Tag Archives: Words

Twice-Baked Bread and Half-Baked Thoughts

zwieback

zwieback toast

zwieback
noun zwie·back \ˈswē-ˌbak, ˈswī-, ˈzwē-, ˈzwī-, -ˌbäk\
: a dry, hard bread that is eaten especially by young children

I lost the Third Annual Cabin Fever Spelling Bee held at the Kellogg Hubbard Library.

Lost early on. The kind of early on that is a tad embarrassing, with tad here meaning “a whole lot.”

Judging from many of the subsequent words, if not early on I would have lost later on. The competition was humbling and props to Robbie Harold who won it. Won it again, I should add. It was amazing hearing her and the other spellers spell, often doing so rapidly and with mind-blowing certainty.

My particular losing word — zwieback — was a word I had never heard before and my misspelling of it revealed that ignorance to the audience. But it also revealed some interesting ways my brain works; though not to the audience, of course, who, being outside of me, could only see its dismal output accompanying a somewhat gormless expression.

My thoughts started with crackers.

Word-Pronouncer Sydney Lea included crackers in his definition of the word. He said a lot of other descriptive words, mentioning them being inedible and how he remembered his grandmother always had them around.

He likely mentioned bread, too, but, after briefly and tangentially thinking of my maternal grandparents, candy orange slices and other weird candies that only seemed to be present at their house and always in little glass dishes,  I zeroed in on crackers.

My mind started sifting through different crackers sold at Shaw’s; specifically, the ones loosely collected in my head under the category “crackers with weird names.” Matzo and wasi came most immediately to mind, along with Melba toast, which sound nothing like zwieback, but still…

Although zwieback didn’t sound familiar, perhaps I had at least glanced at them while stocking items in its shelf vicinity. No matter that for Wasi I should have been thinking Wasa; I could picture the three kinds – multi-grain, sourdough, and light rye – on the shelf and tried to see other neighboring crackers.

But instead Wasi encouraged wasabi to hijack my thinking, tossing me over to a different aisle. Wasabi is a real word, but it is a plant and has nothing to do with crackers. Though wasabi peas are stocked in the oriental foods section, where KA-ME offers three kinds of rice crackers, which are called… er, rice crackers.

No help there…

Abandoning this path, I tried to focus on the sound of the word, hoping to make a good guess. But zwī is not a common sound in English and I couldn’t think of what letters plopped together could create it. The closest I came to the sound was zī as in Zygote, which I knew wasn’t right even as I spelled zwieback Z-Y-B-A-C-K.

Ironically, in a too-late-to-be-of-use fashion, as soon as Sydney started spelling it correctly, Z – W –, my mind partially blocked him out and went “Oh, yeah, duh” recalling my rudimentary college German and proceeding to unhelpfully count in German:

Eins
Zwei
Drei
Vier…

Where the German word for two has both the sound and spelling I had needed. Or so I had thought until I started writing this post and research showed the correct word has I before E, following the infamous except before c English Language rule. So even if I had remembered my German, I would have likely gotten it wrong, catching the beginning zw and messing up the subsequent ie by following Zwei.

Though to be fair, a Google search shows quite a few people mistakenly spelling it zweiback. A mistake perhaps compounded by the word, meaning literally twice-baked, coming from the German word for two, zwei.

On the other hand, one source says zwie is a variant of zwei. Another source even claims the word zwieback comes originally from German zweiback. I cannot yet locate an authoritative source on its true etymology.

But in contemporary usage – eg. Nabisco and Amazon.de, it is I before E.

Still, the pronunciation can be either a long I or a long E sound, adding to the trickiness, with the latter sound appearing in rule-breaking words like seize. Then again, maybe it isn’t so rule-breaking after all; soft C and S sound alike, so I before E, except after a (soft) C sound.

Neither ie nor ei follows C when it is hard, which means when C sounds like K not S.

Kome to think of it, why do we even have a C in our language? Kouldn’t we rely on K’s and S’s?

For CH’s, maybe? If so, why not have it simply – and always — be that sound and dispense with needing the H with it? We could even redesign the letter altogether and call it see-aytch in homage to ß.

Maybe we keep it as is just so we can have the I before E except after C rule.

