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The Whippet #121: Just trying to be the best lizard I can be

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Hi, good morning! Some good facts today, but first — unless you skim, I can’t stop you — this:

I’ve often been frustrated by the inability to communicate the difference between fear the emotion, and fear the “I know it will be unpleasant and I do not like unpleasant things”.

For example, the cervical cancer vaccine is the most painful injection I’ve had, and you have to have it in two doses a couple of months apart. When it came time for the second dose, the nurse could see that I wasn’t super-enthused. I told her that it was painful, so I was bracing myself for it. She was like, “ahh yes, fear of needles is very common” and started trying to reassure me that it was very safe and would be over quickly. But I’m not afraid of needles. I know vaccination is safe and quick. I just don’t like being in pain, and was truthful about not looking forward to it.

I’ve noticed a lot of this confusion in corona coverage. I read an article by a psychologist, discussing people’s fears about coming out of lockdown, and advice for managing that fear. It had quotes from real people talking about their worries. But the psychologist did not appear to make any distinction between, “it’s been so long since I’ve socialised, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it” and “I am so much happier not having a commute, and I’m dreading having to return to it.”

She approached both of these as fears that should be treated with gentle exposure therapy until you feel good about socialising/commuting. But one of these is the emotion of fear getting in the way of a desired activity, and the other is just an accurate prediction of future unpleasantness!

(The other place where it’s the emotion of fear is when the situation would truthfully be unpleasant, but it’s very unlikely — being afraid your partner will be in a car accident, for example.)

I don’t have a solution for this language problem — as discussed above, I haven’t successfully been able to communicate this distinction to health professionals.

But I recently came across this paragraph in a discussion of the Ancient Greek historian Thucydides. There are two Greek words that both get translated as ‘fear’ in English:

Where phobos is an unreasoning terrified panic, deos is a more general word – more a dread of or a desire to avoid a thing to come in the future. It has a greater sense of reality and reason – deos can be a reasoning, well-informed fear about future events, even quite distant ones. [Source]

So they had a distinction. I wish we did.

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Lizards are evolving bigger toepads (for gripping) in response to increased hurricane severity

That’s really the gist of the article, although if you want to hear about experiments with a leaf-blower and see some lizards’ feet next to measuring tape, the whole thing is worth reading.

My favourite part is this:

It remains to be determined whether there’s a limit on toe pad growth, biologist Colin Doniue adds, though one must exist. They still have to be able to walk around.

“There must be a trade-off between having big toe pads during a hurricane and not having absolutely massive toe pads that are so big you can’t really be a good lizard,” he says.

May we all strive to be good lizards 🙏

(Of course, it’s nicer when you make it sound like it’s the individual lizards who are evolving; the sadder but more accurate phrasing is “the lizards with small- and medium-sized toepads all got blown away in hurricanes; the remainder soldier on.”)

From the Unsnackable newsletter

Unsnackable is a newsletter dedicated to international snacks. (They’re unsnackable because you probably won’t be able to ever snack on them yourself.) The writer, Folu Akinkuotu, does not so much review snacks as write poetic responses to them.

I love this icy pole from Issue 33 so much. [“Icy pole” is the term in the part of Australia I’m from, please feel free to mentally replace with popsicle, ice pop, ice lolly, ice drop, ice candy, ice block, chihiro, freezer pop, etc., as you like.]

Icy poles are best when they have a theme, you know, like it’s a cowboy with a bubblegum nose or whatever, and ‘cactus’ is a great theme. They should have different segments, and the Kaktus is really killing it there. It’s not necessary for icy poles to be a collaboration with Polish pop singer Dawid Kwiatkowski, but they certainly don’t lose points for it. I haven’t tasted the Kaktus, but I believe it to be the world’s most perfect icy pole.

