NEWSLETTER 494: SATURDAY 1 JULY 2006
1. Turns of Phrase: Domotics
Domotics is the application of “intelligent” technology to make a home more comfortable and convenient. You may be familiar with the idea under the name household automation, which is much more common; domotics tends to be preferred by robotics and computing specialists and also to be more often used in Europe. Another term sometimes encountered is smart house, used in a European scheme from 2004.
Too old to learn new tricks
Among the many applications that fall under the heading of domotics are sensors that automatically adjust lighting levels to meet the personal preferences of family members. Other sensors could water your plants according to need or vary the ventilation to make best use of outdoor climate conditions. With broadband communications now widely available, in the event of a fire or break-in your house could call the emergency services and explain in detail what was wrong. Some experts have described clever fridges that could read the wireless tags on food, spot when items are getting low and automatically reorder them. “Intelligent” washing machines could decide for themselves how much cleaning your garments needed.
People have been dreaming about the automatic house for decades—it was satirised back in the 1950s by Jacque Tati in Mon Oncle. It is now possible to implement many of the ideas but the cost is too high for most people.
Domotics blends Latin domus, a house, with robotics. The earliest example I’ve so far found is from 1994.
Domotic systems that use PDAs, cell phones, sensors, and Internet access are being used for everything from alerting emergency services to unlocking the front door, making it possible for all of us to live fuller lives.
[Dr Dobb’s Journal, Mar. 2005]
Buyers of Polaris homes choose “modern” or “rustic” interiors at La Torre, with underfloor heating often part of the standard package and “domotics”—the ability to use your laptop or mobile to turn on air-conditioning or irrigation systems.
[Daily Mail, 25 Apr. 2004]
2. Weird Words: Mutoscope
A device for creating a moving picture from a series of still photographs.
In the 1890s, something like a technological gold rush took place to find a practical way of presenting moving pictures. In the US, for example, Edison demonstrated his kinetoscope in 1894. Alongside considerable mechanical ingenuity lay great linguistic creativity, as a little squib that appeared in the Chicago Record in early 1898 will demonstrate:
The single invention of throwing moving pictures on screen, variously known as the vitascope or kinetoscope, has added dozens of new words to the language within the last year or two. Here is a list of the various names for “movement photography:” Phantoscope, criterioscope, vitascope, cinematograph, biograph, kinematograph, wonderscope, animatoscope, vitagraph, panoramograph, cosmoscope, anarithmoscope, katoptikum, magniscope, zoeoptrotrope, variscope, phantasmagoria, projectoscope, cinograph, hypnoscope, centograph, X-ograph, electroscope, cinegraphoscope, craboscope, vitaletiscope, cinematoscope, mutoscope, cinoscope, animaloscope, theatograph, chronophotographoscope, cinnomonograph, motograph, kinetograph, rayoscope, motorscope, kinetiphone, thromotrope, phenakistoscope, venetrope, vitrescope, zinematograph, vitopticon, stinnetiscope, vivrescope, diaramiscope, lobsterscope, corminograph, kineoptoscope or any other old scope.
A restored mutoscope
at Wookey Hole,
Lobsterscope? Craboscope? Was this some joke of the writer’s? Buried in that list was one that was certainly real, mutoscope, a device created by the American inventor Herman Casler and patented in 1894. The word is assumed to be from Latin mutare, to change.
Both the kinetoscope and the mutograph required the viewer to peer into a viewing slot while turning a handle. But whereas Edison’s device used a strip of film, Casler’s was very close in idea to the flip-book, in which riffling through a sequence of still pictures seems to create a moving image. In the mutoscope the pictures were arranged around a drum; turning a handle caused them to appear one after the other at about 16 frames a second, the minimum needed to give an illusion of movement.
The big problem with both the kinetoscope and the mutograph was that only one person could watch at a time. The promoters of the mutoscope, the KMCD Syndicate, tried to get around the issue by introducing Mutoscope parlors that housed several such machines. An example was reported in the Newark Daily Advocate in May 1900: “One of the new features of the park this season is a mutoscope parlor adjoining the bowling alleys. About 20 machines will be put in this parlor at the start.”
This advertisement appeared in the Daily News of Galveston, Texas, in January 1903
But there was no way the machines could compete with the much more social and comfortable environment of a seated audience watching projected film. The Syndicate soon accepted this and introduced the Biograph, which enjoyed much greater success.
Many people remember the mutograph in the form of the very mildly risqué What the Butler Saw machines, once commonly to be found on British seaside piers and in amusement arcades.
3. Recently noted
WAGS This somewhat disparaging abbreviation has been conspicuous in British newspapers during the soccer World Cup. It stands for “wives and girlfriends”. So far as I can discover, it first became popular during Euro 2004—on 13 June that year, the Daily Mail wrote, “But in Portugal, where England’s players will need every last ounce of team spirit to win, Victoria Beckham was criticised for seeming to distance herself from the other players’ partners, who have been nicknamed ‘Wags’ (Wives and Girlfriends).” This year, derivatives have appeared, such as waggishness, for the qualities or characters shared by the WAGS. It has been joined by MADS, standing for “mums and dads”. The Guardian reported on 23 June, “It is the Mads who take on duties of care in what, at times, appears to be a giant creche, and the Mads who, by and large, are not in town to dance on tables or buy handbags, but to provide unwavering support during what might be the pinnacle of the career in which they have lovingly encouraged their son from infancy.”
