Today’s word of the day is nostalgium.

nos·tal·gium /nɔ.ˈstæl.d͡ʒəm/, pl. nostalgiums.

An object that provokes nostalgia when perceived or remembered.

2011: intentional coinage by Steve Kass (, back-formation from nostalgia. Pluralized as nostalgiums to distinguish from nostalgia.

One Response to “Word of the Day: Nostalgium”

  1. John Muccigrosso Says:

    Ugh, says the Latinist.

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Today’s word of the day is emmadden.

em·mad·den /ɛm.’ma.dən/

To constructively make mad or crazy, or to feign to make mad or crazy, always without malice or injury, and usually with the complete opposites.

2011: intentional coinage by Steve Kass (, variant of madden with intentionally vague technoetymology. Perhaps a portmanteau of madden and imagine, perhaps an intensive of madden, or perhaps a variation of madden that communicates a quality of uncertainty or inconfidence, as if compounded with the interjection um.

One Response to “Word of the day: Emmadden”

  1. Glenn Bingham Says:

    “Emmadden” seems to be parallel to the circumfix that a few English words required to form causatives from an adjectival base form:

    enlighten = to bring to light / make light
    (lighten = make lighter)
    embolden = to make bold
    *bolden / *embold

    The circumfix is fundamentally en-ADJ-en with the first “n” assimilating the labial quality of the following phoneme: n > m.

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There is still no good answer to the question “Why can’t we walk straight?”, observed Robert Krulwich’s recorded voice at a recent live taping for Radiolab at The Greene Space. Robert’s observation ressounded¹ today on the “NPR sciencey blog” Krulwich Wonders.

For 80 years, scientists have been trying to explain this tendency to turn when you think you are going straight. … Try as they might, and they’re still trying these experiments, nobody has figured out why we can’t go straight.

When I was a kid, Someone thought they’d figured it out. One’s dominant leg took longer strides, They taught me. I also learned, or maybe inferred, that I should find a leftie to walk with me should I ever need to cross a desert in the fog, at night, or while blindfolded.

But hearing Robert talk about this twice in as many weeks, I realized that They’d been wrong, and that crossing a desert in the fog was not a challenge I’d be ready to meet. (Also, I only then realized that a leftie might not be handy when the challenge arose, anyway.)

Ignoring my sudden and deepening nonplus, I focused on the question. Analogy time.² Robert’s headlineworthy version of the question is an oversimplification of the quandary, but I’ll notwithstand that fact for now.

Why can’t we fly? (Some animals can.) Because we don’t have small bodies, hollow bones, and wings (like some flying-capable animals do); nor do we have really tiny invertebrate bodies and wings (like some other flying-capable animals do).

Why can’t we hear high-pitched sounds? (Some animals can.) Because human ears (unlike the ears of the animals that can) aren’t physically able to convert high-pitched sounds into nerve impulses.

Great_Barrier_Island_Pigeon-Gram_stamp_1899 So why can’t we maintain our direction over long distances without a visual point of reference? (Some animals, especially flying-capable ones, can.) Because (unlike those animals) humans never underwent any evolutionary pressure to develop a mechanism to do so?

Robert mentioned one of the trying scientists by name: Jan Sousman. Jan’s article, Walking Straight into Circles, recently appeared in the journal Current Biology (a cornucopia of articles at the titles of which biologists surely titter: Olfaction: When Nostrils Compete; Metastasis: Alone or Together?; Addiction: Flies Hit the Skids; Flagella and Cilia: The Long and the Short of It; and Melanocyte Production: Dark Side of the Schwann Cell).

Jan and his coauthors wrote a wonderful paper. Among many beautiful sentences and figures, they report that their subjects’ “walking trajectories show exactly the kind of behavior that would be expected if the subjective sense of straight ahead were to follow a correlated random walk.” They also mention J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to point out that the belief “that people who get lost end up walking in circles is widespread.”

