zenography

Zenography looks like it should be writing about Zen Buddhism, or a Zen style of writing, or something like that. Which would be what, exactly? I remember happily reading books of Zen poetry from my Dad’s library (acquired in the coursework for his PhD in Religious Studies), but as enjoyable as they were, the point they all made is that studying Zen by studying Zen poetry is like studying astronomy by examining telescopes. I also remember there used to be a travel agency on Spadina Avenue in Toronto that declared itself to be Zen Travel, and I thought, “Oh, you go in, they tell you you’re already where you want to go, and in exchange you give them all you have, which is nothing.”

But no, by Jupiter, zenography is not that. Zenography is different from Zen. Zenography is not like studying telescopes, it’s true – but telescopes will help you with zenography. Because zenography is the study of Jupiter. As in the planet. The big planet. The planet with the eye. A planet that, given the right light, you can even see with your naked eye – though a telescope will help a lot.

By the way, the word Zen – not as in zenography – is the Japanese version of the Sanskrit original dhyana, which means ‘meditation’. Zen is not an idea or a philosophy; it’s a practice of meditation: don’t just do something, sit there. The aim is to achieve enlightenment, a true understanding of the fundamental oneness of everything (here’s a Zen joke: a monk goes up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything”) – or, really, the fundamental lack of substance and permanence in everything, but at the same time and inevitably a unity: no two things are really two things. There are two main schools of how to achieve enlightenment. One school focuses on approaching it gradually, sort of like getting halfway there, and halfway there from that, and then half of the remaining way, asymptotically approaching complete insight. The other school focuses on paradoxes as keys for sudden awakening – the famous koans, such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “What was your face before your parents were born?”

But, again, this is not that. OK. So why is the study of Jupiter called zenography? Well, if we called the planet by the Greek equivalent, it would be easier to understand. You may remember that the Roman gods were basically rebranded versions of the Greek ones. Ares became Mars. Aphrodite became Venus. And Zeus, the top dog of the gods, the bringer of mirth and hurler of thunderbolts and assaulter of countless women, became Jupiter.

So you might think that the study of Jupiter could be Zeusography. And you’d be on the right track. But in Classical Greek, the combining form of Ζεύς is Ζηνο-, Zéno-, for reasons that would probably make your eyes glaze over. So writing about Zeus – or Jupiter – is zenography, and anything centring on Jupiter is zenocentric, and if there were a magazine all about Jupiter it might be called National Zenographic or something.

This might lead to a couple further questions. One is “Is this related to zenith?” The answer is no. Zenith  traces to Arabic samt, as does azimuth. Another is “What about that Zeno guy?” And the answer to that is… yeah! The ancient Greek thinker we call Zeno was actually Ζήνων, Zénōn, a name derived from Zeus, sort of like how Christian is derived from Christ.

Do you remember what Zeno is famous for? He was a clever thinker and liked his paradoxes, and the best-known one of them is basically that if you’re going somewhere, you first have to get halfway there, and then you have to get half of the rest of the way, and then you have to get half of that, and so on, so that conceptually, you never get all the way there – it’s asymptotic. But of course, in real life, you just defy the paradox and get there. Still, the idea is rather enlightening, isn’t it, by Jupiter? And so we find a connection between Zen and zenography after all… which was perhaps inevitable, as they were never really two different things, more than anything else is.

defenestrate

If you’re like a lot of people, defenestrate is one of your favourite words. It has that marvellous scuffling sound, more finicky than finesse, looking like an ungainly portmanteau of defense, demonstrate, and perhaps a few others such as infestation and finasteride, and all of that going right out the window – for who does not appreciate the image of throwing things or people out of windows?

Its construction is straightforward enough. The fenestr- root comes from Latin fenestra ‘window’ and can be seen reflected in languages such as French (fenêtre), Italian (finestra), Portuguese (fenestra and also fresta), and even Swedish (fönster), German (Fenster), Dutch (venster), and Welsh (ffenstr). Not English, though – our window comes from Old Norse vindauga (‘wind-eye’), as does, among others, Irish fuinneog. The -ation suffixation is plain enough. The de- may seem odd; for one thing, fenestration refers to the windows of a building, and to fenestrate is to put windows in something, so defenestration might seem to refer to removing windows; but for another, the usual prefix for ‘going out’ is e-, as in eject, or ex-, as in expel. But oh well. Exfenestrate has not caught on, and the probably better-formed efenestrate just does not have that same something that defenestrate has. Anyway, the de- also connotes a downward trajectory, which is usual in such instances.

