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All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2011 Evan Morris. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

Any typos found are yours to keep.

And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

 

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July – August Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Well, that was fun. It rained here for 23 out of the 31 days in July. And this wasn’t a gentle drizzle; it was usually torrential downpours that flooded roads and knocked out power in our area, which may have had something to do with the fact that our landline telephone stopped working on July 2nd, stayed out for eight days, and hasn’t really worked right ever since then. Oddly enough, the DSL internet on our phone line kinda worked some of that time, albeit at sub-modem speeds (23 kb/s, way too slow to be useful). But after much sturm und drang with Frontier (who bought up Verizon’s rural accounts several years ago), we finally got it fixed. Sortof. Yay.

The very next day our refrigerator died. No kidding. Unfortunately, that happened right after our weekly grocery-shopping trip. We only shop once a week because the nearest real supermarket is a 30-mile round trip, and we tend to accumulate staples (butter, milk, frozen vegetables, frozen chicken, etc.) whenever we can. So this ruined at least $200 of food. It took another ten days and $200+ to get it fixed.

And then … the phone died again. This time you could get a dial tone, but it was hard to hear it over the crashing static. DSL speeds dropped to 1.6 kb/s, too slow even to send a short email. This is where we are now; the phone is utterly unusable and the internet is a bad, useless joke. I’m gonna have to wait and hope for a fast period to post this update — oddly enough, every so often, usually for ten minutes or so late at night, we’d get 290 kb/s, an actual usable speed. It’s almost as if they (Frontier) were doing it on purpose. Oh wait, there’s a lawsuit in West Virginia alleging exactly that. The comments on that article are a window on Frontier’s business practices.

The real problem with Frontier is that they have no competition out here (there is no cable TV or internet, satellite internet is way too expensive, and even local dialup  is famously unreliable). It’s not the infrastructure; we never had these problems with Verizon. And the fact that it sometimes runs at usable speeds means that the “problem” is way upstream of us. They’ve apparently oversold their antiquated network and would rather spend money on lobbyists than improving service.

Onward. I would have updated this site earlier (during the brief periods when we had internet), but on top of all this I’m having some truly bizarre visual problems, mostly in my right eye. I’m used to the flashes of light, eye pain and periods of extreme fuzziness common to multiple sclerosis, but this is like having an LED billboard at the right edge of my vision, one that moves and ripples and tilts in a disturbingly psychedelic fashion.

So this issue is way late, for which I am sorry.

As always, we depend to an alarming degree on your continued support and donations, which can be directed here.

And now, on with the show….

May – June 2015

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Just under the line again. It’s spooky, isn’t it? Especially because in real life I’m pathologically early for everything. I used to show up at my job every day at least 1/2 hour before my shift started.

Thanks again to all the folks who have subscribed or contributed over the past few months. It’s been a huge help.

As usual, we seem to have skipped spring again this year and plunged straight into summer, with all its attendant horrors. I hate summer. Hate. We went for a walk down our road one evening about a week ago. (Actually, Kathy walks and I sort of hobble/shuffle along.) Just as we turned around to go back, I saw one of the local honor students driving his daddy’s pickup down the middle of the road at us at an insane speed. So I stepped off the side of the road to play it safe, lost my balance (quelle surprise), and landed face down in a drainage ditch, which happened to lie close to, and directly downhill from, a pig pen (with real pigs). I am never going outside again.

Then again, indoors has its own problems. We don’t watch a lot of TV around here, certainly nowhere near the national average of twelve hours a day or whatever (more like six hours a week, in fact), but I’ve noticed that there seems to be some sort of grand conspiracy afoot to prevent me from even approaching a proper patriotic level of grazing in the Vast Wasteland. No sooner do I start watching a show by myself (i.e., a show Kathy shuns) than said show is cancelled. Abruptly and with no hope of return.

It happened recently with an NBC show called Allegiance, which centered on a young CIA analyst who discovers that his parents are evil Russkie spies. It was, I’ll admit, a howlingly silly show, but it grew on me, right up to when they cancelled it after only five, yes five (of 13), episodes. This being the internet age, they let you watch the remaining episodes of the season online, but it still stings.

Not that this hasn’t happened before; a few years ago I was watching a sci-fi thing called The Event, which was not only very silly but occasionally completely incomprehensible. It finished its first season with a truly shocking cliffhanger. And was then cancelled. Before that there was some weird thing about aliens in a Florida swamp. Cancelled. And some time-travel dinosaur thing I barely remember. Kaput. C’mon, guys, if I can suspend my disbelief to watch your shows, at least wrap up the story line before you kick me to the curb. Right now I’m watching (on NBC — yes, I’m a slow learner) American Odyssey, which I think is kinda a blend of Homeland, Three Days of the Condor, The Bourne Identity and Homer’s Odyssey. It’s OK, but I try not to be too enthusiastic or look directly at the screen so they won’t notice me watching and cancel it.

