Thursday, September 25, 2008


Peak: pinnacle, highest point, acme, summit, apex, etc. We know the term well from many contexts, including:
  • "in peak health" (#). This expression is so well known that a surprising number of medical facilities play on it (#)
  • "at peak [commuter] hours" (#)
Then along came peak oil, which introduced (? -- or at least popularized) a subtle difference in how the work peak is used, as suggested by the definition in the article:
Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached ...

Peak in this sense seems to gobble up a bit more meaning than just "apex"; as used here, it seems to mean "upper limit of the (easy) availability of [commodity]." And sure enough, this usage can be generalized:

Where else do we see this usage?

Update 10/14/08: John Cole uses the term Peak Wingnut in a political blog, which is then deconstructed somewhat (mostly the "wingnut" part) by Mark Liberman on the Language Log under the title "Peak X."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

... and for chagiggles

I heard something today during a presentation that got my attention (well, the presentation was interesting also), but which struck me at the time as just as slip of the tongue. But when I got back to the office, I searched for it. Man, was I ever surprised:

  • just for chagrins, lets just suppose that everything in this film is embellished (#)

  • That might be neat to find out just for chagrins. (#)

  • Will probably resurrect the F body and try the filter with it (just for chagrins..) (#)

etc. These from the single page of Google hits for this phrase. Not so many cites, but I was surprised that there were any at all.

I believe that per the technical definition, these aren't eggcorns; they're just plain ol' malapropisms. I suppose these cites essentially mean that some people don't know what chagrin means. That's not so surprising, I suppose; it's not a term that comes up in everyday speech.

So: probably not an evolutionary development. Just a little mutation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Starting over

I've been around the term reboot since, dunno, 30 years ago? (He said, using uptalk intonation.) It's, like, a computer thing, right? On the conservative extreme (language, not politics) among the people I work with (editors), booting is already a bit casual; the proper term is bootstrapping.

Or was. It's safe to say that more people know to boot than know to bootstrap in the context of computers, and I've never heard anyone even suggest to rebootstrap. Although I might try that, see what kind of reaction I get.

It seems that to reboot has been wending its way into territory beyond computer science. This came to me forcefully today when I heard Teri Gross talking about the director J. J. Adams:

Next year Abrams's new "Star Trek" movie will be released, with the hope that it will reboot that franchise the way "The Dark Knight" rebooted Batman.
Repeating reboots, cool. This is an interesting usage to me; it's clear enough what it means, since it has the same semantics as in computer land, namely to restart. Turns out that this usage is established in the comic-book industry, where writers find themselves faced with a ticklish problem, namely how to wipe the slate clean on an established story line. As the highly authoritative Wikipedia explains nicely:

A reboot gives the chance for new fans to experience the core story by reintroducing it in smaller and easier-to-understand installments and/or by refocusing the story on its most important elements and abandoning many subplots and an overgrowth of minor details. Reboots may also serve changing audience expectations as to storytelling style, genre evolution, and sophistication of material.

I went a-searching for more examples of reboot being used outside computers. Huh, once you pay attention, you see it everywhere, imagine.

There's a book of essays named Rebooting America. (A bonus there is a tantalizing link to something called smartocracy -- ain't that neat? -- but the link doesn't seem to go anywhere.)

There's a TV show I've never heard of (that covers most of them, actually) named ReBoot. By computer dudes, it looks like.

reboot now: a conference about technological change: "A convergence to celebrate the emergence of new paradigms,where you can become a catalyst for change by the unlearning of old patterns… ."Another nice find: the Latest News section starts off with "Dear Fellow Rebootians," heh.

Reboot Music: "A music label founded by technology and entertainment industry veterans to reinvent the business of music. Utilizing an innovative approach, Reboot Music embraces new consumer behaviors and new technologies to create a company without boundaries." Gotcha.

A blog piece: Reboot Your Workflow This Fall.

A piece in Wired magazine: "The Critics Need a Reboot. The Internet Hasn't Led Us Into a New Dark Age."

Reboot Stereophonic is a music company that ... well, I don't quite get it, but it has something to do with old recordings.

Life Reboot, a blog-y thing that's about people who are restarting their careers.

The meaning of "restarting" travels easily through these usages. My general impression, tho it's just that, is that this, what, more metaphoric? even more metaphoric? use of reboot is being driven by people who come out of the computer industry or its various cousins (e.g., "new media"). The exception might actually be comics, but then, there's quite a bit of overlap between comic fandom and computer folks, so maybe it's a natural migration of the term from the later to the former.

Anyway, if you hear your grandma talking about rebooting her garden or something, by all means, let me know. I'm curious just how far this term is going to go.