Friday, March 20, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: K is for ...


Kiwi fruit, that is. Yum. I'm on a bit of a fruit kick lately, as I'm trying to improve my diet (reduce cholesterol, etc.) and also lose weight for the upcoming State AAU Taekwondo Tournament. (Lower weight class=less competition, plus it's always better to be the tallest in your class rather than the smallest.) Right now I'm munching on some pineapple and honeydew. Yum. But kiwi fruit is also very tasty, as well as very convenient. All you need is to cut off the top, take a spoon, and scoop out all the tasty tasty flesh. Kiwi fruit has lots of vitamin C, almost as much potassium as a banana, as well as antioxidants and fiber. All in a tasty 45-calorie capsule that tastes a little like pineapple, but not as tart or fibrous.

It's also not in my dictionary. I was browsing the "K" section, thinking about what to write for this entry. I noticed lots of African, Yiddish, and Greek words, as well as many more "kn-" words than I would have thought. (I recognized most of them; I just didn't think there were that many.) Then "kiwi" caught my eye, with two definitions. One: a flightless New Zealand bird, genus Apteryx. (That's a very cool name, and they have it all to themselves.) Two: a native/resident of New Zealand. Nothing about the fruit, or even a separate entry for kiwi fruit.

What gives? I've been eating kiwi for twenty years now. I looked in the front matter of my Webster's, and noticed two things. First, the name inscribed there was my maiden name, written in what looks like my mother's handwriting. I'm rapidly approaching the date (sometime this summer) when I will have been married longer than I was single, so you know that's quite some time ago. I checked the copyright page: (c) 1980. Ouch. I think I need a new dictionary. There's a big old stain (of unknown origin, and I don't want to know) on the back, and it doesn't even list kiwi fruit, let alone internet or cell phone or anything about our digital age. And don't tell me I can look words up online, I know I can, but that's not as fun as browsing the pages of the dictionary. (Didn't you read my first Word Nerd post?)

Maybe Webster's can be forgiven for not including kiwi fruit in my dictionary. After all, they weren't even called that until 1960, when New Zealand growers decided they needed a better name than Chinese gooseberry. The kiwi fruit is native to China, but isn't related to the gooseberry at all. It was a good marketing decision; over a million metric tons are grown each year. The world's largest exporter of kiwi? Not New Zealand, but a country which doesn't even have the letters "k" and "w" in their alphabet: Italy. Yum. Another reason to eat Italian!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mission (impossible) accomplished!

You might remember that almost two weeks ago, I confessed to being a total mess. I said, give me a week, I'll have it all straightened up. Well, I had another couple of assignments interrupt, but I have finally waded through the mess, cleaned out (and dusted) my shelves, thrown out old documents, CD programs, and manuals, and straightened the pictures the cats keep rubbing against and moving out of alignment. And I'm not making it up! I have proof!

Hey, you can see the floor! There are big empty spaces on the desktop! The knickknacks aren't sneezing from all the dust! As a reward, I'm taking some "me-time" and sending out some queries today. Why shouldn't an editor say yes this time? After all, if I can clean up my desk, anything is possible!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Word Nerd Wonders: Is rebranding like an STD?

Last week was long and stressful, so I spent much of yesterday doing odds and ends, surfing the internet and cleaning up more of my office.* I was browsing through some agent blogs when I came across this on the Swivet: cable's "Sci Fi Channel" is changing their name. To Syfy.

According to the network's president, they didn't want their name to imply that they limit themselves to just one genre. The new name, which is pronounced the same as "Sci Fi," is "a broader, more open and accessible and relatable and human-friendly brand." (To hell with the cyborg audience!) "It gives us a unique word and it gives us the opportunities to imbue it with the values and the perception that we want it to have," he said.

