Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Buzzed at the Meniru Meadery

Not long ago, a little shop opened at the end of my street, a place called Meniru Meadery. Apparently, mead, the very first fermented beverage that man ever produced, is enjoying a resurgence. It also turns out that mead is freaking delicious. Don't let the photo on Meniru's website fool you. There isn't a single table in the place large enough to hold that many people. Small table size notwithstanding, the place is excellent, and if you're in Canton, you should go there. Because I would like it to stay open so that I can keep walking to the end of my street whenever I want mead.
Now, while Meniru Meadery's mead is really great, the etymology their menu gives for the word honeymoon probably isn't. It gives up the more interesting of etymologies out there, that the word refers to the European tradition of giving newlywed couples a month's supply of mead as a wedding gift. That story, like many of the more interesting etymologies, probably isn't true - there's no real evidence to support the idea. The more likely explanation is the one the Online Etymology Dictionary gives - that the word refers to the period during which the marriage is sweetest - the period that will invariably wane within the first month. 
It's kind of ironic that a word for marital bliss should refer to honey because the critters that make the honey have some seriously messed up mating habits, and there's not much of any bliss involved. Or not for very long anyway. See, round about the time the queen bee gets randy, she flies out of the hive and waits for males, or drones, to come give her some sugar (see what I did there?). Each lucky drone that mates with the queen meets the same fate - the second he gets in there, he ejaculates so hard that part of his penis blows off. Or maybe the queen's just mad that he had such a hair trigger, so she keeps his junk as punishment. Then, to add insult to injury, the drone falls to his death. The queen mates with a dozen unfortunates, then flies on home. She'll use the sperm she stores for the rest of her life. Now that she's got no use for the drones she didn't bump uglies with, they're unceremoniously shoved out of the hive. Sometimes after the worker bees have chewed their wings off. And human males think it's a hardship when their mate wants to cuddle afterward. Drone, by the way, comes from middle lower Germanic and is probably an onomatopoeia
The queen gets hers, in the end. Once she gets old and feeble, all the other bees in the hive cuddle up to her and basically suffocate her, then appoint a new queen to take her place.
In summary, bees are assholes. 
Jeremy's and my marriage, by the way? Still disgustingly sweet. It's a tiny bit nauseating. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Glittering Prize

Eep! Has it really been over a week since I posted? I've just been so excited about turkey, my least favorite member of the meat family - of the meats I will actually eat, anyway. However, I'm pretty sure Grandma Brockway could find a way to make deep fried shoes tasty, so I survived. 
Today, I am thankful for all the usual things - family and cats and amazing friends and Grandma Brockway's cooking. But I'm exceptionally thankful for the magical migraine medication that kept me from missing out on my amazing family. I hate that I'm one of the pill people now, but I'm grateful the pills are there.
That's all the Thanksgiving content I've got for you today. If you demand turkey talk, there's always this post from two years ago. Also, I've been doing this blog for over two years. 
Also, I'm watching Glee, in which I just spotted a continuity error. How shocking is that? Actually, maybe that's why I put up with Glee's terrible writing. It's exactly as well-written and researched as the backdrop of my childhood - comic books. 
Comic books, especially Marvel comics, are infamous for their lack of continuity. They'd sort of have to be, what with the fact that superheroes don't so much age - the original X-Men are awfully sprightly considering they were in their late teens in 1963. Sure, you could posit that because they're mutants, they don't age as quickly, but how would you explain Batman? He's been around 1939, and his only actual superpower is his money. Okay, fine, I stole the money superpower thing from Cracked.
Round about 1964, Marvel Comics got tired of all the people writing in to inform them of every tiny continuity error they found, so they introduced the No-Prize, which they rewarded to people who wrote in with piddly complaints. Originally, it was just a mocking thing, but over time, they started emailing out No-Prize envelopes with nothing in them. 
Eventually, Marvel changed the requirements for the prize. People not only had to point out the continuity error, they had to explain it away. For instance, in one issue, the Beast quotes a Yeats poem, but one reader pointed out that that he'd gotten the quotation wrong. Beast is a super-genius who would never flub a quotation. Of course, said the reader, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation. Beast is a genius who loves poetry. He's probably poured over early manuscripts of Yeats' poetry, and likely found and memorized an earlier version of the poem he quoted, probably because he liked it better. Obviously. 
My mom used to bribe her students to behave with the nothing-bug. The nothing-bug was an invisible bug that lived in a plant on the windowsill, and the kid who stayed in line best got to carry the nothing-bug until they came back to the classroom. The kids vied ardently for the right to carry the thing. Over the years, though, the nothing-bug stopped working. Kids, even kindergarteners, are too jaded now, and lack the imagination for pretending. Mom says kids don't hardly play pretend anymore. They've got video games and television and electronic toys that make it unnecessary to pretend for themselves. And if kids never learn to play pretend, what are movies and books going to look like when these kids grow up?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sticks and Stones

