Archive for the ‘words’ Category

Writing and Department Names

October 5th, 2013 No comments

Journalism is being merged with Telecommunications, and they’re intending to call the new department “Media”.

Since they’re thinking of new names, it’s a good time to comment that all these names violate two basic rules of writing: 1. Shorter words are better than longer, and 2. Anglo-Saxon is better than Latin or Greek or French. “Telecommunications” is particularly bad in this respect. “Media” at least trips off the tongue, being reducible to two syllables.

So how about a “Newswriting Department” or “News” or “Writing”? It’s OK if it also includes the economics of news, the technology of news, email, etc. as subjects.

I’d also like to see English renamed Reading, and Mathematics renamed Rithmetic, but then I’m more unconventional than most professors.

(ps.– I admit that my own “Business Economics and Public Policy” department has a rotten name. Evolution has shortened it to “Bus Econ”, though.)

Categories: academia, words, writing Tags:

Yawneroos and Obammyboppers

December 13th, 2009 No comments

Mark Steyn uses the good word Yawneroo here.

Nonetheless, Rich Lowry does “President” van Rompuy a grave injustice. The boringness is, as the computer chappies say, not a bug but a feature. Like everything in Europe, the “presidency” was a backroom stitch-up, and neither the French nor the Germans wanted a charismatic glamorpuss in the gig, stealing their respective thunders. A Belgian nonentity was just what they were looking for. Being a nondescript yawneroo was the minimum entry qualification….

The squealing Obammyboppers of the media seem to have gotten more muted since those inaugural specials hit the newsstands back in late January….

The usual trick is to position their man as the uniquely insightful leader, pitching his tent between two extremes no sane person has ever believed:

“There are those who say there is no evil in the world. There are others who argue that pink fluffy bunnies are the spawn of Satan and conspiring to overthrow civilization. Let me be clear: I believe people of goodwill on all sides can find common ground between the absurdly implausible caricatures I attribute to them on a daily basis. We must begin by finding the courage to acknowledge the hard truth that I am living testimony to the power of nuance to triumph over hard truth and come to the end of the sentence on a note of sonorous, polysyllabic if somewhat hollow uplift. Pause for applause.”

The news this week that the well-connected Democrat pollster, Mark Penn, received $6 million of “stimulus” money to “preserve” three jobs in his public relations firm to work on a promotional campaign for the switch from analog to digital TV is a perfect snapshot of Big Government. In the great sucking maw of the federal treasury, $6 million isn’t even a rounding error. But it comes from real people – from you and anybody you know who still makes the mistake of working for a living; and, if it had been left in your pockets, you’d have spent it in the real world, at a local business or in expanding your own, and maybe some way down the road it would have created some genuine jobs. Instead, it got funneled to a Democrat pitchman to preserve three nonjobs on a phony quasi-governmental PR campaign. Big Government does that every minute of the day.

Categories: obama, words Tags:

Valedictions: Yours Truly

October 25th, 2009 No comments

Wikipedia’s article Valedictions is good. It talks about differences between England and America, and about French, German, and Hebrew valedictions. I don’t like “Yours sincerely”, because though I suppose I am always sincere, it seems inappropriate for describing the contents of a typical letter. “Yours truly” is always apt, nicely conventional, and sufficiently uncool. Cheers, Best Wishes, and Best Regards have their places too.

Categories: email, words, writing Tags:

What Does "Cool" Mean?

October 25th, 2009 No comments

“John Scalzi Answers the Burning Question – Can SciFI Movies Be Cool?”, via Instapundit, is a good short literary essay.

For example, there’s “cool,” as in “the studied indifference to cultural judgment regarding what you like,” which means that you like what you like and you don’t care if other people like it. Science fiction fails this definition utterly, because science fiction fans are monumentally uncool — not because they are geeks and nerds, or at least, not directly because of that, but because generally speaking they really really really want you to love what they love, too, and that sort of insensible urge to share is the opposite of cool. Mind you, scifi fans understand other people don’t love what they love, but rather than not caring, they feel a little sorry for those people. Which is a different dynamic altogether.

He then notes that 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix were cool movies.