But if we have defenestrate for throwing out a window, why not words for throwing into a window, or other window-related actions? 

As it turns out, the field of such lexemes is not altogether barren. As Haggard Hawks tweeted, adfenestrate means “to sneak through an open window.” That uses ad-, meaning ‘to’ (e.g., administer). Others suggest themselves readily – and I and others have suggested them. Infenestrate, reasonably enough, means ‘throw in through a window’, and I didn’t have to make it up, although it has been pointed out that perfenestrate might be better formed for that (with per- as in perfuse). For completeness, I suggest that perifenestrate (with peri- as in periphery) would be ‘throw around a window’, parafenestrate (with para- as in paralegal) would be ‘throw in the general vicinity of a window’, antifenestrate (with anti- as in antipope) would be ‘throw against a window’, antefenestrate (with ante- as in antechamber) would be ‘throw in front of a window’, and profenestrate (with pro- as in projectile) would be ‘throw towards a window’. 

To all this Haggard Hawks added that presumably counterfenestrate would be “to throw someone back through the window they’ve just been thrown out of” (it occurs to me that refenestrate could also work for that, though perhaps that’s better to mean ‘put back into a window’ – or ‘put a window back in’, probably after you knocked it out with all this throwing of things). Mededitor threw in penultifenestrate, “throwing someone out of the next-to-last window.” I tossed on interfenestrate, ‘throw out one window and into another’. Brian Baresch suggested confenestrate “for throwing someone away from a window, possibly someone who was trying to escape thereby (efenestrate).” And Mary Hrovat pushed it towards adjectives: subfenestrate to mean ‘below the window’ and superfenestrate to mean ‘above the window’.

As I consider further, we could also have transfenestrate, ‘throw across a window’, abfenestrate, ‘get away from a window’, and, somehow, though I can’t quite picture it, intrafenestrate, ‘throw within a window’ (well, perhaps this word would be better as an adjective meaning ‘within a window’). And, just to get macaronic and borrow from Greek, if you throw (or perhaps even stick) something onto a window, we can say you epifenestrate it.

All of which is well and good, but of course we know that most of these have limited use. Not that defenestrate gets all that many occasions for actual referential use – but it sure has its aspirational value.

al dente: the metal version

You may remember my quick pronunciation tip video for al dente, wherein I make it clear that it’s not said like “Al Dante”:

Well, last week a guy named Robert emailed me about that video. “I am creating a joke metal project that is themed around Pasta,” he wrote. “Very silly, very fun. I was wondering if I could use audio from that video (basically voice clips) within a song of mine?”

Of course he could. I could not possibly say no. That sort of thing is very much to my taste.

So he did. He made it the middle of three pieces in a YouTube EP. You don’t have to listen to it – not everyone likes metal music – but I think it’s fun, and it’s less than three minutes, anyway. Here:

enfarce

There are always rules, of course – rules about how to do things and rules within rules and rules about making rules. A common and important question is “Who enforces the rules?” But another question, not common but also valid – for different reasons – is “Who enfarces the rules?”

You don’t know this word enfarce? Of course you don’t; don’t pretend you do – no one uses it anymore. Until now, that is, because I, with my remarkable lexical activation power, say they shall. 

You can make a guess about what enfarce means. You’ll probably be wrong, but make a guess anyway.

Did you guess that it means ‘make a farce [out of them]’? As in take the piss, make a mockery, do the reductio ad absurdum? Good guess! It’s wrong, but it’s a good guess, because you’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, this farce is the same farce that is the source of the farce that means ‘a ludicrous piece of theatre’, and it happens that farces are called farces because they, too, were at first enfarced.

