Membean WAS offline for a bit this morning

by Micah on September 16, 2014


We are back online. Our service provider assures us that they are investigating the root cause so that future outages will not recur.

As our long-time schools know, we have not had any widespread outages in over two years. If we ever need to bring our servers down for maintenance, we give several days notice and plan for short downtimes of 20 minutes or less, at non-peak hours (Saturday in the middle of the night).



An outage occurred at 8:55 AM PT.

We are talking to our server host to understand and resolve the outage. We will post back here just as soon as we have resolved the issue. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Grimm’s Law is a handy linguistic rule to know when it comes to figuring out whether words are related to one another, that is, are in the same linguistic family. Jacob Grimm, while he and his brother Wilhelm listened to different dialects as they were collecting fairy tales throughout the German countryside, noticed that particular consonants shifted from one to another, so that words which appeared to be different were actually thinly disguised variations on a theme.

In the first of a series on Grimm's law, I spoke about the interchangeability of the bilabials "b," "v," "f," and "p."  Another aspect of Grimm’s Law stipulates that the dental (simply a consonant that is sounded by touching the tip of the tongue to the back of the front teeth) consonants "t," "d" and "th" can shift between each other, representing virtually equivalent letters.  Examples of this phenomenon follow, focusing primarily upon the striking similarity between the English and German languages.

Here are examples across languages that illustrate how the dentals “d,” “t,” and “th” shift or interchange among words (note: all dental shifts will be shown in blue):

English:  father, Spanish: padre; Latin: pater, Dutch:  vader: German: Vater* (keep in mind the bilabial shifts here as well: b, f, v, + b are interchangeable; bilabials will subsequently be shown in red).

English: mother; Spanish: madre; Latin:  mater; Dutch: moeder; German: Mutter*

English: thief; German: Dieb*

English: brother; Latin: frater; German: Bruder*

*note that all German nouns are capitalized.

Knowing this aspect of Grimm’s Law is very helpful when learning German, and hence when learning English, since English is, at base, a Germanic language.  Consider the following examples:

German: gut; English: good

German: danke; English: thanks

German: trinken; English: drink

German: salat;  English: salad

Can you guess what the following German words mean based on Grimm’s Law? (see answers in parentheses below–but don’t look until you’ve given this a legitimate shot!)

1.  drei

2.  Leder

3.  Bad

4.  kalt

5.  Tür

(1. three; 2. leather; 3. bath; 4. cold;  5.  door)

The following two pose more of a challenge: you will also have to take into account Grimm’s Law for interchangeability of bilabials in addition to that of dentals (answers will appear below in parentheses–don’t look, but play with these words a bit first!).


bilabials:  b, v, f, p

dentals: d, t, th

1.  verboten

2.  Teufel


(1.  forbidden; 2. devil)


Grimm’s Law can be exceedingly helpful not only in learning English, but also in learning other languages.  My next post on Grimm’s Law will discuss the gutturals, or interchangeability of the consonants “c,” “ch,” “k,” “q,” “g,” and “h.”







Isn’t it wonderful when you discover an author whom you have not read before that is so good that even thinking about sitting down to read elicits a frisson of anticipatory joy? I’ve recently encountered an author whose short fiction is so engaging that I just cannot put it down–in fact I have yet to encounter even a mediocre story in nigh 2000 pages worth of T.C. Boyle’s fabulous, liquid prose.  As an added bonus he has a remarkable command of vocabulary; in fact, he probably has the largest ken of vocabulary of any modern author I’ve read, which is a logophile’s dream.

