Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Skedaddle, Scram, Scoot

I found myself uttering the rather colorful word "skedaddle" this evening as I was preparing to leave work. "Let's skedaddle!" I cried, as I attempted to roust the lethargic troops from their iPod and YouTube-induced daze. You'd think going home would be the one thing you could get people enthusiastic about, but you'd be wrong.

This led me to wondering about the source of this odd yet strangely pleasing word, so here we go - the answer is, no one really knows. Apparently the word suddenly began appearing in newspaper articles and whatnot in 1861, during the Civil War. The first known use of it in print was in the New York Tribune of August 10th, in which a Union soldier reported, “No sooner did the traitors discover their approach than they ‘skiddaddled.'" By 1867, the word had swum across the Atlantic and inserted itself into a work of literature, Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset.

About the most plausible linguistic explanation I can find for the word is that it might be derived from the Scots word skiddle, which means "to spill or scatter." Since there were so many recent immigrants from Scotland in North America at the time, it seems likely that many of them might still have been speaking with traces of that dialect. On the other hand, the theory that it's a contraction of "let's get out of here" is fairly convincing, too – try saying "let sgeddouda heah" a few times fast, and you'll see what I mean.

I find that "scram" is also a useful word in such situations, though it always (rather distractingly) reminds me of how, in Roald Dahl's Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator, the Vermicious Knids like to spell out "SCRAM" just before they attack. "Scram" is either a truncation of "scramble" or a derivation of the German word schramm, "to depart," according to the authorities.

Apparently "SCRAM" is also the term used for an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor, which is certainly a situation when I'd be feeling the urge to skedaddle, not that it would probably do much good. As to how that "backronym" might have come about, it seems likely that it was coined in 1942 by Enrico Fermi, who helped develop the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1 - which, believe it or not, was built on an abandoned rackets court at the University of Chicago. SCRAM probably originally stood for the "Safety Control Rod Axe Man," the guy whose job was to wield an axe to deploy a safety device in case an atomic chain reaction got out of control. Those nuclear scientists were so whacky!

OK, I think that's enough arcane language for tonight! I think it's about time to scoot off to bed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Art Lust: KMNDZ

I've been lusting after one of KMNDZ's retro-bio-mechanical creations for a while now. KMNDZ, aka Johnny Rodriguez, is an extremely talented Los Angeles artist who paints weatherbeaten, suffering steampunk robots and mysterious mechanical devices with street-art style and masterly technique.

I'm hoping that he'll have something that's up my alley at his Thinkspace show in October. So far, these are my favorites of his, "Picking Fruit" and "Growth." What I respond to in these two pieces in particular (as opposed to his other work, all of which is excellent) is their sense of mood and story.

In "Picking Fruit," there is a sense of loneliness and despair, as if this tarnished creature has been wandering an abandoned, blasted landscape for aeons, searching for something to love. It's also a snapshot of a moment in time, catching a momentary gesture of frustration in an empty life. Thought it has a lot of style, there's also a tremendous depth of story behind it. It's both terrible and beautiful.

Once again, "Growth" catches a moment – this time, a suprising, perhaps shocking, discovery. We peer through an oval window or lens, half-submerged in a blood-red sea. Our lens is still beaded with moisture from its submersion, and bubbles fizz around us from some unseen source. We have come upon a strange artifact, an ancient mine tethered to something deep beneath the water by a monstrous chain. The mine has been in place so long that it has become its own eco-system, a miniature desert island in a sea of ichor. Though it is only an object, it somehow evokes feelings of loneliness and abandonment. During its endless sentry duty in this liquid desert, it seems to have evolved into a lifeform of its own, and even resembles a severed, beating heart. The way this painting places its viewer in the position of first person in its mysterious story makes it especially compelling.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sarah Joncas' "Sour Hearts"

On Friday night, I went to the Sarah Joncas and Camilla d'Errico Sour Hearts & Sweet Tarts opening at Thinkspace, a great show which you should check out if you're in Los Angeles. Thinkspace is a small gallery run by very friendly people who have great taste. They introduce a lot of new artists, and I'm thrilled that they had a show for Sarah Joncas, who's one of my favorites. Her work is both dark and whimsical, surreal and symbolic, featuring attenuated beauties in mysterious and troubling environments. Sarah was very sweet and posed for me with the painting I bought, "Fragile Hearts," which on her right. On her left is another great painting entitled "Undertow." There are still a few pieces left, so take a look!

Sarah also painted this gorgeous mural in the Thinkspace foyer.

And here is "Fragile Hearts," in all its glory:

Erratic Phenomena

According to the 1913 edition of Webster's Dictionary, "erratic phenomena" are "the phenomena which relate to transported materials on the earth's surface."

This struck me as a rather Fortean definition until I looked into it further, but after some investigation it seems that it is a rather antiquated term that glaciologists used to refer to boulders that were picked up in their native land by a glacier and dropped in a strange environment, millions of years later – sort of geologic oddballs.

At any rate, it struck me that we are all "erratic phenomena" in a sense (except perhaps for those few who live in the land of their forefathers), each of us out of place and outlandish in our own way. And since this blog will probably be erratic, and may investigate "phenomena" (not difficult, since they are merely "occurrences that are observable"), the title seems strangely apt.