232. Kleptoparasitic, adjective. In zoology, describing a behavior in which food, nesting material, or other resources gathered by one animal are stolen by another; also used of species exhibiting such behavior.
From Greek kleptes, “thief,” + parasitos “one who eats at the table of another.”
Let’s go to the water,, you suggest, still half in and half out of your body and wanting to be outside somewhere soft, somewhere sunny. When we get there we find the world is awake and screaming with the joy of winter in the west. Kites, both kinds, in the sky, and bikes, and all manner of dogs and people. Make sure you feel stable,, a young mother keeps saying to the three dainty girls she is herding down the rocks. Find a place where you feel stable.
But before all that, before the end of day, we stop here and inhale, and watch next season’s lilacs being made. Does it matter whether generosity is planned or unintended? Some bees forage; some bees filch. Not this one, but some.
231. Onomasiology, noun. A branch of linguistics concerning itself with the ways in which given concepts are named. (Contrasted with semasiology, the study of the ways in which meanings arise from given words.) How does a speaker choose the words they use to express a particular meaning? What terms cluster around an idea? Within a particular language, a thesaurus is an onomasiological dictionary.
From Greek onomastos, “named,” derived from onoma, “name.”
After reaching the end of a long line of confusion and troubles, we are greeted by cows. We walk into a lunch fit for a king—or a monk. 240 steps later, we reach this place. Six devas make offerings to the sky: flowers, incense, fruit. Is it peace on their faces? Call it tranquility? Contentment? Equanimity? Your mind fills with synonyms for what you crave.
230. Conurbation, noun. In geography, a level of human settlement made up of several very large, dense metropolitan regions that neighbor each other and have become physically and economically merged over time. For example, the greater Chicago and greater Milwaukee regions–two major urban centers surrounded by suburbs, smaller cities, and towns, linked by roadways and train lines, and whose inhabitants may travel from one to another for work—comprise a conurbation.
A term invented by 20th-century Greek architect and urban planner C.A. Doxiadis, best known for having designed the planned city of Islamabad in Pakistan. Doxiadis believed that human settlements (to their own detriment) inevitably tend to become larger and larger in size, and therefore need to be carefully planned and managed in order to maintain their humanity and livability—by, for example, ensuring pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and channelling growth in specific directions so as to avoid sprawl.
From Latin con, “with; together,” + urbs, “city.”
I turned off all the lights in the room on the 24th floor. Elbows to carpet, nose to ledge. You clicked the shutter, held your breath, and tried to steal a sliver of that great metropolis. That night I prayed never to wake. But now I look at this and think: I’d like to see what we do next.
229. Formicarium, noun. An enclosure, usually a glass or plexiglass case, in which a colony of ants is housed so that its inhabitants and their architecture can be observed for the purposes of research or recreation. (A form of vivarium.) From Latin formica, “ant.”
The bristling colony* is gone: gave way to banyan trees, bamboo, chess tables, and moon gates. We close our eyes and try to hear the clamor of the former citadel. All is silence. Sweet potatoes are roasting in a barrel across the street. We’ll soon be peeling their steamy skin away.
*Today’s photo was taken at Kowloon Walled City Park in Hongkong, once the location of a Chinese fort and later an area within the New Territories that was abandoned by both the Chinese and the British during the United Kingdom’s 99-year lease of the region. The enclave of about 0.01 square miles, effectively ungoverned, attracted tens of thousands of residents during the Japanese Occupation, the Communist Revolution, and the decades after. Over time, these people—many of them gamblers, drug addicts, gangsters, prostitutes, and other disenfranchised populations—built a compact, crooked shantytown laddered with catwalks, narrow alleys, and self-made infrastructure. By the time of its closure in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Kowloon Walled City had become the single most densely populated settlement in human history.
(The image shows a detail from a cross-section drawn by a group of Japanese surveyors who measured every apartment in the city before it was torn down. Read more about Kowloon Walled City here.)
228. Phoresy, noun. In zoology, a method of dispersal or transportation in which one organism is either physically conveyed between two places by clinging to the body of another organism (usually one that is much larger in size), or else spends all or part of its life cycle in such a position. Many mites, for instance, are phoretic on larger arthropods, like beetles or bees. Some blackflies, during their larval stages, have phoretic relationships with small crabs, shrimp, and mayflies. Phoresy is usually—but not always—an association of commensalism, in which the transported animal benefits without harming its steed.
From Greek pherein, “to carry.”