If you know French, you may be guessing where this is going. French for ‘stuffed’ (as in stuffed turkey) is farci, from the verb farcir, and the related noun for ‘stuffing’ is farce. It all comes from Latin farcio ‘I stuff’. The theatre pieces called farces got the name, as far as we know, because they were originally comic interludes, stuffed into performances of greater import (have you ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance? think of their clowns).

So enfarcement is stuffing something in – into a turkey or a sausage, or less literally into whatever else (as when, for instance, a novelist enfarces an ideological monologue into a story). And when we talk about enfarcing rules, we can mean either of two things: (1) stuffing a rule in where it doesn’t really belong; (2) padding rules with extraneous material. Both of these things are quite common with rules. 

For (1), anyone who deals with legislation and contracts knows that extraneous details get attached as a way of accomplishing extra things with less effort. (I’m put in mind of how, when we made the offer on the place we now live in, I added a request that the microwave oven be included, because even though they’re inexpensive, I knew we might never get around to getting one otherwise.)

For (2), the typical jargon of rules lends itself to padded phrasing such as “The act of walking upon the lawns of these premises is expressly prohibited” where “Don’t walk on this lawn” would suffice. But also, often enough, sets of rules that could be simple and straightforward gain extra rules; for example, an office dress code that starts out as a single sentence prescribing “businesslike attire” gradually, in response to specific complaints, gains provisions specifying that bare knees are not to be visible; that no part of any toe is to be visible; that non-religious and non-medically-necessary headwear is not to be worn within the office space, excepting plain hair bands and barrettes; that bare elbows are not to be visible; that no sleeve shall have a hole in it other than the standard holes at top and bottom to allow the arm to pass through it eventuating in the hand; and so forth. 

All rules need to be enforced, of course, or they’re not really rules, and you need to know whose job it is to enforce them. Rules do not, on the other hand, need to be enfarced. But they will be. And when they are, it’s worth knowing who’s doing it.

chrysalis

Chrysalis, the disc said. 

It was a shiny, silvery, crystalline, seven-inch platter of clear vinyl. The word was on the bottom half of a paper circle in the middle of the disc, in white on a blue background that faded up to a white background on the top half. And the top half said “HEART OF GLASS.” There were other words as well, and above and to the left of “Chrysalis” was a butterfly.

I was on the stage of a dark gym/auditorium of the school in Exshaw, Alberta, Canada. It was a junior high dance, circa 1980. I wasn’t officially the deejay, but I was up there helping spin the records because it was something to do. There was zero chance I was going to be dancing. Not that I didn’t want to. But no. Rejects don’t get to dance. Instead, I was busying myself with the music and with developing a resilient shell to protect myself from the myriad insults and injuries of adolescence, a shell within which I could, at length and leisure, eat myself alive and cling to a world of imagination fed by paper and discs, all while still shining at my schoolwork in my pupil role. But hey, we’re all growing, and every cloud has a silver lining, right?

It was the first time I had seen the word chrysalis. Which, since it looked like crystal and was on a crystalline single of “Heart of Glass” (by Blondie), clearly impressed itself on me as having something to do with translucent, shiny things – and music.

Butterflies? What would they have to do with chrysalis? Butterflies start as caterpillars, then go into cocoons and come out all pretty and girly, right?

Butterflies do not emerge from cocoons. Moths do. Butterflies come from chrysalises – or, if you want to be shiny and perfect about that plural, chrysalides.

Butterflies and moths both start as caterpillars and have a pupal stage. And I’m oversimplifying things a bit here – there’s quite a lot of variety in these flashy little bugs – but whereas the pupa of a moth is protected by a papery cocoon it has spun, the butterfly’s pupa molts its last caterpillar skin to reveal a hard, shiny shell it has developed inside: the chrysalis. Within that chrysalis, it eats itself – quite literally: it digests nearly all of its body, leaving just a few imaginal discs, which are the framework on which its adult body is gradually formed from the ooze the rest of it has become (providing nothing disturbs or damages it). Ultimately, like a post-adolescent learning (usually painfully) to come out of the self-protective shell, the butterfly breaks through the chrysalis and comes out into the world.

Of course, a butterfly only has to do it once and for good. Humans do it gradually, over and over and over. (We seldom get eaten by frogs, though.)