So “because we can’t” isn’t really such a good answer. Our proprioception (that sixth sense that allows us to touch our noses in the dark when we haven’t had too much to drink) does provide a subjective sense of straight ahead. However, it isn’t very reliable for very far or for very long.`

¹ I initially wrote reappeared, which on rereading, sounded (or more sensibly, looked) wrong, because Robert’s voice never appeared (as in became visible to the eye) in the first place. Unable to solve the Miller Analogy SEE : REAPPEAR :: HEAR: with an existing word, I had to invent the perfect answer: res̈ound (which should appear as the word resound with an umlaut/trema/diaeresis over the s). This answer is in fact all the more perfect (not to mention very unique) for having been invented by a “greater New Yorker.” Unfortunately, as much as I like the idea of using ¨ to estop a preceding prefix from losing its strict meaning, it fails in practical terms. Very few consonants appear in Unicode preëquipped with the dots, and Unicode’s zero-width combining diaeresis, the solution in theory, is unworkably fussy.

² Yay!

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Today’s word of the day is surmisery.

sur·mis·er·y / ˈsɚːˈmɪzăɹi/

Misery (the surmiser’s) arising from a surmisal.

2010: intentional coinage by Steve Kass (, portmanteau of surmise and misery.

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Over at Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum relates his discovery of “the neolexeme embiggen in a perfectly serious Economist report about Ascension Island.” Should embiggen, um, embiggen its foothold in the English language, its coiner, The Simpsons writer Dan Greavey, might enter into “the very select club of people who invented words that [like cromulent, grok, and Pullum’s own eggcorn] make it into major dictionaries.” (Here, major apparently means at least somewhat more exclusive than Wiktionary.)

Unfortunately, none of the words I’ve coined or threatened to coin, like headlinic, toddfoolery, pastametric, mispostrophe, maniest, alsowise, sicize, vulpigeration, and interludinous, have made it even so far as Wiktionary, my having modestly forborne the public onanism of adding them myself. Still, I do hope to join the club some day.

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This, this, and this. Specifically, foolish nonsense from someone named Todd (Henderson).

The toddtipping point? Right after Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman suggests indirectly that the Drs. Henderson earn about $450,000 a year, which could subject them to $10,000/year in additional taxes under Obama’s proposal to postpone the upcoming expiration of the Bush tax cuts, but only on the first $250,000 of income.

Todd (who would prefer a bigger tax cut for 2011 than Obama’s legislation provides and who threatens to fire his $20/month legal Mexican gardener if he doesn’t get his way) scrumbles¹. Within a single paragraph, Todd refudiates refutes Krugman’s estimate of his salary (“not even close to our income on the high side”) yet sees no contradiction in describing the injury he and his wife would sustain from $10,000/year in additional taxes, which he just implied he won’t have to pay (because his salary is “not even close” to high enough to result in that increase).

Professor Henderson careens further out of control a paragraph later, when he inflates the fictive $10,000 figure by 20%, to $12,000.

All this from someone with degrees in both engineering and law, whose ability to explain (when it suits him, apparently) was recently rewarded with tenure as a professor. In light of the facts of his education, Todd’s behavior doesn’t pass the smell test. I’m calling it toddfoolery. Either something tragic has happened to Todd’s mind since he received his degrees and tenure, or he’s a disingenuous liar. At least those are the only explanations I can imagine.

Update (21 Sep 2010): Yesterday, Todd removed his tomfoolerific posts, along with readers’ comments to those posts,from Truth on the Market, where they had appeared. Todd explains.

Update (21 Sep 2010): Today, Todd “hung up his blogging hat”.

[Note: The links at the beginning of this post are no longer valid.]

Update (12 Nov 2011): An alternate spelling of Toddfoolery (Todfoolery) is now available here: Pity the 1%, and Their Tod(d)foolery.

¹ The verb scrumble will be coined in a future installment of “Word of the Day.”

3 Responses to “Word of the Day: Toddfoolery [updated (3)]”

  1. The rich man’s burden « Bad monkey, no biscuit Says:

    […] He REALLY failed, no seriously, he is so screwed up in his demonstrations that even a nobel prize-winning economist got in on the act of sticking it to him over his method of trying to show how unfair it is. It got so good Steve Kass labeled it toddfoolery. […]

  2. Gray Says:

    It’s shocking. That guy probably HAD to go into academia because he was a huge failure as a lawyer. Just look at his resume:

    “He then practiced appellate litigation at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., and was an engagement manager at McKinsey & Company in Boston, where he specialized in counseling telecommunications and high-tech clients on business and regulatory strategy. His research interests include corporations, securities regulation, bankruptcy, law and economics, and intellectual property.”

