The writing diary of a well-mellowed science writer who cares about the public understanding of science and knows the ropes. This blog bounces between my curiosity, the daily realities of professional writing, the joy of pursuing nature, and my recycling of ideas that won't be in some book or other as far as I can see, but still needed sharing. I welcome comments and suggestions! Spam will be blocked and reported. For my books, see http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/index.htm
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Thursday, 5 July 2018
The Alternative Dictionary part 17
collection of stamps. Serious collectors specialise in certain kinds of stamps,
such as air mail, first day covers, stamps featuring animals, or even forged
stamps. This last kind of collecting is highly admired, since imitation is the
sincerest form of philately. Arts administrators only collect rubber stamps.
an indication of a home address, now rather more an indication of membership of
a discipline. Most modern Philistines obtained their memberships by studying
engineering, economics, arts administration or dentistry.
who may not know very much about a subject, but they are able to discuss it at
length, and generally manage to show you how it is that you know even less than
they do about it. Rather like an arts administrator, in fact.
1. A rock, the existence of which was doubted by Bishop Berkeley, a doubt which was refuted by Dr. Johnson. Dr
Johnson was about to refute the existence of Bishop Berkeley when Bishop
Berkeley made a pre-emptive strike. Since that time, Dr Johnson has eked out a
miserable existence as a very large rock in the Ulladulla harbour breakwater,
and has developed a strong preference for low tides. 2. Boulders used by
philosophers to stone arts administrators.
the best managers have a philosophy. When you know nothing about a subject, a
common ploy is to change the subject to the philosophy of the matter. Then, if
you have no useful contribution to make in the field, you give your way of
thinking about the subject a fanciful name, get others to see that their
interests are best served by hopping aboard your personal philosophical
bandwagon, and your future will be assured. This method works best in arts
administration, education, economics and other soft subjects, but it can also
be quite devastating in the hard sciences, if you can just manage to get a
philosophy rolling. Note that a change of philosophy does not mean you need to
actually change the way you do
things, just the way you talk about them. Most philosophies began life as
nothing more than a simple policy.
Darwin, the famous naturalist, specialised in presenting natural history in
poetic form. This led to him occasionally coining new terms more for poetic
convenience than anything else. This particular word had its genesis in
Darwin's frantic search for a rhyme for poem. See also phylum and xylem. Erasmus
Darwin was the first person to note the absolute impossibility of finding any
rhyme for ‘arts administrator’ or any reason why one would bother to try to do
so. Arts administrators have remained without rhyme or reason ever since.
Phobia. A small
Balkan province with a remarkably high incidence of psychoses, and many arts
administrators, as they are exported there from all over the world.
shortest period that you can be immersed in a bath, or engaged in some other
pleasurable activity, before the telephone rings.
best possible hand in Greek poker.
period during which time-delay lights will operate after you have pushed the
button right in. A curious adjunct to normal relativity events predicts
correctly that the photon is variable in inverse ratio to how well you know the
lit area, but moderated by the availability of other forms of lighting.
pathological tendency to indulge in the taking of pictures at certain times,
generally brought about by Lens' disease.
The Japanese cultural practices relating to cameras are not of this kind, being
continuous, rather than fluctuating.
theoretical study of phone phreaking.
phyllode. A form
of poetry devoted to the autumnal fall of leaves. This form is little-used in
Phylloxera. A mock-heroic 18th century picaresque novel about
Arcadian love and other mindless fripperies, by an anonymous author. This
single book almost destroyed the French vintage of 1755, as grape harvesters
lay indolently around in the shade, listening to their more literate
compatriots reading the story, which was issued in daily parts, to them. The name has been applied to any threat
to the wine harvest, ever since.
process by which hard discs fill with entirely useless material, mostly when a
computer is not being operated. The derivation is from phylos, a Greek word which translates best as ‘lump of meaningless
grunge’, and not from any fancy spelling of ‘file’.
phloem, another word coined by Erasmus Darwin, ‘as a suitable thing to file 'em
under’, as he later explained it. It should be noted that Erasmus Darwin was so
fat that he had to have a semi-circular gap cut into his dining table, so that
he could obtain reasonable access to his food when meal time came around, as it
person who is prepared to make very big discoveries on even bigger equipment
about very tiny things that even other physicists do not believe in, or if they
do, they are uncertain about them, each other, and the time of day. Physicists
believe in probability with a
study of those branches of engineering which do not appear to actually matter
very much. Generally, physics is described as though matter was made of
billiard balls. This is a waste of time, as very few practitioners of physics
have ever played billiards, but they learn about it in physics textbooks. If
they had actually played the game, they would never talk such guff, because
none of the white atoms has a black dot on it, and the red ones outnumber the
whites by three as to two (at least in fairy billiards, which involves three tables in five dimensions). Biologists, on the other hand, never liken anything to billiards, even if they spend their lives
watching Volvox and sheep engaging in head-butting contests. The physicists would
be better off studying sphericity.
