Friday, April 17, 2015

Embarrase* or Embarrasm* (for Embarrass*)

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." The same thing is true of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. These three emotions are all somewhat different, but are definitely related. Shame, in particular, has been bandied about a lot in social media lately in the context of so-called "slut shaming." Sexual agency and/or frequency isn't the only way women are potentially shamed, however. There's not caring enough about one's looks or attire; being too brainy, ambitious, or competitive with men; making the "wrong" choices about marriage and children. There's also coming off as too angry, or too assertive, or what used to be known as "shrill." (Perhaps we should call this one the "Shaming of the Shrew.") I do not want to guilt the lily, and it is sort of a crying shame, but there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our two typos for today, which turn up two and four times apiece in OhioLINK, and 40 and 65 times each in WorldCat (though some of the latter may be antiquated variants). And be sure to check as well for the previously blogged Embarass*, by far the most common misspelling of this word.

(Eleanor Roosevelt in school portrait, 1898, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mammels (for Mammals)

Duck-billed platypuses, or platypi (if you insist, but it seems it actually should be platypodes) are in fact mammals, but just barely. These fascinating "rebels," "jesters," or "freaks" of nature, as the website Listverse tells us, struggle to walk on land; have no use for common senses like vision, hearing, and smell; lay eggs (as if they were real ducks!); can do without stomachs; and lack teats, preferring to simply exude milk through their skin. If they had had cell phones, they'd be the original "duckface" selfie queens. To make matters worse, there was a time when they couldn't even convince us they were real. Apparently, it was considered an amusing hoax during the 19th century for "naturalists" to stitch together odd animal parts and then try and pass them off as new species. One time, according to Memory Elixir, when P.T. Barnum was ferrying his Fiji Mermaid (a gnarly-looking monkey head attached to a fish's body) around the country to amaze the "suckers"—er, fairgoers and carnival attendees—a Southern clergyman ("not content to denounce the mermaid alone") questioned the authenticity of a stuffed platypus as well, convinced that such a creature couldn't possibly exist in nature. And apparently he wasn't the only one to raise a fuss about the platypus. We found one case of Mammels (for mammals) in OhioLINK, and 64 in WorldCat.

(An 1853 engraving of a platypus, entitled "Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus," from The Illustrated Magazine of Art, 1853, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, April 13, 2015

Baord* (for Board*)

It's kind of funny how many times I've blogged about Scrabble here already, but here we go again! Today is National Scrabble Day, a time to remember one of the all-time best board games in history. Its inventor has the inventive-sounding name Alfred Mosher Butts, which makes me think of those fake "porn names" you create by combining the name of your first pet with the street where you lived. (Mine is "Mitzi Mosher," which sounds a little like a long-in-the-tooth showgirl played by SNL's Molly Shannon: "I'm fifty! Fifty years old!") The game was conceived during the Great Depression and by the late 1940s was helping to lift Americans out of theirs. After considering the names "Lexiko," "It," and "Criss Cross Words," Butts finally decided to go with "Scrabble," which means "to grope frantically" (from the Dutch word Schrabben, to scrape or to scratch). Mr. Butts also has an interesting back story (no porn pun intended). Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on April 13, 1899, he became an architect as well as an "amateur artist"; six of his drawings were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Butts was living in Jackson Heights when he first came up with the idea of Scrabble, a blend of "number games" (like dice and bingo), "move games" (like chess and checkers), and "word games" (like anagrams). In honor of his literate invention, a street sign at 35th Avenue and 81st Street in Queens, using stylized letters including their Scrabble values in subscript, was installed in 1995, but mysteriously disappeared in 2008. It was replaced in 2011, although it isn't known for sure who put it up in the first place, nor who later took it down. "On a neighborhood blog," wrote the New York Times, "one person suggested it had been moved to a corner with a triple word score." We scored big today with the typo Baord*, which turned up 15 times in OhioLINK, and 287 times in WorldCat.

(Original chart devised by Alfred Butts to tabulate the frequency of letters in words of various lengths, using examples from a dictionary, the Saturday Evening Post, the Herald Tribune, and the New York Times, to design the game of Scrabble, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Friday, April 10, 2015

Illusta* (for Illustra*)

A couple of friends and I went over to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge recently to check out the new J. C. Lyendecker exhibit. It was interesting to view this illustrator's work in the context of his protégé, friend/frenemy, colleague, and competitor Norman Rockwell, along with that of his own brother, F. X. Lyendecker. All three men illustrated covers for the Saturday Evening Post (Rockwell: 321; Lyendecker: 322). The Lyendecker brothers were both homosexual and helped to define the commercial aesthetic of their day. J. C. Lyendecker was the longtime companion of model Charles Beach, otherwise known as the Arrow Collar Man, and so sexy an advertising icon that he was reputed to have gotten more fan mail from women than Rudy Valentino. Some people feel that Rockwell himself was at least potentially homosexual; this point, however, is hotly disputed. Norman Rockwell, who seemed to prefer painting men and boys to women and girls, had three less than ideal marriages, along with three children, to his name. There were 156 hits on Illusta* in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat.

