Updated 7 March 2012


Telegraphic vocabulary, often underused (or overused)


* aleatory –– depending on an uncertain event or contigency as to outcome (“an aleatory tone poem by Miles Davis”)


* asymmetry/symmetry –– everything has some sort of geometry


* propensity –– ‘inclination’ or ‘leaning’ are similar but “hanging forward” in Latin is so nice


* efficacious –– like ‘effective’ but effective toward a particular end


* salutary –– also salubrious


* sardonic –– scornful, but with a little-used adjective that might further convey a supercilious tone


* disingenuous –– “lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity.” An adjective overused/misused to death by TV talkers as a euphemism for dishonest or just plain lyin’.  


* anodyne ––  (adj.) unlikely to cause offence or disagreement, especially by not expressing strong feelings or opinions; capable of alleviating or eliminating pain; (n.) a source of comfort; a pain-killing medicine. 

A news commentator used this word as a noun recently (July ’09). I had seen it before, maybe in a vocabulary lesson, but I had to look up the meaning –– it surely was the first time I’d ever heard it actually spoken.  In fact, does it appear so very uncommonly that its use conveys a small measure of egoism?  Or (more likely), am I just removed from conversation and literature with that degree of literacy? 


With an opened eye, there the word appears again:   

He [Newt Gingrich] assailed Barack Obama’s anodyne declaration that we are all global citizens as a dangerous threat to national security.”  Howard Fineman in Newsweek, 22 June 2009. 


Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. 


* dysprosium –– “an element of confusion and miscommunication in language.”  An excellent word for those concerned with language (especially editors?).

“In his series of very short stories, The Periodic Table of Science Fiction, science fiction author Michael Swanwick wrote the story titled Dysprosium in the style of a new, recent letter from Screwtape to Wormwood. In this story, “dysprosium" is described as an "element of confusion and miscommunication in language", something which has been a great success story for the Infernal Establishment” (from Wikipedia).  "Dysprosium" also is the name of a rare earth element. 


* sphericity –– "a measure of how round an object is.  As such, it is a specific example of a compactness measure of a shape.  Defined by Wadell in 1935, the sphericity, Ψ, of a particle is the ratio of the surface area of a sphere (with the same volume as the given particle) to the surface area of the particle."  Or, a measure of someone who just doesn't get it. 


Evocative phrases and metaphors

(many from recent political commentary)


* serial mendacity; slapdash prose; improbable contingency


* susceptible to derangement by the derivative dignity of office


* happy bounce –– in basketball, the ball hits the rim, bounces a couple of times, then fortuitously, gratuitously, goes in. 


* vertiginous public biography ––  as “a major chapter in [the Clinton’s] vertiginous public biography was closed when Mrs. Clinton conceded …”  Vertiginous, “causing vertigo, especially by being extremely high or steep.”


* metaphysical certitude –– characteristic of campaign representatives


* “flush with half-baked ideas … unlikely to be improved by further baking” (George Will)


* “To begin the recasting, he should weed from the unkempt garden of his political thinking the populism that often seems like mere attitudinizing redeemed by insincerity.” (George Will)


* “self-celebratory froth such as "we are the ones we've been waiting for."” (George Will)


* “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.”  (Horace, Epistle to the Pisones)

The mountains will be in labor, and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth.


Aphorisms and truisms, good advice



No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”  Albert Einstein


A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”  Mark Twain


"It is easy to find a new species, if you are looking in the wrong genus."  Arthur Cronquist (thanks to John Strother)


“Fact and truth aren't always travel partners but they usually arrive at the same destination.”  Chris Wells (1 March 2010)


“Objectivity is subjective.”  Robert Wells (15 April 2010)


“As Wittgenstein says, ‘This is how philosophers should salute each other: Take your time.’    The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity.”  Simon Critchley (“What is a philosopher?” in the Opinionator, New York Times, 16 May 2010) 


"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."  Ernest Rutherford


"Young people become enthusiastic easily: any new finding is an exciting thing.  Older people have too much perspective on the past and perhaps, too little patience with the future.  Very few small discoveries turn out to be important over the years."   Leon Festinger


"A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.  Tell him you disagree and he turns away.  Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources.  Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point."  Leon Festinger  



If a man wishes to write in a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts.”  Goethe


"I really do think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what my hand is writing."  L. Wittgenstein, Culture and Value   


"Researchers have found that writing (and to some extent talking) about an event forces structure onto thoughts and feelings that previously had not been clearly organized."  from Baumeister & Vohs (2002) in  Handbook of Positive Psychology.  


"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking."  Friedrich Nietzsche



Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture.  The air in the performance is sculpted into something.  Frank Zappa


“Music is the space/time geometry of pitch, the movement of melody and harmony, shaped in another dimension by the imagination and personality of the players.”  Autopsia, hoc loco 


“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres."   Pythagoras


 When you hit a wrong note (poor choice) just move it up or down a half-step.  You’re always just a half-step away from a right note.”  Jamey Aebersold



 When asked “What is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment?” the Buddha replied, “Laziness.” 


Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.  Thomas Edison


"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure ... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."  Theodore Roosevelt  [Of course, one man’s mighty thing may be another’s challenge of the day.  Still, a more general, less ornamental message surely is true:  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.] 


"Outside of dogs, books are man's best friend.  Inside of dogs, it is too dark to read."  Groucho Marx  [thanks to Tom Wells]



"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."  Mark Twain


“I am strongly induced to believe that, as in music, the person who understands every note will, if he also possesses a proper taste, more thoroughly enjoy the whole, so he who examines each part of a fine view, may also thoroughly comprehend the full and combined effect.  Hence, a traveller should be a botanist, for in all views plants form the chief embellishment.”  Charles Darwin, 1836, Voyage of the Beagle



“The future has a way of arriving unannounced.”  George Will


        Presented as a collection in StarDate magazine, Jan/Feb 2010

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”  Albert Einstein

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Time is the one thing that is given to everyone in equal measure.”  Seneca

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”  Henry David Thoreau

“Time! the corrector when our judgements err.”  Lord Byron

“Lost time is never found again.”  Benjamin Franklin


Big vocabulary

From the NY Times obituary on Lawrence Urdang, noted lexicographer and editor of more than 100 dictionaries:   In 1972 he compiled The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words.  It was a book that was not supposed to be a comprehensive work, just an enjoyable one for word enthusiasts.  Or as Mr. Urdang put it himself in the introduction:

“This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaft whose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.”



“Manes Julii Caesaris paucis diebus aderant — “O, most bloody sight!” — cum Ioannes McCainus, mavericus et veteranus captivusque Belli Francoindosinini, et Sara Palina, barracuda borealis, qui sneerare amant Baracum Obamam causa oratorii, pillorant ut demagogi veri, Africanum-Americanum senatorem Terrae Lincolni, ad Republicanas rallias.” 


Are We Rome? Tu Betchus!


October 12, 2008


Walk This Way

4 January 2010