Though that would be weird.

Courting our Thoughts

This post is about words

More specifically, a word: court.

So if you don’t give a fuck about words and/or the word court, don’t read. But then again, even if you do give a fuck, go ahead and read but please don’t give your fuck to me. I’m not sure I even know exactly what you would be giving me, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want it. I’m also fairly certain that I already have a sufficient supply of fucks of my own to give or not give.

Ah, beautiful language. Beautiful fucking language.

I attended a cool mixed-media performance last night at Buch Spieler, a record store with records. Owner Fred Wilber — of the band Madman 3 — laid down some nifty electronic sequences to accompany the ever provocative spoken word of VT Poetry Slam Champ Geoff Hewitt.

One thing good art does is lubricate the brain and heaven knows that my rusty brain perpetually needs a squirt now and again to remind its more creative neurons to stay on their axons; not something easy to do when your paying-bills job reminds you of the machine room in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

As I watched, listened, and zoned in to the show, I thought I need to write more poetry.

I also thought I’m hungry, as I had worked all day at the aforementioned job and had yet so far only had a couple of muffins several hours ago. But I mostly thought about poetry, as I can go longer without food than without creativity.

Fast forward to the next day, this morning actually, to after I fed our cats and was out walking our dog, both those things needing done before I’m off to my own version of Lang’s world.

WORD ALERT — the word COURT ahead —- WORD ALERT.

The above is for readers who might either be skimming or bored or both, wondering when the hell is he going to talk about the word court. So now you to know the hell is soon forthcoming.

I walked us up State St to the Vermont Statehouse, then through the parking lot, spilling onto a street I thought I’d never been on before. It turned out to be Court St, which I had previously traveled — though I hadn’t walked that part of it — when walking to Hubbard Park.

To get to the Park, I went up School St and turned on Hillside Ave; that intersection where Court St angles off to go its own northwest way. I absently registered the name and idly thought about the word Court in the context of names like Fowler Courts at Purdue University, where I lived for a couple of years. I tangentially thought of how roads are called streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards, courts, and so on, and wondered about the distinctions.

I also thought holy mackerel, Hillside Ave and especially the Cliff St that it becomes is friggin’ steep; this is tiring. But that’s unrelated to the promised Court discussion, so we will say no more about it here.

Walking southeast from the State House down the unfamiliar street I came upon the Hillside Ave signage which also informed me I had been walking on Court St.

This time I thought, “Oh, duh, that makes sense.” The name of the street, that is. Before the Statehouse, is the Vermont Supreme Court. So a road leading to Court being called thus isn’t exactly head-scratching. But it is fascinating from a philosophy of mind viewpoint.

The duh, that makes sense came about because I automatically, and effortlessly, drew the “logical” connection of their being a judicial court and the road to it being called Court. Previously not realizing the presence of such a building, my Court thoughts were different.

To me this illustrates two important mental points.

The first should be obvious: that thoughts are always about something; that is, attached to something. I mention it here because sometimes in philosophy you’ll hear goofy ideas about Pure Thought, as if we can strip away the mental from the physical and thus better understand it. But that would be like cutting down all the trees so you can have a better look at the forest.

The more sublime — and amazing — point is how its aboutness and its attachment changes along with our experience. We never think in a vacuum; in a space devoid of content. Our interactions with the world — and what we are doing at any given moment in time — influence it.

What is altogether neat — or spooky — is that most — practically all — of this type of processing occurs at the unconscious level; our brain continuously processes — and reprocesses — the inputs we feed it via our senses and our ongoing mental activity. Its “conscious” output is thus heavily — primarily, really — influenced by the Un, even though it feels otherwise.

I have a lot more to say on this, but unfortunately I have to go to my non-thinking-about-thinking job. But I want to end with this illustrative thought:

When you read the first two words here in this little blog — “This post…” — what did you think “post” referenced? You likely didn’t think of fence posts or flag posts or bulletin board notices or daily mail or any other usage of post except for an entry like this.

But the two words — This post — give no clue on their own as to which meaning of “post” is intended. Yet you did not need to have anymore than those two words to have an expectation of a blog entry.

You consciously read the words, but it was your unconscious that gave the otherwise vacuous words meaning.