Words I Learnt This Month

AUTO DA FE – from ‘The Catholic Crackdown On Feminism‘, Big Think. Wikipedia tells me it meant ‘act of faith’ in medieval Spanish, but its meaning has changed, and it now basically means ‘burning at the stake’. So I suppose Big Think decided to use ‘auto da fe’ rather than ‘burning at the stake’ to avoid accusations of hyperbole.

WAGES – As in: ‘When the newly discovered cervical cancer vaccine was developed to prevent young women being infected by the genital warts virus, which can lead to cancer, there was some criticism about the immunisation program from moralists. The essence of their concern appeared to be that such protection would encourage promiscuity amongst young women! Apparently they still believe the wages of sin should be death’, from The F-Word by Jane Caro and Catherine Fox

I hadn’t noticed the word ‘wages’ used like this before, in its third meaning, according to Google dictionary: ‘The result or effect of doing something considered wrong or unwise’. This is one of those words which have two oppositional meanings then, because ‘wages’ from doing work are what you get for doing something good.

ABSORPTIVE – As in ‘The oceans are becoming less absorptive’. I tried to find the difference between ‘absorbent’ and ‘absorptive’ but I have failed to find any semantic difference at all. Instead it seems that ‘absorptive’ is used in reference to big, scientific and important things whereas ‘absorbent’ is used to sell toilet tissue. So it’s a matter of register.

NAGNOSTIC – Not a real word, but probably should be. Explained here.

HYPERGAMY – from the ‘gamy’ you can probably guess this has something to do with marriage. (And I don’t mean foul-smelling or rank.) Polygamy, monogamy, trigamy… There’s a whole list of them over at Wikipedia.

I came across ‘hypergamy’ in ‘Wonder Woman’ by Virginia Haussegger, who writes of the lack of suitable marriage partners for highly educated women in Australia (and especially in Canberra, where I happen to live):

‘Is the inference…that highly educated women are simply too up-themselves to see past a bloke’s university qualifications–or simply lack thereof? Not only is such nonsense highly offensive, it’s simply not true. Salt tries to explain the ‘too fussy’ problem by pointing to ‘hypergamy’; the custom for women to marry or mate with a man of higher social status–‘higher’ by virtue of his income, education, gene pool or job. A throwback to yesteryear, ‘hypergamy’ no doubt still exists within certain mating circles, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that women (and men) have moved on.’

HOMEOSTASIS – the state we’re in when everything is running smoothly and all our physiological processes are normal, from The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Next time someone says, ‘How are you?’ I might say ‘I’m homeostatic, thanks!’ This would place me firmly in the ‘eccentric’ camp. I know.

Interesting Collection Of Links About Children’s Literature


Beautiful Illustrations for a Madame Bovary picture book


3. 3d illustrations

Gorgeous 3D Illustrations for Classic Children’s Books from Flavorwire


Cat People: What Dr Seuss Really Taught Us from The New Yorker


You’ll have seen his picturebooks even if you don’t know his name.


The Freedom Of Classic Children’s Fiction from The Guardian


A Brief History of Children’s Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling, in The Atlantic

8. Research shows steady decline in natural world, wild animals in illustrated books for kids

Study: Increasingly, children’s books are where the wild things aren’t.

9.Parents A Liability?

In children’s books, yes.

10. 5 classic children’s books

with timeless philosophy for adults, from Brain Pickings.


curated by Tania McCartney at Love2Read


from The NYT Sunday Book Review.


from No Time For Flash Cards


available at the Wiley online library


from Sarah McDonald writing at Daily Life

Your Least Favourite Word

photo by Juliette Culver

A few Christmases ago I was on a car journey with one of my sister-in-laws. (Sisters-in-law?) I don’t remember much of our conversation, nor how this even came up, but I learnt that my sister-in-law’s least favourite word is ‘moist’, especially when used in relation to food.

I should probably stay away from psychological analysis, but offered a few crude reasons why she might dislike it so much.

Later that night the extended family was sitting down for another Christmas dinner, in which the third or fourth Christmas pudding was prized open and dished out onto plates with ice-cream and custard.

“Mmm,” said someone. “This one’s really nice.”

“Yes, it’s lovely and moist,” said my father-in-law.