Categories: movies, words Tags:

The Word "Autochthonal"

October 20th, 2009 No comments

autochthonal: originating where it is found; “the autochthonal fauna of Australia includes the kangaroo”; “autochthonous rocks and people and folktales”; “endemic folkways”; “the Ainu are indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan” (

Categories: words Tags:

A New Word: Jobligation

September 20th, 2009 No comments

Jobligation: an obligation arising from your job— something you must attend because of work. From Mr. Lileks.

Categories: words Tags:

Some Good Words

June 18th, 2009 No comments

SUBSIDIARITY. “Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that
matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least
centralized competent authority. ” A Romanist term.

GLORIUMPTIOUS: GLoriously wonderful. (Dahl)


MUGGLED: COnfused (Dahl– see Harry Potter too)

TROGGLEHUMPER: A nightmare (Dahl)

Categories: words Tags:

"The cruelest lies are often told in silence"

March 23rd, 2009 No comments

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “The cruelest lies are often told in silence,” the Baylyblog tells me.

Categories: thinking, words Tags:

The "Alsace-Lorraine" technique for Neutrino Detection

March 2nd, 2009 No comments

Here’s something cute from the Wikipedia article, “Neutrino detector “ (my boldface).

Chlorine detectors consist of a tank filled with a chlorine containing fluid such as tetrachloroethylene. A neutrino converts a chlorine atom into one of argon via the charged current interaction. The fluid is periodically purged with helium gas which would remove the argon. The helium is then cooled to separate out the argon. A chlorine detector in the former Homestake Mine near Lead, South Dakota, containing 520 short tons (470 metric tons) of fluid, made the first measurement of the deficit of electron neutrinos from the sun (see solar neutrino problem). A similar detector design uses a gallium → germanium transformation which is sensitive to lower energy neutrinos. This latter method is nicknamed the “Alsace-Lorraine” technique because of the reaction sequence (gallium-germanium-gallium) involved. These chemical detection methods are useful only for counting neutrinos; no neutrino direction or energy information is available.

Categories: science, words Tags:

"Who I conclude"

February 17th, 2009 No comments

I have a post on the stimulus bill where I write something like:

(1) “I have listed economists who I conclude would prefer no stimulus bill at all to the stimulus bill that Congress has passed.”

That sentence bothers me. Compare it with:

(2) “I have listed economists whom I conclude would prefer no stimulus bill at all to the stimulus bill that Congress has passed.”

Which is better? We say “who would prefer”, not “whom would prefer”. In ordinary language, uneducated people, and perhaps the educated, would say “who I conclude”.

On the other hand, I think educated people would say “whom” if they were thinking hard. If “who” is to be in the accusative case, it should be “whom”. But “conclude” is not a transitive verb.

Perhaps this is how it should be:

(3) “I have listed economists who, I conclude, would prefer no stimulus bill at all to the stimulus bill that Congress has passed.”

But that doesn’t sound right to me either. Any ideas?

Categories: stimulus, words, writing Tags:


February 6th, 2009 No comments

“Semi-centenarian, a person of 50 years of age; semi-centenary, the fiftieth anniversary; so semi-centennial a.”

As the language evolves, perhaps we’ll settle down to semicentarian. We do need to get rid of hyphens when we can.

Update, Feb. 17. How about Demicentarian? Semidemicentarian (for 25 year olds)? Presemicentarian (for 49 year olds)?

Categories: words Tags:

President Obama’s Inaugural Address

January 20th, 2009 No comments

Thoughts on President Obama’s Inaugural Address.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

A good start. He says “our ancestors”, and that is correct to do, even if his father was an immigrant, and would be correct to say even if both his parents were. And he is gracious to President Bush.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

A gesture of respect to God, which is good.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

“Khe Sahn”: very good. That won’t make the Clintons happy.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.

“Its rightful place”? That’s an odd thing to say.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

This sentence says a lot. Obama thinks that the purpose of government is to help you find a job and cheap health care and make you be dignified in your retirement (what he means, of course by, “a retirement that is dignified” is not a dignified retirement, free of internet porn, pant suits, and trips to Las Vegas, but a wealthy retirement). In the past, Americans would have thought that government was for things like crime prevention and national defense, and that a government worked if it just managed not to *prevent* your from finding a job or cheap health care. Of course, modern government makes it illegal for you to find a job if it would pay less than minimum wage, and it says you aren’t allowed to get health care from anybody cheaper than a graduate of a medical school.

