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A kind of coarse-grain grading system, used principally in non-major courses. Designed to encourage students to take a course outside their own area, without risk to their GPA's. S and U used to stand for Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory, respectively. Because of grade inflation, they now stand for Showed up and Unable to resuscitate.

Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Not the one in, uh, anyway, that one. It's funny how Pennsylvania state universities are explicit just when it is least necessary. There is no Shippensburg University outside of Pennsylvania. On the other hand, the school in California, PA (Cal, or Cal U) displays ``California University'' and ``of Pennsylvania'' differently: the latter two words are in smaller, less prominent, lightly shaded type. Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) has its entire name in a single font on its home page, probably because Indiana doesn't have any more romance or allure than Pennsylvania. Ha!

It's the terse initialism that requires disambiguation; to be consistent, they should abbreviate the name as ``SUP.'' Also, the quick links scroll bar on the index page says ``Navigate SU.'' Obviously, it needs to say ``Navigate Ship' U.''

Southwestern University. ``The leading national liberal arts college in Texas'' according to about SU page. The ultimate source of this extraordinary claim is unimpeachable, since it is unidentified.

One of SU's big selling points is that it is a small university. Large universities trade on the fact that they're large. Large and small schools each have their advantages. The best schools are small schools with big-school advantages and big schools with small-school advantages. State your enrollment and be done with it.

There is also a ``Southwestern College'' in southeastern Kansas (SC), and one in north central New Mexico (SWC). Both of these colleges are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. That SWC, the Southwestern College that's actually in the Southwest, is accredited for two-year MA programs. There's an SWC in southern California, that's accredited for AA programs. There is a ``Southwestern Community College'' in southwestern Iowa (SWCC) and one in in southwestern North Carolina (SCC).

(Domain code for) Soviet Union (SU). The country is gone (hence ``FSU''), but the domain remains.

There was a certain Manichean symmetry in the old cold war days: US vs. SU. This even worked in Italy, where it was Stati Uniti v. Unione Sovietica or some such. This acronym inversion apparently led to some confusion, as Italians had a hard time remembering who were the good guys and who the bad guys. A corroborative indication is the fact that in the more literary north, where acronyms might for purposes of fiction (this one) be more influential, the Communist party was (and remains) more popular than Italy's big NATO ``ally.''

Absurdity is most confusing when it makes sense.

In German, it was Sovjetunion und Vereinigten Staaten. In Spanish, Unión Sovietica y Estados Unidos.

Soviet Union. Same as USSR. A soviet is a `council' in Russian. Nominally popularly elected legislatures called soviets were the theoretical basis of government at various levels in the multifederal hierarchy of the old USSR. Hence the Supreme Soviet. One confusing thing about the structure was the fact that there was a parallel system in the Communist Party apparatus. A simplifying feature was that basically the country was a dictatorship, and the soviets were rubber stamps. Perhaps for that reason, analysis (or tea-leaf-reading) of USSR politics was called Kremlinology rather than Sovietology.

Hey, look! I already had an entry for this country at its ccTLD -- .su -- just like countries that still exist.

Super User. A user with (possibly partial) root privileges assigned by root. The Unix su command can be used to open a shell as root (super user) or as a different ordinary user.

SU, su
Syracuse University. The Orangemen. For the Red men, see this other SU.

Sounds like a clever name for drug, eh? ``Swallow-cin'': obviously an oral antibiotic, probably effective in small doses that are easy to swallow. But that's not it. It's the name of a star: Alpha Delphini -- the brightest star Delphinus (`the dolphin,' evidently out of its element). You can read about the origin of the name at the Rotanev entry, because it would pain me to explain it twice.


subjunctive mood in English
There's a lot to explain here, and it was all still widely understood by educated adults when I was growing up in New Jersey in the 1960's. Before I fill in the explanations, I'm going to collect some noteworthy examples (of use and nonuse). There's no reason not to let you see some of those already.

The following is from War and Immortality and Other Addresses, by H.W. Morrow, M.A. (a holy at Trinity Church, Omagh). It is relevant to note that this book was published in 1916 (i.e., relatively recently in the history of the decay of the present subjunctive in modern English). On p. 81:

A saintly old minister once horrified his hearers by saying: ``Brethren, the Bible is a wonderful book if it is true; and it is also a wonderful book if it is not true.''`

An amusing six-frame comic, posted at <imgur.com> in 2013, bears the unbearable title ``Lest they are overlooked, the real geniuses at A&F.''

Spanish: `I rise [ascend].'

SUsan BOyle. A singer whose career was launched on the ``Britain's Got Talent'' television show. In November 2009, her debut album shattered U.K. records (fragile vinyl!), selling more copies (410 thousand) in its first week than any other in history. The CD, ``I Dreamed A Dream,'' also broke Amazon.com ``presale'' (orders in advance of release) records. The title cut is from ``Les Misérables''. She sang it in her audition for the talent show; it made her a star overnight (I'm not sure which night) at the age of 47 or 48. A video of the audition had, long before the album's release, set a YouTube record of over 100 million hits. You could say ``Boyle is hot,'' if you wanted to.

Utility customer (incl. telephone, CATV service, etc.). Literally, of course, someone who signs at the bottom.

SUBSIDiary. At Exeter College in England, and elsewhere I imagine, a subsid is what most US universities call a minor. (I.e., a ``minor area of academic concentration.'' This isn't intended to disparage the area of concentration, but only to imply that the student puts greater effort into some other area of concentration.)

subsidiarity, principle of
The principle that decisions should be made at the lowest feasible level of a hierarchy. Supposedly, this principle has long governed various Roman Catholic organizations (e.g., KC). It also resembles the retained powers amendment in the US Bill of Rights.

Art. 3b of the Treaty on European Union states that ``in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can, therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.''


SUBSPecies. An advantage of the abbreviation is that it is clearly singular. The plural (subspecies) is abbreviated subspp.

SUBSPecies. See previous entry for disambiguation.

The word substance and its congeners in English (substantive, substantial, etc.) are ultimately from the Latin substantia. This is constructed from sub- + stare (`to stand'). As the OED observes, the ``original force of the prefix is either entirely lost sight of or to a great extent obscured in many words derived immediately or ultimately from old Latin compounds, such as subject, suborn, subscription, subserve, subsist, substance.'' Ditto, perhaps, the original force of stare.

On the basis of the usual meanings, substance is etymologically equivalent to understanding. What the idea of understanding has to do with standing under is not immediately evident either. (OED to the rescue! ``[V]arious secondary meanings of under- are represented by such verbs as ... undergietan, -niman, -standan to understand....'' Uh, yeah, uh, sure. Now I get it.) Translating the components of understand into German, as if to coin a loan-translation (a/k/a calque), one obtains unterstehen (the past-tense form unterstand is more recognizable). Unterstehen has the sensible meaning of `be subordinate to.' It doesn't look like we're making any progress does it?

The German word verstehen translates `understand.' The inseparable prefix ver- is the German version of common Indo-European root that we recognize as per- in Latin. (The letter v in the German looks odd to an English-speaker. The thing to keep in mind is that for a long time, Germanic orthography did not consistently distinguish voiced and unvoiced versions of fricatives. While English now distinguishes the labiodental pair with the letters f and v, there is still no systematic way to distinguish voiced and unvoiced th. And although the letter z (as also x) is now used to indicate a voiced consonant distinguished from s, the usual letter is s, with voicing of the sibilant determinable from word position and other context.) The relationship of ver- and per- is perhaps a little more obvious when one notes that vergessen is English `forget,' since /f/ and /p/ are both unvoiced labials. (Don't miss the vergossen entry!)

Now where were we? Oh yeah, so English understand is mirrored in meaning and structure by German verstehen, but ver- does not mean under-. The meaning of German ver- is all over the map (as is also the meaning of Latin per-). Although there are exceptions where knowing a meaning of the prefix ver- actually helps one understand a compound it's part of (versteh?), I think that it is often used in the sense of `uh, like, whatever.' So for example, understanding is an idea that contains a vague element of abiding or staying, represented by stehen, but a prefix is needed to indicate that it doesn't mean `standing' in a literal way. In this case, English chooses `under,' to perform that task. It doesn't make much less sense than the word `undertake' or the expression `under way.' I think we should allow that many compounds that don't seem to make any sense any more really didn't make any sense in the first place. Its meaning was originally construed on the reasoning that if it can't mean what it's not supposed to mean, then it ought to mean what you wish it did.

I hope that satisfies your hunger for knowledge, because my hunger for food is going to make this entry end abruptly here.

A better word for noun. Read the noun entry to learn why.

substantiviertes Adjektiv
German: `nouned adjective.' That is, an adjective used as a noun. A substantivized adjective, if you know what I mean.

Suburban Conquistador
A luxury SUV to be based on the Hummer and sold under the Rolls Royce marque. Projected market segment: security-conscious millionaire soccer-moms.

This entry is a Stammtisch projection based on an extrapolation of current trends.

Machine-gun mounts optional. Solid-gold cup-holders are dual-use: also function as attractive ammo magazines.

This entry is a bit historical. It demonstrates SBF perspicaciousness, but we were a bit off. In 1999, GM entered into a joint venture with AM General, which manufactures the Humvee and its civilian version the Hummer. Under the agreement, the old Hummer became the H1 model of the Hummer marque, and a GM-designed SUV, based on the Chevy Suburban with sheet metal to resemble the H1, is manufactured by AM General and sold as the H2.

Rolls Royce belongs to Ford, so they'll have to find a different manufacturer for the inevitable luxury behemoth. I'm sure they'll manage; Ford already sells a four-door Lincoln pickup truck.

Son -- you're gonna drive me to drinkin' if you don't stop drivin' that hot ... rod ... Lincoln!

Update 2004: the US government has been looking into the possibility of a military version of the H2 -- that is, a military version of the cheaper version of the civilian version of the original military vehicle. We eventually noticed that Cadillac and Lincoln Continental, Lexus and Mercedes are all marketing their own SUV's. Not sure about Rolls, Jaguar, Ferrari, or Harley-Davidson. Be on the look-out for Sub Conquistador II, the amphibious minitank.

suburban sprawl
Pejorative term for the freedom to live in a nice house with a yard, and the baleful consequences when this is extended to a great mass of working people.

Actually, the year 2000 was the breakthrough year for suburban respect. There were a number of articles in the popular media discovering how great the suburbs are and what a bad rap they've been getting (from university professors who have since moved out of the cities). For example, the Weekly Standard's cover story for May 22, 2000, was ``Three Cheers for Sprawl!'' by Fred Barnes. We were way ahead of the curve on all that.

On the other side, there's SprawlWatch.

C.P. Snow was a prominent British author who originally trained and did research as a physicist. In 1959, he delivered the Rede Lecture at Cambridge, famous for publicizing a great cultural divide between the scientifically literate and the otherwise educated. The lecture was published that year by Cambridge University Press. Page numbers below refer to that edition in some excerpts (generally and loosely) relevant to this entry:

P. 23:

... If we forget the scientific culture, then the rest of western intellectuals have never tried, wanted, or been able to understand the industrial revolution, much less accept it. Intellectuals, in particular literary intellectuals, are natural Luddites.

P. 26:

    Almost everywhere, though, intellectual persons didn't comprehend what was happening. Certainly the writers didn't. Plenty of them shuddered away, as though the right course for a man of feeling was to contract out; some, like Ruskin and William Morris and Thoreau and Emerson and Lawrence, tried various kinds of fancies which were not in effect more than screams of horror. It is hard to think of a writer of high class who really stretched his imaginative sympathy, who could see at once the hideous back-streets, the smoking chimneys, the internal price--and also the prospects of life that were opening for the poor, the intimations, up to now unknown except to the lucky, which were just coming within reach of the remaining 99 per cent of his brother men. ...

P. 27:

    For, of course, one truth is straightforward. Industrialisation is the only hope of the poor. I use the word `hope' in a crude and prosaic sense. I have not much use for the moral sensibility of anyone who is too refined to use it so. It is all very well for us, sitting pretty, to think that material standards of living don't matter all that much. It is all very well for one, as a personal choice, to reject industrialisation--do a modern Walden, if you like, and if you go without much food, see most of your children die in infancy, despise the comforts of literacy, accept twenty years off your own life, then I respect you for the strength of your aesthetic revulsion.14 But I don't respect you in the slightest if, even passively, you try to impose the same choice on others who are not free to choose. In fact, we know what their choice would be. For, with singular unanimity, in any country where they have had the chance, the poor have walked off the land into the factories as fast as the factories could take them.

That endnote 14 reads:

It is reasonable for intellectuals to prefer to live in the eighteenth-century streets of Stockholm rather than in Vållingby. I should myself. But it is not reasonable for them to obstruct other Vållingbys being built.

Société Universitaire Canadienne de Débats Intercollégiaux. If, like me, you have no idea what this means, then obviously that's the first thing you need to know. And since that's the first thing you need to know, and you don't know it (by assumption), then you don't need to know the second thing or the third. It's clear then, that of all the things you need to know about this Société, all but one -- albeit the first -- is contained in this entry already. The logic of this argument leaves you no choice but to concede that this entry is little short of perfect. Touché!

SUCDI shares domain namespace with CUSID.

The romaji spelling of the Japanese noun that represents the borrowed English word still (distilling apparatus). For still more information, see the next entry.

The romaji spelling of two Japanese nouns, representing the borrowed English words steal (only in the sense of a stolen base) and steel. As the words are homophones in English, it's unsurprising that the loans are homophones in Japanese. (But it's not always the case. See, for example, heroin.) The different spellings in English represent pronunciations that were distinct before the Great Vowel Shift; the Japanese spelling is phonetic, so in Japanese the words are homographs as well as homophones.

Japanese consists mostly of open syllables (syllables ending in vowels) with a limited inventory of consonant clusters. The native syllabaries (kana) reflect this, so the borrowed version of a word like steel can only be written with a vowel after every consonant. In actual pronunciation, however, the u can be a very reduced consonant, and can disappear between unvoiced consonants, so the first u, at least, looks more foreign than it sounds. The (quantitatively) long /i/, written î, articulates fairly well with the English ``long e.''

In Japanese, dental consonants are systematically affricated before high vowels, hence ``chî'' rather than ``tî.'' It happens that young Japanese are increasingly able to pronounce certain sounds common in English and absent in Japanese, among them /ti/, and do so in some loan words [at least initially, as in tisshû (tissue) and aisu-tî (iced tea)]. In any case, both words were adopted by the first half of the twentieth century, and there is probably some staying power in the original pronunciation of the borrowings.

As is well known, of course, Japanese has only one liquid consonant. It's not a lateral, and probably doesn't sound like l to a speaker of any common western European language, but you'd be surprised how much of an argument you'll get from some Japanese who insist that their liquid is about equidistant between r and l.

Funny things occur, however. The English words towel and tower have both been borrowed and have romaji spellings taoru and tawâ. This minimal pair is compromised somewhat by the fact that kana for w with other vowels are no longer in use (for wi and we) or are pronounced without the w (old wo, now used primarily as the accusative particle -o). So you might think that the different loan pronunciations exhibit some perceived difference in the vowels that precede the final liquids in English. And maybe they do, yet the differences are consistent. English words ending in l tend to yield borrowings with -ru: suchiru, suchîru taoru, têburu (table), biôru and baioru (viol, the second version evidently from English), fairu (file), kêburu (from the word cable for telegram), etc. Words with a final r sound in English tend to be borrowed without it (tawâ, bokusâ (boxer), kabâ (cover), Word-internal r's are more likely to survive, as in akusesarî (accessory), demokurashî (democracy), but don't always: âto-gyararî (art gallery), pâkingu-mêtâ (parking meter). Other interesting cases involving both liquids: firutâ (filter), -pârâ (parlor, apparently occuring exclusively in compounds).

On balance, it seems that while the single Japanese liquid sounds like an r rather than an l to English-speakers, to Japanese-speakers it is the English l rather than r that more closely resembles their liquid consonant.

Many more detailed patterns are evident, but one that struck me was the tendency for r's that are silent in nonrhotic accents (British, mainly) to be absent also in Japanese. I once thought that perhaps there was a causal connection, that the pronunciations in British dictionaries led the Japanese to leave many of those r's out. It's plausible, because most of the English that Japanese here is from other Japanese, and ultimately the pronunciations of newly introduced words often come out of dictionaries. I'll spare you the history of my inconclusive efforts to learn what nationality of English lexical works is more popular in Japan, but here's a relevant datum (that's Latin for `anecdote'). My friend Jennifer taught English as a JET (entry coming eventually), and all the schoolchildren would greet her by name. It sounded like Jenifâ. (It ought to have sounded like Jenihâ, but she didn't pay close attention to this at the time; the f was rendered as a softish sound, in any case.)

You're thinking, of course, of Arne Sucksdorff, famous motion picture director (b. Feb. 3, 1917, Stockholm; d. May 4, 2001). According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ``[h]is early shorts were marked by the love of nature ....'' Sounds like a pretty delicate and unnecessary detail. Any high-phosphorus detergent ought to get that out.

Sucksdorff was important in the post-WWII revival of the Swedish movie industry because of his internationally acclaimed sensitivity in photographing nature. Believe it or not, I'm planning other entries on the French and Swedish movie industries. Here's an amazing fact that you may not have known: they exist.

A candy or something. Interestingly, it's stercus spelled backwards. Stercus is Latin for `dung.'

For less felicitously named ingestible products, see Skor, Colon, and BM .

Arabic for `blacks'; plural of suda. Originally used in Arabic for the entire region between the Sahara and the Equator. Now (capitalized in English) it is the name of the country south of Egypt.

Huh? What possibly could you mean? Oh! You mean suède. How do you expect anyone to recognize what you write if you misspell it?

Hard fatty tissue found around the kidneys of cattle and sheep. Used as tallow, for candles and for bird-seed balls.


Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-140). Author of The Lives of the [first twelve] Caesars.

Japanese: `mathematics.'

Not only is it absolutely fat-free, but it's also as high as can possibly be in carbohydrate. And not very complex carbohydrates. After all, don't we all need to get back to the simple things?

Refined sugar is sucrose. Blood sugar is glucose. If you want to know more, try visiting the Sugar Association.

sugar tablets
It's kind of amusing: placebos have side effects too.

SUperGRAvity. A class of now mostly abandoned attempts at finding a quantum theory of gravity.

Today the noun suicide is used primarily for the act of killing oneself, but until the middle of the twentieth century or so, it was also common to use the word for a person who committed suicide.

suicide blonde
A woman who has dyed her own hair blonde and poorly. The term is also used for the hair or hair style itself (as, for example, in the lyrics of the INXS song ``Suicide Blonde''). The term is a pun, based on the identical pronunciation of dyed and died. As Saul Bellow wrote [probably in Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970)]: ``She was what we used to call a suicide blond - dyed by her own hand.'' (A poor dye job is assumed to be done by the wearer rather than a beauty parlor or at least someone else. For the purposes of humor, the distinction between dying and bleaching may be ignored.)

[Suit icon]

An ignorant outsider or manager.

Long form: empty suit. If you're thinking ``down with the suit,'' you might want to have a look at the abacost entry.

Suit used in this sense is an unusual borderline case of synecdoche: when the suit is empty, it is less part for the actual whole than part for the putative whole. Let's class it under metonymy and move on.

Hold on -- here's something multicultural, if dead southeastern European white males count. It's the poem ``Elénê,'' written by George Seferis during a poetically productive visit to Cyprus in fall 1953. The title is just the name `Helen.' [Modern Greek has dropped its aitches, normally indicated for Ancient Greek by a rough-breathing mark, or an aitch in transliteration. (Seferis indicates the breathings, but I don't think his style can be characterized as completely katharevousa.) The final eta is ioticized, so the Modern Greek is transliterated ``Eleni.'']

The poem proceeds from the premise of Euripides' play of the same name, set after the Trojan war (as described primarily in Homer's Iliad and in other works known as the Homeric cycle). As you will recall, the Trojan war resulted from an early version of the Miss Universe contest, in which Paris of Troy was the judge, and the contestants were three Olympian goddesses. Frankly, it shouldn't have been a tough call. Athena was the most bookish of goddesses and wore a truly hideous hat. Hera was married to Zeus and should have been disqualified, but then again, Zeus was her brother so maybe the marriage should have been disqualified. The third contestant, the only one who didn't have a crabby temper, was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This was a no-brainer, but perhaps Paris was too. Eventually, Aphrodite did win, but not until after the bribing-talent competition, which was decisive. The main feature of Aprodite's bribe was that Paris would have Helen.

Helen was rather inconveniently already married to Menelaus, and further inconveniently, Menelaus was the king of Sparta (this was way back, before Sparta had two simultaneous rulers), and had certain commitments from other petty kings of Greece regarding Helen. To make a long story short, Paris took Helen home to Troy, and Menelaus came after him with an army. Ten years later, Troy is destroyed and Menelaus has Helen back.

The play of Euripides, set seven years after the fall of Troy, is based on the premise that the real Helen was sequestered in Egypt by the god Apollo, while the Helen that Paris got and Menelaus got back was a phantom image. The truth is revealed and the couple is reconciled after Menelaus is shipwrecked on the coast of Egypt and the phantom image has returned to the skies. As you can imagine, Menelaus is reluctant to believe this stuff at first. Imagine how you'd feel if you suddenly discovered you'd been sleeping with a blow-up doll for seven years. (Without realizing it, I mean.)

In Greek, the word translated here as ``phantom image'' and ``blow-up doll'' is eídôlon (the source, through Latin, of our word idol). (The word doll was originally just a nickname for Dorothy.) Seferis quotes some relevant bits of the play at the beginning, including the reaction of Menelaus' faithful servant on hearing the news. Essentially, it's `What? We fought over nothing but a cloud [nephélê]?' (In a further irony, here the Ancient Greek word for servant -- a personal name is not given -- is angelos. Etymologically, and in other contexts, this would mean `messenger.' The Christian sense of the word is the usual one in Modern Greek.)

In the poem, a great many descriptions are used for the ersatz Helen, including phantom image and shadow (iskhia). The most memorable, probably, appears (I give the inflected form) as

poukámiso adeianó
(for an `empty tunic' or `empty shirt').

Now from the sublimely absurd to the, well, more prosaic. The following is quoted from an online article (``Political Cycles'') by Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan (August 8, 2008).

...it brings up the Churchill question. Churchill had been scored by an acquaintance for his own very high self-regard, and responded with what was for him a certain sheepishness. ``We're all worms,'' he said, ``but I do believe I am a glowworm.'' He believed he was great, and he was. Is Mr. Obama a glowworm? Does he have real greatness in him? Or is he, say, a product of the self-esteem campaign, that movement within the schools and homes of our country the past 25 years that says the way to get a winner is to tell the kid he's a winner every day? You can get some true people of achievement that way, because some people need a lot of reinforcement to rise. But you can also get, not to put too fine a point [on] it, empty suits that take on a normal shape only because they're so puffed up with ego.

sulfuric acid
H2SO4 (aq). The most popular chemical in mass production; has been for a century. Useful for making fertilizer.

  1. Spanish noun meaning `sum.' Like its cognates in Romance and Germanic languages -- not just Dutch (som) and English but even borrowing-resistant German (Summe) -- this is derived from the Latin summa, `highest.' [Related to super, `above'; supera, `higher' (fem.). Between the closed front vowel u and the bilabial m or mus, it seems natural that the p of what would have been the regularly formed * supmus was assimilated away.
  2. Spanish verb meaning `he [or she, or increasingly it] adds [or adds up],' a form of sumar (`to add [up]'). This and cognate verbs in other Romance languages are derived from summare, a verb in Medieval Latin that arose from summa.

I really think it would have been much more complicated and cool if this all had been derived from the Latin sum, `I am.'

Spanish for the noun `hum.'

Solar UV Measurements of Emitted Radiation.


Why not learn a classical language this Summer?

What can I tell you about Summer? It's the season when the prices are required to be raised on snacks and beverages in college vending machines, because everyone's away and will forget that prices were lower when they left.

How empty are the ``metal cafeterias''? Here at the library, a couple of students chose this time (July 26, 2007, late evening), when no one's around, to take some footage of vending machines for a short film. I guess the one getting friendly with the candy machine and wearing a robot outfit is the actor, but he's a bit stiff. The guy with the camera must be the director. If he were the cameraman he'd know better than to aim it directly perpendicular to a flat reflecting surface. He's probably one of those people who uses a flash to take pictures through a window (and also at the stadium, of course, just like everyone else).

Okay, time has passed now. It's midwinter, in fact. As often happens, someone has left some magazines out on the tables, with the subscription labels cut out. This week they're copies of a magazine called Health. Two of the three issues have a bikini model gracing the cover. The bikini issues are usually face down. For three days they've been moving from table to table. Sometimes they're on the low tables between the stuffed chairs. Often when I walk in I turn them face up. When I return later they're face down. I wonder whether it's because this is a seriously Catholic university, or because the librarians experience these pictures of health as a personal reproach. I hope it's not because of static electricity. I decide not to ask. Summer 2008, it's still happening.

Summer of Love
Took place in 1967. The Six-Day War began on June 5. (So it was over before Spring was.)

  1. Japanese: a sport that apparently requires dedicated, relentless, furious eating. (This entry component is part of the Japanese belly information ring. Next stop: navel exercises.)
  2. Spanish `I add' or (intransitively and not slangily) `I add up.' For the etymology, see suma.
  3. Latin `I take.'

sumo lift
A style of lifting free weights. In sumo-style lifts, the legs are apart and the legs are together.

That sounds so interesting and zen, I decided to leave it. However, it's really just a slip; I meant to write that the arms are together.

Sequential Unconstrained { Minimization | Maximization } Technique. A method of solving constrained-optimization problems by generating a sequence of unconstrained problems in which smooth barriers or cost functions replace a rigid inequality constraint. Obviously, the cleanest formal way to do this is to use smooth constraints chosen from a parametrized set whose limit is equivalent to the rigid constraint.

A unit of radiant power (100mW/cm² = 1kW/m²) named after our nearest star (one a.u. away). Also see AM.

Society of Urologic Nurses & Associates. Based in Pitman, New Jersey.

Sun Microsystems
They do workstations. Technically, they're a bunch of companies. Find out for yourself. Their overview says that their ``engineers are as well-known for their April Fool's pranks as for their technical expertise.'' I'd never heard about their April Fool's exploits, so to me this does not seem the most felicitous encomium. They have a quite clever corporate logo.

Their well-known slogan is ``The network is the computer.''

Sunny 101.5
FM radio station WNSN at 101.5 MHz.

Current name of a company originally called SUN Oil COmpany.

State University of New York. The acronym is pronounced ``SUE-nee.'' It rhymes with (Mickey) ``Rooney.''

The SUNY system was created only in 1948, when Thomas Dewey was governor (the fellow who was widely expected to win the US presidency that year, and who famously didn't). That's a rather late date to begin a public university system, and there's a good reason for that late date. In the East, there were many more private colleges and universities than elsewhere in the country, so there were both less perceived need for, and greater resistance to, the establishment of a state system. Even the land-grant colleges in New York State were created as public colleges associated with a private university (Cornell). (Those colleges, along with the New York State College of Ceramics at [the otherwise private] Alfred University, are now part of SUNY.)

When SUNY finally was created, the system grew by accretion of formerly private institutions to a greater degree than other systems have. UB is an example of a private school gone public. (The private-to-public transition is common enough elsewhere, particularly in the East. The transition is facilitated by the fact that the private component of the higher education system is mostly nonprofit. When it goes negative-profit for long enough to exhaust its endowment, the state comes in as a white knight. The University of Pittsburgh is one such case -- read about it at the CMU entry.) The SUNY system has roughly 400,000 students, and is often described as the largest university system in the US. This is technically true, but it might be a case of comparing apples and grocery carts. The UC and Cal State systems in California (about 150K and 250K students, respectively) are together comparable in enrollment, but SUNY reaches the 400K figure by adding up a broader range of institutions. SUNY includes among its sixty-four campuses a spectrum of schools including research universities, colleges, many community colleges, and various research centers and professional and technical schools.

The rest of this entry is about nothing but school names. Don't say I didn't warn you.

SUNY has always named its schools awkwardly. The problem began with the inclusion of the word ``state'' in the system name. This might be justified as a way to prevent occasional confusion with schools of the state's largest city (cf. CUNY), but it compromised the clarity of the standard ``State''/``U'' dichotomy. Further problems were caused by inclusion of the word ``university'' in the name for a system that includes schools that mostly are not universities.

Until the end of the 1990's, most of the universities, colleges, and junior colleges in the system had official names beginning with the words ``State University of New York.'' The four flagship university centers were known as ``State University of New York at <Foo>,'' where <Foo> was Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, or Stony Brook. These correspond approximately to ``University of California at <Foo>'' not just in name but in forming the top tier of the system, at least so far as undergraduate education goes. (Various other professional schools besides the flagships award doctoral degrees, and SUNY has devised the term ``University Centers and Doctoral Degree Granting Institutions,'' apparently to satisfy the need of these other institutions to be grouped in the top tier while satisfying the need of the flagships to have a distinct prestigious status.)

The kind of schools that in California are named on the pattern ``California State College at <Foo>'' used to be called ``State University of New York College at <Foo>.'' This is awkward enough in general, but it was especially irritating in Buffalo, which has both a flagship university and a four-year college. The junior colleges were named in a similar way: ``State University of New York College Community College at <Foo>.''

In a lame effort to improve the naming scheme, the universities and four-year colleges generally got flattering name upgrades, and the community colleges got names that would fit above narrower doorways. The flagships are now ``<Foo> University'' (Binghamton and Stony Brook) or ``University at <Foo>, The State University of New York'' (Buffalo and Albany). The latter form uses the word the in a way that would make sense in Hebrew, or in German in the genitive case, or if it were applied to a single school, as in the case of ``Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.'' Fortunately, the thing is so hopelessly confused that no one takes the names seriously enough to try to make sense of them. Schools in the next tier are now referred to as ``University Colleges,'' whether they offer post-baccalaureate degrees or not, and are called ``State University of New York at <Foo>.'' For Buffalo <Foo>, of course, this would make the old Buff State's new official name coincide with UB's old official name (which continues, of course, to be widely if unofficially used). Thus, an exception is made in this case, and Buff State doesn't get to be SUNY-Buffalo (too), but instead is officially Buffalo State College. Informally, a lot of the other ``University Colleges'' are also called ``<Foo> State'' or ``<Foo> State College.''

State University of New York At Buffalo. More of the kind of information you come to this glossary for at the UB entry.

State University of New York Alliance for Minority Participation.

State University of New York at Stony Brook. A part of SUNY. (Duh.) Nowadays it's officially ``Stony Brook University'' (read the story at the SUNY entry). In ordinary speech, few people exert themselves beyond the three syllables of ``Stony Brook,'' and the local initialism used by the school is SB.

There is another well-known university in a town that was once called Stony Brook. That town, in New Jersey, changed its name in 1724 to honor HRH George Augustus, Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Wales. In 1727, upon the death of his father King George I, George Augustus acceded to the throne as George II. In 1746, George II granted a charter to the College of New Jersey, which soon moved to, and later changed its name to, Princeton.

Latin: supra, `above.'

StandUp Paddleboard[ing].

supercilious smile
Smile fully with your eyes and cheeks, but only slightly with your mouth. Careful: if your cheeks and mouth aren't in this, you'll look like the cat that ate the parakeet. Someday I'll tell you about yesterday's Mech E seminar.

See also our smiley entry.

The condition of being superfluous. Not a misspelling of superfluidity.


When a sinusoidal signal of frequency f excites a passive nonlinear system, harmonics are generated -- 2f, 3f, 4f, .... Generally, the higher harmonics are weaker. The power in the nth harmonic is bounded by a fall-off exponential in n for large n.

When such a system is excited by two sinusoidal signals, of frequencies f1 and f2, linear combinations of the respective harmonics form (e.g., 2f1 - 3f2, f1 + 2f2). The harmonics of either of the two signals are a special case in which the linear combination has coefficient zero for one of the frequencies. All the other linear combination frequencies, which mix the two original frequencies, are called heterodyne frequencies. These also fall off as the integer coefficients increase.

Usually, and especially when the original signals are weak, the strongest heterodyne signals are |f1 - f2| and f1 + f2, called subheterodyne and superheterodyne frequencies, respectively.

The first stage of an ordinary radio receiver after the antenna is the discriminator or detector stage. This is a nonlinear material like a quartz crystal, in which a controlled frequency (see VFO) is added to whatever comes from the antenna. The detector stage is coupled to the next stages through a filter that is tuned to a specific frequency (the intermediate frequency or IF). By adjusting the controlled frequency applied to the crystal, one controls which of the signals from the antenna will be passed to the next stage and amplified. This is called ``tuning.'' In a superhet radio (the standard kind), it is the sum of the controlled and antenna frequencies that equals the intermediate frequency.

SUPERLative. The superlative forms in English are constructed by the use of most or the suffix -est. The comments on the two constructions given at the comp. entry apply to the superlative, mutatis mutandis.

The adjectives first and last (also functioning as adverbs) are absolute forms, but conveniently also end in -st.

The Romance languages, or at least the major ones -- Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, and Italian --, do not have distinct superlative forms, but may indicate the superlative by use of a definite article. For example, in Spanish,

Soy mas viejo
means `I am older.' But
Soy el mas viejo
means `I am the oldest.'

Anglophone musicians occasionally mistake the Italian -issimo suffix for a superlative ending. Not so. The ending is an intensifier, equivalent to the English word very. Hence pianississimo means `very very softly,' and not the unparsable `most most softly.' More of this at the ppp entry.

Paragraph 2 of Emma begins ``She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father ....'' Although this is still correct usage, I think that it is much more common today to use the comparative form when comparative and superlative are equivalent (generally, when there are only two objects of comparison).

Swimming above. Used technically to refer to a fluid overlying a solid phase. (The latter is often described in general definitions as a sediment or precipitate, but there are other possibilities. It may be an unmelted portion.)

Soup or salad.

A scalar serial machine (i.e., one not using vector processing) that has provision for a single instruction to be executed multiple times. This is similar to what vectorization does, but in vectorization, special pipeline hardware stacks the stages in an operation that required multiple clock cycles, so that the average time for the multiplication of two vectors term-by-term approaches a single cycle per term. In contrast, superscalar operation simply saves the time delay taken up in multiple instruction reads.

I said ``soup later''!

supply chain
Something by which a large retailer can yank small suppliers.

Latin, `above.' Used in hoity-toity writing as well as this glossary to refer to discussion or text earlier in the narrative or collation. Cf. infra, supra.

Supra Corporation, which has agreed to become a division of with Diamond Multimedia Systems, makes modems and associated software (for Mac's and PC's).

supra cit.
Latin: supra citato, `cited above.'

Services Universitaires pour la Recherche et les Applications en Supraconductivité (principally High TC R & D).

Supreme Court of New York State
The second-highest court in New York State. Possibly you were thinking of the...

supreme court of New York State
That would be the ``Court of Appeals.'' Ontario has had similar odd court terminology, but only the British have to deal with such colorful entities as an ``Inner Temple.''

Solicitors for the grand old firm of Rumor and Scuttlebut represent that New York State, in addition to its unusual non-supreme Supreme Court, has other nomenclature anomalies. In particular, judges of the trial court are called ``justices.'' If I understand aright, though, this is just to say that judges of the Supreme Court are called justices, which at least sounds perfectly in order. I infer from the story related at the judge names entry that justices of the NY Court of Appeals use the title ``Judge.''

Southeastern Universities Research Association Network. Network connecting hosts in 12 southeastern states.

surface mount
Device leads don't go through holes in the PC board, or into a socket, but instead are directly soldered onto metal regions of the PCB.

Survivability/Vulnerability Information Analysis Center (IAC).

Silicon Unilateral Switch.

State University System.

Senate of the USA.

Survey USA. There's a link at the pollsters entry.

Surface and Underlying Structural ANalysis of Natural English.

Sydney University Stellar Interferometer.

Southwestern University School of Law. The name suggests that this is the School of Law of some larger Southwestern University, but it is not. There is a Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Too bad: that university uses the abbreviation SU, so SUSL students could claim they attend ``Sue law School'' with complete justice.

Sydney University SPECTrometer. Named as if a university could manage with just one.

American garters are British suspenders; American suspenders are British braces. The implications are vast.

SUperSYmmetry. A symmetry operation that interchanges fermions and bosons. A component in various searches for a TOE. In particular, the currently most popular candidate superstring theory combines string theory with supersymmetry, and all the conventional particles have heavy superpartners with opposite statistics. Mostly, these get names with a prepended ess, so the class of fermions called leptons is mirrored by a class of bosons in one-to-one correspondence called sleptons; among these selectron is the supersymmetric partner boson of the electron, etc. None of these has been observed; it's all sspeculative.

Sport Utility Truck. A concept GM floated in November 2000, as one way to exploit the Hummer brand. It would be a pickup truck with a short bed and an adjustable bulkhead that can be folded down to create more cargo room.

Hey, I've got an idea: Sport-Utility Semi-Tractor-Trailer rig. Sort of a segmented Winebagel with on-demand miniamphitheater.

System Under Test. Repair team out to lunch.

Sport Utility Vehicle. Not `Sports.' Like `scissor kick,' this exceptional use seems significant.

Standard[ized] Uptake Value. Normalized average tracer uptake rates in normal healthy tissue.

Succhinylcholine. Sort of eye-dialect.

(Domain code for) El Salvador, in Central America. Trying to have peace. There's a National Homepage: <http://www.sv/>. ``MIRADOR'' provides search service for the .sv domain. It's the only search engine I've seen that uses ordinary Boolean logic symbols (+ for OR, * for AND). More about El Salvador at the entry for Ecuador. (Hey, can I help it if information here is arranged strictly according to a different logic?)

SaVe[s]. Baseball scorecard abbreviation. Cf. BS.

Secular Variation[s].


Latin: sub verbo or sub voce. Under the word [L. verbo] or utterance [L. voce, literally `voice'; cf. vos]. Standard abbreviation used as a direction within a reference, to a rubric under which something may be found.

Student Volunteers Abroad. A student-organized and student-run charity at Glasgow University. (Recognised Scottish Charity No. 030081.)

SVC, svc.

Superior Vena Cava. The higher of the two blood vessels returning blood to the right atrium of the heart.

Switched Virtual { Call | Circuit | Connection}. Switched on and off dynamically. Contrast PVC.

Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones. No, not that. Rape of enemy civilians, that sort of thing. A UICHR announcement for a conference on the history of SVCZ begins ``Although sexual violence in conflict zones (SVCZ) is as old as warfare, the international community has granted it serious attention only since the 1990s. NGOs, activists, academics, medical professionals, and lawyers now devote considerable attention to sexual violence in contemporary conflicts.''

Singular-Value Decomposition.

Simple Virtual Environments. The SVE Toolkit provides the software support for NAVE and BNAVE.

Sudden-Victory Goals. (Soccer statistic.)

Super VGA. The first standard promulgated by VESA, for 800 × 600 screens. In actual usage, however, this does not seem to be a single standard. Not even many standards, just a designation for graphics cards with more than the minimal VGA standard features.

Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. SVIA's web-presence is all ASI.

Schweizerischer Verband der Ingenieur AgronomInnen und der LebensmittelingenieurInnen. `Swiss Association of Engineer Agronomists and Nutrition Engineers.' Previously, the organization was known as ``VIAL.'' In addition to making a nod to the country, the new name uses Verband in place of Verein. Both of these names may be translated as `association,' `union,' or `society.' On both sides of the linguistic divide, the semantic distinction is somewhat fine and not too systematic. I prefer the previous acronym because it means something somewhat relevant in English and is easily pronounced in more common languages than just Italian and Swedish. On the other hand, some foolish features of the expansion -- rub-your-face-in-it gender-inclusiveness, basically -- were already present in the earlier acronym VIAL, q.v.

Survivability/Vulnerability/Lethality. This acronym is used either by the military or in divorce courts.

SerVice Module.

Slovenia. ISO three-letter country code.

Straight Vegetable Oil. Vegetable oil used as the fuel for a diesel engine (i.e., a compression-ignition internal combustion engine). SVO is also called vegidiesel or vegifuel. It may be new or fresh or premium vegetable oil, or extra virgin olive oil, or it may be filtered waste vegetable oil, but the latter is usually referred to as WVO.

SVO is just like ``mineral'' (ordinary) diesel fuel, they say, except that it's more viscous than ... typically by an order of magnitude. Viscous fluid atomizes less well, and tends to clog the injectors, but this isn't as much of a problem if you drive only on hot days. (If it's hot enough to boil water in a jar in the sun, that's hot enough. If it's only hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, consider alternative solutions.) If you don't live in hell or some equally hot tropical paradise, you probably want to use a pre-heating system, probably coupled with a two-tank arrangement so the engine runs on honest-to-God diesel instead of that ersatz crap while the veggies are cooking. With a two-tank scheme, you also want to run the engine on real diesel at the end of the trip, so it runs when you start up again.

The ``straight'' in SVO does not refer to the fact that the vegetable oil is not mixed with something else. It refers to the fact that it's not chemically processed. The usual chemical process is transesterification, which yields biodiesel.

Subject -- Verb -- Object. The standard order in English, Chinese, and many other languages for the components of a simple sentence. For relatively uninflected languages (like Chinese and English), word order tends to be less free. Or rather, word order tends to do more semantic work. In inflected languages, the distinction between subjects and objects, and for that matter between verbs and nouns, is more often evident independently of word order, so there is greater freedom in arranging the components of a sentence.

Even in highly inflected languages, however, there tends to be a standard or unmarked order, with alternate orders being used to emphasize one or another element. A good example of a highly inflected language with this pattern is Latin, whose unmarked order is SOV. In Spanish, where case distinctions are usually evident in pronouns, the unmarked order is SVO, but if one of the noun phrases is a pronoun, most alternate orders are available.

All six possible orders are found in human languages, as well as a great many odder things, but there is a tendency for subjects to precede objects, and for verbs not to come first. Hence, SVO and SOV are most common, with SVO currently more common. (German splits the difference: see V2.) There are also some observed correlations between basic sentence orders and whether adjective precede the nouns they modify, etc. Of course, in many European languages verb-first indicates a command or question. In Chinese (an SVO language) a declarative statement becomes a question with the addition of a sentence-final ma. (Just as an aside: ma is also a Hebrew word meaning `what' and an Italian word meaning `but.' It's hard to resist the notion that these meanings arose almost as onomatopoeias of children's calls for attention from their mothers, or were at least influenced by them.) In Japanese, which is normally SOV, a final ka does the same as ma does in Chinese.

Time magazine, especially in its early days under Henry Luce, had a deliberately tortured syntax. Dorothy Parker complained:

Backwards runs syntax till reels the mind. Where it will stop, knows God.

Matthew Arnold's poem ``The Buried Life'' appeared anonymously in 1852. It's about reticent Victorian lovers confounded by their British reserve. The poem begins

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears my eyes are wet.

Okay, that was an elementary example -- simply moving one phrase back makes English of sorts. Now an advanced contortion: the first line of Arnold's ``To a Friend.''

Who prop, thou ask'st, in these bad days, my mind?--
That's enough of that. Arnold's poetry suffered from more than friendship-tangled syntax. If you put on your very dark glasses and other prophylactic gear (have a sickness bag open and at the ready), then it may be safe to read some longer passages which I have bravely retrieved while tightly holding my nose.

SemiVolatile Organic (compound) Analysis.

SemiVolatile Organic Compound (VOC).

S'il vous plaît. French, `[if you] please.' (Literally, `If it please you.') Abbreviation used by Francophones, along with RSVP, which Anglophones also use.

Schematic Verification Program

Sound-Velocity Profile.

Surface Velocity Programme. Part of the WOCE.

Surge Voltage Protector. A simple SVP can be made trivially: this consists of two Zener diodes in series, but with opposite polarities (i.e. anode-to-anode or cathode-to-cathode -- it shouldn't matter which). The two ends of this little subcircuit are attached between any two lines whose voltage difference you want to limit. [Only voltage differences have meaning, since potentials -- as integrals of the physically measurable fields -- are defined only up to an arbitrary constant.] The most common instance is between live and ground of the house-current lines. Under ordinary operating conditions, only one of the diodes is forward biased, and the other is insufficiently reverse-biased to break down. In a surge, however, the reverse bias is sufficient to close circuit through the diodes, protecting the load.

Schweizerische Volkspartei. German: `Swiss People's Party.' A nationalist party that is the largest party in Switzerland's federal government. Its traditional base is the German cantons. (More precisely, the cantons where the school language is German. The spoken languages there are dialects of High German incomprehensible to speakers of standard German.) During the elections of October 2007, SVP began to show strength in the French-speaking cantons, where it is called, rather inaccurately, Union Démocratique du Centre. But the increase in SVP's share of the parliamentary vote, to about 28.8% from 26.7% in the 2003 elections, was not as great as the increase it had in 2003, so optimists in the other parties are spinning this as the peak of SVP's strength. Second-derivative analysis in politics!

Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. ``Some people collect art...we race it!''

State-owned Vehicular Recreation Areas. If you can't stop'em, coopt'em, I guess. Ask the California State Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division.

Statewide Voter Registration System. States that use this name and acronym include Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. These systems were either created or modified to comply with HAVA (2002 federal legislation) that required (among various other things) that all states have in place (by January 1, 2006) ``a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the State level that contains the name and registration information of every legally registered voter.'' (Italics added to highlight wording influential in creation of the SVRS term.) A number of states struggled and failed (or maybe just failed) to meet the deadline (see this overview table), and negotiated stop-gap agreements with the US DOJ (not pronounced ``dodge'').

Scottish Vocational Qualifications. The Scottish version of NVQ, q.v.

Supplements to Vetus Testamentum.

Sämtliche Werke. German, `collected works.'

Shipper's Weight.

Short Wave(length radio).

Short Wheelbase (motor vehicle). Also ``SWB.'' You needn't follow link to LW.

Social Work[er[s]]. Related acronyms:

SoftWare. Most commonly refers to computer programs. In the 1990's, I sometimes heard people use ``software'' as a sort of insiderish way of referring to more general recorded information such as music, movies, text, etc. In those days, there was a sharp distinction between most playback equipment and computers, so this second use didn't lead to confusion. Nowadays, that looser-sense ``SW'' is called content. Within programs, that content -- data to be played back -- is resources.

Solid Waste. Not usually an alternative expansion for Sämtliche Werke (SW) or Software (SW).

South Wales.

Vide compass directions.

SubWoofer. Part of any fairly complete sound system. One good thing about the subwoofer is that it's hard to get any directional information from low frequencies, so you can locate the SW wherever convenient.

How low can you go? Limbo Dog!

Japanese and Chinese dogs do not say ``woof-woof'' or even ``bow-wow.'' They say ``wan-wan'' or ``wang-wang.'' It's one of the main reasons people own Akitas.

At Disney, the mice, ducks, and rabbits and other riff-raff all speak. They even get to wear spiffy white gloves even while they go around with their asses showing. Pluto the dog goes buck naked and doesn't have the Power of Speech. This is unjust, but typical. (Forget Goofy. He's inauthentic.)

Surface Wave.


SouthWestern Athletic Conference.

Scientific Wild-Ass Guess (WAG).

Scientific Wild-Ass Guess (SWAG) Good Enough for Reporters. Cf. extraordinary.

I don't know what this stands for, but I can tell you where to find out. In the August 1982 edition of the Hewlett-Packard Journal, there appears an article entitled ``SWAMI: A Zero-Encroachment Local Oxidation Process'' by Kuang Yi Chiu, starting on page 31. The subtitle/gloss reads, ``Lateral oxidation limits density in oxide-isolated VLSI circuits. This process removes this limit by using a novel sequence of conventional processing techniques.'' Evidently, SWAMI was proposed to replace almighty LOCOS, in smaller-device applications, at the cost of more processing steps, including a second nitride deposition. I only happen to have the first page because I photocopied the preceding article.

Solar-Wind ANisotropy. Must mean something like the growth of seeds for liqueur under desert conditions.

Shared Wireless Access Protocol. Promulgated by the HomeRF consortium in 1999, for information rates of 1Mbit/s and 2Mbit/s. Combines elements of the 802.11 system with ideas taken from the DECT standard.

Society for Women's Advancement in Philosophy. Evidently a very conservative, tradition-oriented organization, they always use the punctuated form S.W.A.P. of the initialism. They have a cool logo too -- the traditional Venus/female symbol with the circle replaced by the top of a script Greek letter phi. Cf. SWIP.

SouthWestern Association of PreLaw Advisors. ``[A]n organization comprised of [sic] prelaw advisors from colleges and universities throughout the Southwestern United States.''

``SWAPLA'' is a risible name.

``Each year, SWAPLA sponsors a Law School Caravan that tours through the region, bringing the best law schools to several locations.'' Judicial circuit-riding rides on!

``SWAPLA also facilitates networking between advisors and one another, as well as between advisors and law school professionals.'' You know, it's not just the name that's risible.

If you want expert advice on law schools, try one of these organizations:

To cover with turf. It conjugates as a regular verb. Swarding is a gardening activity practiced on the Scrabble tablelands.

A lexical fur-ball. Almost no denotation surrounded by a mass of distasteful connotation. Probably a higher ratio of connotation to denotation than any other common word in English. It's up there, anyway. Well, maybe not. Oh, alright, definitely not. The fact is, I like the sound of ``lexical fur-ball,'' so I'm not removing the entry until I find a new home for the neologism.

Some time back, the day we all heard the news, I walked into the men's room and noticed that Gerard was at one of the urinals. I was moved to speak (this happens a lot). I said, ``On behalf of the American people, I want to extend to you, as a representative of the British people, our deepest sympathies. At least now she won't be marrying that swarthy Egyptian [.eg].'' Then Gary (who was washing his hands; it's not like we decided to hold a meeting in there) said, ``Sheee, what've you got against Princess Diana?''

Gary didn't get it. Gerard got it. He said, ``Uh, thank you Al.'' Gerard used an intonational pattern that communicated much more than I can readily suggest in a written medium. They teach that stuff over there. He could probably tell you that he was using ``intonational pattern 63b'' or something. Anyone who wants to go to college has to pass ``A levels'' in Irony. A lot of people like you don't realize it, but English is a tone language just like Chinese. However, instead of using tone for unimportant stuff like distinguishing between `horse' and `rope,' which is clear from context anyway, English uses tone for important stuff like expressing contempt.

There is no such thing as a swashbuckle. However, a buckler is a shield. Raphael Holinshed, in his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577), wrote that King Macbeth of Scotland (vol. V) ``was accounted the sure defense and buckler of innocent people.'' The description is not entirely negative withall:
``To be briefe, such were the woorthie dooings and princelie acts of this Mackbeth in the [first ten years'] administration of the realme, that if he had atteined therevnto by rightfull means, and continued in vprightnesse of iustice as he began, till the end of his reigne, he might well haue béene numbred amongest the most noble princes that anie where had reigned.''

Shakespeare's ``Tragedy of Macbeth'' is based largely on Holinshed's history, but with some modifications. Among them a significant one is that Shakespeare's Banquo, unlike Holinshed's Banquho, is innocent of the conspiracy to murder the clement and ineffectual King Duncan. This is a convenient bit of poetic liberty, perhaps preserving the playwright's prosaic liberty. The play was apparently first put on shortly after King James VI of Scotland, a Stuart and so descendant of Banquo, had been crowned King James I of England.

Special Weapons And Tactics.

Short WheelBase (motor vehicle). Also ``SW.'' You needn't follow link to LWB.

SouthWest By South. If you're not familiar with the abbreviation, then you may well not know what the expansion means. See the compass directions entry to find out.

[Phone icon]

SouthWestern Bell Telephone Corporation.

Scheduler Work Block Text Unit. [IBM.]

SouthWest By West. If you're not familiar with the abbreviation, then you may well not know what the expansion means. See the compass directions entry to find out.

SouthWestern Bell Yellow Pages. This acronym is used throughout the swbyp's. I figured you'd wanna know.

SouthWestern College. Located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it ``traces its beginnings back to 1945 with the founding of the Quimby Memorial Library. The College began offering educational programs in 1979. Today, Southwestern College is a respected graduate institution specializing in experiential education for students seeking master's degrees in the mental health fields [two-year programs art therapy and counseling].''

SouthWestern College. It's ``located on a 156-acre suburban campus in the heart of eastern Chula Vista. Established in 1961.... One of California's 106 public community colleges, Southwestern is the only postsecondary educational institution in South San Diego County.''

Space Warfare Center. Is that like, operational yet?

SouthWestern Community College. Located in Iowa. Their college athletes are ``the Spartans.''

The ``Southwestern Community College'' in North Carolina is SCC. For some other schools with ``Southwestern'' in the name, see the SU (Southwestern University) entry.

SouthWest Conference On Language Teaching. A regional association of the ACTFL.

Solid Waste (SW) Disposal Act. It was not an act of solid waste disposal.

Society of Women Engineers.

A student just [3:50 pm Monday] came by to reserve the conference room for a meeting [11:30-12:30 Thursday]. She pronounced it like a word, with a long e -- ``swee'' (IPA: /sui:/).

SoftWare Engineer(ing). Also SE As Dr. Roger von Oech explains:

People say similar stuff about other fields (economics, macroeconomics, econometric forecasting, I think is one example).

SWEden. ISO three-letter country code (see .se).

Standard Wafer-level Electromigration Acceleration Test. A technique for accelerated testing of semiconductor device interconnects, whose lifetime is limited by electromigration. See B. J. Root and Tim Turner article, page 100 of IEEE/IRPS 1985. The SWEAT test is also JEDEC standard JEP 119. Cf. BEM, SSWEAT.

There's a related TEARS electromigration model, but I'm not aware of an electromigration blood test, to say nothing of a TOIL test, though the testing does have to do with stress.

Evidently, sweated is a regularly-formed part of the verb to sweat. In my experience, sweat is an irregular verb, with past and past participles sweat, but apparently there is some variation in usage. This made it interesting to search the LION database for instances of {he|she|it} sweat[ed].

By far the earliest instance of sweated that I was able to find this way was in the 1613 poem ``Christes Bloodie Sweat.'' It appears ten times there, always in the phrase ``he sweated bloud.'' The earliest instance that occurred with sweat was in Richard Stanyhurst's 1582 translation of ``The First Foure Bookes of Virgil his AEneis.'' Athena gives some signs of her anger:

... When flams of firy flasshing most terribil hissed:
Jt sweat with chauffing: three tymes (to to strang to be spoken)
From ground yt mounted, both launce and targat eke holding. ...

The sweated collocations occur in 13 poems, the most recent from 2002, and in 7 prose works. The sweat collocations, with infinitives (e.g., ``feel it sweat'') and present subjunctives (``though he sweat'' in some instances, etc.) excluded, occurs in 16 poems, 5 prose works, and also 5 dramas. The comparable overall numbers obscure the fact that the irregular form was more common until the eighteenth century, and the regularized form more common since then. (This probably explains the absence of sweated in plays, which have declined in popularity.) Born in 1806, Elizabeth Barrett Browning did it both ways in poems published in 1838. In ``The Student,'' within a quote (or made-up quote, more probably) of archaic poetry, she used the past form sweat. In ``The Seraphim,'' which has an Elizabethan flavor, she nevertheless used sweated. (Christ sweating blood again.)

The most recent use of the past form sweat occurs in a poem of William Carlos Williams. He was born and spent his first years in Rutherford Park, New Jersey, and after finishing his medical education set up a practice in Rutherford and stayed put for the rest of his life. He was born in 1883 and died in 1963. In 1963 my family brought me to the US. I grew up in Westfield, New Jersey, about 20 miles southwest of Rutherford, and I also became a doctor of sorts, but I didn't become a poet. I remember after I'd been in the US two or three years, my cousin Irving (``Oyving,'' from Brooklyn) told my dad that I was starting to speak English ``real good.'' My father replied: ``if you say that, then I'm worried.'' (He didn't stress the word that. You should understand: this was no-fault humor -- everybody got the jokes and everybody laughed. I had a boss once who specialized in the other extreme: zero-sum humor.) But I think that regularization of the verb sweat is a bad fad that other places besides stalwart New Jersey have successfully resisted.

Googling on the proverb ``he sweat bullets,'' I see that the awkward and incorrect form ``he sweated bullets'' is less than three times as common as the traditional.

A Modification of the SWEAT test proposed by Paul and Tim Turner.

Word used for the pancreas or thymus gland (or both), when this is regarded as food. The pancreas can be specified as the ``heart sweetbread,'' ``stomach sweetbread,'' or ``belly sweetbread.'' Similarly, thymus is specified as throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread.

Sweetbread is not especially sweet, and it's obviously not bread. Evidently the name compares and contrasts it to ordinary bread. I guess the similarity is in the mouthfeel or texture of cooked sweetbread. I'll leave that for others to judge, noting only that the organs are softer and less dense than muscle.

The notion of sweetness might be explained by two facts. One is that sweetness and sourness mask each other. That is, sugar tastes less sweet in the presence of acid, and acid tastes less sour in the presence of sweetener. (One can balance these to some degree and achieve a more intense flavor while not overwhelming taste with extreme sweet or sour.) The second fact is that when the word sweetbread was coined, ordinary bread was more sour than today. Traditionally, in fact, all bread was what we would call sour-dough bread today. Sour dough was simply unbaked dough left over from previous bread-making, saved for use as leaven. Bread was made by mixing new dough with a small amount of sour dough. (In 16c. biblical translations, the term ``sweet bread,'' along with all the usual spelling variants, was used for unleavened bread.)

It's my theory and I like it, and I don't know any alternative theories, but I should concede the following. Taste terms are extremely imprecise, and were even more so before the chemistry of taste began to be understood. In particular, one has expressions where what is called sweetness is really the absence of salt: sweet butter and sweet water (German Süsswasser, French eau douce). Somewhat related to this sense is the general use of sweet to mean pleasant. In this way sweetness is contrasted not perceptually with sourness, but figuratively with bitterness (understood to represent unpleasantness in general). I think that these transferred senses are avoided in food description, but that can hardly be a rigid rule.

Sweetbread used to be regarded as a delicacy. I have a theory about that too. I think that sweetbread was so disgusting that you would hold it gingerly, as if it instead of you were delicate. Well, I said I had a theory, not that I believed it.

In a transferred sense, sweetbread has also been used to mean a bribe. This might be a good place to mention that the word pancreas has been used to name some possibly quite different glands discovered in nonvertebrates. It's an interesting coincidence that diabetes, associated with elevated blood-sugar levels, is related to the function of the pancreas, which noncannibals call sweetbread in other animals.

Sweet Connie
Epithet of Connie Hamzy, an industrious groupie based in Little Rock, Ark. She was somewhat anonymously immortalized in the Grand Funk song ``We're An American Band'':
Sweet, sweet Connie, a-doin' her act.
She had the whole show and that's a natural fact.

According to her memoir, Rock Groupie, she also had a turn with famous Arkansas personality and amateur saxophonist Bill Clinton.

After she started publicizing her hobby, her employer tried to fire her. The nerve! She had to go to court in order to keep her job as a schoolteacher. It seems she's been trying to diversify her income stream. She's run for Congress and mayor of Little Rock and lost both times. See what happens when you ignore the local constituency? She also had a cameo in a video for Jackyl's cover of ``We're An American Band.''

sweetened condensed milk
Sugar dissolved in evaporated milk. Usually called condensed milk.

SWitched Fractional. Cf. FT1.

SWitched Fractional DS-1.

Standard Wire Gauge.

Structural Working Group. This is the expansion used by FAI. They mean Structure Working Group.

The difference between these two expansions exemplifies a systematic rule, explained at the noun entry.

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions. I guess.

Simulation Workbench for Integrated Modeling.

Solar Wind Interplanetary Measurements.

Sebesfi-Woods-1-Notrump-Escape. A method of defending against an overcall (during bidding in bridge), whether a direct overcall or a balancing action, that was developed in Australia and is mainly used in the Acol system.

swing the bat
Researchers have developed a way to give this pun life. S. J. Gaioni, H. Riquimaroux, and N. Suga describe their achievement in ``Biosonar Behavior of Moustached Bats Swung on a Pendulum Prior to Cortical Ablation,'' vol. 64 (#6), pp. 1801-1817, of Journal of Neurophysiology (Dec. 1990). And I didn't even know there were bats with mustaches (Pteronotus parnellii parnellii). From the abstract: ``We examined these responses, especially DS compensation, by swinging bats on a pendulum toward a large target over a distance of 3.6 m. Eight bats were given 15-30 swings per day for 6-25 days.''

Single-Wafer Integrated (microelectronic fabrication) Process.

Society for Women In Philosophy. It ``was started in 1972 to promote and support women in philosophy. SWIP holds divisional meetings, meetings in conjunction with the meetings of the American Philosophical Association, and it publishes newsletters.'' If SWIP isn't exactly what you wanted, you might consider switching to SWAP.

Simple Web Indexing System for Humans.

Promises, promises.

switch logic
An incomplete combinational logic in which some inputs determine (switch on or off) connections to a logical 1 or 0 (these values to which connections are switched may be fixed, or they may be other logical inputs). The output of a general switch is defined only if there is a connection between output and some input. Thus, one has the pseudo-AND and the pseudo-OR, composed of switches in serial and parallel, respectively, potentially connecting a logical 1 to the output: these functions give 1 when the corresponding AND or OR gate would, but are undefined when the corresponding AND and OR gates have output 0. Well-defined Boolean functions can be implemented by using both direct and inverted forms of each input. In some cases these can be used to save space, but care must be taken to avoid shorting inputs of opposite polarity or introducing excessive parasitic capacitance from open switches.

A state of extreme agitation. That's emotional agitation -- not, say, laundry agitation.

Student-Wide Judiciary. Apparently the official name of this system is written as the ridiculous-sounding ``Student Wide Judiciary.''

Short-Wave (radio) Listener.

The title of the seventh track in Cream's Disraeli Gears album. It stands for She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow.

Single White Male. Personalsese. Here ``single'' means either `never married' or `married but looking.' (``Divorced'' means `separated and looking.')

South Western Majorette Association. For similar organizations, see the majorette entry.

Solid Waste (SW) Management Unit.

Single-Walled NanoTub[ul]e.

Specifications for Web Offset Publications. Also ``GAA/SWOP.''


Term to describe a movie or video or whathaveyou that depicts action in an ancient Mediterranean setting. Ben-Hur, Anthony and Cleopatra -- that sort of thing. When used by a classicist, the term may be superciliously contemptuous or dismissive. Then again, it might be pejorative.

Term to describe a movie or video or whathaveyou that depicts action in a fantastical setting purporting but failing to resemble medieval Europe. It's the sort of thing (Braveheart, A Knight's Tale) that sets medievalists' teeth on edge.

During the second half of the joust in A Knight's Tale (set in a fourteenth century; no, not that one) the spectators rock to the music of Queen. People who didn't realize that Freddy Mercury was a god often disliked the movie.

Southwestern Ontario Rural Medicine Education, Research and Development Unit.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. ``SWOT analysis'' is another of those advance big-picture tools they teach at B-school. Or ``advanced.'' We've got specialists to handle that level of detail.

A Scottish and archaic English past participle of the verb sweat. As a noun, swot came to be used informally as a dismissive term for a student who studies inordinately. (A corresponding pejorative noun in American slang is grind, but it may not be so widely used.)

swot up
An informal British and Australian expression approximately equivalent to North American cram, but as with study, the transitive use is common. To swot up silicates (or swot silicates up) is to cram that particular material (I mean, knowledge of that particular material) probably for a geology test.

Short-Wavelength Pass (filter, coating).

SouthWest Pacific Area.

Spin-Wave Resonance.

Standing Wave Ratio.

Slow-Wave Sleep. The complement of REM sleep.

Australian name for the game of two-up. From German zwei, `two.'

Sigma Xi.

Sigma Xi is a scientific honor society established in the late 1800's as a counterpart to Phi Beta Kappa. The motto ``Spoudon Xynones,'' which they translate as `companions in zealous research' was invented some years later.

SimpleX signaling.

Solaris EXpress.

SX, Sx
Symptom[s]. Medical abbreviation. Other common abbreviations of the same form: DX (diagnosis), Fx (fracture), Hx ([patient] history) Rx (prescription), TX (treatment).

Explanation of abbreviation at Rx.

Stands for ``Straight Edge.'' I suppose the ex makes the siglum suggest sexy. What used to be called square. Straight edge is intended to designate this social group or personal characteristic in a way that is positive, and so avoid identifying squares indirectly by what they are not. Nevertheless, definitions tend to focus on the negative: sXers don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, and don't do drugs, but they're not necessarily Mormons. I suppose they could try definitions in terms of some nominal positive virtues, using words like ``responsible'' ``wholesome,'' or ``prudent,'' but those words haven't been cool since James Dean, and they were never exciting.

Parmenides is relevant here.

A square has four edges.

A straightedge is what we used to call a certain drafting tool -- a guide for drawing straight lines. You could use a ruler or an engineer's triangle or the edge of a triangle or a protractor, but a good draftsman took pride in having all the right tools and using them properly and efficiently. The straightedge was optimized for its modest-seeming but important job.

Back in the day.

Specular X-ray Reflectivity.

Surface X-Ray Diffraction.

[Phone icon]

Step-by-Step. Old-style telephone switching office using electromechanical switches (relays). In its time (it was introduced in 1889) it was a tremendous advance: it automatically made a connection without any operator intervention. Dial pulses from the subscriber (the calling party) tripped ``stepper'' relays to determine a connection path. Because the path was determined uniquely by the destination phone number, however, the system could not make use an alternate path. That is, a line could be ``busy'' because a segment of the switch path was in use, even though the called party was not off-hook. This problem was first solved in automatic switching systems with crossbars, starting in 1930. Dates are for the US. The first partially digital system to be put in service by Bell Telephone was the 1ESS.

Short for Seymour, Silas, Simon, and Sylvan. Pronounced like Cy (/sai:/).

(Domain code for) Syria.

Single Young Female. A Carrie Bradshaw clone, apparently.

The Summer Youth Forestry Institute. It's ``a program which engages [Washington State's] King County youth in meaningful summer employment, teaches science and natural resource skills, raises awareness about the functions and values of forests in our landscape, and enhances the management of public forest lands through community-based research.''

In the good old days (as recently as July 11, 2008, to be specific) ``syfy'' was an idiosyncratic spelling, noted along with ``attension'' and ``countrycide,'' of Eve Myles. Eve Myles plays the beautiful-woman part in the BBC's cult hit Torchwood (described as a sort of British X Files, though it seems to have some elements of Men in Black). Torchwood is a spin-off and anagram of Doctor Who, but that probably has more to do with marketing than anything in the show itself. The Western Mail, a daily tabloid, has ranked Eve Myles as the seventh-sexiest woman in Wales. If you think about it, that's probably not just meaninglessly precise but also quite complimentary, but who thinks?

I'm sure orthography is one of the skills on which beauty pageants, excuse me, scholarship competitions choose their winners, but the bees are likely not as telegenic as the swimsuit competitions. (Or maybe Bob Barker objected to words that might hurt animals' feelings.) Anyway, I don't recall seeing the spelling competition televised. (Then again, the only part of the interview competitions that I ever see are youtube highlights of particularly stupid replies.) So here's an idea: have a biathlonic swimsuit and spelling competition. If you get a word wrong... oh, that's right -- no actual water. The next day they could have the evening-gown, rifle marksmanship, and unicycle triathlon -- in a single simultaneous event. My money is on Miss Oakley.

Anyway, Eve Myles has somehow made her way in show business based solely on looks and maybe acting ability, despite her glaring spelling disability. The Singapore Times article in which I read about her misfortune suggests that her Welsh background accounts for the poor spelling. Reporter Zaidah Rahmat helpfully points out that she was born in the small town of Ystradgynlais on the River Tawe in South Wales. I suspect that geography really was destiny in this case. Myles was born in 1978; in Britain by the time she went to school, spelling was probably an elective in the state schools. (In 2009, the British education authority recommended that students not be taught the i-before-e rule because there are too many exceptions and students would only be confused. So they should be forced to memorize each instance separately, instead of just the exceptions to a rule. The education authorities evinced no awareness of the except-when-pronounced-as-a codicil that covers many of the exceptions.)

There's an old joke about odd spellings that turned on the following quote: ``Ben Hur -- pronounced success!'' In the first paragraph of this entry, I did not mean to imply that syfy, attension, and countrycide (insert quotes yourself) are ways to spell ``Eve Myles.'' ``Syfy'' was meant to be understood as a solecism for sci-fi.

SYmbolic LinK. File format for spreadsheet documents that stores formulas, cell and file links, date and number formats, ....

A kind of pun in which a single instance of a word is forced to be interpreted in different ways. The multiple interpretations are usually forced by zeugma. Canonical example: ``Miss Nipper shook her head and a tin canister, and began unasked to make the tea.'' (Dickens: Dombey and Son.)

symmetric difference
The symmetric difference of two sets is their union minus their intersection. In other words, it is all those elements that belong to either one of the sets, but not to both.

symmetry dilemma
A disease of the Hartree-Fock (HF) method: the HF operator does not generally commute with angular momentum operators (spin and orbital) even when the true Hamiltonian operator does. A restricted procedure nefariously designated the `Unrestricted' Hartree-Fock (UHF) method solves part of this problem -- the spin noncommutation -- and `Restricted' Hartree-Fock (RHF) solves the orbital angular momentum problem as well.

The opposite of disproportionation, q.v.

SYNC, sync
SYNCroniz{ e | ation }.

Scottish word meaning `since.' The ess is unvoiced. I.e., it is not supposed to sound like a zee or zed. So we Americans are mispronouncing when we sing Auld Lang Syne. I learned this by flipping to a random page of Child Star, an autobiography by Shirley Temple Black. I bet that book is just full of etymological low-down. I'll have to study it just as soon as I finish reading Jakob Grimm, something else to do with children. People named Jakob make good linguists. (See the Nomenclature is destiny entry for related thoughts.)

A poem:
`Get your ass to Schenectady'
Makes good use of synecdoche.

A song called ``Evil Woman'' contains the lyric ``but you better get your face on board the very next train.'' Skirt is an obsolete and non-PC synecdoche for woman; gam is a forgotten one. Empty suit raises special philosophical problems for a definition (which we have not given) of synecdoche.

This entry, including the rhyme at the beginning, was published on this site some time (possibly a long time) before 2004. On October 15, 2008, an artsy movie titled ``Synecdoche, New York'' had its New York premiere. I should sue; nobody else could have come up with this idea independently. On the other hand, a good idea for a pronunciation mnemonic may not be a good idea for a movie title, so maybe I'll just let them suffer the consequences.

The mixing or confusion of senses. Salty colors, rancid sounds, that sort of thing. A known disorder, but how else are you going to taste the variety of M&M colors? See Richard E. Cytowicz: The Man Who Tasted Shapes, (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1993).

In ``Who Do You Love?'' George Thorogood sings, ``you shoulda heard just-a what I seen.'' (And George is usually such a good boy. I'm disappointed he didn't title the song ``Whom Do You Love?'')

Here's something a bit older, in Bottom's speech on waking from ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' (Act IV, sc. i): ``The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.'' Well of course not.

The biblical comparand that this echoes in scrambled form is 1 Corinthians 2:9. R. Allen Shoaf has also pointed out parallels of Bottom's speech with passages (ll. 482-99, 507-12) in book 4 of Lucretius' De rerum natura. See Shoaf's ```If imagination amend them': Lucretius, Marlowe, Shakespeare,'' ch. 13 in The Shakespearean International Yearbook, vol. 10 (2010). There is an established precedent for attributing to Shakespeare a familiarity with DRN. King Lear's lament about birth is thought by many scholars to be a conscious echo of a similar passage of Lucretius. (I think it could easily be a coincidence, but with the bard you never know.) Many Shakespeareans regard King Lear as the ``materialist play.''

SYNchronous TRANsmission.

SYNthetic ROCk. Not The Monkees or Menudo or The Spice Girls or anything like that. Not even something a little more realistic, like papier mâché.

The disease syphilis is the venereal form of infection by treponemal bacteria. Treponematoses acquired by nonsexual contact (yaws, bejel, pinta), typically during childhood, manifest differently.

Treponemal infection can be identified archaeologically from various kinds of scarring of skeletons. Just as with many of the symptoms of syphilis, the variation between individuals is great, and many identifications have been disputed. Nevertheless, at least since about 1990 it has been clear that treponema was present in Europe for centuries before Columbus. In fact, there is substantial evidence that treponema was present globally throughout human populations in 1000 CE and probably long before.

Syphilis and yaws produce different patterns of bone damage on average. In any single affected skeleton, it is only possible to say which was the more likely disease. Lesions of the skull and jaw are generally taken to indicate syphilis, but yaws can produce the same. Obviously, age at death and circumstances of burial are taken as clues to which disease occurred. Since it was first clearly described in 1493, syphilis has evolved from an acute, frequently fatal disease into one with a long latency and less severe symptoms. It would not be surprising if bone lesions have evolved as well, suggesting caution in the differential diagnosis.

I leave it to the imagination of the reader to consider the more and less innocent ways by which an endemic disease passed by contact with moist or broken skin can become a disease passed by sexual contact, and vice versa. Recall that for years, herpes I and herpes II were regarded as distinctively oral and genital (I forgot which was which), but that distinction has apparently now become a mere matter of prevalence. It seems to me that we cannot exclude the possibility that syphilis was invented a number of times. Pre-1493 episodes may have been more limited, and less or even more virulent, but these differences fall well within the allowed range of variation that enables us to apply the single name syphilis to the very different versions of that disease known to King Charles's armies and to us.

The situation with syphilis is similar to that with tuberculosis. When tuberculosis was common in cattle, consumption of milk from TB-infected cattle caused scrofula -- TB of the lymph glands of neck and shoulder. TB of the spinal vertebrae was called Pott's disease, and pulmonary TB, consumption or King's evil. The question arises: are these different diseases caused by different organisms? That is not so simple.

The notion of ``species'' is a bit dodgy in organisms that reproduce asexually. The half-a-dozen definitions more-or-less agree in principle, but are usually not testable. In practice, the definition has been made on the basis of ``morphology.'' For bacterial pathogens, ``morphology'' includes symptomatology, serology, and now increasingly biochemistry. Only recently has genetic sequencing played a major role (and taxonomy is famously contentious, so not everyone agrees that this is a good thing).

Historically, syphilis was taken to be caused by Treponema pallidum, and the other diseases by a different but physically indistinguishable species (T. pertenue and friends). The bugs' DNA sequences turned out to be almost identical, despite the clinical differences, and they are now generally regarded as three different strains of a single species: T. pallidum subsp. pallidum, pertenue, and endemicum. The T. pallidum subsp. pallidum genome was sequenced in 1999, and in 2000 I posted that therefore we ought to be learning more ``shortly.'' And ``we'' did. But it turned out that there's a lot of molecular variation within and (more, of course) between the subspecies. As of 2007, no existing lab test has been available to distinguish the subspecies, but attention is now focused on on the gene signatures associated various tpr genes, and with the 5' flanking region of the tpp15 gene (you remember where that is, don't you?), so such a test may be developed, uh, shortly.

It should be clear from the preceding discussion that the immediate origin of syphilis can be a tricky question. However, it seemed to explode on the historical scene in Europe in 1493, suggesting that it was brought back from the New World by Columbus's sailors. A few people have made an emotional investment in the outcome of the origin question, so that many presentations of the data tend to be skewed.

Unfortunately, the DNA can't tell us as much as we'd like to know historically, although it is now clear that the three subspecies have been distinct for well over 500 years. Rapidly declining virulence after 1493 suggests substantial selection pressure, so T. pallidum pallidum at least is much changed. It's not clear how it could be determined whether the strains that cause syphilis now evolved from Old World or New World strains that caused yaws or syphilis before. Synthesis is also possible: it may be that genetic material exchanged between Old and New World treponemas led one of them to become far more dangerous than it had been.

After all the DNA and skeletal evidence, it seems to me that we are still thrown back on the written evidence. Chapter 4 of Alfred W. Crosby, Jr.: The Columbian Exchange (1972) contains what seems to me an even-handed discussion of the early, largely written evidence.

The critical question seems to be whether a sexually transmitted disease, and not just any treponema, was widely known before 1493. The limited evidence (Indian legends recorded by Spaniards) suggests that it was, in the Americas. There is stronger, but not quite conclusive evidence, that syphilis was perceived as a completely new disease in Europe. That would still not rule out the possibility that it was a new local strain of the universal treponema population (quite possibly made virulent by material recently borrowed from an American strain, possibly explaining the apparently greater resistance to it among American autochthons).

I remember reading 20-30 years ago that bone lesions found on a pre-Columbian, North American, mammalian (but non-human) skeleton had been identified as treponemal. I don't know how trustworthy that is, and I have not been able to track down the original news item. Treponemal species are at least known for rabbits (T. paraluiscuniculi, cause of rabbit syphilis) and for apes (Fribourg-Blanc bacterium, not yet classified).

In the 1980's, I seem to recall a rehabilitation of the old theory that pre-Columbian leprosy was really syphilis. Syphilis used to be called (in the literature, at least) "the great imitator," but I don't think this theory is much credited now.

[column] Goethe's ``Roman Elegies'' (translation and original German here) include apparent allusions to venereal disease (in elegies 17 and 21). The former includes the phrase (in translation) ``Hermes, the healing god.'' For a long time, including Goethe's, the effective medications for the painful skin lesions of syphilis all contained mercury. This was well known, so I imagine Goethe had it in mind. (The fact that Mercury is a Roman god identified with Hermes was and is universally known, so I don't mention it at all.) [Note, the Elegies were not originally written for publication, but he showed them to his friends. They were first published by in Die Horen, a new (in 1795) publication of Friedrich Schiller. Schiller and Goethe both revised the Elegies to make them acceptable to the sexual proprieties of the time, which means they were heavily bowdlerized. The link above is to the translation and transcription made by J.W. Worthy from Goethe's earlier manuscript in the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar.]

Screw Your Roommate. A traditional Notre Dame (ND) practice that has something to do with the traditional practice of cold-calling a stranger you have selected as a party date on the basis of what is traditionally called the ``dog book'' (a book with an embarrassing picture revealing what a geek you looked like when you were an entering freshman). The acronym is also used to refer to the party itself.

I don't seem to hear as much about these as I used to in the 1990's. Then again, I've stopped caring enough about the decadence of journalist English to continue reading the student newspaper. More importantly perhaps, the engineering students are becoming nerdier. Hallelujah!

SYStem ADMINistrator. Specifically, the or an administrator of an information system. The information system administered may be a computer, a network, or a computer service (typically provided over a network). Often shortened to admin. Cf. Adm.

SYStem OPerator.

systematic element names
There is a systematic IUPAC nomenclature for chemical elements. I'm not sure if its use is condoned for elements that already have names, but it's bad enough as it is. The systematic name is constructed by substituting a morpheme for each digit in the usual Arabic-numeral representation of its atomic number, and following that ghastly construction with ``-ium.'' The morphemes are nil, un, bi, tri, quad, pent, hex, sept, oct, non. The chemical symbol corresponding to the resulting atrocity is the sequence of initials from those Greco-Latin morphemes. To avoid ambiguity, the initial used for non is e (this makes sense, as it corresponds to the Greek ene). Capitalize and discard.

Sweet Young Thing. Makes sexual objectification rather explicit.

System/390, S/390
Mainframe-type machine (with exceptions) from IBM.

(Domain code for) Swaziland. An independent kingdom surrounded completely by the Union of South Africa (.za). Sort of like San Marino (.sm) in Italy (.it).

UUNET Internet Africa provides a general starting point. For a slice of Swaziland life, visit ``Casting the Net,'' a fortnightly feature from the Times of Swaziland. That publication lacks a website as of September 2001; visit the no-longer-updated Swazi News, which has lots of links.

Süddeutscher Zeitung. German: `South German Journal.' Published by Süddeutscher Verlag GmbH.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology. In Karachi, Pakistan.

A kind of Superconductor-Insulator-Superconductor (S-I-S) junction, with one superconductor of type I and the other type II.

Smooth-One-Side. Describes hardboard, which can also be S2S. Hardboard is paneling manufactured by pressing wood fibers together and heating. It differs from MDF in that the wood fibers are bonded directly to each other by the lignin that occurs naturally in the wood (in MDF, the wood fibers are embedded in a binder matrix). Hardboard is thus denser than MDF: 55-75 lb./cu.ft., hence available both denser and less dense than water.

That reminds me of Dennis. Steve once described Dennis as ``built like a fireplug.'' No one disagrees. Dennis gives the lie to the canard that people float in water. When he took swimming lessons at the Y, for the final exam they lined everybody up at the shallow end; they were supposed to swim to the deep end. About half-way across, Dennis lost heart. He stopped swimming and walked along the bottom of the pool to the edge. I find that more interesting than hardboard. If you want to learn about hardboard, why don't you just visit the LMA's downloadable glossary and save me the trouble. Really.

My uncle Robert took swimming lessons at the same Y for high school course credits when he was in high school. Just to make it easy on himself, at the beginning of the course he pretended that he couldn't swim. He should have become an actor. By the time Steve and Dennis and I attended the same high school, you couldn't get course credit for taking swimming lessons at the Y (iirc).

In case you didn't notice it, I want to point out that I'm particularly proud of having worked the word canard into a discussion of flotation.

Smooth-Two-Sides. Describes hardboard, which can also be S1S, q.v.

[``q.v.'' means `which see' in Latin (which may be abbreviated Lat.). It means I don't feel like repeating myself.]

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