Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, Mate

New Year's Day in Sydney (AP)

SYDNEY, Australia - A pulsing heart of red lights shone from Sydney’s Harbor Bridge early Sunday as tens of thousands watched fireworks ushering in the new year. Revelers around the world began partying, visited places of worship and gathered with family to welcome 2006. AP

Thursday, December 29, 2005

To skip this entry, just dial zero

From Yahoo Picks:

The IVR ("Interactive Voice Response") Cheat Sheet: a simple list of the keypad numbers you have to press in order to reach an actual human being when you call the customer service line of different companies and government agencies. ...

America First 800-999-3961 0 or say "member services"
American Express 800-528-4800 0 repeatedly
American Funds 800-421-0180 Press 0.
AMSouth Bank 800-267-6884 When the recording starts, press 111-0000. This is seven digits, like a phone number.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Academic Studies of Weblogs

From Into the Blogosphere

About the Collection...
This online, edited collection explores discursive, visual, social, and other communicative features of weblogs. Essays analyze and critique situated cases and examples drawn from weblogs and weblog communities. Such a project requires a multidisciplinary approach, and contributions represent perspectives from Rhetoric, Communication, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Linguistics, and Education, among others.


Power Surge: Writing-Rhetoric Studies, Blogs, and Embedded Whiteness
Kathleen Ethel Welch, University of Oklahoma

Weblogs, Rhetoric, Community, and Culture
Laura Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman, University of Minnesota

Geography of the Blogosphere: Representing the Culture, Ecology and Community of Weblogs
Nicholas Packwood, Wilfrid Laurier University
Who is Enya?

From Slate:

EnyaThe arrival of Amarantine, currently No. 10 on the Billboard album chart, is a reminder that Enya is one of the savviest operators in the music business and, well, an original. Twenty years ago, no one dreamed that there would be a huge audience for an ethereal female vocalist singing pseudo-classical airs with misty mystical overtones—-and Enya remains the genre's only practitioner. No one has even tried to imitate her.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A blessed Christmas 2005 and a happy 2006

Nicholas Kroeze, Time to Worship

Thursday, December 22, 2005

'Ooh, I know, Spendover, like Passover but less talk, more presents!' (from The Simpsons 5F09)

This cartoon sums up my feelings:


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some of Gideon Strauss' favorite lines from Gilead.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Freudians will not be convinced

NY Times
For centuries, the tusk of the narwhal has fascinated and baffled. ... Scientists have long tried to explain why a stocky whale that lives in arctic waters, feeding on cod and other creatures that flourish amid the pack ice, should wield such a long tusk. The theories about how the narwhal uses the tusk have included breaking ice, spearing fish, piercing ships, transmitting sound, shedding excess body heat, poking the seabed for food, wooing females, defending baby narwhals and establishing dominance in social hierarchies. But a team of scientists from Harvard and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has now made a startling discovery: the tusk, it turns out, forms a sensory organ of exceptional size and sensitivity, making the living appendage one of the planet's most remarkable, and one that in some ways outdoes its own mythology. NY Times

Monday, December 05, 2005


"Preaching to bishops is like farting at skunks. You’re going to lose that war."

Author Thomas Lynch, at Calvin Theological Seminary (qtd. by Kent H)

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Nation Heals

Dave and Oprah

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1st January 1864

WikipediaFrom Wikipedia:

the first Intercolonial cricket match in Australia was played in Launceston, Tasmania between players from Port Phillip and Van Diemen's Land in February 1851

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Great 60 Minutes tonight:

Internet gambling-New Orleans is sinking-profile of Bono
New Yorker coverRecent New Yorker cartoons:

Pilot to exiting passenger:
"Hey buddy, how bout a little something extra for the landing?"

Framed sign behind a boss in his office:
"Surprises" (circle with line through it)

Marriage counselor, holding phone receiver, to couple:
"Excuse me for a moment. It's my idiot husband."

Woman to man at bar:
"No, really, I love it when you talk in sentences."

Woman to man on couch watching TV:
"You don't really know someone until you give him the remote."

