It’s time to feed your inner nerd.
Now that Chanukah (or is it Hannukah, or Hannukkaahh?!), is upon us, a lot of candles are being lit. Even those who don’t celebrate the Festival of Lights are lighting candles and luminaria—there’s just something about the winter holidays that sends us into a lighting frenzy.
This got me to thinking about light, and that got me to thinking about dictionaries. Yeah, I know, that seems like a weird connection, but there is a connection—in a geeky sort of way.
We take all those stuffy dictionary definitions for granted, but some of them were really, really hard to come up with. One of the most notoriously difficult definitions was for light. Samuel Johnson wrote the first general English dictionary, published in 1755. When he got to light, he complained to his friend Boswell: “We all know what light is, but it is not easy to tell what it is.”
Think about it for a second and see how you’d describe it. Time’s up.
When I tried it myself, I kind of vaguely thought of it as “that stuff that comes from the sun that lets us see other stuff.” As it turns out, that’s not too far off from what Johnson eventually came up with as a first definition, which was: “that quality or action of the medium of sight by which we see.” For a quotation to back up this meaning, Johnson cited Sir Isaac Newton’s book on Optics, where Newton said that “light is propagated from luminous bodies in time, and spends about seven or eight minutes of an hour in passing from the sun to the earth.”
Today, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines light this way: “ a : something that makes vision possible b : the sensation aroused by stimulation of the visual receptors c : electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength that travels in a vacuum with a speed of about 186,281 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second; specifically : such radiation that is visible to the human eye.”
Fair enough. But there was a second aspect of light that made Johnson’s job even more difficult: we use light as a word not just for the stuff from the sun that illuminates things, but in a lot of other ways, too, with slightly different shades of meaning. Such as a light, like the kind with a lampshade. As a verb, you can light a match. Or better yet, baby, light my fire. But I’m just starting to warm up. Still related to light as in luminous, but heading in a different direction, light is a color word. A dark-skinned woman might say that a pale man has light skin.
We also use light metaphorically—a lot. If I said “you light up my life”, you’d, well, you’d probably throw up, because in the 70’s Debby Boone’s song with that title played over and over and over, year after year after year. But you know what I’m saying. Here’s a slight twist on the same metaphor. In the New Testament Book of Luke, an old man named Simeon, upon seeing Jesus, called him “a light to shine upon the Gentiles”. We can shade this metaphor in other ways, too. When we have a revelation, we might say that the light went on.
But there are other meanings that seem pretty far removed from these, like the way of describing an object’s weight. A rock is heavy, while paper is light. A lightweight: a person with little substance, or a boxer who is not big but can still knock the average man on his butt. Twist the meaning just a little bit, and we can say that a dancer who is nimble is light on her feet. Along the same lines—in the sense of a contrast to heavy—is light beer. When we make light of something, we don’t take it seriously—like light beer.
But wait, there’s more!! Light is a movement word: you can light out for ‘Frisco. When you get there, you might alight from your horse. And…and…many more….
I hope today’s Word Odyssey has shed some light on the hardships of dictionary makers, so that you’ll never take their achievements lightly. Now put a match to a candle and pray for enlightenment.
Arizona's football team got curbstomped on the field Saturday night in Tempe, losing 58-21 to Arizona State for the Wildcats' worst loss in the Territorial Cup series since 1996.
But the night wasn't a total loss, as the NSFW video above shows.
Hey, Professor Francis, this goes out to you, good sir. I'm sure you'll be thrilled with this bit of good news: According to a study by mobile ad technology company Marchex, Arizona is one of the top five states where residents are least likely to curse.
The company examined more than 600,000 phone calls over a 12 month-period. Researchers looked at calls placed by consumers to businesses across 30 industries, including cable and satellite companies, auto dealerships and pest control centers. They then scanned for curse words and matched them to the state from where the calls were placed.
Ohio ranked first among states where people were most likely to curse, swearing in one out of about every 150 phone conversations. Maryland came in second, followed by New Jersey, Louisiana and Illinois.
The state least likely to drop the f-bomb or some other curse word? Washington. People there cursed once in about every 300 conversations — or half as much as Ohioans. Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas and Virginia rounded out the top five of what Marchex dubbed the “goody two-shoes” category.
OK, so let's get this out of the way, first: Holy shit, they scanned our cell phone calls for curse words! What the fuck? What else did they scan for? Get that NSA word list out. Perhaps my favorite word was added for good measure. Should be. Only terrorists know how to throw that one around.
Ah, Arizona. Well, perhaps the technology company needs to do a new phone scan and come out with a study on most racist state. Interesting correlation: lack of curse words and increase in fear and bigotry. Related? Absolutely. What needs to happen next? We need to encourage more cursing, obviously.
The Humane Society of Southern Arizona presents Max, a 12-year-old, male, domestic short hair
Reference no.: 767691
Max is large and in charge! This 20-pound love sponge likes to be king of the castle and hopes someone welcomes him home with great fanfare soon. Max is a terrific companion who eagerly follows you around for snuggles and meows for attention. He appreciates being brushed and loves being petted while he eats (the perfect combination of his two favorite things)! Max is declawed, gets along with other cats and prefers to be surrounded by easygoing adults. Max does not like young children and steers clear of excitable dogs. If you could give Max serenity and peace of mind in his golden years, please visit this charming kitty today at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.
***As part of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s year-end special, Max has a waived adoption fee! Visit HSSA at 3450 N. Kelvin Blvd. or online.
Exene Cervenka left her apron at home on this visit, but the band X arrived at the Rialto Theatre last Saturday with plenty of the uniquely punked up genre soup that's attracted fans worldwide for more than three decades.
This aromatic grape could be Arizona's great hope, certainly based on Sand-Reckoner's efforts. A day soaking on skins and fermentation in old barrels provides the seriousness found in great dry Alsatian Muscat: intense blossom aromas, plus a chaparral-like woodsy side, rose petal and dried pear. It's densely flavored and bone-dry, full of rich orange and ripe tree fruit flavors.You can taste the Arizona wine at Proper or buy a bottle the next time you're at Whole Foods Market on 5555 East River Road. You can get more information about the Sand-Reckoner Vineyards and wine selections on their website and Facebook page.
An independently organized TED event features Pasqua Yaqui leader Marcelino Flores discussing how traditional creation stories relate… More