On this and that

Here's a few little bits scoured up from here and there.

Boswell on Johnson's Dictionary:

A few of his definitions must be admitted to be erroneous. Thus, Windward and Leeward, though directly of opposite meaning, are defined identically the same way; as to which inconsiderable specks it is enough to observe, that his Preface announces that he was aware there might be many such in so immense a work; nor was he at all disconcerted when an instance was pointed out to him. A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance." His definition of Network ["Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections"] has been often quoted with sportive malignity, as obscuring a thing in itself very plain.

To which we may add his definition of lexicographer: "a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge".

On the names for people with variously colored hair:

Blond and blonde are masculine and feminine forms, though the latter is rarely used as an adjective nowadays, only as a noun. Brunette, on the other hand, is feminine only; the form brunet which is sometimes found is not French, not English, and entirely barbarous. -ette is inherently both feminine and diminutive (though the latter sense dominates in English, as in cassette, diskette, kitchenette, statuette), and not to be split up into two separate affixes.

On whiteboards:

Whiteboards are common in corporations, but I have never seen one in any educational establishment in the U.S. (which is by no means to say there are none). The coolest variety have a large canvas which can be scrolled left or right, by full screens or by smaller steps, and can even save copies of what's currently in view using a giant scanner; you can hook up a conventional printer for hard copy or (I suppose) put them on a network. I only got to use such a Wundergerät once or twice, alas.

On Latin in Great Britain:

The Great Vowel Shift that changed the pronunciation of the English long vowels in the 15th century affected not only English but also the spoken Latin of the monasteries. Indeed, there was a period where English and Scottish Latiners could not understand one another, because Scottish Latin did not undergo the Shift even though Scots itself (mostly) did!

On how history could have gone:

Could the Internet have been invented if telephones hadn't been invented first? I think so. Telegraphy is a lot simpler than telephony, and telegraph operators had something socially very like the Internet (but involving a lot fewer people, of course) more than a hundred years ago. There were even routers and protocol gateways, instantiated by human beings.

A technical civilization might well go from semaphore telegraphs to electric telegraphs to teletypewriters to Morse-code radio to high-speed wired and wireless digital transmissions, missing analog telephones and radio altogether.

On the root *tag-:

Ruminating over the English words tact and tactics led me to realize how interestingly convergent in meaning they have become, descending from the same PIE root *tag- through different branches, respectively Latin tangere, tactus 'touch(ed)'; Greek taktikh 'deployment < arrangement'.

On tornadoes:

Conventional wisdom says tornadoes never happen in the Eastern U.S. Conventional wisdom, as all too often, does not know its history. Tornadoes have been recorded in all of the fifty states and D.C. Indeed, only the following 10 states have not had a major tornado (causing death or property damage) since 1980:

Alaska (1959), Hawaii (1971), Indiana (1974), Iowa (1979), Kentucky (1974), Minnesota (1978), Missouri (1973), North Dakota (1978), Vermont (1970), West Virginia (1974).

1 comment:

Arthaey said...

John wrote: Whiteboards are common in corporations, but I have never seen one in any educational establishment in the U.S. (which is by no means to say there are none).

As a data point, my school (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) has plenty of whiteboards in the Computer Science department. It's the labs, not the classrooms, that have whiteboards, but we have lots of lab rooms.

We even have one room with the fancy digital whiteboard pens. Very cool stuff.