This led to one of those dinner-time giggle fits which still gives me pleasure when I think on it.

Apparently, my sister-in-law isn’t the only one who has this problem with the word ‘moist’. GOOD makes the distinction between ‘word aversion’ and ‘word rage’, using ‘moist’ as a prime example of the former.

I’ll admit to plenty of word rage, though it’s more of a flinch than a fit of ill-temper in which chairs are flung against walls. The phrase ‘I could care less’ is one such example.

But I recently found out that I’ve been using the word ‘nauseous’ wrongly all these years, so any sort of word rage should rightly be tempered by the fact that I’ve been causing such reactions in traditionalist others.

As for word aversion, I suffer when hearing ‘spinal tap’. Or is that two words? Gah! It’s a horrible horrible thing, and a terrible name for a band.

Okay going now gone.

An A-to-Z Guide to 2012’s Worst Words — a collection of word peeves from The Atlantic

A Suicide Note From The Word “Moist” from Thought Catalog


This week The Millions asked what everyone’s writing space looks like, and published a collection of famous authors’ writing rooms. What strikes me most about those photos is how ordinary they look. It’s not what’s inside the room; it’s what’s inside the mind.

As for me, I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own and a door that shuts.

I like to imagine  it looks something like this:

Decathlon: Operation Tracking

Ad designed for Decathlon, tracking campaign

It doesn’t. Nor does it look like any of these pretty cool office spaces.

But after I tidied up, it did look a bit like this:

Interesting: The Future Of Working At Home, from co.Exist

Before Bedtime Books

Most children’s novels contain at least one scene with the child in bed and an adult, often a parent or grandparent, by the bedside comforting, reading or telling a story, saying a prayer or listening to the child’s confessions. … Sleep is… in children’s novels, as much a social activity as food.

– The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva

just go to bed by mercer mayer

Little Critter is told to get ready for bed, but gets distracted at each point. Mercer Mayer’s books are so appealing because they’re so realistic. This is exactly what happens if you tell a toddler to get ready for bed. Of course books of this kind must end with the critter/animal/child in bed asleep. This one is no exception.

Where’s My Mummy? By Carolyn Crimi

The picture on the front cover tells us that the ‘mummy’ is the Egyptian kind, wrappped in bandages, but the play on words is that the baby mummy has lost it’s mummy (named ‘mama’ to avoid confusion). The mummies live in a graveyard, and as the baby mummy wanders about looking for its mother it comes across all sorts of creepy (but comical) characters who are going through their bedtime routines. (Gargling with goo, cleaning long pointy ears etc.) Eventually baby mummy finds its mother and goes safely to bed.

Wake Up! By Katie Cleminson

This doesn’t sound much like a going to bed book, but it begins with a boy waking up, takes us onomatopoeically through his daily routine, focusing on different verbs. He ends up in bed, which is why it could be effective as a bedtime story.

Where Does Thursday Go? By Janeen Brian

A bear and a bird (Splodge and Humbug) wonder what happens to each day after the sun goes down so they get out of bed after they’re tucked in and go look for it. They come to the conclusion that Thursday is ‘the moon’, because it disappears slowly behind a cloud. They retire to bed for the rest of the night until the sun brings Friday.


A procession of forest animals turn up on Percy’s doorstep because it’s snowing and they want a warm bed for the night.

The storyline reminds me a bit of that song that goes, ‘There were three in the bed and the little one said Roll Over! Roll Over!”

But if after reading this you’re stuck with Men At Work singing “Who can it be now?” as an earworm, don’t say you weren’t warned.


The characters are friendly monsters behaving like a human family, which would reassure young children who have a tendency to see creepy crawlers in the dark.

A mother monster has four youngsters, who each ask her as they’re tucked in, ‘Who do you love the most?’ Each time the mother says she loves them all equally but she also mentions the special quality each of them has. (Sense of humour, creativity etc.) The little monsters wait until their mother is asleep then they get out of bed and make the most of their special gifts – the creative one bakes his most creative recipe yet, for instance. In the morning the mother monster gets up and if other readers are anything like me, they’ll be expecting the mother monster to be very angry, because the little monsters got out of bed when they shouldn’t have and made a big mess. But the mother monster is delighted. She’s especially delighted that they’ve written ‘Mama we love you the most’ in red, right across the cave walls. (I wasn’t sure whether I should categorise this as a ‘mawkish book’, but there is plenty of humour in this book as well, since the monsters do monstery things like floss their fangs.)