But why chrysalis? Is it because the shell is crystalline? Because it is like glass with a heart?

No. It is not a crystal, nor is it a silver lining. In fact, it’s a gold lining. The Greek original of this word, χρῡσαλλίς, comes from χρῡσός, khrusos, ‘gold’ – passed through Latin, hence the spelling. You see this chrys– root in words such as chrysanthemum. Some chrysalides are golden in colour, hence the name. It’s not related to crystal.

So, now, I hope that is clear. And do butterflies have a heart of glass? Probably not; that seems more of a human thing. But as our hair gets more silver and our years progress towards golden, we may have to shell out a lot, but at least we get to dance from time to time.

hux-word

What do you call a bad word when it’s not a “bad” bad word? I don’t mean a word that you dislike for aesthetic reasons (e.g., moist, onus); I mean the kind of word that your parents told you not to use, but not a swearword. You know, like poopy-head, or jackanapes, or nitwit: a word intended to mock, scorn, and deride. (And I don’t mean a word that is used that way only sometimes – for instance, while “OK, Boomer” is meant to convey that the addressee is ancient, smug, and irrelevant, members of the Baby Boom generation have happily owned Boomer for decades without any issue except, now, in that one context.)

We could say that these words are insults, and so they are, but insult is a broad term; it can include anything from a wordless gesture or act to an extended peroration. Is there no equivalent to swearword for these?

Of course there is, and you knew there would be as soon as I asked the question, because that’s why we’re here. And you undoubtedly have a good idea of what that word might be: the title of this word tasting – hux-word. Or, I suppose, huxword, though my one source for it (the Oxford English Dictionary) keeps the hyphen in, as it is wont to do.

It seems rather like a hex-word, doesn’t it? Which is not bad: a hex is a curse, and a hex-word is a word uttered in malediction, not unlike a hux-word. But hux comes from Old English, originally husc (those /ks/ and /sk/ sounds tend to swap around from time to time; acs became ask and, in some varieties of English, is now back to ax), and husc came from Old High German hosc, and all of them meant ‘mockery, scorn, derision’.

Meant? Past tense? Well… yeah, hux hasn’t really been in use for, um, several centuries. But what the hex. I mean what the heck. Blow the dust off it. Hux-word and its earlier spellings (e.g., huscword) was in use at the time to mean exactly what you’d think it would mean and exactly what we need it to mean.

And if someone hucks a huxword at you, what do you do? You could say “Aw, shucks.” Or you could just tell them to hux off.

Life lessons I learned from Scrabble

In my leisure time, I play Scrabble online against friends. Over the years I’ve gotten reasonably good at it; I’m happy to say that I know several people who are also good at it and give me interesting games. And as I’ve learned to be better at it (some of it from playing, some of it from reading Stefan Fatsis’s book Word Freak), I’ve learned bits of perspective that are very useful for doing well at the game but also often useful in other parts of life. These may or may not be useful to you in your life – but at the very least, they will help you at Scrabble.

1. There’s no such thing as winning a turn.
The play that’s worth the most points this turn isn’t always the play that’s worth the most points in the long run. The aim of Scrabble is to finish with more points than your opponent. If you get more points this turn but it leads to you doing worse (or your opponent doing better) subsequently, it’s not the best play. I remember playing one friend who, after one game, confessed that he had been using an online anagram finder (which, by the way, I do not – I’m far too vain to seek that kind of help). “And yet you still lost,” I said. Likewise, in other parts of life, you may feel like you have come out on top in an interaction – especially if you’re the sort of person who treats every conversation as a contest, or looks for ways of sucking the last nickel out of a customer – but you may very well lose out in the long run, because the people you “won” against won’t be inclined to let you “win” again in future.

2. It’s not how fancy your words are, it’s how you use them.
Many people think doing well at Scrabble is all about knowing and playing really nice words. It’s true that knowing a lot of words is very helpful, but often you get the most points (and improve your position the most) with plain, ordinary words. This is also true elsewhere in life: fancy words in the wrong place can fall flat, and the right ordinary words may score a lot of points.