Contrast with Jefferson’s First Inaugural:

[A] wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

It’s such a parallel, and that Jefferson speech is such a famous Inaugural Address, that I wonder if the opposition to it in Obama’s speech is intentional. Jefferson also said:

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Back to the present-day:

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense,…

I hope he means that we won’t apologize for emitting lots of carbon dioxide or waver in defending our way of life, but I think this was probably just a mistake in editing.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.

Interesting. Will Jews mind being demoted to third place? Hindus will like being included.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

Again a gracious gesture. Did Bill Clinton say things like this? It’s hard to image him doing so, but maybe I’m just forgetful.

But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true.

I dislike the word “values” as implying lack of intrinsic worth, but the word is pervasive, and we can imagine Bush saying the same thing. I like “These things are true”, though. It doesn’t exactly make sense, but I think he means that these good things are truly good, not just his personal preference.

They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

That’s the best sentence of the speech. The second “the” is the key.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Another good phrase. It’s nice, too, because it reminds us subtly that he’s biracial.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

A good section for a cold day, even if it’s not as effective in print.

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

A good ending.

"I and you": Correct or Not?

January 16th, 2009 No comments

Eugene Volokh wrote:

1. I was recently reminded about the claim that “I and you” or “me and you” are grammatically incorrect — not because “I” is being used instead of “me” or vice versa, but because it’s wrong for “I” and “me” to go first. (Here’s one sample I just found online, but I’ve seen others.) But that, it seems to me, is a principle of politeness — let the other person go first — and not of grammar.

Item 1 in the post is worth thinking about. I think it *is* a point of grammar, because I think grammar refers to the rules of speech that sound natural (“syntax”, perhaps, if we’re going to be precise).

“I and you know” grates on the ear as much as “I doesn’t know”. Since it distracts the reader or listener, it shouldn’t be used except for a special purpose. An example of proper use might be:

“I learned that a long time ago. I have always believed it. I and you know that it’s correct.”

Even better, though, might be:

“I learned that a long time ago. I have always believed it. I– and you– know that it’s correct.”

What do you think?

Categories: words, writing Tags:

The Words "Value" and "Ideology"

January 12th, 2009 No comments

Prof. Bainbridge, referring to Prof. Balkin has post on ideology that made me think of how misused that word is. Or, perhaps it is so misused as to have become useless.

As commonly used, an ideology is a system of beliefs. What I have always thought was the true meaning of ideology was a system of beliefs without any underlying beliefs. Thus, one might be an environmentalist because you like pretty and useful things, or you might be an environmentalist by ideology, where recycling and parks are good regardless of any instrumental motive. The term is useful then because it gives us a name for basic belief systems that are not religions. We sometimes say, “Environmentalism is a religion,”, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t have gods. But it is often like religion in that it is hard to argue against without upsetting its fundamental beliefs.

A term with similar flavor is “values”. People say that “Honesty is one of my values” without realizing how they are degrading honesty by that statement. It has the connotation that honesty is something that the person happens to value, even though it has no intrinsic worth. Values are basic, like ideology. If honesty is simply one of my values, that means I don’t base it on religion or utility or natural law. It is just like my valuing of pistachio ice cream. Wise people have principles and philosophies; unthinking people have values and ideologies.

A WASP Name for a Jewish Firm

January 5th, 2009 1 comment

From The American Spectator on the firm that’s gotten Gov. Richardson in trouble:

Rubin founded the firm known for many years as Chambers, Dunhill, Rubin & Co, though there is no Chambers or Dunhill associated with the firm.

He had to rename it, though:

It appears that after a number of embarrassing investigations into alleged IRS investigations into back-door deals related to municipal bond financing in Atlanta and other localities in the late 1990s, the firm’s name was changed to CDR Financial.

