For Centuries, Readers Annotated Books With Tiny Drawings of Hands – Atlas Obscura

For Centuries, Readers Annotated Books With Tiny Drawings of Hands – Atlas Obscura

In the list of rarely-used punctuation marks—amid the interrobang (‽), hedera (❧), lozenge (◊), and asterism (⁂)—the manicule is a pointedly unique symbol. Quite literally: it takes the form of a hand with an outstretched index figure, gesturing towards a particularly pertinent piece of text.

Although manicules are still visible today in old signage and retro décor, their heyday was in medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Despite its centuries-long popularity, the first-ever use of a manicule is surprisingly difficult to pinpoint. They were reportedly used in the Domesday Book of 1066, a record of land ownership in England and Wales, but widespread use began around the 12th century. The name comes from the latin word manicula—little hand—but the punctuation mark has had other synonyms, including bishop’s fist, pointing hand, digit, and fist.

As far as punctuation marks go, the manicule’s function was fairly self-explanatory. Usually drawn in the margin of a page (and sometimes between columns of text or sentences), it was a way for the reader to note a particularly significant paragraph of text. They were essentially the medieval version of a highlighter. Although mainly used by readers, occasionally a scribe or a printer would draw a manicule to indicate a new section in a book.

The use and dynamic of manicules changed once books began to be printed. This new technology allowed writers and publishers to highlight what they believed to be significant. As Keith Houston notes in his book Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks, “the margin, once the reader’s workspace and sketchbook, was gradually colonized by writers seeking to provide their own explanatory notes or commentaries.”

Despite its simplicity, the style of the manicule could vary. Some had elaborate sleeves, some were strangely proportioned with extra-long fingers, as the one leading this article, and some were otherwise anatomically incorrect. The Italian Renaissance scholar Petrarch drew manicules that consisted of five fingers and no thumb, which is surprising, seeing as he would have been looking at the very thing he was drawing. (A five-fingered hand, it’s worth noting, would not have been the strangest thing to adorn the margins of a Medieval manuscript).

In the 19th century, manicules had moved beyond books and into signage, advertisements, and posters as a way of directing the eye. They pointed the way to trains and pubs. In the “Wanted” poster for John Wilkes Booth following his assassination of President Lincoln, a manicule gestured towards the reward announcement. Manicules were even used on gravestones (pointing up toward heaven, of course).

While the popularity of manicules faded before the arrival of the 20th century, they aren’t completely extinct. A mutated version existed in early versions of the cursor, in the form of an upwards-pointing clenched fist. There are manicule emojis that point left, right, up and down. If you look hard enough, you can even find one in the Wingdings font. ☞ Scroll on for more manicules.


The Dying Art of Courtroom Illustration – Atlas Obscura

The Dying Art of Courtroom Illustration – Atlas Obscura

On a recent gray August Monday at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, illustrator Jane Rosenberg found herself craning her neck and scrabbling for her pastels. The infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was making his first public appearance in months, and it was Rosenberg’s job to capture the scene for Reuters. Seated next to her, with a brush pen and colored pencils, fellow courtroom artist Elizabeth Williams was also trying to capture his likeness, for the Wall Street Journal.

The artists had been waiting outside the door of the courtroom since 7:30 a.m., long before it opened, to get the best possible seats. When they finally made it inside, El Chapo was present for just 15 minutes. Williams finished one drawing; Rosenberg “very loosely” started two.

“He walked in the courtroom and looked over at his wife and children, and waved,” Rosenberg says. “Then he sat down in the chair by his lawyer, and stood up, started making arguments.” She sketched furiously to complete the drawings later, without any visual reference. “I couldn’t remember if he had on the same color bottoms as his top,” she says. Someone else in the courtroom later confirmed that he had.

Rosenberg is a self-proclaimed “dinosaur,” one of the last courtroom artists working today. Both she and Williams began working in the profession in 1980. Over nearly 40 years, Rosenberg has sketched a veritable who’s-who of celebrity courtroom drama: Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Martha Stewart, Tom Brady.

