Sometimes I Do Other Things

Five minutes with cavendish

August 30. The word is cavendish.

This is a funny old word. I mean, it’s fun to say, but what does it mean?

Nothing, really.  I know it well as a proper noun since it’s the family name of a British peerage and I read entirely too many British historical romances, and that’s why it gets used as an adjective. Apparently those Cavendishes got around a lot and put the family name on any number of things. There’s Cavendish silver, and china, and also it’s a particular kind of tobacco. Not a brand, a type.

Cavendish tobacco is pressure-steamed and packed into cakes before being cut up or shredded for smoking in a pipe. Mmm, yummy. Now you know.

It does not mean “cave n’ dish.” Sorry. I was kinda hoping, when I looked up the etymology, but no. That would be funny, though. A cave in a dish. Tricky to make, I imagine. There would have to be dimensional warpage, or at least a portal of some kind.

What’s that? Now I’m being silly? (You only just noticed that? Where HAVE you been?)  A cave in a dish is no stranger than a door into another world located in the back of a wardrobe, is it? Or a telephone booth that can travel through time and space and maybe holds the entire universe inside. (I am vague on my Doctor Who canon. I confess that when I was watching it with Spouseman late Sunday nights in college, my mind was mostly on other things. Ahem.)

But I digress. Ha-HA.  Even if I have the details wrong, you know what all those things have in common? They’re British. So there.

No, really. That’s it. Time’s up, I’m done.

word provided by Scatter Prime

Housekeeping note: I only keep this little blog open for experiments. This was one such trial run. Successful experiments become part of My Real Blog.  I promised myself I would do this twice a week all summer to see it it was worth doing regularly. (Spoiler alert: it is!) This weekend is Labor Day, official end to summer.

I will keep doing these essays when the mood strikes and at random, but I won’t be doing it here. If you want future silliness like this and more, follow this blog:



Five minutes with obsequious

August 28. The word is obsequious.

In my brain the adjective obsequious is inextricably linked to ones like sleazy, manipulative, lying, and scheming. It’s a four-syllable NOPE. My gut response to people this word would describe is, “Danger! Danger! Do Not Trust!”

Okay, fine, I know the strict definition doesn’t merit that drastic response. Obsequious just means suck-up. Obsequiousness technically refers to any form of excessive servility or obedience. Fawning. Ingratiating. Sycophancy, even.

So really it’s a style criticism more than anything else. And when I think about it, that’s a little unfair, isn’t it? Who decided there was a right way and a wrong way to obey orders in a hierarchical system?When does enthusiastic follower’s exuberance become obsequious? Who decides where the dividing lines are? Something tells me it isn’t the follower.

I bet there’s a whole lot of unexamined power politics lurking behind the use of that word. It’s loaded with subtext and judginess. I mean, look at me. I would judge someone based on it.

My aversion to it likely comes from it being used to describe villainous underlings who betray their heroic leaders in so much literature I consumed as a child and young adult.

That, and it’s been my experience that people who try to ingratiate themselves to me usually want something I don’t want to give.

Word provided by Dennis Fox

Five minutes with puttering

August 23. The word is puttering.

Do you putter? I love to putter. There is, for me, a certain soothing meditativeness (is SO a word) to aimlessly moving about with no long-term plan or goal for my activity.

People say they putter at something, but if I am doing one thing, I can’t think of it as puttering. For action to qualify as puttering for me, it must involve Brownian motion of the mind and body, wherein one bounces from task to task, idea to idea, shifting from one to another as each impact results in a new direction.

Puttering includes a sense of discovery.  Or rediscovery, at the very least. It  means making peace with distraction and dancing with it instead of fighting it.

