Issue 134, page 4

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New Ask Us Theory About
Sez You...
From JennaJoAnn:

I love words and your site is truly wonderful.

Gosh, we love 'em too.  Where would we be without words? (That was a rhetorical question!  Non-verbal answers only please.)

Thanks for your kind note!

From Alec Frank:

Hey, guys, your site provides much fun, but I have one (minor?) request: Could you please use a more readable font when you italicize words? At my ... uh ... advanced age of 45, I cannot discern the difference between a lower case "o" and a lower case "a" in the italic font that you currently use. While not always a problem, it does create doubt and confusion on occasion, such as when determining whether "an orange" evolved from "a norange" or "a narange." After all, Spanish for "orange" is "naranja"....

Thanks for letting us know, Alec, though we suspect you're seeing TOWFI in a smaller font than we intend.  We have no trouble discerning italicized o's and a's, and our test viewers don't either, when the site is viewed in the intended Comic Sans font, size 3 (12 point).  Some browsers do show the site in a smaller font, which isn't as thickly outlined as this one, and a's and o's do indeed look similar.  Write us and let us know what browser, what operating system, and what resolution monitor you are using, Alec.  If you can, save us a screen shot (preferably in GIF or JPEG format). The same goes for any other readers who have trouble reading the page (we've had two or three other complaints over the years).  When readers are seeing the page in the intended font, they actually prefer the font and size that we use.  We've received many letters, especially from readers with a little vision trouble to truly visually impaired readers, who commend us on the font and font size.  We will work on trying to get the page to appear as intended on as many computers as possible.

Last Tuesday, when we were testing the new issue, even Melanie saw the site in the smaller font on her PC and was at first concerned that something was wrong with the pages!  She closed down her browser, rebooted her machine, and the page came back looking as it should.  Bizarre but true!

From Delia:

I enjoy your site very much. However, when I go to the site to read the newest issue, some of the pages are still there from the previous issue and some are from the current one. I usually have to wait a few days until all the pages are in synch. Thanks for such an interesting site.

We occasionally get reports of this, and each time the new issue has been "there" (on our server).  However, it seems that some browsers, for various reasons, take some web pages from their cache (on your hard drive) instead of refreshing the page and downloading the new one from our server.  So if you encounter an old page when you were expecting a new one at Take Our Word For It, click the reload or refresh button in your browser.  If that doesn't work, check the home page ( or and see if there is an announcement indicating a publishing delay.  

Sometimes the issue number at the top of each column page doesn't get changed.  We usually catch that during testing and fix it within a few hours after publishing.

From Robert Law:

Your story about paleontologists calling a new fossil genus knopflerii after Mark Knopfler reminded me about how archaeologists called the famous 'missing link' hominid skeleton  'Lucy', because the Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was playing in the camp at the time.

We imagine Lucy was more appropriate than John, Paul, George or Ringo, since the fossil skeleton had been determined to belong to a female.

On a Beatles' trivia note, John always insisted that the song-title Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds had no connection with LSD.  According to John, his young son, Julian, brought a painting home from school.  When John asked what he had painted, Julian answered that it was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Lucy being one of Julian's schoolfriends.

From Mark J. Miller:

[Regarding last week's e-mail newsletter.] There are many things about Utah which might strike "outlanders" as peculiar, and choosing the California Seagull as the state bird (see Wasatch, Take Our Word For It Issue 133 Email) is one of the least so. In Utah, the birds are not known as "seagulls"; they are the Mormon Air Force. And there's a story, too.  The gulls are common here in Idaho, also. But their presence only signifies the close proximity of a "sanitary landfill," not a large body of water.  Thanks for the hours of entertainment and enlightenment. 

Good point about gulls and water.  We ran into one at Badwater in Death Valley in the middle of a desert windstorm!  If you've never been to Badwater, or Death Valley, for that matter, you will understand our surprise as there's little to no water for hundreds of miles.

From Greg Trimborn:

I'm sure you'll get lots of letters about this, but the seagull is the state bird of Utah because... I'm trying to get this right; I heard it a couple times while visiting the Mormon temple in SLC... I think there was some pestilence (like a plague of locusts) that was about to eat all the grain that early Mormons had planted in Utah (meaning they'd have nothing to eat over the winter), when a large (and - as you correctly assume - normally unseen in Utah) flock of gulls came in and ate all the locusts, thus saving the crop and the Mormons. So I think there's a bit of a religious tie-in here, in spite of the alleged separation of church and state...

Thanks, Greg.  Read on.

From Dan Robbins:

I'm sure you will be flooded with letters from all the "Utonians" (or whatever they call themselves), but even growing up in far off Massachusetts I knew this story from childhood.

Early on in early white settler Utah history, the fragile existence of the community in the Salt Lake City area was was threatened with total destruction as a plague of locusts engulfed the region. The settlers knew that their very survival in that harsh and isolated environment depended on the crops they now helplessly watched being devoured. Suddenly, out of the sky descending like angels, appeared a huge flock of California Seagulls. Hundreds of miles from home, it is supposed that this flock was either blown off course by storms to the west or was a gift in answer to prayers to God.  The locusts were dispatched forthwith by the hungry gulls and the community was saved. In tribute to their saviors there is a prominent monument to the seagulls somewhere in town, and although I did not know it until I read the NOE [Newsletter-Only Etymology, sign up to receive it!], I am not at all surprised to find the gull as the state bird. 

There is probably a religious complexity to the story. The Mormon community, who settled much of Utah, was constantly at odds with neighbors in every town it tried to establish. Mistrusted for their different ways and beliefs, the Mormons were repeatedly forced out of areas and kept moving further west. Arid Utah, land they figured nobody else would want, was a last stand to develop a homeland for them. If the crops failed, they lost not only their lives, but their culture, too.

From Bruce Yanoshek:

In Laughing Stock we bring you something reminiscent of the film "Soilent Green" or the legend of Sweeney Todd.

It's Soylent, not Soilent.

[Bruce is referring to another excerpt from our mailing list.]  Yep, we know.  It was a lame attempt at catching the eye of any fans of the band Soilent Green [sic].  If you saw Laughing Stock last week, you know that we spelled it Soylent there (the way it is spelled in the movie title).

From Dave:

[To go off on a tangent for a moment, we think fuchsia and desiccate are the two most difficult words to spell in the English language.]

This could deserve a category all on its own, you realize. Might I add - recently I discovered the most difficult word I have ever had to learn to spell (or at the very least, as a fast-intuitive-typist, the most difficult word to learn to CONSISTENTLY TYPE)...


Incredible site, by the way... absolutely one of the greatest things I've ever tripped over on the Web. Rest assured you should have a number of new "ASK US" entries in coming weeks. 

Good one, Dave!  And thanks for the kind words.  Anyone else have a relatively common word that they think is especially difficult to spell correctly (or intuitively)?  Let us know.


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Last Updated 08/25/01 06:47 PM