New Word Contest

Like George Carlin words are an interest of mine, not a hobby, hobbies cost money. When my mother sent me these results from a Washington Post contest I knew I’d have to share.

The contest invited readers to take a word from the English language and by adding, removing or changing only one letter create a new word. The results are pure genius.

The following are reposted from the Washington Post. I’ve stared (*) my favorites.

Fifth Runner-Up: Foreploy*: any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of obtaining sex. (Greg Oetjen, Lorton)

Fourth Runner-Up: Fortissimoe: the musical moment produced when someone serially slaps the faces of the first-violin section. (Jean Sorensen, Herndon)

Third Runner-Up: Tatyr: a lecherous Mr. Potato Head. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Second Runner-Up: Doltergeist: a spirit that decides to haunt someplace stupid, such as your septic tank. (David Genser, Arlington)

First Runner-Up: Giraffiti: vandalism spray-painted very, very high, such as the famous “Surrender Dorothy” on the Beltway overpass. (Robin D. Grove, Arlington)

And the winner of the two-foot-high baby bottle:

Sarchasm*: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the recipient who doesn’t get it. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Honorable Mentions:

Necronancy: communication with the late Ernie Bushmiller. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Contratemps: the resentment permanent workers feel toward the fill-in workers. (Kevin Mellema, Falls Church)

Coiterie: a very very close-knit group. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

Whitetater: a political hot potato. (Art Grinath, Takoma Park)

Impotience*: eager anticipation by men awaiting their Viagra prescription. (Meg Sullivan, Potomac)

Elepants: too-tight jeans on broad-beamed people. (Steve Fahey, Kensington)

Lollapalooka: someone who has taken one too many turns in the mosh pit. (Philip Delduke, Bethesda)

Auto-da-feh: the extermination of heretics via drowning in a vat of pus. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

Stupfather: Woody Allen. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Reintarnation: coming back to life as a hillbilly. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

DIOS: the one true operating system. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Inoculatte*: to take coffee intravenously when you are running late. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Thripp: a bug. (Bee Perrin, Washington)

Hipatitis: terminal coolness. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Writer’s tramp: a woman who practices poetic licentiousness. (Meg Sullivan, Potomac)

Goodzilla: a giant lizard that puts out forest fires by stamping on them. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

Taterfamilias: the head of the Potato Head family. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Guillozine: a magazine for executioners. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

Osteopornosis*: a degenerate disease. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

Adulatery: cheating on one’s wife with a much younger woman who holds you in awe. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

Suckotash: a dish consisting of corn, lima beans and tofu. (Russ Beland, Springfield)

Emasculathe: a tool for castration. (Steve Fahey, Kensington)

Sata: a mythical being who brings toys to bad children. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Burglesque: a poorly planned break-in. (See: Watergate) (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like a serious bummer. (Meg Sullivan, Potomac)

Genitaliar: an image-enhancing object that can be carried in a man’s front pocket. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

Glibido: all talk and no action. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Antifun gal: a prude. (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

Vaseball: a game of catch played by children in the living room. (Russ Beland, Springfield)

Eunouch: the pain of castration. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett park)

Hindkerchief: really expensive toilet paper; toilet paper at Buckingham Palace. (Dave Zarrow, Herndon)

Deifenestration: to throw all talk of God out the window. (Paul Kondis, Alexandria)

Hozone: the area around 14th Street. (Stephen Dudzik, Silver Spring)

Acme: a generic skin disease. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

Dopeler effect*: the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly. (Greg Oetjen, Lorton)

Hindprint: indentation made by a couch potato. (Dave Zarrow, Herndon)

Intaxication*: euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with. (Greg Oetjen, Lorton)

Newtspaper: the Washington Times. (Fil Feit, Annandale)

Nazigator: an overbearing member of your carpool. (Elizabeth Monte, Fairfax)

Synapple: a perfect beverage to accompany brain food. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

Socceur: the proper spelling of the sport for the next four years, alas. (Kevin Eade, Columbia)

And Lust: an unseemly craving for this position in the column. (Dave Zarrow, Herndon)

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Cat Herding

In 2000, EDS, a major information technology and business firm took the term “cat herding” and ran with it for this fantastic super bowl commercial, but what does cat herding mean?

The term is used to draw a parallel between cats, who are inherently independent and difficult to control, and IT workers, who are inherently independent and difficult to control. Anyone with a cat of their own probably has a good idea what I’m talking about. In a more broad sense, herding cats refers to getting different people or groups to coordinate on a goal.

Carla Emmons sums it up nicely:

Herding cats implies the futility inherent in a position as an IT manager.

In a modern IT shop it is quite literally impossible for a manager to know everything about their employees’ jobs and I believe that is the main cause of this precieved futility. To try to understand and control everything your employees are doing is just as bound to fail as trying to get your cat to come when you call its name. The good IT managers know it, the best ones embrace it.

So what is an IT manager to do? I think effective cat herding boils down to just these three things…

  1. Hire good people
  2. Get them the resources they need to do their jobs
  3. Protect them from the politics and metawork as much as possible

Remember, cat herding (IT management) isn’t about your own goals or job fulfillment, it’s about allowing your employees to reach their full potential.

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Cube Farm

Cube FarmAnother common term heard around the office is “Cube Farm”. A cube farm is not necessarily a terrible thing, but they need to be planned properly.

Definition: An office filled with cubicles. This really boils down to a room full of people at desks with little more than a smattering of upholstery between them. Cubicles are typically composed of fabric, metal and press-board. Cubicles vary from the full six foot walls on three and a half sides, down to a scant four foot tall partition simply separating you from the next person, if only from the waist down.

When do cube farms work?
In my experience there are two key factors which make cube farms viable, and yes, even beneficial. First, the people within a close proximity are doing very similar tasks. A group of support technicians in a cube farm can generally feed off each other’s knowledge and offer a high quality of support.

The second factor that often plays into cube farm success is that traffic (both walk-in and phone) from outside people is kept to a minimum. Support is the exception to this, however a software developer in a cube farm with support people will be constantly distracted by the support chatter and walk in questions.

To be effective cubes must be planned around the teams and workers they are meant to be occupied by. Cubes put up with little planning just to create a place for employees to work rarely if ever benefit their residents.

When do cube farms fail?
As mentioned above, cube farms often fail due to lack of planning. I am currently working in a cube farm where four different people serve three different functions, all in about 200 square feet.

Another key factor is the height and coverage of the cube. A six foot tall cube wall which completely blocks direct view of coworkers is best. This typically means cubes are almost completely enclosed with just enough space to enter and exit. Cubes with short walls that allow you to see others over them are generally ineffective, and having only one or two walls is not much better than having none.

The two biggest wastes of time in the office are visible distractions and audible distractions. Good cube farms with high walls, workers who spend a minimum of time on the phone, and in an area where foot traffic is minimal can work out very well. Cube farms which are small, poorly laid out, and with no consideration given to the function of the occupants will result in lost productivity, irritability and personal conflicts.

For more information on cube farms check out’s article on the topic.

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Yak Shaving

I picked this term up from Make Magazine, which had an interesting article about yak shaving in Volume 1. Sadly I find it all too applicable in my everyday life.

Definition: Yak shaving refers to a situation where you need to solve a problem, which may seem frivolous, but is necessary so you can solve a problem, so you can solve a problem, so you can solve a problem, so you can solve the actual problem you set out to solve in the first place.

The number of levels of recursion are not important, but I’d say anything less than 3 does not even qualify as yak shaving. Sometimes it is possible to end up in a recursive loop such that without backing out and making a new start you will never accomplish the intended task.

Example: I need to patch a database with the latest patchset from Oracle. First I need to download it from Oracle. To do that I need an account there. I have forgotten the password to my account so I need to make a new one. When I try to make a new one it tells me there is already an account with my email address. Now I need to find out our account representative’s name so I can have them reset my password. Since we’re part of a larger university system I need to call the DBA who handles our accounts, and of course I don’t know who they are so I have to ask around to get that. Then I call the DBA who handles our Oracle contract and they give me the contact information for our Oracle sales rep. I call them and they say they cannot help me because I am not on their records as the contact person for our contract. I then have to call the system level person back and talk them into calling the rep themselves… etcetera.

Origin: The term Yak Shaving is generally considered to be a reference to a Ren and Stimpy short called “Yak Shaving Day”. For a full explanation of Yak Shaving Day, check out this Wikipedia entry on the subject.

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