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All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2020 Evan Morris & Kathy Wollard. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

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And remember, kids,
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


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September/October 2012 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Before I forget (yeah, right), if you’ve been planning to subscribe at some point but forgetting, this would be an awesome point at which to remember to subscribe. Things are dicey, pickings are slim, and the cats are getting that “Maybe you’ve forgotten that we are, after all, predators” look in their eyes.

And now, a message from Edith Freedle:

Dear Internet: Please excuse Mister Detective’s absence for the past month. He has been sick and has been unable to do anything even remotely constructive. In early September he developed a horrible cold which turned out to be due to a gum infection which turned out to be due to a bad tooth. He has been to the dentist four times in the past month and has now had all of his teeth removed, as well as several random molars he had apparently borrowed from neighbors. The doctors say that if this doesn’t solve the problem he may have to have his ears cropped, although such a drastic step doesn’t actually have anything to do with his teeth (or the lack thereof). But they say it will make his hats fit better.

At the moment he is still under the effects of last week’s anæsthesia (at least we hope that’s it) and has been unable to do anything but post utter nonsense to something called “Tweeter,” which is apparently some kind of online club for weirdos. He is, of course, on a liquid diet, which we assumed meant gruel (he loved gruel as a child growing up in the workhouse). But he belligerently insists that the dentist specified gin and tonic (with limes to prevent scurvy). Since the dentist now forwards all our calls to a personal injury lawyer (evidently someone was bitten during last week’s appointment), we have been unable to verify this prescription and so must assume it’s true.

He is steadily, if slowly, improving, and he thinks he may be able to handle a little pizza next week (liquified in a blender, of course). We have tried to get him to do his homework and update this website, but he has built a fort out of the couch cushions and refuses to come out. This would be an acceptable state of affairs for the short term were it not for our well-founded suspicion that he is smoking some of his strange homemade cigarettes in there.

In any case, the poor little lad has suffered a month of pain and torment, so I hope that you will forgive his absence, and that this unfortunate turn of events will not affect his Google Rank and thus his chances of earning enough pennies from ads to pay the dentist bills and feed the cats, several of whom, apparently from hunger, have taken to licking his feet in a very creepy fashion.

If the other children on the internet would like to contribute, please tell them that, short of sending bales of actual cash, the most important, helpful and compassionate thing to do would be to subscribe to TWD-by-Email.

Yours sincerely,

Edith Freedle, Assistant to, and reluctant temporary caretaker of, Mr. Detective.

p.s. — Mr. Detective briefly emerged from his burrow a few moments ago, just long enough to insist that I warn his readers not to pay attention to the various political ads currently running on this site, which are in “no freaking way, shape or form” under his control. It was difficult to make out exactly what he said next as he seemed to be trying to hold his breath for some reason, but it sounded like “All those lying dirtbums belong in the Graybar Hotel.” Wherever that is.

And now, on with the show….


August – September 2010 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Well, there you go. I’ll bet you’re wondering what I did on my summer vacation. In fact, I’ll bet you’re wondering why I never mentioned that I was taking a summer vacation. I’ll explain after the jump.

First off, thanks to all the folks who expressed condolences on the loss of our kitty Harry. He is sorely missed.

Secondly, we now have a couple of hundred fans on our Facebook page, which is awesome, although I’m still not sure why we have a Facebook page. It was my assistant Edith Freedle’s idea, and she went on an “emergency vacation” right after she set it up. She’s been on vacation for a long time, and her cell phone seems to be busted, but I’ll ask her about it if and when she ever comes back.

I kinda like Slate’s tech columnist, Farhad Manjoo. He’s certainly better than the relentlessly smarmy and ethically-challenged David Pogue at the NYT. But this is a seriously silly article. Nobody needs to have 200 browser tabs open at once. First of all, there is at least one Firefox extension, Tab Mix Plus, that makes it easy to save “sessions” (groups of tabs) so you can reopen all of them later. I do a lot of research online, often involving dozens of tabs, but I don’t leave them open all the time. That’s like trying to wear all the socks you own at once.

Secondly, it’s nice that he built himself a speedy computer, but his biggest problem with performance in his old machine (apart from the tab nonsense) was almost certainly Windows 7 (aka Vista II) itself, most particularly in its need for some kind of resource-hogging anti-virus software. Dude, seriously, I hate Macs personally, but get a Mac for pete’s sake. That anti-virus stuff (especially the bloated Norton, McAfee, etc.) eats more processor speed than most viruses and malware do. Any Mac with similar specs is gonna run faster. And Linux is gonna run much, much faster. The secret about Linux is that it’s a great way to revivify an aging PC. I have an eight-year old Dell cheapo single-core Pentium running Ubuntu that runs snappier than Windows 7 on a brand-new laptop.

Speaking of such things, I’ve been using the latest version of Ubuntu Linux since last spring and I’m very impressed. I’ve been using Linux since I dumped Windows about six years ago, and Ubuntu has finally gotten to the point where I’d be willing to recommend it to just about any PC user. You can try Ubuntu, incidentally, without installing it on your hard drive, and as soon as you reboot your computer it’s gone, leaving no trace on your computer.

There is one part of the current Ubuntu which does not work, however, and that’s the Ubuntu One online backup service. I tried using it on three different computers and it really just isn’t reliable enough to depend on. Having been bitten by the idea of an online backup service that would allow me to painlessly share files between computers, I went looking for alternatives and discovered Dropbox, which differs from Ubuntu One by actually working the way it’s supposed to. Now I can turn on any of my computers and know that I’m looking at the latest version of my columns. Dropbox works on Windows, Mac or Linux, a 2 gigabyte account is free, and if you use this link to sign up, you and I will both get an extra 250 megabytes of storage space for free.

And now, those of you interested in my lame excuses for missing deadlines can follow the link below…

Continue reading this post » » »


Eww. Eww eww eww.

Dear Word Detective: After hearing someone accused of being “squeamish” because they didn’t like modern blood and gore movies, the word started to buzz around my head like something from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. How odd, I thought. What is a “squeam”? Can one “squeam”? As is often the case, my dictionary came up with a metaphorical Gallic shrug of the shoulders, or “dunno” in modern idiom, so I wonder if you can shed any light on it. — David, Ripon, North Yorkshire, England.

In space, you know, no one can hear you squeam. Hmm. Although it doesn’t object to the lameness of that line, my spellchecker adamantly denies the existence of a verb “to squeam,” which is a shame. I can imagine all sorts of places it would come in handy: emergency rooms, sausage factories and televised awards ceremonies, just for starters. Incidentally, as someone who rigorously avoids the “slasher-horror” movie genre, I’d chalk up my objections to “boredom,” not “sqeamishness.” The best horror movie I’ve seen in the past few years was “The Others,” a truly fascinating, deeply creepy and almost entirely blood-free film. There’s a huge difference between being scary and being merely startling.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “squeamish” as meaning “easily nauseated or sickened; nauseated,” “easily shocked or disgusted,” or “excessively fastidious or scrupulous.” The Oxford English Dictionary adds “distant, reserved, coy, cold” (“A woman of virtue keeps a guard upon her eye, and yet don’t affect to look soure, squeamish, and suspicious,” 1710). “Squeamish” covers a lot of territory and varies with context. While most of us would feel “squeamish” in an operating room, the truly refined, it seems, turn green at the gills when presented with substandard bottle of wine.

“Squeamish” first appeared in print in English in the 15th century, with the spelling “squaymysch” (other spellings since have included “squaimish,” “sweamish,” and the nifty dialect form “skeemish”). The origin of “squeamish” is, strictly speaking, very simple: it’s a modification of the now largely obsolete word “squeamous,” which is about two centuries older in English and meant pretty much the same thing as “squeamish.” That “squeamous,” in turn, came from the Anglo-French “escoymous,” but here we have hit a brick wall, etymologically speaking, because no one knows where “escoymous” came from or exactly what it meant. At all. Not a clue. Game over.

I always feel a bit guilty when I hit this sort of dead-end, although it isn’t really my fault that folks weren’t taking proper lexicographic notes back in the 13th century. So I though I’d make up for it by explaining the origin of “queasy,” a word in the same bilious ballpark as “squeamish,” meaning “nauseated, easily nauseated or causing nausea” and “uneasy, troubled.” Unfortunately, the origins of “queasy,” which also first appeared in the 15th century, are similarly cloudy. The problem with “queasy” is that in its early days it was spelled in a variety of ways, which makes tracing its genealogy difficult. Probably the best candidate for a source of “queasy” is a Scandinavian root meaning “boil” (the blister kind), possibly based on an Old French word meaning “to wound” or “make uneasy.”

So now we have two mysteries, but the good news is that we also have two very useful words.