Speaking of TV, how is it that the simpering soap opera Downton Abbey grinds on for six years, i.e., at least 40 episodes, while the brilliant Wolf Hall is crammed into only six episodes by the BBC? The two books by Hilary Mantel on which it is based (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) together top 1000 pages. They could easily have gone with 12 episodes, maybe even two seasons, and had far fewer viewers looking stuff up on Wikipedia trying to follow it. As is, it was like watching a long trailer for a wonderful series that will never be made. But the idiotic Game of Thrones is bulletproof. Oh well, I was halfway through Wolf Hall (the book) when the series started, so I guess I’ll just finish reading the books.

Elsewhere in the Vast Wasteland, I was not a huge David Letterman fan for the last ten years or so (although I will say that the show was far better on NBC), but I was quite sad when he closed up shop. End of an era, blah blah, but true. He really was the last great broadcaster, the end of a line that stretched back to Dave Garroway (whom I, obviously, only vaguely remember). Conan’s too frantic and arch, “the Jimmys” are utter ciphers, and Stephen Colbert seems too tightly wound, a really bad choice to succeed Dave. But I am often wrong, so there’s that.

Once again, your support is always deeply appreciated, and is most conveniently accomplished by subscribing.

And now, on with the show…

March-April 2015

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

First off, a profound thank you to all the folks who have subscribed and contributed over the past few months. Your support has been an enormous help.

Secondly, over there in the right sidebar is an ad for How Come?: Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained, the latest book by Kathy Wollard (who happens to be my wife). It’s a completely revised and rewritten selection of fascinating science questions and lively answers drawn from the previous three How Come? books. More than 400 pages long and full of amusing illustrations, it’s both rigorously researched and lucidly and entertainingly written. Trust me on this — I was there. Anyway, Amazon is selling both the paperback and the Kindle edition, but the paperback is much bigger, easier to read, much more fun, doesn’t need batteries and will still work after the cyber-apocalypse, so you should buy that version. Plus it doesn’t report what page you’re reading to Jeff Bezos. Anyway, check it out. (Note: the Amazon page is a bit confusing because they also list the first three How Come books (How Come?, How Come? Planet Earth, and How Come in the Neighborhood), but this 2014 edition, a compendium of the best of all three, is the one you want.)

Onward. I suppose you’ll be wanting to know what ever became of the February issue. Well, for starters, it got very cold. We didn’t have all the snow that NYC and points east and north got, but it got very cold here. Double-digits-below-zero cold, and that’s the real temperature, not that phony “wind chill” flapdoodle. And if your furnace is not functioning, living in a house built in the 1860s and insulated with horsehair becomes very unpleasant very quickly.

So it’s 4:30 am, a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature is eighteen degrees Fahren-freakin-heit below zero. I’m kneeling in the snow behind the house wearing fourteen layers of clothing, but I can’t cover my face because if I do my breath freezes up on my glasses and I can’t see. In my right hand is a long-handled vegetable brush with plastic bristles. I’m trying to scour ice off the grating on the air intake of our furnace so the damn thing will start working, but it’s slow going because my hand is numb. After I get most of the ice off, I have to search around for a twig I can use to poke the ice out of the holes in the grating. This is the second time tonight I’ve had to come out to do this, and I always seem to go through three or four twigs before I get it clear. The furnace quit about 15 minutes ago and it’s about 50 degrees in the house and falling fast.

The ice on the air intake didn’t get there because it’s snowing, raining or sleeting, because it’s not. The ice is there because the idiots hired by Sears several years ago to install the furnace arranged the exhaust and intake vents backwards, i.e., they put the air intake above the exhaust. So the hot exhaust forms fog, the warm fog rises (duh), and then condenses and freezes on the air intake. We didn’t discover that they had screwed this up until the furnace started cutting out this winter. This only happens in extremely cold weather, but the backwards arrangement also poses a danger of carbon monoxide being sucked into the air intake, so we’re in the process of getting this fixed. Then again, the last time I spoke to Sears Service Center, a weirdly belligerent clown there told me that what I was describing was “impossible,” suggested that we hadn’t actually bought the furnace from Sears Roebuck but from “some guy named Sears,” and hung up on me in mid-sentence.

Anyway, I had the February issue ready to go by early March, not bad considering the level of chaos around here, when the wheels started to come off daily life in a few dozen more ways too tedious to detail here (teeth, car, water softener and filter system, car again…). I promise to do better. Oh look, the grass is growing already! I wonder where I left the lawn tractor.

That’s it for now because there’s a huge thunderstorm* coming at us and I’ve had a thing about lightning ever since I was struck by it back in ought-six. Yeah, that’s how we talk out here in the boonies. Y’all come back soon, hear? And don’t forget to subscribe!

And now, on with the show…

—–
* The power went out for about three hours just after this was written.