Friday, November 22, 2013

braggadocio--a personal instance

It's not hard to know what this one means, although I was surprised to learn that it can mean either a braggart or his (or her) empty and pretentious bragging.  Or just strutting around in a swaggering, cocky manner.

I assumed in had come from Italian, too, but no--it's from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and is actually the name of a character who, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is the "personification of vainglory". Spenser coined it with the exotic non-Anglo-Saxon ending (actually it was Braggadochio, like Pinocchio)  because Italian was much in vogue in the 1590s, another interesting fact I didn't know, though I suppose Shakespeare should have clued me in on that one.

Actually the word came to mind because I'm going to brag a bit here about something I've already bragged of already--the epitome of braggadocio,  I'd say. I found out that the story I wrote for the One Teen Story workshop was picked as one of several they've published in its entirety on their website. If you'd like to read the whole of  "Inconstant Moon" (it's not too long), you'll find it HERE. The paragraph formatting didn't completely survive its transition from my documents to their website, but hopefully it won't be too confusing. And if you like that kind of thing there were two more picks, one which is called "Ziggy Starbucks", by Anne Paris and another which will be up in a few days. You can find links to all three on the OTS blog.
No, I am  not a teenager, although I sometimes act like one. But luckily this wasn't a hinderance.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Mike Ryan and  Charles Pasternak in Henry V
Over the last few months, starting with the Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of Henry V in the festival glen, I have been having quite a run of seeing what some call "the Henriad". Not only did Santa Cruz's production complete a cycle of all three of the Henry plays with this performance being the third year Prince Hal returned to the stage (and with the same actor playing the lead in all three, which was terrific), I then got to see PBS do the cycle (which included Richard II) this fall under what I think was the very apt overarching title, The Hollow Crown.

It's an odd thing to say, but I actually had a bit harder time following the filmed version than the live version, when I would have thought it might be the opposite. I don't know if it's the same for everyone, but I think it has something to do with the way a live performance forces you to struggle along, whereas television, though you may have more chance to hear the lines crisply, let's you, well, check in and out whenever you  like.

So I decided to pick up my copy of Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber and read her comments on all of the plays. I've had the book for some years, and I find it a highly readable account of each play so it's a fun thing to do after a performance. (Also, I wanted to know why Henry decided to kill the French prisoners at Agincourt--she didn't tell me, but the short answer is, because the real Henry did.)

Anyway, it was while reading the  notes on Henry V that I came across the famous prologue in which the speaker questions the ability of  a mere theater to represent the battlefield.

Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

As I've mentioned here before quite recently, I can be a bit slow on the uptake. That's probably why, although I have heard the modern word 'cockpit' used thousands of times, it never really occurred to me to think about why it was called that. And really, it wasn't till seeing the word written out in the play that I thought 'hmm, cockpit--there's got to be some kind of connection'. Now obviously, the cockpit in the play is referring to the Elizabethan era activity of cock fighting, and not to space on a fighter jet where the pilot sits. So what's the connecting link?


Well. The answer is fairly consistent, though there are a few variations. Yes, it does apparently go back to that whole cockfighting arena. The first slippage across the line to a new meaning seems to have been when it became the designation of the rear area of the lowest deck, or orlop, of a fighting ship. This area was often used as an operating theatre in times of crisis because it was the most stable and the least disturbed by the ship's movement. But as World Wide Words points out, surgery tended to make  the space feel cramped, noisy and bloody. I'm sure a few sailors had seen a cockfight or two in their day, and so the association was made.

But there does seem to be another factor in all this, which is that the cockpit was also the station of the coxswain. The coxswain is the person in charge of the ship's boat. Also he's that guy who in races yells "Row, row, row". (For what a coxswain in a race actually does, click here.)  A ship's boat is also called a cock, and the swain is its servant. But it is not named after fighting roosters, it comes from the Old French coque, which is something more like a canoe. So, as you can see, the waters are muddied slightly, if not bloodied.

And muddied a bit more by an alternate variant I read at by the idea that it was the area which housed the midshipmen, who likely were strutting around in a roosterish way. (I do want to note for the record that Blogger just tried to change roosterish to 'Roosterfish' Roosterfish? To be explored later...

Apparently the idea of cramped quarters carried over more than the idea of blood and quarrel did. The Online Etymology dictionary delineates the progression:

1580s: pit for fighting cocks
1706: midshipmen's quarters below deck
1914: pilot's area on plane
1930: the driver's area of a racing car

As you might imagine the word cockpit elicited a video from Hot For Words. It's been too long, Marina Orlova. Well, not really, but there are lots of ways of learning things in this world...


