In Defense of the Dictionary – The One Made of Paper With Ink and Everything

To a large extent I have found that context together with similarity to other words with which I am already familiar is generally sufficient for at least a rudimentary understanding of the meaning of most new words that I encounter when reading.  However, often this does not give me the tools to explain the meaning very well to someone else.  So over the years I have found myself using a dictionary more and more often.  Sometimes I do this for the purpose mentioned above (for the enlightenment and amusement of my fellow beings, whether they actually care or not, and usually they don’t) or to prove to someone that I am correct in my definition (invariably).  In other cases I want to verify my understanding for my own edification, or horror of horrors I flat-out don’t know what the word means.

Now there are dictionaries online.  They are fast, efficient and….flat out boring.  And in my opinion not really to the point.  You get the word and some definition or other but I am not emotionally satisfied.    A dictionary can be more than a reference whereby you can confirm spelling or read the definition of a word.  And I am not talking about getting a list of synonyms, homonyms or heteronyms or any of that kind of thing.  I don’t want someone else’s list.  I want this to be my own exploration.  I want to traipse off into the darkest jungles of the Amazon, looking for the Semi-Bearded Flat-Bottomed Red-Faced Speckled Lemur, “but wait, look at that, what the heck is that thing?” and we are off in a new direction and discover the lost treasure of the Incas or one of Thor Heyerdahl’s boats.  That to me is what a dictionary is; an exploration where you can encounter new worlds, find the unexpected, and widen your understanding of mankind and the universe.  It is literally impossible for me to look up a word without getting sidetracked by other words that catch my attention, and I know I am not the only one.  And invariably that word leads to another and that one to another and that one….

However, one eventually, generally, finally meanders over to the word sought after in the first place, assuming we have not forgotten what it was in all the excitement.  Sure, go ahead and read the definition, but heck stopping there is for amateurs.  More often than not, the definition is barely adequate.  Start looking at all the words before and after the found word.  Focus on the ones that appear to have some of the same roots as the one you were searching for, or possibly definitions that sound even remotely similar or related in some oblique way, no matter how far-fetched.  In many cases those connections are far more enlightening than the definition found next to your word. You can start imagining the history of the word.  What word or words were in use long ago that transmogrified themselves into this word, and why.  Maybe this word was used in a particular way in the past and changed meaning in a way that has a certain logic to it.

Let’s try one:

  • riparian: of, on a riverbank
  • ripple: ruffling of waters surface
  • ripple: ridged surface left on sand
  • ripple: toothed instrument to clear away seeds
  • rip: stretch of broken water in sea or river.
  • rip current: strong current of water flowing seaward from the shore
  • rip: cut or tear quickly or forcibly away from something.
  • riposte: quick return thrust in fencing, retort.
  • rip: worthless horse, dissolute person, rake
  • rip-roaring: uproarious, vigorous
  • rift: cleft, fissure, chasm in the earth
  • rifling: grooves in gun
  • riffle:  a short, relatively shallow and coarse-bedded length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and turbulence than it normally does. As a result of the higher velocity and turbulence, small ripples are frequently found.
  • riff: repeated musical phrase
  • riffler: a curved rasp (from French rifloir, from rifler to scratch)
  • ridge: a range of hills or mountains, an elongate elevation on an ocean bottom, an elongate crest or a linear series of crests, a raised strip (as of plowed ground)
  • river: Natural stream of water that flows in a channel with more or less defined banks.

So we find  “rip” in words describing:

  • the presence of water (riparian)
  • different kinds of movement of water (rip, rip current and ripple)
  • the appearance of water or sand (ripple)
  • a tool that could make ripple-shaped marks even though that is not its intended purpose (ripple)
  • actions that are similar to the more aggressive water movement (as in rip and rip current)
  • humans and animals that act in ways the evoke the more aggressive actions of water (rip-roaring and rip)
  • a formal movement in fencing, a movement intended to rip open your opponent (riposte)

And then we move to our “rif” words:

  • a “riffle” in a stream creates a ripple
  • “riff” is the musical equivalent of a ripple of sound?
  • “rifling” is a repeated ripple sort of shape
  • a “rift” is an effect created by a ripping action
  • a “riffler” can rasp out curved surfaces, and therefore rippled shapes

the French root of “riffler” meaning to scratch leads us to thinking of scratching with fingernails, which would leave multiple marks, like ripples?