3. Most of the time, the little words make the difference.
This is a thing most people learn before too long at Scrabble: big words may make big impacts, but little words – two-letter words that you make while playing alongside another word, and sometimes two-letter words played two ways on a triple – are crucial. Likewise in the rest of life, small words – though slightly longer than two letters, such as “Thanks!” – can really help make connections.

4. But sometimes the right big word can have quite an effect.
This should be obvious: the two previous points notwithstanding, impressive words are impressive, and used in the right place, they can score a lot of points.

5. Some things that appear to be worth the least can be worth the most.
Two of my fundamental rules in Scrabble are “Don’t waste an S” (meaning that if you use an S, the play should be worth at least 40 points, since you are very likely to be able to play a good word and also pluralize or conjugate a word already on the board orthogonally) and “A blank is a bingo” (meaning that a blank tile gives you the flexibility to make a play that uses all seven tiles, which will give you a 50-point bonus, and you do well to hold onto it until you can put it to that use). And yet an S says it’s worth one point and a blank is worth zero points on its own. Likewise in the rest of life, there are things that by themselves don’t seem worth a whole lot but make quite a lot of things possible. But what those things are will vary quite a bit, unlike in Scrabble.

6. Start by looking for where you’ll accomplish the most.
In Scrabble, if I can play a bingo, I will; if not, I look at any high-value tiles I have and see if I can use them on a double or a triple or even a double-double or double-triple. Then I work out the rest of the play on that basis. In the rest of life, similarly, if you come into a situation where there are different things you can do, see where you can put your best assets (skills, for instance) to best use.

7. Manage the board.
Many players play words without looking to see what they’re opening up or closing off on the board. They may make a great opportunity for their opponent (remember that this is a game that you are, in fact, playing to win). Or they may play a word that makes it very difficult to play any further in that area of the board. The play that’s worth the most points this turn isn’t always the play that’s worth the most points in the long run. Pay attention to what opportunities you create. And so, too, elsewhere in life.

8. Manage your rack.
It’s common to have times when you look at the tiles on your rack and see a motley and basically unplayable assortment of tiles. Some of the time this is just bad luck, but some of the time it’s because you played the easy-to-play tiles – or the biggest-point word – and left yourself with a mess, and the new tiles you drew didn’t rescue you. Do what you can to make sure you have a reasonable balance of vowels and consonants. Don’t have too many high-point letters (they seldom go together productively). In short, pay attention to what you’re leaving for yourself. And so, too, elsewhere in life.

9. It’s not a referendum on your intelligence.
Scrabble is just a game. And some people I know who are very smart aren’t all that good at it, because it requires a particular set of abilities and learned tactical skills. If someone beats you at Scrabble, oh well. You are not humiliated (though if you’ve made a lot of noise about how good you are at it, you sow what you reap). Most of the rest of life is not a game, but it, too, is almost never a referendum on your intelligence. Even really smart people aren’t good at everything – and can make mistakes at things they are good at. It’s OK. Own up, suck it up, move on. It’s just a thing you’re doing; it’s not the sum total of you.

10. There are always great plays you just can’t make.
“Aw, man! I had a great bingo on my rack and I had nowhere to play it!” This is a common complaint. There are two truisms, though. First, it’s not a great play if you can’t make it. Plays are made by what’s on your rack and what’s on the board. You don’t have a great play on your rack, only on the board, and only if the board allows. The rest is just “If I had a million dollars” stuff. Second, however often you notice a “great play you can’t make,” I guarantee you there are many more “great plays you can’t make” that you don’t notice – as well as great plays you could have made but didn’t notice. It’s just the way it is. You don’t always get the opportunity, and you don’t always notice when you do. But you notice more if you look more.

11. Always leave room for the other person to do something that helps you.
I generally prefer to play Scrabble in a way that creates openings. Partly it’s so if my opponent takes one opening, there will still be another opening for me to take. Partly it’s because if I’ve set it up right, my opponent’s gain will likely create an opening for me to gain even more. If I play in a way that closes off opportunities, yes, my opponent won’t be able to score big, but neither will I – and my opponent also won’t be able to make a play that will be useful to me. Most of the rest of life is not so competitive (or at least doesn’t have to be, and if you think it does, see number 1 above), but it holds true that you should leave room for others to do things that help you. And one really good way to do that is to help them. When you’re not playing a game like Scrabble where only one person can win, you might be able to help set it up so everyone wins.

