On using unusual words

From an article dating back to 1986.
William F. Buckley on big words
He wrote this in response an editor's reasoning for his use of big words
I thought you use foreign words and phrases in your column because (1) you like to show off, and (2) you take delight in irritating people.

His reasoning is somewhat specious, but I have to hand it to him for a wonderful analogy. Augmented C 11th with a raised 9th.

But why should a syndicated columnist use the word? I can hear Mr. Williams re-asking. Well, not, really, just to show off - one doesn't ''show off'' one's workaday equipment. You see, that word, and a hundred or so others, are a part of my working vocabulary, even as a C augmented 11th chord with a raised 9th can be said to be an operative resource of the performing jazz pianist.

Are we now closing in on the question, by using the exclusivist word, ''performing?''

Yes, in a way we are, I suppose. Because just as the discriminating ear greets gladly the C augmented 11th when just the right harmonic moment has come for it, so the fastidious eye encounters happily the word that says exactly what the writer wished not only said but conveyed, the writer here defined as a performing writer sensitive to cadence, variety, marksmanship, accent, nuance and drama. WHAT of the reader who misses the refinement? Well, what of the listener deaf to the special reach of the C augmented 11th?

That reader has the usual choices: he can ignore the word; attempt, from the context, to divine its meaning precisely or roughly (not hard, in the narrative above, on Professor Weiss's liberal politics); or he can look it up. Are these alternatives an imposition? Yes, if the newspaper's feature that day is on how to treat a rattlesnake bite. You would not instruct the reader to fight the poison a outrance.

Burning bridges

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.
- Tom Stoppard

Where turkeys in Turkey come from

In Elif Batuman's article on a Turkish chef who is reviving authentic Turkish cuisine I came across a seemingly unbelievable fact:In Turkey, a turkey is called 'hindi'. These birds are quite a part of Turkish culinary culture and they are usually eaten on New Year's eve. Much like in France you don't order French fries but pommes frites, I did suspect that in Turkey they don't call the turkey 'turkey'. But 'hindi'?!

Knowing how maddening it is to hear the confusion between Hindu and Hindi, I suspected for a moment that the Turks meant something else. I had this checked with my Turkish friend. This was her response:

"Hindistan is the name of the country India in Turkish! And the name of the bird does actually come from the name of the country, as the latter used the be called “the bird from India” or something like that. The word Hindi, however, is no longer used to refer to Indians (perhaps because of its use as a bird name). Now we have the word Hintli, which means “Indian”. So hindi is only part of the name of the country today. "
So, turkeys are from India or thought to be so by the Turks at least. I really doubt that I ever saw a turkey in India and, if my memory serves me right, Salim Ali's masterwork The Book of Indian Birds" has no mention of turkeys of any kind (but this I need to check). So, if turkeys are not from Turkey, and unlikely to be from India, where is this bird from? The Wikipedia article is not terribly clear on the Turkey-India connection to the etymology either(I checked). The article seemed to suggest a perverse perpetration of the mistaken Columbian idea that America was really India.

If indeed the turkey is from India then this goes in way of things that the lands in the Middle East get credit for the things that we, the people of India really should. The kinda of logic that led to OUR numbers being called Arabic numbers, and that Gypsies are from India and not Egypt.

Yet, I would prefer calling the turkey a 'turkey' and not a 'hindi'. It's a battle well lost than won. Imagine Thanksgiving and people here trying to roast a 'hindu'? No, thanks!

From: NPR Story: Why A Turkey Is Called A Turkey
And just to keep this ball rolling…all over the world, people now can eat American Turkeys, but they don't call them Turkeys.

Across Arabia, they call our bird "diiq Hindi," or the "Indian rooster."
In Russia, it's "Indjushka," bird of India.
In Poland, "Inyczka"— again "bird from India."
And what, we wondered, do the Turks call our turkey?
Well, they call it "Hindi," again, short for India.

It's just not the Turks, but anyone East of the Indus. Mis-labeling of food. An age-old practice.


A few years ago, the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) installed automatic check-out machines that scan the barcode, demagnetize your books, inform you about your holds. They have six of these machines and there is no waiting at the checkout desk. The only reason to go to the desk is to pay fines in cash, or for some other unusual request. For almost all transactions, you don't really have to talk to any librarian.

This system has another benefit other than efficiency and speed, an unintended consequence that I wouldn't have realised until I met this girl at a party. She said,
"I really like the AADL system. Now, I can check out books that I am embarrassed to check out in front of a real person".
"Are these dirty books or something?"
"Oh, no, no! These are just what my brother calls trashy mystery novels. I feel now I can check them out without being judged."

There are people who don't read and those who do. Any two non-readers are more alike, than any two readers. There is the John Grisham reader and a reader of Kafka and Murakami. High-brow, low-brow and a sometimes a mix of both. I (like others) always sneak a peak at people in the queue and their book choices and attempt to form some sort of opinion of them. "Oh! so you are the kind of person who reads ABC and hence you must XYZ". And yes, it is true librarians DO look at your book choices. I have many an interesting discussion at the checkout desk. I guess they are polite enough to keep their mouths shut in case they disagree with your choice of reading material.

"I just checked out a whole bunch of books" the girl said with a huge smile on her face.

Now she could read what she wanted to, the judgement of others is suspended. Anonymity allows us sometimes to be what we are not, and sometimes it helps us be who we really are.


NPR: Woods Nears Crucible of Masters

"Superintelligent people can't be good athletes," Coach McGuire said. "They're too aware."

And if there is one thing we have learned about Woods, it is what little awareness he possesses — otherwise, please, sir, explain all those guileless text messages. Rusty he may be at Augusta, but why should we think self-consciousness will hinder him?
When we think of great athletes we think of determination, dedication and focus. The greatest among the great are the ones who can shut everything out, banish the yips, and make the clutch shots. The greatest perform their best under the greatest pressure. They come up the impossible strokes, shots, kicks, and putts in improbably ways that puts rest any doubts to their genius.

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker(Branded a Cheat) pointed out a subtler difference in the case of Tiger Woods as compared to troubles of Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. He writes, "Woods’s appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline". No wonder consulting companies like Accenture wanted Woods to endorse their brand. Woods might have tougher time in his second act because his lack of responsibility contradicts his greatest perceived gifts.

While there may be ups and downs in financial incentives for Tiger, the fact still remains that the public is hungry for more of Tiger Woods on the golf course. For his part, Tiger knows nothing better than how to hit a golf ball. There are so questions on how he will perform in light of all these scandals. I think it will not make any difference. The greatest can compartmentalize things and focus to a degree that we cannot imagine. Clearly, they aren't the deepest thinkers or the most reflective people. Such a quality hinders the ability to brush off a bad putt, or a missed stroke to affect subsequent plays. I am positive that the moment that Tiger lines up his shot on the first hole in Augusta, that's all he's going to be thinking of.
The rest of the hoopla is created for our entertainment cause we think so much. And because we think so much we end up in the stands applauding.

The NPR story ended thus:
With celebrities — which is what athletes have become — sex is just so noisy now, and for us, in this culture, no matter how many more championships Woods wins, he'll always remain, in the fullest sense of the phrase, a sex symbol.