An “riv” word

  • well, just to obvious

And finally a “rid” word:

  • which describes the highest portion of a structure that has raised elongated areas, requiring corresponding parallel elongated areas lower than the raised ones which seems to me would describe pretty much a giant ripple! (ridge)

And if we push this even further afield Could it be that the word “riot” is related? (disorder, tumult, debauchery), sort of ripping apart of the fabric of society, or nature or…  Ok, maybe not, but….

So maybe the original root of all this is “ri”?  Meaning?  And it all branched out from there?

I have no idea, but in the world of the Wizard, this is just way too much fun to explore.



Posted in Sheer and Utter Randomness | 1 Comment

I Thought it Really Was All About Me

Before I was born, there were about a trillion years or so of stuff.  Also a whole lot of critters doing critter things and people living what they probably thought of as full lives.   Now everybody up to me didn’t have any awareness of my potential being, and so far a fairly limited number are currently aware of my sublime sublimeness. And, from what I hear, not all that many will continue to hold me near and dear in their thoughts in the unlikely event that I am called away from earthly existence.  And even fewer will feel that their own existence is now futile based on the lack of me.

So….. what the heck is the deal with that, anyway?

Posted in It's all about me of course., Sheer and Utter Randomness | 1 Comment

The Infamous Magazine Subscription Dilemma

Many years ago I made a chance remark to my brother and his friend, causing them to heap ridicule upon me.  This was not a unique circumstance, but I thought it was unwarranted in this case because I had pointed out a valid hole in the economic system.

Let’s say you buy a magazine at the newsstand.  You find you like it and start picking it up regularly.  Now you notice that if you get a subscription you will save beaucoup bucks per issue.  However, we need to take into consideration the MSOF (Magazine Subscription Overlap Factor).  You send in your subscription request; but you don’t know when the subscription will actually start, do ya?   So do you keep buying magazines until your first issue arrives, or do you wait?  If you keep buying them, you may end up purchasing one or more that will be arriving as part of your subscription.  So then where is your savings?  Or if you stop buying them, and if your subscription starts with a magazine one or more issues after the last one you bought, why then you will stand to miss out on that many issues that you really wanted.

See, life is way more complicated than they taught you in high school.  If they had explained all this back then, you might have opted to just run away

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Long Ago and Far Away

I have a story for you my children.  You will find this hard to believe, but I assure you, every word is true.

Once upon a time grocery shopping was simple.  You made a list of the items you wanted to buy.  You would check the newspaper for ads that showed what was on sale, and added any of those you wanted to your list.  You then went to the store and put those items in your shopping cart, along with any others you saw that you wanted.

And also, hold onto your hats, amazingly enough, there was plenty of room to push your cart through the store, there were no displays of items placed strategically about to keep you from from being able to get from one place to another, and glory be, TWO carts could pass each other in the aisle without one having to stop so as to allow the other to barely get by.

And there was a time when they had people to take the items out of your cart, add up the results and put them back in your cart!  No, really.  But the Weasels realized something.  You have perfectly good customers standing right there, doing NOTHING, but hopefully getting their money ready.  Why not put them to work!  So step one, change the design of the checkout stands so the customer has to unload his/her own stuff!  But wait, once the customer has unloaded his stuff, he/she is still hanging around doing NOTHING again, not pulling his/her own weight.  Heck lets make the poor slobs check their own groceries and bag them themselves! Hoo, almost passed out with glee at that idea….  Oh, man, what’s next.  Oo-o-o, what if the customer can be talked into unloading the trucks and stocking the shelves!  So exited at the possibilities.  “Spill on aisle 9!  You there, shop later, clean that up!, and when you’re done, bring some carts back from the parking lot”.  Employees?  We ain’t got no employees!  We don’t need no employees!  I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ employees! That is what customers are for!

