Category: hullabaloo

Indo-European Root of the Day: Stevedore


Watching season 2 of The Wire, which takes place largely at the Port of Baltimore, got me interested in the word stevedore. This is a fancy word for longshoreman, which itself is a fancy word for “guy who loads and unloads ship cargo.” Baltimore stevedores (that’s a fun thing to say) and their corrupt union practices are central to the show, and I wondered where such a unique word came from. We get the word from Spanish cognate estivador, which is the noun version of the verb estivar which means “to stow cargo.”

Take the word back far enough and we arrive at our IE root, steibh or steip. This root word means press or stick together – like packing cargo, individual parts or products put together for storage on a vessel. The word also carries a connotation of repetition and routine. The stevedores move containers from the ship and stack them in precise rows and columns on land. (Unless they’re working some side jobs for the Greeks and then things get a bit messy!)

In Latin the root becomes stip-, from which we get stipes, a tree trunk (how steibh came to mean this is mysterious), and stipare, compress. From Latin we get stiff, stipple (to paint a surface with tiny dots or marks over and over again (think Georges Seurat)), stipend (a regular fixed pay), stipulate, constipation (a whole different kind of stuck together), and, lastly, through Spanish, stevedore.

Found Poetry: The Crab Nebula and the Sounds of Pulsars


MinnPost has a nifty feature where they pick a “website of the day” and highlight that site on their main page. Today’s site of the day is good stuff for the astronomy enthusiast – a link to NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day project. Today’s picture is of the Crab Nebula, which was formed in a supernova – a supernova so spectacular it was noted and recorded here on Earth – in 1054 AD! At the center of the nebula is a neutron star, a super-dense star. This one is actually a pulsar – it’s highly magentized, so it spins and throws off radiation. Now here’s the cool part: we can listen to pulsars. This radiation blip is like clockwork, so you can hear each rotation tick off as it turns. (You can hear some of them anyway; the pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula rotates 30 times a second, so it sounds more like a constant whir.) It may not be the prettiest sound in the world, but just think about it: you’re listening to a star!

So here you go: The Crab Nebula, and the sounds of stars.

Found Poetry: Eyesight to the Blind


I heard this incredible story on All Things Considered today, about a man in his 80s, who has been blind for ten years, and how he has begun to see hallucinations. Essentially, his vision receptors are bored. They’re not getting signals from the eyes anymore, so they’re starting to make things up on their own. He sees some really beautiful stuff – nothing prophetic or anything like that, but these simple images that seem to give him a great deal of comfort.

Found Poetry: The TV Movie


There’s something about watching a movie you own on TV. Even though you own the movie, and you could watch it any time you want, you still sit through it when it’s on TV, enduring the ridiculous edits, commercial breaks, and the dreaded “pan and scan.” Why? I think it has to do with the understanding that something you love is also loved by many other people – enough people to warrant your loved film being broadcast on TV. What you get is this sort of communal love (the non-creepy kind) – you and the people who understand this little part of you curling up together on the couch and enjoying a good flick. Only your couch has really, really big cushions. There’s something deeply human about this kind of sharing, something very primal that goes back to campfires and tribal dances and sharing stories. It’s weird to think that these ancient urges revisit us in such strange ways, but it’s also a comfort to know that there are parts of our anatomy, soul, collective unconscious, whatever you’d like to call it – that live on and adapt to whatever the contemporary world throws at us.

Found Poetry: The Sandwich


I was reading Kat’s blog earlier and amongst some other nice (and rather poetic) observations, she mentioned going with Erik, her boyfriend, to the tidepools with a couple of sandwiches. So I got to thinking about sandwiches. The poetry of sandwiches. The word “sandwich” itself is a real – forgive me – mouthful. It requires a lot of lip-smacking and tongue movement. “Sandwich” seems to get your mouth moving and your appetite revved up.

The sandwich is a major food technology. Think about it. Is there no more perfect way to get food into your mouth as a sandwich? First, you’ve got the bread. For many, bread is just the sandwich receptacle, the medium for the food. But done right, the bread is nearly a meal itself – think thick sourdough, meaty Germanic pumpernickel (another word loaded with poetry). And within those two slices of goodness, the potential is limitless. The basic American sandwich is highly satisfying: ham/turkey/roast beef, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles. But wait. Maybe corned beef? Pastrami? Both? Pepperjack, aged gouda? Spinach, baby greens, sauerkraut, sundried tomatoes? Dill, sweet a wedge on the side? Toasted bread and some chunks of avocado and other veggies? Onions (red, white, yellow, sweet)? And we’re still inside the box here. How about tuna salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, PB&J, triple-decker club? And even…the ice cream sandwich.

What I’m saying is, the sandwich is an infinite contraption, suitable for any meal, any time of day. And there’s nothing a poet loves so much as something infinite. And not only is the sandwich infinite, it’s satisfying as hell. Munching through layers of food, crusty bread crusts – few forms of eating feel this good. In poetry, finding something that is both infinite and satisfying is rare indeed, and worthy of praise. Who’s hungry?

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