Words for ‘hamster’ translated from other languages

Feldhamster - European hamster - Cricetus cricetus | Flickr
European hamster, admire his stripes
  • Fat cheeks (Welsh)
  • Lazy mouse (Cherokee)
  • One who hoards (Hebrew)
  • Silk fur rat (Japanese)
  • Mister Saddlebags (Syrian Arabic)
  • Cuddle mouse (Afrikaans)
  • Grain piglet (old Swabian German)
  • Earth dog (Lower Sorbian)
  • One who snores (Serbo-Croatian)
  • Eating mouse (Hungarian)

This list is by Adam Sharp, and if you like lists and language and wordplay, I can’t recommend following him enough. Or if you’re not on twitter, you could buy his book, The Correct Order of Biscuits: And Other Meticulously Assembled Lists of Extremely Valuable Nonsense.

He also includes a hamster-related aphorism translated from Swedish, the equivalent of “the lights are on but nobody’s home” —

“The wheel is spinning but the hamster is dead.”

Some notes on translation and legitimacy of lists like this (probably skip if you don’t care?)

Whenever you see these sorts of lists, be aware that it CAN mean “this is the Welsh word  for hamster, but it more likely means “this is what some Welsh people called a hamster at some point in the past”. Also, words can usually be translated in a few different ways, and they tend to go with whichever way is cutest/funniest. (So re: Mister Saddlebags, there’s a few different terms of address you could use there, and probably a few different words for “pouch/bag” although it does mean the kind usually used on a horse.)

This source is pretty legit — much of it comes from a paper by the Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals — but often these lists are verrry poorly sourced and you’ll see the comments full of Finnish people going “that’s not even Finnish, that’s Swedish?” or whatever. That said the commenters themselves can’t necessarily be trusted either — I’ve seen Australian slang that I’ve used myself followed by comments like “I’m Australian and I’ve NEVER heard that, this is fake.” You haven’t conversed with the entire population of the country, sorry buddy!

Any fact that’s super fun and cute should raise a red flag for fact-checking to be honest, because people will share them even if told they’re fake — “Oh well, it’s still really fun! Just wanted to put people in a good mood!” — an attitude I find unbearable, but anyway. I just didn’t want to encourage uncritical acceptance/re-sharing of lists like this, which are often super-suspect, even though Adam Sharp’s lists should be solid. PS I did warn you to skip this bit if you don’t care.

The earliest ship and person that we know the name of

Praise of the Two Lands, built in 2613 BCE in Egypt, is the earliest record we have of a named ship. (The two lands are Upper and Lower Egypt, I’ve talked before about their unification.) The ship itself hasn’t been found, but it was noted in records of ship-building projects by the Pharoah Sneferu. For a ship that would have looked very similar, see the Khufu ship.

The earliest person whose name we know is Kushim, a Sumerian beer manufacturer from 3500-3000 BCE. Their name is recorded on a few cuneiform tablets recording the sale of barley. (Actually it’s possible it’s a job title, and there were multiple Kushims. But the current prevailing theory is it’s a name.)

You cannot do anything with this information, but it’s pleasing to know it.

Unsolicited Advice: Make a list

Make a List by Marilyn McEntyre is a book on how to use lists for journalling / emotional exploration / figuring stuff out, etc. I love this, because if I just do freewriting, I end up ruminating and complaining and spiralling in a not particularly helpful way. Lists limit you as well as getting you to generate thoughts you might not have otherwise got to.

Some of her suggestions for lists to try (the book has hundreds, as well as more broad conceptual themes for what you can get out of writing a list):

  • Things I’ve wanted for more than five years
  • Concerns about [a particular loved one]
  • Things that are no longer useful to me
  • Changes I find threatening
  • What happens on my best days
  • Things I’d like to understand about [viewpoint I don’t understand]
  • Things I’d like to know about my bioregion
  • Words to describe my father

She’s Christian and that comes out in her writing, but it’s very straightforward to adapt to your own beliefs / lack of beliefs, or just ignore those suggestions. Anyway I recommend the book if either you like journalling-type activities, or you don’t but have always wanted to do more of them.

But you don’t really need a book — just next time there’s something that’s worrying you or confusing you and you might normally journal about it, try setting yourself a list. (Or a more fun list, “things to research” for example.)

Thanks as always for reading, and thanks especially to Patreon supporters — I’m really grateful for the fact that I don’t have to put The Whippet behind a paywall, and you make that possible.

If anyone else would like to help out:



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