Category Archives: Words

What is Sealioning?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen you initially hear the term sealioning, it evokes the image of a group of dedicate volunteers on a boat, somewhere in the ocean not too far off the coast, attempting to rescue sea lions or waving flags at passing ships raising awareness about the plight of sea lions. However the true meaning of sealioning is as noble: it is a form of online harassment or trolling. This is how sealioning works: the troll (the sealion) targets an individual (the target) and pretends to be ignorant about a specific topic or issue. The sealion repeatedly asks the target questions or to provide specific evidence, while remaining polite and pretending to be sincere. The goal is to provoke the target to lose his or her temper and write an angry response. At this point, the troll responds as the insulted or aggrieved party. And just like real sea lions, trolls often work together as a group. (Incidentally a group of sea lions is called a colony when they are on land; in the water, they are called a raft; during breeding season, they are known as rookery; a group of females in a male’s territory is called a harem.)

“So what’s the real harms in asking a lot of detailed questions?” you ask. In an enlightening essay entitled “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions” included in Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online (2017) published by the Berkman Kelin Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard University, Amy Johnson elaborates: “[A long series of questions] may seem like a well-intentioned search for answers. It’s not—it’s a simplified example of a rhetorical strategy called sealioning. Sealioning is an intentional, combative performance of cluelessness. Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning — often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points — with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences. [The responses from the target range] from lengthy explanations to pointing to logical fallacies in the questions themselves, from calling out the sealioning to ignoring it. It is these responses that the sea lion seeks to shape — and it is here that multiple harms occur.” The multiple harms can be minor, like short-term annoyance, wasted energy, and the opportunity cost of time spent. But there are larger social harms, like when the target is now skeptical of all future questioners and is likely to engage in online discussions. This results in reduction of constructive discourse as well as reducing the opportunities of individuals to learn from one another. Johnson argues that sealioning attacks informal teaching; she writes: “Informal teaching undergirds mediated communication. Informal teaching is an unacknowledged foundation of technoutopian dreams from telegraphy to the present: by learning through iinteractions with each other, we will achieve universal understanding and eliminate conflict And to some extent, this happens. At any one moment, informal teaching — about everything from platform norms and literacies to life experiences — bridges the hugely diverse skill sets and histories of people online.”

So now you understand the harm of sealioning, but we are left with one question: how in the world did this form of trolling end up being called sealioning? The term is based on a specific comic strip titled “The Terrible Sea Lion” (published September 19, 2014) from the web-based comic book Wondermark by David Malki. In the six panels of that comic strip a couple is discussing marine mammals and the wife mentions that she doesn’t care for sea lions. All of a sudden a sea lion appears and requests “a civil conversation about your statement.” And the seal lion is persistent: he shows up repeatedly: at their dinner, at their bedside in the evening, and at breakfast in the morning. The sea lion says, “I have been unfailingly polite, and you two have been nothing rude.” So there you have it: the worst form of sealioning — from an actual sea lion. What is the world coming to?

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For further reading: cyber.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.harvard.edu/files/2017-08_harmfulspeech.pdf
http://wondermark.com/1k62/


It’s Greek to Me: From Pan to Pandemic

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most common questions that people search today is: what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? If you are familiar with Greek roots, you know the key is in the prefix. An epidemic is an infectious disease that occurs in a community or specific area. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “upon a district” from the Greek roots epi (meaning “upon or among”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). A pandemic, on the other hand (hopefully one you have washed thoroughly for at least 20 seconds) is an infectious disease that occurs in an entire country or all over the world. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “all people” from the Greek roots pan (meaning “all”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). For example, the coronavirus began as an epidemic in Wuhan, China and as it spread across Europe and eventually all around the globe, it became a pandemic.

