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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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August 2012 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Well, that was un-fun. So, when we left our intrepid heroes last time out, they were just about to experience a weather phenomenon known as a derecho, which is apparently Spanish for Didn’t there use to be a big tree over there? and involves 80 mph straight-line winds arriving with very little warning. Unlike tornadoes, which usually can be seen gathering on the horizon out here and generally move a bit slower (allowing time for NWS tornado alerts, getting Dorothy down in the root cellar, etc.), these derecho things are more like a shotgun blast or some awful cosmic chainsaw ripping through the landscape. The entire storm at our house (which involved no — zero, nada —  actual rain) lasted 90 seconds, tops. But the blast of the wind bent major trees almost to the ground and filled the air with a mixture of dirt and vegetation that made it look like we were underwater. Very impressive.

Our appreciation of this stirring demonstration of  the Majesty of Nature was interrupted early on in that 90 seconds, however, by an explosion on the north side of the house accompanied by a very dramatic shower of sparks coming from up near the roof. A power pole on our property (we have four carrying the line back to the house) had snapped in two, breaking another pole up the line and slicing a 30 ft. pine tree (a former live xmas tree, in fact) in half vertically. More importantly, the force of the pole falling had ripped the power feeder cable out of the side of our house (thus the sparks) and draped it across our yard and driveway, and, in what I think was a particularly nice touch, suspended it a few inches above our ancient (and only) car. Power to our house was broken about nine different ways. No power out here means no water, by the way, since we depend on an electric well pump.

Long story short, everyone else on our road had power again within 24 hours. Because of the damage to the poles and lines on our land, we got our power back eight days later, during which time daytime temps were over 100 F. What made this more than extremely uncomfortable in my case is that people with ms can get hyperthermia — heat stroke — at fairly low temps, so we spent as much time as possible in supermarkets and coffee shops with a/c, all of which involved a 35-mile round trip from what was left of home. Giant Eagle, we discovered, has a “cafe” that closes at 7 pm, but they leave the wi-fi on 24/7 and don’t care if you sit there in the dark all night. (Not that we had the money for a week in a motel, but the few near us were booked solid the whole time, and were charging extortionate “emergency prices” to boot.) Driving down our road at night for a week and seeing every other house lit up with the a/c running and the Blue Glow of Happy Potatohood flickering in the windows was, I must say, a bit disheartening.

Eventually the power came back on and we began the grim task of cleaning up. My favorite part was emptying the freezer full of food out in the garage. The power line had fallen in such a way that it blocked access to the garage door, and the result, after a week in high heat, was the stuff of nightmares.

But within a few days it was mostly a bad memory. And then it happened again. Seriously. About a week after the power came back, another derecho with 80 mph winds hit us. Miraculously, it didn’t take out the power, but it did knock down a huge old tree which is still lying across our front yard.

While we’re on the subject of help, thanks to all the folks who have contributed to our continuing existence by subscribing to TWD-by-Email, and special thanks to those two wonderful people (you know who you are) who have sent us Holy-Cow-Level contributions in the past month or so. It’s no fun having electric power if you can’t afford to turn on the lights, and we really appreciate your generosity.

Continue reading this post » » »

June 2012 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


And you may ask yourself What happened to the month of May?

And you may say, This is not my beautiful May Issue of The Word Detective!

And you may say, No, seriously, this is supposed to be a monthly deal! I’m paying to read this on my Kindle!

And I say, Mea culpa. You really wanna know what happened? OK, but after the jump.

Meanwhile, I did finally finish reading the 10,000-page opus 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (on my little Nook, with the font jacked up to 72 points). My one-word review: incompetent. Boy howdy, what a waste. A real shame. And I’m still annoyed at this dead goat of a book. Then again, I’m not alone. I just really wish I’d read this (major spoilers) before I wasted my time and retinas. Ho, ho, ho.

What else? Well, Google+ is pretty definitively kaput as far as I can tell. Frankly, they made it so difficult for non-heavy-hitters to play that I’m not gonna miss ‘em. Keep your dumb old API read-only, see if I care.

