Monthly Archives: March 2007

Ridiculous releases and stern words

March 30, 2007

Meredith Burgmann was, until recently, the president of the NSW Legislative Council. She recently retired.

Meredith Burgmann, collector of political idiocy

While in her position, she enjoyed a sideline hobby collecting the headlines from politicians’ press releases. It turns out to have been a highly entertaining hobby and she sent a list of her favourites to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Macdonald’s cuts paperwork required for sheep movements

Pensioners take to the bus as pet sales soar in outer metro regions

Three bus Barry exposed on public transport (again)

Campbell humiliated by parrot

Strike backyard breeders off your Christmas list

Dogs, goats, alpacas, leeches: threats to our meter readers

Stoner ignorant on ethanol: Martin

Minister launches Australia’s biggest obesity trial

Tips for toddlers adjusting to end of daylight saving

Self-milking cows – a dairy farmer’s dream

And my personal favourite:

Is this the end of parmesan cheese?

Is it? By the gods, no! I’d better get hold of that press release and see if my parmesan cheese enjoying days are numbered.

On the subject of political ramblings, and in the most tenuous segue to date, there’s a lot of hubbub about climate change here at the moment. Obviously, that’s a good thing. It would be nice if we left a habitable planet for our children. Or we could at least concentrate on building them rockets so they could go and find another one as soon as possible.

A lot of the current dialogue centres around a review by Sir Nicholas Stern, explaining how ignoring climate change would be a far greater economic disaster than tackling it. He’s talking the language of politics, at least, putting a dollar value on all possible outcomes. But to me, the best thing about this is that it’s called The Stern Review.

Was there ever a better named paper?

Sir Nicholas Stern. Go get ’em, Tiger!

Is your fantasy epic derivative trash?

March 30, 2007

I don’t tend to write too much in the medieval fantasy, cavorting elves and grumbling dwarves vein of fantasy. Nonetheless, this list from cracked me up. In particular, I enjoyed no. 33.

Click here for the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam.

Strange annotations II

March 27, 2007

I thought I’d figured out what was causing all those strange !–[if !supportEmptyParas]– and !–[endif]– codes that pop up in Internet Explorer. Alas, I haven’t fixed it. I have no idea why it’s happening and will continue to try to find out what’s going on. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know (email in the sidebar or comment here).

Anyway, I stand by my previous recommendation. Stop using IE and get yourself onto Mozilla Firefox. It’s free, it’s much better than IE and it’s not Microsoft. What more could you ask for?

Reading recommendations

March 27, 2007

A reader directed me to check out a beta version of a new website called Story Code. It’s a site to compare novels, where readers enter details of books they’ve enjoyed by way of a coding system. That system then draws comparisons to other books in the site’s database and offers further reading recommendations of similar novels.

I entered the details for RealmShift and it came back with this list of recommendations:

Of Saints and Shadows (Christopher Golden) 76.67

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) 73.11 %

That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis) 72.76 %

Furies of Calderon (Jim Butcher) 72.74 %

Darkhenge (Catherine Fisher) 72.68 %

Spares (Michael Marshall Smith) 72.47 %

Fiasco (Stanislaw Lem) 72.09 %

Storm Front (Jim Butcher) 72.05 %

Dead Beat (Jim Butcher) 71.76 %

Under the Skin (Michel Faber) 71.54 %

Fire Sea (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman) 71.09 %

Necromancers, The (Robert Hugh Benson) 70.95 %

His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman) 70.93 %

American Gods (Neil Gaiman) 70.88 %

Ender`s Game (Orson Scott Card) 70.73 %

Time Pressure (Spider Robinson) 70.53 %

Dhampir (Barb & J.C. Hendee) 70.32 %

Strata (Terry Pratchett) 70.19 %

A Midsummer Night`s Scream (Jill Churchill) 69.97 %

Elfsorrow (James Barclay) 69.92 %

That’s a pretty good list and, of course, only includes books that others have so far coded into the site. The more people that put in books, the better the recommendations should get.

The coding system is very simple, with slider bars that you set for each question. It only takes a minute or two and the questions they ask are pretty good for getting the feel of a book.

You can find two versions of the site, a UK one and a US one. I’m not entirely sure why they’ve split the project this way. I think it could cause confusion over time, but one sign-on will work for both sites. If a book was published in the UK you’ll have to enter it in the UK site, for example. Still, that one bit of strangeness aside, it looks like a pretty interesting idea.

You can find the sites at and Sign up and see what you think. If anyone that has read RealmShift would be so kind as to code it in, I would be most grateful. It’ll be interesting to see how the recommendations change as more people put in their ideas of the book.

Mean car park

March 27, 2007

A reader of The Word from Wellington in New Zealand sent me this picture that he thought I’d like.

He was right – I do like it. It’s such a mean sign. This is a car park and it’s for the public. But it’s closed. Permanently! Mwaaahahaha!

Why don’t they just put up a No Entry sign or something? There’s no need to rub it in. A locked gate would have done the same job as that sign, without being nearly so offensive. It’s like having a sign saying



The prevalence of the McWord

March 22, 2007

We’ve all heard one variety or another. When the great anti-nutrition factory, McDonald’s, began naming lots of its products with a Mc prefix, the floodgates were opened. There’s a McMuffin, a McFeast, even a McCafe for lovers of truly awful coffee. Here in Australia we have a McOz burger. The Mc’s are regional.


However, given McDonald’s fast growing reputation as a provider of things with little or no value beyond superficial crave-numbing, the Mc prefix has found its way into popular parlance on a number of topics, none of them complimentary.

The Sydney Morning Herald today reports that executives at Maccy D’s HQ in Illinois are incensed at the use of the word McJob. The Oxford English Dictionary (so well respected that it’s recognised by its acronym alone) has listed the word McJob and defined it as:

“an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

Sounds pretty accurate to me. The McD execs, however, claim that the definition is insulting. They say, “Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy.” Thin ice there, guys. Restaurants are supposed to offer high quality nutrition in a pleasant environment.

This is nothing new. In 2003 McDonald’s tried to get the Merriam-Webster dictionary to remove the word. They had it defined as:

“a low-paying job that requires little skill and little opportunity for advancement.”

The dictionary claimed that its definition was accurate and appropriate. Moving on from mopping floors to mass-frying chips is hardly advancement, after all.

So a McJob is a well defined and accepted word. If the OED backs it, then who are we to argue? We even have our own McWord here in Australia. With the recent passion for building huge, hideous architecturally designed homes (as opposed to homes designed by badgers?) the term McMansion has been coined and listed in Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary. Waterfront McMansions around Sydney Harbour are a particular cause for dismay among people that can’t afford them. The McMansion term has spread too and is popular in other countries now.

As a martial artist I’ve known the terms McDojo and McKwoon for years, describing a martial arts school that is run by a teacher lacking in skills and designed to advance students to black belt as quickly as possible whilst removing as much of their disposable income as possible along the way.

A friend of mine in England smiled when I watched a Smart Car go along the road. Tiny and doing wonders for the environmental impact of road travel, it is nonetheless a strange looking vehicle. “Bit of a McMotor, isn’t it!” my friend commented.

The fast rise, particularly in the US, of megachurches has given concurrent rise to the term McChurch.


It would seem that the Mc prefix is usable for just about anything that is useless, superficial, pointless or lacking in substance, particularly if it tries to take a lot of money from you at the same time.

Coca no more

March 19, 2007

Bolivian coca farmers are trying to pressure one of the world’s largest companies to abandon one of the world’s most recognisable brands. Bolivia is rewriting its constitution and wants to re-establish the standing of the humble coca leaf to its religious and cultural importance once more. The move could force the Bolivian government into legal battles with the likes of Coca-Cola and any others that use the name of the leaf.

The coca leaf and a couple of its derivatives

I know what you’re thinking – Who else uses the word Coca? I wondered the same thing. A quick Google search reveals a few interesting answers. The Canadian Organization of Campus Activities;, a UK based charity; the Centre on Contemporary Art in Seattle; the Centre Of Contemporary Art in New Zealand; the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia and so on. Bolivia could spend decades in court. Incidentally, I wonder why the folk in Seattle have a centre on contemporary art while the Kiwis have a centre of it. I think the New Zealanders have a better grammatical handle on that one.

Of course, all of this is ignoring the fact that the coca leaf is much maligned as it is the base ingredient of cocaine. Coca-Cola the beverage was originally marketed as a health tonic and medicine and contained coca leaves. Initially the prescribed dose was five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of Coke. That’s a pretty major hit. Apparently, Coke went on to use “spent” coca leaves, which are the leaves after the process of cocaine-extraction, with cocaine only present in molecular traces. Still…

“Ah! Coca-Cola, symbol of the Free West!”

Coca-Cola claims never to have used cocaine in its recipe and refuses to this day to admit whether or not “spent” coca leaves are part of its secret formula. Until a few years ago, company bought tonnes of leaves annually, so it’s a pretty safe guess that the leaves are used in Coke production. Apparently there is now just one plant in the US, in New Jersey, with Federal Government approval to grow coca plants for the production of Coca-Cola.

It will be interesting to see if Bolivia ever does mount a campaign to make Coca-Cola change the name of its flagship product. It is, after all, one of the most recognised names and symbols in the world and has even led to the invention of a new word. With Coke often being seen as the symbol of America itself, the great free West and land of a million dreams (shattered, for the most part) the term Coca-Colanization has grown in reference to the spread of American culture on a global scale. Perhaps that’s reason enough to back the Bolivians on this one.

