Thursday, June 17, 2010

The quux of the matter

Our central vacuum system was installed yesterday. The accessories are much improved over the one in  he
old house - lighter weight, more efficient. Suction is better, hoses are more flexible. There's still  nfortunately a lot of stuff to store. The current vacuum hose is stuffed into a closet and every time we open the closet the thing unfurls like the dragon at a Chinese New Year's parade waiting to escape. 

Vacuum is such a weird word. How many other words have a double u? I had to look this up and found that other than continuum and possibly residuum ( I use this one all the time. "Dear.. there's still residuum on the wine glasses you washed.")  they are not words in frequent usage. A surprise to me - muumu is apparently spelled with the double u but not in common usage. 

I thought "quux" which appeared on one list, was a great scrabble word. It means "a bit of computer programming data currently under discussion". You could only use it with computer geeks of the first order. I'm guessing it's a corruption of "crux". I can see geeks gathered in a room, mouths full of bubble gum or tobacco mumbling about the crux of the matter and having it mistakenly transcribed as quux - probably by one of those voice transcriptions programs. A classic case of being hoist by your own petard. But in Silicone Valley when they get hoisted, they simply make the mistake into something new! We should all be so creative. Here's something about quux and apparently I guessed almost right: see 4.

quux - /kwuhks/ [Mythically, from the Latin semi-deponent verb quuxo, quuxare, quuxandum iri; noun form variously "quux" (plural "quuces", anglicised to "quuxes") and "quuxu" (genitive plural is "quuxuum", for four u-letters out of seven in all, using up all the "u" letters in Scrabble).] 1. Originally, a metasyntactic variable like fooand foobar. Invented by Guy Steele for precisely this purpose when he was young and naive and not yet interacting with the real computing community. Many people invent such words; this one seems simply to have been lucky enough to have spread a little. In an eloquent display of poetic justice, it has returned to the originator in the form of a nickname.

2. See foo; however, denotes very little disgust, and is uttered mostly for the sake of the sound of it.

3. Guy Steele in his persona as "The Great Quux", which is somewhat infamous for light verse and for the "Crunchly" cartoons.

4. In some circles, used as a punning opposite of "crux". "Ah, that's the quux of the matter!" implies that the point is *not* crucial (compare tip of the ice-cube).


  1. I think Guy Steele probably had a speech impediment and when he tried to say "crux", "quux" came out instead and it stuck. Doesn't it sort of sound like baby talk?

  2. Helen, you always make me laugh!