We are in a bit of a jam re: preserving languages

“It’s hard to use a word like preserve with a language… It’s not like putting jelly in a jar. A language is used. Language is consciousness. Everybody wants to speak English, but those lullabies that allow you to go to sleep at night and dream — that’s what we’re talking about.”

Robert Holman, who teaches at Columbia and New York Universities and is working with Professor Kaufman on the Endangered Language Alliance.

From Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages, nytimes.com.


Languages are lovely. As is jelly.

…But only if we’re actually talking about jam. Antipodean jelly (American jello) is not so nice. Skins and bones and all that. Although, the word jelly is still very nice…

The multifarious meanings of ‘Momental’


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

Momental

momental

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?”

“Piffle.”

“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.

DEFINITELY RELATED POSTS:

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 language of deep space

I love beautiful, sciencey, spacey things. Mainly because I’m an absolute nerd, born and bred. And because supernovae and nebulae are pretty to look at and nice to write (they have dipthongs, which I like). And because I’m easily impressed by anything that is truly unfathomable.

But also, just quietly, it’s because I love the oddball, highly-specialised vocabulary. Obviously, these words were created by a boffin (or boffins*), with a brilliantly nerdy sense of humour, and the knowledge that the only chance of said neologisms making it into general usage rests entirely on a healthy dose of absurdity.

  • Airy Disk: “the brightest spot formed by a star image as seen through a telescope”.
  • Cygnus Rift: Cygnus, as in swan. Also known by the even sillier name ‘The Northern Coalsack’.
  • Hoag’s Object: because calling it ‘Hoag’s Thing’ would have been too vague?
  • I Zwicky 18: a galactic “hot, young star”.
  • Oort Cloud: a spherical cloud of comets which may or may not exist somewhere between our Sol and Proxima Centauri.



And then we come to the acronyms of astronomy, which are all painfully forced:

  • FORS: FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph
  • HiRISE: High Resolution Imaging Science Equipment
  • ALEXIS: Array of Low Energy X-ray Imaging Sensors
  • ARTEMIS: Advanced Relay TEchnology MISsion
  • GLIMPSE: the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-plane Survey Extraordinaire (no, seriously)



And, of course, the implements that were named at the end of a long day, when all the boffins were exhausted from brainstorming silly names, and just wanted to go home and play dorky 1980s computer games. “I give up!” they said. “Let’s just go with the bleedingly obvious!”

  • Big Dumb Booster: a space travel launch booster whatsit
  • VLT:  the Very Large Telescope (not to be confused with VLOT: the Very Large Optical Telescope)
  • ELT: the Extremely Large Telescope, of which there are ten, including…



And a couple forced acronym/I’m bored hybrids, which are really quite smart:

  • OSCAR: Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio
  • SOFIA: Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
  • SPOT: Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre (even cooler because it works in both languages)



It’s a whole new lexicographical universe out there. Quirky, obscure, generally unusable, but nonetheless open to intrepid exploration.


{ Hubblesite.org }

* And I quote Wikipedia, on the subject of Boffins:

The word [boffin] conjures up an image of men in thick spectacles and white lab coats, obsessively working with complicated apparatus. Portrayals of boffins emphasize both their eccentric genius and their naive ineptitude in social interaction. They are, in that respect, closer to the “absent-minded professor” stereotype than to the classic mad scientist.

Sadly, I can’t decide on a truly apt collective noun for said boffins. ‘Team‘ seems to be a common choice, but it’s not particularly expressive. I rather think “bevy of boffins” sounds appropriately insular/awkward.



PS. I love the Boston.com Big Picture at any time of the year, but their Hubble Advent Calendar is like all my nerdy Christmases come at once.