting a River’, published December 2008, regarding the eruption of Mount Mazama, in Oregon, USA, 7700 years ago.

Liked because: Phoenetically, tephra is an airy word, with the swish of smoother-than-smooth teflon. But it is also homonymously affected by the potential gore of  ‘nephrology’ (regarding the kidney); the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti; and Nephrite Jade (used by the ancients as jewellerey, and by the Maoris for making fierce weapons). Tephra therefore sounds light and whimsical, exotic and dangerous all at the same time. It is strange, and therefore interesting.

3. Apricity

Official definition:

Wiki definition: The warmth of the sun in winter.

My definition: If a word hasn’t been altered in any momentous manner since 1623, it must be because the definition was perfect from the beginning, and remains so. I’ll stick with “the warmness of the sun in winter”.

First encountered: Reading Reading The OED, by Ammon Shea. A book that I instantly lusted after, and instantly needed to buy. How could I resist this blurb?:

“I’m reading the OED so you don’t have to. If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on…”

So far, however, I have only found time to read as far as ‘A’. But it is at the top of my books-to-go list when I leave for the US/Canada on the 8th of January. I couldn’t possibly fit the entire Oxford English Dictionary in my carry-on luggage (20 volumes, weighing a total of 62.6 kilos might overburden the overhead compartment), but one tiny hardcover couldn’t hurt.

Liked because: Apricity sounds like ‘apricots’, and apricots provide the downy, blushing, coral-coloured tint to all my childhood summers. Also, while I confess to sclathing* under Sydney’s searing summer sol, the glowing warmth of a winter sun is infinitely rarer, and therefore far more appreciated. When it is -25°C in Banff, and the inside of my ski boots is icier than a fine martini, I will yearn for the tingle of some mid-winter apricity (with a snowstorm chaser, please).

* Can you BELIEVE that the word ‘sclathe’ turns up only 81 google hits, none of which contain the actual definition‽ ‘Define: Sclathe’ = zilch! Something must be done!

A very OED Christmas, with beautiful books

Yesterday’s yuletide OED Word of the Day was ‘manger‘. Today, for the ‘Feast of Stephen‘ (of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ fame), the WOTD was ‘left-over‘, proving once and for all that the fine people/bots at the OED also have a fine sense of humour.

Speaking of Christmas indulgence, I’ve been book-lusting after these for some time now:

Penguin Classics, Waterstone’s Hardback Set. Clothbound cover design by Coralie Bickford-Smith. Full Flickr gallery here.

Thanks for bringing them down my chimney, St. Nick (and never mind that I live in a mid-storey apartment, about as sans chimney as they come).

Namaste and festive felicitations to all!

PS. Here’s a fabulous Penguin blog interview with Coralie Bickford-Smith, the designer of said gorgeous book covers. The Q & A is a battle of Helvetica vs Futura, and Bickford-Smith answers in graphics as well as text. Online media publishing at its best.

A time and a place for typographical excess

Isn’t this splendid?

{ Maxwell Lord via FFFFOUND! }

Obviously not so wonderful for writing shopping lists, essays, labels, book covers, or anything else that requires swift, precise interpretation. But perfectly wonderful to look at for a long time, pondering what it all means. It says Narani* by the way. This I deduced after much squinting and head-tilting, during which time I almost expected to find the word ‘Narnia, on account of all that mediæval splendour and olde worlde regal excess. Come to think of it, such ornate decadence is quite fitting for the festive season: an feast for typophiles whose stomachs are full of turducken (ew!), but whose tastebuds have been abused by so many Comic Sans felicitations.

I also like the close-up line-up of black and white pens, and the way the warm light turns the brown paper a festive golden hue. But perhaps that’s just me.

* Narani is a Hindu name (probably that of the artist for whom this was created) and also a place in Kashmir.

Helmer (n.)?

In my mind, ‘helm‘ is a noun: most basically, the steering wheel of a ship. Hence, to take the helm. The person who does so is “at the helm”, and is called a helmsman (or helmsperson, blah blah blah). This applies literally, when talking about ships (avast!), and also idiomatically, with regard to controlling the direction of something tangible (like a car) or abstract (like a strategy).

