Friday, March 30, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: Ridiculously Short Words And Their Meanings

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is also the case with blog posts. Well, in this case, at least. Several days ago, I posted a list of Ridiculously Long Words And Their Meanings, so I felt it only appropriate today to post a collection of extremely short words and their meanings. Enjoy!

1)  Ai:  This is a three-toed sloth which inhabits the forests of southern Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern Brazil. If you disturb the ai while it's eating the trumpet-tree leaves (its favorite food), the ai may very well sound a high-pitched cry in your general direction. Sloths are funny-looking creatures to me, but my wife thinks they're adorable. If she had her way – and/or if it were legal – we would have two or three pet sloths (doing whatever it is sloths do) hanging out at our house right now.

2)  Go:  It's not what you think. Yes, "go" means to move or to leave, but it also has another meaning. Go is also the name for an ancient board game – possibly the oldest board game still in existence, in fact. Known as weiqi in Chinese, igo in Japanese, or baduk in Korean, the game of go originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. The game is apparently rich in strategy, despite having relatively simple rules. According to its Wikipedia article, the game is played by two players who alternately place black and white stones on the vacant intersections (called "points") of a grid of 19 x 19 lines. The object of the game is to use one's stones to surround a larger portion of the board than the opponent. Once on the board, stones can only be moved if they are captured. When a game concludes, the controlled points are counted along with captured stones to determine who has more points. Games may also be lost by resignation.

3)  Id:  The id is one of the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche (along with ego and super-ego). The id part of the psyche, residing in the unconscious, is said to be the source of instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle and are modified by the ego and the super-ego before they are given overt expression. I used to want to be a psychologist – partially because I really enjoyed watching The Bob Newhart Show – but after reading and trying to comprehend explanations like the one above for "id", I decided after only one psychology college course that the field simply wasn't for me. I'm just not smart enough. Maybe I'd make a good subject for a psychologist, but definitely not a good psychologist. Anyway, that's what the "id" is; hopefully you understand it better than I do.

4)  Ho:  It's not what you think, either. Well, it is, but that's not the meaning I'm referring to here. In addition to its derogatory definition as well as its being Santa's most famous saying (always spoken in triplicate), "ho" is a word also used as a call to attract attention, often tagged on after a word denoting a destination. Thus, the phrase "Westward Ho!" essentially means, "Hey, everybody, let's go West!" The saying "Land Ho!" then means, "Look over there, dry land! Perhaps we won't die on the high seas after all!"

5)  Li:  The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, the length of which has varied considerably over time, but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer (approximately 1,640 feet). A modern li consists of 1,500 Chinese "feet" or chi and, in the past, was often translated as a mile. The Chinese used to denote the word () combines the characters for "field" () and "earth (), since a li was considered to be about the length of a single village. Pictured below is a section of the Anping Bridge in Fujian commonly known as the "Five Li Bridge" due to its length.

6)  Oy (also spelled Oi):  This Yiddish word – most often accompanied by the word "vey" – is typically used as an exclamation of dismay or exasperation. The literal meaning of the phrase "oy vey!" is "oh pain!" Uses of the phrase in popular culture include: a sign on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City which proclaims: "Leaving Brooklyn! Oy vey!" (due to the borough's large Jewish population); the chorus of Weird Al Yankovic's song "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi" (which goes something like this – "How ya doin' Bernie? Oy vey, oy vey, And all the goyim say, I'm pretty fly for a rabbi!"); and a series of James Bond parody novels by Sol Weinstein, featuring the spy character named "Oy-Oy-Seven".

7)  Xu:  A xu is a coin formerly minted in South Vietnam which is roughly equivalent to a cent. The xu has not been widely used since 1978, when the dong was established as the primary unit of currency used throughout the country. A dong is worth approximately 100 xu, so the dong is basically their dollar. A two-xu coin is pictured below. Personally, I think all coins should have a hole in the middle for easier transport – I hate having jingly pockets. I'd rather have a jingly necklace. Talk about blinged out!

8)  Pa:  Though you don't hear it as much these days, the word "pa" has historically been a quite commonly used affectation for one's dad or father. Famous Pa's throughout history include Pa Ingalls of Little House On The Prairie fame and Pa Kettle from the Ma And Pa Kettle comedy films of the 1940s and '50s.

9)  Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti (or Si), and Do again:  These seven notes, along with the repeated Do, make up the diatonic scale, a musical term for an octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps. Did you get all that? Good! This technique of having a word associated with each note (not the actual names of the notes) is called solfége, and was put to popular use in a song called "Do-Re-Mi" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's famous musical The Sound Of Music, which goes a little something like this...

10)  Za:  Though I have never personally heard anyone say this, "za" is apparently commonly recognized as a shortened version of the word "pizza" – so much so that it actually appears in respected online dictionaries. Go figure! "Pizza" is not that long of a word, so why anyone would need to shorten it even further is beyond me. Laziness, I suppose? Regardless, if you ever hear anyone say, "Let's get some za!" or perhaps "Does that za place on 10th deliver here?", now you'll know that they're talking about pizza, and not some ancient Egyptian god (that's what it sounds like) or Russian monarch (which is also what it sounds like).

Oh great, now I'm hungry for pizza! Oh, well...

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