That’s not what I meant. Or is it?

You may have encountered this great example of acyrologia:

(I could not find an original source for the image, unfortunately!)

“Acryologia” is kind of hard to pronounce. It is also rather obscure. A search in the online Webster’s dictionary does not find it! The link above to a definition takes you to a dictionary of rhetoric (Silva Rhetoricae, the Forest of Rhetoric). It defines acryologia as “An incorrect use of words, especially the use of words that sound alike but are far in meaning from the speaker’s intentions.” Sometimes these things slip out (malapropism) and sometimes they are done on purpose (puns, the practice of which is known as paranomasia). I’d guess that Spoonerisms are another kind of acryologia.

I was amused to find that the Silva Rhetoricae characterizes some of its terms by their *ethos* (“persuasive appeal of one’s character”). For example, “Acyrologia erodes the ethos of the speaker, for it portrays his/her ignorance.” It also rates them by style: “Using acyrologia reflects poor diction (word choice), thus demonstrating a low level of style.”

There is also cacozelia, in which you use improper or overly erudite words to impress your audience or to make things sound worse than they are. The Silva Rhetoricae cites an example from Seneca: “This is an adultery against the state, to have sex under the trophies of Miltiades.” Adultery. Really?

Do you have any favorite examples of acryologisms?

Further adventures in breadmaking

Some years ago, I baked my first loaf of bread. Two weeks ago, I decided to try it again. And it failed, and here’s what I learned.

The original recipe said to use “something along the lines of 1 cup” of water to mix in with the yeast. So I used 1 cup. In later discussion on the blog post above, it sounded like people thought 1/4 cup should be sufficient. So when I recorded the recipe, that’s what I used, and when I pulled it out to start baking, I’d forgotten all about this exchange.

With only 1/4 cup of water, I got a very dry dough that wouldn’t let me add more flour in the “add more flour” step. It was also very difficult to knead. But I kept at it. In the end, it barely rose, and I got a very small, dense loaf. Actually, it was still tasty, just thicker than you’d expect from a standard bread.

Lesson: the water does matter! And for this recipe, use 1 cup.

One week ago, I tried again, with 1 cup of water, and the bread came out fantastic again. I also incorporated some suggestions from “The New Best Recipe”, the encyclopedic cookbook/instruction manual I’ve raved about in the past:

  • Let the dough rise in the oven, not just on a counter. Heat oven to 150, leave it there a minute or so, and turn it off. Then put the dough in, covered tightly with plastic wrap. (Actually I used a damp towel but I think either works.)
  • Another great tip, which I didn’t get to incorporate, was putting a rubber band around the outside of the container in which the dough is rising, which ideally is a straight-sided container, so you can ACTUALLY TELL when it has doubled in volume.

Yesterday, I baked another loaf. I wanted to try making something wheatier, chewier, with sunflower seeds and oats in it. The Best Recipe book DID NOT HAVE a recipe of this nature, to my disappointment. But one of the first hits on google was this recipe for Multigrain Sunflower Bread, which sounded perfect.

I followed the instructions, which in this case did call for 1 cup of water, plus 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup each of sunflower seeds and oats. Many people commented that this made for a very wet, sticky dough and they had to add more flour. Instead, I ended up with… another dry dough! I went through the whole process anyway, but once again it didn’t rise the way it should have. Here is a comparison of loaf #2 (white flour) and loaf #3 (unbleached/wheat flour with oats and sunflower seeds), using the same yeast and water amount:


The new bread is quite delicious and chewy… but didn’t rise properly. This is either due to needing more yeast, or more kneading, or something … I learned that kneading stretches out the gluten fibers into sheets, so they trap the gas released by the yeast, which otherwise just escapes. So the dry-ish dough maybe didn’t form those sheets. More experimentation is needed!

The under-used locative adverbs

A locative adverb tells you where something took place. Examples we all know and use commonly are ‘where’, ‘here’, and ‘there.’ Other such words can be constructed, like ‘homeward.’

But there are other locative adverbs that are so handy that it’s amazing that they aren’t used more often. ‘Where,’ ‘here’, and ‘there’ indicate the location at which something happens. What about actions moving toward or away from a location, like ‘homeward,’ but more general? In fact, there’s an equivalent for each of those three in each of these directions of motion:

At To From
Where Whither Whence
Here Hither Hence
There Thither Thence

Now, using these words may make you sound like you just stepped out of Shakespeare or Chaucer, but in fact they are nice, compact ways to express motion. The words in the second and third columns already have a preposition built in!

“Whither do they wander?” sounds better and is technically more correct than “Where do they wander?” since “where” has no “to” sense to it. “Whence did you come?” is more compact than “From where did you come?” or “Where did you come from?”

From this table we can see that “from whence” makes no sense, despite its rather common use.

So, next time you need to talk about where, here, or there something went to or from, consider using these nicely compact, already invented ways to express that notion!

The black Harry Potter

In Profiling a Book Collection, middle-school librarian Julia B. Chambers discussed a content survey she and some volunteers did of the school’s collection, along with some preliminary results. I wasn’t terribly surprised by her observation that

“Our protagonists are mostly Caucasian and more likely female, with only three in the entire collection demonstrating gender questioning or ambiguity. Two-thirds of our collection feature characters from middle- or high-income families (of which almost all are nuclear in structure). And most of our literary characters are straight (only 13 books featured LBGTQ characters.)”

I don’t know whether these demographics are representative of The Athenian School in Danville, California, where Julia serves as librarian, or whether it’s representative of the available books out there, or whether any of that really matters. Selecting books for a library collection is a non-trivial task, with any number of competing philosophies urging one heuristic or another.

But then she started talking about race. And race in the context of fantasy:

“At quick glance, most of our titles featuring African American characters are historical fiction with themes of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, or Civil Rights struggles. The black Harry Potters are simply not there.”

Who *are* the black Harry Potters? I racked my brain to try to come up with any non-Caucasian wizard-type protagonists in any books I’ve ever read. I came up with two, neither of whom are black:

Do magic-wielding youth from other cultures and ethnicities truly not exist? Or are they chronicled in books written in other languages, enjoyed by those with the ability to read them, but locked away from those who can fluently read only English, until the glittering hand of some translator should set them free?

Do share the non-Caucasian wizarding books I’ve overlooked, forgotten, or not yet encountered.

What I Learned about Maker Spaces

In my class this semester on Maker Spaces, we covered topics that ranged from how kids and teens use media to interact and learn from their increasingly digital world to how to create a physical space that invites participation and increases in value and interest as more people interact with it. What stood out to me was the variety of ways to make learning hands-on, interactive, and participatory. Hanging Out discussed how kids (and people) spontaneously seek out resources and guidance to improve their skill at a favorite hobby, and the Internet provides that access with historically unprecedented ease. Invent to Learn provides pedagogical motivation for hands-on learning and covers today’s new tools and technologies that enable easy physical prototyping of ideas and inventions.

The biggest gold mine of new ideas, for me, was The Participatory Museum. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of the creative and interactive exhibits people had designed for a wide variety of topics, from native cultures to a voyage to Mars. This book opened my eyes to what is possible, going beyond the interactive style of exhibits to those that enable new kinds of participation. The primary difference is that a participatory exhibit changes as visitors interact with it; they leave some trace. This might be a vote, an opinion, a comment, a creation, an artifact, or some other tangible evidence of their interaction. Further, as more people use, it becomes more interesting and informative. Visitors gain something by seeing what other visitors have contributed. As Simon notes, not every exhibit needs to have these properties. But I have found this idea to expand my sense of what is possible.

I also found the course assignments to be fascinating and challenging. They really made me stretch. In the first project, I had to choose a type of game that I’ve never played before, then play it for a few hours and analyze my learning experience.

In the second project, I sought out a social media conversation and analyzed the structure of the conversation as well as participant behaviors. It felt like I got to put on a sociologist’s hat and study a native population.

In the third project, I took a trip to the Science Center and analyzed their interactive displays from the perspective of The Participatory Museum.

In the fourth project, I had to find a maker project that gave me the chance to make something I’d never made before. The cardboard automata I made was a lot of work but very rewarding!

The final project for the class asked us to design our own maker space, using everything we’d learned over the course of the semester. I had a lot of fun designing a creative space for the Monrovia Public Library that integrates a topic of local interest (the Gold Line Metro extension) and computational thinking principles. The project had us write this up as a proposal, so the space isn’t yet a reality — but I’d love to discuss it for real with the library.

Overall, this class was a lot of work, in terms of reading and doing, but it also provided a lot of learning. And that’s why I’m here taking these classes in the first place!

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