Category : words

Dog Days of Summer

A post repurposed from LadyKillers, BUT more appropriate here since the Dog Days period ends today August 11.

Apparently this phrase dates back to the ancient Greeks (doesn’t everything?) and has to do with a constellation that looks like a dog (Canis Major) chasing one that looks like a rabbit (Lepus).

The star Sirius (14th c.), the brightest in the constellation, is at the dog’s nose. The meaning of the phrase has morphed into a characterization of the period of Sirius’s rising, from July 3 to August 11, a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.

Never mind that in (roughly) 13,000 years, the dog star Sirius will be rising with the sun in mid-winter.

Some imagination those ancients had. It took an entire semester-long course in college for me just to match the names, the gods, and the myths.

What interests me is how, and how come, so many of the names have survived. For example, the multi-channel radio in my car is by Sirius. It seems incongruous that I’m listening to Willie’s Roadhouse on a service with a name that dates back at least 7 centuries and means scorching.


The Nova laser, one generation after Shiva, from the Latin, meaning new.

One of the world’s most powerful lasers of the 20th century was named Shiva, the name of a Hindu god, the Destroyer. Apt, I suppose, since Shiva the laser decimated any target it was aimed at.

But wouldn’t you think there’d be a more modern hi-tech name, indicative of the high-level technology that brought Shiva into existence?

Maybe this is why LASER is one of my favorite words, the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. There are no gods associated with it; no wars, no constellations, no etymology traceable to the ancients. While not the first acronym, the word itself has no other origin.

So, maybe the Dog Days of Summer can be called Dodaysum, and in 1000 years or so, someone will think she was a 21st century goddess who lay around all day.

And now, speaking of new words: I think I’ll make my Blexit.    <groan> Come on, admit it if you get this!


Continuing the spirit of back to school, I was eager to learn a new word. Here’s one.

Acersecomic (noun): a person whose hair has never been cut. For example, my 3-year-old grandniece is an acersecomic. I can hardly wait to teach her how to write it.

Act of rejection of acersecomic-ness

Granted, the word hasn’t appeared since some time in the 17th century, but I’d hate to see a good word go to waste.

If you care about its etymology: The word is from the Latin acersecomes, a long-haired youth, a word borrowed from an earlier Greek word made up of keirein, to cut short; kome, the hair of the head; and the prefix a-, meaning not.

What’s your odd word of the day?

Para what?

It’s the age of para.

Paramedics, paralegals, paraprofessionals, parapsychology, and everyone’s current favorite paranormal.

Formerly used to indicate side by side, its newer meaning is closer to an ancillary status, or almost, as in paralegal.

Another meaning of para is “guarding against,” as in a parasol, which guards against the sun, and a parachute, which guards against free fall.

My latest run-in with para is with the word paraprosdokian.

Def.: A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reinterpret the first part. It’s frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it’s extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Some examples:

• War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

• Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

• A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. What’s a work station?

• Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

• Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

And my favorite:

• To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Do you have any paras to add?

C Me? I C U

In the third grade, I won a spelling bee. My prize was a shiny new green pencil and a pristine pink eraser, wrapped together with an oft-used rubber band (we called them “elastics”).

I have no recollection of the words I spelled, but I checked what today’s third graders are spelling. Some examples:






There was no way Mrs. Johnson could have known how much the spelling of these words would change in a few decades. I feel like turning back my pencil and eraser.

In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin proposed a new, phonetic alphabet (what didn’t the man take an interest in?) His alphabet consisted of all the letters we’re familiar with, except there was no c, j, q, w, x, or y, on the grounds that they were redundant; and there were six additional letters, such as th, to provide for sounds that needed representation.

There wasn’t much interest in his proposal, even though he had the means to commission a foundry to prepare type for the new letters.

I wonder what he or Mrs. Johnson would think of “spelling” in today’s world of texters? I don’t recall a formal proposal or RFPs for new type foundries, but there’s no question that we have a more phonetic approach to spelling, much as he’d recommended:

enough –> nuf

thought –> thot

difference –> diff

easy –> EZ

photograph –> foto, or pic

Will improved technology (better ergonomics for finger/keyboard interaction, e.g.) take us back to enough, thought, difference . . . ?

It’s not so simple. Here are some examples from a list of 1400 abbreviations I found for texting and chatting on line.

TMI means  too much information

411 means information

POS means parent over shoulder

And more Netlingo:

**// means wink, wink, nudge

*$ means Starbucks

Even if you use only the most common acronyms (LOL, BFF, ROFL), I’ll bet you don’t write

I won’t be late; I’ll see you soon, but rather Not L8; CU soon.

Or some variation.

It seems to me that technology is driving this “evolution” of language, starting with spelling and grammar. Has it always been that way – technology as the tool of change?

Do you text? How’s your spelling?

Is anything the same as it was in third grade?