The multifarious meanings of ‘Momental’

Today’s email inbox Oxford English Dictionary Word Of The Day is…



As far as ‘knowing thyself’ goes, momental is a fickle creature, caught seven ways between obscurity, rarity, statistics, maths, and philosophy. Behold:

1. Lasting only a moment; momentary.

2. Of or relating to momentum.

3. Of or relating to moments of time.

4. Of or relating to a moment or element, especially of a conceptual entity.

5. Of or relating to a moment of inertia. [see #2, smirk at the complete contradiction]

6. Of or relating to the moments of a random variable.

7. Momentous; of value or importance.

Now I know it’s been a while between OED Word Of The Day musings, but momental is so unexpectedly interesting that I couldn’t help but share. For though it is an unassuming word, its multifarious (and muddled) definitions give it that je ne sais quois that some like to call randominity.

Randominity is a specialised neologism, not entirely unlike The Dirk Gently Navigation Method:

“My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it is going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be. So what do you say to that?”


“A robust response. I salute you.”

{ Yes cheers, [Saint] Douglas Adams ( The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul) }

Now, momental clearly doesn’t know what it wants to mean. But all its various definitions are so nice in their own way that it hardly matters which one you intended to express in the first place (Ephemeral? Moving? Inert? Random?). Odds are you’ll be saying something of value or importance. Momental even.


Ampersand another thing…

I was asked last night how often I update my blog. I couldn’t think of a word that meant “seldom, but only while I’m stupidly busy: when I’m less busy… more often”. In retrospect, maybe “erratically” would have been a good response. & so, to atone for  my neglect, in the words of Blue Peter, here’s one I made earlier

I really think that the ampersand is underused, underrated, undervalued, underappreciated, &, well, underloved.

{Bark chip ampersand, by Sarah France, via the blog The Ampersand, via Behance, via FFFFOUND! }

Once upon a time, & was deemed such a natural part of the alphabet than when children recited their ABCs, they concluded with “et per se and“. As in, ‘X, Y, Z… and, for that matter “and”, because it too is a letter’. After time, this was garbled into “ampersand”, in much the way that L, M, N, O, P becomes elemenopee in the mouth of a 5-year-old. Now I know all this to be true not only because of the eternal font of unvalidated wisdom that is Wikipedia, but also because I was told the same story by the other most authoritative of unauthoritative sources, My Father, years before the internet was around to sully our ‘Did You Knows’ with false folklore.

& so… here are some ampersands… &c.

MUST HAVE! A deluxe carrying case for an ampersand! { more adorableness by Marc Johns }

Ampersand cushion at loremandipsum‘s etsy store (sold out, but they still have CHOUETTE ampersand tees for sale!) { via FFFFOUND! }

Handmade clay ampersand by Lestaret { via NOTCOT }

Ampersand cookies (“They exist.”) { via The Ampersand again }

Veer did have these rockin’ ampersand cufflinks, once upon a time. Blogger’s remorse: I should have posted these when I first saw them on NOTCOT (a long time ago), but instead filed it away under “For When There Is More To Say On The Topic Of Ampersands”. So now (and for a long time) the Veer merch shop has ceased to exist, and  by necessary deduction, also ceased  to have the cufflinks. It’s probably for the best. I was always tempted to the verge of covetousness by unshippable Veer merchandise. [ EDIT: Veer store most certainly does exist at the above link. Ampersand cufflinks for all! (er, if you live in North America) ]

& on that note, it’s back to work.

The Recency Illusion: Etiolated

You know when you see something for the very first time, and then all of a sudden it seems to pop up everywhere? And I don’t mean the sudden, urgent spawning of Christmas trees around the middle of November (Look! Up goes another one!), that by early December is like a rampant, spiky, green plague on all our cities.

I’m talking about words (of course!). Words, and The Recency Illusion*. Also known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, but The Recency Illusion sounds less… paranoid? Infectious? Better.

Example: The Interrobang. Until one recent Tuesday, I’d never heard of it. Or I had, but never thought much of it. Now, of course, I can’t understand how I can have made it thus far without such an expressive little punctuation mark. Now, I encounter the interrobang with startling frequency. I see occasion to use it on a day-to-day basis. Eg: “Are you sure?! (Interrobang)”. Not that there are more interrobangs around these days, it’s just that my eyes are now open to them.

Anyway, my latest encounter with The Recency Illusion (everything sounds Grander in Capitals) was caused by the word ‘etiolated‘. Intentionally deprived of sunlight. Blanched, feeble and weakened. Here I would add my own descriptors: limpid, pallid, ghostly, wraithlike. I first came across ‘etiolated’ a couple of months ago in HG Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) where it was used to vividly describe our distant descendants, the Eloi: inept, apathetic, four-foot-high and, most notably, etiolated. And then this week it popped up again in the latest National Geographic (December 2008, ‘Visions of Mars’) where John Updike described the Martians of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950) as ‘etiolated’ (though at the same time ‘brown-skinned’, a contradiction that confuses me).

‘Etiolated’ perfectly describes white asparagus,

{ image via Vegbox }

the Red Queen’s white roses in Alice in Wonderland,

{ From the 1951 Disney film.
Image via CathiefromCanada }
[John Tenniel’s illustrations are of course infinitely better,
but, alas, not in colour]

… and students emerging from that final law exam just before the summer holidays…

Again, I can’t understand how I can have got so far in life without ‘etiolated’ in my lexicographical carpet bag. The thing is, ‘etiolated’ has no doubt crossed my path hundreds of times before — but it took a midnight, moonlit reading of HG Wells to initiate… The Recency Illusion.

* I read about The Recency Illusion under this particular moniker in New Scientist magazine, but no can link: subscription only. Wiki-P will have to do.