Courtroom art has been a feature of the American media landscape since just after the high-profile Charles Lindbergh case in 1935. The famous aviator’s infant son was kidnapped and murdered, and news audiences were insatiable in their demand for more coverage. The media, in turn, went from reportage to circus to full-on hullabaloo. Newsreels of courtroom action, filmed from secret cameras in the New Jersey courtroom, were sent to movie theaters across the country. And so, when the trial was over, the American Bar Association banned cameras from courtrooms altogether. (To this day, they’re not allowed in federal court, though that may soon change.)

One of the last courtroom photographs before the ban shows Charles Lindbergh testifying at the Hauptmann trial in 1935. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Illustrators stepped in to fill the gap, but, by 1980, many states had lifted the photography ban in their courts. A total of 47 states today now allow broadcast coverage of some, if not all, judicial proceedings. “The proliferation of cable television, the advent of the Internet, and the waning economy have combined to greatly shrink the market for courtroom art,” writes Phoebe Hoban in ARTnews.

Detailed, illustrative drawings of courtrooms date back at least as far as the 17th century. Each often serves as a guide to the court standards and mores of the place and time in which it was made. Honoré Daumier, a French caricaturist and artist working in the 19th century, is known for his own courtroom images, which depict nameless lawyers and other judicial workers deep in conversation, peaky faces looming out over dark robes.

At some point in the 19th century, illustrations started to depict particular court cases. Some were imagined rather than observed. There are, for example, a wealth of dramatic illustrations from this period of the Salem witch trials (around 180 years in the past, by then), showing young women writhing on the floor as townspeople in the background huff and simmer. Others were more journalistic. The Victorian weekly tabloid Illustrated Police News made heavy use of illustrations of definitive moments in contemporary trials, though journalistic conventions of the time meant that these were usually not credited to any one artist.

For Oscar Wilde’s famous 1895 trial for “gross indecency,” for instance, the paper ran a series of illustrations of Wilde and other key players in the courtroom. This practice, however, came to a stop in Britain in 1925, with the Criminal Justice Act, which is still in effect. Among other things, it prohibits taking photographs or sketching anyone in the room, whether “a judge of the court or a juror or a witness in or a party to any proceedings before the court.”

There was concern at the time that photographers or artists might wig out lawyers or defendants, and therefore obstruct the path of justice. Unobtrusive fixed cameras have since been installed, but there’s still a demand for further depictions of certain cases. So British court artists circumvent the law by taking feverish notes about everything they observe—from posture to personal grooming to the color of someone’s tie—and then prepare their sketches outside of the courtroom. Court artist Priscilla Coleman became the first person to be given permission to draw in a courtroom in the United Kingdom in nearly 90 years, at an appeal hearing at the Supreme Court in 2013. At the time, a spokesperson from the court told the Evening Standard that while ordinarily photographers still weren’t permitted in the court, Coleman had been as noninvasive as the fixed cameras.

The golden age of real-time courtroom art in the United States began with Leo Hershfield, hired by NBC to sketch the congressional censure of Joseph McCarthy in 1954. He was rapidly ejected, allegedly, for “behaving like a camera.” After that, illustrators were obliged to work from the same kind of fastidious notes as their British counterparts, until 1963 protests, led by courtroom art “grande dame” Ida Libby Dengrove, “freed them to work on the spot.” That same year, TV news expanded from 15 minutes to a full half-hour, sending demand for courtroom sketches sky-high, as news editors struggled to fill the extra time. One high-profile case followed another: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon, for example. Illustrations were more in demand than ever before, and a new vanguard of illustrators, including former war artist Howard Brodie, went marching into the country’s courts.

The cases from these years that the artists love best are not always those that the public remembers. Rosenberg fondly recalls the trial of the wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. “I loved drawing all those bottles of wine, because they laid them out as evidence,” she says. “It was so much fun—like being back at art school.” And for Williams, a particular favorite was the cocaine-trafficking trial of automaker John DeLorean trial in 1984. She had a fantastic vantage point, she says, loved drawing former model Cristina Ferrare’s “fabulous clothes,” and enjoyed the support of encouraging, more seasoned colleagues. At that time, court illustrators were commonly sent along with reporters, who would tell them what to look out for. These days, they mostly work alone and hope they manage to capture what their client news organizations want.