But then I saw this:

Apparently the person at the helm is not a helmsman/person, but a helmer. A HELMER? Helmer: Noun. No, really? Considering that this was the Greater Union cinema timetable, I was willing to accept it as a grammatical anomaly unless a reliable second opinion could prove otherwise, so I turned to the most reliable second opinion in existence: the OED. And I was shocked:

Apparently, helmer IS a noun, and a specific one at that: a person who directs a film (etc). But note also, that it is only colloquial, and only in the United States, and the first recorded appearance was only 1974 (to me, half a century at the very least is a good indicator of a well-entrenched word) AND it’s still only a draft entry.

So I say ‘helmer’ is a dumb, made-up, superfluous word. Who says ‘helmer’ anyway? No-one. Because there is no need to.

A movie director is a movie director:

{ Tim Burton via OvationTV }

And a person at the helm can just be called a helmsman/person… er, or a Captain…

{ Captain Jack Sparrow via imdb }

‘Nuff said*, at least on my part.

NB. No honestly, I was inspired by the terribly worded movie timetable. The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp joint appearance came later, and as a complete fluke, which I can attribute partly to coincidence, and partly to a penchant for my favourite director and his favourite leading man.

* Not surprisingly, the phrase ’nuff said’ originated not with Stan Lee, nor with Frank ‘Nuff Said’ Catton in Ocean’s Thirteen, but on the stage of a 19th-century theatre. See true/interesting etymology about halfway down this article.


I have just finished baking stars:

(Coffee shortbread with coffee/white chocolate ganache icing)

While baking, I listened to Stars:

And as they were cooling, I read a big book about stars:

{ Universe: Stunning satellite imagery from outer space by Heather Couper }

Most of the year, I generally don’t cook anything. I actually had to read the book on how to use my ‘new’ 6-month-old oven. Only the mania of Christmas has the power to send me into a frenzy of biscuit-baking. I am even quite happy to stand around colour-coding cachous. Madness!

What’s black and white and green all over?

It’s no Helvetica, but I think I sort of like…[drumroll, please]…

, the Dutch typeface with little holes in it (just like Dutch cheese), so that it uses 20% less ink at the printer.  But by creator SPRANQ‘s own admission, “this obviously is not very nice” to look at when large, or on the screen. The point is, you’re supposed to use small font size, and print it out, with printer bleed filling in the voids to give the impression of an almost block dark grey colour.

Firstly, I think it’s quite nice to look at. Really pretty, actually. It looks like the font from Cabaret, n’est-ce pas?

{ image via sharebus }

Only more practical for writing essays, emails, evil missives, etc. And besides, as treehugger has kindly pointed out, when used according to the official instruction (ie: printed, and small) ecofont looks pretty crummy on paper:

Secondly, if you really love the planet, you shouldn’t be printing things onto paper anyway. Which means you should only be reading from the screen (yes, I know: yucky), and if you’re only reading from the screen, then uniform black is actually more eco-friendly than white. Remember Blackle?

But it is free to download. Gratis. Yours for nothing.  Take a hint, Veer.

Reading: books (and into this image)

{ via Inspire me, now!, via Dark Roasted Blend (original unknown) }

Have the words fallen, or are they still in the process of coalescing on the page?

This could be the carelessly-written tale: the story that falls apart in your lap*, completely devoid of structure and theme. Maybe it’s a truly irritating story, and the little imps are in fact beginning to swarm at the reader, like a plague of literary ants. Or maybe this is what happens if you dawdle when reading: the words get bored with your dilly-dallying, and go off in search of a more captive audience. Maybe the tale itself is so dull that the words have given up trying to sound interesting, and are heading off for tea and/or a new place to hang out (preferably a fresh grid-lined Moleskine, or maybe one of these pretty hand-printed ones by shoofly).
Contrariwise, maybe those little letters are coming to life and jumping off the page, so animated is the tale they tell.

This could be one of those exciting, unpredictable stories, where the next sentence only comes into being a split-second before you read it, until which time the words just sort of mull about at the bottom of the page, waiting to form the next line. It might also be a sly strategy to stop the overly-keen flipping to the back page to find out the ending: if the words aren’t there yet, what’s the point? Have patience, young grasshopper!

* Have you ever tried to read a cheap, glue-bound paperback while lying on your back under a summer sun, using the flimsy pages as a face-sized sunshade? The result is truly Yeatsian: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. Pages everywhere. Glue/wax doesn’t hold up under solar heating. Just ask Icarus.