Fun With Man-Words

In 2013, 52 Atlantic spotted dolphins migrated from the northern Bahamas to Bimini, 100 miles south, where a community of 120 of their species already lived. The encounter could have gone badly.

When groups of social mammals meet, things can get tense. Run-ins between chimpanzee communities, for instance, are known for their violence. Adult male mammals, especially, are keen to defend territory and access to females.

(Carolyn Wilke, “Dolphin Strangers Met in the Bahamas. Things Went Swimmingly,” NYTimes, 8-6-22)

As it happened, for reasons that included lots of steamy dolphin sex, the newcomers were assimilated with relative ease.

What’s arresting for this reflection is mention of the general propensity of man-males to defend access to femme-males. In tribal contexts, the integrity and purity of the son-bearing pool are paramount. Womb-men are a brood stock managed by male-men like any vital resource — such as a watering hole, a salt deposit, a grove of pippins. Post-Roe, a purdah-torial direction of travel is discernible in America, where resurgent he-men tighten the reproductive and behavioral screws on non-men. The tribe is on the move.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Also Good With Cheese on a Biscuit

Anyone who has twisted the cap off an opened jar of Marmite rimmed with dried product will know why it’s used to glue the tiles on the heat shields of Elon Musk’s rockets. The shields enable the craft to withstand the searing stresses of passage through Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Until they discovered Marmite’s aptitude for the purpose, Muskovite engineers had experienced frustration with conventional adhesives’ failure during flight, causing tiles to fall off and pose potential disaster for the rockets and their crews.

As often happens, a breakthrough in a billionairian space program sparks advances in adjacent industries — in this case, the development and manufacture of a wide range of edible glues.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘Trsf yjr timr/‘

When I tried to be a writer I was too young to have interesting thoughts. Rimbaud was a freak to be worshiped despairingly. Why couldn’t I be an ancient soul at nineteen like him? I could not find impassive rivers to descend on my Smith-Corona portable.

Now that I have a mature outlook, touch typing may rescue me. The skill requires assuming the home position from the onset of attack, index fingers bookending ‘G’ and ‘H,’ no droopy wrists, eyes on your copy — and sit up straight! My attractive high school teacher was emphatic. Her impact on my keyboarding endures.

In the throes of afflatus my occasional failing is to be carelessly right-shifted from home position by one key. My index fingers rest on ‘G’ and ‘K’ instead of ‘F’ and ‘J.’ A glance at the screen after a spate of keying reveals gibberish. For example, “Read the rune.” comes out as:

Trsf yjr timr/.

In point of fact, this isn’t true gibberish. Train wreck of a false start, yes, but it’s also a map to a message. Knowing the state of affairs, you could decode it yourself if you had half a mind. But what you deciphered would be less interesting than what my delinquent fingers had wrought.


Fun is ahead in shifting right expressly. I could type something disobliging here on my blog, say a snatch of billingsgate, and my reader would be none the wiser. She would take it to be a citation from Welsh or a Transcaucasian language.

I’m calling this gift rhapsodic typographicalism and its specimens typo rhapsodies. The best ones are destined for submission to the poetry journals.

z0vz0 3-33 zk,m == Ryjovs;Fsyobr/ S;; tohjyd trdrtbrf [<— rhapsodic copyright line]

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‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last…’

“We’re going to draw a hard line in the sand for morality,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Clint Ives said… “I applaud their efforts to defeat liberalism…”

(George Coryell, “Victoria County [Texas] sides with group that wants city library books removed,”, 8-1-22)

The commissioner refers to a group of citizens who want 21 books about LGBTQ children and teens banned from the public library.

“America is being reintroduced to what preliterate or highly ethnically divided societies that have tried to implement the American model have known all along… All politics are tribal and zero-sum. You have created tribes and the tribes aren’t talking to each other anymore.”

(Farah Stockman, “Kenya’s Elite Talk About American Power in the Past Tense,” NYTimes, 8-3-22)

James Mwangi, executive director of Dalberg, an international consulting firm, is quoted in the article.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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New Word: ‘Yean’

Eye-catching illustration

I’ve bumped into yean, a novel word, in the serendipitous way that study of a foreign language affords. The word is classed as ‘Archaic.’ Of course it is. Another recent discovery of mine, objurgate, is’ Rare.’ I wonder if I inhabit a superannuated mental space clogged with spent words. Should I hang out more on social media where the fast and furious lingo lives?

Here’s where yean surfaced:

Rem. c. There are some feminine adjectives of the form [fuƹlā], not superlatives, without any corresponding masculines; as [‘untā] female, feminine, [ḥublā] pregnant, [rubbā] which has recently yeaned (of a ewe or she-goat).

(Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, p. 184)
Helpful notes

Yean means to give birth to a lamb or a kid.

I had an irreverent uncle, branded Buzz, a classic middle child who was born to ranch and died broke, but unbroken. Buzz swore that the priest conducting the only Catholic mass he ever witnessed intoned “something about a game of dominos.” He (Buzz) would pass audible gas in mixed company, adopt a studious frown and murmur, “Thoughts and prayers.”

Buzz never ranched sheep nor goats; he was a cattleman. It will come as no surprise that he celebrated the arrival of each of his three children by announcing that his wife had calved. For no good reason but true to form, Buzz has the last word in this divagation.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Don’t Do to Me Whatever That Means

From the stagnant backwaters of my brain, objurgate bubbles up unsolicited. Is it even a word? Where have I ever heard or set eyes on it?


My smidgin of Latin alerts me to what the word has in common with obverse, obfuscate, obnoxious: a knobby, adversative prefix.

Google knows objurgate means “rebuke severely; scold.” It’s classed as “Rare.” The usage example establishes that it’s transitive: the old man objurgated his son.

What does the example tell us? The objurgator is male and old. The object of objurgation is his son, who must be grown, or nearly so, unless his aging father impregnated a trophy wife. Those marriages are dicey, because only a codger with great wealth lands a twenty-something bride, and after bearing him a brat she inevitably has second thoughts about the pre-nup agreement she signed in the salad days of the romance when the tycoon’s advances were ardent and flattering.

Who knows what the old man’s feelings are towards this child whom he has objurgated? His three grown kids from an earlier marriage, two sons and a daughter, have no more than a tepid relationship with their half-sibling. They are active in running the old man’s empire and have a vested interest in being his exclusive heirs as currently specified in the will.

We can’t know the outcome of this tricky situation, and we leave the example to work itself out, wishing the objurgatee and his disillusioned, bored momma the best that can be hoped for.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The Spanish word garabato (‘scrawl’) has a staccato pop to the ear, like a spate of rim shots. It evokes line and form in a night on the town, gadabout and roguish, flirting with all and sundry, living it up, dancing on feet of Klee. Cy Twombly was a righteous garabatero. The very name — Cy Twombly — is a luscious sonic doodle, like Bo Diddly.

Why is it easier to look “abstractly” than to hear that way? I account only for my own eye and ear, of course. And I refer to the experience of listening to Miles Davis versus Cecil Taylor. If I am a string, Davis pulls me, Taylor pushes me. Somewhere I read that Taylor plays his piano like a drum. That helped me confront, if not cozy up to, what I hear. Taylor hammers the instrument with what tracks as manic zest. It gets respect at a minimum.

Then there are the gestures of word washing over, through and across the white spaces of my Poetry magazines. A monthly fire-hose of verse. Truly we inhabit an efflorescence of devil-take-the-hindmost in the kicking over of traces. Where do I find the edifying pleasure in it? — Oh, go pleasure yourself! I hear the verses retort.

No argument from me. What good is it to be sentient if your receiver’s turned off? Rigidity is the Beast. Stay curious about art that’s intrepid and aloof for as long as possible, the Oracle sighs. (She was a poet, not a fortune teller like they thought.)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The ‘He-She —> They’ Transformation (2)

Arabic: [mudakkar(un)] masculine; [‘antum] you plural masc.; [‘anta] you singular masc.

(Continued from

A pronoun is only as stable as the noun it stands for. If Niamh does not always, or ever, identify-reveal as she, nor Oisín as he, their customary pronouns aren’t fit for purpose. At the same time, humans abhor the inanimacy of it-ness; hence the jump to omni-they to mask off he-she. The occasional sacrifice of number clarity is considered a tolerable trade-off.

That’s the answer you came for. Read no further and enjoy your day, unless you want a historical perspective.


Arabic: [mu’annat(un)] feminine; [‘anti] you singular fem.; [‘antunna] you plural fem.

Homo erectus and hominid successors practiced procreative coitus. Willy-nilly, mating pairs were sorted chromosomally into inseminator and whelper. Mates exchanged communicative rudiments on a me-you basis. Offspring required mention of a third person, which is how it came about: Is it alive? Feed it. Etc.

Mating pairs were soon dead; most whelps died in infancy; those that lived long enough figured out coitus; the species staggered on.

Hard experience led to the inclusion of approaching strangers in it. A whelper was a non-event, but an inseminator was likely to rape and pillage. So God coined the terms he and she to help His creatures judge when a threat was nigh:

— What’s that coming? — Not a she. It looks like a he! — Hide!

Thus the gendered, third-person-singular pronoun entered history. Time marched on, events befell, etc., bringing us to 2022.

The urgency of sexing strangers other than God has waned. Rape and pillage are mechanized. Whelps are proper nouns like Morgan and Whitney, Campbell and Mackenzie, Cassidy and Austin, Oral and Jedediah. One’s private persuasion is their sovereign business, which let’s the cat out of the bag: They is the it that wasn’t.

This finely adduced account bodies forth a theory wanting only facts to support it, the lack of which, in America, robustly argues for it.

Make America Groan Aghast.
(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The Secret of Drawing Is to Make a Mark

Complexity is what we create; our familiar cussedness comes out and easily defeats us. The harder things in life are the simple ones.

Whenever I manage to disregard the rulemonger holding class in my skull-room, the method-nazi intoning, You are not trained, and I drag a utensil of any sort over a surface, say cardboard or paper, so as to leave a track, a trail, a vestige of my commandeering, of my interference with the materials, what remains there, even if a dog’s breakfast, acquires a life of its own, a pitiful dignity, a tiny glory somehow magnified, beautified, invested with significance beyond so-called merit by its jaunty concreteness. I have pushed through. I have made a drawing. (The present perfect lends my achievement the verily sound of registered utterance.)

Some may say, Congratulations! You’ve managed a doodle. I hear the irony, the patronizing, the pity from on high, but I’ll take it. Thank you. I’ll call my doodle a drawing, and we part, and go our ways, you yours, I mine.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Don’t Let the Prefect Be the Enemy of the Gay

Where I live, a powerful local official causes a contribution to be withheld from an organization planning a pride festival in the town square. The official does not wish the county’s name to be associated with a drag show, a one-hour feature of the day-long event.

A citizen of another country tells me of reading Paul Theroux’s book “Deep South” and marveling at the number of churches and preachers the author encounters in his tour of Dixie. I’ve been a passionate reader of Theroux’s explorations of far-flung reaches of the globe. He chose the American South in 2015.

In my state, the party of limited government and individual responsibility reaches into the lives of citizens with the fury of Draco. A century-old statute against abortion has been activated. Measures are afoot to criminalize travel to other states for the procedure, as well as the taking of pills for it.

When it happens I always glance at the time on my bedside iPhone. Last night it was 12:54 AM. I suppose I want to be able to answer the question, if interviewed, When did you hear the shots? The volley of unmistakable, sharp reports awoke me. From the usual direction, south side of town, sounding only blocks away. Somehow the mind registers the number of reports in a zone of afterthought and recreates them: two spaced cracks, brief pause, then four in quick succession.

There was no followup or aftermath, no sirens, no next-day news report of any fray. Just unremarked gunfire in the middle of the night in my Texas town in 2022. A semi-regular occurrence. My sister lives a short distance from me in the direction of the shots. “Did you hear them?” I ask her at morning coffee. Yes, she nods. We sip from our cups and contemplate the summer heat.

(c) 2022 JMN

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