Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31--Look, I Made a Hat (thank you, Stephen Sondheim)

Don't worry, this isn't going to become a habit, but I just thought I'd post a brief mention that I did in fact, successfully complete my story post a day for short story month over at my other blog, Story Dump. It survived a few obstacles, and even I am not entirely sure what the point was, but completing things is good, especially for a slacker like me.

As it won't be going up anywhere else, I thought I'd post a link to the second story I managed to crank out because of it. I have a feeling that people who liked the one that went up on Flash Jab recently will not be as drawn to this one, but as they came about from the same basic impulse, I feel I owe them equal representation.     

Without further ado, The Philanthropist .

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I've been meaning to look into this one for awhile now, and because of a downed phone line I haven't had much internet access these last four days, so this one will be short and sweet.

I didn't even know there was a color called perse until I read the beginning of Adrian McKinty's next novel, I Hear the Sirens in the Street. It's a work in progress, but I'm pretty sure you will still find this sentence if you read the beginning of the book that he has provided for you here:

"The grey snow clouds turned perse and black."

Call me provincial or just call me American, but I had never heard that word perse before. We know it can't mean pink or magenta, but what exactly does it mean?

Google is apparently American enough not to know perse either, because it kept giving me definitions for "per se". Nevertheless, as usual, persistance, or in this case perse-istance pays off and by adding the word "colour" I found that it means a dark, purplish black color, although apprently it used to mean dark blue, or bluish grey. I suppose this last would be one of those fifty shades of grey everyone's on about, a phrase I find somewhat perplexing, but less so now. 

The etymology of this word is unclear. It goes back through Old French to Late Latin to persus, which some think is related to a back formation from some form of  "Persia." I'm not as interested in where it came from as what it is in this case.

In my hunting it down, I came across a great list of obscure colors which you can find at The Phrontistery , this itself being a great word.  

Up until this point in life, though, my only connection to the word perse was that I knew it was the name of a poet, namely, the French poet, Saint-John Perse, aka Alexis Leger. This is not because I am so versed in French poets, quite the contrary, but because he was admired by one of my teachers in this life, Thomas Merton, who besides being a monk and pretty much every other kind of thing you could think of, was also a poet. I was pretty certain of this connection, but I had to track it down for accuracy, and sure enough, Merton starts his essay "Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude" with a quote from him:

"un cri d'oiseau sur les recifs" -- the cry of a bird over the reefs.  

With a sky of perse and black overhead, no doubt.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Flash Jab Fiction 12

If you were reading here at the beginning of the month, or maybe it was the end of last one, I mentioned that I was doing a story post a day for May over at my much neglected blog Story Dump. As part of the idea of that was to try and get a couple of stories written myself, one thing has led to another and I currently have a story up at Jack Bates' Flash Jab Fiction. Jack's been offering story challenges there for awhile, often with very intriguing photographs, but this time, he gave us a bit more free rein. If you'd like to check out the story I came up with from my own Day 7 word prompt, you can find it right here .

Jack is one of my Grimm Tales compadres. Head over to Flash Jab Fiction and subscribe, why don't you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


This is a new word to me. I came across it while researching the origins of "germane" for the last post. The Online Etymology Dictionary talks of the the Latin germen, meaning sprout or bud, being dissimilated from the ProtoIndoEuropean *gene(e)-men- . I didn't quite know what to make of that "dissimilated". I couldn't quite help reading it as "dissimulated", which I thought meant "not simulated" and so unrelated.

It doesn't mean that.


You have no idea how hard I had to battle Google over this one, which kept automatically changing my word to "disseminate". But no, Google, dissimilate is what I wanted, and to my mind a fun and interesting concept. According to Wikipedia, dissimilation in language is when two similar sounds in a word are made to be less similar. The examples given there have to do with what I call an "r" sound, but which they call a rhotic sound (which merely means it comes from the Greek rho (Ρρ)), because not even all English speakers pronounce this letter the same way. For instance I would say "hard" but to my ears, a British person might sound as if they were saying "hod". They leave out the rhotic sound.

But we "hard r" types tend to leave out the r too when it gets close to another r. Examples: "beserk" for berserk, "supprise" for surprise, "paticular" for particular, and "govenor" for governor. One idea about why this is is that certain sounds spread out across a word and so people may have a hard time telling whether there is one "r" sound or two. They may tend to filter a second one out.

