2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Monday, October 24, 2003
isth·mus Date: 1555
1 : a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas
2 : a narrow anatomical part or passage connecting two larger structures or cavities
pen·in·su·la Date: 1538
a portion of land nearly surrounded by water and connected with a larger body by an isthmus; also : a piece of land jutting out into the water whether with or without a well-defined isthmus
Friday, October 10, 2003
pu·er·ile Date: 1661
2: CHILDISH, SILLY <puerile remarks>
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
as·ter·oid Etymology: Greek asteroeidEs starlike, from aster-, astEr
Date: 1802
1: any of the small celestial bodies found especially between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter
me·te·or Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French meteore, from Medieval Latin meteorum, from Greek meteOron, from neuter of meteOros high in air, from meta- + -eOros, from aeirein to lift
Date: 15th century
1: an atmospheric phenomenon (as lightning or a snowfall)
2 a: any of the small particles of matter in the solar system that are directly observable only by their incandescence from frictional heating on entry into the atmosphere
b: the streak of light produced by the passage of a meteor
From dictionary.com:
Note: The term is especially applied to fireballs, and the masses of stone or other substances which sometimes fall to the earth; also to shooting stars and to ignes fatui. Meteors are often classed as: aerial meteors, winds, tornadoes, etc.; aqueous meteors, rain, hail, snow, dew, etc.; luminous meteors, rainbows, halos, etc.; and igneous meteors, lightning, shooting stars, and the like.

Friday, August 15, 2003
pit·e·ous : of a kind to move to pity or compassion
piti·ful 1 archaic: full of pity :COMPASSIONATE
2 a : deserving or arousing pity or commiseration
b: exciting pitying contempt (as by meanness or inadequacy)
piti·able 1: deserving or exciting pity :LAMENTABLE
2: of a kind to evoke mingled pity and contempt especially because of inadequacy <a pitiable excuse>
Saturday, July 6, 2003
shep·herd Etymology: Middle English sheepherde, from Old English scEaphyrde, from scEap sheep + hierde herdsman; akin to Old English heord herd
Date: before 12th century
sher·iff Etymology: Middle English shirreve, from Old English scIrgerEfa, from scIr shire + gerEfa reeve -- more at SHIRE, REEVE
Date: before 12th century
"Specimens from the Writings of Fuller," The Reflector, No. IV., 1812, Charles Lamb (1812)

[quoting from "Art. Of Shire-Reeves or Shiriffes," part of The History of the Worthies of England, by Thomas Fuller (1662)]

"...I have reason to believe, that some who justly own the surnames and blood of Bohuns, Mortimers, and Plantagenets (though ignorant of their own extractions), are hid in the heap of common people, where they find that under a thatched cottage, which some of their ancestors could not enjoy in a leaded castle,—contentment, with quiet and security."

Folk etymology had misled John to believe "sheriff" hailed from "shepherd". Tom scoffed and supplied the correct etymology, having just encountered it.
Wednesday, July 2, 2003
cal·i·ber Date: 1567
1 a: degree of mental capacity or moral quality
b: degree of excellence or importance
qual·i·ty 14th century
2 a: degree of excellence :GRADE <the quality of competing air service—Current Biography>
b: superiority in kind <merchandise of quality>
Sunday, June 29, 2003
rec·re·ant Date: 14th century
1: crying for mercy :COWARDLY
2: unfaithful to duty or allegiance
On the Custom of Hissing at the Theatres, with some Account of a Club of Damned Authors, Charles Lamb (1811)

[Upon watching his play bomb utterly:]

"...as to the justice of bestowing such appalling, heart-withering denunciations of the popular obloquy, upon the venial mistake of a poor author, who thought to please us in the act of filling his pockets,—for the sum of his demerits amounts to no more than that,—it does, I own, seem to me a species of retributive justice, far too severe for the offence. A culprit in the pillory (bate the eggs) meets with no severer exprobation.

Indeed, I have often wondered that some modest critic has not proposed, that there should be a wooden machine to that effect erected in some convenient part of the proscenium, which an unsuccessful author should be required to mount, and stand his hour, exposed to the apples and oranges of the pit;—this amende honorable would well suit with the meanness of some authors, who in their prologues fairly prostrate their sculls to the Audience, and seem to invite a pelting.

Or why should they not have their pens publicly broke over their heads, as the swords of recreant knights in old times were, and an oath administered to them that they should never write again.

