Live & Learn - Issue #1

I. Nonvampiric Man Learns He is Allergic to the Sun (while Vacationing in Florida)

This is what the rash from a sun allergy looks like.
I took precautions, I swear. In fact, it was the first thing I did when I went outside. I sprayed myself with some (apparently) shitty sunscreen and rubbed it all over my extremities. I covered my arms, my legs, my neck, my forehead, and even the tops of my ears. Then I walked from the sea-side condo my in-laws rent to downtown Venice, Florida. It took about 20 minutes to walk from A to B, and when I got there, it wasn’t even noon. Nevertheless, I got sunburn on my arms, legs, and neck. It wasn’t a big deal, or so I thought. Every summer, I manage to get a sunburn, and then my skin tans and I stop thinking about it because I no longer get burned. This time, something else happened. When I went outside the next day – the wife and I went kayaking on a river shockingly devoid of water -- I got even more sunburned even though I applied more sunscreen. I figured my skin would calm down as the day turned to evening and the sun was no longer so intense. Instead, the red, irritated areas on my arms, legs, and neck took on the appearance of a rash and I began to feel itchy all over. It was so uncomfortable, I wanted to tear my skin off.

Puzzled as to what the fuck might be happening to me, I went online and began hunting for information with search terms like “sun rash” and “itchy sunburn.” That’s when I learned there is something called a “sun allergy.” I thought only vampires and those bitten by them had problems being out in the sun, but it turns out us mortals may have to stay indoors during daylight hours too. The Mayo Clinic explains it this way. 

Sun allergy is a broad term. It describes several conditions that cause an itchy rash to form on the skin after being in sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Polymorphous light eruption is the most common form of sun allergy.

Some people have a hereditary type of sun allergy. Others develop symptoms only when triggered by another factor — such as taking medication or touching certain plants. Other types of sun-related reactions occur for reasons that are unclear.

Mild sun allergy may clear up without treatment. Severe rashes may be treated with steroid creams or pills.

In case you’re wondering, the phrase polymorphous light eruption means a rash on the skin (or mucous membrane) caused by light (probably intense) that appears in various forms or styles. (Yes, I looked that up, and yes, Polymorphous Light Eruption is the name of my new metal band.) This was good information and it helped ease my mind. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening. I’m regularly out in the sun and I’ve been to Florida many times. Why had I developed a sun allergy now?

I never really found out for sure, but I’m guessing my coming down with the rash had something to do with another phrase in the Mayo Clinic’s information: “touching certain plants.” See, while we were kayaking on the river short on water, I came in contact with a wide variety of plants I was surely allergic to, for previous medical tests have proven that I am allergic to just about everything that exists, including dust, dogs, cats, mold, plants (including weeds and grasses), horses, dragons, mermaids, and assorted snuffleupaghi. Alas, if I was this allergic to food, I’d be a much thinner man.

Obligatory pic of gator in the wild.
Interestingly, this whole ordeal into the world of light-induced rashes prompted me to look up the etymology of the word allergy. (I didn’t have to look up the meaning due to my extensive familiarity with the concept.) As it so happens, the three books I consulted were the Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, and the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories (ODWH). All three agreed that this 20th century medical term pertains to the notion of there being something “alien” present in the concept and that this otherness harkens back to it’s older German cousin allergie, which is rooted in the Greek work allos, meaning “other.” But that’s only half the story. According to the ODWH, our modern allergy is also said to be “patterned” on the German word for energy, energie, which suggests that this mysterious other has an energy all its own or is acting in some way. The Chamber’s etymological dictionary says something similar, but it traces this element of energy or action back to the Greek word eregon, meaning “action.”

Live and learn. Or in my case, exist and itch.


II. New Words and Phrases (or words and phrases new to me)

Brain Rot

The word is in from PC World and it is not good: all that doom scrolling you’re doing at night before you go to bed is giving you brain rot. No, I’m not making this up. According to an article published April 14, 2023, on the PC World website, doom scrolling—the act of endlessly scrolling through social media feeds and news websites in search of negative or distressing information—may be giving you “brain rot.”