I also happened upon a paper which thinks it cuts both ways for these sounds, and that sometimes people hear, and subsequently pronounce too many 'hard r's. Examples of what is known as assimilation are "farmiliar", "perservere", "Christerpher", and "intergral".

Also, "sherbert."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

germane or not germane, that is the question

This one has come up a few times lately, so I thought I might as well investigate. I know that it means something like "pertinent, on point, relevant". What I don't know is where it comes from. Is it related to German at all? Does it come from the idea of germs or germination? Do I have a Jermaine Jackson, anyone?


"Related" being the operative word up there. And though "germane" is related to "germs" and "germination", and even to Jermaine Jackson in  a distant sort of way, it isn't related to German. Probably.

Here's the deal. "Germane" comes from the Latin germanus, which means "full, own, as in one's own brother or sister". It is related to such words as genus and genre and gender through their common theorized ProtoIndoeuropean root, *gene--"to give birth or beget". At its base, then, germane means "having the same parents" (Or, apparently, grandparents. I discovered a term that has pretty much passed out of American usage, at least in my circles--the cousin-german, or first cousin. Not at all the same thing as a German cousin. Unless your cousin-german happens to actually be German.)

Before germane got to English, though, it had to make a stop in France, in the Old French word germain, which started out directly from the Latin germen, "the shoot of a plant", and came to mean "closely related". It is here that it also became a proper name, or actually two, since there is both a feminine and masculine form. The name means "brother", and became popular because it belonged to a beloved saint, St. Germain, Bishop of Paris. And for the girls, there is also St. Germaine Cousin, patron saint of those who suffer child abuse. Anyway, Jermaine Jackson, despite the spelling variation, is connected to all those little French kids through his name,and to its English cousin-german, germane.

Now, as to the maybe so, maybe not connection to the word German, well, it gets a little tricky. And it shows up in that name Germain, because though this means brother, it can also mean, well, German. The Romans are the ones who gave us both. The first attested use of the written word "Germani" was by Julius Caesar, who was referring to a group of tribes in northeastern Gaul, but exactly who these people were is not certain. One theory has them as Celtic and the name Caesar used may have been given to them by the Gauls, and possibly meant "neighbor", which makes it not so ungermane after all. (Or it could mean "noisy" or "battle-cry", in which case, never mind.)

Interestingly, the word in its most current usage comes down to us from Hamlet, from Act 5, Scene 2, where Hamlet is preparing to duel Laertes. "The phrase would be more germane to the matter if we could carry a cannon by our sides." Apparently, this is the first figurative use of a now obsolete definition, meaning "closely related", to refer to things, not people.
Thanks, Shakespeare.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

-shipping news

Down to the Sea in Ships--Adelaide Hiebel

A guest request came up last week from Julie, aka my sister, wondering about those "-ship" endings. Friendship, courtship, sponsorship, relationship--those kind of words. I have a feeling that I did run across the meaning of this suffix, in one of the many posts I seem to have done about ships (just punch "ship" into the search field here--you'll see what I mean), but if so, I don't remember it.

My guess is that "-ship" has little to do with "ship" unless "ship" is somehow derived from "-ship". Confused? Fear not.


As I thought, they are not related. And in fact, "-ship" is the relatively easy one. It is a suffix added to a noun to show its quality, status or condition. I liked the description of its various uses here, at the first comment, and was pleased to see that I was right in thinking, probably because I'd read it somewhere else relatively recently, that it is related to German suffix schaft. This suffix is mostly applied to nouns, but it was interesting to see in the above link that it was quite common in Old English to apply it to adjectives and participles as well. Apparently only two examples survived into our current day usage--"hardship" and "worship" (which is a shortened "worthyship").

As our commenter above says, this quality, state or condition stuff has many gradations. It can refer to number, skill, position or rank. At root, it all goes back to *scap, which means to create, ordain or appoint, but ultimately to that hypothesized PIE root, *scep, which has to do with shape.

Anyway, ship, the noun, has nothing to do with all that. What is nice is that it gives us a chance to visit my favorite etymological expert, Anatoly Liberman, who has been mentioned too rarely around these parts of late. Liberman is the kind of scholar who knows when to say, "It can't be known". Surprisingly, this is exactly what he has to say about the word 'ship'. Of course, this doesn't stop him from devoting two articles to it. You can find the first one here, and the second one here . If you haven't read his stuff before, despite being an expert, he writes terrific prose that is often dryly funny.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Places in the World a Woman Could Walk (for Shannon Collins)

When I was in my post-college years, somewhere in my twenties, there was a kind of tide of books with a feminist slant, but that weren't political so much as just about women having the freedom to just live and be in the world, and what the obstacles were. I don't remember what all these titles were, but it was probably in one of them that I heard of a collection of short stories by Janet Kauffman called Places in the World A Woman Could Walk. I have to admit that I didn't get around to reading it, but perhaps its resonance for me was what  I needed to take away from it anyway. Rightly or wrongly, I assumed it really meant "there are no such places".

