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Friday, October 30, 2009

Link It Up!

Here are a few links I've come across in the past few days and thought you might find interesting:

• Read a detailed analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finances!

• The first words to be transmitted across the prehistoric version of the internet were...LO? (It was supposed to be “LOGIN” but the system crashed.)

• I’ve been fascinated lately with, a collection of old photographs on varying subjects. Warning: if you have any real work to do, do not click this link! Shorpy will suck you in!

Meebo's Un-Drought

We're supposed to get a lot of rain today, with one estimate forecasting up to four inches in some places. It feels like it has been an exceptionally soggy fall here in Mississippi. One of our Meebo patrons must have been thinking along the same line because they asked this question last night: What is the opposite of a drought? (The patron specified that they did not want to use the word flood.)

I turned to our print thesauri first, but wasn't able to find anything. Then, I found an online thesaurus that listed some antonyms for words similar to drought (absence, famine, thirst, etc...) These were some of my favorite suggestions: abundance, surplus, plenty, monsoon, feast. I liked all of these as general antonyms for drought, but I was searching for something a bit more "meteorological" in nature. (I assumed our Meebo friend was, too.)

I checked out a few of our print weather encyclopedias, but again, without an actual word to look up, I was stuck. Turning back to the internet, I "did the Google," as my dad likes to say, and stumbled on this website. After bandying about the words monsoon, deluge, and flood, pluvial seemed to stick out as the most apt opposite for drought. Here's what the OED had to say:

A. adj. 1. a. Of or relating to rain; characterized by much rain, rainy.

B. n. 2 Geol. A pluvial period.

This quotation that was used to illustrate the word was the cincher:

1970 W. BRAY & D. TRUMP Dict. Archaeol. 184/1 Prolonged periods of high rainfall are called pluvials, and are marked by changes in lake levels and in flora and fauna.

Oh, dear. It's started raining again.

"pluvial." OED Online. Dec. 2008. Oxford University Press. 30 October 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Nugget Goldmine!

The tagline under the title of our blog is, “We post the interesting and kooky things we find while looking for the answers to reference questions.” Last week, I got a couple of questions that were pretty straightforward, but on the way to finding their answers, I learned a lot of other excellent (and definitely kooky) nuggets of information.

The original request was “When did Johnny Horton die?” The answer was November 5, 1960. However, get this: Johnny Horton was a country singer whose wife, Billie Jean, was the widow of Hank Williams. So Hank and Billie Jean got married October 18, 1952, and on January 1, 1953, Williams died. According to the super-reliable Wikipedia, Billie Jean posthumously divorced Williams, which is weird but very interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone getting posthumously divorced, although there was some question about the validity of their marriage, which was only settled in 1975! Williams’ first ex-wife, Audrey Sheppard, wanted to be known as The Official Widow of Hank Williams [and thus have the right to half his estate] and allegedly paid Billie Jean $30,000 to retain this title. So anyway, back to Johnny Horton: he apparently had premonitions that he would be killed by a drunk driver, and on November 5, 1960, this came true. In semi-related news, I also learned that Hank Williams had spina bifida, that he nicknamed Hank Williams, Jr. “Bocephus” after a ventriloquist dummy (!), and that Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar Williams Horton never remarried.

Someone wanted to know “How popular was the name Sawyer last year?” According to the Social Security Administration, Sawyer was ranked #225 in popularity in 2008. Their website lets you see the top 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, or 1000 names--this is fascinating! I might’ve gotten a little carried away, as I felt compelled to create this chart, which shows the first and 1000th most popular names for boys and girls, every ten years from 1880-2000, plus 2008.

Some other names you also need to know about: in 1880, Katherine ranked as the 994th most popular name...for a boy. In 1900, Gertrude ranked as the 997th most popular name...for a boy (Dorothy was #985). Elizabeth ranked #999 and #998 in 1960 and 1970, respectively...for a boy. Were these parents just trying to honor female family members by naming their sons these traditionally girly names, or were they just mean?

And finally, there was no request involved, but the awesome book Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World did teach me about this primitive Balinese funeral tradition:

“After death, a kind of Chinese water torture is performed on the body; it is laid on a table, and stream of water slowly drips onto the body. Just below this setup, the family places a cradle filled with unhusked rice so that as the water runs off the body it drips directly onto the rice, along with any liquid leaching out of the body”(6). Oh, then the rice is cooked as usual, formed into the shape of a human, and eaten. Yum!

