February 26, 2006

Olympic verbiage II

The last week or so have been a little light on blogging. It was reading week here at Mount A and I’ve been spending a lot of time watching the Olympics, along with catching up on some reading and marking. And since I wrote a blog entry during the opening ceremonies, it seems appropriate that I write another during the closing ceremonies.

During the last summer games I wrote about some interesting sporting terms that were used repeatedly in the Olympic coverage, so here are few interesting ones from the winter sports.

First of all a couple of figure skating terms: lutz and salchow. Unsurprisingly these two jumps are named after people, figure skaters Alois Lutz and Ulrich Salchow. The Austrian figure skater Lutz apparently first performed the eponymously named jump 1913. The Swede Salchow performed the jump named after him in 1909. No Swedes or Austrians won medals in figure skating this Olympics.

In curling, the leader of a team is called the skip, which presumably is short for skipper, as in the captain of a ship, and thus cognate with ship from Old English scip. However, I can’t explain where the curling terms hammer and hog line come from.

In skiing, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term mogul comes “probably from Scand. (cf. dial. Norw. mugje, fem. muga, ‘a heap, a mound’), or from southern Ger. dial. mugel in the same sense.” The same web site states that slalom comes “from Norw. slalam ‘skiing race,’ lit. ‘sloping track,’ from sla ‘slope’ + lam ‘track’ (related to Norw. laan ‘a row of houses’).” Not surprising that the Scandinavian countries provide much of the skiing terminology, and though they no longer dominate the sport as they used to, they still do well in them: Norway took all but one of their 19 medals in skiing related events and Sweden took 11 of their 14 in skiing related events.

I won’t even touch snowboard vocabulary, though there’s a lot of it and it’s quite amusing.

And finally sled-related vocabulary. First of all, the word sled comes from Middle Dutch sledde, from the Proto-Germanic root *slido, and is thus cognate with Old English slidan, which gives us Modern English slide. The related term sleigh comes from the Dutch slee, a variant of slede, and seems to be more common in North American English, though the official Olympic term is bobsleigh, not bobsled. And as for the first element, bob, Middle English bobbe, ‘cluster (of fruit, leaves, etc.)’, may be of Celtic origin (cp. Gael. babag). I suppose a bobsled is a diminutive sled? Interestingly, the word luge, from French and before that from Medieval Latin sludia, may also be Celtic in origin, from a Gaulish word cognate to English sled and slide. On the other hand, skeleton, a sport similar to luge, is so called because of the stripped-down nature of the sled, though apparently there is one competing theory that the word is a mispronunciation of the Norwegian word kjelke which means ‘sled’. The word skeleton, of course, comes from Greek meaning ‘dried up’. The turns in the track used for boblseigh, luge, and skeleton are called chicanes. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following information: “from Fr., originally ‘subtlety,’ perhaps related to Ger. schick ‘tact, skill,’ from M.L.G. schikken ‘arrange appropriately;’ or from Fr. chicane, from chicanerie (see chicanery).” I’m not sure I see any patterns in all of this in terms of Olympic results…

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February 25, 2006

Blogiversary II

Well, here it is, my second blogiversary. It was two years ago today that I wrote my first blog post. There have been a few starts and stops along the way, most recently all of last fall. But here I am at it again.

One year ago today I wrote a blog post about the word blogiversary, tabulating the number of ghits for the various possible spellings. It seems like this would be a good opportunity to update the results, so here are last year’s and this year’s results:


The first thing to notice about these numbers is the overall increase of instances of the word, a total increase of about 495.2%. And indeed the number of instances of each individual spellings has increased. The other obvious thing to notice here is that the spellilng blogoversary has vaulted from 4th position into second in terms of frequency. A second table listing percentage frequencies is illustrative:


Interestingly, as these percentage statistics make clear, although blogiversary is still by far the most common spelling, the percentage has dropped off significantly. Similarly, blogaversary, which was the second most common spelling, drops in percentage and rank to the 3rd spot. The two least common spellings bloggaversary and bloggoversary, though increasing in total number of occurrences, drop in terms of percentage frequency. As a corollary of these percentage drop-offs, as I already mentioned, blogoversary has a dramatic percentage increase, thus ranking as the second most common spelling, and the seemingly less likely spellings bloggiversary and blogversary also increase their percentage frequencies.