I learned rather belatedly last night that one of the shopkeepers on the downtown street I work on was stabbed to death in broad daylight on Monday as she walked back from a hairdressing appointment. The street she was on was one I have walked down many times and would never have considered one to avoid previously. The man who is alleged to have murdered her did not know her and is said to have been a transient from San Francisco with a history of violence. Whether there was a "reason" he chose her or no reason is irrelevant.

If there is anyone who could be considered a walker in this city, it is me, and I have certainly walked in a lot more questionable places than Broadway in the middle of the day at times. This was a freaky, aberrational event, and  the guy was arrested shortly after. It's not going to change my habits much, or anyone else's, I'd guess. But  it does give me pause to think that, in what is arguably one of the most liberal and free places for a woman to live in the world, this kind of thing can still happen so easily. Sure, he was a crazy guy, a "transient", but where do the crazy ideas of crazy transients really come from? Aren't they just diving a little deeper into the collective murk?

Kauffman's book originally came out in 1983. In 2012, there are still no places in the world a woman can walk with impunity. A beautiful May day in Santa Cruz, not long before noon, just proved that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I recently started thinking about the words 'cohort' and 'cohorts', possibly even on this blog, and now of course I see them everywhere. I suppose cohorts must be part of a cohort, but I don't really think of them together. I think even I have on some rare occasion said, 'my cohorts' but it's only in reading that I see a cohort of _____ used. A cohort is some sort of group, obviously. The 'co-' must mean with, but the 'hort'? I can only guess that it is related to hours, or possibly 'orts'--those  scraps of food that turn up fairly often in crossword puzzles. And something makes me think cohort is military, maybe some some segment of a squadron, or a legion.

Yeah, I'm grasping at straws here. Let's get on with it.


Man, I really was going to guess it went back to the Roman Legion, but I thought I was going to far out on a limb. But in fact the meaning of cohort does go back to that time, when a century was a hundred men, a corhort was six such centuries, and ten cohorts equaled a legion. (Although somewhat confusingly, the numbers needed to comprise these units changed over time, until a century typically had only 80 men, and so on. More detail (a little more detail than I personally really need)  is here and here.) The Latin was cohors, and came to us throught that by now quite familiar route of  Old French, Middle French and then English.

There are a couple of things that interest me about all this. The '-hort' is not related to hours or orts, but in fact to gardens. Think horticulture. The early sense comes from the Latin for enclosure, and sharing the hypothesized  ProtoIndoEuropean root *gher, to grasp or enclose, connects it to a whole lot of other words you might not have thought had any relation, like yard, garden, and even the sense of 'to gird". The military sense was an extension of the meaning, being something like an enclosed group.

The other thing that interests me is a change of usage in English. Apparently, many critics say that a cohort would never refer to and individual, but always to this group noun. But gradually, the usage shifted, so that cohort to mean an individual person has now become the dominant usage. According to the Free Online Dictionary:

"Seventy-one percent of the Usage Panel accepts the sentence The cashiered dictator and his cohorts have all written their memoirs, while only 43 percent accepts The gangster walked into the room surrounded by his cohort."

I have to admit that I do not know what the Usage Panel is, nor whether their findings are valid. I wonder, for example, if this is more of an American usage, as Latin had a longer and more tenacious hold on British English than ours. But I think that these go along more or less with the way I hear the word used, so for now My cohorts and I will provisionally accept its pronouncements. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Short Story Month, 2012

I've pretty much given up on trying to link my various blogs together in any kind of sustained way, mainly because I can't be bothered. But I thought I'd mention in a few places that I am using my Story Dump blog to help promote May as Short Story Month. It's an idea that has its source at Dan Wickett's Emerging Writers Network, but I think there are many activities branching out from there. I'm going to do some kind of story related post every day, as well as get some writing prompts going to stir the creative juices.

I don't know how successful I'll be--let's just call it an experiment...

(The logo was designed by Steven Seighman.)