Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is goat rodeo. According to the notes on my CD of The Goat Rodeo Sessions, quoting the Urban Dictionary, a goat rodeo is "A chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what's going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into", or "A situation that order cannot be brought to any time."

For example:"Management's nuts. By the time each of them has his say and policy gets to us, it's a goat rodeo."
"We had Ondine's fifth birthday party yesterday. What a goat rodeo!"
Yo-Yo Ma, in calling his classical cello meets bluegrass sessions a goat rodeo, is being ironic. You can read all about the CD on Yo-Yo Ma's own site, or in a nice piece in Billboard, or on the Readings online site.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Word of the day

Names are always a source of interest, and one of my favourite categories of names is people with two surnames - like Gordon Thomas, or Jackson Jackson. Unlike most names in English, they are also reversible.
Today's word is Jay, a name and a letter. I have been reading about the tussle between Mike Rann, premier of South Australia, and Jay Weatherill (picture with family, and article about him here). Mr Weatherill was nominated by "the factions" to succeed Mr Rann, and this will happen today. I have been struck how odd it sounds to hear a name which is also an initial - Jay in this case. It only becomes less odd through familiarity. The names Bea, Dee, Kay and Em may have the same initial effect, but I have gotten used to them, attached as they are to real people. 
These are the only names I know in English which sound like a single letter of the alphabet, and all but one of them is an abbreviation. There aren't any more, but I could be wrong - let me know.

Word of the day

Today's word is litotes, a word I cannot remember ever reading before. Off, because the meaning of the term is something we do every day. Well, I do. It means, according to the Wikipedia, "a figure of speech in which understatement is employed for rhetorical effect when an idea is expressed by a denial of its opposite . . ." For example, "not as young as he was", meaning "old". It is common in English and many other cultures. 

An interesting search, too - try it. The search for litotes returns almost entirely definitions rather than uses of the word in a practical context - in other words, people seem to define the word more than use it. They use the concept (double negatives for emphasis, or ironical emphasis) frequently. So about.com quotes Queen Victoria's "We are not amused" as a litotes, and has a useful entry with lots more quotes. Wiktionary points out that it is an anagram of toilets, but not if you use the Greek spelling of λιτότης  

The Alpha Dictionary reads one pronounciation of it to you and provides the valuable information that the singular and plural have the same form. The SIL site has examples from the Bible (John 6:37) and Eduard Schevardnadze, and proper references. The SIL is or was the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Even Facebook has a page on litotes although, alas, it is taken from the Wikipedia. It does add the information that 111 people like the word. One of them is me.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Word of the day

If you are a fan of Roddy Doyle - and who isn't? - then you will enjoy his column on Dublin in The Daily Beast, or Newsweek as it is also called. "Dublin city is the sound of people who love words, who love taking words and playing with them, twisting and bending them, making short ones longer and the long ones shorter, people who love inventing words and giving fresh meaning to old ones." 
His word is "what's the story?" - a common Dublin greeting. He introduces us to the house hatcher "a boy or girl - more often a boy - who stays at home all day, won't come out, because he's 'too into the Xbox' . . ." And he tells us about the many ways of using the word buzz.

Word of the day

Today's word is mass personalisation - a clever formulation because it is apparently an oxymoron, but in fact not. It means that much in contemporary education, especially higher education, should be optional at the student's option. Such things as attendance, learning styles, scheduling, on/off campus learning, and so on. Along with this concept is the idea that content is ubiquitous, and teaching is the differentiator between good and bad education. It also relates, given its commercial origin, to the idea of the student as customer. My thanks to the ever creative Swinburne visioning process for the term.

The expression is not new - it already has a Wikipedia entry which defines the term as "custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users' tastes and preferences", and there are references to the concept back into the nineties. Despite this, the mass personalisation website describes itself as a "stealth-mode startup in an exciting niche" - another way of saying that it has no content yet. Browse the web and enjoy - plenty of hype, but a growing reality.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is tickety boo. Going smoothly, doing alright, copacetic according to the Urban Dictionary. Copacetic?
As an optimist, I like cheerful, upbeat expressions, and this is one of them, albeit one which has largely passed out of use. I had thought that this might be one of those expressions from my parents' times which had become quaintly archaic.

In fact, if you use Google's Books invaluable Ngram and search for tickety boo you will find out that the word suddenly came into use in 1940, disappeared in 1961, and climbed back in the 1970s and 1980 to peak in the late 1980s. I guess that the small number of examples in the sample may give a wrong impression, and also (after looking at some examples) it is clear that the word was used in recent books to give an archaic, 40s and 50s flavour to writing.
Searching the word in Google Books (which is what Ngram does) turns up some wonderful examples. Here's one from William Safire's collected columns, In love with Norma Loquendi (1994):
Everything has gone tickety-boo. "I thought I had found a new expression," my Texas citator added, "but my wife informs me that the actress Maggie Smith used this word in the 1982 movie Evil Under the Sun, based on a Hercule Poirot ..."

So tickety boo is probably how you want to be today. I hope it works out that way on Wattle Day 2011.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Best football team in the world

Why is Barcelona (Barça) the best football team in the world? asks The Economist's management columnist Schumpeter. Part of the answer lies in an article written by my colleague Peter Gerrand and published in firstmonday five years ago - "Cultural diversity in cyberspace: the Catalan campaign to win the new .cat top level domain". It details the struggle to achieve a unique top level domain name (TLD),.cat. The name is unique because the campaign for it led to the creation of an entirely new category of TLDs, for linguistic and cultural communities. Catalonia, because it is a region of Spain as well as a nation, was not able to have a country code TLD (CCTLD), and Catalans did not want to use the CCTLD for Spain.

