Category Archives: Wordplay

Feature creep

Here’s something we all know and dread, now given a pithy name.  I found it in State Farm’s “Goodneighbor” newsletter, which quoted a couple of auto industry experts on trends in auto technology.  One of the experts, Ronald Ahrens, made this remark:  ” ‘Feature creep’ in general increases weight and complexity of vehicles.  As we demand  more features and automatic systems, vehicles gain weight.  More powerful engines are then required, and fuel consumption certainly isn’t diminished.  When an SUV’s electrical wiring harness weighs more than 300o pounds all by itself, something is wrong.”

Or when a clothes washer has more buttons, readouts and status lights than an Apollo 11 Mission Control console – or when you have to review the manual every time you use your automatic coffeemaker.  And every  frivolous feature represents an opportunity for the machine to break.  Something is wrong:  it’s the dreaded feature creep.

The phrase itself probably derives from “mission creep”:  I’ve heard that one in connection with manned space  missions, where it means a project or plan being expanded or extended in ways that may make it harder – or impossible – to do.  Mission sometimes creeps in the workplace too, e.g. when somebody gets more and more different duties piled on without additional resources!

what’s wrong with this picture?

This regrettable billboard goes two for two in debasing the English language.  “Box of happiness”?   Happiness is more than a cheap fried food!   “I’m lovin’ it?” Love is for important  things!  And fries are not good for you, either.  Boo!  Hiss!

Nobody takes happiness and love seriously in the context of a billboard like this.  But beat the drum of cynical, crass uses of good words long and loud enough and the words may end up empty.  Of course the ad industry has been doing this for years and managed to misuse, mock, and devalue practically every profound word and numinous image known to the Western world.

What’s wrong with this picture is the bottom half.  The sky with the clouds is nature,  weather, the dynamic atmosphere, reminders of the magic of flight.   Cumulus clouds – always changing, sometimes growing mountain-tall with lightening and ice in their hearts, other times staying pretty and fluffy – they can make you happy.  They are worth loving if you’ve ever looked up and imagined clouds to be the shapes of things, or watched hawks soar, or day-dreamed about flying, or actually been up in a small aircraft dancing with clouds.

brave new word

From an article in a prediction that academic libraries will soon have less to do with curating physical materials, and more and more to do with digital resources; that e-books and e-journals are poised to turn librarians into e-sherpas; and that instead of being ensconced at the traditional Reference Desk, librarians will be embedded in academic departments.  And that these embedded librarians will be (in fact at Johns Hopkins University Medical library, they already are) called informationists.

Sniper at 12 O’Clock!

Last weekend I flew a glider for the first time in a long time.  (In 2007 I  had to go inactive in the Soaring Club of Houston and hadn’t flown for a while even before that.  It was a long hiatus due to having a novel published, writing two more novels, having a parent diagnosed with Alzheimers and then relocating out of an apartment complex being sold to developers.  Life happens.)

So I went up with a glider flight instructor and did better than I thought I would.  I flew two flights from tow to full stop,  without the instructor having to take the controls except when I forgot to plant the tail wheel after the first landing.  They say it’s like riding a bicycle – you get rusty but you probably won’t crash into a tree if you haven’t ridden a bike in forever.  Likewise flying skills stay with you even though finesse definitely does not.

The instructor gave me some memorable landing advice.   He reminded me to pick a landing spot to aim for, then once in ground effect – a wing length or so above the ground – to look at the end of the runway.  Like a lot of other things, landing an aircraft is done best when your attention is not overly immediate.  You need to be taking in the whole view of the runway;  it’s vital.  The instructor said, “Pretend there’s a Nazi sniper in the trees at the end of the field and look for him!”

Pretend there’s a sniper in the trees at the end of the runway. I won’t forget that.  It’s the best kind of flight instruction admonition:  pithy and funny enough to stick in a busy brain and be recalled when it’s needed most.

A couple of days ago I discovered the origin of the word sniper. It was in a recent re-edition from Oxford University Press of a classic cookbook written for British housewives in 19th-century India. (!)  Snipe entered in as wild game that might end up on the dinner table.  They are wary marsh birds.  A sniper is a hunter skilled enough to shoot a snipe.

OK, that makes a memorable lesson and a half.  Look for the sniper in the trees to make sure your eyes are where they’ll do you the most good in the last moments of a landing.  And practice toward a snipe-hunting level of accuracy!

Brave New Word

This in today’s Houston Chronicle.  WASHINGTON – Hollywood’s glitterati mingled with Washington Twitterati at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner….

OK, first there were literati, then glitterati, and now the meaning has been cantilevered out to Twitterati!