DEAR READER: Darwin's theory is proved daily as changes, connections move us forward

Sunday, April 6, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:21 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Tyrannosaurus rex is gone. Dodos are gone. Cro-Magnons are gone. Passenger pigeons are gone. A blight almost wiped out the American chestnut.

Gone, too, is the Model T Ford. Eight-track tapes have disappeared. Simple dashboards on cars are gone.

Words have disappeared, too. No longer do we use "cush-pet," a word cited in 1892 in the Rev. M.C. F. Morris' "Yorkshire Folk-Talk." According to Jeff Kacirk's Forgotten English, a word-of-the-day calendar, it is "a term of endearment addressed to a cow."

"Maunder" — to grumble, mutter or growl — deserves a comeback. First sighted in Edward Phillips' "New World of Words" in 1706, it still has a few foul moods to share, I suspect.

If you used either "cush-pet" or "maunder" today, it's likely you would be accused of "gargoning," defined by John Bullokar's "An English Expositor" in 1616 as "strange speaking."

The loss of words and outmoded technology don't hurt nearly as much as the loss of species, but they all reinforce that change is supposed to happen. Recent events brought that lesson home again. A science fiction book, a new car and two celebrations of women might seem unrelated at first glance, but they combined to set me off on a mental meandering about changes and connections.

First, "Evolution" by Stephen Baxter finally moved from the neglected stack to the "read me now" selections. Baxter, who has degrees in mathematics and engineering, is a British author known for his "hard science" fiction writing.

"Evolution" traces 65 million years of evolution and then projects a portrait of humanity through another 500 million years into the future. To help readers connect to the lives during such a vast time period, Baxter anthropomorphized the creatures as they struggled to survive.

Science fiction is far from my favorite literary genre, and talking and thinking animals set my brain cells on fire; nonetheless, "Evolution" embraces changes through the ages from an interesting viewpoint.

The second bump to my brain about changes occurred when I purchased a new car. It's been more than 10 years since the previous trade-in, but not much has changed: You pay too much for the new car and all the add-ons, and you get too little for your old one.

But, geez, the cars certainly have changed. There's no mere dashboard in this new spaceship of mine — it's a cockpit. I suspect that if I find the right combination of buttons, I could take it for a spin around Mars.

I'm not too worried about doing that even by accident since it took me 30 minutes to change the clock to daylight saving time. And, it took me three days before I figured how to turn off the radio. Many more buttons and knobs await exploring. 

Of course, there is a manual that could answer some of these questions, but now there are also videos on the manufacturer's YouTube channel. A session with the iPad while the car is parked in the driveway awaits. It's most likely going to be a solo activity, but when I watch YouTube videos, I feel as if I'm connected to all the other folks who have watched or are watching the same video. It's how the Web works and how it has changed our sense of connection. Facebook anyone?

Black Women Rock! 2014 and the 2014 Women's Leadership Conference, both MU events, elevated my hopes for continuing changes in the roles for women. They provided opportunities to observe impressive gatherings  of hundreds of  young women, connected in yet another way. 

It was a level of encouragement and support that didn't exist for women in my collegiate days. The women of 2014 are growing and thriving and reaching out into their futures. It was inspiring and motivating to spend time with them and to know that they are changing and connecting, too, and to watch them shine a light on their accomplishments. 

From the long-gone world to today's marvels of transportation to the possibilities for moving-forward women or future relatives, wherever they might live — these are the types of changes you want to see.

With so much at stake, it's hard to get worked up when The Associated Press decides to change how words are spelled or punctuated and to add new words in its stylebook.

Bitcoin (lowercase when talking about the money); the District (capitalized when using that word to describe Washington, D.C.); adding in dis, dissing and dissed; and clarifying that compound nouns using the suffix "-goer" are now one word without a hyphen — they all seem about right to me. What wonderful replacements for "dismurderize" — pronounced not to be murdered and "armipotent," mighty in war, but not strong enough to fight evolution.

For March's Show Me the Errors contest, there were 10 participants who submitted a total of 12 error reports. Their work in helping the be as error free as possible is greatly appreciated. The winner for this month is Elaine Veit. She will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of  "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at

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Skip Yates April 6, 2014 | 3:19 p.m.

Dis, dissing and dissed. Ah, yes, if you cannot pronounce a word, say what you are able and sooner or later, it becomes one. Educated adults will buy into it lest they be accused of being offending in some form. Acceptable words in the newly designed SAT, right? (I wonder if "gangsta" is cool with AP?)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 7, 2014 | 4:39 a.m.

@ Skip:

Personally, I'm more interested in Goldratt's Theory of Constraints than Darwin's Theory. The former (including the fact there really WAS a Goldratt, an Isreali) is a useful and intellectual pursuit, and may well be taught in either or both the Business and Industrial Rngineering curriculums at MU. I'm as poorly versed as to what is being taught at MU as some Tiger types probably are as to what is being taught at MS&T.

Goldratt initially presented his theories as literature, not in textbooks. Makes far better reading! I suspect his initial book, "The Goal," is available from Amazon. The central character is a mysterious cigar-smoking management guru, who shows up without prior notice and at odd hours of the night. :)

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates April 7, 2014 | 5:37 p.m.

@Ellis: Never heard of Goldratt. Looked it up..rather complex ideas, and to me both logical and illogical, based on my personal life experiences. I am certain much his writings are expressed likewise, on his real life experiences. Interesting, though...and complex. As an engineer with social empathy, you likely understand his writings better than I do.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 8, 2014 | 1:06 a.m.


For a long time most of us hadn't heard of Goldratt. Then "The Goal" became a best selling book (literally).

Theory of Constraints and Joseph Juran's "Pareto Analysis" ("separation of the vital few from the trivial many") are popular in part because neither involves large doses of mathematics, but Theory of Constraints can easily get complicated. Both concepts are typically presented in graphic form.

Joe Juran was born in Romania and became a naturalized United States citizen. Google him. Are you familiar with the long defunct comic strip "Lil' Abner"? In is old age Juran looked like the cartoon charater "General Bullmoose."

Social empathy? Aw thot that wuz somethin' them there librul arts folks does. Ya learn somethin' new ever' day.

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