Someone I know posted a link to this article on, in which a reporter tracked down some teens who used the N-word to describe the president over Twitter - students who display their school's names on their profiles and post under their own names. Then the reporter called the kids' schools to make them aware of this.
Jeremy and I just had a spirited discussion of this and he's brought me around to his opinion that this was kind of a dick move on the part of the reporter. I mean, I'm certainly not sorry for the kids - you've got to learn sometime that we're accountable the things we say under our own names on an international forum. However, calling their schools to tattle on them is maybe a little lame. And snooty. And a tiny bit creepy.
But this post isn't about that. It's about the argument that always comes up when the question of whether white people should use racial slurs. The old "they" can call "us" anything they want argument. I'm not saying that black people should be calling white people horrible names. I'm asking whether this is a thing that happens. I've known a lot of black people, including my fair share of racist black people, but the closest thing I've ever gotten to a racial slur was when someone once called me a white bitch. Which, to be fair, is a factual statement. 
I'm not saying there aren't any black people running around shouting honky out the car windows, I'm just saying that if that language is as common and socially accepted as folks seem to think it is, I must be deaf. 
I listen to rap and hip hop, which are supposed to be scandalously anti-white, and I've yet to hear a cracker or honky or any other slur against white people. I mean, Eminem calls himself white trash, but again, factual statement. I even Googled "racist rap lyrics." That, as it turns out, is an excellent way to stumble onto Neo-Nazi websites. So that's in my browser history now. Awesome. I'm not saying there aren't racist rap lyrics. I'm just saying that in my experience, artists who rap about killing whitey are just as outside of the mainstream as Neo Nazi bands like the late Prussian Blue, which was made up of tween girls (they seem to have reached the age of reason last year, giving up the act and the white nationalist rhetoric last year).
My point: You're not a persecuted minority. Your inability to say the n-word without social consequence isn't a great social evil. And the "why can't I do it; the other guy gets to do it" argument stopped being valid when you were 8 and your mom wouldn't let you ride your bike to the end of your block even if the other kids are allowed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cold Chicken

So you know how in the first Harry Potter book, all problems could have been resolved at any point if the kids had just gone to Dumbledore? And you know how in the second Harry Potter book, all problems could have been resolved at any point if the kids had just gone to Dumbledore? And you know how in the third Harry Potter book... you get the idea.
That realization is an example of what Alfred Hitchcock once called an icebox scene - a plot element that makes no sense, only you don't realize it until you're at home pulling cold chicken out of the icebox. 
Some of my favorite icebox moments.

  •  In The Avengers, Thor's hammer has destroyed everything he has ever hit with it. Meaning that when he, sparring with Iron Man and Captain America, had no idea he wasn't, in fact, going to murder them.
  • In The Avengers, where's Loki while everyone's sitting around eating shwarma?
  • In Harry Potter, if Peter Pettigrew showed up with his own name on the Marauder's Map, even when he was in the form of Scabbers, Ron's pet rat. If the Weasley twins had been in possession of the Marauder's Map up until they gave it to Harry, then they would likely have noticed their brother Ron sharing a bed with a strange man every night.
  • On CSI, pretty much none of the technology they use to catch bad guys exists. You probably figured out that ATM cameras can't show a mole on the elbow of a person a mile away. But there's stuff even more basic. Anyone who owns a cat knows that hairs get tracked everywhere all the time, and finding a single hair at a crime scene doesn't mean jack. I mean, if I make my mom a scarf at my best friend's house in DC, and my best friend's dog sheds in it (because that's what her dog does for a living), and my mom gives the scarf to a homeless guy because she's deathly allergic to dogs and thus the scarf, then there's a chance there's a homeless dude wandering the streets of Cleveland with hairs on him from a dog in DC. That doesn't mean he murdered the dog. (Don't ask yourself why my mom didn't just wash the scarf - that's another icebox moment). So anyway, in the real world, there are going to be dozens, maybe hundreds of hairs floating around any given crime scene, and DNA testing is expensive. Even if you tested every piece of hair around the crime scene, the chances of matching it to the bad guy and then using it to hang him are... somewhat less good than TV would have us think.
  • How the hell does Marty McFly's mom not notice that her son looks exactly like that dude she hit with her car and tried to sleep with when she was in high school?
  • The X-Men leave more bodies in their wake than probably all their enemies put together. There's even a whole super villain team made up of the few people that Wolverine has left alive. And then there's the whole Phoenix murdering five billion people thing. In fact, countless lives could have been saved if the X-Men had just let Magneto enslave humanity in 1963. Because really, how were he and half a dozen freaks with sorta lame powers going to rule the world anyway? 
  • Movie and TV characters always have way more money than they have any business having, unless it's a plot point that they don't. Like where did Juno get the money for all those pregnancy tests, especially from a convenience store? Those things - especially the fancy kind that don't make you pee in a cup - cost like $15 at WalMart - and would cost a lot more at a convenience store. And how many did she say she'd taken? Half a dozen? That's a huge chunk of change to a teenager, especially one from a not so rich family. She clearly doesn't have a job... 
  • In Dogma... there's a little flaw in Bartelby and Loki's plan to get back to heaven. According to a Catholic tradition, anyone who walks through a church on its centennial is forgiven of all sins. Bartleby and Loki are going to thwart God's will by going through the doors to a church on its centennial - however, in order to truly be absolved of one's sins, according to the church, you must genuinely repent and intend to sin no more. If you're walking through the doors with the intention of thwarting God's will, then you're sinning. If you can get around that, since the cops were sure to shoot them when they left the church, then leaving the church would be suicide, a mortal sin.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Keep Calm and Kill Zombies