Seriously, Messieurs the Public, this outrageous way which you have got of expressing your displeasures, is too much for the occasion. When I was deafening under the effects of it, I could not help asking, what crime of great moral turpitude I had committed: for every man about me seemed to feel the offence as personal to himself, as something which public interest and private feelings alike called upon him in the strongest possible manner to stigmatise with infamy."

Friday, June 27, 2003
sub·lu·na·ry :of, relating to, or characteristic of the terrestrial world
Letters, Byron
"I am glad to hear you like Cambridge: firstly, because, to know that you are happy is pleasant to one who wishes you all possible sublunary enjoyment; and, secondly, I admire the morality of the sentiment."
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
dropt Past-tense of drop.
Life of Johnson, James Boswell, 1791
"Some sheets of this translation were printed off, but the design was dropt; for it happened, oddly enough, that another person of the name of Samuel Johnson, Librarian of St. Martin's in the Fields, and Curate of that parish, engaged in the same undertaking, and was patronised by the Clergy, particularly by Dr. Pearce, afterwards Bishop of Rochester."
Friday, June 6, 2003
fie (FYE)
el·ee·mo·sy·nary Date: circa 1616
:of, relating to, or supported by charity
Life of Johnson, James Boswell, 1791
"His spirited refusal of an eleemosynary supply of shoes, arose, no doubt, from a proper pride. But, considering his ascetick disposition at times, as acknowledged by himself in his Meditations, and the exaggeration with which some have treated the peculiarities of his character, I should not wonder to hear it ascribed to a principle of superstitious mortification; as we are told by Tursellinus, in his Life of St. Ignatius Loyola, that this intrepid founder of the order of Jesuits, when he arrived at Goa, after having made a severe pilgrimage through the eastern desarts, persisted in wearing his miserable shattered shoes, and when new ones were offered him, rejected them as unsuitable indulgence."
Wednesday, June 4, 2003
pa·limp·sest Date: 1825
1:writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
2:something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface
Sunday, June 1, 2003
o·cher Date: 14th century
1:an earthy usually red or yellow and often impure iron ore
  used as a pigment
2:the color of ocher; especially :the color of yellow ocher

red ocher

yellow ocher
cath·o·lic (KATH-lick)
Friday, May 16, 2003
on·o·ma·to·poe·ia (ah-nuh-mah-toe-PEA-yuh)
Saturday, April 26, 2003
of·fal Date: 14th century
Etymology: Middle English, from of off + fall
1: the waste or by-product of a process: as
   a: trimmings of a hide
   b: the by-products of milling used especially for stock feeds
   c: the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing
Monday, April 21, 2003
reader Reader and fellow pedant Ron Traver encountered another nautical term: money for old rope. Ron's friend Bryan Spice explains:
"Several hundred years ago, the term money for old rope used to mean literally that: good cash paid for rope which is not quite as young as it seems. Now, it suggests that a task or problem can be executed with great ease, without much effort.

"In the Middle Ages, the rope trade was big business; rope was a fact of life and it was there to stay. You needed rope for everything: houses, ships, carts, clothes and tying up witches so they could be reliably dunked in the village pond. Rope was where it was at and demand for rope based products was booming.

"The story goes that sailors in port, and short of cash, would go into the hold of their ships and dig out lengths of old rope which they would sell to passers by—not much effort for a certain reward."

Bryan Spice also added slush fund to the list of nautical terms. According to Merriam-Webster, a slush fund is a "fund raised from the sale of refuse to obtain small luxuries or pleasures for a warship's crew". The refuse in question—the slush—is "refuse grease and fat from cooking especially on shipboard".
Sunday, April 13, 2003
ful·some Date: 13th century
1 a :characterized by abundance :COPIOUS
   <describes in fulsome detail—G. N. Shuster>
   <fulsome bird life. The feeder overcrowded—Maxine Kumin>
  b:generous in amount, extent, or spirit
   <the passengers were fulsome in praise of the plane's crew—Don Oliver>
   <a fulsome victory for the far left—Bruce Rothwell>
   <the greetings have been fulsome, the farewells tender—Simon Gray>
  c:being full and well developed
   <she was in generally fulsome, limpid voice—Thor Eckert, Jr.>
2:aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive
   <fulsome lies and nauseous flattery—William Congreve>
   <the devil take thee for a ... fulsome rogue—George Villiers>
3:exceeding the bounds of good taste :OVERDONE
   <the fulsome chromium glitter of the escalators dominating the central hall—Lewis Mumford>
4:excessively complimentary or flattering :EFFUSIVE
   <an admiration whose extent I did not express, lest I be thought fulsome—A. J. Liebling>

usage   The senses shown above are the chief living senses of fulsome. Sense 2, which was a generalized term of disparagement in the late 17th century, is the least common of these. Fulsome became a point of dispute when sense 1, thought to be obsolete in the 19th century, began to be revived in the 20th. The dispute was exacerbated by the fact that the large dictionaries of the first half of the century missed the beginnings of the revival. Sense 1 has not only been revived but has spread in its application and continues to do so. The chief danger for the user of fulsome is ambiguity. Unless the context is made very clear, the reader or hearer cannot be sure whether such an expression as "fulsome praise" is meant in sense 1b or in sense 4.

