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Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The FAQ lines are open and messages are starting to pour in...

You write: "PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS (45 letters; a lung disease caused by breathing in certain particles) is the longest word in any English-language dictionary."

Not really. In Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words: Gathered from Numerous and Diverse Authoritative Sources (by Josefa Heifetz Byrne, daughter of vamed violinist Jascha Heifetz) there's a 1,913-letter word, which claims to be "the chemical name for tryptophan synthetase A protein"

It starts with "methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosyl . . ." and keeps going for quite some time. But Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary isn't really a hugely authoritative source, I guess.


Nothing wrong with it at all except it was too long. I was looking for a word long enough to reset the margins on this journal, to stop the jagged effect when I pasted anything in from elsewhere. If I stuck the Mrs Byrne word in, the margins would go off the screen. Way off.

Let's see. Lots of e-mails from people who came up as me on the "which comic creator are you" test, of which the funniest was:

Dear Neil,
I just happened upon the note in your blog, concerning your discovery that you are comic book creator Gary Groth. I thought you might want to know that I took the same exam, and I discovered that I am Neil Gaiman.
I wouldn't mention this event to you, but it occured to me that you might have some of my mail. If you could forward it to me when you get the opportunity, I would greatly appreciated it.
Also, I'm still trying to determine why I had you sign a copy of the first issue of the "Doll's House" for me in Boulder a number of years back. I can be such a twit sometimes. If you would like, I could sign it and send it back to you.
Sincerely,
G. Christopher Williams


And, on a previous subject...

Someone recently asked what your adjective would be. I'd like to suggest "Gaimy".

i.e. The authors use of mythological imagery was quite Gaimy.


Well, that would sound exactly the same as "gamy" (or "gamey") -- an already existing word which means:

gam�y also gam�ey (gm)
adj. gam�i�er, gam�i�est

1. Having the flavor or odor of game, especially game that is slightly spoiled.
2. Ill-smelling; rank.
3. Showing an unyielding spirit; plucky: "a gamy little mare that loved to run."
4. Corrupt; tainted: �those considerable forces in America that appear to be tired of the old politics (particularly the gamy municipal variety)� (Tom Wicker).
5. Sordid; seamy.
6. Sexually suggestive; racy.


...and I suspect you'd wind up confusing people about it.

And on the subject of words:

Not so much a question as a comment.

As a self-identified "geek," I take the related words and jargon very seriously. Thus, I do my best to combat misuse of our jargon wherever possible.

For the record, a "hacker" is not someone who spends their time breaking into and demolishing remote systems for the fun of it; though the media has misappropriated our word in this fashion, such a person is, and always has been, properly referred to as a cracker (http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/
jargon/html/entry/cracker.html).

Instead, a hacker, in terms of a computer user, is someone who is interested in programming, often to an obsessive degree, and who is usually highly competent. It can be used to refer to hackers of other kinds, as well, simply as an indicator of obsession and skill, but programming is the primary usage. See http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/
jargon/html/entry/hacker.html

Thanks, and I hope you appreciate the position of anal-retentive geeks (even those who reject the term "geek") everywhere ^_^.


Actually, the word hacker was used by the 'authors on the web' people and not me. But you have my sympathies -- anyone who continues to fight a doomed battle they've long-ago lost has my sympathies.

The misused word that irritates me most, and my own personal doomed battle, is "momentarily", a word that means "for a moment" not "in a moment". I'd be very grateful if, in addition to trying to get people to use 'cracker' instead of 'hacker' you'd explain this one in person to airline pilots and cabin staff, who are much more likely to say "We'll be landing momentarily in Newark" than they are to say "We're sorry we're losing altitude but we think that a hacker may have broken into Air Traffic Control's computer systems and changed our flight patterns and now we're all going to die". Although if they did, you should definitely point out to them that they mean "cracker". I bet they'd be jolly grateful if you did.

Let's see...

In case you haven't already seen it, Orson Scott Card gave Coraline a nice review in his weekly column "Uncle Orson Review Everything". (http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/
everything/2002-09-16.shtml
)


I hadn't seen it -- thanks so much. How really cool.

Hey, the other day I finally purchased on of my favorite movies, "L.A. Story" starring Steve Martin. While watching I was struck by a comment that Martin's character makes to a woman from England while driving her around LA. He says something that basically mirrors Tink's roommate's comment to main character in Murder Mysteries, "Built in the 1930's. Hard to believe it's still here today, huh?" Although I think in L.A. Story it was "Twenty years ago." The movie also makes some of the same observations like how no one walks in L.A. I was just wondering if you'd seen the film and were inspired by it or if this was just one of those cool coincidences like Bones of the Moon and A Game Of You? And if you haven't seen the film I would highly recommend it. It's kind of a West Coast wacky Neverwhere. With Shakespeare.

And let me just say I think it's cool to find you talking about China Mieville and Michael Chabon on your site. Sometimes you want to suggest other authors to your favorite and its neat when they've already heard of them. Ever read Charles de Lint or Orson Scott Card?


I saw LA Story on cable a couple of years ago. Thought it was okay -- lots of really good bits which never quite added up.

To be honest I don't think it's even a coincidence -- it's just the stuff you notice when you go from somewhere else to LA. Nobody walks in the nicer areas, unless they're jogging, walking a dog, or probably Mexican gardeners with leaf blowers on their backs. If you come from a place where people walk, you see it. That people point with pride to old things that aren't old anywhere else in the world is something else you find yourself noticing very quickly. If you're telling a story about LA from an outsider's perspective, then you put that stuff in.

...
And finally one that made me feel like I'd done something good.


Neil,
This isn't really a question, just a commentary. I've been reading and enjoying your work for about ten years now, starting with, I think, "A Season of Mists," and most recently a rather nice hardcover "Coraline."

Anyway, I just wanted to mention how much even the first works I read still resonate with me. I'm a doctor-a resident in family medicine-and last night I attended a rather horrible trauma in the emergency room. A young woman in an industrial accident. Forgive me, but her head and neck had been badly crushed in machinery. She arrived with no vital signs, and there was nothing that could be done, but we worked on her for about half an hour anyway, struggling against what we all knew.
In the hours after we stopped our efforts, and with her husband's screaming still in my ears, I found my thoughts returning to the "Death is before me today," poem in "The Sound of her Wings." I transcribed that poem in medical school and it sits in my little notebook in the lab coat, nestled with drug dosages, lists of symptoms and notes on statistical probability. I've found it helpful to reflect on in the past during times like this, and I'm very grateful for the ability to, sometimes, imagine death as a fun-filled, life-defining young woman who likes Mary Poppins and who does a difficult job as well as she can.

Anyway, thanks for the stories and the characters. Please keep them coming.
Ben Addleman

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