Photographs might seem a better method for capturing an accurate likeness, but courtroom sketches provide something extra, something about the emotional resonance of what happened, Rosenberg says. “It can provide more of an essence.” Williams remembers seeing a heavily cropped photograph from a trial that failed to show how a 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound defendant dwarfed his attorney. “And that’s a very important part of what that scene was,” she adds. On top of that, a photograph might capture someone between expressions, or with a fleeting grimace that doesn’t necessarily characterize the overall emotional tenor of a courtroom situation or moment.

All courtroom illustrations are necessarily impressionistic in this way, writes Katherine Krubb, who curated the 1995 exhibition Witness of the People: Courtroom Art in the Electronic Age at what was then called the Museum of Television and Radio in New York (now the Paley Center for Media). “[They] seek to capture scenes from everyday modern life in flickering, fleeting images,” she writes, comparing them to the work of 19th-century artists Edgar Degas or Édouard Manet. “The pursuit of verisimilitude leads to exaggerations and distortions.” There tends not to be much physical action in a courtroom: Instead, artists must rely on minute changes of facial expression to communicate the drama of the proceedings.

Rare moments of action often reap some of the most famous courtroom images: Bill Robles’s 1970 drawing of Charles Manson leaping from the defense table, intent on stabbing Justice Charles H. Older with a pencil, for instance. (Manson is mostly a frenzied scribble, his pencil soaring toward the judge.) “That was my first trial,” Robles recollects. “I’d never set foot in a courtroom before.” Williams remembers catching what she later described as “a great moment,” rather than “a great drawing,” when she drew notorious fraudster Bernard Madoff cuffed and being led away by officers.

Increasingly, the few remaining court artists are expected to do this thoroughly analog job in a digital world, where technology affects everything—from the challenges of creating these images to their public reception. In court, Rosenberg “wriggles around” to get the best view she can amid a forest of computer screens. Immediately afterward, she must photograph and email her work to a television studio, where it features on news broadcasts.

On top of that, illustrators are at the mercy of thousands, if not millions, of internet hot takes on their work. Rosenberg, for example, went viral after one of her sketches of Brady, quarterback on the New England Patriots, caught the world’s attention in August 2015. It was variously labeled “troll-faced,” “haunting,” and like it was “put in one of those machines that crushes cars.” Rosenberg found herself the victim of the opprobrium of vicious football superfans. “I got a lot of negative bullying on the internet,” she recalls. “A lot of that was from rabid Patriots fans. I didn’t know about that world, but I’m learning about it.” More recently, Taylor Swift’s sexual assault case made headlines not just for its outcome, but for sketch artist Jeff Kandyba’s perceived failure to capture the pop star’s likeness.

This artist’s rendition of Taylor Swift is a very good sketch of Rolf from The Sound of Music.

— Anne T. Donahue (@annetdonahue) August 9, 2017

And now the days of courtroom illustration may be numbered. “It’s a matter of time,” says Williams. “I always thought it was.” In March of this year, senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation that would finally allow cameras back in federal courtrooms. If it passes, this could be the final nail in a coffin that’s already almost sealed. “That’s pretty much going to do it in,” Williams says, a little wistfully.

Robles is more circumspect. “They’ve had cameras for years, but a lot of the judges—the TV stations petition the court to allow a camera in, and they deny them that right. So that’s where we come in.” Judges famously banned cameras at Lindsay Lohan’s 2011 trial, for instance. Robles is currently preparing for the forthcoming murder trial of real estate scion Robert A. Durst. Though they may be a costlier option for media companies than using photographers, “we’re a necessary evil,” he says. “When there’s no cameras permitted, we’re king.”

Today, illustrators might work just 100 days in a good year, says Robles, and usually only for extremely high-profile cases. “People probably think it’s a piece of cake,” he adds. But key players are moving around the courtroom all the time, refusing to pose, and sometimes hiding their faces between newspapers or their hands. “But sooner or later, the judge will make them uncover their face,” he says. “So you get them one way or another. They never escape.”