4. Questions & Answers: There's the rub
[Q] From Paula Conneran-Weig: “What does the saying There's the rub mean and what is the origin of the phrase?”
[A] The phrase is Shakespeare’s. It comes from Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy:
To die—to sleep.
By rub, Hamlet means a difficulty, obstacle or objection—in this case to his committing suicide.
The origin is the ancient game of bowls (which Americans may know as lawn bowling; nothing to do with tenpin bowling). A rub is some fault in the surface of the green that stops a bowl or diverts it from its intended direction. The term is recorded first a few years before Shakespeare’s time and is still in use.
It later became a broader term for an abstract impediment or hindrance. The Oxford English Dictionary has its first example from Thomas Nashe’s The First Part of Pasquil’s Apology of 1590: “Some small rubs, as I hear, have been cast in my way to hinder my coming forth, but they shall not profit.”
5. Over To You
Martin Rose e-mails about an odd word: “Visiting Brighton recently I was told the traditional construction material there is something called ‘bungaloosh’ (I may have spelled this wrongly): a mixture of flint nodes and clay, plastered over. It’s the devil to repair, and a nightmare on which to hang shelves. I’ve been unable to find the word anywhere. Help?”
Forty years ago, I lived in an old flat in Hove that had walls of this stuff, and I agree about the problems of hanging shelves: the drill skitters off the flint and makes a furrow in the plaster. But my usual sources don’t include a word that is anything like this. Frustratingly, a builder told me the local word at the time but I’ve forgotten it. Can anybody help us?
6. Questions & Answers: Tussie-mussie
[Q] From Richard Hillman: “I can't find the etymology of tussie-mussie anywhere! Can you help?”
[A] This ignorant linguaphile’s first thought was “what in the name of everything wonderful is a ‘tussie mussie’?” A visit to the Web site of the Royal Horticultural Society sorted that out: “Tussie-mussies are posies assembled from a carefully chosen selection of flowers and herbs, usually to convey a specific message.” Then I went to my dictionaries: “Origin unknown”.
The Oxford English Dictionary is a little more forthcoming. It says that it may be a rhyming reduplicated form of tussy. This may in turn have come from an unrecorded word tus or tusse in the sense of a nosegay or garland of flowers. So its history is indeed poorly understood and “origin unknown” is a pretty good summary.
The word has gone through lots of different forms, suggesting that its early users were as uncertain about its antecedents as we are today. Its first recorded appearance was in about 1440, when it was written as tusmose. In later centuries the spelling settled down to tuzzy-muzzy.
By the end of the seventeenth century it seems to have disappeared from the standard language. The reason for this may lie in an entry in Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, dated 1811, which says “TUZZY-MUZZY. The monosyllable.” Jonathon Green’s Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says it was then a slang term for the female pudendum, so that “the monosyllable” was presumably the C-word. The term was reintroduced around the 1940s in its original sense of a nosegay by someone who was ignorant of its long-defunct slang associations. In the process the spelling was changed to tussie-mussie. The first modern case I can find is in the rules for a flower show in Dixon, Illinois, in September 1947.
Altogether a most interesting word. Thanks for giving me the chance to write about it, even though I can’t answer your question!
• The appositely named Henry Peacock read this on a local council’s Web site: “Blackpool Zoo has invested £5m during the lst [sic] year to create new enclosures, year round exhibits ... new conference and exhibition space, new hops and café, and an outdoor exhibition theatre”. This was presumably for a kangaroo enclosure.
• Linda L Kerby read this in an obituary that appeared recently in the Kansas City Star: “Following cremation there will be a memorial mass ... Monsignor Charles McGlinn presiding along with homeliest Fr. Spencer.” She comments it’s a good thing Father Spencer has a sense of humour. [Homilist—the person who gives the homily.]
• Bill Smith followed up a Sic! item of last week. “Your headline about dodging mum was positively scrutible compared with the one from the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 June 2006. ‘Black oil swamps ooze fear along Tigris’. Pick a verb, any verb. Is the black oil swamping the ooze fear or are the oil swamps oozing fear?” Since the piece was about the fear that ooze composed of black oil would pollute local swamps, he points out that there’s actually no verb in the headline at all.
• Talking of odd headlines, last Sunday Earl Morton and Suzanne McCarthy independently came across a Reuters headline: “Key to Long Life May Be Mom’s Age at Birth.” They had previously thought that everyone’s age was pretty much the same at birth. And, thanks to Anne O’Brien Lloyd, we learned that headlinese also struck the Daily Mail on Thursday: “Freed foreign prisoner murdered again”. How unlucky can a former prisoner get?
• Mike Kennedy spotted a paragraph in the BBC News Online report of the England-Ecuador match last Sunday that might have been better expressed: “Lampard twice had chances straight after to double the lead, first dragging a left-foot shot wide then failing to find Rooney in the box when he should have shot himself.”
• The issue of the Courier Mail in Brisbane for 26 June contains an article on drink driving that suggests the reporter experienced a momentary failure of concentration: “Regional traffic coordinator for Brisbane’s Metro North Region, Inspector Roger Whyte, said it was an absolute disgrace that police continued to drink and drive”. For police, read people. At least, I hope so ...