NEWSLETTER 516: SATURDAY 2 DECEMBER 2006
1. Turns of Phrase: Placeshifting
This is the spatial analogue to timeshifting, which is the older and better established term for recording a TV programme to watch at a later time. When you placeshift, you instead redirect the TV signal from your cable box, satellite television connection or computer so you can watch a programme on a device somewhere else. That might be in another room in the house or on a mobile phone or a PDA (personal digital assistant) anywhere in the world. The term was invented in 2005 by Sling Media, the makers of the Slingbox, the first personal video recorder to provide the service. Placeshifting is mainly restricted to specialist journals, but the concept is getting a lot of attention, not least from mobile operators who see it as a way to get their customers to use the currently under-exploited video facilities on their mobile devices. It is also being watched — but in a more negative light — by broadcasters, who are worried about matters such as copyright infringement. Like so many new technological ideas, it’s the focus of a lot of hype at the moment, so it might yet turn out to be a solution to a problem that nobody thinks actually exists.
It’s quite clear that a wave of placeshifting technologies is on its way. The implications of such a wave at first seem to mean rough seas for wireless carriers. The spread of placeshifting will ultimately put wireless carriers on a crash course to compete with the full suite of video offerings from pay-TV and the Internet.
[The Online Reporter, 9 Sep. 2006]
With placeshifting, you can record the college football game you’re missing on Saturday afternoon and then view it on your notebook PC that same night at a hotel hot spot. Once placeshifting becomes a reality for a PC/TV, however, digital entertainment systems will become more compelling.
[PC Magazine, 5 Dec. 2006]
2. Weird Words: Camelion
People have been confused about the names and natures of exotic animals for millennia. The camel’s name in medieval English was olfend, a word that has been defunct for eight centuries. This was known in earlier Germanic languages and also in Old Church Slavonic (where it was taken to mean “great wandering beast”), but it can be traced back to the Latin elephantus. Basically, people confused the camel with the elephant, not so surprising when you’ve never seen either and you have to rely on travellers’ descriptions relayed many times.
Another confusion led to the camelopard, a linguistic cross formed in classical Greek between a camel and a pard or panther. The camelopard wasn’t thought to be a hybrid but the name was given to it because its body looked like that of a camel with spots like those of the leopard. We prefer to call it a giraffe (from Arabic zarāfa). The animal called a leopard is the result of yet another confusion — its name is lion + pard, because the ancients believed it was a cross between the two.
A camelion, however, has nothing to do with camels. The first part comes from a Greek word meaning “on the ground, dwarf”, so the animal was a “ground lion” or “earth lion”, which you may feel is an odd way to describe a small lizard. In the fourteenth century, the word became confused with camelopard because of a scribe’s error in a text read by the Bible translator John Wyclif and for a while it became identified with the giraffe. It was only a couple of hundred years ago that its name changed from camelion to chameleon under the influence of the Latin version of its name.
3. Recently noted
Cyber Monday A year ago, I wrote about this then new term, which referred to the Monday after Thanksgiving in the US as being the biggest online holiday shopping day of the year. Lee Billings has reminded me that I said then I would lay odds against its still being around in November 2006. It’s a good thing nobody took me up on the bet, for I would have lost. According to Google News, more than 900 pieces that discuss it have appeared in US newspapers in the past 30 days. However, the main story — which was based on a survey by MasterCard — asserted it was a myth, as its records suggested that the peak day online last year was really 5 December (as the Orlando Sentinel put it on 29 November: “Cyber Monday may need to be renamed Cyber Hype”). Another survey, though, claims the peak day in 2005 was 12 December. A third predicts that this year it will be on 18 December. As all these dates are Mondays, the name could still be made to fit, though nobody seems to want to move it from its immediate post-Thanksgiving position. So much promotional activity was poured into Cyber Monday this year by online retailers that it may become the busiest trading day through a self-fulfilling prophecy.
eDay To confuse you further, a California-based firm, “the leading provider of on-demand web analytics”, as it calls itself in a press release, has created eDay for the Monday following Cyber Monday, 4 December this year. It predicts that Cyber Monday would be the biggest day for visits to retailers’ Web sites, but that eDay would see the biggest sales. Just about the only thing in its favour is that the word doesn’t include the outdated and mildly embarrassing prefix cyber-.
The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings Who invented this modern proverb has long been a matter of dispute in the rarefied circles in which the historians of quotation move. It is most often attributed to a television commentary by the San Antonio TV sports editor Dan Cook in 1978. But Fred Shapiro’s consensus shatterer, the Yale Book of Quotations, has an example two years earlier. It appeared in a report of a basketball match in the Dallas Morning News on 10 March 1976, reportedly during an exchange between Dan Carpenter, the sports information director at Texas Tech University, and Bill Morgan, the information director of the Southwest Conference. Last weekend, in the same newspaper, Steve Blow reported a conversation with Mr Morgan about the incident: “Bill vividly remembers the comment and the uproar it caused throughout the press box. He always assumed it was coined on the spot. ‘Oh, yeah, it was vintage Carpenter. He was one of the world’s funniest guys,’ said Bill, a contender for that title himself.” But it has to be said that other evidence suggests that a variation on the phrase was known earlier in the South.
Divorce shopping The countries of the European Union have a wide range of often incompatible legal systems, especially concerning issues such as divorce. This can make divorces very difficult for “international marriages” in which the couple come from different EU countries. One result is that separating spouses sometimes try to exploit the more liberal laws in another EU country with which they have a connection to get a settlement they like better. Hence the appearance of divorce shopping. The term has been around for a while but it has become more common in recent months. This is due to controversy over a recent EU Commission green paper that aims to set rules to safeguard EU citizens who marry a person from another country.
4. Questions & Answers: Scran
[Q] From Chris Burke: “In the north-east of England where I live, food is commonly referred to as scran. On a local radio program recently, claims were made that this word derives from a nautical acronym — Sultanas, Currants, Raisins And Nuts — a mixture designed to provide a degree of nutrition to the scurvy-ridden crew. I am always wildly sceptical when it comes to acronyms as etymology, especially so when a seafaring angle is introduced. In short, I think this explanation is complete twaddle. What say you?”
[A] It’s complete twaddle.
But I can see where the idea is coming from. Scran has long been used as slang in the British army and navy for rations. And a high-energy food used by walkers and mountaineers containing much the same ingredients, which is known variously as gorp and scroggin, has names that are also said to be acronyms. The thought that seamen might have been fed on such an expensive diet, one hard to preserve at sea, rather than the staples of salt pork and ship’s biscuit, would have caused naval officers of sailing-ship days to collapse in laughter.
The first recorded sense of scran, from the early eighteenth century, actually refers to a reckoning at a tavern. By the early 1800s the word was being used almost exclusively in relation to food. The implications seemed always to be that it was inferior or scrappy food, odds-and-ends, leftovers, and the like. It might be a scratch meal taken by a labourer into the field, or perhaps some miscellaneous items for a holiday excursion or picnic, as well as those soldiers’ and seamen’s rations.
It was widely used in London in the nineteenth century. An example appears in a letter by the Victorian social writer Henry Mayhew, published in the Morning Chronicle in November 1849: “Others beg ‘scran’ (broken victuals) of the servants at respectable houses, and bring it home to the lodging-house, where they sell it.” If you were out on the scran, you were begging food; you might have a scran bag to hold your gleanings. There’s also the Anglo-Irish bad scran to you, an imprecation that curses you with ill luck, literally wishing bad food on you.
Unfortunately, as often is the case, we have no good idea where the word comes from. A link was once suggested with the Icelandic skran, rubbish, odds and ends. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests this is probably an accidental similarity, even though the English Dialect Dictionary — based on fieldwork during the later nineteenth century — includes the sense of a morsel or scrap, for example quoting “A scran of a moon hung dead in the south” from an 1881 story.
• “I live in Colorado,” says Monica Hensinger, “where they recently passed an ambitious smoking ban. Signs have popped up everywhere informing people of the ban, but the most entertaining one I have seen was in Boulder, where a city-wide smoking ban has been in effect for several years. It read, ‘No Smoking by Boulder City Ordnance’. I didn’t know the city had its own artillery, but it’s probably a good idea to keep people from smoking around it.”
• BBC News online appears here distressingly often. The most recent candidate for raised eyebrows was posted on Thursday, in a headline over a story about space exploration: “Minister in Moon talks with Nasa”. We once had an official Minister for Drought, but we’ve not previously felt the need for a Minister in the Moon. Thanks to Bob Rosenberg and Roberta Taussig for that one.
• A “hmmm” moment, passed on by Dan Cook from the 22 November issue of the Arizona Republic. In an article discussing the high cost of the state college’s tuition, a student spoke of the burden of the most recent cost increases: “‘It’s just impossible,’ said Heather Thomas, a journalism major/waitress. ‘How are you supposed to focus on school when you’re working full time just to stay above your head?’” She should have a great future in journalism.
• “Mobile cameras help Police” was the headline in The Sydney Morning Herald of 23 November over a report of an assault on a teenager on the Gold Coast in Queensland: “Police are examining closed CCTV to see if the offender has been captured by any of the surveillance cameras walking in the Surfers Paradise area.” Many thanks to John Carrick for passing on that disturbing Wellsian image.