Rogak, Lisa. Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World. Ten Speed Press, 2004.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fashion Question

Earlier today a meebo visitor asked "what type of tie should I wear with a red, white, and blue striped shirt." To answer this question I consulted Francois Chaille's masterwork The Book of Ties. Mr. Chaille explains that patterned shirts are difficult to coordinate but, "with such shirts it is often preferable to let a tie play the role of echoing colors and opposing patterns." So, obviously, the pattern should NOT be striped but rather a checked pattern, or in my opinion, a solid color (or something with subtle lines). While on the topic of colors; Mr. Chaille advises to follow "the tried and true method of emphasizing one of the colors in your jacket or shirt by repeating it in your tie." Good luck with the outfit and keep those fashion questions coming.

Chaille, Francois. The Book of Ties. New York: Flammarion, 1994. p. 147

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Am NOT A Luddite

Late last week, we received a new book entitled The Librarian's Book of Quotes. As I was flipping through it, this particular passage caught my eye:

I mourn the loss of the old card catalogs, not because I'm a luddite, but because the oaken trays of yesteryear offered the researcher an element of random utility and felicitous surprise through encounters with adjacent cards, information by chance that is different in kind from the computer's ramified but rigid order.

Annie Proulx, "On the Road to Prose" (93).

I remember the card catalogs, and libraries, of my youth with great fondness. I found it soothing to read such thoughtful words; however, I think that libraries have come a long way. Are there any things that you miss regarding the way libraries were while you were growing up? Or do you think that we're experiencing some great paces forward in the library world?

Eckstrand, Tatyana. The Librarian's Book of Quotes. Chicago : American Library Association, 2009.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Above Your Eyes Your Hair Hangs

One of our meebo patrons left a question for us this morning regarding the etymology of the hairstyling word bangs. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary states that the term is probably derived from the word bangtail, a word that was first noted in 1878 when used in reference to a certain style of horse's tail.

Not only does this popular hairstyle appear to be named after a large farm animal, the style itself has a somewhat steamy past. According the The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, 15th century clergy ruled that women who cut and curled their hair into bangs represented "a slide into mortal sin" (47). These poor men of the cloth thought that women who spent time fixing their bangs were consorting with the devil. Primpers!

By the way, do you remember this song from They Might Be Giants? It sure makes me feel a lot happier about bangs than horse tails and those fire-breathing monks!

Sherrow, Victoria. "Bangs." Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.
"Bangs." Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1998.

Great Books for Young Readers!

Last week I was lucky enough to represent the Mississippi Library Commission at the State Fair. Every year MLC has a booth at the Trade Mart to tell visitors about our services and to pass out goodies. Telling people about Learn-A-Test was fun, no doubt, but the highlight of my experience had to be meeting so many young people who love their libraries and love to read. I had several young ladies tell me about the trials and tribulations facing Kirsten, Chrissa, and the other American Girls. It was so refreshing to see how animated these young readers became when talking about their favorite characters and I could not help but think about my first experiences with the joys of reading. I decided to describe a couple of my favorite books and invited Tracy and Brandie to share their favorite first books.

Here’s what Brandie had to say:
"The Fear Street series by R.L. Stine.
I’m not sure if the books in this series would classify as children’s books, but I read them as a child, and I loved them. Each novel tells a horror story that involves young adults or teens. I was addicted to the series because all the stories were so vivid and downright scary. It’s a great series for older kids, but some of the themes and descriptions within them may be a little too intense for younger children. This is from the same author responsible for the popular
Goosebumps series, which is aimed at a younger age group than the Fear Street audience.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar.
I ran across this book a few months ago while cleaning out my closet, and the stories inside still had me laughing aloud. This particular title is actually the first of a three-book series. It’s also the funniest of the three. The book is a collection of short stories about a school where weird, funny, and creepy occurrences are the norm. It’s a great book for kids of all ages."

Tracy, as you can imagine, loved books as a young lady. Here’s how she explains her favorite books as a young reader:

"I have to admit I read a LOT of Sweet Valley High books when I was a preteen, but I read a lot of other things, too. The ones that stick out in my memory are the following:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. This 1979 Newbery Medal winner is about 16 strangers who are named as potential heirs in a man’s will. They’re told that one of them took the man’s life, and the person who figures it all out will win the estate. Lots of good characters, nothing naughty enough to arouse the suspicions of nosy parents, and a genuinely entertaining read. True confession time: I re-read this a few months ago and it was just as good!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. What child doesn’t dream of running away from home, but gets stuck on the details of such things like food and shelter? In this novel, Claudia Kincaid and her little brother James run away with a plan: they head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where they bathe in the fountain (and raid the bottom for coins people have thrown in) and sleep in the furniture exhibits. Not only is that an awesome runaway solution, but they become interested in a statue of an angel thought to be created by Michelangelo, which leads them to further adventures. I have a baby at home, but if he doesn’t like this book when he gets older, I am sending him away.

Even though I grew up in the 70s and 80s, for some reason I was fairly obsessed with the 50s. My entire perception of high school and dating came from reruns of "Father Knows Best" (Princess had a date with a different boy every day of the week!) and from the teenybopper novels of Beverly Cleary. My two favorites were Fifteen (Jane meets Stan, who eventually gives her his ID bracelet; swoon!)and Jean and Johnny (Jean is a nerd and Johnny is popular; this is a bad combo, but it turns out ok in the end). It goes unsaid that my actual dating experiences in high school were a bit different."

As for me, my favorite book growing up was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I read this book going home every day on the school bus. I remember being asked by one of the older students why I was reading outside of class. Talking owls, secret rosebushes, genetically mutated rats that swordfight? Are you kidding? I was completely hooked after this book.

Another one of my favorite books growing up was Sounder by William Armstrong. Sounder is a great book about a boy, his dog, and a stolen ham. It may not sound that exciting, but I think Sounder is a great book that shows the value of education and empathy. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

So that’s a short list of some of our most beloved books. We would love to hear from some of our readers’ favorite titles.
Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seabather's Eruption

A family member of a friend was recently told she had a condition that was, to all of us at least, a complete novelty. It turns out that she had developed a case of seabather's eruption. Is that not one of the most gorgeously descriptive afflictions ever? With the rest of the nation seemingly already down with the swine flu, I was almost happy to learn something medical that wasn't going to involve stuffy noses and hacking coughs.

A short dig led me to this entry from Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary. Seabather's eruption is:

acute pruritic dermatitis that occurs on parts of the body covered by a bathing suit within 24 hours after exposure to seawater containing certain tiny coelenterate larvae (as of jellyfishes, sea anemones, or corals) and that is caused by nematocysts fired by the larvae caught in the mesh of the bathing suit or compressed between the bathing suit and the skin.

What does that mean, you ask? Let me translate the jargonese for you. Simply visualize this set-up:

You've been swimming in the ocean. Your skin starts to itch and swell, but only under your bathing suit, and only
some time after you've been out of the water. This is not a sudden onset of chicken pox. The symptoms' roots lie in the miniscule baby jellyfish and other tiny life forms with which you've been swimming. Those little demons zap your bathing suit and fill it full of their evil stingers. Ready for more? You can't shower them out of your suit: freshwater triggers the poisonous zappers. (Zappers is a medical term I picked up while learning about this minor health problem.) You can't let your suit dry while you're wearing it either. You know why, don't you? Correct! This will also magically release the zingers. (Zingers are similar to the horrid little jokes I like to crack as I torture my rapt audience with fun yet nuggetty knowledge.)

What's so fabulous is the simple solution. If you've been swimming in waters that are prone to this, such as the Florida Gulf Coast, simply change out of your suit after swimming and rinse yourself off with a solution of ¼ cup white vinegar to 1 1/2 cups water.

I suppose that I'm so accustomed to our tranquil Mississippi Gulf Coast that I never think of the little beasties within. I think I'm glad that beach season is over for the year so that I won't have to swim and think about them anytime soon. Let's make a pact. I'm going to forget all about this, and you won't remind me next year before I go on vacation.

Formichelli, Lindo Health Jun2007, Vol. 21 Issue 5, p84-86, 2p

Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary, Revised Edition. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2005. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Things on Where People Died...

We received a Meebo question in the wee hours of the morning (wee for me, anyway) that involves a question that we are asked nearly every day. Not only geneaologists, but other patrons as well, need to know where to go in Mississippi to get a copy of a death certificate. I'm so glad our early riser asked this question! So, listen up, people, this is what you need to do.

Vital Records at the Department of Health maintains the state's death certificates. They can be ordered by mail, on-line, phone, or in person. Just click on the link for contact information.

According to the Department of Archives and History, Mississippi did not begin keeping death certificates until 1912. For dates before this time, you may need to try other sources. Be sure to check out the impressive Winter Building and utilize their microfiche copies of the state's death records dating 1912-1943.

Need more Mississippi geneaology tips or information? Let us know!

Love in the Library

What could be more romantic than the fall season? The changing foliage invites us to take long walks through the park. The cool weather calls us outside to enjoy dinners on the patio. The football schedule demands we binge-eat greasy food and yell at the television. Yet, during this season of amore, some people still struggle to find a compatible mate. Well, if you find yourself in the loveless category, it’s time to get off the couch and let the Mississippi Library Commission help you get your groove back.

Some people may not think of the library as a place to find love, but we have plenty of resources that can help you unlock your inner Romeo or Juliet. First, we have Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. Fromm is famous for his essays and books on Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche and if you know anything about those guys, you know they were all considered Doctors of Love. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Man is gifted with reason…this awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison."

OK, so, maybe that was not the best example. Anyways, let’s take something lighter, like Merle Shain’s Some Men are More Perfect than Others: A Book about Men, and Hence, about Women and Love and Dreams. I’m sure Mr. Shain will provide a more positive attitude toward love:

“We say we marry for love in North America, but many a man thinks yelling, ‘Is dinner ready?’ is the same as saying ‘I love you.’ And lots of women who really want love and communication ask for a mink coat instead. There are libraries full of books about women who sold their souls for romance and got instead dishpan hands, and bars filled with men wondering why the more successful they become, the worse their marriages become as well.”

Well, uh, I’m sure it picks up after that. How about we try Kenneth S. Pope’s book On Love and Loving? Pope’s book was published in 1980, that magical year before Reaganomics and Gordon Gekko forever changed our idea of romantic love.

“The first stage of the love cycle is early courtship -- the pre-falling-in-love stage. In this stage, the lovers-to-be are on their best behavior. They size up each other as sources of direct gratification, asking themselves if the other can meet their needs for affection, nurturance, attention, or even limit-setting. They also assess each other as sources of indirect gratification, looking to see what can be admired in the other. Each measures his or her emotional and physiologic responses to the other but also finds himself or herself inexplicably drawn toward the other.”

Leave it to a therapist to take the fun out of a perfectly good “love cycle.”Maybe it’s best to take the subject of love away from the doctors and philosophers and allow those who are best equipped to describe this tricky emotion do their work. In Jean Garrigue’s book Love’s Aspects: The World’s Great Love Poems, poet W.B. Yeats offers this example of love’s endurance (I think) in his poem The Folly of Being Comforted:

One that is ever kind said yesterday:
‘Your well-beloved’s hair has threads of gray,
And little shadows come about her eyes;
Time can but make it easier to be wise
Though now it seems impossible, and so
All that you need is patience.’
Heart cries, ‘No,
I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain.
Time can but make her beauty over again: Because of that great nobleness of hers
The fire that stirs about her , when she stirs,
Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
When all the wild summer was in her gaze.’

O heart! O heart! if she’d but turn her head,
You’d know the folly of being comforted.

Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1956. p. 8
Shain, Merle. Some Men are More Perfect Than Others: A Book About Men, and Hence about Women, and Love and Dreams. New York: Charterhouse Press, 1973. p. 63
Pope, Kenneth. On Love and Loving: Psychological Perspectives on the Nature and Experience of Romantic Love. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1980. p. 121
Garrigue, Jean (Ed.) Love’s Aspects: The World’s Great Love Poems. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975. p. 228

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dear Meebo Guest...

To Whomever Might've Asked Us a Question Earlier:

I might've accidentally deleted your question before I got a chance to read please, come back and ask again!


Accidental Deleter
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