Well, you do your best to imbue it, Mr. Network Chief, but the switch is going communicate certain values and perceptions. First, that you think television viewers are scared by a name that contains abbreviations for Science—oh no! I might have to think!—and Fiction—that's like literature! save me! (On the other hand, that might explain their increasing reliance on pro wrestling and paranormal "reality" shows in their programming, while Battlestar Galactica, one of the best and deepest shows on TV, is coming to an end.) Second, that "Sci Fi" has too much of a niche audience to be successful. I particularly enjoyed this quote from a former Sci Fi executive:

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.
Gee, thanks for the stereotypes! I love sci fi, and yet I'm female, socially functional, and don't live in a basement. (Okay, I admit I'm a nerd, and maybe even a geek, but still....) And about that second statement ... let's just consider the top 10 all-time US box office films: Titanic; The Dark Knight; Star Wars; Shrek 2; ET; Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest; Spider-Man: Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith; and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Of those top 10 films, only one (Titanic) does not have any sci fi, fantasy, or comic book elements. It doesn't seem to me like general audiences are afraid of sci fi. Maybe he hit it on the head with the "good movie" requirement, though. When most of your original programming consists of gems like Mansquito, you probably do need a good rebranding.

Whatever. But I think a worse, second problem awaits your new name. You obviously didn't consider the dictionary when you picked your creative spelling. If you look at the nine columns in Webster's of words that start with the letters "sy-," you'll notice all but a couple obscure ones** are pronounced with a short i. Sycamore. Syllable. Sympathy. Syncopate. Synonym. System. And my favorite (because I'm a science nerd), syzygy.***

So, Mr. Television Honcho, what is going to happen when all those new viewers you want to attract see your new name? They're going to think it sounds like "siffy." Will they think of the one word that begins with s-i-f, sift? No, my bet is they're going to think of the one word that begins with s-y-f-sound. That's right. Your shiny new network name is going to make people think of syphilis.

Well, they do say that p0rn does well during an economic downturn. Good luck with your new shows, like Battlestar Erotica, Stargate-S&M1, and co-ed p0rn wrestling. But I won't be coming out of my basement to watch.

*I mean to finish today or tomorrow, really I do.
**these include sycee, an ancient Chinese coin; sycosis, a crusty inflammation of hair follicles (ew!); and syenite, an igneous rock mainly made of feldspar.
***syzygy: the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system, like our sun, moon, and the Earth during an eclipse.

Janespotting: Letters from Pemberley

This 1999 "continuation" of Pride and Prejudice, according to its author, Jane Dawkins, is a "patchwork" of events, ideas, and characters drawn from Jane Austen's own work. Austen did reveal a few future events at the end of P&P, and Dawkins builds on those by taking bits and pieces from Austen's other writings, as well as accounts from family members, and weaving them into an epistolary account of Elizabeth's first year as Mrs. Darcy.

The book consists of 25 letters sent from Elizabeth to her sister Jane, also newly married, recounting her new responsibilities as mistress of Pemberley and the new acquaintances she makes. Many of these new characters are other Austen characters in disguise; they have different names, but you can recognize the situations of Emma, now married to Mr. Knightley; Anne Elliott and her family, of Persuasion; and the widowed mother and daughters of Sense and Sensibility. Now, because Dawkins gives them new names that are also drawn from Austen's life and works, I found it difficult to keep track of which character name belonged to which situation. Still, it gave the work an air of familiarity that I found enjoyable.

There's no great plot to this novel; as a series of letters, we get news in bits and pieces. We hear of the events foreshadowed at the end of P&P, such as Kitty's moral improvement, Georgiana's fondness for Lizzy, Lydia's entreaties for money, the birth of a son to the Collinses, and the Bingleys' move to Derbyshire. Other events seem to follow naturally, such as Jane's and then Elizabeth's pregnancy announcements. The final event, a betrothal involving Georgiana, didn't really ring true, but it didn't completely strain credulity, either. And by using the epistolary* form, Dawkins only has to re-create Elizabeth's voice in the letters, and she does so creditably well.

So overall, I'd have to give this "continuation" a favorable rating. It's short, light, and hews very close to Austen; while there's nothing particularly new that would shock (or delight) the Austen fan, it felt very comfortable. You could do worse if you're looking for something Austenish to read.

*I love the word "epistolary," and wish I had more chances to use it, but not many people write novels in letter form any more.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Photo of the Week--3/9/09

We visited Spain at least three times while living in England; our last trip was to Madrid, with a couple days in nearby Toledo. There was no Tony Packo's (like in Toledo, Ohio), but there was all sorts of gorgeous art and architecture, such as this bridge over the River Tajo (aka Tagus). This is the "new" bridge, the Puente Nuevo de Alcántara. The rocks, the rushing water, the beautiful spring sky ... sigh. If spring doesn't get to Michigan soon, I'm tempted to head to Spain.