Ah, Summer.

The weather is hot and sticky, and leaves me disinclined to do anything at all, including cook dinner.  So cold cuts and storebought potato salad are the order of the day.

We have what I think — based on comparison of its noises with sound files on the web — is either a barn owl or a screech owl living in the messed-up soffits of the upstairs gable window.

There is a black bear wandering around town, eating from the garbage cans out back of the Wilderness Restaurant and showing up in people’s back yards — also once in broad daylight at the verge of the school baseball field, while a game was going on.  (The kids were taken inside — a case of “game called on account of bear,” I suppose.)

And something knocked down and tore up our front-yard bird feeder last night.

It’s enough to make one peevish, so it is.  Herewith, therefore, a peeve to make your day complete:

Past and passed are not the same word.  Past-the-noun refers to an earlier point in time (“The past is another country”); past-the-adjective describes something having to do with an earlier point in time (“remembrance of things past”); and past-the-preposition indicates that something is moving from a point either metaphorically or literally behind something to a point forward of it (“a first-past-the-post voting system.”  Passed, on the other hand, is the past tense of the verb to pass (“time passed” or “the winner passed the post in record time.”)

Don’t confuse them; it makes the baby copyeditors cry.

In Which I Eventually Make It to a Recommendation

This is a post for all the female, female-identified, and female-presenting people out there, or for anybody else who has ever, for some reason, needed to buy and wear a bra.

If delving too deeply into Women’s Mysteries™ is not for you, read no further, and I’ll see you next post. But if you’re still with us, I’ll start by explaining a couple of things about bras that most bra-wearers already know.

The first thing is that bra sizes — for all shapes and sizes and configurations of bra-wearing people — are based on two measurements and two measurements only. One measurement is taken around the rib cage just under the breasts; that’s the 36, for example, in the classic 36DD bra. The second measurement, for the cup size, is derived from the circumference of the chest at nipple level on the bustline. (It’s not an absolute, because the D-cup in a 32D bra is not going to be the same size as the D-cup in a 42-D bra.)

That’s it. Those two measurements are the whole thing. Never mind the shape of the breasts in question (which will vary from one person to another for all sorts of reasons), or the placement of them (higher or lower; closer together or farther apart) on the rib cage, or the muscular development (or lack of it) of the wearer’s chest and shoulders. Two measurements.

Which leads us inexorably to the second thing that most bra-wearing people already know: You can’t just pick up a bra off the rack in your size and expect it to fit. You have to try it on, first. And it’s probably not going to work for you when you do — the cups will be the wrong shape for your breasts, or will be set too close together/too far apart, or they’ll fit just fine except for the internal seam that irritates you unspeakably; or the straps will slide off your shoulders, or cut into your shoulders, or somehow, in defiance of all common sense, manage to do both at once; or it will be your perfect bra in all respects, but will be the last one in the store and the manufacturer has discontinued the line.

So you can’t just try on a single bra when you go out bra-shopping. You have to try on a whole stack of them, and most, if not all, of them won’t fit.

It is, therefore, no wonder that shopping for bras is an experience calculated to make almost anyone feel — at best — like some kind of mutant alien.

Which brings me to the science-fictional part of this post.

We already have scanners and sensors that can map and image a body, either still or in motion — Hollywood uses them all the time. And we have 3-D printers that can spit out everything from houses to handguns. So how long will it be before some servant of bra-wearing humanity combines the two and comes up with a commercially-viable device that will scan you and then print out, in a comfortable material, a custom-made bra in your own personal size?

My guess? Quite a while, probably. Maybe not until we get enough bra-wearing people in STEM fields to make it likely that at least one of them will think that the problem is one worth tackling. And maybe even longer than that, because while handguns are easy (they were what the idea of interchangeable parts was originally developed for), bras — because people do not, in fact, have standardized measurements and interchangeable parts — are hard.

(Also, guns are a cool guy thing, and bras are girly. These things should not matter, but they do.)

Which brings me to a recommendation. If you’re a bra-wearing person on the east coast of the USA, check out Zoe&Company in New Hampshire or Rhode Island. They’re not just bra sellers; they’re bra fitters, and they’re damned good at it. Their store carries the full range of bra sizes, from AA all the way out to KK  (yes, the range is that wide), and they’re trained to help you find bras that actually fit.

Also, they won’t make you feel like a mutant while they’re doing it.

A Brace of Peeves

(Because I’m waiting on a dishwasher-repair person, and that sort of thing always makes me peevish.)