So, what can we gather from all this? While one tends to expect spellings to become more regularized, clearly the spellings for this words are still in a state of flux. Predictably, the two statistically insignificant spellings, bloggaversary and bloggoversary, are even more so. Blogiversary is still the clear favourite, and the similarly formed bloggiversary, also taking its vowel from anniversary and its doubled vowel like from forms such as blogging and blogger, makes a significant increase. Blogoversary, possibly influenced by the term blogosphere, makes the most significant increase. The simplified formation, blogversary, also increases in percentage frequency. However, both spellings with the a stem vowel decrease in percentage frequency.

It would be interersting to see a year from now how these numbers change…

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February 18, 2006

Gebærned fleote

It’s been a while since I’ve done a full food entry, so here’s a good one. Although we didn’t have much time to do something special for Valentine’s Day, we decided to make something rather nice for dessert: crème brulée.


My sister gave us a culinary blowtorch for Christmas, and so we decided that this would be the first thing we did with it. Click on the extended entry for the full account of this recipe.

Another gift was used for this recipe as well—a vanilla bean my parents brought back for us from Mexico:


First we slit and scraped the vanilla bean, and then added it to a saucepan of cream, bringing it just to the boil. Meanwhile, we whisked together sugar and egg yolks, to which we slowly added the cream mixture, and strained. Next, the custard mixture is poured into ramekins, which are placed in a shallow baking dish with a small kitchen towel underneath, and then boiling water is poured around them. Finally, we put the ramekins of custard in the oven until set, allowed them to cool, and then stored them overnight in the fridge.


The actual torching happened the next day, just before serving. First of all, we had to work out how to fuel up the torch (with butane), and how to use it. Here’s a picture of me with the lit torch just before setting the flame to the ramekins:


If you look closely, you can just make out the blue flame, which unfortunately doesn’t photograph well in the fully lit kitchen. In any case, the way the torching process works is, granulated sugar is sprinkled on top of the custards, and then the flame is applied in small circles melting the sugar.


This process is continued until the sugar is caramelized, producing a nice brown colour.


And there you have it. The crème brulées were quite successful, and very yummy. With the first two we did, we perhaps put a bit too much sugar on top, but we perfected the process with the second two. And now we’ve got a new skill to add to our culinary repertoire, not to mention a new kitchen gadget (woo hoo!)—I do love kitchen gadgets. We’ll have to try the torch out on other types of recipes next.


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February 13, 2006


Well, due to the storm that hit the east coast, we’re having a snow day, as Mount A is closed today. Actually, the storm didn’t hit the Atlantic Canada as badly as it did the eastern seaboard US, but I guess if the highways aren’t clear enough, it’s a safety issue. While I’m sure we would have been able to get into campus, it would have been a bit of work getting out our door. Here’s some photo-evidence (click to enlarge):

snowday1.jpg snowday2.jpg snowday3.jpg snowday4.jpg

Of course back in Ottawa the transit system could be hobbled and still things wouldn’t be closed for a snow day. But then there’s Toronto, which calls in the military for a little bit of snow, so I guess this is somewhere in between. Ah well, I guess it’s a day of watching the Olympics for me…

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February 10, 2006

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Well, here I am watching the Olympic opening ceremonies (on tape delay) while writing a blog entry. No doubt I’ll continue to write such entries over the course of the games. Here are some initial thoughts, reactions, and notables:

  • Brian Williams is already grating.
  • In addition to watching the games themselves, I’m also watching my wife participate in the Knitting Olympics—Laneius? I have to particularly get behind this because what she’s knitting is a sweater for me. Thanks, love! (See also the nifty buttons on the side bar—this blog is troll-friendly!)
  • See a previous entry on the Olympics.
  • Go men’s hockey Team Canada!
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February 07, 2006


Following up on my previous post on Stephen Colbert, here are more postings on Language Log on the word ‘truthiness’:

The birth of truthiness?
Truthiness: a flash in the pan?
Truthiness in journalism

Interestingly, it appears that Colbert hasn’t been truthful (or is that truthy?) about the pronunciation of his name. I’m so disillusioned.

