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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Saturday, 7 July 2018
The Alternative Dictionary part 19
art of measuring distances by laying psychologists end to end. While there is
no absolute requirement for them to be rendered unconscious, this is generally
held to be (a) more practical, and (b) more beneficial to the rest of humanity.
The ideal psychometric unit is encased in a thin layer of concrete, to stop it
with a one-track mind, and a fairly concrete one at that. Nothing at all to do
with crazy paving. You can make quite a good psychopath out of a number of
closely similar psychometric units.
who eat only psychologists. They are often afflicted with kuru, the so-called
‘laughing sickness’, but there is no evidence of any causal link here. Those
who eat psychometric units may be recognised by the extreme wear on their
psychotic. See publisher.
A special and little recognised art, presenting its own particular problems
when plans and models are being created. Prison walls, for example, are never
built to scale.
public good. Anything
done in the name of the public good will also be found, on close inspection, to
have been done for the private better.
In some contexts, an intimate act not carried out in private. This is generally
frowned on, but it remains less undesirable than any other competing meaning of
public sector. An
exhibitionist who performs lewd and unseemly acts in the gaze of the general
Any means of mass transit. In recent times, the vehicles have generally become
smaller and faster, hence the expression shoot
through like a Bonsai tram.
bookmaker who takes no risks, except with authors' reputations. A newspaper
publisher, on the other hand, is at pains to take considerable risks with the
reputations of as many people as possible. This is called Freedom to Oppress. Publishing
has now, for several generations, been an inappropriate career choice for a
person of breeding or sensitivity.
punch. A moveable
characteristic of those with nothing better to do with their time.
punt. A device
used by higher mathematicians to demonstrate the existence of four dimensions. While
it cannot be done deliberately, a naive man operating a punt will invariably
send the punt, the pole, his hat and himself in four different directions which
may all be shown to be mutually at right angles to each other. There is no
evidence available to suggest whether the effect applies also to women who
attempt to punt, or whether a woman practitioner may be able to locate even
more dimensions. This effect explains the prevalence of punting at certain
English institutions of higher learning.
pupil reflex. Correctly,
the pupil-teacher reflex, this
involves a complex of interactions between pupil and teacher, operating mainly
in accordance with the principles of chaos theory.
religious belief which holds that the teeth are inherently sinful. Purists have
their teeth removed, and spend the rest of their lives in contemplation,
feeding solely on the purées that the group invented as a means of getting
closer to their God.
purloin. A choice
cut of meat, usually only eaten by butchers, unless they are deprived of it by
stealth, whence comes the more common usage of this word. It has nothing to do
with cats, which are sold occasionally as rabbit.
Pidgin-English word for rabbit. No rabbits have ever been seen alive in
Papua-New Guinea, but a dressed rabbit carcase, without paws, tail or head, has
a remarkable resemblance to a similarly treated cat. Australian butchers have
relied on this similarity for many years, and will be constrained to buy up all
available copies of this reference work, in order to keep the matter secret.
term used to describe the act of a writer who provides secret or sensitive
material in a work in order to constrain others to buy all the available copies
pyramid selling. A
common form of confidence trick practised just outside Cairo against unwary
tourists. While the pyramids are in fact for sale, the transport costs to
remove your property are now prohibitive, as the slave gangs have all been
dangerous person to have as an employee, somebody who should be fired as soon
These were many in number, and included to abstain from beans, never to sit on
a quart measure, and not to walk on highways. Most philosophers agree that
these and other rules were constructed, with careful malice, to bemuse future
qanat. An Iranian
well. Unlike most wells, which are vertical and have to have water hauled out
of them, qanats are almost horizontal, sloping upwards very slightly as they
progress into a hillside, so that water runs down out of them as a result of
gravity. This uncivilised behaviour has caused Iranians to be shunned by many
QED. 1. An
abbreviation for ‘that which was to be demonstrated’. 2. An abbreviation for
quantum electrodynamics, which has as yet to meet the criterion implied in the
first meaning, but which still has a certain charm. 3. Commonly used in
mathematics examinations where the candidate is operating in a clue-free
long and involved oration delivered in a roughly square open space. Many of
these terminate in QED (meaning 3).
quadrat. The sort
of person who specialises in delivering quadrants.
similar to erratic, but only wandering off along one of the four cardinal
points of the compass. Given the random element in quadratics, there is no
point at all in even contemplating quadratic equations.
quagmire. A wild
ass found in the swamps between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, notable
mainly for its huge feet. It is widely believed in the area that the quagmires
survived both Gilgamesh's flood and Noah's flood, with no outside intervention.
