Archive for ‘B’

October 12, 2011

Good (brachycephalic) Dog!

Bulldog portrait Frank

When Louie York flew cross country on Sept. 15, his route from New York was anything but direct. First came a stop in Chicago and then one in Omaha, where he endured a six-hour layover.

Next were Denver, Phoenix and, finally, Los Angeles, 18 hours later. The capper: a seven-hour drive home to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Such is life for travelers like Louie, a French bulldog whose breed has been banned from most commercial airlines — not for the dogs’ bark or bite, but because so many have died in flight.

Many airlines now forbid brachycephalic breeds, also known as short-faced or snub-nosed dogs, from their planes. That has caused great inconvenience for the owners of the affected dogs, which include popular breeds like pugs and bulldogs, but has opened a niche for a few companies that cater specifically to pet travel.    Banned by Many Airlines, These Bulldogs Fly Private, Christine Haughney, New York Times, 10/6/2011

Brachycephalic is new to me;  probably it’s new to you too.

Cephalic“, we know,  relates to the head, as in hydrocephalic, cephalopod, etc.  Brachy, from the Greek, means short.  The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that brachycephalic is ” Short-headed: used in Ethnol. to denote skulls of which the breadth is at least four-fifths of the length: opposed to dolichocephalic”.

Merriam-Webster tells us that brachycephalic is  “short-headed or broad-headed with a cephalic index of over 80”. Here the Wiki article “Cephalic index” is  helpful, giving us a definition, but also a list of brachycephalic dogs.

Lennon & McCartney never quite worked “brachycephalic” into their lyrics.  Woof!

Hey, Bulldog
Hey bulldog Woof
Hey, Bulldog
Hey, Bulldog
Hey, Bulldog
Hey man
Whats that boy?
Whaddaya say?
I say, “Rroof”
You got any more?
Rrrrrowerra! Aaaaaaaaaa hah hah!
You got it! that’s Right! yeah.
Hey Bulldog (1969), Lennon/McCatney, video, lyrics

October 6, 2011

“butler lie”

The “butler lie”.

From a site, new to me, about new words, Word Spy.

The Butler lie is a recent nomenclature coined by researchers at Cornell University. It’s a smaller lie which is conveyed electronically and used to end a conversation. The next time your friend texts that he has to end the conversation with you because the waiter arrived, just maybe your friend isn’t even at a restaurant.
—Donna Pinter, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” The Republican Herald, September 4, 2011

Fascinating stuff.

Which unfortunately leads one to think about what one’s co-respondent is actually doing while talking, chatting, texting, emailing. The possibilities can be alarming, if not worse!

May 6, 2011


Dictionary Person begins again as we return from illness.

What might better symbolize our mortality than the spring-blooming bloodroot?

Cut its root and it drips red.  Thus the first element of its Linnean binomial:  Sanguinaria canadensis. (Sanguinaria comes from the Latin sanguineus, the origin of the modern word sanguine, meaning bloodred, consisting of or relating to blood, optimistic.)

That’s us, we’re sanguine! And we think bloodroot’s awfully pretty!

April 15, 2011


And so we begin!  Boogie-woogie is at least two things  — a style of early jazz music (often solo piano) and a slang term for secondary syphilis.

Actually, besides giving these definitions, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang1 also tells us that it means “raise sand; fuss; quarrel violently”. (When used in this way, it’s often coupled with “pitch”, as in “he pitched a boogie-woogie”.) Then they give yet another definition:  “Boogy-woogy.  To enjoy oneself to the limit.”

But the most common modern meaning is probably that associated with early jazz.  The Dictionary of American Slang2 has a finely drawn write-up:

In jazz, a fast blues with an iterative bass figure played in double time, i.e., eight beats to the measure, associated with the Kansas City mode of jazz.
1928: “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.” Title of a jazz song composed by “Pine Top” Smith, one of the earliest boogie woogie pianists.
1956: “Jimmy Yancy as much as created the boogie-woogie blues, and his followers — Meade Lux Lewis, Pine Top Smith, Albert Ammons and others — carried on the job.”  S. Longstreet, The Real Jazz Old and New, 37.

Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie is perhaps the most famous of the type. Recorded in 1928, it went on to greatly influence blues, stride, and barrelhouse pianists. Pine Top never knew his fame, dying in 1929 at age 24.

1 Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, J.E. Lighter, ed.  Random House, 1994. REF PE2846 H57
2 Dictionary of American Slang, Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, eds. 2nd suppl. ed. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.  REF PE 2846 W4 1975

March 2, 2011

bindle stiff

I heard this phrase used recently, on a radio show, as a pejorative for the host.  I had to investigate. You can’t ever know too many pejoratives;  I’m always happy to come across a new one!

Let’s take a look.

The Random House Dictionary is terse on the matter: “Slang. a hobo. [1900-05]”

Here’s the entry in The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

And here we come upon one of the great glories of the OED:  its quotations of early (the OED compilers attempt to find the earliest use) and later uses of the word.

Hence, for bindle stiff:

1900 ‘J. Flynt’ Notes Itinerant Policeman 167 Among the ‘Bindle Men’, ‘Mush Fakers’, and ‘Turnpikers’ of the middle West, the East, and Canada, there exists a crude system of marking ‘good’ houses.

1901 J. London Let. 6 Dec. (1966) 126 Wyckoff only knows the workingman, the stake-man, and the bindle-stiff.

1925 Forum Aug. 232 Carrying his ‘bindle roll’ or roll of blankets on his back, he is prepared to make his home wherever night finds him.

1925 Forum Aug. 235 Bindle stiff, a western hobo, who carries his blankets in a roll or bindle.

1927 Glasgow Herald 24 July 8 In his stride he took almost all the experiences that can befall bums, bindle stiffs‥ and all other variously designated knights of the moonlight.

1937 J. Steinbeck Of Mice & Men 4 George unslung his bindle and dropped it gently on the bank.

1952 J. Steinbeck East of Eden vii. 46 Before he knew it he was a bindlestiff himself.

The first definition of bindle (noun) is ‘the cord or rope that binds anything”.

From there it’s an easy step to  the second definition as the thing (bundle or bindle) tied up by the rope, and then to bindle man or bindle stiff.

One last note:  although I heard “bindle stiff” used in a negative sense, the dictionaries really don’t support this use. So maybe we’ll have to keep looking for new pejoratives!