The characters in this one are rabbits who behave like human children. Two rabbits sleep on a bunk bed. The smaller one is worried and can’t sleep, so the bigger one takes the smaller one around the house and shows it all the reasons to be happy: chicken slippers waiting to be worn, a jumpsuit waiting to be put on tomorrow, oats, milk and apples waiting to be eaten for breakfast etc. They end up back in bed. The little rabbit is happy now and falls asleep.


Polly Dunbar is the daughter of Joyce Dunbar, above.

There are no adults in this one. Instead a little girl takes the parental role and gets her toys ready for bed. She gives the elephant a bath, brushes their teeth and tucks them in. Once in bed herself, she wonders who’s going to tuck her in. Tiptoe must be her favourite toy – he is still up, so does the job for her. This story would perhaps help a toddler to consider the going-to-bed routine a game of imagination. By encouraging the child to take the parental role, a reluctant sleeper might be thus coerced.


This story is a little strange, in that the event which starts the rest of the story is simply that a little boy goes in search of pillow stuffing for his little sister. In the boy’s head (or perhaps in the world of the story) the family live in a castle, so the little boy finds things such as wolf hair and feathers off ‘feather trees’. The feathers off these trees prove a hit, the baby sister stops crying and the royal family is able to get a good night’s sleep.


It’s hard to write a going to bed book with an original twist, but this book achieves it by turning the usual reluctance to go to bed on its head: Little Owl desperately wants to go to bed but his night-owl parents make him stay up and play. Eventually, of course, he has played enough to satisfy them and he is grateful for the opportunity to sleep.




I feel as though the above book is a more taboo version of Don’t Let The Pigeon Go To Sleep by Mo Willems, published 2007. The Willems book goes through all the typical excuses a child has (where do they learn it? Antenatal class?) but the language is appropriate for a child. I’m not sure who’d appreciate the Mo Willems book more though — parents or their children.


This one is for young dinosaur enthusiasts, with a page at the very beginning showing what the dinosaurs are called. Each dinosaur is sitting on a bed, engaged in classic human pre-bedtime rituals such as reading a boo, jumping on the bed or hugging a teddy. Some are blowing bubbles and getting up to general three-year-old bedtime mischief. This story is basically saying to a toddler, ‘A dinosaur wouldn’t be naughty before bed, would he?’, hoping that the toddler will use the beloved dinosaurs as role models for good pre-bedtime behaviour.

This book is a modern one, first published in 2000, yet the illustrations look set in an earlier time. The ‘papa’ wears those high waisted trousers straight off the set of Mad Men. The mothers (because there are various bedrooms and various parents) seem often to be wearing aprons and 1950s bobbed hair. To summarise, the men look as if they’ve got home from work, while the mothers all look as if they’ve been working in the home all day. Is this a way of preserving traditional values and gender roles, I wonder, by setting modern stories in 1950?


The danger of reading this book all at once is that the adult reader may find themselves yawning uncontrollably, or maybe that’s just me?

This is a collection of nursery rhymes, some well-known, some less so; some by well-known poets, others by Anonymous. Some sound like the sort of thing your grandmother made up on the spot. They are illustrated in whimsical, modern style in an attractive colour palette of pinks and purples and blues. The illustrations appealed to my daughter. The poems she found less appealing. I thought back to my own preschool years and realised that my mother read me a lot of nursery rhymes, and I realised that unless children are exposed to such rhymes at the right age, parents have missed the window. This leads me to wonder how relevant those nursery rhymes really are, because I’ve been quite neglectful about reading them to our own preschooler. So much more is available now, and a lot of it is, frankly, a lot more interesting than the classic lullabies. Yet there’s something about a classic — I think it’s knowing that every single one of your recent ancestors knew the same one. Still, if it’s continuity we’re after, there’s always mitochondria, which will never let us down.

Related Links: Where Children Sleep – James Mollison Photographs; A Book Of Sleep, reviewed by Brain Pickings; Best Read Aloud Books For Before Bed from Education Matters

10 Things I Never Said Before I Was A Parent

1. I don’t know. Where did you leave it?

2. Well that’s what happens when you play silly beggars with your bread.

3. [Walk] normal.

