Monthly Archives: December 2013

kwashiorkor — say what?

Today’s post is by a guest blogger.   confusing_words_blog_post
He is Chris Nugent, a fellow member of Northern Colorado Writers.
His writing blog is

My favorite word is kwashiorkor. Klingon-cassava-what, you say? No, not some sort of exotic alien vegetable. Kwashiorkor. It’s a disease caused by a protein deficiency, most often found in third world countries. The word derives from the Ga language in Ghana, where it means, “the sickness the baby gets when the new baby arrives. I can’t decide which is the more clumsy to articulate — the definition or the word.

I’ll never forget my first exposure to kwashiorkor – the word, that is. It was in my seventh grade science class with Mr. DeJong. I was always confused because his written name looked Chinese, what with the “Jong” in it, but he pronounced it “DeYoung”, which sounded patently American to me. Turns out it was Dutch. I was thirteen – cut me some slack. Anywho, there, in the early afternoon under beams of golden sunlight falling through the window onto my desk, I would peruse the textbook filled with strange disease names. Mr. DeJong, unheeded, lectured while writing on the blackboard (in my day we still used such things), his back turned to the class.

Kwashiorkor leapt out at me like some sort of semantic joke. Surely they weren’t serious. Such a silly word. Who wrote this book? Are they making this up? Slouching over my desk with my chin in my palm, my mind drifted far from disease pathology into the realm of jumbled syllables, consonants and vowels. It was as if someone had poured whiskey into a pot of alphabet soup, and the drunken result lay passed out in a stupor before me. I suppose it was one of the first hints I would be good with words, or at least, intrigued by the stranger ones.

You gotta admit, if you’re going to pick a word to start dinner conversation with, there are worse ones out there.

It’s all about meme

meme_definitionMeme is a term that keeps cropping up.

I spend a lot–too much maybe–time surfing blogs and social media like Facebook.   A read about meme’s but had no idea what they were or the definition of a meme.

If you are in the same situation, let me help you.

A meme is:

An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.

  • A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation.
  • A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”.

From Wikipedia:

A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα , mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai, “to imitate”, from μῖμος mimos “mime”)[and it was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.

Word nerds unite

Note: This article appeared in the December  5 edition of the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor


The advent of the internet, computers and smart phones all of us now allow us to waste time in ways we never imagined.

No one knows for sure how many people are playing Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Words with Friends, etc. any given time.

Well, here is a new suggestion on something to do on the computer, and this one has at least a smattering of education embedded in it.

The activity I am talking about is the N-graph. Find the Google N-gram Viewer at

Continue reading