study of sparkling mineral waters, founded by Joseph Priestley, the chemist who
discovered oxygen and invented soda water.
study of aggressive behaviour in living things. This is generally less exciting
in plants, although Australian forests often come out with all gums blazing.
pi. An irrational
number, stated in the Bible (IIChronicles 4:2 and I Kings 7:23) to have a value of 3. While this was adequate for the
Hebrews, this was not the case for their neighbours in Egypt, who had a
taxation system which involved taking a measured proportion of the crop, based
on the area of land actually farmed. In such a case, any error in the stated
value of pi would have led to rorts involving circular baskets, and it is a
well-known fact that rulers do not like rorts unless they are running them.
Picasso, Pablo. Not
to be confused with his brother Après. A painting signed by Après Picasso is
generally worth a great deal less, except perhaps with Philistines.
who believes God helps those who help themselves, a view which is also held by
economic rationalists, not that we wish to draw any such comparison. There are far
too many pickpockets out there who might sue us if we did.
pig food. Generally
based on legumes, which are rich in nitrogen, though as a general rule, where
there's a swill, there's a whey. Pigs may also become food, but this is a
different matter, for the two are as different as pork and peas.
traveller in strange lands who drinks the water. The second part of the name is
a result of this, the first part refers to the methods used to stop the
practised by barbarians, the spread of democratic forms of government across
the world means that we have been able to dispense with the barbarians.
pillory. 1. In
certain uncivilised parts of the world (e.g., the USA and Melbourne), a
wholesale pharmacy. In Canberra, the term is used to refer to the Houses of
Parliament, but this appears to be from a different meaning of the word ‘pill’.
2. An Anglo-Saxon word for a colonnade.
Piltdown Man. A
fake early pre-human, planted by an unknown person seeking to make some point
or other. The fraud should have been immediately detected, as the piltdown that
his remains were found wrapped in had been made of machine-stitched rayon,
which had not been invented at the time of the find.
everything is reduced to a unified set of quantum principles, even religion
will be included. The pions are a set of hypothesised particles which confer
piety when they are absorbed in different combinations. Provided we rule out
northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine as unduly aberrant and warped, all known
religions can be accounted for by just four pions. A further eight pions are
required to account for those two areas.
easily concealed piece of smoking apparatus, which is becoming more popular as
anti-smoking becomes more popular.
non-existent fish, alleged to live in the Amazon River. The story was made up
by conservationists as a way of discouraging people from swimming in the river,
and discovering the high percentage of gold in the sediment on the floor of the
river, provoking a terrible gold rush, catastrophic both to wild life and to
the world's economies. The piraña, on the other hand, is a fruit.
lesser-known stock character from the commedia
dell'arte, who was always in a spin. The name has since been given to a
characteristic dance step involving spinning like Pirouette.
Ever since J. S. Bach's Part eater in Sea,
musicians have been featuring fish and fishing in their music. Aside from major
successes like No, No, No Net, and
William Walton's Compleat Tangler, we
have seen many lesser works, including the Young
Purse-Seine's Guide. The Trout
Quintet, on the other hand, has nothing at all to do with fish, because the
scales are wrong. It needed a piano tuna.
pistachio. Not at
all the same as a pastiche. On the
other hand, people who buy pastiches are usually nuts.
small gland in the brain which triggers coal miners to a desperate desire to
pass water as they travel down in the cage. This is depressing for the members of the previous shift who are waiting to come up.
pit vipers. People
who clean the arena down after a contest between two pit bulls.
receptacle in Italian washrooms where used chewing gum may be deposited. It is
placed somewhere out of the way, in a corner of the room.
placenta. Also a
receptacle in Italian washrooms where used chewing gum may be deposited, but
this form is prominently located in the middle of the washroom, where even
foreigners can see it.
plague of boils. An
error by a minor and rather hard-of-hearing archangel. Pharaoh was in fact to
be inflicted with an endless barrage of memos about work outstanding, a plague
of toils. The erroneous form was later seen to have been equally (if not more)
efficacious, and it was officially adopted and written into the record. Latter-day
bureaucrats have been working ever since then to sharpen the impact of a plague
of toils so that it may be restored to its rightful place in the hierarchy of
plate tectonics. The
curious rules of etiquette required to be observed in several of the Royal
courts of Europe, even to this day, concerning the distribution of dishes on
Somebody who is able to demonstrate that you can actually make a living out of
being up to your neck in it. Do not see poor.
2. The person to call if you truly wish to drain the impassable drain.
plumbing in history.
This has become an increasingly specialised area, so that there is now an
established profession of cisterns annalist, often dealing mainly with the Sewers Crisis.
which should never be done by halves.
