Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wordless definitions: sun worshippers

Took this the other day, the umpteenth consecutive of sub-freezing temps, when the sun was shining in the window, promising heat and warmth. (Lying, lying sun!) I found all three of my cats indulging in the sun's rays, and I really wanted to join them for a little nap, but work called. Darn. Next time, though, I might not resist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Word Nerd Sez: Q is for ...


It's been shamefully long since my last Word Nerd entry, and I wish I could say it was because I was devoting myself to writing a quadrilogy, but I can't, since quadrilogy isn't even a word* and I wasn't writing one anyway. I did write an entire novel in November, as well as multiple business and biographical pieces throughout the fall, but not once during that time did I feel moved enough by the letter Q to examine a Q-word. It was a bit of a quandary, and I felt a few qualms about ignoring my Word Nerd duties, but I quashed them in order to keep working.**

Actually, I think my problem was in finding something interesting to say about a Q-word. Q words are so rare that we're familiar with most of them. (Maybe not quincunx, an arrangement of five things with four as the points of a rectangle and one in the center; try to make that in Scrabble!) To my rescue came an e-mail from A.Word.A.Day, a wonderful service that gives me a new word to contemplate at the beginning of every business day. The theme of the week was "words whose meanings have changed over time," and the word was quantum.

Quantum. Now there's a word with potential. Not only does it make me think of the most recent James Bond flick (Quantum of Solace) and thus the delectable Daniel Craig, but also about quantum physics and the uncertainty principle and not-dead-not-alive cats and all that craziness.*** And check out some of the meanings for quantum:
  1. A quantity or amount; a portion.
  2. A large amount. (think of the popular phrase quantum leap, for instance)
  3. The smallest amount of something that can exist independently. (think of quantum physics, which investigates the smallest particles)
The word comes from the Latin quantus, meaning "how much/how great," and over time the meaning has come to answer that question with two opposites: "a whole lot," and "a teeny tiny bit." If you think about it, though, the phrase "quantum jump/leap" comes from physics, and means "an abrupt change or sudden increase," such as that of an electron from one energy state to another, sometimes skipping a stage between. That doesn't necessarily mean a huge change, but we've simplified the physics so that it means "a big change" rather than "a sudden change."

Ouch. My brain is starting to hurt, so I think I'll stop there, except to mention that the plural of quantum is quanta, and I hope to use that in an actual real-world sentence some day.

*A four-volume series is a tetralogy, sadly for the letter Q.
**And thank goodness I didn't use
quandary or qualm, because both those word origins are "unknown," according to Webster's, and so they would have made for very short blog entries ... hey, now there's an idea!
***I read Stephen Hawking's
A Brief History of Time and it made my brain hurt, but it was a good hurt, like lifting weights.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Photo of the Week--1/11/10

I'm thinking we took this picture of Boy chasing pigeons in front of the Cologne Cathedral before we ascended its 509 steps, rather than after. At one point (from 1880-1884) the cathedral was the tallest structure in the world, until the Washington Monument was finished. The tower climb is almost 100 meters high and takes quite a long time, especially if you're accompanied by a 6 year old, so I'm pretty sure this photo was pre- and not post-climb. As I recall, it was a pretty warm day (close to 90F), which explains why neither Boy nor the pigeons are making a real effort. Still, I'm sure they were terrified.