People who are particularly skilled at the micro-repair level needed to carry
out efficient repairs on all classes of quanta.
by many physicists to be the basic building blocks of matter, you can buy pure
quark in Yorkshire (England), where it is eaten as a dairy product. Some
physicists suspect that this consumption of quark as foodstuff could account
for the missing dark matter of the
universe. Other physicists say a) the quark sold is white, not dark, and b)
there aren't enough Yorkshire people. The first group counter b) yes there are,
in fact there are too many, and a) at night, all Schrödinger's cats are grey, probably, and so would the quarks be. The
second group of physicists are still thinking about this while the
Schrödinger's cats eat the cream that would have been used to make the next
batch of quark.
quarrel. The name
given to the arrow fired by a crossbowman, which is enlightening in a sense,
but still does not tell us why the bowman is cross. If Saint Sebastian had been
pinned to a tree by quarrels rather than ordinary arrows, he would not only
have been cross, he would have been justly accused of suffering from a quarrel
with hanging and drawing, the standard punishment for infamous conduct. It
should come as no surprise that most of the noble families of England display
quartering in their coats of arms.
Questa O Quella. One of the more famous arias from Rigoletto, sung by the Duke of Mantua,
as he prepares to sail out to destroy the Moorish fleet of Othello. It is at
this point that the Duke realises that the seas are becoming rough, and he
calls for a mal de mer potion for all
of his sailors.
quis custodiet ipsos
custodes. A doubtful expression, which probably originally meant ‘so who
makes sure that nobody is pouring custard on the watches?’ It is almost
certainly not of classical antiquity.
which you did not say, but which, if you say it often enough, you fondly hope
other people will associate with you.
rabbit. A small
and over-sexed mammal. They are rare in some areas as the female rabbits prefer
to mate with roosters, which is the origin of the ‘Easter Bunny’ legend. To
achieve this result, a rabbit must first associate with hens, to acquire a
suitable smell, and they then move in with the rooster, but it does not last,
for a fowl and his bunny are soon parted.
racist. A person
who believes in the superiority of people sharing the same colour of skin. Racists
can sometimes be fooled by using skin colouring material, hence the habit in
some quarters of observing that the dye is caste.
conservative in the making.
radio. A medium
with infinite capability to do things which could never be done on television, and which, as a
consequence, never does so.
rainbow promise. No
more Walton but de Falla next time.
rain forest. A
kind of forest so named because, all over the world, it is falling faster than
any rain. In Australia, most rain forest depends for nutrients on the presence
of the satin bowel bird.
rake. A person
who leads an interesting and dissolute life, but who may later fall on hard
device used by certain deviant persons to limit the wanderings of a male sheep,
often for unspecified purposes. See the entry on the Duke of Wellington.
rank. 1. An
unpleasant smell. 2. Something found more commonly among rich and
self-important people. 3. A word, contemplating these parallel meanings, which
can bring great insights.
rap. A particular
kind of music in which the letter c is silent.
rare earth. As
time goes by, a term which is more and more commonly applied to Australian
German name for the town hall or seat of government. It appears that Germans
have fewer illusions about their politicians than do people of other
Any form of economics where, on most days, it is possible to detect the
fallacies straight away. The opposite of economic
wingless (and hence flightless) birds. Typical examples are found among the
emus, ostriches and cassowaries, as well as the moa, supposedly confined to New
Zealand. The most famous of these was a Rotorua moa called Victor, but moas
were also found in Israel in biblical times: the Old Testament has several
references to moa bites.
Ravel, Maurice. French
composer of a tone poem based on the mistaken belief that Beethoven became deaf
after a jealous Salieri poured glue in his ears as he lay sleeping. While
Beethoven was certainly Salieri's pupil, there is no more evidence for this
notion than there is that Salieri poisoned Mozart, as is sometimes claimed. Nonetheless,
Ravel's Deafness and Gluey is a work
of great tenderness and beauty. The same cannot be said for his later
degenerate work, Dildo and Anus. Ravel
was the leader of a tightly-knit group of French composers, now disbanded after
having lost the thread.
real estate agent.