Some puttering just happens. Morning puttering is like that. It’s a nice way to wake up my mind. I meander through the house, picking up this, putting down that, rearranging a thing here or there, not worrying about efficiency or finishing any one thing, just coming back to it as I get close again…and when I’m done hot tea and a toasted bagel are waiting,  bed is made-ish, laundry is no longer everywhere, counters are clear and floors clear of obstacles (not clean, HA, no, that would be work) and I’ve gotten in a half-mile’s worth of exercise I never had to think about.

Cleaning a desk drawer is pure puttering bliss. It also usually ends up taking a few hours, results in a clean & organized room or at least several full sets of drawers — and in the middle phases results in All The Stuff ™ lying in little piles of disorganization on a floor or two.

I start to straighten the pencils. That means taking the pencils out, and going through the other bits and pieces, finding buttons and paper clips, and then I will remember paperclip holder in another drawer, and the business card holder on the upper shelf needs to come down, which leads to a wander down memory lane to the cons and dealer areas where I collected them…and oh, there’s a mug in the kitchen that would hold those stickers, but where is it? Behind a bunch of cups aI should go through and donate to a thrift shop…

And so it goes for a while. Puttering as an approach to a lot of routines makes things that could be immensely stressful soothing instead.


word provided by Noelle Meade

Five minutes with the eclipse

August 21. The word is eclipse. Eclipses are a big thing for me. Here’s a list of ones I’ve seen in my lifetime (so far)

  • 7 March, 1970. Southern California. around 40% School made such a fuss.
  • 10 July, 1972. SoCal again. Around 20%  There was minor fuss.
  • 26 February, 1979. East-central Indiana. 70% Fuss. School. Shadowboxes. Science!
  • 30 May, 1984. Annular eclipse, east-central Indiana. Near 80% School ignored.
  • 10 May, 1994. Annular. Chicagoland, Illinois. Near 100%, but never full darkness. I remember seeing mentions on local news and in the papers. Nothing major.

I made a point of getting outside to view all those events, but I’ve never seen totality. Never saw night come in the daytime. Never saw the moon pass fully before the sun in front of my wondering–and vision-protected–eyes.

Side note, yes, there’s a gap in my list. An eclipse was visible in North America in 1991, but…well, I missed it.  I’m sure it happened, but the internet wasn’t the major event-reminder-hype machine it is today, astronomy was at its media nadir, and I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Solar coverage was under 20% where I was anyway, so…meh.

Anyway. All those eclipses, but never a totality. Until now.

<cue dramatic music>

Barring disasters/disastrous traffic and weather permitting, I’ll finally see the moon swallow down the sun later today in southern Illinois.

Not taking pictures. Not going to live-tweet or post to Facebook or anything. Blessings and admiration to all who do–you’re generous to share your experience as it happens. Me, I am not a talented enough multi-tasker to attempt experience and description at once. But I’ll write about it later, I promise. After.

In the meantime, if you’re in any area that’ll see more than 30% coverage, it will be noticeable. Freakish-noticeable. Try to peek outdoors for at least the few minutes when the moon passes overhead. Even if it’s cloudy. Even if it’s nasty. And if you can’t…well, the internet is a thing, and NASA will be broadcasting the eclipse totality zone from all over the country. EVEN FROM SPACE.

Chances to marvel at nature’s biggest light & shadow show do not come along every day. Take the opportunity. Stop and marvel at the wonder of being in the world.

But do NOT look straight at the sun, not even a little. Please don’t. The internet will show you why not, in gruesome detail, if you insist on checking, but time spent on the horror stories is time better spent looking up videos of past eclipses to ooh and ahh over.

That’s what I’ve been doing. I am VERY EXCITED. Have I mentioned that?

Until later….

word provided by Nature.

Five minutes with peregrinations

August 16. The word is peregrinations. That is to say wanderings, travels, journeys…

This is the perfect word for today. I exchanged wedding vows with my hero Spouseman on August 16th, 1986.  For those not inclined to count, this anniversary marks thirty-one years of wandering together, hand in hand, (and occasionally at each other’s throats) rambling through life and across the country.