Man to wife on couch at home:
"Let's just stay in and contribute to the disappointing weekend box-office."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Coming Distractions from ABC's The Note:

— Nov. 20, 2005: Sen. Joe Biden's (D-DE) birthday
— Nov. 21, 2005: Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D-TN) birthday
— Nov. 27, 2005: Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (R-MN) birthday
— Nov. 28, 2005: President Bush travels to Arizona and raises money for Sen. Kyl's (R-AZ) reelection campaign, Phoenix, AZ
— Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, 2005: Former President Bill Clinton, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, travels to Sri Lanka and Indonesia and then reports back to the European Commission in Belgium
— Nov. 30, 2005: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) delivers a public address to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA
— Nov. 30 - Dec. 2, 2005: Republican Governors Association 2005 Annual Conference, Carlsbad, CA
— Dec. 1-3, 2005: Democratic National Committee's rescheduled fall meeting convenes, Phoenix, AZ
— Dec. 1, 2005: Attorney General Alberto Gonzaels addresses the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY
— Dec. 2, 2005: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) headlines a Kentucky Democratic Party fundraiser, Louisville, KY
— Dec. 2, 2005: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delivers a public address to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA
— Dec. 2, 2005: Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) birthday
— Dec. 2, 2005: Ret. Gen. Wes Clark's birthday
— Dec. 6, 2005: Special election in California's 48th congressional district to replace former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA)
— Dec. 6, 2005: Former President Bill Clinton headlines a fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) reelection campaign at Crobar, New York, NY
— Dec. 6, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Cambridge, MA
— Dec. 7, 2005: Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) is the special guest at South Carolina Democratic Party's First Annual Governors Appreciation Dinner featuring Jim Hodges, Ernest Hollings, Robert McNair, and Richard Riley, Charleston, SC
— Dec. 7, 2005: Sptizer for Governor gala fundraiser, New York, NY
— Dec. 7, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Ann Arbor, MI
— Dec. 8, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Chicago, IL
— Dec. 9-11, 2005: Florida Democratic State Conference, Orlando, FL
— Dec 10, 2005: DNC Commision on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling meets to issue final recommendation to Chairman Dean, Washington, DC
— Dec. 11, 2005: Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) birthday
— Dec. 11, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Austin, TX
— Dec. 12, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Houston, TX
— Dec. 12, 2005: Democratic Governors Association holiday reception, Washington, DC
— Dec. 13, 2005: Gov. Tom Vilsack's (D-IA) birthday
— Dec. 13, 2005: Special election on bond issues in Arkansas
— Dec. 15, 2005: Gov. Mark Warner's (D-VA) birthday
— Dec. 15, 2005: Republican National Committee holiday party, Washington, DC
— Dec. 16, 2005: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Kansas City, MO
— Dec. 25, 2005: Evan Bayh's (D-IN) birthday
— Jan. 9, 2006: Alito confirmation hearings commence in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, DC
— Jan. 19-21, 2006: Republican National Committee winter meeting, Washington, DC
— Feb. 9-11, 2006: Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convenes at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC
— Feb. 15, 2006: Deadline for joint congressional bipartisan committee looking into governmental failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina
— Feb. 25-28, 2006: National Governors Association winter meeting, Washington, DC
— Feb. 27, 2006: DGA "Taste of America" gala, Washington, DC
— Mar. 9-12, 2006: Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Memphis, TN
— Apr. 27-30, 2006: Log Cabin Republicans National Convention, Washington, DC
— May 21, 2006: President George H.W. Bush (41) and Mrs. Barbara Bush serve as commencement speakers at the George Washington University, Washington, DC
— June 6, 2006: Gov. Bob Riley (R-AL) and ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore square off in GOP gubernatorial primary
— Aug. 4-7, 2006: National Governors Association Annual Meeting, Charleston, SC
— Aug. 25-28, 2008: Democratic National Convention
Time magazine

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Essays from the Sino-Platonic Papers collection I meant to read but ended up only skimming:

- Chaos in Heaven: On the Calendars of Preclassical China
- Silk Road Exchange in China
- Chinese characters and the Greek alphabet
Books&Culture magazineJohn Wilson and his magazine (disclosure: my former part-time employer) embody the kind of writing he speaks of in the last line here--the kind that appeals to "a diverse band of intellectually curious readers...":

It's fashionable to speak of "academic" writing with reflexive disdain. Certainly many books that proceed from the university presses merit such dismissiveness. But others are first-rate, and among these are many that deserve to be noticed not only by scholars within a particular academic sub-field but also by a wide and diverse band of intellectually curious readers both inside and outside the groves of academe.