The prefix pan- is an extremely useful Greek root to know because it unlocks the meaning of so many words. Here is a list of some interesting words that use the root-word pan (some are not found in most printed dictionaries):

panacea: a cure of all illnesses

panarchy: a universal realm (chiefly poetic term)

panatheism: belief that god(s) do not exist and thus nothing can be correctly considered holy or sacred

pancratic: knowledge of all subjects

pandemonium: noisy and wild confusion; chaos

panegyric: a public speech that praises someone

pangender: encompassing all genders

pangenesis: A hypothetical mechanism of heredity proposed by Charles Darwin that states that each part of the body continually emits its own type of small organic particle (gemmules) that aggregate in the gonads, contributing transmissible information to the gametes

panharmonic: universal or general harmony

panhellenic: concerning or representing all people of Greek origin; concerning or representing all fraternities and sororities

panhumanism: the concept of an affiliation with all mankind through a legislative structure that allows all economic and technological development for the benefit of all people 

panjandrum: a person who claims to have great influence or authority

pansophia: universal wisdom

pantheism: belief that the universe is a manifestation of God

pantheon: a group of respected, important individuals

pantisocracy: a utopian society where everyone has equal position and responsibility

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Greek and Latin Roots of English by Tamara Green
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins by Bob Moore
en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_words_prefixed_with_pan-


There’s a Word for That: Brobdingnagian

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are a fan of Jonathan Swift you will recognize this mouthful of a word and its meaning. The word brobdingnagian (pronounced “brab ding na GEE an”) means enormous or incredibly huge. The word was coined by Jonathan Swift in his famous novel Gulliver’s Travel, published in 1726, meant as a satire of travel tales and human nature. In the novel, Lemuel Gulliver sets off on a voyage on the sailing ship Adventure. On his second voyage he encounters Brogdingnag, a land that is populated by human giants, known as Brogdingnagians, who stand about 72 feet tall. Naturally, in a land of giants everything is, well… gigantic.

In an earlier voyage, Gulliver lands on the island of Lilliput, where the inhabitants, the Lilliputians, are tiny, standing  less than 6 inches tall. So the antonym of brobdingnagian is lilliputian, meaning very small or trivial. The word is pronounced “lile PYOO shen.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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My Favorite Words – Dan Rather

atkins-bookshelf-words

Dan Rather is an American journalist who has won Emmy and Peabody awards for his work as news anchor for the CBS Evening News for 24 years. He initially ended his broadcast with the word “courage” but received a great deal of criticism, so he changed it to “That’s part of our world tonight.” Rather was also a frequent contributor to 60 Minutes. He has written eight books, including Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News (2013) and What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (2017). Rather discusses his two favorite words that evoke memories of his parents:

My two favorite words carry strong associations with my parents. When you think about it, they were the first people to teach me the use of language, so I guess it stands to reason that my favorite words remind me of them. My father’s word was “courage,” a word that meant a lot to him beyond the dictionary meaning: coming from his mouth it was a one-word pep talk in tough times. A fine old word — ”take heart” — and a benediction I continue to invoke (but no longer on the CBS Evening News). My father tried all his life to give his children the things we’d need, not just dinner on the table but tools for the future. Courage — the word and the spirit — he gave us aplenty. On my best days, I hope I’m worthy of my father’s legacy, at least a little.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, there was a field or vacant lot that my mother always called a “meadow.” It was the most beautiful word she knew. Mother was strong and gentle, and “meadow” has a strong and gentle sound: the stretch of the short e and the long o clipped off. For my mother, the word conjured images of sunshine and peace, of nature that didn’t threaten even if it wasn’t altogether tamed. Those images fit my mother, too.

Read related posts: My Favorite Words – Robert Ludlum
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My Favorite Words – David Foster Wallace

For further reading: Favorite Words of Famous People by Lewis Frumkes


How Many Ways Can You Pronounce -Ough?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe letter sequence “-ough” occurs many times in the English language; however, it is the one sequence that has the most number of pronunciations depending, of course, on the word. See if you can properly read this sentence: The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through snow that all the way up to his horse’s houghs, and though he hiccoughed and coughed, he thought only of his work, determined to be thorough. How did you do? Not as is easy you thought? Let’s find out why.

Although “-ough” consists of vowels and consonants, in most cases the “gh” is silent, producing a vowel sound. Incidentally, the word vowel is derived from the Latin term vocalis, meaning “vocal.” Vowels are critical, therefore, in the pronunciation of words. Over the centuries, as the English language evolved, how vowels were pronounced changed, playing havoc with the English language — this affected not only how a word was pronounced, but how it was spelled. The greatest period of change, the transition from Middle English to Modern English, occurred in England between 1350 and 1700; this period is known as the Great Vowel Shift, a term coined by linguist Otto Jespersen.

