lissotrichous

Our idea of mothers is very much shaped by the way our own respective mothers were when we were young. My mother, in the 1970s when I was in my most formative years, was winsome, sanguine, sage, easily amused, gastronomically expert, mellifluous of voice, statuesque, and lissotrichous.

No, I did not know the word lissotrichous at the time. I may have been a boy genius and super annoying and all that but come on. Here, though, see her in the summer of 1976: Continue reading

Voodoo Child

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The house special

Listen to the audio of this on Patreon

I mean, you pretty much know what you’re getting into just from the name of the place, don’t you. But if that doesn’t tell you, look through the window or walk right in and see the narrow space, the bar on one side and the three little high-tops against the other wall, the one medium and one large table up in front. See the surfaces made from reused wood with peeling paint and engraved foliage. See the bottles behind the bar, which include many cute liquors but pointedly do not include vodka. See the floor, which is wood in a condition every bit as bad as the counter and tabletops. And if you still don’t get it, order their signature drink, a Voodoo Child, which is like a tighter version of a flat white served in a little glass skull. Continue reading

birdbrain

It’s bad to be a birdbrain.

We know this. Birdbrain has been a term of abuse since at least the 1940s, bird-brained since at least the 1920s. Sure, some birds can fly halfway around the planet and find their way back. Others can spot a fish below the waves from hundreds of feet up and nail them in a dive. Small birds have brains that are fully 1/12 of their body weight (compared with 1/40 for humans). But – with mynah exceptions (ha ha) – birds are not known for being creative problem solvers.

Take this little one here (see it on the counter?). Continue reading

Boston pronunciation tip: Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall

I lived in Boston for several years in the ’90s. I was back briefly recently, so I took the opportunity to make a quick pronunciation tip. Most things in Boston present no pronunciation challenges, but there are a couple worth knowing…

Tory spring

You know what an “Indian summer” is, I presume, though it’s a phrase I would avoid using (and one that isn’t used as much these days): A bit of fall that is recidivistically warm – which is to say, a few days that might make you think summer isn’t over yet, though it is. Well, have you heard of a “Tory spring”? Continue reading

murgeon

It’s the muddy season, and when you trudge on streets and paths the soles of your shoes and the margins of your pants may not emerge in good condition – may not, in fact, emerge intact. A shoe stuck in the wrong mud may be sucked from your foot, leaving you with naught but sock or stocking, and even that covered in murgeon.

Don’t get the idea that murgeon is a synonym for mud, though. It’s an old word for dirt and dregs and an only slightly newer one for mortar or peaty soil. It likely does come from the same source as mud, as reflected by the alternate form mudgeon (and is a curmudgeon like a cur in mudgeon? Perhaps, but there’s no evidence that that’s the origin).

But there is some sort of phonaesthetic urge in this word. It clings at the margins and thickens in the midgen, if only a smidgen. (Midgen, by the way, is the fat around an animal’s entrails.) It has a murky murmur or a grumbling hum to begin, and then you are mired in a midden with a burgeoning virgin sturgeon surgeon. Which, by the by, is a sequence of words that sounds like someone imitating an American on a military radio, a festival of retroflex and affricate.

Ah, frick it. This word begins and ends with nasals, so it’s not just dirty but soft. But listen carefully and take it to heart – or, I should say, take it as the heart of your two options when your shoe is mired in the murgeon: emergence or emergency.

The rest of the subtitle

Movie subtitles are often missing something important.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw Ai Weiwei’s The Rest. It’s an excellent documentary, and I feel a little bad criticizing it about anything, but its subtitles really needed one more thing – though, to be fair, very few movies include it. Continue reading