If you’re a writer, you’ll find this sign amusing. If you live with one, you’ll probably find it funny as well—but maybe just a little less so…
Anyway, it’s proof that few words often say volumes more than many.
Today’s Best Word Ever is quoz: something weird or absurd.
A noun that may be the archaic form of quiz, an apparently unrelated slang word (and the source of quizzical), meaning “odd person” (1782).
Everything stuffed into Grampa’s storage unit—the sentimental and the quoz—lay covered in years of dust.
Today’s Best Word Ever is pyknic: characterized by a short stature, broad girth, and powerful muscularity.
The first known use of this noun is 1925, from the Greek, pyknos, “dense, stocky.” Adjectival and noun forms of the word are the same.
That pyknic prizefighter Pittsburgh Pete sure packs a powerful punch!
November 28, 2011:
Today’s Best Word Ever is omphaloskepsis: contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation; also inertia.
This New Latin noun, which has straightforward as well as sarcastic connotations, derives from the Greek: omphalos, “navel,” + skepsis, from skeptesthai, “to reflect, look.” The first known use of omphaloskepsis is 1925, but it was used in the “navel-gazing” sense earlier in these forms: omphalopsychic (1892), omphalopsychite (1882).
Mom gaped at the disheveled stack of unfinished homework on Francesca’s cluttered desk and cried, “You are an omphaloskepsis expert!”
Greetings fellow recoverers of too much Thanksgiving dinner and the Black Friday Specials onslaught!
A word in advance: This is an atypically wordy posting, also probably one of the strangest you’ll read in a while. Consider it an amalgam of recent “inspiration.” My suggestion? Warm a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, pour a mug of cider, and read at your leisure…
I had something different planned for today, but blogopus was slammed the past few days with a truckload of spam and I’ve been busy taking measures to combat the assault.
I may have to turn the comments options off for a few days in the hopes that these weasely marauders move along, trip over their untied shoelaces, fall in a viscous puddle of peanut butter and farkleberry jam, and spend the next six months cleaning it out of their rapacious crevices—
Until normalcy is restored, I’d like to share a YouTube video of an unusual encounter with an octopus walking across a patch of land at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, California, which is about an hour south of San Francisco.
You may have already seen this fascinating video; it was widely featured on the Internet last week. If you haven’t, I hope you take a few moments to watch it.
I replayed the video a number of times. Each viewing, I had the same reaction. For those of us privileged to watch—people (and I’m not certain spammers qualify here)—this is a rare sighting. For the octopus, well, he’s just doing his octopus thing.
And while I believed I knew something about typical octopus behavior, I didn’t know anywhere what I thought I did. During the video, a member of the astonished family filming the determined octopus on the move cries out, “Where are you headed, dude?”
Have you ever look at your cat or your kid—or your husband, for that matter—and wondered, “What are you doing and what on earth are you thinking?”
“Measuring the minds of other creatures is a perplexing problem.” Sy Montgomery makes this observation in “Deep Intellect: Inside the Mind of the Octopus,” a remarkable piece in the November/December 2011 Orion magazine.
Montgomery admits to something I have felt, but until recently kept rather private: “I had always longed to meet an octopus.”
I know what many of you must be thinking. What on earth is she thinking? As Montgomery puts it: “Octopuses are, after all, ‘only’ invertebrates…classified in the mollusk family, and many mollusks, like clams, have no brain.” (Do spammers qualify as mollusks?) However,
increasingly, researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals—creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago—have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities. Their findings are challenging our understanding of consciousness itself.
New evidence suggests, in Montgomery’s words, the “breathtaking possibility” that octopuses (and cuttlefish and squid) “may be able to see with their skin.”
Should you wish to learn more about the science behind this research, I encourage you to read “Deep Intellect,” and while it contains a number of fascinating and amusing octopus stories, Montgomery centers movingly on her several meetings with Athena, a giant Pacific octopus at the New England Aquarium. She speaks with respect and wonder of this experience, concluding:
She had given me a great gift: a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel, and to know. I was eager to meet more of her kind.
Time was, I couldn’t have imagined having this reaction to a species other than my own, but life as lived and the power of language, especially in the form of poetry, has opened me to such possibilities and opportunities. And isn’t that a great part of what we do as writers—struggle to imagine the possibilities and strive to understand what it’s like to live inside another creature’s skin?
So what does it feel like to be an octopus? Philosopher Godfrey-Smith has given this a great deal of thought, especially when he meets octopuses…on dives in his native Australia. “They come forward and look at you. They reach out to touch you with their arms….It’s remarkable how little is known about them…but I could see it turning out that we have to change the way we think of the nature of the mind itself to take into account minds with less of a centralized self.”
Do spammers dream? When tripping over a loose shoelace wandering the forest, does the sound of a spammer falling into a puddle of PBJ make a sound? Time and research will tell. But as Montgomery says, quoting another octopus researcher, “Some may have consciousness in a way we may not be able to imagine.”
In the meantime, it’s helpful and humbling to remember to use all our senses, to welcome with open arms (two) every octopus (eight) that unexpectedly crawls our way, and to remind ourselves that we’re all evolving.
p.s. Consciousness is not the same thing as having a conscience. Let’s work to keep spam canned—and sink it to the bottom of the digital ocean, where it belongs.
Today’s Best Word Ever is nutant: nodding, drooping.
Another adjective this week from the Latin, nutant-, nutans, the present participle of nutare, “to nod, to sway”; in the 1610s, the “action of nodding,” from nutationem, a noun of action, from nutare, “to nod.” The astronomical use is from 1715.
“Too much turkey,” Mom whispered, as we watched a snoring Grandpa’s nutant head.
We found this unique creature on the ocean floor, quietly tiptoeing in the opposite direction of the mashed potatoes and gravy. Just before disappearing into the indigo gloom, Gobblepus turned and asked us to wish you the following:
Enjoy the stuffing and corn pudding, my friends, ’cause these drumsticks are marching straight to freedom! Have a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving!
Today’s Best Word Ever is macarize: to declare to be blessed.
This transitive verb stems from the Greek, makarizein, or makar, makarios, “blessed, happy” + -izein, –ize.
Everyone around the table macarized Mom for the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.
Today’s Best Word Ever is luculent: clear in thought or expression.
An adjective, circa 1548, from the Latin luculentus, from luc- and lux, meaning light.
Our luculent chef instructor taught us how to keep a roasting turkey moist and succulent.
Of course there’s the turkey and cranberry sauce (my favorite), but nothing says Thanksgiving and foretells the winter holidays like pumpkin pie.
I love pumpkins. I love everything about pumpkins—from seed to stem to shell to symbolism. The pumpkin suggests fecund earthiness; for me, it’s the icon of the harvest.
This time of year pumpkins are everywhere we look, and no wonder. It seems we need the promise of the harvest fulfilled to get us through the hard winter ahead.
The early Americans depended upon pumpkins for their survival. Here’s a delightful yet sobering Pilgrim verse (circa 1633) about our favorite gourd:
Stead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.
I first encountered this stanza on page 251 of the Campbell’s Great American Cookbook (Random House, 1984), which precedes the recipe for pumpkin pie.
Over the years, I consulted this volume many times while learning to make traditional American dishes. This was before online cookbooks, and the pages are marked with the fingerprints of a budding cook deep into discovering new dishes.
For all the ease and benefits of online accessibility and communication—and isn’t that what’s happening right here and now?—there’s nothing that can replace turning the pages of a hand-held book.
When I met my future husband, I returned to my well-worn copy of the Great American Cookbook to learn how to make Buffalo chicken wings (not a staple of my American-Italian diet). I’ll confess that I’d never tasted them. But my homemade blue cheese dressing (with secret ingredient) was definitely the way to his heart…
I still strive to surround myself with poetry, pumpkins, and printed matter.
May we always surround ourselves with good things that help us survive and all that allows us—and those we love—to thrive.
p.s. Here are a few good links to pieces on pumpkin history:
“Some Pumpkins,” on the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation website;
“All About Pumpkins,” on the Jack Creek Farms website; and “Pumpkins,” on the American Heritage Vegetables website of the Center for Digital Humanities of South Carolina.
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