Wednesday, 29 May 2013

footling and halibut

Quite hopeless. He has lost his grip completely. Only a couple of days ago I was compelled to take him off a case because his handling of it was so footling.
- PG Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves
footling is "driveling, blithering", from footle "to talk or act foolishly". This is possibly a variant of foutre, which the OED declines to translate, perhaps because French foutre is something of a taboo word. It's from Latin futuere "to have vaginal intercouse", possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bheh₂u- "to hit".

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots says the Germanic extended form *ƀaut- became *butt-, a name for a flatfish. This became English butt "flatfish, turbot" and halibut - ie holy butt, so named because it was eaten on holy days.

How a word meaning "hit" came to be used for a fish is unclear.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


The Guardian has an article on Steven Wilhite, the inventor of the Graphics Interchange Format, who apparently insists that GIF should be pronounced with /dʒ/ and not /g/. Why? Because that's what the creators of the word intended.

The OED lists both pronunciations. But:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.” 
There's even a song, where we're told "you can't go around using words all willy-nilly."

I'm not convinced by any of this. The notion that a word's pronunciation is defined by the creators of that word strikes me as a variant of the etymological fallacy. In order to determine how a word is used and pronounced, the origin of the word is irrelevant. What's relevant is how the speakers of the language use and pronounce it now. And speakers of the language have decided to use both pronunciations.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The ten coolest cephalopods

The sea’s full of saints and it’s been full of saints for years. Since longer than anything. Saints were there before there were even gods. They were waiting for them, and they’re still there now. 

Saints eat fish and shellfish. Some of them catch jellyfish and some of them eat rubbish. Some saints eat anything they can find. They hide under rocks; they turn themselves inside out; they spit up spirals. There’s nothing saints don’t do.
The gods don't owe us anything. That's not why we worship. We worship because they're gods. This is their universe, not ours.

- China Miéville, Kraken

Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish)

It walks along the sea floor like it ain't a thing! Dressed like that!

(It can afford to walk around like that; it's really poisonous.)

Note how it's using its mantle as hind legs!

Sepioloidea lineolata (striped pajama squid)

Closely related to cuttlefish but it has no cuttlebone. It buries itself in the sand, presumably because it is too cute for the rest of the ocean.

Abdopus aculeatus

Enjoy these beautiful high-quality images of this octopus mating.

Abdopus aculeatus walks on two arms on the sea floor while mimicking a twig.
Watch it!
Or mimicking... I'm not sure what:

Octopus briareus (Caribbean reef octopus)

If you get the chance to go night diving or night snorkeling in the Caribbean, there is a good chance you'll see this octopus. It's very small with iridescent markings and it seems to ooze from place to place.

Argonauta sp.

The argonaut is a kind of octopus, the female of which secretes a beautiful transparent shell, which it uses to store eggs in. It resembles a nautilus, but the shells are not homologous.

The shells contain trapped air, which is apparently used for buoyancy.

Tremoctopus violaceus (common or violet blanket octopus)

Tremoctopus has beautiful webbing between some of its arms. The webbing is extended as a threat display.

Tremoctopus belongs to the same clade as Argonauta. The males of both are tiny, with detachable hectocotyluses (this is the arm that delivers sperm to the female). In the case of Tremoctopus, the male dies after the hectocotylus detaches, but the hectocotylus autonomously fertilizes the female. Three-fifths of the cephalopod brain is located in the arms.

So in other words, Tremoctopus's penis literally has a mind of its own. (OK it's not a penis, but it had to be said.)

Tremoctopus is immune to the poison of the Portuguese man o'war. The males tear off man o'war tentacles and use them for defense.

Grimpoteuthis sp.

Grimpoteuthis hippocrepium

Species in this genus are deep sea cirrate octopuses. Grimpoteuthis, along with Cirroteuthidae, are nicknamed “dumbo octopuses” because they have large fins that resemble ears.

Many of them live on the sea floor or swim gracefully just above it.

Grimpoteuthis sp.

They are quite beautiful; a slowly flying octopus.

Grimpoteuthis bathynectes

This is either Grimpoteuthis or Cirroteuthidae

Some sources say this little guy is Grimpoteuthis, but I think it is the closely related Opisthoteuthis, the flapjack octopus, or awww so cute octopus. It has a more flattened body than Grimpoteuthis and is found in shallower waters. It seems to be the inspiration for the octopus in Finding Nemo - except that Opisthoteuthis has no ink sac. In fact all cirrate octopuses lack ink sacs.

Opisthoteuthis sp.

Magnapinna sp.

These weird-looking squids have been found in four oceans over 2000 metres down. They are thought to be Magnapinnidae. More importantly, they seem to be the inspiration for the Martians in Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The alienness of this animal is partly an artifact of the position; seen from another angle, it looks much more traditionally squid-like:

Architeuthis sp.

This is the longest known living invertebrate with reported lengths of 18 m and weights of 500 kg. (But it's not the heaviest invertebrate; that would be Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni.) This is the squid that leaves sucker scars on sperm whales. Each sucker is lined with a row of sharp serrated chitin, all the better to wound its prey.

This squid is the inspiration for China Miéville’s novel Kraken. "Centuries of dissident cephalopod gnosis."

Melbourne Museum scientists dissect Architeuthis sp.

probably Ommastrephes bartramii

Squids in the Ommastrephidae family are some of the most important squids to the fishing industry. But I say don't eat them, watch them. Because they fly. Or glide tens of metres through the air, anyway. Ommastrephes bartramii, Todarodes pacificus, Sthenoteuthis pteropus and Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis all fly but these photos are Ommastrephes bartramii I think.