Yesterday I heard somebody being congratulated for “a really checkered career.” The word “checkered” in this sort of context usually has a negative meaning, suggesting that a person with a checkered past committed serious faults. The Oxford ...

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"Publisher’s Round-up" - 5 new articles

  1. Checking Up On “Checkered”
  2. Alien Apostrophes Invade American Department Store!
  3. Just one more thing about apostrophes . . .
  4. About the Size of It
  5. London, that Doddlin’ Town
  6. More Recent Articles

Checking Up On “Checkered”

Yesterday I heard somebody being congratulated for “a really checkered career.”

The word “checkered” in this sort of context usually has a negative meaning, suggesting that a person with a checkered past committed serious faults. The Oxford English Dictionary says it means “diversified in character; full of constant alternation (especially for the worse).”

The original expression stems from comparing the black and white squares on a chessboard to the bright and dark spots in someone’s life.

I imagine the speaker meant something like “varied,” “many-sided,” “multifaceted,” or “wide-ranging.”

Richard Nixon, who came to national prominence with his “Checkers speech,” had an especially checkered career.

Alien Apostrophes Invade American Department Store!

In the wake of the current controversy over major stores dropping Ivanka Trump’s line of products, we’re seeing a lot of references to “Nordstrom’s."

Unlike Macy’s, “Nordstrom” is the official name of the chain. No apostrophe. No final S.

Just one more thing about apostrophes . . .

On the podcast we’ve been discussing apostrophe usage for the past three weeks. There are a lot of comic strips weighing in on the subject lately.

Here's a pretty clever example from Wizard of Id.

About the Size of It

From New York Times article about desertification in China:
One recent estimate said China had 21,000 square miles more desert than what existed in 1975—about the size of Croatia.
Does knowing that Croatia comprises 21, 851 square miles help you envision how big that is?

I thought not.

Where is Croatia, anyway? Is that really a country? Somewhere in Eastern Europe, right?

The name may not sound all that familiar because if you’re older than 25 you were born before the modern state of Croatia was created out of part of the former Yugoslavia. Remember Croatia? Bosnia? Serbia?

That area.

And that is where?

On the coast of the Adriatic Sea. That help?


You know where Italy is, right? Upper right is Venice. Look due east on the map. That's Croatia.

But wait, it's really a weird shape, looks like a gerrymandered electoral precinct. Lots of little inlets and islands, zigs, zags, and wiggles all over the place. Hard to use as an imaginary unit of measure.

Americans are notoriously fuzzy about geography outside of the US, but we have a couple of standard units of measure. The most common is the football field.

Examples from recent news stories:

Migrating monarch butterflies in Mexico cover an area about the size of  2 1/2  football fields.

An oil spill in Alberta covered an area the size of 5 football fields.

China's building a radio telescope the size of  30 football fields.

The new Tesla factory outside of Reno is going to be the size of 107 football fields.

And China has created 20 football fields’ worth of new land in the Spratlys.

Sort of clear, right?

But football fields aren't that helpful when we're talking about more sizeable areas. Croatia, for instance,  is the size of almost 10 million football fields.

So we can go up to the second most common US unit of measure for areas: the Rhode Island.

Mark Twain may have been the first author to use this unit, in Following the Equator. He remarked that the Australian state of Victoria was about the size “of fifteen or sixteen Rhode Islands.”

Journalists like Rhode Islands because Rhode Island is actually really small—the smallest of all the states—so it's easy to say something is several times bigger than a whole honkin’ STATE!

The valley in Pakistan where Malala Yousafzai grew up is about the size of 2 Rhode Islands.

Ted Turner owns a little under 3 Rhode Islands’ worth of property.

The ocean preserve that Obama recently created covers an area equivalent to roughly 550 Rhode Islands.

So. Croatia is about 18 Rhode Islands big.

That's a lot of Chinese desert.


London, that Doddlin’ Town

One of the more amusing misspellings I’ve encountered lately: “doddle” for “dawdle.”


From a TripAdvisor restaurant review:
“Always a treat... just don't doddle”

From a Facebook post:
“Home buyers in these markets can’t doddle when it comes to finding their dream home.”

From a Christian post about running away from temptation:
“We shouldn't delay.  We shouldn't doddle.  We should run.  Run fast.  Run far.”

It might not be flagged by spelling checkers, though. It's also a noun in casual British English meaning “something easy to accomplish” and there's a UK parcel delivery service named “Doddle” which aims to make your shipping simple.


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