What's in a Word?
Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel
By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Even I, an unrepentant perpetrator of atrocious puns, groaned at Frank & Earnest today. My first thought was, “What a bad pun.” OK, OK, my second thought was, “Why didn’t I think of it?”
A pun is a play on words. According to Webster’s, it happens through “the use of a word, or of words which are formed or sounded alike, in such a way as to juxtapose, connect, or bring out two or more of the possible applications of the word or words, usually in a humorous way.”
The cartoonists rely on our culture’s common knowledge of A.A. Milne’s much-loved literary character, Winnie-the-Pooh, to make this pun work.
“Deja Pooh” plays on the French expression “déjà vu,” which means “already seen or viewed.” It describes the rather strange feeling we have when we think we have already had the experience we are currently undergoing.
Trying to understand why déjà vu happens, scientists have come up with a few theories. A prominent one, according to Wikipedia, is that the neurological systems in brains that contribute to our short-term memories and those neurological systems that contribute to our long-term memories sometimes overlap. In other words, once in a while sensory impressions may go into our long-term memories just slightly before they register in the conscious part of our brains.
In researching déjà vu in Wikipedia, I came across a related French expression that I find comforting. It is “presque vu,” meaning “almost seen.” It describes the sensation of having information on “the tip of our tongues.” This happens to me frequently. Some people call this experience a senior moment, but the French version sounds much more impressive. “Oh, excuse me,” I can now say. “I’m having a touch of presque vu.”
The concept of presque vu is a great help for a retired teacher such as I. After getting to know a slew of students during my years with District 51, I often fail to remember everyone’s name. This causes great consternation when I run into folks in places such as the grocery store. For reasons both good and bad, they always seem to remember me.
I often take evasive action and dodge into an adjoining aisle when I spot someone I should know. Then I have a few precious moments to dredge up the name from my memory's murky depths. At that point, I saunter back into the next aisle, “casually” call out his or her moniker and feign surprise over the encounter.
The boys, after all, change from scrawny eighth-graders with braces to strapping young men with beards, and the girls’ hair colors change as often as mine. Those are my excuses, anyway; I must remember to stick to them.
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, September 27, 2010
“Surveillance” is a tricky word to spell—and to pronounce.
Breaking the word down into its syllables (sur-veil-lance) helps in spelling it. Sur is a short, common prefix meaning over, so it is not hard to remember. A veil is a cloth that brides and other women sometimes wear over their faces, and a lance is a long, sharp weapon that knights used to carry into battle.
Often creating a story around a word helps us to remember its spelling. My story for surveillance would just be a scene out of a movie: Sir Lancelot is jousting (fighting with a lance) with another knight in an arena. In the stands sits a princess with a veil over her face. Perhaps both knights are vying (competing) for her affections. Using this story, I just have to remind myself that Sir becomes sur in the word surveillance.
Sir Lancelot, by the way, was a highly respected hero among the Knights of the Round Table, according to Arthurian legends.
While we are taught to sound out words, that strategy does not work well with surveillance. It comes from the French language, and French uses many letters that are not heard when words are spoken, or they sound like different letters altogether to an English speaker.
Take, for example, “mais oui!” It means “but yes!” and is used as a hearty agreement. Sounding it out, we may want to say “mays-ow-eye,” but the words are actually spoken as “may wee.” We do not hear the “s” in “mais,” and “oui” sounds nothing like its actual letters. So goes French. Though a beautiful language and worth studying, it requires quite a bit of memorization.
Surveillance is pronounced as sur-vay-lance. It means a close watch kept over someone, according to Webster’s. It comes from the same Latin word for “vigil,” also a watch that is kept.
To read the complete story on why federal officials want more surveillance of communication on the Web, go to www.gjsentinel.com or to our print edition or e-edition.
The French flag has the same colors as the American flag.
By Debra Dobbins
Friday, September 24, 2010
As a mom, I tensed up when I read “Drowsy Chaperone” in the headline above. “Oh, that’s trouble,” I thought.
A synonym for drowsy is sleepy. A chaperone supervises young people as they go on a date or take part in other social events. A chaperone, quite simply, should not be sleepy.
Most good stories or plays have conflict in them. Conflict is a fight, struggle or disagreement, according to Webster’s. An author sets up a conflict and then later resolves (settles) it. Conflict can be external, such as when two people argue, or internal, such as when a character feels torn between two decisions.
I wonder now if part of the conflict in this Mesa State College play comes about when a chaperone can't remain alert. There’s just one way to find out, of course. I’ll have to see the play. More details about the play appear in the article below.
Two words in the article caught my eye:
Choreography – the arrangement of a dance routine
Agoraphobic – fearful of public places (In ancient Greece, an agora was a public place such as a market. Phobia means fear.)
I’ve just checked this blog entry to ensure I spelled and punctuated everything correctly. Why? I have atelophobia, or fear of imperfection. It’s really not a bad phobia for a writer to have!