We do a lot of road trips. Given a choice I would drive nowhere, but I love auto travel. Navigating and reading maps and scenery-watching, all that is fantastic fun.

Unplanned travel is my favorite kind. I love road trips of the classic variety, where being in motion and experiencing new things is the focus, not the destination.  The BEST of the bestest trips are the ones with no pre-planned destination at all–but that’s not as simple as it sounds. Unplanned travel takes a lot of planning.

Maps are critical to unplanned travel. So is travel food. (It isn’t a road trip without Funyuns, Cheese Nips, and Mountain Dew. I don’t know why, but this is a true thing.) I must pack all the clothes for all the possible activities. . And there must be a travel pack with all the necessary personal items, first aid supplies and suchlike. Because, you know, all travel is wilderness travel and there will be no possible way of purchasing anything necessary anywhere on the road.

That last is a total lie, of course, but it took me decades of traveling as an adult to shake the childhood conditioning.  I think my love of spontaneous exploration is in part a rebellion against the  planning, documentation, and regimentation drama that went into every single family trip. But that’s another story or ten.

But I have found that the more I aim for total self-sufficiency–without  the more smoothly the later peregrinations will go off.

And when in doubt, or if anything is going wrong, buy MOAR TRAVEL SNACKS.


word provided by Theresa Sterbis

Five minutes with incontrovertible

August 14. The word is incontrovertible.

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”  Inigo Montoya Princess Bride.

I know, I know, he said that about inconceivable, not incontrovertible, but both words suffer the same “it sounds impressive, so I must toss it in as an exclamation” issue.

Incontrovertible is not a synonym for accepted, commonly-known, or fervently believed, even if that is the way I often hear it used in casual discussions. “We live in a world where lizard people control civilization,” Some Random Person will say in my hearing. “I know this to be true because internet! It’s incontrovertible!”

Uh. No. NOPE. Incontrovertible means inarguable. UNDENIABLE. A fact so true it can’t be amended, modified or converted in any way. Period. For a point to be incontrovertible, it must stand up to rigorous challenge and all too many things people insist are incontrovertible are in fact, baloney.

I think it’s a symptom of this modern life. When blatherskites hornswoggle people right and left with shameless lies and outrageous misbehavior, trust  erodes fast and critical thinking is tossed aside in favor of gut feelings. (RARELY a good idea when dealing with analysis)  People are not willing to accept much as incontrovertible–and that’s a problem, because many things really are.

Beliefs can’t be incontrovertible, but facts are still facts. No, really. Facts =/=opinion.

That’s incontrovertible.

But it is a truth that needs to be universally acknowledged that a powerful person in possession of no conscience whatsoever can obfuscate even the most incontrovertible facts completely.  Smoke and mirrors make everything look malleable.

And that’s sad.

word provided by Quincy J Allen

Five minutes with hornswoggle

August 9. The word is hornswoggle.

Another word to bring on the smiles, unless, of course, one has been hornswoggled.  Which is to say, you’ve been cheated, fooled, had the wool pulled over your eyes, or suchlike.  

The verb “to hornswoggle” sounds so much friendlier than swindle or defraud. And I think it sounds classier than plain old cheating.  It definitely looks more handsome. Cheat is an ugly word, as ugly as the deed itself.  There’s a multi-syllabic implication of cleverness involved with hornswoggle, but with a dash of down-to-earthiness, like it’s an ordinary thing that could happen to anyone. No one is always the clever winner.

I don’t know that I would rather be hornswoggled than cheated, but maybe I wouldn’t feel quite as stupid after it happened? Hard to say.

It’s another old word I would love to see revived, though. I giggle whenever I imagine all the television talking heads and web pundits saying it instead of cheat (or even better, in place of all those times they use fake as a verb.)

I am, perhaps, too easily amused. But I’m honest about it.

Word provided by Cynthia Snell

Five minutes with blatherskite.

