Monthly Archives: July 2018


Tamale makes me think of missing the boat. And discovering something.

When I was a kid, there was a candy I liked, bullet-shaped jellybean-type things flavoured strongly with cinnamon. They were branded as Hot Tamales. (They still exist.) I associate them especially with one summer when my family spent a week (I guess it was a week; everything seems like an eternity and an eyeblink when you’re under 10) at a rustic place on a lake in North Dakota where families stayed in cabins and the adults did… I don’t know, probably Bible or language stuff, given my parents. Kids did things that kids did at such places. Anyway, Hot Tamales were my favourite comestible then and there. They were available and my mom would give me money to buy them. That’s one of only two things I remember about that place. Continue reading

The roots of disagreement

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada. Listen to an audio version of it on Patreon.

It was one of those crises that end up in the parentheses of memoranda; it concerned the geneses of several referenda among alumni (and alumnæ) about addenda to their indices: the criteria for the termini of Greek- and Latin-derived words. By what formulæ should we choose, for instance, schemata or schemas? The competing sides saw each other’s preferences as bloody stigmata. It finally came to a head over the school’s mascots, the octopuses. Or, as the zoologists called them, the octopodes. Or, as the school’s coach called them, the octopi. Continue reading


Just watching the world go by (but I waited for there to be no cars because I hate having cars in the way of the buildings)

Today’s coffice space is in Rosedale. Have a listen to me reading this (with ambient sound from the location) on Patreon.

Do you draw your inspiration from watching people – mostly women of all ages – walk up and down Yonge Street in Rosedale? Yeah? Have I got the place for you.

Are you invigorated by overhearing conversations over coffee or light lunch at a Scandinavian-décor place on Yonge Street in Rosedale? Yup? Have I got the place for you.

Does your ideal coffice space smell like vegetable stock, cumin, garlic, roast chicken, allspice, apples, and other food things such as you might expect at a whitebread Scandinavian-décor cafeteria-service restaurant on a busy street in a well-off neighbourhood in a large city in eastern North America? Uh-huh, you say? Have. I. Got. Your. Place. Continue reading


Walk down a busy street in a city new to you, alone, lonesome, and uncertain, and pass an open door in a stone arch. Walk in and see a broad and glowing floor, high daylight and low candles, silent streamers reaching into the heights, and a labyrinth marked on the floor for walking meditation. A spirit-soaked building embraces you, and with a turn of the prism loneliness is solitude and solace. You did not come for it, but you have comfort. Continue reading


There is dry and then there is thirsty dry. There are days when it doesn’t rain and there are days when the ground almost beckons the water from your glass, when a spilled drop is sucked into the soil, when your eyes threaten to pop like Orville Redenbacher’s kernels. And your mouth is like parchment, and the only reason you spill any water is that you drink it so quickly because the dusty spidery fingers of the earth are reaching to tear it from you.

When it’s so dry it’s ridiculous, it’s siticulous.

If your throat is that dry, it’s gotten past sticky or tickling to where it feels there is a stick sticking into it. If your hands are that dry, they may seem suitable for shaking but your grip is so low-friction you can’t uncap a simple jam jar. If your wit is that dry, a joke may pass unnoticed for a fortnight or two. When the weather is that dry, plants and roots gasp open-mouthed like baby birds awaiting a worm. A leaf in such unwatering times is dusty dry. And a word unmoistened for centuries by the speech of moving tongues is siticulous.

Is siticulous. This word siticulous was never much in use and has not been recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary since 1620. It has siblings, sitient meaning ‘thirsty’ and sitiate a verb meaning ‘thirst’; they are all equally dusty. But they’re simple derivations from Latin: the verb sitire ‘thirst’ and the noun sitis also ‘thirst’. Our siticulous needs nothing more meticulous in research; it came from sitis via siticulosus. If you are a stickler you may pick a sense of ‘a bit thirsty’, but Oxford tells us it’s ‘very dry’.

Now go pour yourself a glass of something cold and refreshing. And then say this word. It needs it too.

Pronunciation tip: sausages

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve done the wurst pronunciation tip I could do. You’ll watch it and say “I never sausage a thing!” I go to Whitehouse Meats in St. Lawrence Market and show you four sausages and how to say them: andouille, chorizo, boerewors, and merguez. Andouille like them? Yes, we do!

Boxcar Social

A safe distance from the brightness

This is another coffice space review. Listen to the audio version (complete with background noise recorded on location) on Patreon – for free!

Welcome to Boxcar Social in Harbourfront Centre, with a beautiful view of a pond, a fountain, and, beyond those, the harbour. You’ll want to sit right at the window. But don’t.

The view is great, yes. But it’s so bright outside and so dark inside. If you’re working on a laptop, this is going to cause you headaches. Literal ones. Plant yourself at one of the tables inside. They have lower picnic-styled ones with benches and they have higher counters with chairs with backs.

They also have a bar, if you don’t mind facing away from the scenery. Continue reading

Dash it all!

A recent spate of tweets from a regrettably well known person included something uncharacteristic that caught some people’s eyes:

You know, an en dash.

Well, some of you know, anyway. The editors sure do. One of the definitions of “editor,” after all, is “Someone who knows all the dashes and how to use each one.” But many other people are variably flummoxed by the assortment of floating horizontal lines available.

I’m an editor and I’m here to help. Presenting my latest article for The Week:

Dashes and hyphens: A comprehensive guide

Sumach Espresso

Sitting down to work

This is my coffice space review of Sumach Espresso. Listen to it on Patreon (and then subscribe to help pay my coffee bills).

Sumach Espresso is a neighbourhood espresso joint. Many of the customers are on first-name basis with the baristas. It’s on a side-street corner at Sumach and Shuter, and your odds of happening on it by chance are pretty low. That doesn’t mean it’s unfriendly or somehow exclusive – it’s not. It does mean you’re unlikely to get blitzed by scads of passing suits or crowded out by goggling tourists. Continue reading


Every moment of every day, our senses sift input from our surroundings. Most of us assume the primacy of sight, organizing ourselves in our environment by what our eyes tell us. We tend to think of touch and taste as requiring contact. But sounds land on our ears, and scents wandering through the air enter our noses, and they fill out the dimensions around us… and at times it is almost as if we can touch and taste them.

The smell of fresh baking reaches you and you float on the scent towards its origin. You step into the fresh air after a rain and can taste the petrichor and greenery sprouting on your tongue. I remember once, sitting in a library while people nearby were having a whispered conversation, I lifted my hands lightly to let the soft ripples of their sound run over my fingertips. Ahhhh. Such is sufting: after the soft sifting of sensations, a sigh and a shiver and another sip or small extension to taste or feel what the free air carries. Continue reading