A Quadrivial Quandary Triumph!

Queen of East Pond writes:

I knew there had to be some higher purpose when I made the decision to join the cerebral ranks of the QQers.

Yesterday evening at 7.30pm British Summer (ha!) Time I took part in a pub quiz, within the warm dark confines of an Olde English Public House. ( Actually ’tis not that old.) One question that arose on science and nature was: what kind of habitat is littoral? I was the only person on my team to know the answer, for I had only learned the word a few days earlier on QQ! What’s more, my team won by two whole points!

How to receive QQ’s words by email

Many of QQ’s readers and contributors have asked if there’s a way to receive the daily words by email. Till recently the answer has been “Uh, not really” but this has just changed to “Yes, absolutely!”

To sign up for a daily email announcing the QQ words, just click the link below and specify the email address where you want to receive the updates:

Subscribe to Quadrivial Quandary Words by Email

Here are a few notes about what to expect:

Format and contents: QQ’s word-announcement mails have the subject “Quadrivial Quandary Words” and you’ll see Quadrivial Quandary in the From field. The mails contain links to the words at their respective dictionary sites, as well as a link to the QQ archive page for the day. The mails don’t contain word definitions. So, you might treat these mails as a chance to test your knowledge and guess the meanings of unfamiliar words before you visit QQ proper.

Your Subscription: Subscriptions to QQ’s word-announcement mails are managed by a Google service called Feedburner. (QQ isn’t associated with Google or Feedburner but we’re availing of tools they offer.)  When you click the signup link you’ll see a form that says Feedburner and there will also be fine print at the end of the mail with Google’s address. (Don’t be surprised – no, our humble logophilic enterprise hasn’t been acquired by the search behemoth.) You can unsubscribe at any time via the link at the bottom of each mail. There’s no relation between your QQ account and your subscription to daily word announcements – you can have one without the other, and you can provide separate email addresses in each signup.

For those who would prefer to follow the words in an RSS reader, here is the address of QQ’s RSS word feed:






Which word does not belong?

When you tackle the Quandary, do you find that one word stands out as the most challenging to work with?

This question came up in recent correspondence I had with QQ veteran cusheamus.  I’d like to invite readers of Omnium Gatherum to join in the discussion.

It all started with the motley quartet of 1.26.2011.  Cusheamus wrote:

Today’s quandary is a good example of something that I find particularly difficult: making a convincing arrangement out of flowers from four different continents, as it were. Guerdon is via French from Latin and has a medieval feel; ding-dong ditch is pure Anglo-Saxon; bathetic is Greek; and gung-ho is Chinese.”  ??????Can you imagine a more dissonant chord?! Ugly, ugly, with only one chance to resolve it so it sounds like music and not noise.  Well, actually, resolve it so it sounds like language and not noise.??????  This is another layer of difficulty, in other words: not just using four difficult words in one illustrative sentence, but speaking four different languages in one illustrative sentence. I feel pleased with myself for even being brave enough to try. 🙂

My response:

I see what you mean about the particularly strong dissonance of this quandary.  I appreciate the reminder, as I’ve grown so accustomed to this dissonance that I often take it as a matter of fact and am more inclined to notice something out of the ordinary when the words fit together particularly well.??????  Often I find the challenge being at the boundary between three and four what I mean is, I can quickly find a good fit for three of the words but I spend considerable effort trying to integrate the??? remaining word the one really dissonant note.   I find this??? situation is sometimes more challenging than today’s, where none of the words seem to have natural affinities.   When three words do form a good fit, I grapple with the question of preserving my initial formulation (and jamming the fourth word in somehow) or scrapping it and looking for a way to treat the words more evenly.

From cusheamus:

I often have exactly the same experience you describe of having to shoehorn the fourth word into something that otherwise works quite well, which is fascinating when you start to think about it. Is it something about our neurology? You know how [alert: generalization coming up] it’s often easier and more satisfying to think creatively about odd numbers of things? An even number of something can have a closed, clunky feeling and adding one seems to open it up again.

