Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, March 24, 2023

Four Things

1. For several days running, the odd (to us) insect pictured to the right would sit on the hood of my wife's car. It looked like a leaf, but had grasshopper-like legs. I'd never seen one in my life.

After taking several photographs and sending them to family, I searched and quickly learned that this was actually a very common bug whose name I'd heard many times before, a katydid:

Image by the author, who permits reproduction and use.
The only species in the genus Pterophylla, the Common True Katydid (formerly called Northern True Katydid) is the insect that everyone associates with the name "katydid." This species is large, bright green, and bulky in appearance. Even though its forewings are large, the Common True Katydid is incapable of flight. The males have a dark brown stridulatory field. It is extremely difficult to capture these katydids because they are usually high up in trees, especially oaks, and they blend well with their surroundings. During the breeding season, however, they may sometimes be found walking across roads, moving in the direction of dense choruses.
At the link are recordings of the sound the males make and which give these beautiful insects their name.

2. Back in Boston, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I noticed during classes about childbirth that the folks at the hospital had a strange, yet very consistent way of pronouncing the word centimeter.

Randomly recalling this and that someone incorrectly told me that "sohntimeter" was the French pronunciation, I tried to figure out what this was, and why it happened. Here is part of what I found:
Well-educated folks, born and raised in the USA with English as their primary language and no trace of a foreign accent, were speaking oddly - but only in the context of metric measurements. Very specifically, the unit which referred to a hundredth of a meter: They called it a "son-timeter."


I'm generally not a member of the Grammar Police, and I tend not to offer correction when I hear folks misusing words or saying things the wrong way - it leads to defensiveness, hurt feelings, and the risk of coming off as a nerd or know-it-all. Certainly, when the erroneous party is my senior (in age and/or rank), I err on the side of caution.

I felt motivated to action, however, as I saw that, one by one, other residents in the program, and even medical students on radiology rotations, were falling prey to linguistic peer-pressure. Before my dismayed eyes (or, more accurately, ears), they switched from speaking of centimeters to sontimeters. As a member of a teaching facility, I determined that I should not stand idly by, even if I did risk some backlash.

So it was that I finally administered a pop-quiz to one such student (or junior resident; I cannot recall which):

What do you call the insect that has a hundred legs? (I got a momentary look of confusion, then the answer.) "Centipede."

What's the word for a period of a hundred years? (Less hesitation this time.) "Century."

How much is a penny worth? "One cent."

So, what's a hundredth of a meter? (A rewarding look of comprehension and relief.) "A centimeter."

I never saw a single disciple of mine revert to sontimeters...
I found vindication on this search, more than an answer, although I am sure "linguistic peer pressure" had something to do with it, perhaps originating from a would-be Francophile medical professor somewhere ages ago.

3. The holiday season is long past, but this story about Iberian ham sniffers was a fun read and is still worth passing on:
One aspect of Cinco Jotas' quality control beats its other old-world habits by a nose: a cadre of six sniffers whose job is to poke each pork loin in four specific places with probes made of cow bone and take evaluative whiffs. The probe is called a cala, and a sniffer's formal title is calador.

This olfactory squad is core to the ham factory. To test the curing process, the caladores puncture, in rapid succession, four specific spots -- the hock, next to the hip bone, and twice around a joint of the hip and femur. After they probe, they quickly repair the holes using their fingers to smudge the perforations with fat from the meat.


The pigs are acorn-fed, so the sniffers are seeking an ideal bouquet of woody, umami nuttiness with a slight sweetness. The aroma must not be too strong or toasted, an indication that the meat is on a path toward pasty texture.

Not every scent profile they rule against is putrid or vile. Rejects often smell like coffee, licorice or toffee. The sniffers' exquisite attentiveness has been unexpectedly helpful, such as when Mr. Vega once detected a gas leak at the factory.
No need to page Mike Rowe about this job, though: Applicants must pass a very stringent test of their olfactory discrimination ability.

The company rarely gives the test, which some take hours to complete, and only three people have ever gotten a perfect score.

4. Neat Site of the Week: "Your deadline is coming up, and for some reason you're the one handling Arabic text on the project," the brief description at Help! Is this عربي? begins.

The guy who created this site reminds me of the medical professor in Item 2 above, but he has taken on a much more difficult mission.

I know next to nothing about Arabic, but even I have spotted script misaligned to the left in the wild, so I feel for him.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "someone incorrectly told me that 'sohntimeter' was the French pronunciation..."

Well, "sohn-ti-MET-ruh," at least if by "sohn" you mean a sound between ah and the o sound in the Yank pronunciation of wall. (Go all the way or go home, I say. Enough with half-measures.) In any case, while it's also the Russian pronunciation (and even spelling: сантиметр), modeled on the French, it's not a natural English pronunciation. (And I'm one of that dying breed that says ZOAH-ology, not ZOO-ology, and de-CAY-dent, not DECK-a-dent. Though I'm not so hidebound I pronounce "dour" like "doo-er" instead of "dower.")

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. Go all the way or go home.

I also pronounce zoology as you do, thanks to a favorite high school teacher who, come to think of it, had an Arab father.