E-MAGAZINE 679: SATURDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2010
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Cock-a-hoop Pat Forsey commented that “It has always been cock-a-whoop for me: picture a slightly demented rooster in full cry.” I should have mentioned that that spelling is fairly common, no doubt from the same process of thought. It’s written that way in the 1811 edition of Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue as well as in many fiction works, including The Lord of the Rings: “Swagger it, swagger it, my little cock-a-whoop.” Some writers have argued, against the evidence, that it was the original form.
Pigs Ron Gerard and Giles Watson both noted this abbreviation had its genesis in the very early days of the Euro in 2002. The former told me about a Daily Mail article dated 29 December 2001: “Twelve member states of the European Union are replacing their national currency with the euro. The mnemonic ‘baffling pigs’ will help you to remember them, they are: Belgium, Austria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Irish Republic, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.” Since then, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta have joined the Eurozone, which ruins the mnemonic. Lorena Verdes pointed out another country-listing acronym: BRICK, standing for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea — the economies least susceptible to the current global recession.
Hocus-pocus Melton Francis pointed out that my piece on this word, written in 2001, has been overtaken by some recent research. I’ve updated it.
2. Turns of Phrase: Neurocinematics
In essence, this is the study of the way watching films affects the human mind. The term was invented in a paper by Uri Hasson in 2008, which showed that some films exert considerable control over brain activity and eye movements but that this depended — as one would expect — on their content, editing, and directing style. The paper suggested that this work, using magnetic resonance imaging, could lead to a fusion between film studies and cognitive neuroscience and suggested the name neurocinematics for it.
In February 2010, research by Professor James Cutting and his team at Cornell University was widely reported. They measured the length of every shot in 150 high-grossing Hollywood films released between 1935 and 2005. The more recent the film, the more likely it is that the pattern of duration of shots matches the attention span of its audience. This pattern, known as the 1/f rule or pink noise rule, had been deduced in earlier studies of volunteers working on tasks. It seems that, through experience, film editors have intuited the formula.
The term has appeared a number of times online but only rarely in print. As yet, it’s a niche formation and may not survive.
Such results have given rise to the term neurocinematics, which measures the level of experiential control that popular media have on people’s brains.
The National, 18 Jan. 2009.
Given the gargantuan cost of blockbusters like Avatar, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hollywood’s next step is to use brain scanners to get inside the heads of movie-goers. It’s impossible to translate brain activity into ‘Oscar buzz’, though, so the potential of ‘neurocinematics’ is unproven.
New Scientist, 20 Feb. 2010.
This is a splendid term for a collector or lover of snowdrops:
But if you run up against a committed galanthophile, expect to become embroiled in their obsessive mania. Suggest that snowdrops are all a bit similar and the galanthophile will sit you down and take you through the minute differences.
The Independent, 7 Feb. 2009.
It comes from the formal botanical name for the genus, Galanthus, which derives from Greek gala, milk, and anthos, flower. (Words from gala
It’s possible to trace the term to the late nineteenth century. It appears, spelled galanthophil, in an issue of The Garden in 1892 in reference to the Somerset gardener James Allen, a pioneer in hybridising snowdrops. Elsewhere, credit is given to the garden writer and plantsman E A Bowles; he is said to have created it in a letter, whose date isn’t given, but is almost certainly after 1892. The earliest example of the modern form I’ve been able to trace is in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Daffodil and Tulip Year Book for 1971.
In recent years the term has become moderately common among garden writers in the UK as study and collection of snowdrop varieties has become much more widespread, even fashionable.
4. What I've learned this week
Bottled I’d previously heard of the tottle, a combination tube and bottle, a term of the packaging industry that’s been around since the early 1990s. But this week I learned of the nottle. It appeared in a packaging supplement in my daily paper. Details are sparse and an online search is befuddled by all the references to Gussie Fink-Nottle, but it appears to be a bottle that has been turned upside down so it sits on its flat lid, to make squirting the last of its contents easier. My tomato ketchup has been sold me in a bottle like that for some years, but I never knew there was a name for it. Nor do I know where the term comes from. “Not a bottle”? “Negative bottle”?
Oddities galore As it’s February, it must be time to announce the shortlist for the Diagram prize run by Bookseller magazine. It rewards the oddest book title of the year. Horace Bent, who runs the contest, reports that the field was very wide this time, even after he had eliminated titles because they were published before 2009, such as On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers and Sketches of a Few Jellyfish. He also removed titles that looked deliberately quirky, such as Bacon: A Love Story and The Origin of Faeces.
Tired, so tired All Horace Bent’s choices are non-fiction, so he is unlikely to suffer from a condition that has recently been given a name of its own: fiction fatigue. It has been used for a state in which you no longer want to devote time to “contrived plots and imagined scenarios”, as Blake Morrison described it recently, but have a hunger for reality. The author Scott Bailey wrote in his Literary Lab blog last month that for him it was a state in which his “own brilliant work no longer seems interesting”. Been there.
5. Questions and Answers: Going to the dogs
[Q] From Tom Halsted: Everyone knows that going to the dogs means going to rack and ruin or becoming worthless. But what exactly did go to the dogs to get the expression started?
[A] In my callow and uninformed youth I used to think this referred to a visit to a greyhound racing track (usually called the dogs in Britain) and the consequent adverse effect on one’s wallet through betting on
More dogged word play ...
Greyhound racing in the UK appears to be going to the dogs according to the latest figures.
Daily Telegraph, 16 Nov. 2009. The first known use of this jokey reference was in the Daily Mail in July 1927. It’s time it was retired.
The idiom is actually one of the older in the language. There are references to bequeathing various useless things to dogs as long ago as the early sixteenth century. It was later borrowed by the Bard:
Doctor: Therein the patient / Must minister to himself.
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, 1605.
These and earlier examples — all suggesting throwing something to the dogs rather than going to them — evoke the famously unsanitary meals of the English medieval period, in which dogs were regularly present and were thrown scraps from the table. The sense shifted later a useless thing to something that had been thrown away, hence ruined or destroyed. The idea of deterioration to a shocking extent, going to the dogs, came along rather later.
• “A coffee shop near my place of work,” e-mailed Patrick Mullins from Brooklyn, NY, “recently began advertising their breakfast, including a blubbery muffin. It doesn’t appeal.”
• Roger Williams wondered whether a 29-year-old Sic! was permissible. He had just disinterred a fragment torn from television listings in the issue of the Sunday Times for 16 August 1981, a photo of which he sent with his message: “After his death at the age of 42, Elvis Presley became a living legend.”
• “Now, that’s entertainment!” commented Margaret Collins, having seen a Yahoo! entertainment headline last Saturday: “Sean Penn charged with battery in Los Angeles.”
• Linda Sewell, in Hartlepool, was reading the Northern Echo for 12 February when she spotted this ad for a mobile home: “Willerby Boston Lodge 40x20 fully sited on stunning south facing pitch with paramaniac views”. With that outlook it’s a snip at £84,995.
7. Copyright and contact details
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