Archives for February 2014

Call for information

I’m posting this in the hope that one or more of my Loyal Readers will be able to help me with a small difficulty. I’m looking for a word. More precisely, I’m looking to see if there is a word.

I want to find out whether there is a specific technical term for the kind of name whose literal meaning is the complete opposite of the thing it actually refers to. I don’t mean an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms, I mean things like these:

  • The Australian habit of calling redheads ‘Blue’.
  • The Holy Roman Empire, which as Voltaire observed, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
  • Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’, which produced nothing but lies.
  • ‘Democratic People’s Republic’ almost anywhere you find it, but especially as applied to the comic-opera régime of North Korea, an unconstitutional hereditary monarchy in which the people count for nothing.

I have a sort of vague intimation that there is a term for these kinds of names, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. It may be Latin or Greek in origin, a whatsitation or thingumanym. (I may adopt thingumanym anyway, as a kind of meta-name for ‘some particular class of words that hasn’t got a name, but you know the ones I mean in this context’.)

So, what’s the proper word for these thingumanyms? Anyone? Bueller?

John C. Wright: Humans and animals

The preference among biologists is to emphasize the similarities of man to other animals, and downplay their immense and categorical differences. This is not science or religion: is it merely a slant. The glass is half empty rather than half full.

Anyone can see the similarities between humans and apes. Apes are just like humans, as both human scientists and ape scientists agree. Ape cathedrals and human cathedrals both use flying buttresses. Ape operas and human operas both use four-point harmony. Apes crap in the woods and so do humans when we cannot find a toilet, and have not taken the time to dig a latrine. The Ape-Pharaoh of Ape City wears a pshent just like Ramses II of Heliopolis.

—John C. Wright, ‘Losing Religion II

Yes! We have gone bananas

Just checking in, since I know my 3.6 Loyal Readers are wondering where I’ve been, or else worrying about really important things like how to set Granddad’s 1974-vintage digital watch which they found in the attic still inexplicably working after all these years but even more inexplicably keeping the correct time for Meiganga, Cameroon; in which case, hearing from me will help them get their minds off their own perplexities.

In a nutshell, I have been unwell. My ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ posts saw me through the worst of my flu, but that was succeeded by a general compound of malaise, ennui, Weltschmerz, Angst, and other ghastly feelings imported at great expense from Europe. Any fool can be sick, but it takes a rich fool to have Krankheit.

Since I have reached a sort of impasse with my old family physician, I sallied forth when I was able, and went to see a new doctor. He gave me the standard diagnostic questionnaire for depression, and gravely informed me that if I am not suffering from depression, ‘no one on this earth is’. (I scored nine out of nine.) He put me on Effexor, and Effexor put me promptly to sleep. I lost more than a week; the time is simply a blank in my calendar. I could have told people I was in training to be Rip Van Winkle.

Drowsiness, as Dr. Hussain warned me, is a known side-effect of Effexor, but it doesn’t usually hit people as hard as all that. However, I have been knocked out cold for 36 hours by a mild sedative, so I should perhaps have expected this. The good doctor then put me on a reduced dose, not intended to be therapeutic, but merely to allow my metabolism to acclimatize itself to the drug. After a few days, my foggy and logy feeling went away, and so (blessed relief!) did the nightmares that had been hag-riding me for months, robbing me of all rest and turning my hair grey. Apparently my drowsiness is now confined to the time I actually spend sleeping, which is, in my humble but infallible opinion, a good place to put it.

I had a series of misadventures last week; the heat in my flat stopped working, just as we had a cold snap with temperatures down to –25 °C, which (for those of you who still use Fahrenheit) translates to ‘much too bloody damn cold’. My car died in rush-hour traffic, after dark, in the fast lane, going uphill, and had to be expensively towed and more expensively resuscitated. (The alternator belt had snapped, taking out other parts along with it, and so the car stopped running the moment the battery ran down.) This is the same car, Admiral Halsey by name, that got stuck on the ice in my back alley in January and had to be winched out by a tow truck, and needed a new battery because the old one would not hold a charge. None of this work is worth doing, since the car is technically scrap metal, but at the moment I can’t afford either to do without it or to replace it. I have a kind of frail, perishing hope that it will last me the rest of the winter, which in this sunny clime runs until May or thereabouts.

Through all this, The Worx (a program of Prospect Human Services) was faithfully badgering me to come in and get my resume furbished up so that I can look for part-time work. I would, I maintain, have been unable to do any work that I did find, so nothing was lost except time; but today, at long last, I struggled over to their offices (the Admiral won’t idle anymore; he wants to stall at every stoplight) and worked on that for a spell. On my return journey, my attention was diverted by something that I hope may divert you as well.

Prospect H.S. have their offices in an industrial park, not far from a specialist greengrocer’s which has (I believe) found the true and permanent cure for the dreaded Grocer’s Apostrophe. Every grocer thinks that the plural of BANANA is BANANA’S; this is an ineradicable part of the human condition, at least until either the English language or the apostrophe dies out. Some plucky lad or lass at this establishment, however, got rid of the whole problem by getting rid of the plural entirely. But the cure may have been worse than the disease:


‘What!’ I thought. ‘They have only one banana, and they sell it by the pound? That must be some banana!’ And I was irresistibly reminded of an old song, the lyrics of which I jot down here from memory, for those of you who may not be blessed (as I am) with more than perfect recall:

Yes! We have one banana,
We have one banana today!
It’s tasty and mellow
And curvy and yellow
And too big and heavy to weigh.
By itself,
It made a whole shipload;
Each end
Has its own zip code;
But yes! We have one banana,
We have one banana today!

This peerless feat of memory shows, I believe, that my mental faculties are just about as good as they ever were and better than I deserve; for which the thanks or the blame should go to Dr. S. Hussain and the inventors of venlafaxine, a.k.a. Effexor.

You’re welcome.