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AWADmail Issue 57

November 18, 2001

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages


From: Fradley Garner (fradgarATget2net.dk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--osculate

Back in my teenagehood I learned this definition of an osculation: The juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction.


From: J. Scott Stuart (stuartATll.mit.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--osculate

Astronomers also use this word, in a way that is similar to the mathematical definition. A particular representation of the orbit of a celestial body such as a planet or asteroid is called "an osculating orbit" because it is only strictly valid at one instant of time. It "kisses" the real orbit at that moment and then diverges.


From: Ken Shurget (shurgetATconfederationc.on.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--osculate

So, I guess you could call a noisy kisser an audio osculator??


From: Zeina M. Zannelli (zeina.zannelliAThoffman.army.mil)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--osculate

This morning's little message of the golden mean is also introduced to a wider audience in a Disney movie called Donald in Mathematics Land. It is not only a great Disney movie, but is great way to show kids how mathematics is involved with every day life, whether it be musical scales, art, or what the Greeks used as the ideal form and we continue to use today.


From: Janet Smith (jlbsmithpianoAThome.com)
Subject: golden mean

What a surprise to find your brief discussion about the golden mean. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the golden mean in the solo piano music of Vincent Persichetti. It is not only found in the arts, but also in psychology, in the way we organize our positive and negative thoughts about acquaintances; it's found in almost every aspect of life. The human heartbeat is in golden proportion. One researcher discovered that if rehearsals, practice times, etc. are organized so that if a break is taken at the golden mean, the people involved will have more energy and the activity will be more productive. I have spent years researching its occurrence in music and have decided, that although some composers use it deliberately, most of the time it is intuited. It is so much a part of us that great artists in all media often use it without realizing it. This is not to say that the presence or absence of the golden mean in a work of art causes it to be or not to be a masterpiece. It is only one parameter of the work, as color is only one parameter of a painting or pitch one parameter of a musical composition. But if it is present in the work, its aesthetic value is enhanced.


From: Jay Lake (jlakeATjlake.com)
Subject: Singularity

You omitted a fifth definition of "singularity," one that is used in science fiction and futurism. Sometimes expressed as "technological singularity," it is the idea that somewhere in the next few decades to a century, the density of technology and information surrounding human beings will be so great that new forms of culture and human existence will spontaneously emerge. This is dealt with in the writings of Vernor Vinge among others. A number of people, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, are working assiduously to bring this about.


From: Jane Langton (jlangtonATmindspring.com)
Subject: Dickinson's Math

Emily Dickinson had been instructed in science and mathematics at Amherst Academy and at Mount Holyoke. I'll quote from myself: "A strangely transfigured mathematics turns up in the Cube of the Rainbow and Exponent of Earth: geology in strata of Iniquity: astronomy in Enchantment's perihelion: and the optics of lenses in Convex--and Concave Witness..." (from Acts of Light, Poems by Emily Dickinson, Paintings by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Appreciation by Jane Langton, Bulfinch Press, Boston, 1980, page 37.)

More of the poems:

We shall find the Cube of the Rainbow,
Of that, there is no doubt.
But the Arc of a Lover's conjecture
Eludes the finding out. (Poem #1484, circa 1880)

Love -- is anterior to Life --
Posterior -- to Death --
Initial of Creation, and
The Exponent of Earth -- (Poem #917, circa 1864)

A Counterfeit -- a Plated Person --
I would not be --
Whatever strata of Iniquity
My Nature underlie--
Truth is good Health -- and Safety, and the Sky.
How meagre, what an Exile -- is a Lie,
And Vocal -- when we die -- (Poem #1453, circa 1879)

These are complete poems, not parts of poems, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Little, Brown, Boston.


From: Philip Egan (philip.eganATwmich.edu)
Subject: This week's theme

This week's theme reminds me of the way math's appropriation of language hints at its beauty subtlety. In the 1970s (while I was getting a PhD in literature) a math grad student friend of mine assured me that the terms "continuous everywhere" and "everywhere continuous" had distinct meanings in math, however equivalent we might consider them in ordinary language. He also told me that "continuous ALMOST everywhere" had its own distinct meaning. (I often teased him, wondering just what sort of meaning "almost" had in the world of mathematics.)

Talking to him--and sampling a few of math's ideas--made me understand why Johannes Kepler felt "ravished with delight" when he finally worked out the mathematical explanation of planetary motion.


From: Peter Jennings (c31ljATandorra.ad)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--singularity

Your wrote:
4. Astrophysics: A point or region where gravitation forces cause space and time to be infinitely distorted and matter to be infinitely compressed -- the state of matter falling into a black hole.

In other words, "where God divided by zero" - usually attributed to Steven Wright, who seems to have said a lot of clever things.


From: Ele Richardson (nielrATjuno.com)
Subject: singularity

Your discussion of "singularity" made me think of an old song that uses the word, though not the way you defined it. A girl is trying to persuade her mother that she is old enough to get married:

"I would have a husband, to love and care for me
For I'm weary, and oh so dreary,
Of singularity."


From: Maria Victoria Go (maria_victoria.goATroche.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tangential

Actually the geometric description of a tangent specifically notes: that the line touches the curve only at ONE point without intersecting the curve.

So to stress superficiality or triviality - when someone asks you, "Do you know or are you related to so-and-so (or SO-AND-SO)?"; you can reply with equanimity and brevity: "Tangentially!" and no one would be the wiser for it.

Another tip: Don't just say "running around in circles and not getting anything done" - you'd really get their attention if you say instead: "Doing household chores is like running oneself ragged/rugged on a 'Mobius' strip!" (No dear hubby, I'm not complaining!)


From: Steve Rochford (steve.rochfordATcnwl.ac.uk)
Subject: maths

A little while ago there was a discussion about some English words which change around the world; this week's theme is definitely one of them! Most American forms don't bother me but "math" instead of "maths" just seems wrong - it feels as if we're not getting the entire package :-)

    I'd admit to feeling the same that the word just didn't sound right the first time I heard it, but we'd do well to remember that math/maths come from Middle English mathematic via Latin mathematica from Greek mathematike. No s there. -Anu


From: Patricia Daly-Lipe (pdaly1ATsan.rr.com)
Subject: maths

As I note in my book, 'Myth, Magic & Metaphor', the word mathematics comes from the Greek word, 'mathema', and means 'what is learned'.


From: Judy Jones (berberjATaol.com)
Subject: The week of math words

It has been a fun week for me as I am a retired math teacher with an English major in my undergraduate work. I always tried to have my students see the inter-connectedness of the two disciplines. The math word ties down quite specifically the meaning of the word in general use. Often the meaning of the general usage word clarified the mathematical concept involved. My grandson, who is 14, also enjoys your words and thought the math words were great.


From: Daniel Velez (dvelezATsympatico.ca)
Subject: Gerome L'Eminance Grise

The painting "L'Eminance Grise" by Gerome (and what a beauty it is!) at the Boston Museum of Art can be accessed online.


In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker. -Plutarch, biographer and philosopher (circa 46-120)

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