    How can he possibly do all that in a competent way if he doesn’t even understand the basics of taxation? It’s impossible. Seems to me that guy is hugely overpaid for his meager mental abilities. To imagine that students have to learn something from this jerk, it’s mindbuggling.

  3. Richard Says:

    BTW, I retrieved the post from Google cache:

    Since these guys believe in self-responsibility and free speech (which I support as well), I think it’s only right that as many people as possible get to see how they think, since they have an enormous intellectual impact on one of our 2 main political parties. Words and ideas have consequences, and I’ve never seen any good from hiding them from the marketplace of ideas.

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Wandering the internet today, I stumbled upon pasta and mathematics. At the same time. Chris Tiee, a teaching assistant for one of UCSD’s vector calculus courses, had put into his class notes back in 2006 a short and very cute parametric equations quiz: match the parametric equations to the pasta shape. And he (or UCSD) conveniently left his notes on the web for posterity — or should I say pastarity?

His parametric equations were pretty basic — absolutely fine for a vector calculus quiz — and I thought I might be able to touch them up a bit. Here’s what I came up with for conchiglie rigati.

This exercise is also my excuse for finally getting MathJax up and running on my blog. [Update: I’ve disabled MathJax, because it mucks up non-LaTex posts that have $ characters. At some point I’ll figure out how to configure it amicably, but for now, the pastametric equations are provided as an image file.] You might find that this page loads slowly, and I don’t yet know if I can do anything about that. If  you don’t see any equations below the picture, however, please let me know.



3 Responses to “Pastametric Equations”

  1. terrikass Says:

    the beauty of mathematics
    maybe that’s why i cried over my math homework……it was so beautiful.

  2. Steve Kass » Pastametric Equations #2: Cavatappi Says:

    […] few months ago, I posted a graph and parametric equations for conchiglie rigati. Today I’m sharing a graph and equations for cavatappi. As before, I started with equations from […]

  3. The Geometry and Toplogy of Pasta | Scripturient Says:

    […] Mathematical blogger Steve Kass posted this image of a simulated conchiglie rigati: […]

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BabyCNN doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should, given that they’re easily as irresponsible as their buddies at [expletive deleted]. Today they’re fanning the fires about “illegal immigration,” the current euphemism for people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Writer Arthur Brice devotes a big chunk of a 900-word article on today to a discussion of “anchor babies,” the current not-so-euphemism for babies of people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Here’s my brief rant on the article, “Report: 8 percent of U.S. newborns have undocumented parents.”

Before ranting, though, let me be one of the first to greet all these new and beautiful U.S. citizens: “¡Welcome, and bienvenidos!”

This rant has two parts. First, let’s see what “have undocumented parents” means, so we know more about this 8% on whom the goons will be spreading their invective. The phrase shouldn’t mean anything other than “have undocumented parents,” but somehow it does, and not just because of headlinic license. It means “has at least one undocumented parent.” Here’s the relevant wording (emphasis mine) from the Pew report Brice describes:

A child has unauthorized immigrant parents if either parent is unauthorized. A child has U.S.-born parents if all identified parents are U.S.-born.

Well, that’s stupid. The asymmetry reminds me of the definition of Colored, as in for the purpose of what school you can go to, what train car you can sit in, and what drinking fountain you can use, and, before the 14th amendment was ratified, as in whether you were a U.S. citizen, more or less.

Next thing you know, today’s goons who want to abridge the Fourteenth Amendment will find a way to damn not only these youngsters but sus hijos y nietos también, no matter what, probably because fuck the Constitution and Bill of Rights, God tells them to.

Not to mention that “[s]ome pregnant women from other countries are traveling to the United States to give birth and then taking their babies back home to raise them as terrorists that would return to attack America,” a concern raised by Texas state representative Debbie Riddle, “a Republican,” that Brice thought fit to pass on.

Tattooing the letter U on them to start, maybe? (You can bet they’d have no problem paying for that medical procedure with government dollars.)

Part 2: The word “anchor babies” doesn’t appear in the Pew report, but instead of leaving it out of the article entirely, Brice fills us in. He knows that more people will read an article if it’s about anchor babies.