Categories: business, Economics, words Tags:

The Name "Joshua" in Hebrew

December 27th, 2008 No comments

From Wikipedia:

The original Hebrew name Yehoshua יהושע often lacks a Hebrew letter Vav (ו) after the Shin (ש), allowing a misreading of the vocalization of the name, as if Yehoshea (יְהוֹשֵׁעַ), and indeed his name was Hoshea before his namechange to Yehoshua by recommendation of Moses (Numbers 13:16). Nevertheless, the use of a mater lectionis was an orthographic innovation, and although the use of two Vavs is well attested as יְהוֹשׁוּעַ (for example, Deuteronomy 3:21), traditional orthography tended to avoid the second Vav as too intrusive when spelling Yehoshua. The name Yehoshua` in Hebrew means “Yahweh is Salvation,” “Yahweh delivers” or “Yahweh rescues” from the Hebrew root ישע, “to deliver,” “to be liberated,” or “to be victorious”[4]

Categories: religion, words Tags:

Happy Holidays

December 25th, 2008 No comments

Good sense and holiday cheer from Professor E. Volokh:

So if you tell me “Merry Christmas,” good for you. If you tell me “Happy Holidays,” I confess I’ll get a bit annoyed because of its generic air, but I’ll just assume that you’re trying to play it safe — often a very good strategy in social relations. Plus why be churlish about someone wishing you a happy anything? If you tell me “Happy Hanukkah,” I’ll start racking my brains about when Hanukkah actually is this year; I never have any idea. If you tell me “Happy Diwali,” I’ll assume that this is a good thing in your life, and I’ll appreciate the good wishes. (If neither you nor I are Hindu, then I might wonder what you mean by that.) If you tell me “Happy New Year,” my favorite greeting, I’ll be extra pleased, but that’s just a matter of taste.

Dec. 27. A comment I posted at Volokh Conspiracy on an Eric Posner follow up post:

Nobody has addressed Prof. Posner’s empirical claim, which is that more people are likely to be offended by “Merry Christmas” than “Happy Holidays”. I could well be wrong, but my guess is the opposite of his. Who besides some fraction of the already tiny fraction of the population that is secular Jewish or intellectual atheist would be offended by Merry Christmas? On the other side are religious and secular Christians who believe that Happy Holidays is an attempt to eliminate Christmas or, like Prof. Volokh, feel insulted by it as a patronizing attempt to be multicultural.

Categories: religion, social regulation, words Tags:

A Hammerstein Rhyme

December 16th, 2008 No comments

Mark Steyn writes:

For a driving rhythm number in the show Sunny (1925), Hammerstein wrote:

Who stole my heart away?
Who makes me dream all day?
Dreams I know can never be true
Seems as though I’ll ever be blue.

Can’t see why I’m so impressed by the rhymes? Here—let me hit the italics key:

Dreams I know can never be true
Seems as though I’ll ever be blue.

That’s quite a rhyme scheme.

The entire Steyn article in The New Criterion on Hammerstein is good.

Categories: music, poems, words, writing Tags:

"The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture"

December 4th, 2008 No comments

My wife showed me the good YouTube video, “The Mom Song Sung to William Tell Overture”.

Categories: art, living, words Tags:

Conciseness versus Concision

November 14th, 2008 No comments

I was wondering if “concision” was a real word or not. It sounds better to my ear than “conciseness”, probably because “concise” is Latin and “ness” is German (see I looked on the web and indeed, both are words, and there is an email discussion of the issue. It says that “concision” is the French equivalent. I must grant that “conciseness” is the commonly used word, but I think I’ll switch to “concision” now.

Categories: words Tags:

A Contraction for "Here are"

November 12th, 2008 No comments

I was just writing an email and wrote “Here’s my notes.” Since “notes” is plural, that’s incorrect, and I should say “Here are my notes.” A contraction fit the spirit of the email better, though. In speech, I say, “Here’re my notes.” I wonder if other people do? If they do, then “Here’re” is a legitimate contraction.

Categories: words, writing Tags:

To Deprovincialize

August 25th, 2008 No comments

I am writing up my post-sabbatical report. Nobody will read it, but I can’t help but spend some time on it anyway, and I can combine the effort with the report for the donor of my research chair. I thought I might have come up with a new word, but I see it is already out there. I wrote, “exposure to lots of people from many universities is an important part of the “deprovincializing” purpose of a sabbatical.” It is the most important reason why those of us who go on sabbatical ought to be forced to move out of Bloomington during it rather than just treating it as a research period.

v. t. To divest of provincial quality or characteristics.
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.


