Tagged: word of the day

Word of a day: Satisfice

I was going to write a long screed in defense of the idea of satisficing, but this is probably enough to make my point.


Satisfice is a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice, and I’m almost always satisfied with a good portmanteau. By contrast, a maximizer would be satisfied only with the best possible portmanteau. To satisfice is to be satisfied that a less than fully optimal solution that is in fact sufficient. Often, I think, this is because the satisficer has deemed the search costs of even determining what’s totally optimal to be too high.



Always Be Knolling

Via BoingBoing, a verb for all seasons: knoll. I drew a blank with knoll in this sense on the usual dictionary sites, but Wikipedia is hep to it, as is Urban Dictionary, admittedly with a few dubious variants.

Cory sez, “Knolling is ‘the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization.’ It was coined by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor who worked for Frank Gehry.”

Funny, I don’t often think of right angles when somebody says “Frank Gehry,” but now you know how to knoll. Put that in your mise en place.

Lest you think this is some niche OCD lifehack, try a Flickr search for knolling. Apparently there is extra credit for organizing the knolled items by type, size and/or color, too. I certainly can’t argue with that.

Knoll on.

Plural of the day: Miasmata

I’ve been having a terrible allergy season. That, and maybe just a little too much They Might Be Giants, caused me to research the word miasma (as in a cloud of ragweed that follows you around) for a possible Word of the Day post. Here’s what I found, dictionary-wise.

n. pl. mi·as·mas or mi·as·ma·ta
1. A noxious atmosphere or influence: ”The family affection, the family expectations, seemed to permeate the atmosphere . . . like a coiling miasma” (Louis Auchincloss).
a. A poisonous atmosphere formerly thought to rise from swamps and putrid matter and cause disease.
b. A thick vaporous atmosphere or emanation: wreathed in a miasma of cigarette smoke.

See the second plural, miasmata? Now, that’s my kind of irregular plural. Or, as it turns out, a perfectly normal plural for Greek, borrowed into English for this juicy word. You’ve probably heard of stigmata but might not have realized that it’s the plural of stigma.

Certainly we’re not obligated to use all the original declensions of a loan word, but it can be fun. Via the all-knowing wikipedia, “Final ma in nouns of Greek origin can become -mata, although -s is usually also acceptable, and in many cases more common.”

Other English words of Greek origin that could take the -mata (-ματα) plural include schema (schemata), dogma (dogmata, but isn’t the point that there’s just one?), and lemma (lemmata) which bring up all kinds of additional dilemmata, don’t you think?

Word of the season: Equinox

You probably know that today is the Autumnal (in the Northern hemisphere) Equinox, the end of Summer and the start of Autumn. In fact, it’s right about now, 5:44pm ET. I thought it was odd that the “day and night of equal length” was at a particular moment, until I learned that – despite the name – the Equinox is actually not quite that.

Of many complicated sounding definitions, I think the simplest is that the equinox is when the Northern and Southern hemispheres are equally illuminated by the sun, which is also when the sun is directly overhead at the equator. Think of the September equinox as when the Northern hemisphere (entering Autumn) starts to get less light than the Southern (entering Spring).

So why isn’t that also when the day and night are equal? Well, it’s approximately true, but since the sun is really really big and we measure sunrise when the top first appears and sunset when the top finally disappears (and also because the atmosphere refracts sunlight), the 12 hour day and 12 hour night is still a few days away, and may not be at precisely 6am/6pm, depending on your local timezone and where you are located in that timezone. More turgid explainering over at the HuffPo, with video.

All that said, I like to think of the equinox as a passage from one season to another through some kind of tipping point. It’s a little more interesting that just a 12-hour day.



palimpsest |ˈpalimpˌsest|

a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
• something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form: Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners.