Wednesday, January 25, 2006

grasping at fins

good things, like enlarged pelvic muscles and grasping fins in the males of a species, come in small packages. i think when you live in acid and lack a protective head skeleton, you realize what's really important in life.

AP Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 06:32 GMT BANGKOK, Thailand - Scientists have discovered the world's smallest fish on record in an acidic peat swamp in Indonesia, with a see-through body and a head that is unprotected by a skeleton, researchers said Wednesday.

Mature females of the Paedocypris progenetica, a member of the carp family, only grow to 7.9 millimeters (0.31 inches) and the males have enlarged pelvic fins and exceptionally large muscles that may be used to grasp the females during copulation, researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, published Wednesday by the Royal Society in London.

"This is one of the strangest fish that I've seen in my whole career,' said Ralf Britz, zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who helped analyze the fish's skeleton. "It's tiny, it lives in acid and it has these bizarre grasping fins. I hope we'll have time to find out more about them before their habitat disappears completely."

The previous record for small size, according to the Natural History Museum in London, was held by an 8-millimeter species of Indo-Pacific goby.

The new fish was discovered on Sumatra island by fish experts Maurice Kottelat from Switzerland and Tan Heok Hui from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in Singapore. They were working with colleagues from Indonesia and with Kai-Erik Witte from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

"You don't wake up in the morning and think today we will find the smallest fish in the world," Kottelat told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Switzerland.

He said the record of finding the world's smallest fish was not important, preferring to focus on what he said was "scientifically significant."

"What's important is finding a complete vertebrae in a body so small," he said.

Kottelat said he first came across the fish in 1996, but originally misidentified it as a member of an already existing species. "But then we realized this one was different."

According to the researchers, the fish live in dark, tea-colored water with an acidity of ph 3, at least 100 times more acidic than rainwater. Swamps like this were once thought to harbor very few animals, but recent research has revealed that they are highly diverse and home to many species that occur nowhere else.

Peat swamps are under threat in Indonesia from fires lit by plantation owners and farmers as well as unchecked development and farming. Several populations of Paedocypris have already been lost, researchers say, according to the Natural History Museum.

Associated Press writer Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report

possible segues: size does matter...; in other news...; are there plenty of fish in the sea...; the dangers of holding on loosely...

BBC Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 14:38 GMT
By Richard Black

Environment Correspondent, BBC News website, Darwin

Whale sharks spotted off the coast of Australia are getting smaller, researchers have said.

In a decade the average size recorded by observers has shrunk from 7m to 5m.

Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, are caught for food in some east Asian countries and Australian researchers suspect this is causing a decline.

"Now, if you consider that the sharks probably aren't sexually reproductive or mature until they're 6 or 7m long - that's a very worrying sign."

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are filter feeders, eating small marine organisms such as krill.

They can live for up to 150 years, attaining lengths of more than 15m, and are believed to reach sexual maturity around the age of 30.

Under the IUCN Red List of threatened species, they are categorised as "vulnerable" to extinction.

"Whale sharks, like many other shark species, are highly vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their long lifespan and low reproductive rate," commented Callum Roberts, of York University in the UK, who has researched whale sharks extensively in the Caribbean.

Finding migration routes could help pinpoint areas where they are being caught.

"Many of the people doing the fishing are just local villagers with no other option," said Mark Meekan.

Longer term objectives of the Aims programme include finding out more about the life cycle of the whale shark.

The biggest mystery concerns breeding and reproduction; males and females live in largely segregated communities, but must come together somewhere to breed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

patent your brain

or face the realization that your brain could also belong to some dude that's from berkeley and who sports a ponytail.

consider yourself warned!

nick has my brain.

Passion and Etymology

Disclaimer: I seem to be kind of harsh on linguistics lately. Please don’t think I have anything special against it, or against linguist bloggers. Some of my best friends, as the saying goes, are linguists who blog, and I adore Language Log. But….

Arnold Zwicky at Language Log has an interesting post on the “etymological fallacy.” It involves a quotation in which someone talks about the historical connection between passion and suffering (in the context of encouraging people to differentiate what you’re passionate about from what you like):

This does not mean that pursuing a mission is always pleasurable: we do not agree with the pop psychology view that equates meaningful work with fun. Indeed, the etymological root of ‘passion’ is passe – or ‘to suffer.’ We are aware that pursuing a noble mission is often painful…

Zwicky replies:

The noun stem passio:n- originally would have meant ‘suffering’, and indeed passion is still used in this sense in the very specialized context of the sufferings of Jesus (The Passion of the Christ, passion play, etc.). But early on—the OED Online draft revision of 2005 lays out these changes in some detail—it developed not only an ‘undergoing’ sense (‘fact or condition of being acted upon’) parallel to that of patient and passive, a sense that seems to have gone out of fashion some 500 years ago, but also a separate extended sense, a generalization from experiencing pain to experiencing any sort of intense feeling or emotion, especially love or sexual desire (_His voice was husky with passion_), or, in another direction, enthusiasm or zeal (_a passion for astrology_), or, in still another direction, anger or rage (_a fit of passion_).

The result of all this semantic radiation, generalization, and specialization is that modern English passion has a variety of senses—among them, love or desire, enthusiasm or zeal, and anger or rage (all attested from the 16th century on)—that are not directly connected to one another and have nothing in particular to do with suffering.

Now, let’s begin by granting that we shouldn’t all suddenly stop using “passion” the way we did yesterday. It still gets to mean infatuation, and so forth, and it still gets to be used in “passion play,” and we don’t have to find a way for those two usages to be identical. This is what I take Zwicky to mean by “not directly connected.” But should we also suppose that there is no continuing interaction between these different meanings of the word? I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but understanding a tiny smidge about, say, early Christianity, has had a non-trivial impact on the way I use the word, the way I think about it, and the situations in which I would apply it, and I’m willing to guess I’m not the only person writing in the English language today for whom this is true. In that case, there’s really nothing at all wrong with someone pointing out that there’s a difference between passion and liking, or, even, referencing the etymology in the process.

Of course, one could come back with a claim that we’re all laboring under an etymological fallacy, and this is quite possibly the case, but it’s also a reality of how we really use the word. (And don’t we all know by now that wishful prescriptivism about how to use words in the face of how people really use words is a bad, bad thing perpetrated by bad, bad people? There’s a hole in my reasoning here, I know, and I’ll get back to you on that.)

There’s also, perhaps, a point to be made regarding the original expansion in meaning. Zwicky calls it “a generalization from experiencing pain to experiencing any sort of intense feeling or emotion,” which I’m sure is true, but I had the impression—and feel free to heap invective on me via comment or email if I’m wrong here, as my classical education is almost as inadequate as my linguistics education—that there was also an implicit connection, in the context of ancient psychology, between intensity itself and suffering—that at the heart of romantic love and other “passions” is already a kind of suffering or dis-ease. And even if I’m not historically grounded here, I think we can do some perennialist psychology and just say there really is such a connection, trans-historically, biotch. To quote Roy Orbison:

Love hurts
Love scars
Love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough
Or strong enough

To take a lot of pain
Take a lot of pain

If this is so, and if there was some intuitive connection at work in the original process by which “passion” acquired new meanings, what’s wrong with reminding people of the historical connection?

Note: To return to that earlier hole (orig. “whole”—Nicklexia strikes again) in my reasoning, I was conflating “possibly spurious claims regarding historical linguistics” with “usage”, i.e., suggesting that when someone makes a claim about, say, the meaning of a word, their claim is itself a real linguistic phenomenon which descriptivists are honor-bound to take seriously as such. In doing so, I probably overstate my case somewhat. Attacks by linguists on false or misapplied etymologies are more on the nature of sometimes excessive, sometimes justified, fact-checking by specialists.

But, in this case, it’s a little different from, say, bitching about how you can hear TIE fighters go by in Star Wars, where the obvious response is, “Yes, you’re right, but lighten up, man, it’s a space opera.” (Note: I’ve been on either side of that one plenty of times, so don’t think I’m innocent of nitpicking.) Or, more linguistically, the recent rant in Languagehat on NYT’s bad instruction on the pronunciation of “quipu,” which is wholly justified.

But spurious etymologies really are, sometimes, really part of how people really use language; it would obviously be insane to say either that (a) we must all use only correct etymologies, or (b) we must all never talk about etymology again. The etymological fallacy is, in a certain sense, just another linguistic phenomenon, even though it’s also an intrusion on the hallowed ground of linguistical expertise. Anyone who’s engaged in any kind of study of religion is familiar with the proliferation of spurious etymologies and place- and personal name etiologies; we don’t have records of language that go back too much farther than the sacred (and wildly unsound, etymology-wise) texts of the Judeo-Christian and Hindo-Buddhist worlds, (which were typically composed by the best-educated and most historically conscious members of their communities) so, while it may or may not be the case that “The persistence of the Etymological Fallacy among intellectuals is in some ways deeply puzzling,” it’s certainly not in the least surprising, and to say otherwise is to demonstrate a certain disregard for the history of intellectuals and ideas, as well as writing and, probably, speaking.

And while it’s become fashionable in some circles, especially on the internet, to bash the somewhat loose way of religious teachings with facts (obviously I’m not talking about Language Log here), the practice of enriching language with meaning through creative historical linguistics is probably indispensable to many sacred paths, and I would be hard-pressed to reject those paths, or the vitally important contributions they’ve made to human thought…(Though certainly I’ve been known to say some unkind things about translations of the Vajracchedika, known as the “Diamond Sutra” throughout much of history, including the present.)

p.s. i didn't want to edit all of that so there's a lot of hyperlinks missing from nick's post. go follow the link already.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

29 things

my birthday is coming up. i will be turning 29 on february 28th. last year was my golden birthday. to gear up, i've decided to compile 29 things about me in the more than 29 days between now and then. it's like 43things or allconsuming, but actually it will be exactly different. i won't put any links in my list. the buck will stop here, once i begin here that is. right now, we're still in the prologue so i can send you there.

content (v.) Look up content at
1418, from M.Fr. contenter, from content (adj.), c.1400, from L. contentus "contained, satisfied," pp. of continere (see contain). Sense evolved through "contained," "restrained," to "satisfied," as the contented person's desires are bound by what he or she already has.