Friday, April 4, 2003
flab·ber·gast Date: 1772
They just don't know where this word came from.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Interesting words used in wine and champagne making:
rid·dler : someone who turns champagne bottles 1/8" every day to advance the fermentation.
thief : an elongated glass tube used for sampling wine. Open on both ends like a common drinking straw. You dip one end of the thief into the wine barrel, cover the other end with the thumb and remove it.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
e·thos (EE-thoss)
Date: 1851
: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution
Friday, March 21, 2003
syn·op·sis (sin-OP-sis)
Date: 1611
1:a condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise) :ABSTRACT
2:the abbreviated conjugation of a verb in one person only
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
man·qué Date: 1778
: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations or talents—used postpositively <a poet manqué>
dys·pho·ria Date: circa 1842
: a state of feeling unwell or unhappy
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Tom says school multiplication tables go up to 12x12 to help cope with
  • the old British monetary system (12 Pence = 1 Shilling)
  • time (12 hour clock)
  • feet (12 inches in a foot)
  • and degrees/minutes (60 = 5 x 12)
dearth : (DURTH)
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
reader Reader and fellow pedant Ron Traver remarked on the interesting root-cousins of tangential: “Check out some of the words from the same root and their connection. Who would have guessed tax or taste?”

From wordsmith.org:

tan·gen·tial : (tan-JEN-shuhl) adjective
1. Only slightly relevant to the matter in hand; digressive; divergent.
2. Merely touching.
3. Mathematics: Of or pertaining to the nature of a tangent.

[From Latin tangent-, tangens, present participle of tangere (to touch).]

The word tangential has numerous cousins, words derived from the same root: tax, contact, attain, intact, tact, taste, tangible, tactile. What an unlikely bunch of words to come out of the same parent! What's common in all is the idea of touching (or not, as in case of "intact"). -Anu

"Matsch refused to give into delaying tactics, tangential arguments or TV cameras - all of which played large roles in the Simpson case."
Dignity Back in Court; Chicago Sun-Times; Jun 2, 1997.
"Lucidly and economically written, the book gives us just enough explanatory background, just enough history, just enough atmosphere so that we have some sense of context yet never feel that (Hilary) Spurling is rambling or becoming mired in the tangential."
Francine Prose; The Colors of His Imagination; The Washington Post; Oct 25, 1998.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
pil·lo·ry Function: noun
Date: 13th century
1:a device formerly used for publicly punishing offenders consisting of a wooden frame with holes in which the head and hands can be locked
2:a means for exposing one to public scorn or ridicule

Function: transitive verb

Date: circa 1600
1:to set in a pillory as punishment
2:to expose to public contempt, ridicule, or scorn
Friday, February 21, 2003
leap Tom and John debated the past tense. Both were correct.
leaped: American usage
leapt: British usage

From an unconfirmed source on the Web:

Generally, the rule is that if there is a verb form with -ed, American English will use it, and if there is a form with -t , British English uses it. However, these forms do not exist for every verb and there is variation. For example, both American and British English would use the word 'worked' for the past form of 'to work', and in American English it is common to hear the word 'knelt' as the past tense of 'to kneel'.
Thursday, February 20, 2003

Imagine a plane, and a vector normal (perpendicular) to the plane.

Let's say we have a vector v:

v = v1(x) + v2(y) + v3(z), sometimes written as <v1, v2, v3>

Imagine a point P1 some shortest distance d from the plane, in the direction of the vector. In other words, you could use some other vector than v to get from P1 to the plane, but unless that other vector is parallel to v, you'll end up traveling a greater distance than d before you get to the plane. Again: P1 is distance d from the closest point on the plane, and you'd move in the direction of vector v to get from that point on the plane to P1.

Now imagine another point P2 on the other side of the plane — it's like a reflection of P1. Both points lie along the direction of the vector - if you start at one of the points, and move in the direction of the vector (or 180 degrees from the vector, depending on which point you started from), then you'll hit the other point. Both points are the same distance from the plane.

