Sunday, November 8, 2015

Operable bollards


     Some words you're proud to know.
     "Neurofibromatosis," for instance,  the medical term associated with what people think of as The Elephant Man's disease. It feels like an accomplishment just to pronounce the word, and I admit, after learning it while writing an article on facial disfigurement last year, I let it roll off my tongue a few times more than I needed to, just to savor the mastery of saying it.
      And other words are something of an embarrassment.
     "Bollard," for instance—those squat posts used to keep vehicles out of certain areas. I'm quite ashamed, actually. Maybe I just assume that nobody knows what "bollard" means, that it's too esoteric a word. Maybe it sounds somewhat naughty, like "bollocks."
Bollards
      Which is why I took a small comfort from this sign. "Operable Bollards," which must baffle some people -- it refers to those circles in the ground to the left. The bollards rise, either manually, or pneumatically, at the touch of a button in some engineer's office, to cut off the driveway to the Allen Center at Northwestern University. (It was the lower sign, "Authorized Vehicles Only," that prompted me to park my car, stupidly, and walk to the building, while other cars, either authorized or, more likely, not as cowed by signage as myself, came and went).
     I seem to recall a Wall Street Journal article, years ago, about bollards that rise out of the ground being a thing in Los Angeles, both a status symbol and a way to make certain that nobody is going to steal the Ferrari parked in your driveway. I did a bit of digging. They're also known as "retractable" or "telescoping," bollards, and will set you back about $500 if you raise and lower them manually, ten times that for automatic bollards that rise up using a mechanism. 
     The word, by the way, is not that old—an 1840s nautical term, according to the OED, referring to the posts on ships where ropes are secured. The Oxford guesses that it comes from "bole," a term for tree trunk that dates to the 1300s. 
     Now the question is, knowing "bollard," how long will it be until you're showing off to friends. "There's the store, just past those bollards." My bet is, if you read this blog, it'll be sooner than later. You can blame me.
     

27 comments:

  1. Good post NS. I will definitely use the phrase "operable bollards" next time the opportunity presents itself.

    I must confess the first image that came to my mind when I saw the above photo was the drivers license facility road signs test. The second thought that came to me was your "shape" posts from last week (will diamond shapes, hexagons and rectangles be included next time :)

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  3. When I was a kid, the word to know was "antidisestablishmentarianism." I was so disappointed that it didn't show up once in Phineas Finn.

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    1. Antidisestablishmentarianism was one of my 6th grade teachers favorite extra credit words. That and cognac. I'll never forget how to spell those.

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    2. My favorite word is sesquipedalian, which speaks to itself.

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    3. I've got that board game.

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  4. It's good to learn new words here.

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  5. Neil, your topic on the transgender in the locker room is a smash hit. The discussion continues there at over 72 posts and not just from me. Take a look, folks.

    http://www.everygoddamnday.com/2015/11/inside-girls-locker-room.html?showComment=1446990368282#c2975554704777991397

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  6. My older sister was obsessed with learning how to say pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, supposedly the longest word in the English language. A tough one to whip out with any frequency, but one learned, it sticks in your head.

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    1. Sounds like she'd be in the Mensa society.

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  7. I think the use of "operable bollards" is a good example of what they call "nerdview" over on Language Log: Use of a term of art from a narrow field in a context where another term might be better understood.

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  8. I plan on using the term in a few minutes.

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    1. So do I, like I'll kick the bollards out of you, to whomever is bothering me at the time.

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  9. Oh, operable bollocks! Not a new word at all, at least to me or lots of Chicagoans. This town is full of architecture/road design nerds, and those plastic things that don't really make bike lanes any safer? Plastic bollards. If only they were retractable and substantial!
    Sunday morning snark over.

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  10. I asked about where they were in a comment yesterday.
    Chicago has two sets of these on the lower level of Michigan Ave at the bridge.
    I'm guessing that they also have them at the Lake Shore Drive Bridge lower level.

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  11. A few years back I met the great Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel during an intermission at the Civic Opera House and told him my father was born in a little village not far from his home in Wales. I also said my mother's family came from a little town on the Isle of Anglesey with a long name I couldn't pronounce. Whereupon he and his companion, a Welsh tenor, obliged by reciting Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychyrndrobwillllantysiliogogogoch in booming voices, causing heads to turn throughout the auditorium. Nice man.

    For reasons I can't explain "bollards" seems a somewhat Monty Pythonish term,

    Tom Evans

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    1. First Announcer (Michael Palin): Good evening. Here is the news for Parrots:

      No parrots were involved in an accident on the M-1 today when a Lorry carrying High-octane fuel was in collison with a bollard. That's a BOLLARD and *NOT* a PARROT. A spokesman for parrots said he was glad no parrots were involved. The Minister of Technology (photo of minister with parrot on his shoulder) today met the three Russian leaders (cut to photograph of 3 Russian men in a group and each with a parrot on his shoulder) to discuss a 4 million pound airliner deal....None of them went in the cage, or swung on the little wooden trapeze or ate any of the nice millet seed. Yum, Yum.

      That's the end of the news, now our program for parrots continues with Part 3 of 'A Tale of Two Cities', specially adapted for parrots by Joey-Boy. The story so far, Dr. Manette is in England after eighteen years (as he speaks French Revolution type music creeps in under his words) in the Bastille. His daughter Lucy awaits her lover Charles Darney, who we have just learned is in fact the nephew of the Marquis de St Evremond, whose cruelty had placed Manette in the Bastille. Darney arrives to find Lucy tending her aged father.

      Perhaps you are remembering this sketch.

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    2. Must be.

      My God Nikki! Do you have the entire Python canon by memory? I had actually forgotten this particular tropical bird, remembering only the"Norwegian Blue," the "late parrot"John Cleese tried unsuccessfully to return to Michal Palin's pet shop.

      Tom

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    3. By The Associated Press

      Posted Nov. 8, 2015 at 2:40 PM


      CHICAGO — Chicago police say a candle lit at a memorial honoring a slain 9-year-old Chicago boy ignited a fire that destroyed the memorial and damaged a nearby garage. However, Chicago Fire Department Cmdr. Walter Schroeder said the early Sunday blaze remains under investigation.

      BOLLARDS !!! Fiddling with toys while the city burns itself down.

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    4. Ah, that reminds me of the wondrous- A Child's Christmas in Wales story, Tom and the PBS presentation. (D. Thomas)

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    5. NikkiTom -I like Cleese in Fawlty Towers.

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    6. And love that, How Green was my Valley, book.

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    7. Mr. Evans, perhaps not their entire canon, but a rather silly amount of my brain space is taken up w Python bits, including all of the lyrics to Spamalot. I'm just a font of useless information like that I guess.

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    8. I remember both parrot sketches, but the dead parrot one with the string of euphemisms for dead is probably more famous. Is python fandom a common thread here?
      Francis

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  12. Well, I learned some new words today. I'll see if I can fit them into my conversation in the next couple of days. Thanks to all for broadening my vocabulary. On a personal note, I'm feeling pretty good this weekend due to becoming a grandfather again (for the 5th time). Our new granddaughter and family are doing fine.

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  13. Just ran across the word bollard in the book I'm reading. Isn't that always the way?

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