Daily Archives: January 19, 2010


Oh, how the mighty may become small – a glorious rise, then downhill… Think of Temüjin (“Ironworker”), a Mongol who overcame many obstacles to become such a great leader that he was named Chinggis Khan, “Ocean Ruler” (“ocean” seems to be a term of great approbation in the high mountains and plateaux of east Asia; Tibetan dalai as in Dalai Lama also means “ocean”) – better known to us as Genghis Khan. He took an army west and conquered vast domains. Some of those who came with him stayed and settled northeast of Persia. They took on some Persian customs and languages, and converted to Islam, but were still called Mongols (Persian mugul). From these muguls came a line of emperors who conquered India and established a dynasty that flourished for centuries before slowly fading and finally being displaced by the British: the Mughal dynasty – better known to us as the Moguls.

Wait, do you still have that glorious image in your head, of great palaces, of the Taj Mahal and many other splendid edifices, of a great empire of the subcontinent that lasted centuries? Or are you thinking of a movie mogul, media mogul, music mogul, or real estate mogul – Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner, David Geffen? (It seems that while czar has managed to stay in politics, mogul has moved entirely out of it into entertainment – but also, yes, buildings.)

Or are you thinking of a bump of snow on a ski slope?

While the first great Mogul emperor, Babur, was expanding his rule into the subcontinent, Austrians were using a word for a lump of bread, Mugel (from Mocke, “lump, clod, chunk”, probably from the same Indo-European root as mow) to refer to little hill. In the 1960s, that word was borrowed into English to refer to the bumps that may form on a ski slope, usually on the steeper bits, due to the way skiers push snow where they turn. The existing word mogul, already in use for at least three centuries in the general “bigshot” or “high muck-a-muck” sense (and does not mogul seem large-ish, with its big m, heavy /g/, and back vowels?), evidently exerted an influence on this borrowing. And so a great race of great rulers are reduced not even to Ozymandias’s stone in the sand but to one in a field of hundreds of ultimately evanescent, slowly mobile obstacles – bumps on the side of a mountain, made of an ocean of snow. O, glum!

But the moguls nonetheless provide thrilling viewing for winter sports fans, and I will surely be watching the mogul competition at the Vancouver Olympics, as skiers make their way down scores of these bumps (each one a brief rise, then sharper drop), with jumps in two spots: rise, turn in graceful splendour, come down again, and hope for a smooth landing so they can continue to mow down the lumps in speed and style.

I’d say that if you want to, you can write it this way

A fellow editor was having a contretemps with a colleague who insisted on putting a comma after that in constructions such as I’d say that, if you want to, you can write it this way and You can see that, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. The theory is that these are appositives – parenthetical insertions, effectively – and should be set off on both sides by commas.

The two cases cited are actually not identical. When the phrase is integral, one cannot treat it as parenthetical, and so in particular it’s actually incorrect to put You can see that, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. This would imply that one could have You can see that the more you know you don’t know, which one cannot; the the…the is a coordinated pair (and, for the curious, this the is not actually the normal the but is in fact descended from an instrumental case form of the demonstrative pronoun).

As to the sentence I’d say that, if you want to, you can write it this way, one can indeed remove the if you want to and still have a coherent sentence (if, in this case, a jerky one), and so it can be treated as a parenthetical, but one is not required to do so. That introduces a subordinate clause that can stand on its own syntactically (unless it’s subjunctive), and anything that can stand on its own as a sentence can follow the conjunctive that without a comma. Anything – try it. (Sometimes it’s a bit lumpy, of course, but it’s not wrong.) That includes if X, Y as well as similar constructions such as because X, you can Y.

So you have a choice: either that introduces you can write it this way with the parenthetical insertion of if you want to, or it introduces the whole clause if you want to, you can write it this way. In the latter, no comma is used.


This is a nice, long word for a not-so-nice condition of length. And look at it: the letters start at the normal size, but then grow outside the lines at the end. The word seems brutish, especially with the overtones of mug and ugly, and one might be led to imagine perhaps some Cro-Magnon hominid.

Now, if we decompose it into parts, we may or may not come to an accurate conclusion as to its meaning. Mega is a popular morpheme these days, and an increasingly unbound one; since huge can be turned to hugely, can mega to megaly be far off – “He megaly kicked your butt”? And acro is well enough known: acrobat, acrophobia. Gotta do with heights, right? So if he kicked your butt halfway to heaven, he acromegaly kicked your butt, right?

Uh, no. For one thing, the ly is not the adverbial ly. The Greek root of megaly has a combining form megal, and that became megalie in French for a noun, and thence to English megaly. And the acro actually isn’t referring specifically to height; it’s not from akros, which means “the highest, the most extreme”, but from akron, which just means “extremity” (it can also mean “at the top”, which is why they named a city in Ohio after it – though you may as soon find yourself in extremis there as singing “You’re the Top,” and though it’s the seat of Summit County, it’s not especially elevated). Acromegaly is a medical condition in which your extremities – hands, legs, fingers, toes, nose, chin – overgrow.

Well, yes, your body does tend to overgrow, too. Acromegaly is almost always caused by a pituitary adenoma – a non-cancerous tumour on the pituitary gland that causes it to ovesecrete growth hormone. (Acromegaly is basically the same as gigantism, except that its onset is after puberty rather than before.) So people with acromegaly manifest it not only by overgrowth of these extremities but by, well, extreme overgrowth. Height over 2 metres is quite common. Do you remember the character Jaws in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker? The actor who played him, 7’1.5″ Richard Kiel, has acromegaly. So does famous motivational speaker and writer Tony Robbins.

So if being tall is so impressive (just as being long makes a word impressive), is acromegaly a bad thing? Yes, not only because being too tall is more of a disadvantage in many ways, but because acromegaly brings with it a host of complications. The famous wrestler André the Giant died of cardiac complications of acromegaly at age 46. Fortunately, it is treatable – not reversible per se, but the overproduction of growth hormone can be stopped.

Elaine Phillips saw this word and it grew on her, so she suggested I taste it.