John says this to introduce B&C's review of The Sinister Way.
Sound of Music Anniversary DVD: A Good Excuse to Post This Nifty Picture

NPR: Sound of Music

More from NPR (whose picture this is; lawyers, stand down), including a video clip of the opening scene.

For whatever reason, the only three movies I think I've seen more than 5 times are Sound of Music, Field of Dreams, and Dave. Maybe also Hot Shots Part Deux.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

White Sox win World Series

Last year the Red Sox; this year the White Sox; next year... the Cubs will STILL be saying wait till next year; the centennial of their World Series drought left unspoiled by long-awaited triumph.

In my Chicago album, I blast the New Comiskey for its lack of soul, but the opposite is true of the world champion White Sox.

Wish I was still in the Windy City to soak up some of the celebration...

White Sox parade

White Sox parade

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"King David Praying to God," a page from a 14th-century Bible made in Paris by five different artists, part of "The Splendor of the Word." NY Times

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Contrarian Graffiti: Here's something you don't see scrawled on a bathroom stall every day (which I did):

Thank you, capitalist, corporate, conservative America, for a high standard of living in the world, for the best health care in the world, and for being able to sleep at night

(To which fellow graffiti-ers scrawled, by each item, respectively, "most waste," "for an elite few," "you're OK so who cares about anyone else"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blair Kamin, as usual, puts it best:

Cities are collective works of art, and New Orleans is one of America's masterpieces -- a delectable multicultural gumbo whose value is only more pronounced in a nation where the same stores, banks and malls make every place feel like every other place.

For that reason alone, the much-hyped "should we rebuild New Orleans?" debate is preposterous. Of course we should save New Orleans. To abandon it would be like Italy abandoning Venice. Besides, anybody who sets foot in this town knows that the best parts of New Orleans don't need to be rebuilt. They're still there.

You could hold a Mardi Gras parade tomorrow in the bone-dry French Quarter. The modern office towers and hotels of the central business district, graceless though they are, remain standing, poised to resume their role as hubs of commerce. Some of the city's extraordinary neighborhoods, such as the Garden District, with its white-columned antebellum mansions, came through the storm with little more than downed trees.
NHL '06 from EA Sports

The NHL, whose average TV ratings will be lucky to crack 1 this season, introduces its rule changes with video clips via EA Sports at

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

NY Times

Flood barriers on the Thames River.

Monday, September 05, 2005

New Yorker clips and quips
Catching up on my summer reading... First, two items of literary criticism by the excellent Anthony Lane that nonetheless make me scratch my head:

As so often with Kees, the most needling line is the plainest: “I did not know them then.” What a fine balance it strikes, implying both “my childhood was happy, since you ask, kept away from such mortal things,” and also, “how little I knew of the world—a world we ought to know—and of the damage it can wreak.” ...

More than half the poems falter and fail, either because they try too hard (“Can you hear the worthless morning’s mirth?”) or because they lunge disastrously at the surreal (“Impromptu unicorns enact ballets, / Applauded by bourgeoisie in negligĂ©e”). Still more of them are so profoundly in hock to the work of Kees’s masters that they barely evince any vital signs of their own. The wistful imperative of “Put on your hat, put on your gloves. / But there isn’t any love, there isn’t any love” could be issued only by someone whose bedside table creaked with too much Auden and MacNeice, while the debt to Eliot collapses into blatant homage... continued...

From Louis Menand's informative and provocative essay on Cold War nuclear weapons guru Herman Kahn:

[Kahn] explains that “despite a widespread belief to the contrary, objective studies indicate that even though the amount of human tragedy would be greatly increased in the postwar world, the increase would not preclude normal and happy lives for the majority of survivors and their descendants.” For many readers, this has seemed pathologically insensitive. But these readers are missing Kahn’s point. His point is that unless Americans really do believe that nuclear war is survivable, and survivable under conditions that, although hardly desirable, are acceptable and manageable, then deterrence has no meaning. You can’t advertise your readiness to initiate a nuclear exchange if you are unwilling to accept the consequences.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

