Brain Pickings

Author Archive

02 JULY, 2012

A Visual Alphabet-Dictionary of Unusual Words

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A visual A-Z of the hidden treasures of language.

As a lover of language and words, especially obscure and endangered words, I was instantly besotted with Project Twins’ visual interpretations of unusual words, originally exhibited at the MadArt Gallery Dublin during DesignWeek 2011.

Acersecomic

A person whose hair has never been cut.

Biblioclasm

The practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media.

Cacodemonomania

The pathological belief that one is inhabited by an evil spirit.

Dactylion

An anatomical landmark located at the tip of the middle finger.

Enantiodromia

The changing of something into its opposite.

Fanfaronade

Swaggering; empty boasting; blustering manner or behavior; ostentatious display.

Gorgonize

To have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect on: Stupefy or petrify

Hamartia

The character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall.

Infandous

Unspeakable or too odious to be expressed or mentioned.

Jettatura

The casting of an evil eye.

Ktenology

The science of putting people to death.

Leptosome

A person with a slender, thin, or frail body.

Montivagant

Wandering over hills and mountains.

Noegenesis

Production of knowledge.

Ostentiferous

Bringing omens or unnatural or supernatural manifestations.

Pogonotrophy

The act of cultivating, or growing and grooming, a mustache, beard, sideburns or other facial hair.

Quockerwodger

A rare nineteenth-century word for a wooden toy which briefly became a political insult.

Recumbentibus

A knockout punch, either verbal or physical.

Scripturient

Possessing a violent desire to write.

Tarantism

A disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to dance.

Ultracrepidarian

A person who gives opinions and advice on matters outside of one's knowledge.

Vernalagnia

A romantic mood brought on by Spring.

Welter

A confused mass; a jumble; turmoil or confusion.

Xenization

The act of traveling as a stranger.

Yonderly

Mentally or emotionally distant; absent-minded.

Zugzwang

A position in which any decision or move will result in problems.

Some of the designs are available as prints in the Project Twins shop.

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02 JULY, 2012

The Science of Waiting and the Art of Delay

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Exploring the intersection of time and decision-making to shine a light on what it means to be human.

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living,” Voltaire famously lamented. This tension between anticipation and impatience, indeed, seems central to the human condition. In Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (public library), former investment banker turned writer and law educator Frank Partnoy shines a spotlight on it by bringing together four previously examined grand questions — what is time, how we decide, why we procrastinate, and what it means to be human — through hundreds of scientific studies and interviews with prominent thinkers across psychology, behavioral economics, philosophy, social science, anthropology, and more. What emerges is an important, if counterintuitive, perspective on delay in a culture obsessed with efficiency, speediness, and productivity that bleeds into the hasty and the rash.

Partnoy observes:

For centuries, leading thinkers …. have told us not to jump to firm conclusions about the unknown. Yet today we jump faster and more frequently to firm conclusions. We like to believe there is wisdom in our snap decisions, and sometimes there is. But true wisdom and judgment come from understanding our limitations when it comes to thinking about the future. This is why it is so important for us to think about the relevant time period of our decisions and then ask what is the maximum amount of time we can take within that period to observe and process information about possible outcomes. Asking questions about timing is crucial, even if we cannot arrive at an answer as specific as ’42.’

[ … ]

Thinking about the role of delay is a profound and fundamental part of being human. Questions about delay are existential: the amount of time we take to reflect on decisions will define who we are. Is our mission simply to be another animal, responding to whatever stimulations we encounter? Or are we here for something more?

Our ability to think about delay is a central part of the human condition. It is a gift, a tool we can use to examine our lives. Life might be a race against time, but it is enriched when we rise above our instincts and stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why. A wise decision requires reflection, and reflection requires pause. The converse of Socrates’s famous admonition is that the examined life just might be worth living.

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29 JUNE, 2012

Creative Legend George Lois on Ideas as the Product of Discovery, Not Creation

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How to cultivate the mental medley that sparks the alchemy of ideas.

In celebrating the greatest living graphic designer’s 83rd birthday on Tuesday, I somehow forgot that Milton Glaser shares his birthday with another creative world icon, two years his junior — legendary designer, author, and contrarian George Lois, often regarded as the greatest art director of all time and called, much to his disgruntlement, “the original Mad Man.” To celebrate his 81st birthday, here’s a wonderful short film by On Creativity, in which Lois reflects on the combinatorial nature of creativity and echoes insights we’ve already heard from other great creators — the power of cultivating a personal microculture, the idea that to invent is to choose, the importance of “being-in-the-world-ness,” the notion that to create is to discover and connect rather than “invent” out of thin air.

I don’t think I create anything. I’m really serious — I discover the ideas.

[…]

If you understand how to think… If you have a background of graphic art, and you are a sports fan, and you’re literate, and you’re interested in politics, and you love opera, and ballet’s not bad either, and if you understand people… and you understand language, and you understand that product, and you understand the competitive products… and you put that all together in about ten minutes — the idea’s there.

Lois’s new book, Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!): How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by America’s Master Communicator, George Lois, came out earlier this year and is precisely the kind of no-bullshit, feather-ruffling gem you’d expect from the beloved curmudgeon.

Swiss-Miss

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