“Babies born to illegal alien mothers within U.S. borders are called anchor babies because under the 1965 immigration Act, they act as an anchor that pulls the illegal alien mother and eventually a host of other relatives into permanent U.S. residency,” says an organization called The American Resistance, which has described itself as “a coalition of immigration crime fighters opposing illegal and undocumented immigration.”

Minor partial credit to Brice for using the past tense when mentioning The American Resistance, but he forgot to mention that they are “no longer an active – or updated – Website or effort,” and haven’t been since 2006, according to — well, themselves, in a message they left on the web four years ago. The fact that Brice names them at all is goofy, to put it kindly. There are dozens of non-moribund organizations he could have called up. A Youtube link to a [expletive deleted] broadcast from within the last week, maybe.

That’s all. Have a nice week.

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In a few hours, and despite the free dinner, I won’t be attending “Is a Roth Right for You?”

On account of my zip code, probably, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney invited me to call or email Jacqui to reserve my place at the free event with limited seating, which I didn’t. In addition to dinner, I’ll be missing the guest speaker, who as far as I can tell is the world’s sole “Vice President of Value Add and Retirement Marketing.”

“Value Add,” you ask? So did I, and I looked it up.

According to Steve Bloemer, value add is “your company’s unique blend of products and services, and how those are perceived by your prospects and clients.” He adds that “Among the value adds I envision as important for a web hosting provider, infrastructure, 24×7 support and hands-on expertise rank high.” Steve, an “Inside Sales Manager” at Hostirian elaborates. “Would two 20AMP circuits per rack be a value add, or simply norm? If you offer business class shared web hosting plans, would that be a value add? Certainly, value adds are competition driven.”

Steve Bosserman (no relation) hyphenates it and explains, “Value-add dominates our economic scorecard,” and “The concept of value-add also plays a role in information technology and data services.” He refreshingly admits that “Here, though, the meaning is vague.”

Susan M. Heathfield penned a short article on, writing that “your value add moves beyond activities or actions performed and illuminates, instead, the actual contributions you made to your organization’s success.”

The Urban Dictionary is more straightforward. Its #1 definition is “A business euphemism for “the reason I’d like you to think I’m useful.””

Unfortunately, or not, I can only coin, not uncoin.



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Today’s new word is mispostrophe.

mis·pos·tro·phe / mɪs ˈpɒs trə fi /

Mispostrophe refers to the misuse of punctuation, specifically of the apostrophe (’). Mispostrophe can refer to a spurious apostrophe, a word containing a spurious apostrophe, or the incorrect usage of the apostrophe. The fourth word of this sentence contains a mispostrophe: “The town’s recent immigrant’s voted overwhelmingly against the lottery, yet the will of the manier natives prevailed.”; “He entered the MENS restroom without even noticing the sign’s mispostrophe.”

2010: intentional coinage by Steve Kass (

Related forms:

mispostrophecate, mispostrophecation

anapostrophe: Mispostrophe of missing apostrophe. (“Dont smoke here.”)
dyspostrophe: Mispostrophe of misplaced apostrophe. (“Wer’e closed Mondays.”)
surpostrophe: Mispostrophe of spurious apostrophe. (“Apple’s on sale.”)

Inspired by Jonathan Coulton, who tweeted this confectionery mispostrophe.


3 Responses to “Todays new word: Mispostrophe”

  1. Andrew Willett Says:

    Right. Sometimes I feel like painting the following in very large letters across, I dunno, the moon:


    Although that wouldn’t do anything about Soft’ees. As I suggested to JoCo, maybe they’re using it to indicate a glottal stop? Not that it would make any sort of linguistic sense. But you can see two properly executed apostrophes on the box right there in the picture — so what the hell is their excuse?

  2. Steve Says:

    They have no excuse. In fact, they registered “Enten-Mini’s” ( as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. (Direct link not possible; search for the serial number 76654844).

    There’s no USPTO registration for “Sof’tees,” however, so maybe Entenmann’s has some modicum of shame.

  3. Steve Kass » Looming Chocolate Says:

    […] us not backing up Ray Davies in Philadelphia gathered for dinner in Hoboken, I spotted this holiday mispostrophe (ssp. […]

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