My cousin lives in Ocean Springs, whose proximity to Biloxi is evident here. His house is still livable, but others on his block were wiped out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pat and Paris: A Pair of Tares

About the only original thing I've heard or read about the latest Pat Robertson eruption is by my former Chimes colleague Brian Bork. Quoth he:

In my estimation, Pat Robertson is just the "tails" side of a coin whose "head" is the portrait of a Paris Hilton. They are essentially similar pieces of cultural effluvia: both are famous, but no one can really concieve the reason why, both demand an undue amount of cognitive energy because of their ubiquitous cultural presence, both have achieved notoriety via visual media. ... Both also seem to espouse their own peculiar and bat-shit insane brand of morality - morality that few among us can identify with, but nevertheless seem enamoured by it all.

I'm inclined to agree with this, and with Brian's conclusion that despite the Reformed call to engage culture, there is some culture not worth engaging. I don't just defer to Phil. 4:8 on this; indeed, calling a "tare" a "tare" in Brian's words strikes me as a form of engagement, not withdrawal.

If you want some peace and quiet, close your eyes and listen for some harsh reprimands issued by conservatives ... hear anything yet?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My latest Tribune column:
What is, "like," the point of saying "like"? Turns out linguists have an answer...

Monday, July 18, 2005

The idleness of this blog belies the blogging energies I've been pouring into (among others) the CICW Worship Weblog, including posts on Eugene Peterson's new book, Neal Plantinga on why preachers should read The Grapes of Wrath, and a series of reports from the Preaching Apocalyptic Texts conference at Calvin Seminary.

At my language blog, meanwhile, I've mused about 'which' as a coordinating conjunction and whether the Greek words agrammatoi and idiotai, as used in the New Testament, were insulting.

I'll soon be posting a new issue of Calvin's e-zine Minds in the Making, which I've agreed to edit. I see it as a prime example of how Christianity can be synonymous and symbiotic with intellectual vitality and broad curiosity. One of the regularly featured writers there is sure to be Jamie Smith of Calvin College. Some of the intriguing things Jamie has written or referred me to in the last 24 hours:

- his essay Prophecy and Predestination in Harry Potter.

- his blog post critiquing Jim Wallis' evident (and probably unwitting) Constantinian alignment of religion and politics

- the painting Christ in the House of His Parents

So much for the lazy days of summer...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Congrats to my best bud Klippy, who had his first piece published in the Sunday Reader of the Edmonton Journal. Read it here.
My latest Tribune column:
On the 2nd edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary, which can be held in the palm of your hand.

From now on, I'll be posting links to my columns at Inflections, a new weblog I'm starting with my idol, Jim Vanden Bosch, and other profs of mine at Calvin.

I'm also pleased to introduce the new Worship Weblog for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, where I work. The blog of my English 101 class is winding down, but there's a lot there to catch up on (hmm, that last clause wouldn't cut it in my class).

And as always, you can kill a lunch break with my post to end all posts, or with these links I'm yanking from the left navbar:

AH Dictionary

ABC/The Note


CPL catalog







Language Log


Olbermann blog





World Clock


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Latest Doings
I'm teaching (some of) the writers of tomorrow in my English 101 course. We have a class weblog up at

I hope to have announcements soon about a weblog for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, where I'm newly employed...

... and the return of Inflections.

In the meantime, enjoy the redesigned website for CICW:
Word OriginsMy latest Tribune column:
On the new book Word Origins and How We Know Them.,1,3402114.story
Quote I heard and need to retrieve: Kierkegaard said we "tranquilize ourselves with the trivial."
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I felt wimpy earlier this week when a driver wearing a Mennonite bonnet passed me on the highway. I guess I had always equated pacifism with passivity ...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

map of BoliviaMy latest Tribune column:
On the Chipaya, a remote tribe in Bolivia that speaks a unique language.,1,6224749.story

(Chipaya is near Oruro, south of LaPaz.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

My latest Tribune column:On a new study that shows that Latin American immigrants to the U.S. prefer English.,1,643716.story

More on this study.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
January news and book review roundup. LINK/ARCHIVE

With this I close the curtain on my B&C blog after two years.