4. Is it wees or poos?

5. Did you remember to put your knickers back on?

6. Sneeze into your elbow.

7. Only adults can say that word.

8. I have absolutely no idea [who planted that tree, why that man is standing over there].

9. Storms are fun.

10. Because I said so!

What I’d Like The World To Know About Bananas

1. You can take scratches out of your DVDs and CDs using a banana. Apparently. If anyone wants to try this and get back, I’d be grateful.

2. Buying fairtrade bananas is worth it. A non-issue here in Australia, because bananas are proudly Australian made. But important in New Zealand and elsewhere. If anyone is in any doubt about this, listen to Harriet Lamb speak about bananas and fair trade on Radio New Zealand.

3. You can freeze bananas. They will turn black. But they will still be okay on the inside. You take them out of the freezer, defrost them a little in the microwave oven, cut the black skin off and chop it into chunks for a fruit smoothie. Your smoothie will have the texture of icecream. Alternatively, you can defrost your banana completely, chop off one end, and squeeze its (unflatteringly phallic) contents into a bowl and make banana muffins.

That is what I would like to tell the world about bananas.

But don’t be surprised if, every now and then, you find one of these at the bottom of your freezer. If it’s squashed AND black, you can go right ahead and call it goneski.

Also Important: Chowhound asks, What’s the point of bananas in ice-cream sundaes?

Eating bananas with dark patches can help fight cancer, apparently, which leads me to see the world of food in a dichotomy of cancer causing and cancer fighting, mutually exclusive groups. Aren’t there some foods out there which are just neutral?

And how to make yourself feel really bad about eating bananas. Here, and here.

31 Days Of Bananas from Food Network

Bits and Bobs

Cleaning out my top drawer reminds me of that one time last year when I cleaned up the socks.

I went through all the sock drawers in the house and found a sum total of 46 odd socks, clogging up the bedrooms, making everything messy and unworkable and generally slovenly. A thief going through our bedroom drawers might have thought we had a strange and unnatural attachment to socks. (Thieves must see some sights.)

Amazed at how much easier it was to find an actual pair of socks after all the odds had gone into the bin and off to the dump, I was inspired to clean out the linen cupboard.

I found a bag of odd socks. Approximately 46 of them. I’d completely forgotten that I’d done this exact exercise six months prior. The mates had somehow turned up, as I’d expected them to, and found their way back into the drawers, widowed and lonely. A sock never looks so alone as when it’s in a crowd.

But I couldn’t match them up, could I. The pairs were gone, gone, gone.

I even had to go out and buy new socks due to a dire shortage of the things.

Cleaning out my desk drawer is like that because I find numerous items that look like they belong to something expensive and important. They’ve been in my drawer for years, and I have completely forgotten what they’re for.

from the top drawer of my desk

As you can see, these are the sorts of things which are darned annoying if you can’t find them.

In all likelihood, I’ve long since disposed of the parts they belong to. But what if I throw them out tomorrow? The bin man comes on Wednesday. Sure as eggs, I’ll find their mother gadgets on the Thursday.

I’ll keep you informed.

And if anyone here has a superlative sense of smell, there is a spray bottle of something in the garage. I have a vague recollection of tipping some liquid into it ready for spraying something. I think that something was the car. It might be Bug Off, for windscreens. Or it might be vinyl protector. I have failed to determine its contents by aroma, so I think I’m just going to have to throw it out.   I don’t want my glass turning into vinyl, or my vinyl morphing into glass.

Labels. I am definitely going to start labelling things. Just like I’m going to start jamming the lid back firmly after using the cream cleanser or the PVA glue.

On Antiheroes

Anti-hero is a slippery term that can cause a lot of confusion. Simply stated, an anti-hero is not the opposite of a hero, but a specilized kind of hero, one who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whome the audience is basically in sympathy. We identify with these outsiders because we have all felt like outsiders at one time or another.

The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler

1. Are You Sick Of TV Antiheroes from LA Times. I’m not. In fact, when I count up my most favouritist TV shows from the last few years, they have been about antiheroes: Tony Soprano, Walter White, Nate Fisher (who, let’s face it, is a bit of a tool). It’s fair to say that I have a thing about anti-heroes.