Doom scrolling is not a new term, although I was unaware that some would confine it to social media (my doom scrolling takes place on Google News). Brain rot, however, took my by surprise. But wait, before you run to your medical dictionary of choice, you should be aware that, at least according to this article, brain rot “is not a medical or scientific term.”

 “Brain rot” … [is] a slang term that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the context of the situation. In a more general sense, brain rot refers to the feeling of mental fog or confusion after prolonged drug use or lack of sleep, or a feeling of mental or emotional decline or decay, often associated with stress, anxiety, or depression. These conditions can affect brain function and structure, causing symptoms like cognitive impairment and reduced creativity and productivity.

So how does doom scrolling lead to brain rot? Well, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out ... or maybe you do. In essence, doom scrolling tickles the brain’s “reward system,” which is invigorated by the act and anticipation of getting new information, even if that information is ultimately negative. Over time, the brain gets accustomed to these negative messages wrapped in positive stimuli’s clothing, which is precisely the kind of information that the algorithms directing content to your social media and news feeds run on, and the result of all that toxicity and ugliness can “harm mental health by boosting anxiety, stress, hopelessness, and depression,” which in turn can “disrupt sleep patterns and lead to emotional exhaustion.” Brain rot—that mental fog or confusion after prolonged drug use or lack of sleep, or that feeling of mental or emotional decline or decay--is an outgrowth of these conditions. 

And how does one avoid this all too modern condition? Naturally, the good people at PC World have some ideas but, not surprisingly, they just can seem to tell you put down your phone or get away from social media. Thus, let me be the one to propose such remedies.

Ambient Gaslighting

There’s a high probability you’re familiar with the term gaslighting, which refers to the practice of trying to make someone else question his or her reality. (in fact, as I noted in issue #4 of The Butter Lamb News, gaslighting was Merriam-Webster’s 2022 word of the year.

Well, now there’s ambient gaslighting, which according to an article from USA Today, refers to “the subtle undercurrents of mistreatment or disrespect that we experience in small doses and may not realize are a form of gaslighting.”

The article goes on to explain: 

It could be as simple as a passive-aggressive communication style you encounter frequently from someone in your life, or it could look like a boss who employs a leadership style that makes your team fearful to speak up. It could even refer to imbalanced news or deceiving advertising we encounter when we scroll on our phones.

Got that? Good, now please explain it to me ….

But seriously, if I understand this correctly, gaslighting is when someone says something to you directly that makes you question your reality (or at the very least, the legitimacy of your feelings). Ambient gaslighting, then, is gaslighting that occurs indirectly.

I’m not sure I’m on-board. But then, maybe that’s okay. As noted in the article (and I find this somewhat surprising) ambient gaslighting isn’t really a thing. The person quoted in the article, “Physician psychiatrist Dr. Grant Brenner,” is identified as the person who’s “trying to coin the term.”

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say USA Today is trying to gaslight me into believing ambient gaslighting is a thing.

Juice Jacking

In addition to COVID-19, ticks, phishing, ChatGPT stealing your job, and inflation, the new thing we’re supposed to be afraid of, at least according to National Public Radio (and several news outlets) is “juice jacking.” What the fuck is juice jacking, you may be asking? Well, it’s not orange juice spiked with steroids. No ma’am. Juice Jacking is “a portable charger or a charger [left] in public that will charge your phone or mobile device, but also install malware on or steal your data.”

According to cybersecurity expert Jim Stickley who is quoted in the NPR story, “building fake charging stations is pretty easy” and the practice “is becoming more prevalent, possibly due to the increase in travel now that the COVID-19 restrictions have mostly been lifted.” 

Are you fucking kidding me? Is this really a problem? Is this really something we need to be worried about? Is this really something that needs to take up space in our brains?

Before I answer that, I shouldn’t be so hard on NPR. After all, they’re just reporting the news. The primary source of this is the Denver office of the FBI, which issued an advisory on April 6 that told people to:

“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.”

Okay, so how much of a “threat” is juice jacking? Well, I don’t know enough about it to tell you to avoid the FBI’s warning. What I can tell you is that, according to, juice jacking may not be the worry NPR makes it out to be. As reported on the website

An FCC spokesperson told Snopes that the commission wanted to make sure that their advisory on “juice-jacking,” first issued in 2019 and later updated in 2021, was up-to-date so as to ensure ‘the consumers have the most up-to-date information.’ The official, who requested anonymity, added that they had not seen any rise in instances of consumer complaints about juice-jacking.

Ticks, on the other hand, are definitely something to worry about.


III. Art of the Dictionary

Yeah, dictionaries are all about words and meanings and etymologies and synonyms, but believe me when I say that some of the books in the Butter Lamb Reference Library collection contain some wonderful art. This section aims to highlight some of it and spread the idea that dictionaries and references can be treasure-troves of wonderful graphics and images too.

As a case in point, I submit to you the following drawing of a Phouka from A Dictionary of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katherine Briggs (1976). 

According to this captivating text, the Irish word Phouka (sometimes Pouk, or Puck) is a kind of bogy or bogey-beast, something like the Picktree brag of the North of England, who takes various forms, most usually a horse, but also an eagle or a bat, and is responsible for people falling as well. Many a wild ride has been suffered on the Phouka's back.


IV. From the Butter Lamb Reference Library's Collection:

The Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics

I hate math. I’m not good at it, it makes me feel stupid, and thus I’m intimidated by it. Even having this book in my collection makes me uncomfortable. Yet, this is the only mathematics reference I’ve come across in my (not so) far-flung travels, so when my eyes saw it on the shelves of my favorite used bookstore, I knew I had to become part of the BLRL’s collection. Those feelings only grew when O cracked the cover and read the Publisher’s Note on page 9.

WE believe this to be the first popular encyclopedia or reference book of mathematics of its kind, arranged in alphabetical order of subjects…. The ground covered is the mathematics from beginning High School, through College, but stopping short of a degree in mathematics. The book is therefore not addressed to the professional mathematician, but it will help the student to become one. It is intended for the Man in the Street, the harassed parent and the technical student; or for the scientist, engineer and accountant for whom mathematics has not lost its fascination.

The Man in the Street? I’m the man in the street! So, this reference was made with me in mind (I am also a harassed parent at times). Then again, it’s fair to say that whatever fascination I had with math left me long ago (assuming I ever had it in the first place). When I flip through the pages of this book, I am instantly transported back to the anxiety-ridden trigonometry class I took in high school and the nerve-wrecking pre-calculus class I took in college. Further, I can tell you with absolute certainty (i.e., 100 percent certainty) that I have never encountered anyone in the street, man or woman, speaking of things like “central symmetry in planes,” “Keplar’s star polyhedra,” or even “planimetry” (or plane geometry). Then again, I suppose the probability of encountering people who talk about such things is directly proportional to the streets on which one spends his or her time.

Then again, what I, a mathephobe, might have to say about this book amounts to zero. So, if you find yourself needing to define a mathematical term and the information you’re finding in other dictionaries just isn’t adding up, if you’re trying to remember a certain formula and your mind is nothing but an empty sphere, or if you need proof that a mathematical term means what you think it means because you want to be 100 percent correct, then you might want to subtract a copy of this book from your local library or used bookstore and add it to your collection at home.


V. From the Archives:
Yawn Isn't Boring at All

You’re in your car, stuck at a red light. The fellow driving the car next to yours tilts his head back, opens his maw, and emits a massive yawn. Try as you might to avert what’s coming, it’s no use. You follow suit and expel air out your pie hole because, as everyone knows, yawns are contagious.

Now, just why yawns spread so easily is a mystery. What isn't so hard to explain, however, is the word’s definition, etymology, and lore, all of which I will share with you now. I hope it doesn’t put you to sleep.

Definitions … and Synonyms

, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “something that yawns; a gaping opening or entrance” such as “a chasm or an abyss.” I know, that’s not really what we’re talking about, but you can see how it’s related to the other yawn, an “involuntary, prolonged inspiration with the mouth wide open and the lower jaw much depressed, as from drowsiness or fatigue.”

Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary offers a similar description for yawn, “to open the mouth widely,” and then adds “also called chasma.” But wait, there’s more! Blakiston’s goes on to define yawning as “a reflex stretching of the muscles accompanied by a deep inspiration, occurring during the drowsy state preceding the onset of sleep.” It goes on to say that a yawn is also known as a hiant.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary
offers similar fare. It defines yawn as “1) To open the mouth involuntarily, as in drowsiness or fatigue; 2) Involuntary act of gaping, accompanied by attempts at inspiration, excited by drowsiness.” Oddly, although in step with the aforementioned texts, Taber’s offers a separate (and somewhat unnecessary) definition for yawning: “Deep inspiration, gaping induced by drowsiness or fatigue,” and then offers yet another synonym: oscitation.

Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary doesn’t offer any synonyms, but it does extend its definition of yawning — “a deep involuntary inspiration with the mouth open” — by including the phrase, “often accompanied by the act of stretching.” (See what I did there? Extend? Stretch? Ha!). It then suggests that readers compare yawning to pandiculation, or “the act of stretching and yawning.”

Somewhat notably, The Thinker’s Thesaurus goes beyond the association of pandiculation and yawning to listing the former as a synonym for the latter. Perhaps the authors of this text need to think a little more about this relationship, as pandiculation does not necessarily include yawning, at least according to Webster’s Third International Dictionary.


Okay, so now that we have a clear definition of yawn, let’s look into the word’s etymology and see if it’s just as exciting and varied.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories says yawn is of Germanic origin, but then adds “the Old English geonian is from an Indo-European root shared by Latin, hiare, [there’s your synonym hiant] and Greek khainein (meaning ‘gape’).” Early uses, says the ODWH, “included the sense [of having] the mouth wide open, gape,” while the senses of the current noun “date from the early 18th century.”

Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins puts it a little differently. It says, “Yawn goes back ultimately to the Indo-European base ghei (or ghi), which also produced Greek khaskein ‘gape’ and Latin hiare ‘gape’ and ‘yawn’ (source of English hiatus). Chambers Dictionary of Etymology offers essentially the same information, as does Partridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, which is likely the source material for all the above.

I Dream of Yawning

Okay, so there seems to be a good deal of consensus about where yawn comes from. There is less agreement, however, about what yawns symbolize in dreams.

Theresa Cheung’s Dream Dictionary from A to Z gets things rolling with the (rather dull) notion that, “just as in waking life, yawning is a sign of fatigue, but also boredom.” However, she kicks it up a notch, albeit with some mystery, when she notes, “It can also be a warning against hidden aggression within yourself or others.”

Why Cheung leaves it there I can’t say. Perhaps she was getting tired and just wanted the work of writing her dream dictionary to be over. Fortunately, others, such as the Watkins Dream Dictionary pick up the slack. In this text, yawning is said to be “indicative of weariness and involuntary communication.”

Yawning in a dream may be a sign of non-aggression (as with animals), or a sign that one wishes to ingest (oxygen, food, drink) or somaticize something (an emotional hurt, an already expelled scream, a trauma).

Somaticize is a psychiatric term meaning “to convert an anxiety into a physical symptom,” and it helps explain what Cheung was getting at when she associated dream yawns with hidden aggression. Tony Crisp’s Dream Dictionary takes a similar tack as it notes that, along with the boredom and fatigue, yawning in dreams may represent “the unconscious trying to say something,” as it belongs to a cast of movements associated with the self-regulation.

I Ain’t Superstitious (I’m Just Tired)

I don’t believe I’ve ever yawned in a dream. I do, however, cover my mouth when I yawn (at least in public). I thought this was just good manners. As it turns out, the impulse to cover one’s gaping maw is a holdover from more superstitious times. But hey, don’t take my word for it. As the Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions explains:

Most people are familiar with the rule of etiquette that a person should cover their mouth when yawning but may be unaware that this has its roots in medieval superstition, when it was thought that evil spirits could get inside a person’s body when their mouth was opened too wide, though making the sign of the cross prevented this happening.

The text goes on to say that, elsewhere in Europe, it was believed that “yawning too long allowed one’s soul to escape.” In still other cultures, “a yawn may be interrupted as a death omen, which was to be countered by snapping one’s fingers.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this research and writing has made me sleepy.

See you next time.



No comments:

Post a Comment