So I'm hanging out in the mountains of West Virginia, like one does. Enjoying Tamarack, one of the few giant billboard bearing shopping attractions on the way to Atlanta worth visiting. Super cool craft items from super amazing artisans. You know something funny about being a crafter? Non-crafters might look at the pretty hefty price tags on items and balk. I look at the price tag and, knowing how much work went into the thing, am horrified by how little these poor folks are able to get for their amazingly beautiful craft items. I kinda wanted to ask if I could pay more for my purchases. But I digress as usual.
While I was in the store, a woman held up a "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster to her friends. "I see this everywhere. What does it mean?" she asked.
One of her friends replied "oh, it's that zombie apocalypse thing. You know how in zombie movies they always say 'keep calm'? That's what it refers to. And then 'carry on' is one of the Marines' slogans. So the saying is like, if you have to go to war with zombies, keep calm, but fight like a Marine."
My dad is fond of telling those sorts of shaggy dog stories, and seeing how long it takes you to catch on that he's just making something up. But man, if this guy was kidding, he's got the best poker face ever. I think he actually thought this is what the sign meant.
So where does the phrase come from? Well, I'll give you a clue: it's got nothing to do with zombies.
"Keep Calm and Carry On" is the slogan from a quintessentially British World War II propaganda poster. Unlike other posters from the era with other, just as quintessentially British propaganda posters (Make Due and Mend, Let Us Go Forward Together), it never saw circulation, and went forgotten for many decades.
The reason the poster was never circulated, according to a 2009 article in The Guardian, is somewhat chilling. It was being saved for the invasion, should it come.
Happily, the poster was never needed, and it faded into obscurity. Then, in the early 2000s, according to a story I vaguely remember from NPR, someone rediscovered it. The owners of an antique bookstore found a copy of it pressed it between the pages of some mouldering old book.
I can't say just why the thing got so popular, but one columnist for The Economist, theorized that the fondness is that it "taps directly into the country's mythic image of itself: unshowily brave and just a little stiff, brewing tea as the bombs fall." And since England is the new Japan among the geek kids, and since geeks are the new cool kids, the poster has reached ubiquity here on the other side of the pond.
And, you know, zombies.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The problem with Katy Perry is she's too intellectual an example of a sentence that may never have been used in the history of the English language. 
A truly original sentence might be rarer than you think. Even though we make up most of the sentences that come out of our mouths right on the spot, a ton of them have been spoken a hundred, maybe a million times before. If I say "I always wear hoodies" (which I do), even though it occurred to me spontaneously, it's totally possible that a hundred people across the English speaking world have spoken that phrase today. In fact, a Google search for "I always wear hoodies," in quotes, yields over 300,000 results. Heck, even "I always wear underpants on my head," in quotes, brings back 7 results.
I'm surprised it's that high. I mean, I've only known one person in my entire life who regularly wore underpants on his head. True story. 
So every now and then, Jeremy or I will say something, then conjecture as to how many times that something has been said before. "The cat was begging me to take a bath this morning," is one I suspect hasn't been spoken too many times before, and yet my cat does, in fact, beg me to take a bath in the morning. He likes people soup, you see. He loves to drink out of the tub while we're in it. But I digress.
Anyway, Jeremy ran across a sentence while playing World of Warcraft today that he thinks may be an example of the elusive perfectly original sentence - another player had occasion to say "Seriously, fuck these eels." (He has apparently failed to take into account Rule 34).