Peeve the first: It’s vocal cords, people, not vocal chords. It’s an easy mistake to make, given that cord and chord are homonyms, and given the association with sound-making and hence with music . . . but the items in question were named by anatomists, not musicians, and for the anatomical mind the notable thing would have been their physical structure. Wikipedia has some good pictures, which I’m not going to reproduce here because while interesting, they aren’t particularly handsome or appetizing.

Peeve the second: This one’s a bit more subtle. If you’ve got a character listening in on another character or characters talking about something, but the listener isn’t quite able to make out what’s being said, the conversation isn’t undecipherable or illegible.

Undecipherable and illegible are adjectives for something that is, or is meant to be, seen or read. Something that’s undecipherable is, taken literally, unable to be decrypted or decoded; by extension, it refers to something drawn or written or otherwise seen, the meaning of which cannot be determined. (You can have an undecipherable letter, or an undecipherable carved inscription, or — speaking metaphorically — an undecipherable expression.) Something that’s illegible is something written that cannot be read, such as an illegible signature (though not — because it isn’t written down — an illegible expression.)

If what you’re dealing with is something that is, or is meant to be, heard, the words you’re looking for are unintelligible (the listener can hear it, but not well enough to make much sense of it) or inaudible (the listener can’t hear it well enough, period.)

I run into this one oftener than you’d think, and it drives me batty.

Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other

But no ones or twos.

Or, like this post, half an appreciation of nifty stuff and half a peeve.

The nifty stuff, first:

Medieval Dice with No 1 or 2 Found on Street in Norway.  Dice are really old tech, as it were, and crooked dice of one sort or another are almost equally old.  When Og and Ugh were casting knucklebones to pass the time in their Paleolithic cave, it probably wasn’t long before Og figured out that if he shaved down one side of his favorite knucklebone just so, he could up his chances of winning by enough to end up the possessor of Ugh’s best flint hand-axe before Ugh caught on.

Now, the peeve:

The article isn’t actually about finding dice.  It’s about finding a die, singular.  That’s how it goes:  One die, two (or more) dice.

It’s a common error, but one expects better of a science blog. I blame LiveScience.com for the error, because when I followed their link to the source article at  Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning, and clicked on their link to get the text in Norsk bokmål, I saw that the  caption for the picture of the crooked die used the singular terning, as would be proper, rather than the plural terningen.  (The article itself speaks of dice, plural  and die, singular, depending upon context.)

A Brace of Peeves

Because sometimes they come in matched sets.

Peeve One:  Criteria is a plural, dammit.  The singular is criterion.  (The word is Greek in origin – the –on ending is a clue.)

Peeve Two: Data is also a plural.  The singular is datum.  (This one is Latin.  Again, the ending is a clue – the –um is a neuter singular ending.)

Both of these words are, as is the way of language, in the process of slowly morphing into singular nouns, but they aren’t there yet, and until they get there, some people, like me, are going to bristle up at the usage.

(In principle, I’m a descriptivist.  In practice . . . well, in practice, I get peevish sometimes.)

Peeve of the Day

Listen up, people.

I keep reading bits of narrative lately where a character who’s walking around aimlessly or randomly is described as “milling about.”

No.

Milling about is not something one person does, or even two people.  Milling about requires at least a small crowd.  The “mill” part of the verb comes from the idea that the random circular motion of such a crowd resembles the rotary action of a mill wheel.

One person alone might pace, or might wander about, but they aren’t going to be milling, even if they’re doing it with a friend.

Peeve of the Day

Listen up, people.

Flare is not the same as flair, so don’t use one when you mean the other.

A flare is a sudden burst of flame or light:

A solar flare will cause the aurora borealis to be visible (except for wherever I happen to be at the time, which will be clouded over.)

Or it’s something that starts out narrow and ends up wide:

The sleeve of the gown was a graceful flare, trimmed with gold embroidery at the open end.

A flair is a knack for doing something stylishly and/or particularly well:

Janet has a flair for mathematical puzzles.

Flair without the definite or indefinite article refers to a quality of stylishness, élan, and panache:

The final entry in the show was presented with even more flair than the ones that preceded it.

Highway flares, of course, are related to the first definition, since they spring into light with a sudden burst when struck.  (They also give us the technical term flare out – as in, the first EMT to respond to the accident flared out the scene, meaning that they lit flares and placed them on the roadway to warn drivers of the obstruction.  I love technical jargon and specialized lingo; they do fascinating things to the language.)

Peeve Plus

Today’s peeve, because I haven’t been peevish for a while:

Listen up, people.  The phrase you’re aiming for isn’t “make due.”  It’s “make do.”

