Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Is Your Brain On


Number 244

September 20, 2007




The other evening I chanced upon a book signing with Daniel J. Levitin, who wrote This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, and I bought the book although I know little to nothing about music. I had him inscribe the book to son Foy, the drummer, but he’ll have to wait till I finish reading it. So far I’ve learned that ho bina is the Sesotho phrase for singing as well as dancing; in many languages the words are the same for singing and dancing. I also learned that the use of the words high and low for certain notes or pitches is arbitary. The ancient Greeks, for example, referred to a high-frequency sound as low because some of their musical instruments placed the short strings that produce what we call high notes closer to the ground, and vice versa. And it won’t do to say high notes represent things that are high in the air, such as birds, because thunder also comes from the air and sounds quite different.

Foy, by the way, sent a couple of good items:

... my new boss ... spoke of her "softmore" year in college. The "T" was pronounced painfully clear and my brain shut down, missing everything she said after that. I guess she has a PH Imbalance. Oh, in case I forgot to get back to you on the previous word tragedy; it was someone referring to a one-shot-wonder as a "Flash in the pants". ouch

What was she doing her entire softmore year? Not reading much. And flash in the pants is brilliant. I made CafePress T-shirts with that one (also, of course, pants ~ boxers and thongs).


Wikipedia says,

The name Taser is an acronym for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle". Arizona inventor Jack Cover designed it in 1969; naming it for the science fiction teenage inventor and adventurer character Tom Swift.

Regarding Tased student University of Florida student Andrew Meyer (zapped for preventing free speech at a John Kerry forum), UF President Bernie Machen called the confrontation regretful, by which he meant regrettable. I guess he wasn’t an English major.

I didn’t read the Tom Swift books, but if you did, you might like a new book by Gonn and Hal Iggulden, The Dangerous Book for Boys. It has a gorgeous red and gold cover, and teaches kids how to do things that don’t involve microchips.


:-) anniversary: 25 years ago inventor Carnegie Mellon Professor Scott E. Fahman has won the Yahoo Smiley Award for inventing :-). (You may consider the period at the end of the previous sentence a pimple or a dimple.)

Fahlman posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 a.m. Sept. 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humor and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly.

Fred thinks I need to use emoticons to make sure people get my humor. Is he kidding? Anyway, who invented the word emoticon?

And Dave DaBee asked who invented the phrase blast from the past, which opened an article by Dick Cavett about a bizarre Nixonian episode that’s just come to light.


I’m a fan of the Dennis Miller radio program. He’s not only funny, but intelligent and well-read in history. Nevertheless, he repeatedly makes peculiar vocabulary blunders, like using nonplussed to mean something like “not upset”. It comes from Latin and means something obvious like “no more”. That is, if something disturbs you, you don’t want any more of it. Miller uses it as if plussed means upset or confused. He has also used desultory to mean derogatory. You just can’t always figure out words from context. On the other hand, I was amused when he said changed his pronunciation from investigative to investigative because it made him feel more grown up.


At the Emmy Awards, Sally Field said that if mothers ran the world, there would be no wars. I’m a mother and the daughter of a mother, and I know a lot of mothers, and I feel safe in saying that is not true. But I wouldn’t send my sons, I’d do it myself.


Company name on building: Total Quality Logistics. Quick, what do you think the company does? Here’s its online description with the key words omitted:

Total Quality Logistics (TQL) is a premier non-asset-based third-party logistics provider that works with thousands of companies nationwide in facilitating their ***. We constantly strive to be the most trusted and reliable * provider in the business.

Could be anything, could have come straight out of Dilbert’s Mission Statement Generator.


In the last election, I wondered why the media called primarily Democratic voting states blue and Republican voting states red. It’s confusing because for so long red has been associated with communism and the far left, ergo, it would make more sense to call the modern Democratic party at least reddish. Dennis Prager thinks somebody did it just so people wouldn’t think of Dems as being communist. But it’s hard to switch a century (well, not my century but a century of history) of word association.


Sometimes I can’t resist opening spam (by the way, my Yahoo spam problem mysteriously resolved itself), and I found this plaintive cry from a young miss who longs for companionship: “I have nothing to do at night a lot.” Perhaps she would like English lessons to fill up her lonely hours.


Reader Caleb Stone (who is a Brooklyn artist, not the Caleb Stone of Atlanta porn fame) responded to my

Descriptive studies of language as it is spoken are interesting and revealing, but if we had no standardization at all, we couldn't understand each other.


Such pure marble mash that I must charge forth, bleating the ever colorful, "Mashed peacock potatoes!" Dalíesque discourse dictates dissent.

Moi: Point taken, and other point also proved.

CS: It was intended to be a linguistic mobius strip sort of response to your point. Along the lines of "I agree completely! But on the other hand...."

I just wish that I'd come up with something better, but then why would email be fun if it couldn't, at times, be completely impulsive and bring out the most silly aspects of our personalities including, but not limited simply to, ridiculous run on sentences? To me, it simply wouldn't.

Moi: I'm glad you're having fun. If it's a mobius strip, does that mean it has no end?

CS: Of course. There's always another hand.

Moi: According to Tevye, you can run out of hands eventually.

CS: "Enough already! There is no other hand!"

I'm starting to agree, somebody snip that damn mobius strip and make dinner.

(My wife is also an artist (and brilliant web designer,) so I have to give her a plug too: )

I may not have Caleb’s creativity, but I have stamina.


A news article about the Amish in a Cleveland surburb says the Amish call their non-Amish neighbors “Yankees”. I’d always read (and heard in the movie Witness) that the Amish call the non-Amish the “English”. Perhaps that’s changed, at least in the United States. So Yankee means Northerner to the Southerners, New Englander to other Northerners, United States citizen to foreigners, and now non-Amish to the Amish. Yankees are the Other of the world.


Link here to look for books on!

Or click on underlined book links.

NEW SHOP: Scot Tartans. NEW STUFF AT Parvum Opus CafePress shop:

"Flash in the Pants";

"If you're so smart why aren't you me?";

"If you build it they won't come";

Rage Boy/Bat Boy: Can you spot the difference?;

Akron U. Alma Mater: The Lost Verse;

PWE (Protestant Work Ethic) tote bag;

"I am here" T-shirt;

"Someone went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt";

"I eat dead things" doggy shirt and BBQ apron;

new kids’ things, mouse pad, teddy bear, stein, and more!


Parvum Opus now appears It is also carried by the Hur Herald, a web newspaper from Calhoun County, West Virginia. See Editor Bob Weaver's interview with me (February 10, 2007 entry), and the PO every week in Columns.

WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE! Check out the video clips of Sonny Robertson and the Howard Street Blues Band at and, with his new original song, "A Different Shade of Blue".

SEARCH IT OUT ON AMAZON : "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Proverbs 25:2; "Get wisdom! Even if it costs you everything, get understanding!" Proverbs 4:7:

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is not composed of atoms, but stories. The physicist Werner Heisenberg said the universe is not made of matter, but music.


Go to Babelfish to translate this page into Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish!

Parvum Opus is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Back issues may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please reply with "unsubscribe," "quit," "enough," or something like that in the subject line, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2007. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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