Monday, August 29, 2011

The Word Nerd Speaks: Mural

There was an article in today's Seattle Times about a Seattle elementary school which painted a giant picture of a whale in the middle of the street to get the attention of drivers, reminding them that there are schoolchildren in the area.

Kids paint mural for safety


And my inner word nerd said, "Waitwaitwait, hold on a second."

Because if you're looking purely at the "where did that word come from" definition, a painting on the street/floor/ground is not a mural. Because the word mural originally meant "wall." Not even "wall painting" -- that meaning didn't come around until about 1850. Nope, "mural" just meant...wall. (It dates back to the 15th century or so and comes from Latin -- "muralia" -- with a pit-stop in France -- "muraille" -- before coming to English as "mural.")

And even in 1850, "mural" didn't mean painting. For a picture painted on the wall, people used the phrase, "mural painting." It wasn't until the 1920s that the "painting" part of it got dropped and left us with the meaning we have today.

So what is that painting on the street in South Seattle? I have no clue. There does not seem to be one discrete word used to describe artwork on the floor or gound.

Interestingly, though, if you start google searching, you'll find a lot of references to "floor murals." Which, based on original meanings, would mean "floor walls."

This expression (floor mural) kind of epitomizes the delightful way words and phrases skip over and around their original meanings to force their entirely new definitions into common usage.

Have I mentioned recently that I love words?

UPDATE: I'm still searching for an English word for floor art, but in my searchings I have found the Sanskrit word "Rangoli," which seems to describe the tradition of Indian floor painting as much as the art itself. Check out the designs -- they're quite cool!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Introverts Need Skype, Reason #5497: Articles About Bull-Semen-Related Traffic Jams

I am an introvert. I like people just fine, but in general I am happy being an introvert.

But there are days like today when you just kind of need to reach out and touch someone. You know. When you find articles like this:

Bull semen spill causes scare, closes highway


(Reuters) - A spill of frozen bull semen bound for a breeder in the state of Texas triggered a scare on Tuesday that temporarily shut down a U.S. interstate highway during the morning rush hour.

The incident began when the driver of a Greyhound bus carrying the freight alerted the fire department he had lost a part of his load while negotiating the ramp on a highway near Nashville.

"We didn't know what it was, but we were told (the canisters) were non-toxic," said Maggie Lawrence, a fire department spokeswoman.

When firefighters arrived on the ramp, they saw "four small propane-sized canisters (that) began to emit a light vapor," Lawrence said.

In addition to the vapor, the canisters also let off an unpleasant odor and the ramp was closed while emergency personnel tried to determine what was in the containers.

The bus driver turned around to retrieve the canisters. Once emergency personnel learned the smoking canisters were nothing hazardous and that they simply contained frozen bull semen that had been stored on dry ice, Tennessee Department of Transportation and fire department workers cleared the ramp.

"It was no different to us than if a mattress fell off a truck," said transportation spokeswoman B.J. Doughty.

Resulting conversation with a fellow introvert:

Laurie: Best headline of the day: Bull semen spill causes scare, closes highway

Friend: Best or worst?

Laurie: oh, best. definitely best.

Friend: "When firefighters arrived on the ramp, they saw 'four small propane-sized canisters (that) began to emit a light vapor, Lawrence said."
I'm sorry, what?

Laurie: I know, right? What kind of bulls were these again?

Friend: Yeah, bulls, or unicorns?

Laurie: If it were unicorns, I kind of doubt they would be shipped on Greyhound.