By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Leapin’ lizards! In the story below scientists say they have discovered fossils of two new dinosaur species in southern Utah. That’s exciting news for fans of terrible lizards (dino means terrible and saur means lizard).
By studying dinosaurs, we actually learn a great deal about the English language, because many dinosaur names come from Latin word parts.
As I looked over the information in typesofdinosaurs.com, I learned there are dinosaur names with the ending root “saur” for every letter of the alphabet. Though I can’t list them all, here are a few from that website:
allosaurus – other lizard
acrocanthsaurus – high spine lizard
aeolosaurus - wind lizard
argyrosaurus – silver lizard
barosaurus – heavy lizard
corythosaurus - helmet lizard
dryosaurus – oak lizard
enigmosaurus - mysterious lizard
gasosaurus - gas lizard
halticosaurus - leaping lizard
kritosaurus - noble lizard
nanosaurus - dwarf lizard
ouranosaurus - valiant lizard
plateosaurus - flat lizard
supersaurus - super lizard
sarcosaurus – flesh lizard
tyrannosaurus - tyrant lizard
xenotarsosaurus - strange-ankle lizard
zephyrosaurus - west wind lizard
The names of Kosmoceratops richardsoni and the Utahceratops gettyi, the two types of dinosaurs recently discovered in Utah, can be broken down, too.
In the first word, Kosmos comes from a Greek word for world or universe. Ceratops is also Greek, meaning horned face. The second word, richardsoni, stems from a proper noun. In a blog entry posted at news.blogs.cnn.com, CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg notes that the word honors “Scott Richardson, a volunteer who discovered the holotype specimen and many other fossils within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”
To explain the second dinosaur, Gringberg writes, “The bigger of the two new dinosaurs, with a skull about 7 feet long, is Utahceratops gettyi, whose name combines the state of origin with ceratops, Greek for ‘horned face.’ The second part of the name honors Mike Getty, paleontology collections manager at the Utah Museum of Natural History and the discoverer of this animal.”
Tear into the story below for more details on these terrible lizards.
2 dinosaur species discovered in Utah
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists said Wednesday they’ve discovered fossils in the southern Utah desert of two new dinosaur species closely related to the Triceratops, including one with 15 horns on its large head.
The discovery of the new plant-eating species — including Kosmoceratops richardsoni, considered the most ornateheaded dinosaur known to man — was reported Wednesday in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE, produced by the Public Library of Science.
The other dinosaur, which has five horns and is the larger of the two, was dubbed Utahceratops gettyi. “It’s not every day that you find two rhino-sized dinosaurs that are different from all the other dinosaurs found in North America,” said Mark Loewen, a Utah Museum of Natural History paleontologist and an author of the paper published in PLoS ONE.
“You would think that we know everything there is to know about the dinosaurs of western North America, but every year we’re finding new things, especially here in Utah,” he said.
The Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument has been a hotbed for dinosaur species discoveries in the past decade, with more than a dozen new species discovered. While it is a rocky, arid place now, millions of years ago it was similar to a swamp.
THIS IMAGE PROVIDED by the Utah Museum of Natural History shows an artist’s reconstruction of the recently discovered Utahceratops.
The Utahceratops has a large horn over the nose and short eye horns that project to the side rather than upward, similar to a bison. Its skull is about 7 feet long, it stood about 6 feet high and was 18 to 22 feet long.
It is believed to have weighed about 3 to 4 tons.
The Kosmoceratops has similar facial features at the Utahceratops, but has 10 horns across the rear margin of its bony frill that point downward and outward. It weighed about 2.5 tons and was about 15 feet long.
The horns on both animals range in length from about 6 inches to 1 foot.
Paleontologists say the discovery shows that horned dinosaurs living on the same continent 76 million years ago evolved differently.
Scientists say that other horned dinosaurs lived on the same ancient continent known as Laramidia in what is now Alberta, Canada.
The numerous horns are believed to have been used to attract mates and intimidate sexual competitors, similar to horns on deer.
“The horns really are probably developed at puberty, because most likely these are signals for mate recognition, competition between males, things like that,” Loewen said.
“They’re sexual signals and really that’s how we think this group of dinosaurs divided,” he added.
By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
“Tantalize” comes from the misfortune of the mythological King Tantalus.
After incurring the wrath of Greek gods, Tantalus was sentenced to stand in a pool of water up to his neck for eternity. When he bent down to drink it, the water would drain away. Furthermore, lush fruit hanging from a tree was just inches away from his face, but he could not quite reach that either. Thus, he was constantly thirsty and hungry, even though sustenance was nearby.
In its narrowest sense, tantalize means “to tease or disappoint by promising or showing something desirable and then withholding it,” according to Webster’s. In a broader, more common, sense, it simply means to tease. In the headline above, a good synonym for tantalizing is tempting.
For the article on how tantalizing the price of gold is these days, check out The Daily Sentinel’s website, print edition or e-edition.