2018’s Word of the Year…a guide for 2019

At the end of each year, dictionaries (and other linguistically-minded groups) release their Word of the Year. The metrics used to rate these words vary by organisation, and the methods (if described) are always a bit vague. But the rating usually involves how often the word was searched for on the dictionary’s site, or how often the word was used in popular online media.

Unlike other ‘of the year’ or ‘best’ ratings, Words of the Year are rarely ‘happy place’ words. They’re a measure of contemporary cultural usage, a sign of the times, not a rigorous measure of meaningfulness or popularity.

We often discuss Word of the Year retrospectively – why did it matter so much last year? But, if you don’t like repeating the same mistakes, it also matters for this year and beyond.

My top picks are: Continue reading

Plastic Bees

There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time: Shoes

Once upon a time…shoes lasted for hundreds of years, yet they left no footprint on the Earth.

The oldest known shoes were found at Fort Rock, Oregon USA, preserved under layers of volcanic ash. They were sandals woven from sagebrush and are around 8-9000 years old, possibly older. The meticulous weaving and shaping of the sole indicate that these shoes had an intellectual heritage much older than this – they certainly don’t look like the experimental result of a “lightbulb” moment for the first ever shoemaker! Continue reading

Romancing the Stars

[Odysseus] never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the Pleiades, on late-setting Bootes, and on the Bear – which men also call the Wain, and which turns round and round where it is, facing Orion, and alone never dipping into the stream of Oceanus – for Calypso had told him to keep this to his left.

The Odyssey (Book 5) Homer

Celestial navigation is as old as the stars (I apologise, I couldn’t resist the pun!). The night sky was used as a navigation tool long before compasses were invented, and it helped most of the ancient explorers gad about the globe without maps. Even today, anyone who doesn’t trust Apple Maps knows how to orient themselves using Polaris in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Cross in the south.

But, like a lot of things we think we’re pretty good at, animals figured it out long before we did. Quite a few interesting experiments have shown that birds or animals can navigate using the stars and now, the dung beetle has become the first insect proven to navigate by the stars (although, maybe the ancient Egyptians already knew this when they elevated the dung-rolling scarab to sacred status?).

Continue reading

Boycott the Bottle

I came across a blog called TapThat that is documenting a campaign to eradicate the deadly water bottle from the University of New South Wales campus. It makes my soul do tiny little jigs inside when I discover groups like this that are trying to stop the problem of ubiquitous plastic at its source.

Some of you may remember, in 2009, when Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of NSW became the first recognised town in the world to ban the sale (or giveaway) of bottled water, instead installing public water fountains.

Last year, the University of Canberra became the first uni in Australia to ban bottled water across its entire campus. (Check out the website http://www.gotap.com.au/for more examples of bottle-banning initiatives, both here and around the world).

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Wasting the Earth away

I’ve begun to realise how much time I spend thinking about rubbish – literally. One of my very first posts on this blog was about the repercussions of our disposable lifestyles, such as the Pacific waste island. I’ve also talked about how much food and ‘stuff’ we waste in other posts.

I’ve always felt strongly about waste, especially the plastic variety, but I never grasped how much it was affecting me. I was brought up with the time-honoured “can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate” philosophy (I can clearly remember the nights I spent gagging over my pumpkin until long past bedtime). As a uni student, moving house was great – I had a legitimate excuse to throw out all the broken, useless things and unwanted gifts I had hoarded in the cupboards all year out of guilt. Continue reading