12. If you count on getting lucky, you won’t; if you count on not getting unlucky, you will.
And if you count on the other person not getting lucky, they will. I don’t think I need to explain this too much. A short form of this might be “Hedge your bets.” If you make a play that’s worth decent points but creates an opportunity for the other person to score, say, 52 points if they just happen to have the X and an I, you will surprisingly often find forthwith that they do have the X and an I. This is in part because people often hold onto those high-value letters for several turns, so the chance of their having one is higher than a simplistic calculation of the odds would say. The short of it is that if you make plans that rely on things beyond your control going just so, they often will not come out as you wanted.

13. There’s no point in complaining about your tiles.
Everyone gets bad tiles from time to time; Scrabble is a game of chance as well as of skill. It’s not all that different from card games in many ways. If you’re not playing well because you keep drawing crap tiles no matter how much you try to manage your rack, so it goes. It happens to everyone. The game is not a referendum on your intelligence. Similarly, elsewhere in life, if things beyond your control aren’t lining up to let you display the true genius you want the world to recognize you as, consider (a) whether you are that true genius, (b) whether the person you’re complaining to is someone you had been hoping to show yourself as superior to, and (c) whether the person you’re complaining to might have experienced the same from time to time and not made a stink about it.

14. You can’t win all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with the other person winning some of the time.
Scrabble is a game you play to win, yes. But you get to play more than one game in life. Take the insight from point 1 and apply it here in the broader scope. People who win against you at least some of the time are more likely to want to keep playing against you. That’s not to say you should obviously throw games. But you could play a bit more loosely from time to time. And at least not get upset if you lose. Likewise in life, tomorrow is another day – usually.

15. Finish en beauté.
I took a course in syntax taught in French once, and we didn’t quite make it all the way through the text before the last class; the professor told us that we should read the remaining chapter if we wanted to finish “en beauté.” That literally means “in beauty” but idiomatically can mean “with a flourish” or “with panache.” I apply that when I play Scrabble: even if the game is nearly over and there is no doubt who will win (sometimes me, sometimes my opponent), I like to look for the best moves I can play. Because although the point of the game is to win, there’s still nothing wrong with enjoying the other aspects of it. And I can still do the best I can even if it’s just a flourish.

I can’t say that I apply all these lessons equally well to my life, but I can say that I have definitely gained useful perspective from them all. And, as I said, at the very least, they all help when playing Scrabble.

toruntila

I hate getting a toruntila. It’s like wanting an Oreo and getting an Oregardingo, like ordering a sausage and getting a saCanadage. The disappointment cannot be overprovinciald: you have been the victim of a reckless replacement; the filling you expected is not there and instead you have something… out of place and perhaps weirdly starchy. You look at your plate, wave over the waiter, and say “I’m not leaving till I get a tortilla” – but even as you speak your words are changed to “I’m not leaving until I get a toruntila.” Oh, the hupersonity!

Yes, toruntila may look like tarantula, but while it can be hairy and can have a nasty bite, it’s really what a tortilla becomes when someone decides that till needs to be replaced with until throughout the document (by the way, while preferring until to till is defensible as a matter of taste, till is by no means an error – in fact, until was originally formed from till, not the other way around). And, more broadly, just as a mondegreen is a misheard lyric (often containing a nonexistent word – classiomatic is an automatic classic of the type), and a Cupertino is an erroneous spellchecker replacement (because Word ’97 would suggest Cupertino in place of cooperation), a toruntila is a reckless-replacement sandwich.

Say, for instance, you tell your find-and-replace to change “re” to “regarding” throughout, and you neglect to check “Whole Word Only”; say you tell it to replace “USA” with “Canada” and neglect to uncheck “Ignore Case”; or say you equally recklessly replace “state” with “provincial” or “man” with “person” (or with “human”)… there you are with your Oregardingo and saCanadage and underprovinciald and hupersonity (or huhumanity). And if you run a second reckless replacement to make son into child, you may get huperchildity, which is a second-level toruntila.