2. The Top 10 Fictional Antiheroes from Litreactor. It would seem most antiheroes are male, but this list includes some women.

3. A great definition of antihero, and a list of examples, can be found at TV Tropes.

4. The Likability Trap: We like to root for the antihero, but not for the antiheroine, from Bitch Media

5. A Day In the Life of a Troubled Male Antihero from Toast

6. Writing The Antihero (And Why So Many Authors Get It Wrong) from The Passive Voice

How do you feel about antihero protagonists?

Links On Clothes For People Who Are Ambivalent About Clothes

Most costume dramas, whether on stage or film, tend to assume that fashions came and went in the past much as they do today. But it’s only in the last fifty or sixty years that there’ve been large retail outlets like Burton’s or M&S which have homogenised fashion. Before that, the latest thing must have impinged on ordinary lives much less, so that there would be characters in 1830 still groing around in the fashions of 1800, say. My grandmother in 1949 was still wearing the long duster coats she had worn in 1920 and Queen Mary looked like an Edwardian lady all her life: dying in the fifties, she still dressed as she had in 1910. Look at Ford Madox Brown’s Work: only the middle and upper classes are dressed in a contemporary way; the workmen, the flower seller and the poorer characters are dressed in what comes to hand – fashion doesn’t enter into it. Portraits, too, are deceptive as the sitters generally choose to be in their Sunday best.

– Alan Bennett, diary 13 April 1997

Here are some more very important things to form an opinion about.

1. Corsets: Not Anatomical Torture Machines After All from The Mary Sue, which aims to debunk the myth that corsets were all that bad, although I still think they were bad enough to complain about. The Hairpin also did a story about corsets around that time: I Don’t Need To Wear A Corset, and I realised both articles were in response to: Everything You Know About Corsets Is False by Lisa Hix, who has written a book about them.

2. Teenagers Wear Pajamas to School, Erode Moral Fiber of Society from Jezebel, in response to Why Not Wear Pajamas All Day? in the Wall Street Journal, which is in response to the fact that wearing pajamas is the latest teenage fashion in some parts of America. What they don’t know is that it was fashionable in New Zealand a decade back, when I was a university student. I suppose they think they invented it. (See also: How To Look Like Shit, which is all about looking effortlessly sloppy and it involves a lot of care and attention, by the way.)

3. 125 Years Of Holding Women Responsible For Laundry from Sociological Images is a series of advertisements for laundry products in which each of the people depicted is a woman. Are we surprised? Just once, I’d like to see a man (with no woman in sight) doing washing (adeptly and smilingly) on a television commercial… in a non-ironic way. I would totally switch to that brand.

4. How To Become A Fashion Eccentric, a handy set of guidelines from Slate Magazine.

5. Work At Home Wardrobes: How Bad Can They Get? from Huffington Post Books

6. Your Insistence On Wearing High Heels Is Ruining Your Life, from Jezebel

7. H&M Puts Real Model Heads On Fake Bodies, also from Jezebel

8. QMiltch: A New Fabric Created From Milk, from Lost At E-Minor (not a Simpsons plot)

9. High Heels Are The New Lipstick Index, from Jezebel, which is also useful if, like me, you didn’t actually know what the lipstick index was either. But you may have heard about the Hemline Index. Which is a myth.

10. Using Viruses To Dye Your Clothes, from io9

11. Researchers Create Fabric That Converts Body Heat Into Electricity, from Mashable Tech

12. Need to pay close attention to a tricky task? Try slipping on a simple white lab coat, from Miller McCune

13. Regular Dresses Too Regular For You? Try some hairy ones, from The Frisky

14. Why Do We Wear Clothes? from My Science Academy

15. Dying For Some New Clothes: Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza Tragedy from Time

16. Ethical Fashion: Is The Tragedy In Bangladesh A Final Straw? from NPR

17. How Clothes Should Fit (a guide for men, by the looks)

18. Why I Wear What I Do from Whatever makes the link between clothing choice and privilege

19. Office Work It from Bad Reputation, about how office uniforms (and pseudo-uniforms) brand employees in various ways, including sexist and demeaning ways.

20. Psychology of Lululemon: How Fashion Affects Fitness from The Atlantic

no. greater. feeling.