More from cusheamus:

While acknowledging that observing anything changes it beyond recognition, I propose a modest, informal experiment: when we read the list of four words, starting at the top, notice how often it is the fourth/last word that doesn’t fit. That is, by the time we get to the fourth word, have our brains already begun on the first three? I noticed that strongly with today’s four [1.27.2011]. As I went down the list, I quickly had a picture in my mind of a detective looking at someone lying dead or severely injured at the bottom of a ladder, “procumbent” was there and a tremor of “dubitation” and some undeserved “censure”, but then “jobbery” stopped me cold. There was not remotely an actual sentence yet, just a sketchy picture with the word “jobbery” hangin’ off it.

Try to notice your pattern of seeing the words for the first time and see how often it’s the last word you look at that makes everything difficult. 

Comments from QQ participants are warmly invited — what’s your own experience of handling the words?


Fig Juice for QQ

Looking for a doctor?  I heard about a fantastic one yesterday, through a testimonial that popped up in my Facebook stream:

“Quickly as fig-juice, pressed into bubbly, creamy milk, curdles it firm for the man who churns it round, so quickly he healed the violent rushing Ares.”

Remarkable, huh? 

This passage is from The Iliad (Fagles translation), which one of my Facebook friends is reading on his Kindle.  It describes an act by the healer-god Paeon and it assumes you have at least a peripheral awareness of the speed with which fig-juice curdles milk. 

(My intent in posting it here is not to encourage kitchen experimentation, but if anyone is so inclined, I’d be curious to hear about any measurements you might take with your stopwatch.)

What does this passage have to do with QQ? 

For one, it alerts us to the Homeric simile as a writing model, a source of inspiration, ideas, and techniques for use in our own daily challenge. 

When you think of it, Homer’s similes tackle the very problem that’s at the heart of QQ: how to elucidate relationships between seemingly disparate concepts, and how to do this in a compact (though not necessarily brief) utterance.  Those of us who attempt it today might wish to examine how it’s been done (way, way, way) before.

Here are a few starting points for exploration:

The Similes of Homer’s Iliad, a 1877 compilation by W. C. Green, is available free via Google Books.

Two books by William C. Scott, The Artistry of the Homeric Simile and The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile, are also freely available.

This also seems a good opportunity to start a more specific discussion about grammatical and/or rhetorical ideas that could be useful members of a QQ solutioneer’s toolbox.

From this simile quoted above, I learned a sentence pattern that I had probably encountered before, but certainly never used myself.  The basic pattern is:

[ADVERB] AS [description of something]…, SO [ADVERB repeated] [description of something similar].

To see what’s interesting about this pattern, let’s start with a simplified version of the fig-juice simile, rendered in a more straightforward form:

“Paeon healed Ares as quickly as fig-juice curdles milk.”

Now consider this reordering, which to my ear has greater dramatic impact:

“As quickly as fig-juice curdles milk, so Paeon healed Ares.”

Note that Homer (via his translators) often uses “so” to signal the transition from the first to the second part of a simile.  In the simplified example directly above, “so” is not so important, but in an extended sentence it is often helpful, and sometimes essential as a parsing aid.

Finally, let’s modify the sentence further, bringing it in line with the quoted pattern.  For me, something special happens when “As” is removed from the opening, and “quickly” is repeated in the second part of the simile:

“Quickly as fig-juice curdles milk, so quickly Paeon healed Ares.”

Or, as Homer/Fagles actually have it:

“Quickly as fig-juice, pressed into bubbly, creamy milk, curdles it firm for the man who churns it round, so quickly he healed the violent rushing Ares.”

Notice that omitting the first “As” puts “quickly” in the opening slot and therefore emphasizes that word.  Such an emphasis makes aesthetic sense because the simile is all about speed. 

Repeating “quickly” after “so” helps to signal the transition between the two parts of the simile, and gives the reader a reminder of what is actually being compared.  I like the way the repeated “quickly” operates on two levels here, both emphasizing meaning and adding structural clarity.

One of the things I love about QQ is the variety of solutions, how many different ways participants connect the same four words.  I’m also intrigued (and I gather you might be too) by a similar variety in the domain of translation: how many different ways the same passage can be coaxed, dragged, and in some cases lambently coursed from one language into another.  So, here are some other versions of Homer’s fig-juice simile, from different translators and times, and in no particular order.  Have fun reading them, and please let me know of any others you encounter or perhaps devise!