Thursday, November 7, 2013


As I've mentioned before here, I sometimes have an odd way of getting around to posting about things. Often something will come to my attention, but will disappear from thought again, only to re-emerge in some other way within the next few days or so. Sometimes they just peter out, or must--I usually don't remember.

image from
The other night, I was watching some late night television--the kind where they often have ads advertising sensational new inventions that if you hurry up and act now, you can get two of for the price of one. I am often very intrigued by these things, wondering how their reality holds up to their advertising, though for better or worse, I would never actually bother to pick up the phone. This night, they were showing a fabulous wallet that folded up to about 1/5th the width of a regular wallet and still could contain the same amount of stuff. They even demonstrated this, along with ringing endorsements of chiropractors and surgeons. How? I wondered. How can it possibly do this? It was like a magic trick that you'd never get tired of watching. And then the announcer gave it away. "Thanks to the wonder of Tyvek," he said. "Tyvek!?!" I exclaimed. Yes, really, I did exclaim. And I knew I had to do this post.

You see, in the spring, I was talking about my then housing woes to a friend. At the time, my house had some big issues with dampness, and I was complaining about how I couldn't even put my bookcase against the walls, as the books would mildew. Had, in fact.

"Why don't you get some Tyvek to put between your bookcases and the wall to absorb moisture?" he asked.

"What is Tyvek?" I asked. Although I knew  that he would probably be surprised at my ignorance, I wasn't particularly embarrassed. After all, he is a resourceful jack of all trades and I, well, I am definitely not. He explained that it was a kind of insulation boarding that kept moisture from seeping in. Well, it sounded like a good idea, and I remembered the name, and thought  might try it, but in the end the moisture issues were resolved in a different, more comprehensive way.

At that point, I wasn't too embarrassed about Tyvek. After all, there are a good many things that people who are of the DYI ilk know that us lesser mortals don't. Show me a box of tools and I could probably pick out the hammer. I could probably differentiate a wrench from a screwdriver. But don't expect too much more from me than that. Seriously--don't.

So I wasn't bothered a lot about my ignorance in this case, until one day, some time later, when I was walking down a street and I came across a  building that looked a lot like this:

And I am pretty sure that this wasn't the first Tyvek® (we'll put in their trademark at this point in the story, now that I know that it is a brand from Dupont) wrapped house I'd seen in my days on this earth. In fact, I've probably seen a thousand of them. It's one thing not to know the names of things when you see them. It's a bit of a different category when their name is printed right on them.

Tyvek®, it turns out, is used in a lot of things. Besides wallets, it shows up in USPS priority mail envelopes, in one time painters coveralls, wristbands for when you want to buy a drink at some outdoor festival where they have to monitor the alcohol intake (easy to put on, a little hard to take off, in my experience, but perhaps I overimbibe.) And a ton of other stuff. In 1955, a Dupont researcher named Jim White noticed some polyethylene fluff coming out of a pipe and of course Dupont then began figuring what they could do with this stuff. Apart from the water resistant properties it has for such things as house wrapping, the main thing to know is that it results in a non-woven material, created by heat and compression instead.

Tyvek®contains a little parable about life for me. Or at least, a parable about my life. Since Tyvek® and I have been around for something like the same amount of time, it's safe to say that I have been walking around not noticing Tyvek® for pretty much my whole life. As a metaphor, that can stand in for a lot of unnoticed things. I now kind of assume that as I lie on my death bed, I will open my eyes briefly and say, "Oh! I never noticed that."


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Going on a bit about the mountain lions now

Because mountain lions have been a bit on my mind lately, I caught this news while getting ready to watch Season 3 of Borgen on L.A.'s KCET just now. Apparently a young male mountain lion failed to cross Highway 101 and make it to the Santa Monica Mountains last month. I know you must think I have some kind of Google news alert for mountain lion deaths going on, but I swear it is just a coincidence. I was actually born in Santa Monica, and my sister still lives down there, so I continue to feel an affinity for the region. This article is perhaps slightly better in explaining why, beyond the individual death, this is a loss for genetic diversity in the region. Check out the KCET report here.

And now back to Borgen. If you liked West Wing, I assume you'll like it even better when it's set in Denmark. I know I do.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sad news on the mountain lion front

Some readers here may remember my May 16th post about the mountain lion captured in a Santa Cruz aqueduct. Sadly, he was killed by a car while crossing our infamous Highway 17 early Thursday  morning. After his May capture, "39M", as researchers rather unimaginatively dubbed him, was tagged, thereby allowing scientists to track his movements. He is not the first big cat to lose out to the battle with vehicles on 17, and he probably won't be the last. But at least the Land Trust of Santa Cruz county and others are looking into making an underground tunnel at one of the most  frequent crossing points. The whole story can be found in the Santa Cruz Sentinel article HERE.

Goodbye, 39M. Our fates seemed slightly commingled on the day of your venture downtown. Selfishly, perhaps, I must hope that they don't continue to be.

(This is not the actual mountain lion, but one graciously supplied by one bslmmrs at Flickr Creative Commons. Still, a good stand in, I'd think.)