Today I Learned…

…something very interesting about how we talk about sex in English.  All of the “vulgar” verbs for the sex act are transitive verbs — in that they can fit into the construction John verbed Mary (please substitute Joan and Larry respectively, one or both, if you prefer):

fuck, screw, hump, ball, dick, bonk, bang, shag, pork, shtup

All of the more polite verbs are intransitive — they require a preposition to introduce the sexual partner:

have sex, make love, sleep together, go to bed, have relations, have intercourse, mate, copulate

Gotta love how attitudes towards sex are encoded in the very grammar of the language we’ve all agreed on.  Got this from Steven Pinker’s book The Stuff of Thought, which I would recommend for anyone who is nerdy on the cognitive science or language level.


Today I Learned…

…an excellent word.  Sfumato is from the Italian sfumare — to evaporate — and describes a painting technique developed and perfected by Leonardo da Vinci.  Sfumato involves using many very thin, delicate coats of paint blended together to give the illusion of form.

I came upon this word in the context of an article entitled “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci,” which applies a more philosophical meaning to the word — the ability to embrace ambiguity and paradox.  The author suggests that you learn this ability through thought exercises; think about being in the ambiguous situation of having applied for a job but not knowing whether you got it or not — or think about how your happiest and saddest moments are related.  There are many other steps and concepts outlined in the article, most of which I think are extremely worthwhile to attempt and emulate.  Check it out.

Today I Learned…

…where the term “wise-acre” comes from, and it’s not a polite euphemism for wise-ass as you may have thought.  According to wiktionary, the term descends from the Middle Dutch wijssegger, meaning soothsayer.  It is defined as one who feigns knowledge or cleverness; an insolent upstart.

Urban Dictionary currently has a definition of “wise-acre” with 7 thumbs up and 2 down as follows:

Wise-acre is essentially synonymous with the terms jerk and jackass. One defining feature is that a wise-acre enjoys comedy more than anything, and therefore an insult comic or a practical joker would be called wise-acres. It has fallen into disuse recently, but it’s still there.

I’m not sure that I’m a big fan of this definition — I think it misses out on the closeness to the term “wise-ass” that is implied.  There’s no link to the sarcastic nature which is, I think, almost part and parcel with the label.

.o0(Thanks to Kevin at work today who, besides looking like a 70’s baseball card, called me a wise-acre today which prompted me to look up its etymology.)

Today I Learned…

…how to properly address a noble within the social customs of Elizabethan England.  (Thanks to for the following)

  • Sir goes only with a man’s given name. To address a knight using only his surname, say Master (see examples below).
  • Lord implies a peerage whether temporal (baron or better) or spiritual (bishops).
  • Not every knight is a lord; not every lord is a knight. It is best not to say My Lord to anyone not so entitled.
  • A territorial title is one which is attached to a particular piece of land, such as a county.
  • Peers sign their names and refer to themselves and each other by their territorial titles, such as “Henry Southampton”, “Francis Bedford”, or “Thomas Rutland”.
  • Every woman married to a knight or better can be called my lady. For unmarried women, see the various examples.
  • The children of a knight, baron, or viscount have no titles at all other than Master and Mistress.
  • All the sons of a marquis or a duke are styled lord.
  • Only the eldest son of an earl is called lord (because he takes his father’s secondary title and is one, by courtesy) though all an earl’s daughters are styled lady. They retain this courtesy even if they marry a commoner.
  • Your Grace belongs properly only to royal blood: the queen, dukes, and visiting princesses. It does not apply to Earls or Countesses in the 16th century. Archbishops share this honor as princes of the church.
  • The style of Honourable or Right Honourable for younger sons and daughters of peers has not yet come into use. Peers, however, often receive dedications in a form such as “the right Honourable the Lord Chandos”.
  • Esquires are the younger sons of peers, the heirs male of knights, esquires of the body, and officials such as judges, sheriffs, and officers of the royal household. Esquire is not actually a title, although it may be used after a gentleman’s surname; as, William More, Esquire.
  • If you are not noble, you may wish to address those above you as Your Worship, Your Honour, or Your Lordship/Ladyship.
  • Children are taught to address their parents as Sir and Madam, or my lord and my lady. A noble child refers to my lady mother and the lord my father.

Today I Learned…

…that I’ve been using some words incorrectly, and you probably have been too.

The difference between “nauseous” and “nauseated” is simply put as this: someone who is “nauseous” is one who makes people around em “nauseated.”  Someone who is “nauseated” is sick to their stomach.

Thanks to Kevin at work for that one.

Yesterday I Learned… (whoops!)

…what the word inchoate means.  From

  1. not yet completed or fully developed; rudimentary.
  2. just begun; incipient.
  3. not organized; lacking order: an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject.

…Stupid GRE.  I guess my math score on the real test last fall may have been a fluke.  I have an inchoate grasp of GRE math skills.

Today I Learned…

…the following insult in Latin:


I will leave the translation as an exercise to the reader.