What I want to know is how far a mite dreams of traveling. Does one that crawls upon a louse thinking To Madagascar! feel a sense of disappointment when it finds itself instead amidst the sweaty forest of a toddler’s head? But one that couples itself fiercely to a bird, I guess, must thrill at its good fortune—savoring the rush of air and the rise and fall of day and night while on the way from Arctic fields to tropical Hawaii.
227. Zero air, noun. In environmental science and meteorology, atmospheric air that has been purified to the point where it contains less than 0.1 parts per million of hydrocarbons: compounds produced by burning fossil fuels that play a critical role in generating photochemical air pollution such as the heavy brown exhalation that hangs over Hong Kong day and night. Zero air is used to calibrate instruments that measure air quality, and is also useful in carrying out gas chromatography, a method of separating and identifying the chemical components of vaporized substances. The substances being sampled can be transported on a jet of this highly purified air, which acts as a silent background, through the gas chromatograph.
From Arabic sifr, “zero; nothingness,” + Greek aer, “air.”
You wake up in the darkness and begin the day with a mistake, then keep on going. Get fed, get lost, get pushed into a tram and watch the buildings leaning like they’re dying for a crash. Up there you can see the thing that blinds you much more clearly. The veil isn’t over your eyes; it’s stuffed down your throat. Gods, girl, didn’t anyone ever teach you to cough?
226. Figurate, adjective. From Latin figura, “shape, form” (related, to my delight, to the word dough—both have roots in the Proto-Indo European dheigh, “to build”). Of a number, indicating that it can be represented by a geometric shape formed by the arrangement of evenly spaced dots. For example, 6 is a triangular number:
* * *
9 is a square number:
* * *
* * *
* * *
The forms created by figurate numbers are not limited to two dimensions. 35 is a tetrahedral number; it can be transformed into a three-sided pyramidal shape. Visualizing figurate numbers often gives us an intuitive way of grasping the relationships between numbers; it is easy to see, for instance, that a tetrahedral number consists of stacked layers of triangular numbers.
Under a mushroom sky I count the ones I love who live together here. You could strike a clear, high note against the six of them, I think. Each of us is a lone pebble longing after a shape; what makes us stable is the way we are arranged.
225. Vanishing point, noun. From Latin evanescere, “disappear, die away,” + punctum, “something pricked; something punctured.” In geometry, a point in a two-dimensional image where lines that in reality are parallel (and thus will never meet) seem to converge—so called because as the eye travels along such lines, objects become smaller and smaller in size until they seem to disappear. Though the discovery of vanishing points is most closely associated with Renaissance paintings, ancient Greek and Roman artists were already making use of their illusory qualities centuries earlier.
My companions walk ahead while I hang back to look along the corridor, marveling at how small, how pointed I’d appear if I could ever reach the end of it. In truth what seems most natural to the eye is quite impossible. I would give most of what I have to enter this flat world: to become something beautifully punctured.
224. Supertree, noun. In biology, a phylogenetic tree is a visual representation of the evolutionary relationships between organisms over time; it resembles a branching tree. A supertree is created by combining several phylogenetic trees that share some overlapping nodes. Such a structure can be used to represent the web of connections among much larger taxonomic groups, but depending on the technique used to derive it, a supertree may ignore or leave out important primary source data about the character of particular taxa. From Latin super,” “above; beyond,” + Proto-Indo-European deru, “oak”—which later became the Old English treow, meaning simply “tree,” or “wood.”
Three generations of a single family climbed these wild, constructed giants, reaching for a way to understand the links between them. The wind blew strong against their faces. One wanted to stay up there forever. One wanted to know the truth of the matter.
223. Eudaimonia, noun. From Greek eu, “well; good” + daimon, “spirit; inspiring force; divine being.” A word which could be literally translated as “happiness,” but which—as articulated by Aristotle in his writings about ethics—really means something more like “the happiness arising from having lived well*.” Now used in psychology to refer to a model of wellbeing based not on pleasurable experiences, but the purposeful application of one’s strength, commitment, and energy toward some larger goal or meaning.
*(Or “living virtuously”—but virtue, in a eudamonic sense, does not necessarily equate to morality. Just as a virtuous knife is one that is sharp, Aristotle argued, or a virtuous shoe is one that cradles and protects the foot on which it is placed, a virtuous human is one whose every behavior is directed toward the fulfillment of his highest and best purpose: whatever that happens to be.)
Even if I do nothing else in all the rest of my days, my father says to me, I will be perfectly content with my life just as it is.