It’s a hard, insecure job, Williams says. “Sometimes you can sit there and struggle. You can never, ever sit back and say, ‘Oh, this is going to be a breeze.’” She adds, more seriously, “This business will destroy you, if you think that. It will chew you up and spit you out. It is a tough business, and it takes nerves of steel to do it. I’ve seen artists just fold up and—‘Forget it, no,’” she says. Robles too has observed fellow illustrators running out of the courtroom when confronted with “death pictures and mutilations and so forth.” Today there’s barely enough available work for experienced artists, and no space for new ones.

On top of that, it can be very stressful. “But I’ve been doing it so long, it’s routine. A novice, I think, would be paralyzed.” It’s occasionally a struggle not to take the emotions of the trials home with her, says Rosenberg. “Sometimes it affects me, sometimes I cover horrific trials which make me cry.” But, somehow, this, and the punishingly early starts, don’t diminish her enthusiasm for the job. “I love it still,” she says. “I was telling my husband the other day, if I won the lottery, I would still do it—but I’d pay a sherpa to carry all my supplies for me, so I just had to show up.”

Why the Can Opener Wasn’t Invented Until Almost 50 Years After the Can | Smart News | Smithsonian

Why the Can Opener Wasn’t Invented Until Almost 50 Years After the Can | Smart News | Smithsonian

How did the first tin cans get opened? A chisel and a hammer, writes Kaleigh Rogers for Motherboard. Given that the first can opener famously wasn’t invented for about fifty years after cans went into production, people must have gotten good at the method. But there are reasons the can opener took a while to show up.

Our story starts in 1795, when Napoleon Bonaparte offered a significant prize “for anyone who invented a preservation method that would allow his army’s food to remain unspoiled during its long journey to the troops’ stomachs,” writes Today I Found Out. (In France at the time, it was common to offer financial prizes to encourage scientific innovation–like the one that led to the first true-blue paint.) A scientist named Nicolas Appert cleaned up on the prize in the early 1800s, but his process used glass jars with lids rather than tin cans.

“Later that year,” writes Today I Found Out, “an inventor, Peter Durand, received a patent from King George III for the world’s first can made of iron and tin.” But early cans were more of a niche item: they were produced at a rate of about six per hour, rising to sixty per hour in the 1840s. As they began to penetrate the regular market, can openers finally started to look like a good idea.

But the first cans were just too thick to be opened in that fashion. They were made of wrought iron (like fences) and lined with tin, writes Connecticut History, and they could be as thick as 3/16 of an inch. A hammer and chisel wasn’t just the informal method of opening these cans–it was the manufacturer’s suggested method.

The first can opener was actually an American invention, patented by Ezra J. Warner on January 5, 1858. At this time, writes Connecticut History, “iron cans were just starting to be replaced by thinner steel cans.”

Warner’s can opener was a blade that cut into the can lid with a guard to prevent it from puncturing the can. A user sort of sawed their way around the can’s edge, leaving a jagged rim of raw metal as they went. “Though never a big hit with the public, Warner’s can opener served the U.S. Army during the Civil War and found a home in many grocery stores,” writes Connecticut History, “where clerks would open cans for customers to take home.”

Attempts at improvement followed, and by 1870, the basis of the modern can opener had been invented. William Lyman’s patent was the first to use a rotary cutter to cut around the can, although in other aspects it doesn’t look like the modern one. “The classic toothed-wheel crank design” that we know and use today came around in the 1920s, writes Rogers. That invention, by Charles Arthur Bunker, remains the can opener standard to this day.

Los Angeles is dressing up violators’ cars with ‘smart’ parking boots | Smart Cities Dive

Los Angeles is dressing up violators’ cars with ‘smart’ parking boots | Smart Cities Dive

Outdated parking enforcement tech is getting the boot in Los Angeles.

Earlier this summer, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) launched a one-year “smart” parking boot pilot to increase enforcement efficiency — after years of towing cars instead of booting them. Parking violators may recognize a familiar yellow device attached to one of their car’s wheels, but the SmartBoot also sports an electromagnetic keypad that adorns the face of the device.

The ticket left on the car includes a number that the violator can call to pay the ticket over the phone, after which they are given a code to put into the keypad on the boot, allowing it to come off on the spot. Before the code is released, drivers have to answer if they can lift 16 pounds, the weight of the boot. If they can’t, PayLock gets a cop to get the boot off for them.

“People have responded a lot more positively to them because they can be on their way,” said Oliver Hou, an engineering associate at LADOT. “Instead of three hours, it’s three minutes.”

The boot will only be put on cars that have five or more unpaid parking tickets, all of which will have to be paid at once to unlock the device. Violators are told to return the boot within 24 hours to one of four locations throughout the city. If it is not returned, they can be fined $25 fine per day up to the cost of the boot, or $500 — a fee which can add to the already-large pool of funding from parking enforcement. Unpaid parking tickets in Los Angeles added up to $21 million over the last five years. According to NBC Los Angeles, paying those tickets could fill 1 million potholes or hire 300 new city firefighters.

.@LADOTofficial says new self-release boots take 5-10 mins to take off from the time parking violators call to pay their tickets. @KNX1070

— Cooper Rummell (@KNXCooper) July 26, 2017

The SmartBoot, built by PayLock, had its first program in Hoboken in 2003. Since then, the boot has been used in 20 municipalities, counties and colleges and used over 400,000 times in the past 10 years. Beside manufacturing the device, PayLock runs a help center for people to call in with their ticket number for payment assistance. The company can three-way connect friends and family to the call to help complete multiple electronic methods of payment.

Matt Silverman, executive vice president at PayLock, said that the SmartBoot allows cities to find middle ground between being aggressive about going after unpaid tickets and not going after violators at all.

“We are changing the status quo of how cities can treat people,” he said.

Within days of the launch, NBC Los Angeles reported at least one SmartBoot was found on a wheel discarded at a tow truck yard. “Nothing is foolproof,” Hou said. “No boot is going to fit 100% of vehicles.”

However, according to Silverman, PayLock has found that their boots are less likely to be vandalized than a traditional boot.

“People have an option that they didn’t have it before,” Silverman said. “You change the decision making model in people’s mind.”

Getting rid of a boot, regardless if it’s smart or not, is a time-honored tradition. Youtube is full of videos and the web has tutorials showing how to remove boots from cars.

“People always find a way,” Hou said.

PayLock gave Los Angeles 500 SmartBoots for free, but they make revenue by receiving part of the $150 boot fee that Los Angeles charges violators.

Even though parking tickets and boots are usually things that aggregate drivers, PayLock still cares what their users think.

“You can call us crazy but we we send out a customer satisfaction survey,” Silverman said. “We get some interesting comments.”

For Los Angeles, even with a discarded boot or two, the program seems to be working. Since launch, LADOT has done over 973 boot applications, 305 tows and has brought in over $281,000. The program has collected over 1,863 parking tickets, and LADOT will evaluate next summer if they would like to continue using the technology.

[I cannot image getting any useful product information from the customer satisfaction surveys.]

99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

Whenever you feel lonely, just remember: you’re always carrying several hundred trillion friends with you. A dizzying number of microbes call the human body home, and it turns out that science knows very little about most of them. In fact, a new Stanford survey of the foreign DNA fragments circulating in the human body has found that 99 percent of microbes inside us are completely unknown to science.

The discovery was initially made by accident, as a team investigated less invasive ways to predict whether a patient’s body would reject a transplanted organ. Rather than the wholly unpleasant experience of having a tissue biopsy taken, the researchers were studying whether a simple blood sample would suffice. Essentially, the idea was that if they found fragments of the organ donor’s DNA circulating in a patient’s blood, it was a good indication that the body was rejecting the transplant.

Along with the patient’s DNA and potentially that of the organ donor, the technique gives an insight into that person’s microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live throughout the body. Of all the non-human DNA floating around in there, the team found that a staggering 99 percent didn’t match anything in existing genetic databases.

“We found the gamut,” says Stephen Quake, senior author of the study. “We found things that are related to things people have seen before, we found things that are divergent, and we found things that are completely novel. I’d say it’s not that baffling in some respects because the lens that people examined the microbial universe was one that was very biased.”

The team then set about categorizing that pile of unknown DNA, and found that most of it belonged to a general group known as proteobacteria, which counts E. coli and Salmonella among its ranks, along with many, many others. On the virus side of things, the team found a huge amount of previously unknown members of the torque teno family, including an entirely new group that doesn’t quite fit current descriptions.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” says Quake. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale.”

With so many microbes living in the human body, it’s hardly surprising that science hasn’t gotten around to identifying them all, and the researchers say that attention is largely focused on a few particularly interesting species. The next step, the team says, is to apply the technique to the microbiomes of other animals in order to identify viruses that could potentially jump to humans and trigger pandemics, like avian and swine flu.

Open Letter: An Open Letter to the Lady Selling Seashells By the Seashore – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Open Letter: An Open Letter to the Lady Selling Seashells By the Seashore – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Dear Lady Selling Seashells by the Seashore,

Let me get this straight. You managed to create the most successful word-of-mouth marketing campaign of all time but forgot to include a call-to-action? You’ve got half the world talking about your sea shell business (trying to at least, your tagline is a real sonofabitch) and somehow failed to mention where your retail stores are located? On behalf of all my marketing peers, what the actual fuck?

I mean, come on. “By the seashore” isn’t even close to a street address. Are you milking tourists on the Mediterranean? Peddling off the Persian Gulf? Bartering on the Black Sea? How am I supposed to plug you into Google Maps when I don’t even know what hemisphere you’re operating on?

You could’ve had class. You could’ve been a shell vendor. You could’ve been somebody. I know this for a fact because I had my intern, Kevin, calculate the profit loss resulting from your marketing fiasco.

Let’s say the bargain shells go for a buck and the posh ones cost five. Knowing that your campaign has reached approximately two billion people, your little oversight may well have cost you $10 billion. Kevin had to take two weeks off to recover from witnessing such a high level of fuckery.

Does your business even have a name? How do we know you’re running a legitimate operation over there (wherever there is)? For all we know you could be stuffing those puppies full of illegal drugs and selling them to pre-teens. Is “seashell” code for a new type of ammunition designed for underwater warfare? Are you an arms dealer sent from the future to bring ruin to our world? I demand answers!

That’s it. I’m tweeting a complaint to the Department of Commerce (that is the best way to get in touch with the governing body of the most powerful country in the world these days, right?).

Thatcher Jensen

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites | Mental Floss

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites | Mental Floss

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression’ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of “contronyms”—words that are their own antonyms.

1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’
2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)
4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.
6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).
7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning ‘to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange,’ “trim” came to mean ‘to prepare, make ready.’ Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?
8. Cleave can be cleaved into two “homographs,” words with different origins that end up spelled the same. “Cleave,” meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. “Cleave,” with the contrary meaning ‘to split or sever (something), ‘ as you might do with a cleaver, comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: “cloven,” which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”
9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. “Resign,” meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as “resign,” meaning ‘to sign up again,’ but it’s pronounced differently.
10. Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.
11. Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”
12. Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”
13. Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).
14. Help means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’
15. Clip can mean “to bind together” or “to separate.” You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means “to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug,” led to our current meaning, “to hold together with a clasp.” The other clip, “to cut or snip (a part) away,” is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.
16. Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.
17. Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean “They argued,” “They served together in the war,” or “He used the old battle-ax as a weapon.” (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)
18. Flog, meaning “to punish by caning or whipping,” shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, “to promote persistently,” as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense ‘to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping,’ which grew out of the earliest meaning.
19. Go means “to proceed,” but also “give out or fail,” i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”
20. Hold up can mean “to support” or “to hinder”: “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”
21. Out can mean “visible” or “invisible.” For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”
22. Out of means “outside” or “inside”: “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”
23. Bitch, as reader Shawn Ravenfire pointed out, can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.
24. Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.
25. Toss out could be either “to suggest” or “to discard”: “I decided to toss out the idea.”

White nationalists flock to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like the result

White nationalists flock to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like the result

It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And Cobb — who was, in 2013, charged with terrorizing people while trying to create an all-white enclave in North Dakota — reacted like a sore loser in the schoolyard.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said, trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.”

