During a recent grad school class, I had occasion to explain what the Socratic Method is.
Please let me explain the Socratic Method. A few millenia ago, this brilliant kid named Socrates asked my Jewish great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother Channa why he was not being effective as a teacher. She said, “Socrates, stop kvetching and don’t be such a maven all the time. All you do is tell everybody everything. They know more than you give them credit for. Ask them questions and let them come up with the answers. From now on, no more telling, just asking. Ferschtay-zie?” Socrates thought for a moment and said, “Bubbe Channa, so is it better for a guy with all the answers to ask all the questions?” She looked him in the eye and said, “what do you think?” The rest is history.
During a grad school class, I provided a solution to a problem by calling upon technological knowledge from over 30 years ago. After having provided the solution, I said:
Doctors say if I keep forcing myself to remember enough of this esoteric crap that’s deep in long-term storage, I may just avoid getting Alzheimer’s.
The professor’s response was:
Is that what you call it!? And I thought I was full of useless trivia! Thanks for the new term!
As any person that makes regular use of esoteric crap knows, it is distinct from useless trivia. I explained to the professor:
Useless trivia is knowing that the word “crap” does not find its origin in the name of the man who invented many key parts to improve the water closet, Thomas Crapper. That knowledge is useless trivia because it never was and will never be important. Esoteric crap is arcane knowledge that while formerly important, serves no present day purpose other than to add color to the speech of its purveyors and potentially boost their flagging egos. I am full of esoteric crap.
She appreciated the clarification.
I love words. Demonym is the latest addition to my collection. A demonym is the word used to describe a person’s demographic association. Examples include Marylander, American, Uzbek, and of course, New Yorker. Here is an excellent demonyms page – http://www.geography-site.co.uk/pages/countries/demonyms.html.
There is a little story behind discovering this one. It gives a bit of insight into some of my daily activities. I was chatting with Lois (my wife) at dinner and she asked me if I had any interesting Words with Friends (online scrabble) games lately. This came to mind to her because she was musing over how some of her co-workers like to use one of the multitude of cheat programs out there. It makes no sense to her how people can enjoy playing a 152 point word they don’t even know. A computer program simply told them to play it. I totally agree. My Words with Friends player name is i.don’t.cheat. I told her that I was learning some great new words playing with my friend Eric. Lois said, “isn’t Eric from Ghana? I wonder what their native language is there.” Since in my vocabulary I have replaced the phrase “I don’t know” with the phrase “let me check,” I pulled out my iPhone and checked Wikipedia (yes, I still use it. I have even edited a few pages). It informed me that the official language of Ghana is English. It also had an entry in the sidebar on Ghana that said “Demonym: Ghanaian.” After I got past figuring out how to pronounce Ghanaian with its three vowels and one consonant together (ghana-ee-ahn; not ghan-ee-ahn like my brain wanted me to), I saw the word demonym. I tapped it and now you know not only a little more about how my mind works, but you also know what happened during 30 seconds of our table talk. This gives evidence as to why after 28 years of marriage, we still have plenty to talk about.
Am I the only person in the world that struggles with spelling the plural of 1/8 as “eighths?” Maybe it’s the five consonants in a row with multiple H’s that throws me. It’s almost Welsh-like. If you’ve never seen Welsh, it is a thing unto itself. For example:
John 3:16 (English)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Ioan 3:16 (Welsh)
Canys felly y carodd Duw y byd fel y rhoddodd efe ei unig-anedig Fab, fel na choller pwy bynnag a gredo ynddo ef, ond caffael ohono fywyd tragwyddol.
I used to think a vomitorium was the place where self-indulgent romans would go to purge their over-stuffied bellies so they could have another round of over-eating. In a grammar and vocabulary dialog with a left-coast colleague of mine, I said the following as we discussed backformation:
In writing about backformation, I just found another horrendous one [backformation]. I just used this sentence:
“Edit” was backformed from “editor.”
I guess I could have written this:
“Edit” was backformated from “editor.”
Where, pray tell, is the vomitorium?
After the conversation, I recalled that in the movie Hanna (which I totally loved), the character of Sophie was fond of the word “vomitorium.” I wanted to find the exact line from the movie because I thought it was so amusing. As I looked for it, I discovered two entries for the Valley of Wrongness. The first entry goes to me for not knowing the correct definition of vomitorium and using that incorrect definition since I first saw I Claudius as a young teen. I thought it was a socially acceptable place to practice bulemia. The good folks at Dictionary.com say otherwise:
Main Entry: vomitorium
Part of Speech: n
Definition: in a theater or stadium, esp. ancient, a passageway leading to and from the seating
Etymology: Latin vomitorius, alluding to the path’s discharging of the spectators
That makes perfectly good sense. Then, they put the nail in the coffin of my Wrongness when they stated:
Word Origin & History
1754, “passage or opening in an ancient amphitheater, leading to or from the seats,” from L. (Macrobius, Sat. , VI.iv); see vomit. Erroneous meaning “place where ancient Romans (allegedly) deliberately vomited during feasts” is attested from 1923.
The second entry in the Valley of Wrongness goes to the dozens of sites that stated “vomitorium” was nothing more than teenage jargon. I’m only slightly better than them. I knew it was a real word. I just didn’t know what it meant.