On the bright side, I’m here to say that I was wrong about Twitter. Someone recently tweeted (still hate that verb) that signing up for the service was like seeing “mastheads come to life,” which is a good way of putting it. I follow mostly writers, editors and  journalists, and often see pointers to great stuff to read online that I otherwise would have missed. I’m also a fan of accounts like @pourmecoffee, @kenjennings and the late, all too  brief @NotTildaSwinton. I know it was actually just two guys without jobs, but … maybe it really was Tilda. Come back, Tilda. Your Tildren miss you, and we miss your wisdom:

A mission for you. Go outside, hold an animal to your breast. That is real warmth, not the glow of your screen. I typed this on a rabbit.

Or maybe not. I guess wherever you are they don’t have biting flies.

Speaking of biting flies, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent brouhaha occasioned by the decision by The New Yorker to commission a review of Henry Hitchings’ new book “The Language Wars: A History of Proper English” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by their, um, dance critic, Joan Acocella (who may be a fine dance critic but, in this case, has literally no grasp whatsoever of the subject she’s writing about). What, as they say on the internet, could possibly go wrong? A lot, in fact, and Steven Pinker summed it up nicely thus:

Not since Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella thundered against conserving natural racehorses and protecting endangered feces has a polemicist been so incensed by her own misunderstandings.

Language Log was, of course, there for the ensuing dustup, and a good place to start, for those with lots of spare time and a desire to understand the ruckus, would be here. By the way, my father, William Morris, is mentioned early on in Ms. Aocella’s jeremiad. I’m fairly certain that he would not have been amused by her hallucinations.

So here’s the June Issue, which contains 18 columns (rather than the usual 12 or so) to make up for my tardiness. And thanks to all the folks who have contributed by subscribing lately. It would be awesome if more of you folks did. But it would also be great if you’d just send in some questions, since they are, after all, the raw material I need to run this circus, and the more I have the easier it is.

And now a depressing explanation of where the May Issue went:

Continue reading this post » » »

April 2012 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Well, that was fun.

Back in the first week of April, I was putting together this issue when I noticed that some comments needed approving. So I started combing through them as usual, approving the sane ones and nuking the spam, when I noticed that one of the less coherent spam comments could not be deleted. As they say on Law & Order, DUM dum. That ain’t right.

So I decide to think on it for a while (which is my response to almost every crisis that doesn’t involve either loaded weapons or the fire department) and went back to updating the site. Which is when I noticed that the entire site had suddenly gone bananas. Password-protected subscriber-only posts were appearing on the front page (not good), the Ask a Question page was non-functional (really bad), and the Index of one zillion pages suddenly consisted of just two entries, both in the category of “Odds & Ends.” Boy howdy. OK, now I’m freaking out.

You may not know this, but when you read a blog or other site running on WordPress, what you’re seeing is actually data pulled from a separate MySQL database. Everything on this site — posts, comments, categories, dates, etc. — is data in tables in that database. So evidently My Little Database is borked. No problemo! I have site backups created every day by a plugin and stashed elsewhere in my hosting account at I’ll just fire up the old FTP program, fetch them and restore the whole shebang. Uh, no. Apparently the permissions on that target directory got changed at some point and all my backups since March 2011 have been sliding straight into the bit-bucket. They don’t exist. It is now 3 am and I am seriously starting to freak.

So I write to support at And they answer about five minutes later. At 3:30 am! I love Pair. They say they have a backup, but it’s a general server backup, so no guarantees. And, in fact, it makes things worse. So I go back to square one, install the latest version of WP, restore the site to what it was a year ago, and start manually editing the database.

As it stands now, the site contains everything it should, but there are gaps in its memory (sounds familiar). If you’re looking for a particular word or phrase, the search box at the top of the left column is probably the best way to find it. I’m going to keep working on it. As to how all this happened, I don’t know. It may have been a botched hack (I was using a version of WP that apparently had vulnerabilities) or it could have just been a toxic conflict between two of the dozen or so plugins that I use to make the site run. Part of my problem is that I’ve been tinkering and adding things for years, and I am no longer sure just how everything works. As to why this all took so long to sorta-fix, it’s because my eyes have been on the fritz lately, making it hard to see much of anything.

Anyway, we’re up and running, at least. This issue is a bit short, but I will do my best to produce a proper May issue withing the next two weeks. If you’d like to boost my morale, you might consider subscribing.

And now, on with the show.