On to Calvin.
My latest Tribune language column:
On the fascinating history of Latin.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Why the United States is mostly purple. Plus: desperate house-husbands, the first World Trade Center terrorist attack, death and the med student, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
Why "he or she" and "hir" are inferior solutions to the problem of epicene singular pronouns.
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From Commentary:

To be sure, George W. Bush was hated. He had been the object of a startling amount of contumely during his first term of office, a phenomenon that had already occasioned much comment in the public prints.

M-W:Etymology: Middle English contumelie, from Middle French, from Latin contumelia
: harsh language or treatment arising from haughtiness and contempt; also : an instance of such language or treatment

Saturday, January 22, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Things scientists and psychologists believe despite lack of proof. Plus: the battle over windmills in Spain; why groups make good decisions; a 12-year-old prodigy composer; Louisa May Alcott's forgotten father, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My latest Tribune language column:
On the religious rhetoric of presidential inaugural addresses.
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• Here's a brain-burner for you: is this participle apt?

Sign on telephone pole: "Found: Lost Cat"

LL on twat.

• From an American friend in Kenya:

I had a few interesting language notes from Kenya I thought you might enjoy. First, most educated Kenyans speak excellent English but they can be rather lazy about it, for example they tend to conjugate all past tense verbs with the -ed ending. So something was not 'brought' to you, it was "bringed" to you. There have also been some unique…word shifts. When you ask what they had (have-ed) for breakfast they might respond “A slice of loaf.” At the end of a student chapel the speaker had everyone give a high five and say, “keep the loose.” And my favorite is one from the ‘native’ Kiswahili language, mostly because this one pulls at some cultural strings: when you ask someone how they are doing there are only two responses, and both mean good. You MUST respond in the affirmative. You often hear people complain about how Americans just say “I’m fine,” and don’t tell the truth when they may be having a rather bad day. But here, you MUST say you’re fine…so how are you doing today? I’m good, my Grandma died, I failed my test, and my goats ran away.
Our pastor asked recently, in an anecdote about the cold weather:

"How was this part of the country settled in the first place? ... It's incredible to me that people chose to live here."

Later, she quoted a member who told her about reading over his diaries from years past:

"The discouraging thing about reading over my journal is discovering just how the same I am."
Here's something you don't read every day, from the Trib 12/26:

A YMCA director has been fired and overnight rentals of Chicago's 16 YMCA centers have been forbidden after a children's early-morning swim meet overlapped with an overnight transgender fashion show, a YMCA spokesman said Saturday.
Number-crunching from The Week:

- The day after President Bush was re-elected, American visitors to Canada's main immigration site jumped from an average of 20,000 to over 115,000. AP

- About 4,000 shoulder-fired missiles, which terrorists could use to shoot down airplanes, are missing in Iraq. Wash.Post

- Parents earning more than $70,000 now spend an average of $324,000 to raise a child to age 18. Food alone costs $47,467. New Yorker

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Why civilizations collapse, according to the author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Plus: Green Book Studies in Libya, Sister Helen Prejean's latest book on the death penalty, marketplaces in 19th-century America, Dave Barry on how to heal the red state-blue state divide, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
On the Year of Languages.
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For more on the YOL see Ambassador Michael Lemmon's address here.

Seen at DTWW:

n. a planned period of calm spent together by a just-born baby and its
parents; occasionally, time spent by parents without their baby. [Sheila
Kitzinger claims to have coined the word.] Categories: English.
From the NYT:

But the parade of broadcast journalists - the well known and the up and coming - that has been dispatched to South Asia during the last two weeks to cover the aftermath of the tsunami represents more than an extraordinary response to an unfathomable catastrophe halfway around the world. The tsunami also struck at a critically important moment in the careers of three star anchors - Brian Williams of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN - who each traveled to the region to lead hours of coverage last week.

That's right: what should concern us in this time of unspeakable tragedy is the career paths of these opportunistic anchors who make more in one minute than most of the tsunami's victims made in their lifetime.

I have an op-ed in the works in response to Brian Williams' appearance on The Daily Show. Here's a link.