August 7. The word is blatherskite.

Hee. This word. It slithers greasy and slick off the tongue. Perfectly evocative of the kind of the kind of person the word describes. For those unfamiliar with blatherskite as a term, here be the definition according to Grandiloquent Word of the Day, which is where I first learned of it.

Blatherskite (BLATH•ur•skyte)
-Someone who speaks at great length without saying anything important.
-A person who talks at great length without making much sense.
-A person who blathers on a lot.

From Scots, alteration of blather skate, from “blather” or “blether” – blather + “skate” – a contemptible person
First Known Use: circa 1650

(GWOtD has a Tumblr and a Facebook, and I recommend them for fun times with words.)

ANYway. It’s an old word that deserves more modern usage, it really is. It’s a fun word describing the un-fun kind of person to run into at a party or to have to endure as a commencement speaker. I’m pretty sure being a blatherskite is a requirement for anyone who looking for a career in infomercial hosting or reality show participation.

And national political punditry of course. Blatherskites all over the blogosphere, oh, yes.


Word provided by John Gardner

Five minutes with a turtle

August 2. The word is turtle.

Oh, so many things I could write. Turtles are my wonderful mother-in-law’s little totem critter, the way otters are mine. Their biology is entertaining and strange, the group includes both endangered species and invasive ones…

But I want to tell you about MY turtle.

See, I had a turtle once. For one whole summer. We had recently moved to small-city Indiana from Orange County CA, from a place where nature happened in concrete ditches and was reconstructed through landscaping in high-fenced backyards to a neighborhood where we could walk down a hill into an undeveloped flood plain around a creek. It was a whole different world down there. Jungle-like and overgrown, with thorny plants and seaweed smells, mud and nothing contained–and we were allowed to wander all over it.

Wonderland for a ten-year-old, in other words.

Early the second summer there I found the weirdest looking turtle ever (small, the size of my hand, with big lumpy bumps all down his back)  wandering around the creek bottom. Now, we were a camping family who made leaf pressings and knew wildflower names and trees and had all the Little Golden Guides, so I’d thought I knew turtles. Box turtles and sliders and pig-nosed…nope. He was none of those. He was A Mystery!  I had to take him home with me so I could consult the guide.

Be still my childish naturalist’s heart, he was A SNAPPING TURTLE! How thrilling was that? It was the best thing ever.

I decided I had to have him, even though I knew it Wasn’t Responsible to keep wild animals. “Can I keep him for a little while?” I asked. “Just for the summer?”

My clever parents, who knew dissuading their stubborn daughter from her obsessions was best done indirectly, said, “You can keep him as long as you keep his aquarium clean and feed him. You know he only eats live fish, right?”

Of course I knew, because I’d read my nature book. Looking back, I’m sure my parents expected me to give up and let the turtle go, if not immediately, then in a week or two, but no.

It was summer.  There were lots of little fish in the creek. The fictional kids in my adventure books caught fish to survive all the time. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, actually, although I gave up on the fishing pole after an hour because it was B-O-R-I-N-G, and also midges, flies, and mosquitos.

Hand-fishing, on the other hand, was fun because barefoot and water EQUALS fun, and there were lots of things to look at under the water while I waited. It takes only stillness, I learned, and loads of patience. (I needed practice with both skills, did I mention how clever my parents were? Either way, they won…)

Anyway. I carried creek water two blocks uphill for that little turtle’s aquarium and  caught little minnows with my hands for him all summer. He got a lot bigger, and when it came time for school, I released him down on the grassy creekside where I’d been catching his meals. And that’s the end of that story. Sorry. A bit anti-climactic, I suppose.

Fast-forward twelve years to my first post-college job. Did you know pet stores sell  goldfish for ten cents apiece specifically for feeding to carnivorous turtles, frogs and fish? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. Not until that day I started working in one.

I laughed so hard.

The more you know…

word provided by Amanda Bonnett

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