If a sale item was not in stock, and please don’t call me a liar, the clerk would quickly write up a note that you could bring back later and get that item at the sale price.  It would not be necessary to send two or three people around the store in a vain attempt to find out where the item was supposed to be to make certain you were not fibbing about the sale price, or send you to customer service to stand in line for an hour to get your “raincheck”, and then send another person to look.

Ah, but this was not good enough for the Weasels that live far away and decide how you should spend your money.  It was decided that in order to get sale prices on many items, you needed to clip “coupons” out of the paper, this was to make it hard for anyone to read the comics on the other side.  So then you would bring in the coupons, though most of the time you would find that you either forgot to bring them, or had them too long and they would not accept them.  Of course there was always someone in front you that had not forgotten THEIR coupons.  And of course they had a coupon for Every Single Item they were purchasing.  That would be the same person that did not get out their check book (remember checks?) until all the items were checked and in bags and in their cart, and now had to rummage around their purse for a about 6 days to find it, and the ball point pen that did not work, so “does anybody have a pen that works?”.  “Customer service, please bring a pen to checkstand 6”.  And lo and behold sometime later a pen was brought.  A magnificent pen, with an ostrich feather attached, which while it changed the weight and balance of the pen significantly and poked the user in the eye, when it was not going up their nose did at least sporadically work well enough to finally fill out the check.

So then the Weasels did away with the coupons.  Hooray! No more coupons.  Oh, wait a minute.  You had to carry a special card, allowing the store to keep track of EVERY SINGLE ITEM you purchased, so they could know everything about you and figure out how to get you to buy the stuff they wanted you to.  And if you forget your card, why no problem, just shout out your telephone number in front of countless strangers, perverts, derelicts and God knows who else might be listening.

Then lo and behold, there was the Return of the Coupon!  Now you had to have the coupon AND the card, AND buy at least $10 worth of other stuff to use the coupon.

But wait, to show the Weasels had a heart after all they ran sales to help you improve your Math Skills.  Pasta-Roni 3 for $2.37, tomato soup 5 for $3.79.  Hooray, we got smarter.  But just in case we had trouble with that, in itsy-bitsy print they would state the price per something or other so we could compare.  But they would not use the same rules all the time, for example:  olive oil number 1 $.79 per ounce, olive oil  number 2 $13.45 per liter.  Let’s see now, how many ounces in a liter…..

Oh, and how many Weasel schemes could they come up with? 10 for $10, but you didn’t have to actually buy 10, you could just buy for example 2, so why didn’t they just say they were buck a piece?  Then there would be some items with a list price, a club price and if you buy 12 of them yet another price.  And to top all that there was another sale type.  Ok, let’s see if I can explain this, not sure I can: they would select for example 5 completely different items.  Now if you bought EXACTLY 7 of those items, it could be any combination of those items you got them for The Super Special Price.  HOWEVER if you bought 8 of them, then the first 7 would be at The Super Special Price and the 8th would be at the regular price!!!! Sigh.

But lest y0u think that the Weasels have run out of ideas, and if you felt there were not enough ways already of having your personal information collected, collated and used against you, there is a whole new level of joy awaiting!!!!!!  If you have a Club Card, you can sign up on their website for a new program wherein the sales prices are located online, some of which are tailored “Just For U”, based on your previous purchases.  So, after selecting the items, they will be “Loaded On Your Club Card” (don’t ask me how, probably osmosis or something).  This delightful little convoluted mess is called (and isn’t this sweet):

Just For U

And den you shops and get the prices.   And I assume, this is in addition to and not instead of, all the other ways they have of messing with you.

Now if you are from say, Ubanistan and don’t have a computer, or forgot to Load Up Your Card, they will have one you can use at the customer service desk.  That sounds like fun, stand in line behind a bunch a people that don’t know how to use a computer while they load up their cards before you can do yours.  Yeah, that sounds good.

And as for you Weasels in upper management at SAFEWAY.  You very definitely better STAY OFF MY LAWN.

Posted in Gonna Fix the World | 2 Comments

The Crudeing Down of America

Far be from me to cast any stones.  I am not saying my language is pristine.  I can’t say that when I stub my toe I say “Oh, goodness, that certainly hurts”; or when wroth about something that I say “I am extremely put out” instead of using some of the more powerful Anglo-Saxon expressions in my arsenal in order to punctuate my pain or righteous indignation.  And further, because of the ubiquity of profanity, I find it difficult for these words not to invade my thoughts with greater frequency as time goes by, much to my dismay.  But the growing acceptance of the cruder aspects of the English language in situations that in the past were not considered acceptable bothers me.  I realize that this puts me in the minority and don’t expect much (any?) support on this issue but feel it is something worth pointing out.

I had been considering for some time writing a post on this topic, but could not think how to do so without sounding like a sanctimonious reactionary.  But then I ran across the following letter to the editor in the Anderson Valley Advertiser; which for my money (1 buck) is the best newspaper I have ever seen (even though they are guilty in my mind of violating the very issue that this post is about).  Anyway, the following letter says what I want to say far better then I ever could:



A political staffer’s casual use of the word “whore” (“Brown’s phone flub may give Whitman an opening,” SF Chronicle, October 9) calls attention to the increased levels of bleepable words in current social conversation.

While the Whitman camp’s reaction was over­wrought and I’m not so sure the word is profane, it’s not a bad thing that notice was taken. It’s becoming rare to sit down in a café, stand in a market line, or enjoy a social gathering without being assaulted by various terms formerly confined to certain rough environments.

Some say that we shouldn’t care about those words, that objecting is prudish. But words have power to evoke imagery and emotion to either eliminate discourse or pollute the social environment.

To be sure, the provoking pugnacity of dirty words can at times add color or force to selected messages. That’s lost when the words become common. The saying, “You get what you put up with” applies. The more we put up with profanity, the more likely we are to bear it everywhere — in media, at dinner tables and business meetings and, of course, from children.

For the most part, profanity pollutes our social envi­ronment, leaving little room for respect, civility and kindness.

Maureen Merrill


Thank you Maureen.

Let me just add that I think these words when overused become poor substitutes for real communication.  The complexities and nuances of the English language are infinite in possibilities.  Yet more and more these few words allow us to avoid thoughtful exchanges of ideas by carelessly substituting them for thoughtful discourse.

Oh, and you can stand on my lawn anytime.

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An Open Letter to Myself

Self:  stop looking forward to upcoming movies with breathless anticipation.  Don’t pay attention to amazing trailers.

You are just doomed to spiral down in despair.  Whether it is because you are bound to be disappointed because no movie can live up to your expectations, or you have hexed them, just don’t do it.  Talk to a friend.  Friends don’t let friends live in heart rending anticipation of what looks like it should be the most amazing movie of all time only to be let down once again.

Learn from your mistakes, think “Robin Hood” and “Alice in Wonderland” to name the most recent.  Talk about opportunities lost to actually make something great, but the result was awful.  Remember that some of your best movie experiences were of movies that you had never heard of and had no prejudgments going in:  “Oh, Brother Where art Thou”, “Fargo”, “Gosford Park”, “March or Die”, “Shipping News” and “Salton Sea”.

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An Open Letter to you Hollywood Moguls

Crappy movie makers (you know who you are), listen up.  You have certain responsibilities to your viewing audience. Firstly: hire decent writers.  Secondly: stay true to the world your movie inhabits/creates.  Thirdly: don’t forget the rule “suspension of disbelief.  Fourthly: concentrate on plot and character development not just blowing things up unless you are making your movie for 19 year old males.  Fifth: make movies for the shear joy of creating them, stop figuring out what to put in a movie so you can rake in the big bucks; take a chance.

Stay tuned for more posts in which I intend to elaborate.  This is just an opening salvo of a really irritated lover of movies.

And stay off of my lawn.

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