Do you doubt that these things happen? Editors know that they do. But why take my word for it? You can easily Google toruntila and see for yourself. It’s not a word that exists in this world for any other reason than the reckless replacement, and every context you see it in clearly needs tortilla instead. As Jonathon Owen has pointed out on finding this particular gaffe in several books, “It takes multiple independent screw-ups to make something like this happen.” And yet happen it does. (And more easily on websites that have less rigorous editorial processes.)

So now you have a word for it. Every disuntilery, every unforreceivetable or forbecoming, every discomRobertulation, every denaTorinog, every schildmark, every dash of cardamother or kernel of fathercorn… they are all toruntilas, with an unexpected filling that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

aprine

Oh, it’s the time – the time of April wine and spring rain, the time of aperture and Aphrodite. Have an apéritif; April is here, ripe as an apricot, and it seems a prime time to be aprine.

What is aprine? Has it to do with rapine? No more than with rapini. Or with pannier or nappier? Not even as mixed-up doubles. No, it is the adjective formed from aper.

Is that as in aperture? Something will open up, perhaps, but no. As in apéritif? For the same reason, no, but you may want one Aperol – ahem, after all. As in ‘one who apes’? It’s not the ape you need to watch out for. As in apricot? Neither in apricity nor in precocity. As in Aphrodite in April? Oh, I hope not. It’s not that it would be a crashing bore. But it would be a crashing boar.

Yes, though April is a singular time of the year, this word is about the sanglier time of the year: in Latin, aper is a boar (it even traces back to the same Proto-Indo-European root as boar). And it’s said like “opper” – and aprine is likewise said with a short a. But while you should answer when opportunity knocks, it would be inopportune and, frankly, importantly importunate to open the door for apertunity.

Still, it’s spring. Get out of your rut and rut. Go whole hog. Don’t go overboard, but don’t be overbored; just be a boar, and pig out on April.

oikolect

As I was cooking today, I was thankful that the spatch I was using was silicon so it was like a… hmm, a spatula. Sorry, I mean the spatula was like a rubber scraper. Oh… I guess I mean the turner, or pancake flipper, or something, was like a rubber scraper. Apparently the use of spatula (spatch for short) I grew up with, to refer to any of a wide variety of kitchen implements with a broad flat part and a handle, is nonstandard, and officially only some specific kind of thing is a spatula. Well, it’s my kitchen, and you can’t stop me… as long as I’m not writing a cookbook or something like that.

We all have usages that are particular to our families, and we may not even know that some of them are idiosyncratic. There are particular uses of specific words (or even entire words that other people don’t use), preferred words for things (I have learned to call a remote control a clicker to assimilate to my wife’s terminology), ways of saying things (my typical vowel slur to my wife, /jɐ̃iʔɘʔ/, meaning “you gonna eat that?”), and also certain expected locutionary turns: for instance, in my childhood, as the car pulled into our driveway after a family trip, my brother and I would typically sing (to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”) “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…”

You should not be surprised that there is a word for this kind of thing.

You know, of course, that a particular variety of a language as spoken by everyone in a particular region (or similar cultural division) is a dialect; you may or may not know that the equivalent as spoken by people in a specific social set (for example the factory workers in a particular small town, or the British upper class) is a sociolect; you might have heard that the particular speech patterns and vocabulary preferences of an individual are that person’s idiolect. All of these have -lect in common, which is from Greek λεκτος, derived from λέγω (legó), ‘I speak’. So what is the variety spoken by a family or within a particular household? 

It’s an oikolect.

That’s not because your family are oiks (though they may be). It’s because Greek for “home’ or ‘hearth’ or similar is οἶκος (oikos) – which, when it passed through Latin, became the root œco-, which generally shows up in English as eco-, as in economy, ecology, et cetera. It turns out that the home – the oikos – can be more broadly defined than you might think. And also that home economics is, etymologically, redundant.

But oikolect is not extensible to everything covered by an economy or ecology. It’s just you and those weirdos who you grew up with and/or grew up with you – and, as the case may be, those weirdos who currently share your domestic space. It’s yet another way that the language you use helps define your affiliations and belongings.