I know that homonyms are tricky, and “do” and “due” are homonyms in some dialects of English.†  (My own native dialect isn’t one of them; the vowel sounds are different enough that I’m not likely to confuse the two.  On the other hand, if I don’t specify either a fountain pen or a safety pin, a listener with no context to help out won’t know which one I’m talking about.)

Still, that’s no excuse for not getting it right in your prose. It’s the sort of mistake that puts off discriminating readers, and you don’t want to do that.

And now the “plus” part of this post, or, I discover a tasty new thing to do with cabbage.

The thing is, I like cabbage.  I once – no lie – cut a class when I was an undergrad, purely because the college cafeteria that fed my dorm was going to be serving braised cabbage that day, and I wanted to get there when the dining hall opened so that I could have it fresh instead of after it had been sitting on a steam table for an hour and a half.  (The class was Eighteenth Century English Lit, and Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts – the work assigned for that session – simply couldn’t compete.  The eighteenth century was a great time for English prose, but for poetry, not so much, at least not until the Romantics came along.)

Anyhow, I like cabbage, but after steaming it, and braising it with kielbasa, and chopping it up and putting it into slaw, I thought I’d run out of ways to cook it.  Then I read online about roasted cabbage, and I said to myself, Self, you need to try this one.

It’s one of those dead simple recipes:  Take a head of cabbage, a cutting board, and a nice heavy knife.  Slice the cabbage longitudinally into one-inch thick slices – cabbage steaks, if you will – leaving in the core.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Then take a sheet pan and line it with tinfoil (another lovely word – tinfoil hasn’t been made of tin since the middle of the last century).  Spread a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of the pan.  Put the cabbage slices on the sheet pan in a single layer, and brush them with more olive oil.  Then sprinkle the slices with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

Put the sheet pan in the oven, and cook the cabbage for 40 minutes, turning them over carefully at the 20-minute mark.

Serve as a vegetable with grilled sausage or whatever pleases you.


†Everybody speaks a dialect of some sort.  It’s just that some dialects are more privileged than others, and get to be called “Standard.”

Peeve of a Summer’s Day

The air is thick with humidity and allergens, and I am peevish.

Listen to me, O People, when I say unto you, the phrase is not “mother load”, it is “mother lode.”

The term comes from mining, specifically gold and silver mining, where it refers to a principle vein or group of veins of ore.  The Mother Lode, in the United States, is an area of hard-rock gold deposits in California’s Sierra Nevada, running through a zone 120 miles long and in some places almost 4 miles wide.  (It was, unsurprisingly, discovered during the California Gold Rush.)

A mother lode of something, then, is an abundant source or principle supply of that thing.  The “mother” part comes from the use of “mother” to refer to a source or origin:  “Mother of pearl” refers to the substance known as nacre, with which a mollusk encases the bit of irritant which forms the center of a pearl; “mother of vinegar” is the naturally-occurring bacterial culture which, when added to wine or other substances, causes them to ferment into vinegar; and “mother” or “mother dough” is a term sometimes used in baking to refer to a naturally-cultivated yeast starter.

And the “lode” part?  That’s from the Old English lād, meaning “a way” or “a course” – usually a watercourse of some sort.  So a lode is a way or course that ore runs through, like water runs in a stream.

Why So Much Online Discourse Sucks: My Theory

It’s simply this: In order for local standards of civility (whether those be vanilla-custard bland or three-chili-pepper strong, it matters not) to be maintained, what’s required is vigorous, hands-on, and visible moderation. Simply providing users with a “flag this post if you find the content objectionable” button isn’t enough. All that does, so far as the user can see, is push the problem off onto a faceless, and possibly automated, minion someplace, for said minion to deal with, or not, according to whatever invisible algorithm may or may not be in place. This does nothing to chide the offending user, or provide immediate feedback to the offended user, or steer the discourse into a less offensive channel.

To do all that, you need a person — a name, a face (even if that face is a cartoon avatar), a consistent presence — to be on the spot and monitoring the venue for discourse that’s about to go toxic. A good moderator can defuse or shut down toxic discourse as needed; a great moderator can spot the warning signs far enough in advance to change the conversation before the toxicity gets a chance to arrive.

Done well — and it has to be done well, if it’s going to be done at all — this is a full time job, and not one to be undertaken by volunteers. If you want somebody to stare into the abyss 24/7 — or better yet, two somebodies, so that they can take enough time off to stay sane — you need to pay them for it.

And sooner than pay good moderators a regular wage, most commercial online fora will either close down comments altogether, or go to one of the now-standard automated systems that end up pleasing nobody.

Not because these sites are run for profit. But because they are run for profit by cheapskates.