I'm cynical about cynicism. So was LBJ:

"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: PRESIDENT CAN'T SWIM." Lyndon B. Johnson
My sister Lisa has a blog! Drop everything and bookmark it. Lisa is a wise woman; she had the foresight to move to Canada even before Bush was re-elected.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

My latest Tribune language column:
A preview of PBS' Do You Speak American?
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• I was trying to figure out why the month of January, named for the Latin word for "door" or "entry," was not originally the first month of the year. Then I read that the Roman year originally went from March to December--January and February were added later. More:

3. Weird Words: Janus-faced
Having two contrasting aspects.

The name of the Roman god Janus comes from Latin "ianua", an
entrance gate. He was the god of doorways and gateways; as doors
can be passed in either direction, he came to represent both the
past and the future. Because of that, his image was of a man with
two faces, looking both forwards and backwards. The Romans always
put Janus first in prayers, because in particular he symbolised
beginnings. But he could also represent success or failure,
especially in war. He was the god of January, whose name comes from
him (in Latin "Januarius (mensis)", the month of Janus), which had
become the first month of the Roman calendar probably some time in
the second century BCE. A person who is "Janus-faced" has two
contrasting aspects and in particular is two-faced or deceitful.
Israel Zangwill wrote a century ago that "Life is Janus-faced, and
the humourist invests his characters with a double mask; they stand
for comedy as well as for tragedy." A "Janus-faced word" is a
contronym, a word like "cleave" that has two opposing meanings.
-From WW Words/more

Update: From AHD:

A holiday for janitors ought to take place in January, for the two words are linked. In Latin, ianus was the word for "archway, gateway, or covered passage" and also for the god of gates, doorways, and beginnings in general. As many schoolchildren know, our month January - a month of beginnings - is named for the god. Latin ianitor, the source of our word janitor and ultimately also from ianus, meant "doorkeeper or gatekeeper." Probably because ianitor was common in Latin records and documents, it was adopted into English, first being recorded in the sense "doorkeeper" around 1567 in a Scots text. In an early quotation Saint Peter is called "the Janitor of heaven." The term can still mean "doorkeeper," but in Scots usage janitor also referred to a minor school official. Apparently this position at times involved maintenance duties and doorkeeping, but the maintenance duties took over the more exalted tasks, giving us the position of janitor as we know it today.

• Here's a string of words that have probably never been strung together before in the history of the English language. From a spam message I got: "The unusual things do happen sometimes potassium"

• Fun stuff from DTWW:

n. a gift bag or package containing unknown and varied merchandise, sold at
the New Year for a large discount. [From Japanese ? fuku 'good fortune;
luck' + ? fukuro 'bag'] Categories: Japan. Japanese. link

metric butt-load
n. a large but indeterminate quantity. Categories: English. Slang. link

• After reading the books of a couple of linguists, I have a theory that studying other languages can inhibit your rhythm when you write in English. John McWhorter, whom I admire, coins this sentence in his book "Power of Babel": "I still use the Web more when I must than as an ingrained habit." (p.15) (It makes sense, but ...) McWhorter also uses the word "strayest" (p.23); I'd never seen that word before as a comparative.

• Clipped a while back from the Sun-Times' QT:

QT Grammar R Us Seminar on the English Language

News Item: ". . . widespread commercialization is
literally just around the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . more tough times are literally just
around the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . an eruption is literally just around
the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . with a session of the Georgia
General Assembly literally just around the corner. . .."

Be careful next time you walk down the street.
Why Star Wars is better than Titanic; quotes, and more.
Sez Eric Zorn:

Why all the celebratory stories every January about which baby was born first in the calendar year? The coolest baby--the one entitled to the most huzzahs upfront -- is the last one born before the clock strikes 12 the night of Dec. 31. That baby gives his parents a tax deduction for all of last year even though he was in the womb for all but the last few minutes of it.
They did call him Slick Georgie, didn't they?

Yes, ma'am? Right here, this lady. No--she! Yes--right--second row [pointing]. Next to the guy in the blue shirt, holding her left hand up. It's a he--sorry about that. Gotta be careful. I'm very sorry. Go ahead! I'm--excuse me--I'm very sorry. Go--ah--I--a thousand apologies--go ahead. George H.W. Bush
Clipped from the Washington Post a while back:

"The Catcher in the Rye" is now, you'll be told just
about anywhere you ask, an "American classic," right
up there with the book that was published the
following year, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and
the Sea." They are two of the most durable and beloved
books in American literature and, by any reasonable
critical standard, two of the worst.
My dad: the coolest Calvinist scholar I've ever watched football with.