Strange annotation

March 16, 2007

It’s been pointed out to me that a number of posts here at The Word are coming out a bit strangely when the site is viewed through Internet Explorer 7. There are occasional !–[if !supportEmptyParas]– type things cropping up.

I don’t know why this is and I’m looking into it. However, if you use Mozilla Firefox for your browser you won’t have noticed this, as it’s not happening there. Yet another reason, as if more reasons were needed, not to use Microsoft’s IE7.

I’ll get it fixed up as soon as I can.

World changing words in Sydney

March 15, 2007

Every once in a while a book comes along that really changes the world. I’m not talking about publishing phenomenons like the Harry Potter books or John Grisham’s superselling novels. I’m talking about a book that stops the world in its tracks and makes everyone perform an intellectual backflip.

Not a world changing book – just a lesson in Marketing excellence

One of those books, without a doubt, is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin Of Species. Whether the backflip performed is one of outrage like the Creationists, who refuse to accept its message while happily believing a work of fiction constructed by countless, agenda-driven authors and editors over centuries, or a backflip of intellectual realisation in agreement with Darwin’s theories, the impact is no less massive.

Why am I ranting on about this? Do I need a reason? It’s a great book. But, as it happens, I do have a reason. The new NSW State Librarian, Regina Sutton, has just made her first purchase for the State Library of NSW and it’s a doozy. A first edition of Darwin’s On the Origins of Species (or On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life to give it its full title), one of only 1,250 printed in 1859. As an original it is without the later annotations that Darwin added in an effort to appease all the religious hullabaloo.

Sutton got the book at auction in London and paid the equivalent of AU$191,000 for it. That’s quite a price tag. If you want to read it yourself, you don’t need to remortgage your house. You can get a free read online.

Incidentally, following on from a recent post on The Word identifying a number of famous quotes that were never actually uttered by the people they are credited to, a big one exists in association with Charles Darwin. He didn’t write the famous “survival of the fittest” quote. An economist named Herbert Spencer coined that phrase.

A hilarious Darwin cartoon from Hornet Magazine – they sure knew how to satirise in those days

The Lady Mondegreen

March 13, 2007

An ongoing series of letters in the Sydney Morning Herald recently has been discussing the strange words people think they hear in verse and songs. It all started with one person asking what ‘gibbous’ meant, in reference to a gibbous moon. (To put that to rest early, gibbous refers to the moon when it is more than half full but not yet completely full).

Some wit responded to the enquiry that the word originates in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Gibbous this day our daily bread’. Other amateur comedians leapt in with such classics as ‘Freezer jolly good fellow’ and the like.

These are examples of a unique phenomenon known as a ‘mondegreen’ (sometimes mondagreen). This term, which encompasses all such mis-heard phrases, comes from the American writer Sylvia Wright who coined it in an essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen”, which was published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1954. She wrote:

“When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques. One of my favorite poems began, as I remember:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray
And Lady Mondegreen.”

The actual line is “And laid him on the green”. It comes from an anonymous 17th Century ballad called ‘The Bonnie Earl O’Murray’. Wright goes on to call any such misinterpretation a mondegreen and a new word was born.

Perhaps one of the most famous modern mondegreens is from that great classic by Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze – ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy!’ The correct line is, of course, ‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky’.

One for the Americans here, with their National Anthem often considered an ode to Jose. Comedian Bill Dana played a Hispanic character Jose Jimenez and claimed an entire stadium were singing directly to him before a ballgame, “José, can you see?”

The American Pledge of Allegiance is a minefield of mondegreens:

I pledge a lesion to the flag, of the United State of America, and to the republic for Richard Stans, one naked individual, with liver tea and just this for all.

You’ll notice that this is the original Pledge. Contrary to popular opinion, the words ‘under god’ were added by an American army Colonel in the 1950’s. But that could equally have been mondergreened to ‘one naked underdog’ or something similar.

I had my own embarrassing episode many years ago when I experienced a multiple mondegreen pile-up. A friend of mine was enthusiastically singing along to a Metallica song and he yelled, “Temperature!” for the key line. Laughing loudly, I corrected him. “It’s not temperature, you idiot. It’s Saboteur!” To which a third friend fell about laughing and finally managed to catch breath and correct us both. The line (in fact the title of the song) is ‘Sad But True’. I maintain to this day that I was a lot closer. I mean, really – temperature?

Another personal favourite is “The girl with colitis goes by” from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles, which should be, as I’m sure you all know, “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes”.

Feel free to share any of your own mondegreens and remember, it’s quite possible that there are a bunch of them swimming around in your mind that you’re not even aware of yet. Sad, but true.


The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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