29 things

1. my sun sign is pisces. i've recently decided to never ever again read my horoscope as it's slowly transformed to something that invokes dread. i'm presently experiencing a deep need to feel as if all things are less pivotal. that said, i think i'm going to be blogging a lot about ocean creatures in the month between now and my birthday.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


twice in as many days, i've noticed my mind mashing words. namely:

"still talk" > stalk
"shallow wallow" > swallow

that's about all.

i did go try to look up the etymology of the word shallow. i didn't find anything exciting but i did for some reason hit upon this list of standard english words which have a scandinavian origin [remember to track my ongoing scour of scandinavia]. you can view the full list at, and let me thank scandinavia in general for these:

Abbreviations: E = English. ME = Middle English. SE = Standard English. Ice = Icelandic. Swe = Swedish. O Swe = Old Swedish. Dan = Danish. Nor = Norwegian. Scan = Scandinavian (in general). Fr = French. Du = Dutch. vb = verb. n = noun. adj = adjective. advb = adverb.

balderdash (n) Poor stuff. Scan. Originally meant a poor or weak drink. Dan balder (noise, clatter) dask (to slap, flap). Compare with E slap-dash.

brunt (n) Shock of an onset. Scan => ME brunt (an attack). Ice bruna (to advance with the speed of fire, as in battle) from Ice bruni (burning, heat). To 'bear the brunt of something' is used in contemporary E with the meaning 'to take the main weight (or first shock) of some occurrence or action'.

cock (n) A pile of hay. Dan kok (a heap), Ice kökkr (lump, ball), Swe koka (clod of earth).

dairy (n) Scan => ME deyerye (a room for a deye, i.e., a milk-woman or farm servant). Ice deigja, Swe deja (a maid, dairymaid who was also a bread-maker. The original sense is 'kneader of dough').

freckle (n) A small spot of skin colouring. Ice freknur, Swe fräkne, Dan fregne (a freckle).

froth (n, vb) Foam on liquids. Scan => ME frothe. Ice froða, Dan fraade, Swe fradga.

dastard (n) Scan => ME dastard, where -ard is a Fr suffix. Ice dæstr (exhausted, weary). The original sense of the word is sluggard.

kidney (n) Scan. Corruption of the ME kidnere, kidneer. Ice kviðr (womb), Swe qved (womb) anotomically inappropriately combined with Ice nýra, Dan nyre, Swe njure (a kidney).

muck (n, vb) Filth, dirt. Ice myki (dung), Dan mög (dung). Dialectal in E but has now passed into SE usage. The verb form 'to muck (about)' means to behave irresponsible, to mess with things; the associated adjective is mucky.

pap (n) A teat, a breast. O Swe papp (the breast), changed in modern Swe to patt. Also Swe dialect pappe. Associated with E pap (an infant's soft food).

quandary (n) An evil plight. Ice vandræði (difficulty, trouble), O Swe wandräde (difficulty).

rigmarole (n) Scan and Fr-Latin. A corruption of ragman-roll, originally meaning a deed with many signatures, a long list of names, and hence a long, stupid story. Literally 'a cowards' roll'. Ice ragmenni (a coward) roll (list).

rump (n) Ice rumpr, Swe rumpa, Dan rumpe. Originally meant the bulk of the body without the head but now in SE indicates the buttocks, the 'rear-end' of a person.

thrust (n, vb) Ice þrýsta (to thrust, press, compel). Allied to the SE threat/threaten.

thwart (n, vb) Transverseley, transverse. Ice þvert (adverse), Dan tvær (transverse), Swe tvär (across). As a noun in E it is used mainly of transverse panels across a ship or boat, including seats, with the associated maritime term 'athwart' standing for 'across'. In its original maritime usage it probably indicated a part of a ship's architecture which prevented (thwarted) the ingress of water or the movement of cargo. The SE verb 'to thwart…something' means to prevent something happening or put some obstacle in the way, as in 'they thwarted his plan to become president'.

trist, tryst (n) An appointment to meet. Scan. Properly, a pledge. From traust (see trust).

want (n) Lack, deficiency. Scan => ME want. First used as an adjective signifying 'deficient'. Compare with Yorkshire dialect usage of a verb form in, for instance, 'the grass wants cutting', where 'want' stands for 'needs' or 'requires', whereas the SE would be 'the grass needs (or requires) cutting'.

whim (n) A freak. Ice hvima (to wander with the eyes, as of a silly person), Nor kvima (to whisk about, to trifle). Compare Swe dialect hvimmerkantig (giddy in the head) allied to Nor kvimsa, Swe dialect hvimsa, Dan vimse (To be giddy, to skip about). In modern SE the meaning is a sudden desire or notion to do something without a great deal of thought, as in 'she did it on a whim'.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

rock the cock

did you know i joined a badminton league? i did. it's through cmsa, i am now joining the chicago lesbigay community. HELL YEAH.

time for me to shine. really shine. like a bright star.

thanks, evan, for the totally rad e-card. now show me your bandy tits!