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One of the tantalizing pleasures of word mining is knowing there’s always a rich vein of linguistic delights to be unearthed, no matter how unassuming the visible signs might be….it just might take some sustained digging to find them. But sometimes the rewards are laid out right before us with just a glance or two, like the gold nuggets strewn across the beaches of Nome that prompted its legendary gold rush.
The language of permafrost is of the latter kind, an absurdly copious domain for word lovers filled with terms that are intrinsically musical but together become a kind of poetry. In perusing writing about permafrost you will read of the earth as living material in the form frost blisters, boils, bulbs and heaves, ice wedges, lenses and veins. You will explore reticulate ice and river taliks and puzzle over solifluction aprons, sheets and lobes. And no matter what they might actually look like, I am content with the images evoked by stone garlands, stony earth circles and string fens.
But the word I bring to you today piqued my interest with its simple, memorable sound, making it a word I remembered but didn’t know: I present the pingo.
A pingo /PEENG-oh/ (also called a hydro- or cryo-laccolith, if you want to get all sciency about it) is a conical or dome-shaped earth mound of soil-covered ice. Pingos, which can reach well over 200 feet high and 2000 feet in diameter, are formed by freezing water forced to expand upward due to surrounding permafrost and we are specifically warned by the International Permafrost Association, in the form of its surprisingly captivating Multi-Language Glossary of Permafrost and Related Ground-Ice Terms, not to confuse the perennial pingo with its seasonal lookalike, the aforementioned frost blister, known more prosaically as a seasonal frost mound.
The Fifth of November
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!
—Traditional English folk verse
—this version (and much more information about it) on PotW.org.
genericide /jə-NAIR-ə-siyd/. noun. A more colorful term for when a trademarked name becomes genericized, or so commonly used that it becomes generic and is in danger of losing its protected status. Kleenex and Band-Aid are the prototypical victims of genericide. Technically, when a brand name is used generically, it is an example of antonomasia, a kind of metonymy in which a proper name is used for a common name. Fear of genericide is why you don’t hear Google employees using Google as a verb or see it used that way in their official sites and documentation. Google it and see!
Residents of the tiny Faroe Islands wanted Google to map their island. So they did…using sheep equipped with solar powered 360-degree cameras.
Super Terrain has create a version of Fahrenheit 451 that can only be read by applying flame to the pages. Thanks, Reader B.!
The alt-right is creating its own dialect. Here’s a complete guide. If that’s too—something—how about The IKEA Dictionary? Or The Don Martin (of Mad Magazine fame) Dictionary? Or a collection of short fiction composed entirely of example sentences from dictionaries?
Language ridiculousness du jour → Court rules request for ‘lawyer dog’ too ‘ambiguous’
Photos! We’ve got photos (and video)! → Photos Published of Female Librarians on Horseback Delivering Books in the 1930s || Photographer Spends Almost 10 Years Photographing the Most Beautiful Libraries Around the World || An aerial view of Chicago taken in 1914 with video from today
A podcast assertion about the mystery of consciousness led me to the story of The Man Who Lives Normally With Damage to 90% of His Brain. The truth turns out to be a bit different…but still pretty amazing.
Via Reader L. comes Anguish Languish, about which he writes, “Although written with a serious purpose in mind, the humorous aspects cannot be ignored, especially with Chace’s additions of phrases not in the traditional stories (‘A nervous sausage bag ice!’ for ‘I never saw such big eyes!’) and added plot twists.” See also: the Wikipedia article on this “ersatz, homophonic” language.
Where was this when I was skimming through Clan of the Cave Bear? → Audible’s new feature lets you skip right to the most erotic part of romance novels
Today in 1930, Sinclair Lewis is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters.” When a Swedish journalist called Lewis the morning of the award, Lewis thought it was a friend of his playing a joke and mocked the journalist’s accent, saying he could do better and repeating, “You haf de Nobel Brize.” In his Nobel Lecture, appropriately titled “The American Fear of Literature,” Lewis praised many other writers who he felt deserved the prize more than he, including William Faulkner, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather and Thomas Wolfe, but also noted that “true-blue” professors of literature in America thought that, “literature is not something that a plain human being, living today, painfully sits down to produce. No; it is something dead; it is something magically produced by superhuman beings who must, if they are to be regarded as artists at all, have died at least one hundred years before the diabolical invention of the typewriter,” who liked their “their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead.” I’d say Lewis was mostly correct in his assessment of others…and his implicit assessment of his own work.
“To escape Auschwitz, she left her father to die. Decades later, she got a message from him…”