Thursday, March 19, 2009

MONK-y Business

One of the capital pleasures of life as a language editor is the license it gives me to goof off on Google, or to put it in terms the taxman will accept: the time I spend online looking up terminology is justified. For sad nerdlings like the Blagger, badly infected with TICS (“terminally insatiable curiosity syndrome”), unravelling the hidden meanings of acronyms and other initial ISMS is more than a diversion. It is an essential life-enhancing element of my work. All of which is mere preamble to revealing what fun I had pottering in pursuit of the meaning of “CAP”.

Did you know that freedictionary dot com lists an incredible 252 definitions for CAP? (No silly, I didn’t count ’em.) The one I was looking up stands for “computer-assisted probing”. An example of this is to be found in a report about a new probe for performing brain biopsies. The developer, Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena of Imperial College London was inspired by Sirex noctilio, a wood-boring wasp that uses its ovipositor to drill into trees. The surgical probe reproduces the mechanics of the wasp’s drill (special shafts that move counter to each other) to displace and not damage tissue allowing surgeons to safely insert a hollow tube deep into the soft brain. The wood-boring wasp, by the way, is native to the Northern Hemisphere and was introduced into my native New Zealand as well as Australia, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa. Down south the Sirex is a real pest that attacks exotic pine plantations, causing up to 80% tree mortality.

And while we're on the subject of mortality, CAP is also “common Ada package”, a programming language developed by the US government commonly used in embedded systems (e.g. for air traffic control). Ada has nowt to do with the something-nasty-in-the-woodshed Aunt Ada Doom immortalized by Stella Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm, her parody of the rural novel and the funniest book I’ve ever read. The name comes from a picturesque character in computer history, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), a mathematician considered to be the world's first computer programmer. Lovely Ada was doomed to die at 37, the same age as her father, the poet Lord Byron.

A clever CAP you might doff your hat for (or hoodie at least) is the clever little “capuchin”. These brave New World monkeys were named after an offshoot of the Franciscan monks, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin who wear brown robes with capacious hoods over their heads. Capuchin monkeys are extremely intelligent (the monks, too, indubitably) and are used in laboratories or kept as pets (think: organ grinders). Some monkeys are even trained to help quadriplegics around the house much like mobility assistance dogs. They help out by doing such tasks as washing their owner’s face, and microwaving food and opening bottles. However, it seems these little helpers don’t always do well in this care-giving context as for safety reasons they often have their teeth extracted (wot?! in case they bite the hand that feeds… their owner!?).

But enough of monkey business and onto majuscule matters, to wit: CAP aka “uppercase”, known as such because ye olden loden setters kept capital letters in the upper drawer of a desk or in the upper type case. The Blagger is glad to announce that someone called Galahad is the gallant winner of the premier RAW award, being the first to report spotting the misspelt “Captial” in the YouTube lesson on text revision (see the episode dated March 12). Congrats ole Gal and I hope you keep on enjoying your prize!

If you want to know what a RAW winner wins, enter this week’s competition. This time the prize will go to the first reader to spot the word or words in this episode set in “camel case”. I leave you now with a capital performance (capital punishment?) by one nonplussed non-brunette in the American game show Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? See you next week!

StudlyCaps, aka StickyCaps is what you call it when individual letters in words are capitalized at random or in a pattern. According to the Jargon File, “The origin and significance of this practice is obscure. It appears to have been popularized among adolescent users during the early eras of online culture, as a form of rebellion against the rules for proper capitalization of names and sentences.”
SO, tHere yOu have iT and WHat do You thiNk Of thaT?

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