Equally interesting, and a testament to how fast things move these days, there’s not only an entry on Stephen Colbert in Wikipedia, there’s an entry on the word truthiness. He may not have received the recognition he thought he deserved from the American Dialect Society, but the Wiktionary entry for truthiness does mention Colbert.

More recently, Stephen Colbert appeared on the cover of Newsweek (in the top right-hand corner). Of course the article mentions the whole truthiness bruhaha.

All this talk of the word truthiness makes me reflect on my favourite medieval English word: truth. Yes, I know it’s a modern English word to, but the particularly interesting thing about the word in medieval English is the range of meanings the word had. Not only did it have the obvious meaning of veracity (that is, not being false), and the less obvious though perhaps still present moral sense of fidelity or faith, the word was also at that point undifferentiated from the word troth, meaning a promise, as in betrothal or to plight one’s troth. This range of meanings is particularly important in Middle English literature, where truth is often represented as one of the chivalric virtues (a bit like Superman’s truth, justice, and the American way, I suppose). As a chivalric virtue it implied both a moral rectitude and the keeping of one’s word. Chaucer, in addition to mentioning the quality numerous time in the Canterbury Tales, also wrote a short poem called Truth.

In a more religious context, in William Langland’s Piers Ploughman, when the question is asked what is the way to heaven, the answer is that truth is the best.

And in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the quality of truth is Sir Gawain’s most fundamental virtue. Indeed the trials Sir Gawain undergoes are a test of his truth. In the end, Sir Gawain passes with almost a perfect grade, demonstrating his truth. King Arthur, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to fully take the lesson to heart, perhaps only displaying truthiness.

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February 02, 2006

Tæcende boccræft

Well, I promised an entry on my English teaching at Mount A, so here it is.

Last term I taught a course called Literature, the Arts and Humanities. It’s a first year course aimed at students not (necessarily) intending to continue on in English, and relates literature to other areas of the arts and humanities, such as history, philosophy, music, or what have you. Beyond that I had no other limitations in terms of what I included in the course, so it was very fun to teach. And given my background in medieval studies, I’m quite in favour of interdisciplinary approaches. Basically the way I approached it was to teach what I thought the students should know if they took no other English course, which I think accords well with Mount A’s quasi-liberal arts set up. I covered the literary periods in turn from Anglo-Saxon through modern, and gave special attention to the ways in which the literature reflected the cultural world in which it was produced. I found it particularly interesting to make the connections between trends in literature and other areas of the culture. And in general I encouraged the students to look for the connections and patters, the way all things are interconnected, adopting the symbol of Sir Gawain’s pentangle, the endless knot. I’ll write more of this soon, as I’ve been thinking very much along these lines lately.

Some of the major works we looked at include Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Faerie Queene, The Tempest, Paradise Lost, Gulliver’s Travels, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Frankenstein, Northanger Abbey, The Lady of Shalott, and The Goblin Market. But equally interesting was to include texts not traditionally referred to as literary, which provide interesting insight into the periods and the other more major texts. Thus, for instance, Robert Hooke’s (of the Royal Society) writings on observations with a microscope adds depth to the size-distorting descriptions in Gulliver’s Travels. I find the Longman Anthology of British Literature quite good for this sort of thing.

This term I’m teaching a second year course called Literary Periods 1800—Present. I wasn’t originally supposed to be teaching an English course this term, but due to an emergency I’m stepping into this class already three weeks in. Since I didn’t start the class off, I didn’t initially create the syllabus (though I’ve slightly adjusted the readings), which will make the class somewhat more challenging than it might otherwise have been, but it should be an interesting experience. And useful to have the chance to teach something so far removed from my area of specialisation. I’ll write more on this class once I get into it a bit.

In the spring session (May/June), I’ll be offering Literature, the Arts and Humanities again, should there be any takers, and I have some further interesting plans for the course…, but more on that later as well…

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February 01, 2006

Swines eaxl

Because we don’t do anything in half measures, we recently cooked a whole pork shoulder:


This is, of course, far more pork than the two of us could eat, even if we were more porcine than the pig it came from. After the first dinner, which also featured a pan gravy and baked potatoes, we carved up the left overs, used some to make a hash (with eggs, potatoes, onions, peas, and some of the gravy) for lunch, and froze the rest (including the bone) for use in future soups. I think a pea soup would be very nice. And of course all quite economical.

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