Below is a guide to how the ten words are properly pronounced:

rough: “ruff”

lough: “lock”

ploughman: “plowman”

through: “threw”

houghs: “hocks”

though: “thoe”

hiccoughed: “hik upped”

coughed: “coffed”

thought: “thawt”

thorough: “thur oh”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
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For further reading: https://www.dictionary.com/e/s/ough/#ough


There’s a Word for That: Psephology

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThere’s a lot of it going around right now. Particularly in an election year. What are we discussing? The malicious coronavirus? Annoying political ads? Close — but no. What we are discussing is psephology, defined as the statistical and sociological analysis of election results and trends. The word, pronounced “see FA la gee,” is derived from the Ancient Greek word psephos, meaning “pebble,” a reference to the pebbles used by citizens of Ancient Greece to cast their votes. By extension, a psephologist is one who studies elections results.

A related word is psephomancy, pronounced “see FO man see,” is the prediction of the future by casting or drawing pebbles or beans. In most cases the stones, which are marked with special characters or symbols, are placed in a bag, mixed, and then drawn out at random or thrown out.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
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What is the Meaning of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesYou’ve probably heard this little chestnut a million times: “a stitch in time saves nine.” WTF? Nine what? And who the heck stitches time? Does this assume you are some sort of seamstress/theoretical physicist (a cross between Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein) who can gather up the time continuum, feed it through a sewing machine, and place a neat hem stitching to hold it together? Or this something that requires “Back to the Future” gear, like the DeLorian DMC-12, C6 2.9L with built-in Flux Capacitor? This is some pretty trippy stuff. One can imagine counterculture psychedelic guru Timothy Leary discussing this proverb: “I can explain it to you — but it will blow your mind, man! Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Before we head to outer space, let’s begin our journey of discovery on terra firma. Many proverbs originated in the Enlightenment, a time when people were less focused on psychedelic trips and more focused on intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention practical improvements in everyday life — hence the proliferation of wisdom via memorable proverbs. Proverbs from those times often use rather dated diction, sentence structure, as well as refer to antiquated practices and contexts. This particular proverb checks two of those boxes: it has an odd sentence structure and refers to sewing (not obsolete, of course, but who sews these days?). So to answer the first question posed at the outset, nine refers to stitches: a stitch in time saves nine stitches. The unusual structure is that the sentence is truncated (the removal of key words) and missing punctuation that would help to clarify it: so re-written in modern English, it would appear as: “A stitch, completed in time (i.e., now), saves having to complete nine stitches later.” Much clearer, right? And that re-written form of this metaphorical epigram (the technical rhetorical term for this type of proverb) gets to its true meaning: don’t procrastinate! That is to say, fix it now, while the problem is small and manageable before it gets to be a real cluster fuck! See — those early Europeans knew a thing or two about life!

Now that we understand the meaning, let’s trace its origins as best we can, thanks to two old proverb reference books. The proverb first appears in England in 1732 as noted in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern Foreign and British: “a stitch in time may save nine.” The proverb next appears in print over a half century later in Bartlett Whiting’s his seminal work, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, published in 1797. Time and travel across the pond have modified the proverb a tiny bit: “a stitch in time saves nine” as it is recorded in an early American journal. It is in the formal journal, that we get some insight into the diction. Fuller enlightens us: “Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine; many a little will make a mickle. This little artiface, I imagine, was contrived purposely to make the sense abide the longer in the memory, by reason of its oddness and archness.” To be more specific, the proverb uses a half, or imperfect rhyme (rhyming “nine” with “time”) in order to make it more memorable.

There are several other proverbs that address procrastination, for example: “There’s no time like the present” and “An ounce of presentation is worth a pound of cure.”

Sewing class is now dismissed.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
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What is an Abecedarian Insult?
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For further reading: Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases by Bartlett Whiting
Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs by Thomas Fuller
https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-stitch-in-time.html


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