(J. C. Leyendecker, American artist and illustrator, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Offf* (for Offens*, Offer*, etc.)

I was watching one of those "judge shows" on TV the other day and the defendant (who looked remarkably like Lena Dunham) had been brought up on charges that her insensitive (and supposedly racist) remark to a coworker had resulted in harm to said coworker. The plaintiff testified that she had come in to work one day wearing a "fabulous African ensemble" and the Hannah Horvath-lookalike had commented: "Cute look! It's very Aunt Jemima of you..." Despite the fact that she apologized for her politically incorrect faux pas, it appears that her office foe would not be un-dissed and shoved her into a chair (a thing neither bosses nor judges tend to look too kindly upon). After appealing to the judge ("Did you ever have stupid stuff fall out of your mouth?"), the woman insisted she hadn't meant to be offensive and had actually thought that her coworker looked beautiful, but the black woman was having none of it. After the verdict, as they stood in the hall, she again offered: "I apologize. I hope we can work things out." The other woman replied: "You know what you did is wrong. I don't think I can ever forgive you." It was a small "culture wars" moment of sorts, I thought, as well as a template for a potential new episode of Girls, prompting me to check out the Wikipedia page on Aunt Jemima. (Oddly enough, one of the other characters on Girls is played by the pale-faced actress Jemima Kirke, and described by Wikipedia as being "a bohemian and unpredictable world-traveler with an attitude problem.") I was both offended and somewhat smugly gratified to find 34 cases of Offf* in OhioLINK, and 955 in WorldCat.

(Jemima's Wedding Day: Cake Walk," Martin Saxx, words by Jere O'Halloran, sheet music cover, 1899, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sytem* (for System*)

I know I've written about The Middle before, and multiple references to a single sitcom can make a person look sort of suspect, I suppose—but much like The Simpsons, this hit TV series featuring the obsessive Brick Heck is absolutely lousy with library references. In a recent episode entitled "Steaming Pile of Guilt," Brick is blissfully lecturing his family on "The Decline of the Dewey Decimal System," among other arcane topics. (He's forcing them to sit on the couch for hours on end listening to him give these little talks about the various offbeat things that interest him. They had predictably managed to forget his 13th birthday and this was supposed to be their punishment, er, make-up present to him.) I was rather puzzled by one thing he said, though: "As we all know, the Dewey Decimal System, with its 27,000 categories, has been woefully misunderstood. Certainly, the debate between Dewey and B.I.S.A.C. inflames passions. I, for one, feel that Melvil Dewey would be rolling over in his grave if he found out what happened to his beloved system..." Okay, now I was the one feeling guilty and embarrassed: I had no idea what B.I.S.A.C. was. It seems that it stands for "Book Industry Subject and Category" and is a system of classification used by the Book Industry Study Group, a trade association for those involved with book publishing. As Wikipedia states (and I now can't really help but think, rather ominously): "BISAC Subject Headings are also making inroads into library classification." Perhaps a bit more cheerful look at how these headings are being used in some libraries was found in a 2010 article in Library Journal called "The Dewey Dilemma" by Barbara Fister. The caption reads: "In the search for better browsability, librarians are putting Dewey in a different class." So thanks for the belated heads-up there, Brick, and happy belated birthday to you! Sytem* turned up 210 times in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat.

(Screen shot from "Steaming Pile of Guilt," taken with my own camera.)

Carol Reid

Friday, April 3, 2015

Accute (for Acute)

On Monday I mentioned a job posting that had used the word "cuties" instead of "duties," clearly by accident but to rather good effect. This somehow led me to the story of California poet and librarian Ina Coolbrith, whom many men found mighty attractive. (Joaquin Miller, quoting Tennyson, once described her as "divinely tall, and most divinely fair.") But today, let's circle back to the word cute itself. I recently came across an article on Slate concerning the derivation of this word, which it seems was originally short for acute and was even written with an apostrophe before the a, in order to denote the elided letter. It basically meant neat and concise, appropriate and pleasing. After telling this to a friend the other day, he responded: "That's a cute angle!" Even J. D. Salinger himself was not above punning in this fashion. In Seymour: An Introduction, he quotes from an old vaudeville act: "Second Banana: 'I've been in bed for nine weeks with acute hepatitis.' Top Banana: 'Which one, you lucky dog? They're both cute, those Hepatitis girls.'" He also brings up the word again in a passage concerning Seymour and his wife Muriel: "Later, when we were having a drink at the station, she asked me if I didn’t think that kitten was 'rather nice.' She doesn’t use the word 'cute' any more. When did I ever frighten her out of her normal vocabulary? Bore that I am, I mentioned R. H. Blyth’s definition of sentimentality: that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it. I said (sententiously?) that God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers..." There were 16 examples of today's typo in OhioLINK, and 650 in WorldCat. Perhaps close to half of these hits were for works published in the 17th and 18th centuries, so in cases like that, be sure to check the spelling on the piece itself.

(Los gato son muy bellos, or "The cat is very beautiful," 24 November 2011, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid