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Neal Stephenson Calls "Bulshytt"

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UPDATE: Contest Winner Selected!

After nearly a hundred entries, we've randomly selected a winner: commenter Meg Stivison. Meg posted: "My new favorite word is sub-Turing, used specifically for those who wouldn't pass a Turing intelligence test." We'll email Meg shortly with instructions on how to claim her free Anathem shirt! Thanks to all for entering, and for sharing your favorite words!

I saw Neal Stephenson, author of the newly released Anathem, speak in Portland on Tuesday night. He read a bit from the book, which revealed two inescapable facts about Anathem:

1. It's full of newly coined words. Similar to Dune in its free use of fictional vocabulary, Anathem introduces us to words like avout, the term for secular monks living living in a walled city; concent, an avout monastery; and Extramuros, the term for life outside the concent.

2. It's funny as hell. Proof comes from the term bulshytt, which appears early on and seems to have a clear predecessor in our own language. But don't let this seeming coincidence fool you: bulshytt is a very specific term with its own etymology -- although its usage does seem to match a well-known English term. Bulshytt appears in both Fluccish and Orth (two languages in the world of Anathem); a partial definition (from the book's glossary) is as follows:

Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution, a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said. (3) According to the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn, a radical order of the 2nd Millennium A.R., all speech and writings of the ancient Sphenics; the Mystagogues of the Old Mathic Age; Praxic Age commercial and political institutions; and, since the Reconstitution, anyone they deemed to have been infected by Procian thinking. ...

Anathem's marketing is remarkable. The book itself has a trailer (yes, like a movie trailer), a soundtrack (actually a really good one), and a variety of online videos featuring author interviews and readings. It's a little funny to see Stephenson himself reading in these videos, as he's such an unlikely figure to appear in a promotional setting: he comes off as a quiet, retiring author who's genuinely interested in the world of ideas, and not so much into self-promotion.

As shown in his recent Wired profile, Stephenson seems perfectly comfortable to immerse himself in complexity, and his readers have come to expect that...though many found his previous work (The Baroque Cycle) to be a little long, weighing in at roughly three thousand pages across three volumes. In my humble opinion, Baroque contained a lot of great stuff: there's an epic scale to the story that can only be told over a lot of pages -- though that might just be my incipient fanboyism. (Anathem is 960 pages -- the hardcover is hefty!) At the Portland reading, an audience member asked about book length. Stephenson's answer was (and I'm heavily paraphrasing here), "Some books are long because there's a lot of junk in them that could be cut out. Some books are long because there's lots of good stuff in them. I think I'm writing the latter."

Some of the Anathem promo videos have been packaged up into an online widget. Have a look at the videos below -- I'd recommend the two videos in the middle (click the teeny icons at the bottom) as good starting points.

Can't get enough Neal Stephenson videos? There are a few more on his official book site. If you can't catch Stephenson on his speaking tour, check out his talk at the Long Now Foundation from last week -- it's a reading plus Q&A.

Win an Anathem Tee-Shirt (UPDATE: CONTEST NOW CLOSED)

So what's this about a tee-shirt contest? We have a limited edition "Bulshytt" tee-shirt to give away: it features the dictionary definition of the term in white on a black American Apparel tee. How to enter: leave a comment on this blog entry telling us your favorite word (fictional or not). We'll randomly select a winner on Friday evening, and we'll email you to work out your size and shipping information.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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