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I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

The New Year in a Pickle

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Last night I went to Mt. Olive NC with my friend Cheryl and we wound up in a prime viewing spot for the annual pickle drop to commemorate the New Year. Pickle manufacturers being sensible people, they hold this event at 7pm... which happens to be Midnight Greenwich Mean Time.

I was moved more than I thought possible by the act of celebrating the New Year with a three foot tall glowing pickle dropping into a vat. Perhaps it was the symbolism, since 2009 starts off with the whole world "in a pickle," a very odd phrase that people would understand to mean "in trouble," but if you stop and think for a minute, why on earth would "in a pickle" ever have been chosen to mean "in trouble?" I mean, pickles are, for the most part, positive things. It's hard to find people who absolutely dislike all things pickled. I suppose some sorts of pickles are sour, or have a vinegar taste, but why isn't the phrase, "in vinegar?"

And another thing: When we were driving to Mt. Olive, I made the comment that it was "smack dab in the middle of nowhere." Which got me thinking about what an odd phrase "smack dab" is. I looked it up and it is in the dictionary meaning "directly," but no citations of its origins are given.

One reason I suspect that true artificial intelligence lies very far out in the future is that machine intelligences will probably always be restricted to operating under some sort of logic or rules. Humans are under no such obligation when they are creating their languages. We can take a word like "smack" and have it mean the act of striking someone--"Terry smacked Lisa's bottom"--or it can mean a kiss--"Lisa planted a big smack on Terry's cheek"--or it can mean a drug--"Terry was too strung out on smack to care"--or a commerical product--"So Lisa went and ate a bowl of Sugar Smacks"--or the act of popping one's lips apart to indicate satisfaction with the taste of something--"The cerial was so good she smacked her lips"--and, of course, it's half of a phrase indicating "directly"--"Feeling energized, Lisa punched Terry smack dab on the nose."

Our language is just too strange for words....

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