Categories: words Tags:


August 11th, 2008 No comments

Conclusory: relating to an assertion for which no
supporting evidence is offered (“a conclusory argument”).

Categories: words Tags:

A Word Site:

August 1st, 2008 1 comment lists new words with citations to where they appeared. Here are a few.

transumer n. A big-spending traveler; a person who travels to shop. [Blend of transient and consumer.]…

kindergarchy n. Rule or domination by children; the belief that children’s needs and preferences take precedence over those of their parents or other adults….

urban caving n. The unauthorized exploration of tunnels, drains, and other features found beneath a city….

The author also has a page of his own favorites of established words, at
They include these:


Excessive indulgence, or the sickness resulting from same.

Of or like twilight; dim.

Full of foul matter; laden or polluted with filth; fetid.

A silly, scatterbrained person.

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Two Words

July 25th, 2008 No comments

something instantiated; an instance

pertaining to, involving, or indicating ascription, esp. the attribution of qualities or characteristics.
[Origin: 1640–50;

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Some Literary Words and Phrases

June 17th, 2008 No comments

Here are two phrases I came across recently:

“Augustan redundancy in writing”

“adjectives are noun hungry”

From come some literary terms:

Anaphora: A repetition device wherein the same expression (word or words) is repeated at the beginning of two or more lines, clauses, or sentences. “When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, then they moved.

Litotes: this is when you understate an idea in order to convey the opposite idea. This is normally done through the use of a negative negative before one of the words in order to express a strong affirmative.

Metonymy: Like synecdoche, this term refers to figurative language that uses particular words to represent something else with which they are associated. Metonymy is when one term is substituted for another term with which it is closely associated (“crown” or “sceptre” stands duty for “monarch”).

Trope: Any of several types of diversion from the literal to the figurative. The so-called “four master tropes” are irony, metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche) A few new ones have recently been invented: see aegis, catachresis, kenosis, perruque. cf figures of speech.

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What Is a "Close"?

May 25th, 2008 No comments

Cathedrals have closes, with grass and buildings. Various web definitions are:

The enclosed precinct of a cathedral or collegiate church

(Latin clausura.) A piece of land enclosed by a hedge.

An enclosed place, an enclosure surrounded by fences or hedges. An enclosed field.

Categories: words Tags:

Apodictic versus Apodeitic

May 13th, 2008 No comments

Apodictic (αποδεικτικος, meaning “capable of demonstration”), is a logical term, applied to judgments which are necessarily true, as of mathematical conclusions. Apodicticity is the corresponding abstract noun, referring to logical certainty.

Apodeitic: Good without reference to purpose. Rules of skill. Counsels of prudence.

Categories: philosophy, words Tags:


April 10th, 2008 No comments

NARTHEX: A gallery, vestibule, or porch located between the main entrance and the nave of a church.

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January 26th, 2008 No comments

Giclee (pronounced “zhee-clay”) reproductions were originally developed in 1989 as a plate-less method of fine art printing. The word Giclée is French for “to spray ” and is a registered trade name of The ‘IRIS’ Printer. …

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January 25th, 2008 No comments

Perks or Perqs? Merriam
: perk, a noun from 1824: perquisite –usually used in plural.

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December 31st, 2007 No comments

Lamb Balti. I had good lamb balti tonight at an Indian restaurant in South Kensington. Wikipedia says:

Balti is the name for a style of food probably first devised and served in Birmingham, England. The first written record of the term dates to 1984. [1]

The name Balti food has nothing to do with an ethnic group living in India and Pakistan who are also called Balti. These Balti people are Tibetan Muslims. The food ‘Balti’ is named after the pot in which it is cooked. Balti food is a Punjabi recipe and prepared mainly in the Punjabi way.

The food is a hot curry-style dish, most likely taking its name from the thick flat-bottomed steel or iron pot in which it is both cooked and served. Normally the balti is served with large naan bread

Balti combines the spices and ingredients of North Indian cuisine with the economics and efficiencies of Chinese cooking.

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December 31st, 2007 No comments

Armamentarium 1: the equipment and methods used, esp. in medicine
2: matter available or utilized for an undertaking or field of activity–“a whole armamentarium of devices”

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