Unlike English, nouns in French are designated as either masculine or feminine.  A house is feminine, “la mansion,” while a pencil is masculine, “le crayon.”  So what gender is a computer?

A group of men might reason that computers are feminine (“la computere”) because 1) No one but their creator understands their internal logic; 2) the native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else; 3) Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for possible later review; and 4) As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your salary on accessories for it.

On the other hand, a group of women might see things differently, i.e. that computer is actually masculine (“le computere”) because: 1) In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on; 2) They have a lot of data, but still can’t think for themselves; 3) They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and 4) As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

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On its maiden voyage, the world’s largest nuclear vessel, (at that time) the USS George Washington, set sail along with its battle group for the Mediterranean Sea.  Prior to entering “The Med” all ships must pass through the Straits of Gibraltar, where there are required by international maritime law to signal the NATO radio station there of their identity.

When the George Washington failed to render the proper signal and the NATO commander of the station signaled to the world’s largest aircraft carrier, “What Ship?”  The captain of the George Washington being somewhat piqued by the situation returned the message with the reply, “What Rock?”

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Gender-neutral terms (flight attendant rather than stewardess for example) include words usually ascribed to women in our “politically correct” world.  The term waitress persists despite, or perhaps because of the existence of other synonyms such as server, waiter, (a 15th century-coinage,) waitperson, (from the 1970s,) and waitron, a new coinage that has yet to become firmly established anywhere outside of Aspen.

However, there is one more “waitress” neologism to add for consideration: it’s wactress.  This term is becoming increasing popular in places like New York and Hollywood; it means a young woman tired of explaining herself as a would-be actress who pays her bills by waiting tables.

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By definition, a contronym, a word coined by Richard Lederer, has more than one meaning.  That’s because contronym names a word that’s either contradictory or confusing.  Appropriately enough, the contronym comes in at least two flavors: they can sound the same, they can be spelled the same, or they can be both.

Take seed. When a garden is “seeded,’ seeds are planted in it.  When a fruit is “seeded,” seeds are taken out of it.  Meanwhile, the word oral describes something spoken, or uttered by the mouth.  Aural describes something of or related to the ear or the sense of hearing.

Ready for a few more?  When stars are out, they can be seen; when lights are out, things are dark.  Other contronyms in our collection include oversight, meaning either “watchful and responsible care” or “an inadvertent omission or error”; sanction, which can mean either “approbation” or “disapprobation,” and shank which, when used temporally, names the early, main, or latter part of a period of time.

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What is resistentialism?  It’s the term that most aptly describes how inanimate technological objects are inherently hostile to humans.  For proof think of the last time you visited a friend or relative and attempted to turn on his or her television set.

There are usually three different but similar looking devices that operate the TV, digital cable box, and the DVD player.  It usually takes the correct combination of at least two of these to actually turn on the TV, but unfortunately only the children who live in the house know which two of the three devices work; and as far as actually changing channels or attempting to watch a video or DVD without the children present—well forget it

Quote of the day: “You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!” –Dave Barry

 

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