Saturday, November 1, 2008

The junkie lives!!

Dear reader(s),

After months of much eventfulness, I have at long last decided to start blogging again. What inspired me today was a chart I found, while stumbling, which shows graphically how cousin terminology operates. This was a serendipitous find, as I have often found myself biting me tongue in order to avoid correcting people who misuse the term "second cousin." (Now, to be honest, I had misused this term until a few years ago.) Essentially, what most people think of as a "second cousin" (the child of one's first cousin) is really a "first cousin once removed." A second cousin is, in fact, someone with whom one shares a great-grandparent (or think of it this way: the child of one's parent's cousin). As the chart shows, each higher ordinal number (third, fourth, etc.) denotes another generation one must traverse to find the common grandparent.

My hypothesis as to why most people get this terminology confused is that few regularly associate with (let alone even know) the people with whom they share a great-grandparent. One is much more likely to know one's first cousin's children; or maybe the label "second cousin" just rolls off the tongue more readily, I suppose.

Does your brain hurt yet? Take comfort in the fact that you now know how to properly identify your distant relatives!! And this is a crucial, everyday skill, no?

Geekily yours,

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A salute to deprecated diseases

It occurs to me that dramatic (or even poetic) eloquence is lost in the field of pathology (not to mention in medical science altogether). One of the most salient illustrations of this is how we name the diseases that harrass us. This came to me as I was chatting with a friend and happened to mention "dropsy" (I forget the exact context; sorry). In attempting to field his understandably quizzical look, I got the idea for this post.

Here a few of my favorite elegant-sounding-yet-unpleasant-in-reality conditions:

  1. Consumption: known today as "tuberculosis". The old name characterizes its debilitating nature much more aptly.

  2. Dropsy (mentioned above): now referred to as "edema". The current moniker is not as sexy, but it doesn't sound like the name of a child's doll either.

  3. Pleurisy: this one is still in common parlance, but it sounds pretty like the others. The folk etymologist in me wants to note the similarity to the French word for "cry" (pleurer); to be sure, having this condition would make one cry, but alas the morphological similarity is purely coincidental.

Seems to me most diseases have names which are either so long and Latinate that they have to be stated as acronyms or initials; one example happens to be the longest recognized word in the English language (""Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis"); or else, they are pithy, woefully imprecise and downright boring ("cold"). Guess once again we are reminded that science and the humanities do not mix all that well. Too bad...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

You know you're a librarian when...

While I was listening to NPR this evening, a story about rice growers in Thailand caught my attention briefly: according to the story, such a collaboration would be analogous to "OPEC". I was struck by the announcer's seemingly incorrect pronunciation, which occured several times. (It's OPAC, not OPEC, dimwit! Get it right!)

Ahem....OPAC is library-speak for Online Public Access Catalog. Guess the joke's on me...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ageism: a logical fallacy?

While discussing dating preferences with a friend this evening, I realized that the rationale most of us use to benchmark who we'll consider going out with is based on the logical fallacy of the heap (or the Sorites paradox as the logicians call it).

To refresh, the argument (in a nutshell), goes like this: one grain of sand is definitely not a "heap". Neither is two. Neither is three. Taken to its conclusion, no amount of sand would constitute a "heap". So, how do we define a heap?? Let's look at it from the other angle: a million grains of sand (visualize it) is definitely a heap. Now, take one grain away. It's still a heap. Take another. And another. If taking one grain away does not rescind the pile of silicon dioxide's status of "heap", then the logical conclusion is that any amount of sand is a heap. So, a "heap" is no amount of sand AND any amount of sand. (?!!) Thus the paradox.

Now, back to ageism. Say you are 25 years old. You would consider a suitable partner to be anyone who's not "too old". How old is too old for you? 40? Well, if 40 is too old, then 39 (which is almost 40) must also be too old. Same for 38. 37. 36.... See where I'm going here? What if you took a more "glass is half full" approach? Example: "I'd date anyone up to age 40". Well, one could infer from your statement that 38 is not "too old" for you. Neither is 39, neither is 40. But this logic, 41 shouldn't be too old, nor 42, 43...

Though I am using the example of dating, this benchmarking occurs in many contexts.

In no way am I casting aspersions on those who are picky about choosing a mate. Nor am I advocating cross-generational dating simply for rebellion's sake. Third, I am definitely not taking a stance one way or the other on age-of-consent laws. My point (and I do have one) is that pinpointing an exact age at which one affixes the label "too old" (or "too young", as the case may be) is illogical. And rather arbitrary. After all, how many of us have bent our age "rules" just a bit in order to fit someone we like into our comfort zone?? Not very logical, is it?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hello blogosphere!

So, it's hard to believe that just a few years ago, I barely knew what a "blog" was, let alone how ubiquitious it had become in our daily lives. Apparently, collectively it is the largest publisher in the world. As a librarian-in-training, I wonder when the time will come that we (ahem, catalogers) will start cataloging them; perhaps some libraries already have...

So why have I decided to (finally) join this meta-world of scholarly (and not so scholarly) discourse? Is it because it's fashionable? Perhaps. Is it to bow to the tacit expectation of those in the information/library profession? Maybe. In fact, I have been tossing the idea around for quite some time. But what will be my contribution to the great blogosphere, you may ask? Social commentary? Daily journal entries? No, no, no. Too ordinary. I've decided to create an outlet for my random intellectual caprices. We all have them. Something brilliant (or poignant, or striking) occurs to us, and rarely do we get a chance to commit them to paper (er, HTML).

So, below (above?) will appear bite-sized musings on....whatever happens to cross my mind. Those who know me will expect long tirades on music or perhaps the latest developments in cataloging. But I won't stop there. Who knows where the mind can wander at any given moment.

And with that sentiment, I close for today. I can't promise daily (or even weekly) postings; I'm no Doogie Howser. Expect quality over quantity. Expect to be edified...

Geekily yours,
The Edification Junkie