For convenience, let's assume that P1 and P2 are a single vector's length away from the plane, though it might be any non-zero multiple.

Ok, you can define the plane as the set of all points which are the same distance from both P1 and P2.

Now we define the two points:

P1 = (a1, b1, c1), that is, a1(x) + b1(y) + c1(z)).
P2 = (a2, b2, c2)

Let x, y, and z represent the points on the plane. Since P1 and P2 are equidistant from the plane along a vector normal to the plane (i.e. if the plane were a mirror, the reflection of P1 would appear at P2), we can define the plane as being all those points which are the same distance from both P1 and P2:

sqrt((x-a1) 2+ (y-b1) 2+ (z-c1) 2) = sqrt((x-a2) 2+ (y-b2) 2+ (z-c2) 2)

Also, P2 + 2(v) = P1 (because P1 lay along the direction of the vector from the plane, and P2 is on the other side).

Square both sides:

(x-a1)2 + (y-b1)2 + (z-c1)2 = (x-a2)2 + (y-b2)2 + (z-c2)2

Now we're going to expand each (x-a1)2 term into terms like this = x2 - 2*a1*x + a12:

(x2 - 2*a1*x + a12) + (y2 - 2*b1*y + b12) + (z2 - 2*c1*z + c12) = (x2 - 2*a2*x + a22) + (y2 - 2*b2*y + b22) + (z2 - 2*c2*z + c22)

And now we'll bring all of the variables over to the left, and all of the constants to the right:

(2a2-2a1)x + (2b2-2b1)y + (2c2-2c1)z = (a22-a12 + b22- b12 + c22-c12)
-2( (a1-a2)x + (b1-b2)y + (c1-c2)z ) = (a22-a12 + b22- b12 + c22-c12)

Okay now, since P1 is two vector v's worth away from P2, then the vector

<(a1-a2), (b1-b2), (c1-c2)>

is going to be equivalent to 2v (two vector lengths).

-2 ( 2v1(x) + 2v2(y) + 2v3(z) ) = (a22-a12 + b22- b12 + c22-c12)
-4 ( v1(x) + v2(y) + v3(z) ) = (a22-a12 + b22- b12 + c22-c12)
v1(x) + v2(y) + v3(z) = (a22-a12 + b22- b12 + c22-c12) / -4

That part on the right isn't important — it's just a number that shifts the origin of the plane around, without tilting it. Changing that right-hand stuff doesn't change the slope of the plane; it just moves it around to pass through another set of points, without rotating it, if you understand me. The important part of this exercise is that the stuff on the left ends up being the normal vector to the plane times x,y,z, so the equation for this plane (or any parallel plane) devolves into

v1(x) + v2(y) + v3(z) = (some constant c)

where v1, v2, and v3 are the coordinates of the normal vector v.

So if someone asks you for the equation of a plane that is normal to vector <2, 3, 4> and which passes through point (-2, -1, 0), you just say:

2x + 3y + 4z = (some constant)
2(-2) + 3(-1) + 4(0) = -4 - 3 + 0 = -7
2x + 3y + 4z = -7

vector1  vector2  vector3  vector4  vector5 



Wednesday, February 19, 2003
traffic_cone  Karen and I debated alternate terms for a simple traffic cone:
  "Bollard," she said.
  "No, pylon," I replied.
  "But a pylon is a wire tower!" she objected.
Turns out the British have their own terms for these things...
: Date: 1850
1 a:a usually massive gateway b:an ancient Egyptian gateway building in a truncated pyramidal form c:a monumental mass flanking an entranceway or an approach to a bridge
2 a chiefly British:a tower for supporting either end of usually a number of wires over a long span b:any of various towerlike structures
3 a:a post or tower marking a prescribed course of flight for an airplane b:TRAFFIC CONE
4:a rigid structure on the outside of an aircraft for supporting something (as an engine or missile)
: Date: circa 1775
1:a post of metal or wood on a wharf around which to fasten mooring lines
2:BITT 1
3 chiefly British:any of a series of short posts set at intervals to delimit an area (as a traffic island) or to exclude vehicles
Sunday, February 9, 2003
sci·mi·tar : circa 1548 : a saber having a curved blade with the edge on the convex side and used chiefly by Arabs and Turks
broad·sword : before 12th century : a large heavy sword with a broad blade for cutting rather than thrusting
ra·pi·er : Date: 1553 : a straight 2-edged sword with a narrow pointed blade
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
po·e·sy : (POH-eh-zee, POE-eh-see)
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