When I was in college one of my English professors told me that I shouldn’t use “big” words like “irrefragable” in my writing since it would not only seem pretentious, but would also seriously detract from my prose.  T.C. Boyle is one author of adult fiction who is not only unbelievably creative, but also has the ability to get away with using such words as “irrefragable” (in fact, in one of his stories he did just that, much to my delight!).  I have been most entertained by his use of words that also appear in Membean’s lexicon, so I have included some exemplars from his stories and one novel (World’s End, winner of the PEN/Malamud award) to illustrate his phenomenal vocabulary usage:

Through all that followed–through the patroon’s interminable speech of admonition and reconciliation, through the commis’ pointless pontifications and the schout’s terse and hushed testimony, Jeremias never uttered a word but for ja and nee.  World’s End

Now, as she pulled up to the silent bungalow, the bungalow that sat newly painted in a lattice of leaf-thrown shadow, looking placid, normal, staid, she loosened her grip on the wheel and cut the ignition.  World’s End

And how do we award this exemplar of evolutionary impetus?  Whales Weep

He was a renegade, a solitary, airlifted in a groggy stupor from Yosemite, where he’d become too familiar with people.  The Hat

There was a building ferment, a muted undercurrent of dissent and anger, the students chanting, people shouting out, until the sour-looking woman–the chairwoman, or was she the superintendent?–slammed the flat of her hand down on the table.  Bulletproof

It goes on and on.  Beautiful.

Sometimes a word that I have never seen before, or don’t remember seeing, will pop up in Boyle’s stunning prose, and I will luckily divine its meaning via etymology.  One such word I saw the other day in World’s End was salification: “…was decorated with blue ceramic tiles depicting biblical themes like the salification of Lot’s wife and the beheading of John the Baptist.”  Having a knowledge of Latin roots here is quite handy: “sal” is the Latin root for “salt” (from which we get such words as “salary,” “salami,” “sausage,” “salmagundi,” “salad,” and “salsa,” et al.), “fic” is a root which means “make,” and “-ation” means “action.”  Hence, Lot’s wife here has been “made into salt,” a reference to the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Precious.

I highly suggest reading TC Boyle Stories, and the recently published TC Boyle, Stories II, both of which I devoured within the span of six months, and practically mourned when I turned over the last page!  Luckily he has also written nine novels.  Wunderbar!  




Some Fun & Favorite Words from Membean’s Staff

July 4, 2014 Roots

Everybody has their favorite words, and we at Membean are no different.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason behind why we like a particular word, whereas at other times there can be a highly specific rationale. So, here is a list of our favorite words, polled at the office, and listed in no particular […]

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How Word Origins Help Understand Parts of Speech: Part II

May 21, 2014 Roots

In my last post, I spoke about how the word origins of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs make those words easier to understand and remember.  In this post I will finish the word origins for the last five parts of speech: interjections, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and expletives. interjection:  The word interjection comes from the Latin […]

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How Word Origins Help Understand Parts of Speech: Part I

April 20, 2014 Roots

Parts of speech tend to be tricky to conceptualize, so it is helpful to keep in mind their word origins when learning about them.  The words noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, and adverb were all originally named as such for a specific reason, not simply randomly assigned.  Knowing why these five words were called what they were […]

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The Curiously Blinding Linguistic History of “Inveigle”

April 1, 2014 Roots

Some English vocabulary words have followed seemingly strange paths to get to their present-day forms.   In a previous post, for instance, I discussed how the word “sovereign” was derived from the Latin word “super” through Grimm’s Law’s interchangeability of the consonants “p” and “v.”  The curious history of the word inveigle had its origin in […]

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Grimm’s Law: Interchangeability of Bilabials: “B,” “P,” “F,” and “V”

March 2, 2014 Roots

Grimm’s Law is a handy linguistic rule to know when it comes to figuring out whether words are related to one another, that is, are in the same linguistic family. Jacob Grimm, as he and his brother Wilhelm listened to different dialects as they were collecting fairy tales throughout the German countryside, noticed that particular […]

Read the full article →

Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces: Fact vs. Fiction

January 28, 2014 Roots

Latin root words can often solve difficulties when it comes to defining similar words.  For instance, centripetal and centrifugal forces are commonly taught in physics classes, and are almost as commonly confused.  Let’s examine these two words in light of their Latin roots, which help to clarify which force is which. Centripetal forces make an […]

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Word Origins of “Sovereign” and “Allege”

January 5, 2014 Roots

The study of word origins is one effective pathway towards understanding and retaining the meanings of English vocabulary words.  Often an origin is clear; a given Latin root, for example, will not change its spelling when it comes into English.  For instance, the Latin prefix super-: “over, above,” gave English various words, such as superfluous, […]

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