Then, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he took to the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute those results. That’s not uncommon: With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped. In a new study, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan examined years’ worth of posts on Stormfront to see how members dealt with the news.

It’s striking, they say, that white nationalists would post these results online at all. After all, as Panofsky put it, “they will basically say if you want to be a member of Stormfront you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish.”

But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.

Panofsky and Donovan presented their findings at a sociology conference in Montreal on Monday. The timing of the talk — some 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — was coincidental. But the analysis provides a useful, if frightening, window into how these extremist groups think about their genes.

Reckoning with results

Stormfront was launched in the mid-1990s by Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His skills in computer programming were directly related to his criminal activities: He learned them while in prison for trying to invade the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in 1981, and then worked as a web developer after he got out. That means this website dates back to the early years of the internet, forming a kind of deep archive of online hate.

To find relevant comments in the 12 million posts written by over 300,000 members, the authors enlisted a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, to search for terms like “DNA test,” “haplotype,” “23andMe,” and “National Geographic.” Then the researchers combed through the posts they found, not to mention many others as background. Donovan, who has moved from UCLA to the Data & Society Research Institute, estimated that she spent some four hours a day reading Stormfront in 2016. The team winnowed their results down to 70 discussion threads in which 153 users posted their genetic ancestry test results, with over 3,000 individual posts.

About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.

Some rejected the tests entirely, saying that an individual’s knowledge about his or her own genealogy is better than whatever a genetic test can reveal. “They will talk about the mirror test,” said Panofsky, who is a sociologist of science at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.’” Others, he said, responded to unwanted genetic results by saying that those kinds of tests don’t matter if you are truly committed to being a white nationalist. Yet others tried to discredit the genetic tests as a Jewish conspiracy “that is trying to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry,” Panofsky said.

But some took a more scientific angle in their critiques, calling into doubt the method by which these companies determine ancestry — specifically how companies pick those people whose genetic material will be considered the reference for a particular geographical group.

And that criticism, though motivated by very different ideas, is one that some researchers have made as well, even as other scientists have used similar data to better understand how populations move and change.

“There is a mainstream critical literature on genetic ancestry tests — geneticists and anthropologists and sociologists who have said precisely those things: that these tests give an illusion of certainty, but once you know how the sausage is made, you should be much more cautious about these results,” said Panofsky.

A community’s genetic rules

Companies like and 23andMe are meticulous in how they analyze your genetic material. As points of comparison, they use both preexisting datasets as well as some reference populations that they have recruited themselves. The protocol includes genetic material from thousands of individuals, and looks at thousands of genetic variations.

“When a 23andMe research participant tells us that they have four grandparents all born in the same country — and the country isn’t a colonial nation like the U.S., Canada, or Australia — that person becomes a candidate for inclusion in the reference data,” explained Jhulianna Cintron, a product specialist at 23andMe. Then, she went on, the company excludes close relatives, as that could distort the data, and removes outliers whose genetic data don’t seem to match with what they wrote on their survey.

But specialists both inside and outside these companies recognize that the geopolitical boundaries we use now are pretty new, and so consumers may be using imprecise categories when thinking about their own genetic ancestry within the sweeping history of human migration. And users’ ancestry results can change depending on the dataset to which their genetic material is being compared — a fact which some Stormfront users said they took advantage of, uploading their data to various sites to get a more “white” result.

J. Scott Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, who has studied consumer use of genetic tests and was not involved with the study, said the companies tend to be reliable at identifying genetic variants. Interpreting them in terms of health risk or ancestry, though, is another story. “The science is often murky in those areas and gives ambiguous information,” he said. “They try to give specific percentages from this region, or x percent disease risk, and my sense is that that is an artificially precise estimate.”

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,’” said Panofsky.

That’s a far cry from the message of reconciliation that genetic ancestry testing companies hope to promote.

“Sweetheart, you have a little black in you,” the talk show host Trisha Goddard told Craig Cobb on that day in 2013. But that didn’t stop him from redoing the test with a different company, trying to alter or parse the data until it matched his racist worldview.