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A column for my school paper. (It's here first, though.)

English, the saying goes, is a living language. Contrary to what you learned in school (and to the theatrics of self-appointed Defenders of the Faith like William Safire) ain't is in the dictionary. And speaking as an undeclared linguistics major, Jeff Luttermoser's September 24th column -- "Slang words lower quality of language" -- was whack.

First item of business: dictionaries. What right does Merriam-Webster have to include, among the ten thousand 2003 Edition additions, the word phat? Why the sudden change? Dictionaries haven't always included topical phrases like killer app, have they? Why succomb to the creep of antiintellectualism?

The purpose a dictionary hasn't changed: define words for those who don't know them. More surprising, though, dictionary policy hasn't changed: comb popular newspapers and magazines for words entering wide usage. If a word's incidence passes a certain threshold and remains there long enough, include it. What has changed is the rest of society. Writing standards at the aforementioned magazines and papers have become more relaxed, witty, and conversational, so their lexicon has expanded to encompass new stuff, and, in turn, people need to know more words (and more current words), which the clever Webster world-gathering system automatically provides.

This is a good thing. Language has no intrinsic logic; it's a communications tool governed by usage and concensus. In the 7th century the word bad actually meant gay, but people said the old English equivalent of that's so gay so often that eventually "bad" just meant bad -- and you don't hear gay rights activists complaining, because the word has become completely disassociated from its original meaning: nobody thinks it's anything but "non-good", so it isn't. Similarly, a 19th century reader would consider my use of contractions a sign of moral degeneracy (that's one of the reasons Huck Finn was banned) but today it just brings a slight frown to my editor's face.

Now on to the sticky part. Luttermoser argues that this slang-addled generation is "too ignorant to learn our own language". I would invite him to compare a random page from an Unabridged Webster with its Oxford English equivalent: about half the entries in the latter are missing from the former -- and vice versa. New words rarely penetrate the psyches of the entire English-speaking world, and when they do, they rarely stay for long.

But by and large, additional words don't decohere, they enrich. The English language has a vocabulary twice as large as most others, which is one reason so much good literature gets written in it: we can say regal, or royal, or kingly, and they all mean slightly different things; in French there's only one word. Similarly, it's great to have dope, fly, and ill to describe a song's innovative sound, rather than just cool.

As for people having "given up on the concept of annunciation": as long as you can understand what's said, calling for someone to speak differently is being a snob. If an accent or dialect makes them sound uneducated, that's your problem: listen to the content, not the presentation, and alter your connotations accordingly.

But this is all a sidetrack. We should be concentrating on what's important: the etymology of phat.

Though new to the mainstream, it can be traced back at least 60 years, beyond apocryphal acronyms for "Pretty Hips and Thighs," to african-american communities struggling during the Great Depression. Most likely, it began as a deliberate misspealling of "fat" -- a state that was, at the time, a good thing; it meant you had enough to eat -- and remained as the Bochean culture slowly faded. Along with cool, it's risen above the whirling maelstorm of everchanging street slang into a more permanent upper echelon.

Has killer app done the same? Probably not, but it's neccesary if you want to read the business section.

<< 2003 Hokkaido Earthquake - Log 2 of 2

Some updates and aftermath from the September 26, 2003 earthquake...

Strongest quake in 9 years

There has been some debate as to the actual magnitude of the quake. The US Geological Survey and the Japan Meterological Agency have finally agreed that the magnitude was 8.0 (Richter). The USGS has also confirmed that this earthquake is the strongest quake recorded this year in the world.

The last time a stronger quake was recorded in Japan was in 1994 -- a magnitude 8.2 quake off Kushiro, eastern Hokkaido.

The quake was initially recorded in the town of Toyokoro, Tokachi region, Hokkaido. The tremors registered a Weak 6 on the JMA seismic scale from 1 to 7.

Aftershocks continue, more predicted over next 10 days

There was one severe aftershock (magnitude 7.1) about one hour after the initial earthquake. There were three major (magnitude between 5 and 5.4) aftershocks through Sunday. It doesn't seem to have hit the news yet, but we felt another moderate aftershock this morning. (JMA seismic class maximum of 2.8 over a 48 second period recorded at Furano City Hall.) (UPDATE: That was a magnitude 5.8 at 11:22 am.)

