Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.






Comments are OPEN.

We deeply appreciate the erudition and energy of our commenters. Your comments frequently make an invaluable contribution to the story of words and phrases in everyday usage over many years.

Please note that comments are moderated, and will sometimes take a few days to appear.



shameless pleading





September-October 2015 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


As observant readers will have noticed, this issue of TWD spans two months, rather than the usual one (although the most recent issue was also a two-monther, and a bit late to boot, as is this one). I apologize for the delay, but my MS has made my vision very unreliable lately, making getting anything done quite difficult. On a good day, my visual field resembles an old analog TV with bad reception: constant visual “noise” and fluctuating sharpness. On a bad day it’s all that plus flashing lights at the edges and big patches of fog or (my fave) total blackness drifting across my field of view. My eye-hand coordination has also decreased to the point where I make constant typos even with my new two-finger hunt-and-peck.

To be honest, I might very well stop writing these columns if we weren’t so dependent on the small income from donations and subscriptions. Nah, I kid. Sort of.

Onward. The easiest way for me to read something, oddly enough, is to take off my glasses (I am very myopic) and hold the material about four inches from my eyes. This does not work well with computers, but it’s great with my little old Simple Nook reader, especially if I’m lying in bed. The Nook also makes it easy to read very long books that would test the strength of my wrists (which isn’t great) in even paperback editions.

So lately I’ve been reading The Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, which is a ginormous (580 pages) novel about a writer, also named Joshua Cohen, who is ghostwriting the autobiography of a tech billionaire, also named Joshua Cohen (who is clearly modeled on Steve Jobs, though this Cohen has developed something very like Google). The name thing is the least consequential part of the book (and the Cohen-Jobs figure is, thankfully, referred to as “the Principal” throughout).

Reviewers seem a bit flummoxed, especially by the long mid-section consisting of transcripts of Cohen’s interviews with the Principal about the origins and development of the company and the technology (“algys,” i.e., algorithms) behind it. Enough of them are puzzled by such terms as “octalfortied” to make me wonder if they find some of the tech jargon (and Principal’s neologisms, such as “cur” for “curious”) off-putting and annoying. But there’s this thing called Google for that, and the middle section actually does a good job of filling out the Jobs/Principal figure as a weirdo wunderkind naif swept along by both the implacable world of venture capital and the moronic inferno of the internet.

Parts of this are very funny, including pages of Cohen’s manuscript complete with large blocks of struck-through text punctuated by the author’s all-caps-swearing frustrated rages. There’s a very sharp bit about a ludicrously pointless (but entirely plausible) home backup server concocted and marketed to take advantage of the Y2K panic, and the brilliant but doomed engineer named Moe, from Goa, who is forced by the VCs to debase his talents by supervising its development. It’s also a nice touch that the climactic scene of the book takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair and involves a thug apparently inspired by Julian Assange. And what’s not to like in a book that sends a clueless sorta-Steve-Jobs into a backroom poker game to fleece (under the guidance of Moe) Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck?

Cohen (the non-fictional one) has been compared to Pynchon, and The Book of Numbers did remind me of Gravity’s Rainbow in its form as a bizarre and confounding odyssey, but it’s far better than Pynchon’s own stab at exploring the internet in 2013, Bleeding Edge, which was a painfully prolonged damp squib reeking of geezer.

Elsewhere in culture news, we finally caught up with the first season of Mr Robot, an odd but fascinating series that somehow landed on the USA cable network. I think it’s a great show, but that may be in part because it makes jokes about Raspberry Pi and denigrates KDE as the desktop environment of choice for homicidal losers. I hate KDE almost as much as I hate eggplant. Ugh. Anyway, the catch to this show is that it’s hard to be sure that what you see is actually happening (Elliot, the protagonist and first-person narrator, tends to hallucinate), but it’s a fun ride.

Also very good (actually very, very good) is Humans, a British/US series that ran recently on AMC. You can catch up with the first season on Google, iTunes, yadda yadda.

So there’s that. Our internet still does not, and probably never will, operate in a credible fashion. (For several hours this morning we were running at a blinding 5 b/s. That’s five bits per second, kids. Slower than having your computer turned off.)

As always, and as I mentioned above, we are dependent on the kindness of readers, so please donate or subscribe if you can. And now, on with the show….

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please support
The Word Detective

by Subscribing.


Follow us on Twitter!




Makes a great gift! Click cover for more.

400+ pages of science questions answered and explained for kids -- and adults!