As the juice of the fig tree curdles milk, and thickens it in a moment though it is liquid, even so instantly did Pae??on cure fierce Ares.
S. Butler

Just as fig juice
added quickly to white milk clots it at once
as it’s stirred, that’s how fast headstrong Ares healed.
I. Johnston

As wild fig sap
when dripped in liquid milk will curdle it
as quickly as you stir it in, so quickly
Paeon healed impetuous Ares’ wound.
R. Fitzgerald

As quickly as white milk
Thickened with fig juice
Curdles when stirred,
Paieon healed impetuous Ares.
S. Lombardo

The wound healed over at once, just as you might drop fig-juice into a bowl of milk and it curdles as you stir.
W. H. D. Rouse

And quick as fig-juice curdles the white milk—
Liquid before, but, as ’tis stirred around,
Fast thickening into clots—so swift the leech
Staunched with his simples the bold War-god’s wound.
W. C. Green

Even as fig juice maketh haste to thicken white milk, that is liquid but curdleth speedily as a man stirreth, even so swiftly healed he impetuous Ares.
A. Lang, W. Leaf, E. Myers

Like as when fig-juice by its quick action curdles the white milk which is liquid, but curdles quickly at the stirring, so Paeon healed fierce Ares.
G. H. Macurdy

And as fig-juice hasteth to turn white milk to a sudden curd,
That the thin-flowing standeth in clots when scarce by the hand it is stirred,
So Ares the wild-heart’s blood-flow changed into flesh forthright.
A. S. Way

He healed the fierce god as swiftly as fig-juice thickens milk that curdles when stirred.
A. S. Kline

As when the juice of the fig in white milk rapidly fixes that which was fluid before
and curdles quickly for one who stirs it; in such speed as this he healed violent Ares.
R. Lattimore

Thus he who shakes Olympus with his nod;
Then gave to Paeon’s care the bleeding god.
With gentle hand the balm he pour’d around,
And heal’d the immortal flesh, and closed the wound.
As when the fig’s press’d juice, infused in cream,
To curds coagulates the liquid stream,
Sudden the fluids fix the parts combined;
Such, and so soon, the ethereal texture join’d.
A. Pope

QQ’s Cartographic Celebrity

Today the comic site XKCD features a cartographic envisioning of the world of online communities: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and so on.

I was particularly pleased to find, in the bottom right-hand corner (main figure), a sizable region occupied by our very own QQ!

Though I remain hopeful, I have started to suspect that this part of the map might not in fact represent our site.  Google informs me that QQ is also the name of the largest instant messaging service in Mainland China.  Apparently a lot goes on in China that I don’t know about!


Source: http://xkcd.com/802/

Here is Wikipedia’s article on the “other” QQ: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tencent_QQ

Today I also learned that in World of Warcraft II, the keystroke ALT+Q+Q quits the game.  This gives rise to imperatives such as “Shut up or QQ!” 

Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=QQ

Further, QQ has been used as an emoticon for a crying face. 

And James Joyce mentioned QQ in the following sentence from Finnegan’s Wake (interpretations invited):

A pushpull, qq: quiescence, pp: with extravent intervulve coupling.

There is also such a thing as a Q-Q plot:


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q-Q_plot

And, as I’ve known for some time, Quadrivial Quandary is the name of a solo guitar work by Andrew York.

Still more uses for “kissing Q’s” can be found at Wikipedia’s disambiguation page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QQ_%28disambiguation%29

While I fully support the process of neologism that gives such variety to our language (I’ll even declare myself a semantic progressive), I must say I prefer the “received” definition of QQ as a challenge in which a writer uses four daily words together in one illustrative sentence.  And if this definition is somehow not the received one, I still think it is maximally frabjous.



What to do in the case of a word/definition mismatch

Yes, I know — the “Definitions” section of the QQ homepage occasionally exhibits a searing internal conflict in which a word and its accompanying definition disagree. This happens when one of QQ’s word sources offers conflicting data in its RSS (syndication) feed.

Today, for example, Merriam-Webster tempts us with juicy “tenderloin” but then provides a definition of, like, you know, “phatic.” With these two words competing for our attention, which should we favor?

The Official QQ Policy is to use whatever word appears in the yellowish box at the top left of the homepage. So, for today, tenderloin prevails over phatic. However, contributors are invited to intensify the day’s challenge by using phatic, or whatever the extra word happens to be, along with the other four from the yellow box.