The Invisible Inch

November 29, 2007

I need something to do while I drink my after-work drink. So here I am. Not eating ham in the tram with Sam.

While I am here, hamless and tramless and Samless, I might as well tell you about a recent purchase of “mine.” I got some old man pants!

The ten of your who read my last post might have realized this – I was recently on vacation with shepicksyournose. We saw a couple of days that were ripe, so we took them. In Florida. Under the sun. Picked oranges and went to the beach and ate seafood and everything.

Miami? No. Surely the Orlando of Disney? No. We stayed in a southwestern Floridian city where chads probably dangled time upon a once. We stayed with my grandparents, in their beautiful home, in their beautiful community, where the average age is 66.8 years old. And, partly because beautiful homes and beautiful communities are always preferable, partly because our insides are probably in their 60s (I don’t read many books written after 1960, and shepicksyournose knew the words to about eighty percent of the songs on the old-person radio stations they have down there) and mostly because my grandparents are (capital “A”) Awesome, we had a wonderful time.

There was, for me, however, plus another clause, one unpleasant moment. I was wardrobe-ambushed. (Theybitmyclothes).

It was a familial conspiracy, made up of equal parts mother, grandparents, and girlfriend. My pants, shirts, and jeans had been deemed unacceptable. My cries of poverty were ignored, in the face of the (apparent) severity of the situation. They had had enough. A sort of intervention had come. My grandfather would be waking me up early on the second day of my vacation, would be softening the blow with coffee and a bagel, and then we would be going…shopping…so he could buy me a few articles of clothing made in this millennium.

For some background on my relationship with clothes and shopping, see the tail-end of this post. For background on the fail-safe nature of this diabolical conspiracy against me…let it suffice to say that saying “no” to my grandfather (a genuinely quiet, kind, considerate, and non-violent man) is akin to saying “no” to Michael Corleone. How a quiet, kind, considerate and non-violent man is able to wield Corleone-like power and fear is testament to the life the man has lived. You listen to him. You respect him. You argue not. You fight not, when when he tells you that he is buying you pants.

But, dear reader, be forewarned. Buying clothes in a retirement community means that you’ll be making your selections from a line of products developed to suit…a retirement community.

That is why my new pants (which I wore to work today!) come with an extra “invisible inch,” which basically means that the waistline of the pants expands along with the waistline of your waist…for a few pounds.

I kind of like them. And so does my belly.


Tracing the Simpsons

November 29, 2007

Just a quick post while I dash from lecture to lecture. I’m really quite surprised that we haven’t talked about “The Simpsons” that much, both because it is arguably the most important television show of its time, and because Mandrake and I marathon the DVDs upon their release. But I was recently reminded of its import while watching the classic episode, “Lisa the Iconoclast.” There are a number of things really interesting about the episode: Bart is almost completely absent from the story, and Kearney’s age is revealed. But for our purposes, the most interesting aspect is its hilarious neologism, embiggen:

Jebediah: [on film] A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
Edna: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to
Ms.Hoover: I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

The word is then repeated about two or three more times throughout the episode. It then disappears into the Simpsons ether only to become a real word, showing up in an academic article about String Theory (although one could question whether or not string theory is real science, and if fake science has real words, but since Yesterday’s post involved proving the existence of “real” ghosts, I’m going to leave that argument to someone else). wiktionary actually has a very good article on embiggen, pointing out its historical antecedents and post-Simpsons uses. They also include this quote from “Nature” for which I am infinitely thankful:

In a case of theoretical physics imitating art, ‘embiggen’, first coined by The Simpsons character Jebediah Springfield, has now been used in a paper on string theory by Stanford University’s Shamit Kachru. In case you need a definition, it means ‘to grow or expand’.

I’m unclear as to how an animated character can coin a word, but the quote nonetheless shows the import of embiggen within the field of science.

The other neologism of the episode, “cromulent” has been less influential. This is probably because the word has two completely different uses (as pointed out by wiktionary), “fine/ acceptable/ normal”, and “excellent/realistic/authentic,” though I’m not that sure how they decided which was the nonce word). All of his shows the lasting impact of the Simpsons on society, and the incredibly permeable boundary (or, more correctly, the total lack thereof) between “low culture” and “high culture.”

Next time: “Marge vs. the Monorail” and its reverberations in mass transit planning.