Monday, 30 June 2008

The happiest time for the English language

... the happiest time for the English language was the time between 1200 and 1500. “For a glorious 300 years,” says David Crystal “people could write as they wanted to and nobody could say they were wrong.” Besides, they also could speak in their regional accents and no one would laugh at their pronunciation for that. At that time there were no usage fuss-arounds, no language police to hold up ‘No Entry’ signs or to book you in for faulting on grammar.


Sunday, 29 June 2008

Aristotle's Beliefs

"Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, that is complete, and of a certain magnitude"

"Suffering is good, it educates us"

"The plot is the most important thing in literature"


Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Barber Paradox

Consider all of the men in a small town as members of a set. Now imagine that a barber puts up a sign in his shop that reads "I shave all those men, and only those men, who do not shave themselves."

Obviously, we can further divide the set of men in this town into two further sets, those who shave themselves, and those who are shaved by the barber. To which set does the barber himself belong?

The barber cannot shave himself, because he has said he shaves only those men who do not shave themselves. Further, he cannot not shave himself, because he shaves all men who do not shave themselves!


Friday, 27 June 2008

The importance of language

Courtesy of The comes this salutory tale that highlights the importance of language in Information Quality, after all it is information that is being transferred when ever we communicate and the expectations of the sender and receiver of any communication can often affect how that message is understood.

The synopsis of the tale is this…

A young girl from London town was seeking to get a taxi to the airport so she could go on holidays. She rang directory enquiries and asked for a “Joe Baxi” (slang for Taxi apparently). The telephone operator was confused (No Mr. Baxi was listed in the area) and sought a clarification. “It’s a Cab, innit” said the young lady.

So she was put on to a company that specialises in Retail display Cabinets (Cab-inet… Cab innit… you can see how this happened). And she ordered a Cab (abbreviation for Cabinet) for 10am the following morning, price £180. She paid by credit card and the cabinet was delivered the next morning as requested.

by Daragh O Brien in UK Trainwrecks at

Thursday, 26 June 2008


Porthmadog came into existence after William Madocks built a long seawall, called the Cob, to reclaim a large proportion of the Traeth Mawr from the sea for agricultural use. The town was called Portmadoc until 1974, when it was renamed to the equivalent Welsh spelling and pronunciation.

Located on the Irish Sea coast, Porthmadog has a small harbour where ships used to load with slate carried on the many local narrow gauge railways that terminated there. These included the Croesor Tramway, Ffestiniog Railway, Gorseddau Tramway, and Welsh Highland Railway.


Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy has evolved in to one of the most unique places in Australia and perhaps the world.

Coober Pedy is probably best known for its unique style of underground living. There is a range of underground accommodation (as well as above ground if you prefer). There are authentic underground homes to explore as well as underground museums, potteries, opal shops, an art gallery and, of course, opal mines.


Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Coud or could?

I always like the story of the early standardisation of English spelling when a monk decided that "coud" really ought to match the similar word "would". So he stuck in an etymologically incorrect "l" to make it "could". From alt.usage.english

To complicate matters, some scholars, arguing on the basis of etymology, persisted in writing iland for island, sissars for scissors, sithe for sythe, coud for could and ancor for anchor. So, no wonder this led critics like Dryden to raise their hands in horror and exclaim “How barbarously we yet write and speak”. See

Monday, 23 June 2008


Why is the roman numeral four not marked as IV on a clock face?

Clock faces that are labeled using Roman numerals conventionally show IIII for four o'clock and IX for nine o'clock, using the subtractive principle in one case and not the other.

There are many suggested explanations for this, several of which may be true:

  • The four-character form IIII creates a visual symmetry with the VIII on the other side, which IV would not.
  • With IIII, the number of symbols on the clock totals twenty I's, four V's, and four X's, so clock makers need only a single mold with a V, five I's, and an X in order to make the correct number of numerals for their clocks: VIIIIIX. This is cast four times for each clock and the twelve required numerals are separated:

    - V IIII IX

    - VI II IIX

    - VII III X

    - VIII I IX

    The IIX and one of the IX’s are rotated 180° to form XI and XII. The alternative with IV uses seventeen I's, five V's, and four X's, possibly requiring the clock maker to have several different molds.

  • IIII was the preferred way for the ancient Romans to write four, since they to a large extent avoided subtraction.
  • Since IV is the first two letters of IVPITER (Jupiter), the main god of the Romans, it was not appropriate to use.
  • Only the I symbol would be seen in the first four hours of the clock, the V symbol would only appear in the next four hours, and the X symbol only in the last four hours. This would add to the clock's radial symmetry.
  • IV is difficult to read upside down and on an angle, particularly at that location on the clock.
  • Louis XIV, king of France, preferred IIII over IV, ordered his clockmakers to produce clocks with IIII and not IV, and thus it has remained.


Sunday, 22 June 2008

No names, no pack-drill

Meaning - Say nothing and avoid repercussions.

Origin - Pack-drill was a punishment given to soldiers in the British Army, requiring them to undertake drill (exercise) in full uniform and carrying a heavy pack.

'No names, no pack-drill' is used to indicate that the names of those who have committed a misdemeanor will not be mentioned in order to spare them punishment.


Card Toss

A time-wasting fun online game.


Saturday, 21 June 2008


Statute miles are (in this day and age) so called to distinguish them from earlier definitions of the mile, and of course from the nautical mile. A statute mile could also be called an "international mile", at least with reference to measurements made after 1963.

