Daily Digest: orphan words, coffee cravings, tax day morals, nonfiction memoirs

by Taryn Wobbema

Good morning. Here’s your Monday news feast:

A U professor’s love for words has launched him on a 34-year project to explain the origins of 1,000 English words that he says are currently orphaned. He’s 24 years in, 74 years old and confident he’ll finish the job. According to the Star Tribune, he started with the word ‘heifer,’ which he thought maybe could stem from the Old Scandinavian word ‘headrun’ for ‘mythical goat.’ But the existing dictionaries didn’t have a consistent answer. “It was like finding all these waifs of English who run around with dirty T-shirts and no shoes and no one takes care of them. And suddenly I wanted to build a nice, warm orphanage for the parentless words, for the boys and girls and heifers too,” he said. He works with more than 50 volunteers and 50 undergraduate employees. His collection of research materials sits in Wilson Library.

Research published recently shows craving caffeine is in our DNA. Everyone has the two “caffeine genes,” but some people have versions that need more caffeinated goodness than others.

According to Pew Research data, not reporting all your income on your taxes is the second-most immoral thing you can do in this country. 79 percent of Americans say its morally wrong – 5 percent say its morally acceptable – 14 percent say it’s not a moral issue. The most morally reprehensible thing: cheating on your spouse.

Speaking of words and morals … Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, defended his memoir and his charity Sunday after a CBS News report called the book’s validity into question. The report says Mortenson didn’t stumble upon a village in northeast Pakistan when he said he did, but actually visited for the first time a year later. Of course, the author says that’s not true. Since the primary anecdote the report attacks occurred in a remote place, it’d be a hard story for a publisher to fact-check.  The report brings up the popular question: How true are nonfiction memoirs, anyway? As far as the charity (which builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan) goes, “60 Minutes” reported it visited 30 schools and about half were empty, built by someone else or not receiving any support, according to the New York Times.