Anybody whose role description requires three words is inherently
untrustworthy. This is doubly so when the first word of that title is a blatant
and demonstrable lie.
religious sect founded in Pennsylvania in 1760. Their methods of sexual
purification were robust to say the least. The sect died out some forty years
later, to almost no public regret, save for one or two observers who wished
that their number had included rather more real estate agents.
form of punishment which involves temporarily killing the victims, reviving
them, and killing them again. This practice was discarded first in France, not
so much on humanitarian grounds as upon grounds of practicality. This approach
could well be used today on real estate agents.
band of murderous peasants in Sicily in the 18th centuries who were in the
habit of rectifying anybody who annoyed them, especially real estate agents, so
that, even today, Sicily is completely free of this pest.
recursion. See infinite loop.
Red Hot Mommas, Last
of the. A fictional character who appears in several musical works,
including Wolf-Ferrari's Joules of the
red shift. An
embarrassed Freudian slip.
principle which is now less complicated than it used to be.
reel. Any drunken
See cross reference.
Samuel Johnson kicked a rock, crying ‘I refute it thus’, he suffered
considerably, until he underwent a treatment described by Boswell as ‘being
refuted’: apparently a replacement of the entire pedal extremity.
the coffin to another vehicle.
With respect to their rate of descent, the velocity of relatives generally
transcends c. From this, relatives appear to leave much more slowly, but this
is simply a corollary of the FitzGerald contraction, viewed in a skewed and
Tasmania, everyone is.
relay, electric. Any
foot race which involves a single runner in hurtling back and forth at high
speed between the two ends of a course, without going anywhere, rather like
process by which limbless spiders replace all of their appendages.
relevé. A ballet
step where the dancer raises one leg in the manner of a dog urinating.
sea-bird, similar to a gannet. It is famed for its disgusting habit of
‘dive-bombing’ anybody entering its rookery areas and regurgitating partially
digested fish on the intruder. Few people have experienced this treatment more
than once, but it is apparently similar to associating with real estate agents.
word has come to us by way of a technical change seen when the Latin 'pater'
becomes 'father' (this process of consonantal variation is fully described in
Grimm's Law). Originally, a reputation was obtained by refuting or denying
allegations made about one. In some parts of the world and most large
organisations, little has changed.
Something which is useless unless it exceeds one ohm. 2. Something which, when
it is less than one ohm, can be attached in series to another useless object
such as a real estate agent or a developer, and connected to a large potential
difference. In this way, the potential difference can become a useful actual
difference in the world.
resort. The last
refuge of a developer.
The loss of voice resulting from shouting to be heard in a crowded restaurant
with tiled walls and floor, concrete ceiling, hard furniture, harder waiters,
and (generally) Italian food. Garlic is a sovereign remedy for this, and should
be applied as soon as the condition arises.
rest mass. A
solemn requiem for the permanent slowing down of a fundamental particle.
act of reselling faulty goods bought wholesale.
musical term, referring, inter alia,
to a theme being played backwards. Not very surprisingly, retrograde forms are
common in atonal music.
with which the speaker does not agree.
Reynolds number. An
obscure remnant of an art scandal of the 19th century, when it was discovered
that Sir Joshua Reynolds had engaged in ‘painting by numbers’. While this
surprised few perceptive critics, it upset those tasteless people, such as
property developers, who had paid good money for Reynold's works. Ever since
then, physicists, having been too poor to buy such trendy stuff in the first
place, have commemorated the event by identifying certain fluids by the numbers
that Reynolds would have used to represent the specific hue of that fluid.
study of the biology of Rhesus monkeys.
device used in fence-free zoos to restrict the movement of a large emu-like
rhinitis. A form
of allergy suffered by zoo-keepers with responsibility for large African
mammals. It has nothing to do with the Rhine river, although by an odd
coincidence, the Rhine Maidens all died of it, probably when the Rhine forests
were felled by developers.
ribosome. A small
but extremely important cell in the body. Ribosomes are the cells which clump
together during the development of an embryo to make ribs, and a number of
other bones as well.
To be continued
Look for the link ‘Alternative dictionary’
just below this. Click on it to find the rest
of the collection.