Schumpeter's point is not just about identity being a key to the success of Barça - and the success of any organisation. What else accounts for success? While its approach to football is obviously one answer, Barça, says Schumpeter, "has provided a distinctive solution to some of the most contentious problems in management theory." Four problems in particular.
"What is the right balance between stars and the rest of mankind? Should you buy talent or grow your own? How can you harness the enthusiasm of consumers to promote your brand? And how do you combine the advantages of local roots and global reach?" Read more in The Economist.

As a matter of fact, these are the very questions that a rising university like Swinburne University of Technology needs to ask, and answer.

And if you are actually interested in football, rather than management, you can read all about the best football team in the world on the English-language version of the FC Barcelona website.  

Friday, 19 August 2011

Thinking About Names

Lorcan Dempsey has a wonderful post about names, concluding with some reflections on contemporary library cataloguing, and how we might handle things better in the future. He precedes his suggestions with the words "Authorities work - and think NACO here - is a professional activity, hedged around by rules and procedures; it is after all 'authorities' work." I did have to look up NACO - is is the Name Authority Cooperative Program of the PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloguing).

Lorcan writes about relationships which are not bibliographic, and suggests that in future we need not limit ourselves to bibliographic relationships in our cataloguing, nor to bibliographic "authorities" in the way we reference names.

In Australia we have a history with names. Here at Swinburne University the Nic Names project looked at approaches which did not involve authority or control; as Rebecca said in a Nic Names post in December 2009, ". . . this [other ways of matching] may well be far more valuable to help us tell people apart in a scholarly publishing context than their dates of birth."

The National Library of Australia has just completed the beautifully-acronymed ARDCPIP (you have to supply a vowell after the C but it can be pronounced) - the Australian Research Data Commons Party Infrastructure Project. In fact, after much debate, the NLA re-named names as "parties." The project does use an authority control basis for its treatment of names.

But Dempsey is interested in more than name authorities and name control. He is interested in libraries going beyond sorting out names by providing a more expansive service. Others are following that path too. OCLC's WorldCat Identities links to a Wikipedia biographical entry if it is confident the link is correct. The National Library of Australia's Trove links names (People and Organisations) to a bewildering variety of sources and locations. Dempsey asks - could we also identify family relationships? What about relatives? He suggests that network level knowledge organisation is where we might really want to go.

It is certainly worth trawling through some of the work being done to expand our access to rich information about people. Parties, too.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Word of the day

What is the opposite to "dumb down"? It needs an opposite. Dumbing down isn't a great concept, and we should be pushing the opposite, avoiding dumbing down where we can. The term is widely used, and even has a Wikipedia definition.
Searching for antonyms doesn't work very well, since all of the sources of antonyms limit themselves to current English words or expressions, and I am mostly happy to accept a neologism, where one is needed. I think that the opposite to "dumb" is smart, and in the expression "dumb down" the slang adjective "dumb" works as a verb. So I suggest smart up, or smarted up as a past partiple analogous to dumbed down, or smarting up, like dumbing down.What do you think?
Speaking of dumbing down, I've just read Lindsay Tanner's book Sideshow: dumbing down democracy, and recommend it. You all knew that Australian politics is being dumbed down, of course, but you haven't seen it documented in such detail before, or thought about the answers, as Tanner has. Have a quick browse. Think about how we can smart up our politics.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is takestock, a noun, coined especially for Swinburne's senior management recently, when we all held a takestock. It is an illustration of something we all know - you can turn pretty much any part of speech into any other, and pretty much any two-word term into a runtogether.

Needless to say, the neologist at our takestock day did not coin the word. Google claims to have found 7.8 million instances, but this is only possible because of the Google feature of combining searches for variant forms - takestock, take stock, and so on. With an advanced search we're down to 48,000. Most of the uses on the web relate to stocktaking, like www.takestock.com.au. But there are few with other meanings of "stock" as well - pedigreed cattle, shares, pond care, stock photography, portfolio management,and more.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

République de Bananes

This is a Quebec website and blog, apparently a conservative one - styled L'autre Québec. I was initially intrigued because I am sure that that isn't the right translation of banana republic - for example, Wikipedia uses république bananière, and the Wictionnaire has a nice definition of this term, as well as of the new verb, bananiser, or to transform into a banana republic.
Definitely a cult site - you can even buy the flag of the République de Bananes on a postcard from Zazzle.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is crowdfunding - thank you to Helen Reid for this one. It provides an opportunity to resume this blog, and the word of the day, after a gap of almost a year. Thanks is also due to Sherman Young, whose blog post on the matter in turn quotes The Economist, which says:
"Enter Unbound, a British effort to “crowd-fund” books. Visitors to its website can pledge money for a book that is only part-written. If enough money is raised, the author can afford to finish it—and the pledgers will get a copy. Having launched in May, the firm announced its first success on July 18th. Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, has secured the funds to finish a book of quirky stories. Handsome edited volumes and e-books will follow."

Needless to say, what appears as something absolutely new already has in the Wikipedia a nice definition and article on crowdfunding which takes it back to the 1990s.

Why the hyphen? I've eliminated it from my spelling of the word, because I do that, as do others.

And go on, send Terry Jones the money if you feel like it, although the book is well on the way. I loved Erik the Viking, and he's written other nice books too, mainly for children. You can read all about it in Wired, and listen to their podcast and interview with the author.

Read all about it - you can discover not only a new publishing trend, Sherman Young's blog, The Economist (as always, invaluable), this blog and, in due course, Terry Jones's new book.