Gin and juniper: how could those words not be related? It seemed like a no-brainer since gin comes from juniper berries. But the OED led me astray uncharacteristically: in the definition of “juniper” there is no explication of a relation to “gin”, that most important and potent of juniper by-products. Weird.
Juniper’s scientific name, from the original Latin, is Juniperus communis. The common name is rendered in Romance languages as variations of words that sound like “jen-aver”, (e.g., Old French genevre and Middle Dutch genever), with occasional exciting sound changes thrown in as you move west, including initial consonant deletion (Spanish enebro) or the substitution of new consonant sounds (Portoguese zimbro).
The words for juniper are old as Latin, but “gin” is only attested as far back as the 18th century. When I looked up “gin” I discovered that it’s an abbreviation of the city of Geneva and not a direct descendent of “juniper” at all. ”Gin” isn’t even directly related to the old word for the same liquid: genever, the Dutch name for grain liquor distilled with juniper berries. Weird again.
A quick look into the city’s name told me that the Middle French name was Genève which is sure a lot like the OF word for juniper, genèvre, but just not quite exactly the same; still a dead end.
So here’s how I’m piecing this together: at some point in the 16th century, the French got around to giving Geneva a name. By the 17th century juniper berries were distilled into a tasty liquor called “genever” in The Netherlands. At some point after both of those things happened, some clever fellow, probably drunk on distilled juniper berries in the city of Geneva, realized, slurringly, “Dis-donc! Je bois du genèvre en Genève!”
Thereafter, stores where you could buy genever were called “Geneva Shops” and the liquor contained therein was called “Geneva”. But that was clearly too long and complicated and so was cut back to one syllable, “gin”.
Yes, I realize I have conjured a drunken Frenchman out of the dark Geneva night to explain this etymology. Realistically, it probably wasn’t just one drunken Frenchman, it was probably a whole bar-ful. This is how folk-etymologies get started, so I don’t feel all that bad.
In terms of convolusion, gin/juniper/genever/geneva might rival the shamrock/clover etymology debacle I uncovered last spring in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I think this kind of tortuous and self-referential complexity is wonderful and I have no regrets for spending the past 2 hours thinking about it: this is how language actually happens.
If you’ve made it this far dear reader, you deserve a drink:
5 parts gin
1 part dry Vermouth
A healthy splash of olive juice
Several green olives, skewered on a toothpick for garnish
Combine all ingredients except for garnish in a shaker. Pour into a chilled glass. Add garnish. Reblog.
Recently, in cruel ironies of speech language pathology
1. Handing your aphasic client a 10-page diagnostic and treatment report detailing the assessments administered, the subtleties of the therapy provided and the outcomes thereof, when you know very well that the assessments administered demonstrate that this person cannot read, because this person has aphasia.
2. Attempting to administer LSVT (Loudness-recalibration therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease) when your throat is so sore that you’ve been reduced to double-fisting Nalgenes of Emergen-C and echinacea honey tea; you can manage a scratchy whisper and yet you have to cheerlead the brand-new client to pull 90 dB for a solid hour.
On the plus side, one: After sending that 10-page report I sat with the aphasia client at a coffee shop for over an hour and we went over the details in person. His auditory comprehension is superior to his reading abilities (which he would have known if he’d read the report, duh!). He also bought me a coffee.
Plus side, two: I rocked my first day of LSVT and so did my client. My throat feels like I rubbed it down with a puréed Jersey barrier, but it’s more than made up for by my assurance that I’m going to positively impact my client’s life.
The patron saint of those who others find repulsive
The Adult Neurological Disorders Diagnostic team, of which I am a part, has been having a rough time of it this semester. Being a saucily sacrilegious bunch, we’ve taken to calling on the saints to lift our spirits.
It started, like many good laughs, with the hagiography of Saint Rocco. Since he’s already the patron of a plethora of silly things (diseased cattle, gravediggers, tile-makers, second-hand dealers, invalids, and Istanbul) we canonized him as the patron of the Dx team, too.
But sometimes you have a need that requires the intervention of a more specialized saint:
Throat too sore to carry out the interview and assessment? Call on Saint Blaize, patron saint of throat disorders.
The Boston Assessment of Severe Aphasia goes missing right before you need to administer it? Pray to Saint Anthony, finder of all lost things!
The client is so disabled that we can’t in good conscience recommend him for therapy? Pray to Jude, patron saint of lost causes.
And then we came across Saint Drogo, a 12th century orphan and pilgrim who was so hideously deformed that the local villagers locked him in a cell for 40 years. During that time he was completely cut off from human contact, though he received the Holy Eucharist and daily feedings through a tiny window. Drogo is the saint of cattle (not diseased!), broken bones, coffee house owners, midwives, the mentally ill, orphans and gall stones. Most importantly, he is patron saint of the deaf and the mute! Finally, a patron saint for those with severe aphasia.
Saint Drogo, where would I be if I couldn’t pray to you? Surely not sitting in front of my computer, preaching to the masses about the deaf and the mute and those with aphasia, interacting with people through the tiny window of the internet …
When you go to buy bread in the grocery store, have you ever wondered which is the freshest, so you “squeeze” for freshness or softness? Did you know that bread is delivered fresh to the stores five days a week? Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day has a different color twist tie. They are: Monday = Blue, Tuesday = Green, Thursday = Red, Friday = White and Saturday = Yellow. So if today was Thursday, you would want red twist tie; not white which is Fridays (almost a week old)! The colors go alphabetically by color Blue- Green - Red - White - Yellow, Monday through Saturday. Very easy to remember.
once upon a time Cinderella
and he died stepmother
the cats really nasty then Cinderella
chores and two girls
really nasty then
piece of paper the ball
piece of paper the ball
then the rats the rats and the birds
then put on your dress pearls
and really Cinderella rip it off
and then outside outside the house fairy
godmother new out there sat
the horse and coach
pumpkin and mice then
in the ball the music
Cinderella and Prince Charming danced together then
midnight Cinderella one shoe left
one shoe left
the pumpkin the horse and the dog
next day the prince
Cinderella one shoe
three people try it on then
doesn’t fit then Cinderella fits then
then the Prince and Cinderella
happily ever after.
Cinderella Story, as told by a person with aphasia; put into stanzas by me.
It’s hard to read these transcriptions without inserting my own pattern of stresses and pauses. My mind is aching to find the rhythm under the printed words. I think here I’ve channeled the poetic love-child of e.e.cummings and Bukowski; you know, if their poetic love child had sustained a serious cerebral vascular accident.
I hope this doesn’t come off as disrespectful. To me, it’s endlessly fascinating how the minds of people with aphasia work, and subsequently how my mind has to work to understand them. I think poetry is a legitimate medium for that endeavor.
The Cinderella Story, or why I'll be slaving away in the lab all night
People with aphasia have widespread, multimodal communication impairments. One of the best ways to assess their overall communicative abilities is to collect a connected speech sample. Connected speech is what it sounds like: a string of uninterrupted speech. It’s not a conversation, or the clinician asking a bunch of questions and the client responding; it’s just the client talking. We use connected speech samples to assess specific aspects of the client’s language: content to word ratio, types of errors and paraphasias, the use of nouns, verbs, pronouns and grammatical morphemes, etc.
It’s often hard to understand what someone with aphasia is telling you because their speech is so full of semantic and syntactic errors; even the narrative arc of a story can be convoluted. The best solution is to use standard stimulus materials to elicit connected speech. That way the clinician knows what the client is trying to talk about. The most common elicitation materials are picture descriptions, in which the client describes a visual scene. By far the most used picture description is this one, affectionally known as the “Cookie Theft”:
Oh man, can a Cookie Theft tell you a lot about a person’s expressive language and cognitive abilities: is the person only attending to the right side of the picture (left hemi-spatial neglect)? Is the person able to name the people “girl, boy, woman” but doesn’t label the connection between them, i.e., that they are a family or that the woman is the kids’ mother? Is there evidence of understanding of cause and effect or is the person just listing things that they see?
There are some other picture descriptions from various standardized aphasia batteries but none as widely used as Cookie Theft. Unfortunately, Cookie Theft gets old after several retests and it can’t tell us as much as we’d like to know about narrative skills. As an alternative, some researchers have aphasia clients retell the story of Cinderella. First the client is allowed to look through a picture book of the story (with the words covered up). The client pages through at their own pace. When they’re done, they close the book and tell the clinician the story.
Later, the clinician transcribes the client’s story. Every “uh”, every pause, every word that just isn’t right, but is oh-so-close. The stories can be coded for analysis: number of different words; number of different types of words; how many words per minute; the number and types of errors made … on and on. Like the Cookie Thefts, we can learn a lot from these narratives.
Since Cinderella stories are often used clinically, we need to know if the stories can be used to gauge meaningful change as a result of therapy. Will Cinderella stories get better, indicating improved language skills, after therapy?
The problem with that research question is that the people who administered the Cinderella story and the people who transcribed the Cinderella story and the people who worked with those aphasia clients are not valid judges of improvement because they are not blind to the conditions of the elicitation of the story (whether the story was told pre- or post-treatment; who the story-teller is). This is where I come in and help other people with their research.
Tonight, I am voluntarily reading dozens of transcriptions of Cinderella narratives and rating them against each other. I don’t know whom the stories belong to or when they were elicited. I’m just comparing one story to the next one. And then I move on to the next set.
Maybe that doesn’t sound hard; maybe you think it’d be really easy; maybe you even think you’d like to switch your job with mine right now. Reading a bunch of stories sounds easy. But you’ve clearly never tried to read a raw transcription. There is no punctuation in connected speech- just words and occasionally (pauses). There are lots of ums and ahs, false starts and rep-repetitions, and repetitions and repetitions and, and, and run-on sentences and others that just trail of with a …. words that don’t make sense in any context, and ideas just jumping in from the side, like where did you come from?
And then there’s the fact that these people have aphasia so the stories often don’t make sense because vital pieces are missing. The hallmark of aphasia is problems with naming- they can’t find the names of words, so “dress”, “ball”, “dance”, “slipper” or “fit” fail to show up in the descriptions, even though they’re really important to the progress of the story. Pronouns- forget ‘em. Fifty percent of the time, Cinderella is a “he” or sometimes “they” or sometimes “Glen” because the client can only remember her husband’s name; makes for rough reading.
Here is a paragraph sampling. Try reading this out loud.
once upon a time (pause) um (pause) Cinderella (pause) um Cinderella um (pause) um (pause) she is the maid (pause) um (pause) and step (pause) awww ok um (pause) two sister yea ok (pause) um Cinderella (pause) um (pause) ok Cinderella (pause) the main um chores and um (pause) wash the windows and um (pause) then um (pause) … .
Now imagine that person telling the whole story of Cinderella at that pace. And that one isn’t even that bad. Now imagine reading 50 more of those.
What’s worse is when you try to compare two stories and your brain starts swirling because you, as the non-impaired reader, know the story of Cinderella and can’t help but fill in the details that are missing, and you subconsciously correct the paraphasias (“surely they meant ‘maid’, not ‘main’”), and after you read a few you can’t remember which story was which because they’re all the same damn Cinderella. And my brain is starting to bleed out of ears and nose and lacrimal ducts, but I have to read these all in one sitting to ensure intra-rater reliability and fuck … Cinderella will be here all night.
" … researchers have been able to detect at least two proteins that are normally found in brain cells and are released when the cells break open after somebody suffers a brain injury … the level of proteins released from the injured cells are high enough, that they cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore can be detected in measurable quantities."
For people who work with brains, traumatic brain injuries are a big deal. TBIs are astonishingly prevalent and what’s sad about that is that they are almost 100% preventable. In adults, most TBIs are due to car accidents. Gunshoot wounds are the second most common cause but 90% of people with GSWs to the head die before they suffer the long-term effects of a TBI. In children and the elderly, as Tristan found out, most cases of TBI are caused by abuse.
Without confirmed brain imagine evidence, it’s really hard to diagnose a child or an elderly person with TBI. Typically, babies and elderly people don’t report being abused or having had an accident, because they can’t. Clinicians see these people after the fact and have to piece the story together as to how the TBI has affected the person’s life. And because each brain is different and so is each injury, the patterns of impairment following TBI are diverse and very greatly in severity.
In young children who are still developing it’s hard to know what aspects of their behavior are developmental and what aspects are caused by environmental differences. For example, if a child fails to meet a developmental milestone it could be due to genetics, environment (e.g., abuse or TBI), or a combination of both. It’s impossible to know after a TBI what a child’s developmental potential could have been.
In elderly people, diagnosing TBI is difficult because they may have suffered other brain injuries across their lifespan (e.g., strokes). In people with dementia or declining cognition it can be hard to get an accurate report of whether they are being abused.
A blood test would help establish evidence in cases of suspected abuse in both of these vulnerable populations; Ihope this becomes widely available soon.
Sidenote: There’s been a lot of news recently about the cumulative effects of TBI on the brains of athletes in contact sports, especially football. Once it comes out just how much trauma is being done to football player’s brains, the NFL is going to be in serious trouble. I can’t wait to see how they’ll boycott this blood test.
In my mind, the question was settled: great blue herons are enormous. This one was big enough to cause me to stall my bike alongside the path and stare out into the marsh. Even from this distance he was impressively large, dominating the shallow pool. I looked at him skeptically: it seemed improbable that so much bird could be supported on so little leg. I thought, we’d be about evenly matched, me and that heron. Ankle deep in the frigid Boulder creek we could have looked directly into each other’s eyes- though I probably had 90 pounds on him. He turned toward me, and shook his head disapprovingly. “You wanted to know, and I came here to answer your question. Don’t pick a fight just because it’s not what you wanted to hear”.
Wise heron, I assented, you’re right. When he took off, I imagined he was a pterodactyl flying back to the Cretaceous, though probably he just flew around the bend in the creek to some secret place where I couldn’t follow or pester him any further.
I got back on my bike and headed home, thinking how uncanny it is that the answer finds you when you finally get the nerve to ask the question. And then I thought how this was one of those times when the allusion doesn’t make sense if you don’t understand the original reference.
Apparently, he and Eush were discussing my height and both assumed I was substantially taller than I actually am. If my personality gains me 5 inches, that makes me a sweet 5’4 … Apparently, I don’t come off short on the internet.
“When I see Bin Laden with his AK-47, I got nervous. But what can I do, terrorists aren’t fools: they too chose the most reliable guns … I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists … I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower.”—
Mikhail Kalashnikov on his most famous invention, the AK-47 (via wikipedia). Unexpectedly, I’m looking forward to the Fresh Air segment on the history of the AK-47.
I always hated guns, but man did Ethan love them. He had himself an SKS, which is a lot like an AK-47 but with a bayonet, and if you can find one, an attachable grenade launcher. Back in Portland, Ethan would often wake up at the crack of dawn to go shooting in the Mount Hood wilderness. Sometimes I’d still be fast asleep in bed when he came back home. At night, he’d clean the rifle in a bucket full of sudsy Simple Green solution and explain to me- as he dissected and reconstructed the SKS- its anatomy and physiology. On a rainy day like this one that evokes Portland’s typical gloom, I can almost imagine the smells: Ethan’s wool hat that smelled like a campfire, the sharpness of the gun grease and the mint of the Simple Green; my nose crinkles a little, remembering.
Sitting in a deserted wing of DIA: Waiting for James to land, chatting with Tristan. Makes me wonder, if it weren’t for my blog, where would I be tonight? Some bar in downtown Boulder, probably. Thanks tumblr, for letting me keep on touch with my friends back home and giving me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful new people. I would sit here on the floor of DIA and eat late-night Burger King fries any time if it meant I got to stay connected with all you fine folks.
After “plantain plantation”, my second favorite string of words is “maté latté”. Every once in a while you’ll be sitting at a coffee shop in Boulder and some yuppie orders a maté latté. When the barista sets down their beverage and calls it out, I have a little inward giggle. I just love to say those words, “maté latté”. The phonotactics feel exotic. I would never order one of these drinks myself: maté tastes exactly like a combination of sticks, dirt and the bitter tears of the deforested Amazon; even steamed milk cannot redeem its nastiness. But it sure is fun to say.
I’m sure this happens to you, too. Random thoughts swirl around your head just as you’e dozing off. Sometimes these are ungrammatical strings of word soup, which makes them hard to remember. Sometimes they are sensical, but have no obvious association to your life. One I recall was, “Sally never did learn to tango dance.”
More recently, I was drifting off thinking of a time Ethan and I were in Mexico, tramping through a field of banana trees. Can you call it an orchard if it’s in the jungle? We were headed towards the beach when we stumbled upon a small-scale outdoor plantain frying and packaging operation- right in the middle of what we took to be a dense banana jungle on Mexico’s west coast. Their plantains came in two flavors: salty and sweet. The already thick air smelled like frying oil. The whole thing was bizarre.
I was reliving this strange scene as I was falling asleep. My last thought was: why would anyone ever say “banana farm” if you could instead say “plantain plantation”?
Last night my thoughts looked in on a kitchen, where I imagined what it must have looked like the first time something was flambéed. This was certainly an accident; no one purposely sets their dinner on fire. I imagined the sous-chefs were terrified but wisely kept their mouths shut.
Being a generally contemplative and introspective person, I spent some time contemplating and specting-inwardly on the meaning of these half-thoughts. I’ve decided that my barely-conscious is trying to tell me something; and that something is bananas foster.
A healthy chunk of butter 1/2 c. brown sugar 4 bananas peeled, halved, and cut lengthwise 1/4 c. dark rum 1/4 c. banana liqueur (optional) Spices: cinnamon, allspice
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar and spices. Stir and let the sugar dissolve. If you’re using banana liqueur, ad it now. Bring to a simmer. Cook bananas in this goo for a minute on each side. Baste the bananas with tasty sugar sauce as they cook. Remove the bananas. Add run to the sauce. Light the sauce on fire and let the flame die out on its own. Spoon the tasty goodness over the bananas. Eat.
Researchers have found about 10 gene sets that are implicated in the electron transport chain in the neurons of people with Parkinson’s disease. You’ll have to ask baseln and taf for an explanation of “gene sets”; I have no idea what those are. What I do understand is that something screwy is going on with how neuronal mitochondria are producing energy. If the mitochondria don’t work, the cells don’t produce enough energy, and tired cells are not effective cells. I’m not sure if all brain cells are affected or just those of the basal ganglia (the major site of neuronal death in PD). Regardless, this is a cool discovery because it opens the door to new treatments that might be more effective than current medicines which only treat symptoms and don’t alter the underlying cause of the disease.
NPR this morning was ridiculous: somehow, instead of news I wound up listening to a facebookified version of Hamlet. Trying to make up for the news I didn’t hear, I returned to NPR thinking I’d stream All Things Considered. An article on the main page caught my eye and I clicked through to read it. I was then redirected to a site telling me that the page was lost, but that I should take heart, because lots of cool things have been lost to the ages, like Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa and the original tapes of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
I lost my wallet last week, in a fit of an Indian food craving. Biking along the Creek Path it must’ve fallen out of my back pocket. The nice folks at the Indian restaurant let me keep my take out, anyway; I wrote them an IOU.
I searched everywhere on the path, all the way back home, but never did find it. I imagine a homeless man has been using my bus pass, and I’m comfortable with that. He can even keep the 20 that was tucked between my credit cards.
Cardless all week meant no trips to the supermarket and no weekend bar-hopping. Thank goodness my new card came today: now I go back to spending money I don’t have against a loan I will never be able to pay off.
First stop: the liquor store. I have to make up for lost time.
Adult neurogenic communication diagnostic: severe aphasia and the mystical healing properties of banana bread
Today in my neurogenic communication disorders diagnostic we are working with a man who has a history of strokes and seizures. He presents with severe nonfluent aphasia as well as early-stage Parkinsonian symptoms and potentially dementia. He has virtually no spoken output. When he did speak, his voice was quiet, mumbly and breathy- typical of Parkinson’s.
After an interview (his wife responded for him), we began a few screenings- visual field screening, apraxia, hearing- to get an overview of his cognitive capacities. He was basically unresponsive and in fact nodded off several times, so we had to cut those short.
We always conduct a swallowing screening, as well (speech-language pathologists are also swallowing specialists, didn’t you know). Typically, we have the client eat a cookie and drink some water. We look for signs of aspiration (choking, coughing) and changes in voice quality after swallowing.
We decided to give the client coffee instead of water, in the hopes that it would give him a bit more energy so we could continue working. And, since we were giving him coffee, we offered him and his wife some of the banana bread I had baked and brought to school.
Wouldn’t you know, he perked right up when he started eating the banana bread. He was more engaged in the conversation- not speaking, but showing alertness. He fed himself appropriately and suddenly became aware that I was taking notes. His gaze settled on my paper. I handed him a piece and a pen. He took it up and started to scribble. His writing was micrographic (symptomatic of Parkinsonism) and illegible. However, the communicative intent was there. I wrote on his sheet “GOOD?” He tried to write back. After a few tries, he started copying my letters. G. D. O. D. G. G.
Yes, there was perseveration. Yes, there was micrographia. But there was also communicative intent; sparked the entire diagnostic team was sure, by the tastiness of the banana bread.
Henceforth, I will never set foot in a diagnostic without banana bread.