An ironic phrase, applied to the hands of a person in winter, when they are
placed in the pockets for warmth.
cannibal with odious habits.
written by a friend.
Poincaré cycle. This
is based on the fact that, given infinite time, the Universe will eventually
revert to any given past state, complete in every detail, after one complete
Poincaré cycle. This means you need no longer necessary to panic in adversity
or disaster. Just take whatever is coming, and then wait till you come back to
the same point. Then at Poincarécycle
minus ten seconds, you run like hell.
by not joining the dots. More in Seurat than in Ingres.
The sharing out of food as in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. For
some reason, the loaves seem to have dropped out of the story.
poker. A means of
separating burnable material from the ashes, or fools from their money.
polar bear. A
large carnivore of Arctic regions, able to see in the dark of winter because it
has a voltage difference between its nose and its tail. The only problem with
this arrangement is that it has to sit in a really peculiar position, if it
wants to read for any length of time. Most polar bears are green, due to the
algae growing in their coats (and getting advantage of the extra light). This
is the origin of the phrase ‘green and bear it’.
Eskimo clothing in matching colours. These sets usually include a small
optional padded cover for the nose, known as a nosey parka, developed by the
practical application of nosology.
spite of the availability of suitable clothing for sub-zero conditions,
polarisation is still usual to train our Antarctic explorers with a prolonged
exposure in light clothing in a commercial freezer. Rabbits may also be
polarised under pressure from time to
time, although their effectiveness in pulling sleds has yet to be established.
vaguely associated set of ideas, schemes or notions, when put together by an
egotist, or worse, by a committee of egotists. The establishment of a policy is
about as useful as placing a large magnet beside a compass. Following a policy
is about as useful as navigating a rapids with that same compass and no paddle.
A policy is easier to formulate than a philosophy,
but it is also easier for people to query.
polish. The only
known example of a word which changes its pronunciation when the initial letter
is capitalised. At least, that is what my fat friend Dieter tells me.
politics. A field
which leads unerringly to the belief that all the practitioners are either crooked
or stupid. It is on account of this belief that so many politicians are willing
to be regarded as stupid, since they are then able to benefit in other
correctness. A point of view, highly valued by the non-creative and the unoriginal
as an even faster track to advancement and preferment than simony. See Lysenkoism.
political joke. See
rational economics; politician.
speechifying. Probably a necessary evil, but clearly not desirable in large
amounts. It never wanes but it bores.
general usage, a person whose credibility would, if reified, be rejected by the
digestive system of a diseased wart-hog. Specifically, nobody ever lost credit
from saying dreadful things about politicians. A politician is a person who
believes there is no such thing as a free press, but who will squeeze your hand
anyhow, to see what can be got out of it.
war by other means.
Anglo-Saxon term for a tadpole.
Polonaise. 1. A
sound made by the ponies during most chukkas. 2. A kind of pasta dish.
only chemical element named after a sausage.
poltroon. A Scots
name for a poltergeist which wears trousers.
polyesta. 1. A
traditional Polish hairy sock, worn in the winter by Polish peasants. 2. With a
capital and in italics, this is the name of a genus of lizard found in outback
Australia, the name having been given to it by an unknown German scientist with
a rudimentary grasp of Polish and a warped sense of humour. Not to be confused
with the next entry.
Polyester. The scientific name, given by Count Strzelecki to an
arachnid found in the Snowy Mountains. The animal covers itself in web, so it
resembles a polyesta (meaning 1),
but this name had already been taken. By extension, the name is also given to
the silk which is harvested from these animals in the early autumn when they
are mustered and driven down into the valleys.
proprietary brand of parrot food.
sort of person who reads books like this.
many names. In the case of polynomial equations, most of these names are not
repeatable in polite society. Recent research has shown that polynomial
equations only ever feature in mathematical classes, being entirely excluded
from any known polite society.
polytheism. 1. The
deviant belief that God is in fact a giant parrot, and that He simply repeats
all the prayers addressed to Him, ad
nauseam. In fact the God of such people is really a swan, and repeats
nothing, suffering from cygnis ad nauseam.
2. The the that the the-users use is the the for me.
polywater. A form
of water hypothesised and then discovered in the late 1960s. It was later shown
not to exist, which was a great pity, since recent calculations suggest that cold fusion would be a great deal
easier if attempted in the presence of polywater.
study of the Englishman in his native surroundings.
poniard. A small
member of the ‘great cats’ group, with long sharp claws. It is named from its
habit of pouncing upon its prey from a great height.
pool. A large
expanse of any liquid, although it appears that there is no pool like an oil
poor. I told you
not to look at this. Get back to the plumber
popular front. The
salient part of any number of shapely models and actresses.
popular music. Proof,
if it were ever needed, that the auris populi is entirely disconnected from one
or both of the vox populi and the cerebrum populi.
To be continued
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection.