New Word Wednesday: “Schmuck”

Here’s your new word for the week!


Schmuck noun, German

  • jewelry


schmuck noun, American English, perjorative

  • one who is stupid or foolish; or an obnoxious, contemptible or detestable person

Origin: originally the Yiddish word for penis, but considered more vulgar in Jewish homes than in the way it’s used in English.



Apparently the German and Yiddish words have nothing to do with each other. The German word “Schmock” would be closer to the original Yiddish. However, the similarity does make it really easy to remember. Wikipedia suggests that the phrase “the family jewels” was derived from the transition of the word from meaning “jewel” to meaning “penis”. Etymology is actually one of my favorite ways to remember words: that way, I have a story to connect to the word and it has meaning other than just being a group of syllables.


Enjoy your new word!




Cooking Adventures: Sweet Potatoes

Though I haven’t had many opportunities to do so lately, I really enjoy cooking, both for myself and for others. I can’t eat gluten, and when I first found that out I had to make a lot of changes to my eating habits to avoid making myself sick. This necessity turned into something I enjoy, and I’ve been building a collection of my favorite methods and recipes for when I get the urge to play in the kitchen. Here’s one I’ve been using for holiday dinners and potlucks lately:


Baked Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, washed and peeled (enough to fit in the pan! Maybe 4? If you get too many, you may just have to cook some more – what a disaster!)
2 c water or chicken broth
2 sticks butter
2 c brown sugar
fresh ginger
sea salt

Preheat oven to 375F.
Cut sweet potatoes into 1/2″ disks. Lay out in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Add all other ingredients to dish.
tightly. Bake until soft.


These have turned out great every time I’ve made them, despite the fuzziness of the recipe details! Clearly it was because of the blood sacrifice I made the first time I made them: the knife slipped when I was cutting the sweet potatoes, and I opened up my pinky finger. I spent the next 10 minutes keeping myself from going into shock through sheer force of will. Unexpected lessons from the kitchen: going into shock is not required! You can choose not to. It’s extremely uncomfortable but possible.

Enjoy! And do remember, the blood sacrifice is not necessary for success.

– H

The Story of Walkie Scorchie

A few months ago I found out about this story, which once again proves that real life is much stranger than fiction:


The building at 20 Fenchurch Street in London has a unique shape. It is wider at the top than at the bottom, making it look as if it is bursting up and out of the skyline. Because of this, it has been nicknamed the “Walkie Talkie” building.

It has, however, earned a few more unfortunate nicknames, due to the fact that for about two hours a day, the concave surface of the building focuses sunlight onto the ground below, creating spot temperatures of up to 240 F. This is hot enough to fry eggs, crack pavement, and melt the hood ornament on one man’s Jaguar. Residents, with their trademark British humor, have taken to calling the building “Walkie Scorchie” or the Fryscraper.

The mistake can be traced back to the developers running out of money to complete construction during the Great Recession in 2009. The original design included horizontal louvers to cut glare, but these were removed to save money and construction time.

Instead, developers have had to install a permanent sunshade after the fact. Architect Rafael Viñoly admitted that “we made a lot of mistakes” in the construction of the building, and complained that this wouldn’t have been a problem if not for climate change. Apparently when he first arrived in London, the city didn’t have as many sunny days, and the Fryscraper effect was a non-issue.

Interestingly enough, this is a recurring problem for Viñoly. He also designed the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, which has a similar design and creates a hot zone on the pool deck that the management have termed a “solar convergence” but the staff prefer to call the Death Ray – appropriate, since it has singed hair and melted through plastic cups. Gordon Absher, spokesman for the resort company, stated, “A new building’s first season of operation always uncovers glitches”. Temporary solutions such as larger, thicker umbrellas and more foliage will not suffice because the hot spot shifts throughout the day and the year. Absher complained, “This is quite literally an astronomical challenge. We are dealing with a moving target.”


Any stories you know from real life that would never have come up in fiction? A death ray from a building is certainly up there!


– H

New Word Wednesday! “Gruntled”

I really like words, in any language, and there are so many cool ones that deserve more love. So I’m starting a weekly series called New Word Wednesday, where I explore the fun and creative words I find in the world.

The first new word is “gruntled”:


gruntled adjective

  • pleased, satisfied, and contented

Origin: back-formation from disgruntled, first known use 1926



Well this is just fun. Saying “I’m very gruntled to have found this word” puts to mind an image of a really happy pig in a mud bath, grunting as he settles in. I’m amused that disgruntled came first, too. It’s like the joke I’ve seen about how one can be overwhelmed, or underwhelmed, but never simply whelmed…

Enjoy your new word!



Skills: Elocution (BONUS!)

I just arrived back from a wonderful trip to Spain where I spent the week showing off my new-found bilinguality (and eating a lot of cheese). Since I’ve had rhetoric and elocution on the brain lately, I was curious to find if similar elocution exercises exist for other languages. Google searches for “elocution exercises Spanish” didn’t turn up many results, but I did find a long list of Spanish tongue twisters, which are almost as good. They’re called trabalenguas, and here’s a nice long list:


The trouble I’m having with Spanish lately is pronouncing the “rr” properly: it’s very hard for me to roll the letters and still be able to form a word around it. The secret to this, as with any other skill, is practice: saying these tongue twisters a few times a week will help.

Know any fun tongue twisters, in English or any other language? Let me know!


– H

Skills: Elocution

I’m taking a Rhetoric class to improve my public speaking skills, despite – or more because of – the fact that I really do not like public speaking. Call it exposure therapy: the more speeches I make, in front of a group where I’m not afraid to fail, whose judgment I trust, the easier it will get and the better I will do. After my first speech I started crying, and now I don’t even get adrenalized! This is progress.

One of the first activities we worked on in the class was elocution. These are exercises to stretch and work out the muscles in your tongue and face by saying difficult phrases repeatedly and very accurately. No pronouncing “milk” like “melk”, or saying “runnin'”! The issue is that when you are just starting the exercises, it’s very hard to hear the mistakes you’re making. It helps to have someone else around to point out all the errors (and yes, there will be a lot of them…).

Here is a list of the exercises I’ve used. Several people have noticed a difference in the way I speak since starting this practice, so it clearly has an effect. Plus, many of them are just fun to say!

A – Around the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.

B – Big black bug bit a big black bear and the big black bear bled black blood.

C – Can I cook a proper cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot?

D – Don’t doubt the doorbell, but differ with the doorknob.

E – Eight gray geese in a green field grazing.

F – Fine white vinegar with veal.

The free thugs set three thugs free.

G – Grab the groundhog from the glazed grass.

Grey geese in a green field grazing.

H – High roller, low roller, lower roller.

How can a clam cram in a clean cream can?

I – Inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping.

I wish to wash my Irish wristwatch

J – Jingle jungle jangle joker.

K – Knit kilts for nasty cold nights.

L – Little lucky luke likes lakes, lucky little luke likes licking lakes

M – Monkeys make monopoly monotonous.

N – The Next nest will not necessarily be next to nothing.

O – Octopi occupy a porcupine’s mind.

Only royal oily royal oil boils

P – Peter Prangle, the prickly pear picker, picked three perfectly prickly pears.

A proper copper coffee pot.

Q – Queen Catherine wakes the cat, and the cat quietly cries.

R – Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers!

Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins.

S – Some shun sunshine. Do you shun sunshine?

Six stick shifts stuck shut.

T – Three thick thistle sticks.

The thirty-three thieves thought that they thrilled the throne throughout Thursday.

U – Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York.

V – Venti, Grande, Tall – Very Grand Words for Large, Medium, Small.

W – Will’s wetsuit is round and wet and rough and wide and ready to go on a watery ride.

Wayne went to Wales to watch walruses.

X – Xylophones exist or so existentialists insist.

Y – Yoda met a Yeti on the Plains of Serengeti.

Z – Zoologists illogically love to read astrology.


– H

Herzlich Willkommen!


I’m Hannah, and this is my blog. I’m a passionate lifelong learner and over the course of my many, constant investigations I find lots of cool stuff which I think should be shared with the world. I’ll be posting about new things I’ve learned (like scientific studies, observations about human nature, techniques, new skills, recipes, fun words, etc…) and things I’m trying to learn (like – currently – German, and public speaking, and fighting with a glaive).

First, a little bit about me. I’m 23 and a Michigan native. I love reading, swordfighting, rock climbing, board games, computer games, logic puzzles, engineering, sustainability, languages, travel, and tea. I habitually over-schedule my personal life, mostly because I have a tendency to want to do ALL THE THINGS at once. I am at the same time sad that I will never be able to learn everything I want to learn, and happy because that means I will never run out of new challenges. Luckily this means I will have lots of topics to cover here.

So, welcome, and enjoy!


– H