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My muse is still away for spring break

Yesterday was not a good day for trying to write essays. After spending too much time struggling to write something and making my way through a variety of topics, I came to the realization that my muse was on spring break. I had hoped she would return today, but those hopes were unfounded. Today is not much better. I was tempted to just free write [1] for between thirty minutes and one hour, but that seemed inappropriately tortuous to my readers.

I started to write about one of the stranger Grinnell traditions. However, when I went to look up some details, I discovered that someone had already written a reasonable amount about it. The day may come in which I provide my perspective on that tradition, but today is not that day. Reading about that tradition also reminded me of some research on a walrus that Becky Yoose did toward the end of her career here. I’ll need to dig that up [3].

I spent much of today doing taxes. I considered writing about doing taxes. But reading about taxes sounds even more boring than doing taxes [4]. In addition, almost anything I wrote would probably seem like an exercise in privilege, like complaining about bus strikes in Ireland [5]. Hmmm … I guess that I could write about taxes. I will admit that I’m in favor of progressive tax rates (higher rates for higher-income individuals) and that I believe that you have to accept that your taxes might end up funding things that you might not agree with. But what else would I write on that issue? Oh well, on to the next essay topic.

We have some painful goings-on [6] in the department that have been undermining central commitments the faculty and most of our students have made. There’s a lot I’m thinking about these issues, but I don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public right now [17] or perhaps ever.

I also considered writing about Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, which may be my favorite candy. But [19] they’ve been banned from our house for a decade or more, and it seems strange to write about a candy I haven’t eaten in a long time. If you want to know more, there is a New York Times [20] article on some semi-recent issues relating to these candies.

Now that I’ve gotten this far in this musing and noted that I skipped from endnote 6 to 17 [21] in a paragraph above, I may have figured out what happened to my muse: She’s gone down some Interweb rabbit hole! I hope the trip is voluntary.

[1] As I understand it, free writing is an approach that some writers use when they are stuck. In essence, you write for a period without worrying too much about what’s going on in the writing. You don’t correct grammar, or word choice, or ideas. You just get things down on paper [2]. I have never tried such a technique or at least I don’t remember trying.

[2] Or in electrons.

[3] No, not the walrus. The research.

[4] I apologize to the accountant types out there who find doing taxes exciting.

[5] Sorry, inside joke.

[6] Why is goings-on hyphenated and not just written as goings on [7]?

[7] I tried a Web search. I was surprised to see that the OED entry seemed to be under American English ( However, the word does appear in the general online OED [8] too. I tried to search for goings-on etymology and ended up on one of the worst reference sites I’ve seen [9].

[8] Oxford English Dictionary.

[9] What’s wrong with it? Let’s see … First, the metadata begin as follows (emphasis mine).

Definition of Goings on in the Fine Dictionary. Meaning of Goings on with illustrations and photos. Pronunciation of Goings on and it’s etymology.

Next, they use the following as examples.

I am an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way. (Carl Sandburg)

Then I did pull him out, but he’s been going on like mad ever since. (Sail Ho! by George Manville Fenn)

Memphis-based Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc this week announced that tickets will go on sale on Friday (Nov. 2) for the Elvis Presley Aloha from Hawaii 40th Anniversary Screening. ( )

So, here’s the question: Is the page automatically generated or is there a person behind the scenes? I tried going to the home page, but there was no info there. I tried a Google search for about finedictionary, and go nothing else useful about the topic [10]. The deeper I go into the site, the more I think that it’s automatically generated, particularly because of the strange lists of typos at the bottom of the page [15]. But why have this site? There’s no advertising on any page that I can see? Is this just an exercise in automatic page generation? Maybe someone is writing a research paper.

[10] I did, however, discover that the second result for that query is a definition of patripassian [11]. That’s definitely a word that middle son will enjoy reading more about.

[11] The first definition on that page, which seems to come from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, uses the word preëxistent. I wonder when preexistent lost its dieresis [12,14].

[12] The New Yorker has an interesting article on the use of the dieresis. They also use a dieresis in preëxistent is the article Preëxisting Condition from 2009.

[14] I also wonder why dieresis lacks a dieresis.

[15] I liked patripwssian as a misspelling of patripassian because I value instances in which w is used as a vowel [16]. But then I saw patripzssian and got frustrated.

[16] I’m serious. The letter w serves as a vowel in a few English words, including cwm. It appears that some linguists also suggest that the sound w makes in words like low is vowel-like.

[17] Writing about the issues in public or even in email messages to the department [18] will likely make things worse. But don’t worry, the CS faculty and the CS SEPC are working hard on the problems!

[18] Students involved in the issue have asked me not to write to the department about it.

[19] The University of Chicago Press recently released a book called But Can I Start a Sentence with But?: Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A. I need to add that book to my reading list.

[20] When I went to the NYT site to look up the article, I discovered that Bernie Wrightson passed away. I’m pretty sure that I used a Wrightson work for a printmaking project in high school.

[21] The pairing of 6 and 17 in the paragraph above was not intentional. Nonetheless, that’s a pairing I like because my birthday is also Bunker Hill Day [22,23].

[22] Also known as Breeds Hill Day.

[23] June 17, for you non-Bostonians [24].

[24] Or even for some of you newer Bostonians or otherwise improper Bostonians.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-25.