The Japan Meteorological Agency currently warns of a 20% chance of a 7.0 aftershock and a 50% chance of a 6.0 aftershock over the next three day period.

Updated casualty figures, damage reports

As of this morning, NHK reports 574 confirmed injuries, and three reported lost at sea and feared drowned. (Two in Toyokoro, and one fisher from Obihiro lost at an unknown location.) There is still only confirmed death related to the earthquake.

It is now reported that at least 100 buildings have been damaged or destroyed, and 13,000 homes have been evacuated.

Naphtha fire still burning at Tomakomai

The first Idemitsu Tomakomai Oil Refinery fire, which started in a crude oil tank shortly after the initial quake, was extinguished in seven hours.

A second fire broke out at 10:36 Sunday morning, at a 30,000 liter naphtha tank naphtha tank 300 meters away from the site of the first fire. Over 20 fire trucks are a the scene, and a special chemical firefighting team was dispatched from Tokyo. At the time of this writing (11:00 am Monday), the fire was still burning. Some classes of naphtha can ignite at temperatures as low as 30C. It is thought that the blaze was set off by static electricity.

It has been reported that Idemitsu did not report the extent of the damage to its facilities to the Tomakomai Fire Department, as is required by Japanese law. Oil and other chemicals have leaked from four tanks, and a further two kerosene tanks have had their lids forced open by the quake and its aftershocks. More than 20 of the 100 tanks at the facility have suffered damage.

(UPDATE: The fire finally burned itself out after 36 44 hours. Most of the tank had completely melted and collapsed from the heat. It's a good thing those things are designed to collapse straight down, and slowly, because there were other tanks only about 30 m away...)

Tsunami much bigger than originally reported

Although the biggest tidal waves were reported at 1.3 meters on Friday, an investigation by the Japan Association of Civil Engineers has shown that waves higher than 4 meters have struck Erimo Misaki Cape.

It is feared that tidal waves may have caused three or more deaths. In 1993, tsunami from a magnitude 7.8 quake killed 200 people in Hokkaido.

Lady wears shoes indoors

A china shop owner in Kushiro had so much broken ceramics and glass on her floor, she was forced to wear shoes inside! (This was actually a 30-second segment on NHK national news.)

Total damages reported at 11 billion yen (approximately USD $100 million.) Approximately 9.3 billion yen of the damage was to buildings. (October 3, 2003.)

(Culled from local TV, newspaper, and internet news.)

Sometimes I wish I were the only one in my group of friends with deep-seated emotional problems; No one else represses as well. The pain and frustration at the fiery death of my first relationship have died down to a tolerable ache in the pit of my stomach. The first scabs have formed over the festering wound-- oh god, it sounds like I'm writing bad goth poetry. Shoot me now.
It still hurts to think of him, to think of the things we shared together; my first kiss. My first love. My first broken heart. Hell, my first pregnancy scare. (Though that may have more to do with twenty years of repressed Catholic guilt than any action on... his part.)
I love him. I hate him. I miss him horribly. If he were to come back now... I don't know.

Heh, and here I thought I was good at repression.

Anyways... enough self-indulgent weeping on other people's shoulders. I did have another reason for writing this, amazingly enough-- my friends.
Nate and Melissa are in love. Though perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Melissa is in love with Nate. Both of them are on the rebound from a less-than-stellar earlier heartbreak; both of them deserve to be happy. It's cute, if a bit sickeningly sweet. I'm thrilled for them, even though I cringe to see them kiss with the joyous abandon that only young love --or stupidity-- may have.
Emily, on the other hand, is not. Thrilled, that is. Betrayed, pissed, or jealous might be better choices. I can't even begin to describe why. Her lack of a happy, healthy relationship, her inability to look at boys as anything other than sexual playthings, and her highly possessive nature... those are just the basics. I have a healthier worldview, and I'm an emotional cripple. She is the center of her friends' universes; anything else is simply not acceptable. Hence the reason for her anger.
I'm stuck in the middle, neutral territory as usual. Both sides use me to pass on messages to the other. It's like being back in high school. I feel like locking the three of them into a small box and not letting them out until they've solved their problem or killed each other trying, whichever comes first. I'm tired of being the human equivalent of Switzerland, dammit.
End Rant.

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