In the U. S. the survey mile, which is slightly different, is still an important, if little-known, unit. (Per Rowlett, the old -- 1866 -- definition of the foot divided the standard meter into 39.37 inches. The 1959 (U. S.)/1963 (UK) law defined the foot as exactly .3048 m. Thus, a survey mile is approximately 3.2 mm longer than a statute mile.)

The nautical mile, for what it's worth, was originally defined as approximately 1853.188 m (the Admiralty mile) or 1853.249 m (the U. S. nautical mile), but the international nautical mile, used today, is exactly 1852 m.

from alt.usage.english

Friday, 20 June 2008

1 pace = 1 step? (Roman pace)

Pace. The length of a step in walking or marching, reckoned from the heel of one foot to the heel of the other; -- used as a unit in measuring distances; as, he advanced fifty paces. "The height of sixty pace ." --Chaucer. [1913 Webster]

Note: Ordinarily the pace is estimated at two and one half linear feet; but in measuring distances be stepping, the pace is extended to three feet (one yard) or to three and three tenths feet (one fifth of a rod). The regulation marching pace in the English and United States armies is thirty inches for quick time, and thirty-six inches for double time. The Roman pace (passus) was from the heel of one foot to the heel of the same foot when it next touched the ground, five Roman feet. [1913 Webster]



Roman pace (passus): 5 Roman feet. 58 inches (approx). Double step.

Geometric pace: 5 feet. 60 inches. Modern version of Roman pace.


Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Libery Bell

During the 1976 USA bicentenary celebrations, the Procrastinators Club of America sent a letter of complaint to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. In 1752 this company had cast the original Liberty Bell, which was defective from the beginning and developed its famous crack almost ninety years later. Their tongue in cheek complaint included queries about a warranty and a possible replacement. It was great publicity for them, as it summarised their philosophy "Never do today what you can put off for a long time yet."

What they didn't expect was the company's reply, which showed they were every bit as good at customer service as the club was at putting things off.

"We will be pleased to provide a replacement bell, if you would be so kind as to return the damaged bell to us in its original packaging."


Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Meaning - In disorderly confusion; with reckless haste.

Origin - There are various early uses of pell-mell, which have slightly different meanings. The general sense though is of people charging about 'like chickens with their heads cut off'. See also - helter-skelter.

Sir Thomas North, in his 1579 translation of Plutarch's Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, used the term to mean 'in disordered confusion':

"He entred amongest them that fled into their Campe pelmel, or hand overheade."

The first record we have of the term being used with our currently accepted spelling is in Shakespeare's Richard III, 1597:

"March on, ioine brauelie, let vs to it pell mell, If not to heauen then hand in hand to hell."

The expression is derived directly from the French pêle-mêle, which has the same meaning as the English variant. This was an adaptation of the Old French pel et melle (melle means mix; pel may derive from the Old French pesle, meaning to run or bolt).

There is a possible association between pell-mell and Pall Mall, which is best-known now as the name of a street in central London which runs between St James's Street and Haymarket - previously a small alleyway. That name was coined from the name of the game pall mall (a game played with a ring and mallet), which was played in the alley. On the face of it pell-mell and Pall Mall are derived separately and are unrelated. There are early records though, from Samuel Pepys and others, of both the game and the alley being called pell mell. Whether the game was disorderly and confused and the name was coined from that is speculative. It may be that the similarity between the two is merely coincidence, backed up by indifferent spelling.


Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Types of nail

Using nails is an effective way of fixing or joining pieces of softwood together. Hardwoods can be difficult to join with nails as they tend to bend under the impact of the hammer. Below is a range of nails that can be used depending on the type of wood and the nature of the work to be attempted.

  • Round Wire Nail - This is used for general work. It is not attractive in shape and it can split wood when hammered in position
  • Brads - these are generally used in nail guns speedy fixing.
  • Turbo zip nails - hammer in fixings which hold like a screw. internal and external use for fixing timber to masonry also, using a pilot hole
  • Cut or clasp nail - used for fixing timber to soft masonry
  • Oval wire nail - this is a long nail and care must be taken when it is hammered into the wood. it is unlikely to split the wood.
  • Masonry nails - used for making fixings to masonry. normally made of hardened zinc.
  • Lost head nail - this is ideal if it is necessary to hide the head of the nail as a punch can be used to hammer the head beneath the surface level.
  • Galvanised felt nails - used for fixing roofing felt with a large head to keep water out.
  • Panel pin - a very popular way of joining woods although glue is usually included as part of the join.
  • Copper disc rivet or tingle - used to hold the bottom of slates on a slate roof. most on pre drilled cement fibre slates.
  • Tack - can be used for fixing textile materials to wood for example, fixing upholstery to furniture.
  • Square twist nail - sheradised (zinc coated by heating) normally used for external cladding and/or felt.
  • Stainless steel slate hooks - used for keeping the bottom of slipped slates in place when replacing them.
  • Sprig - this no head and is generally used for fixing glass to glass in wood frames.
  • Cone head drive screw with washer - used on roof for keeping fixing holes watertight.
  • Annular nail - the teeth of this nail hold it in place firmly. therefore, it is used for fixing plywood and other materials, mostly on floors to stop movement in joists..
  • Plasterboard nails - galvanised to stop rust in all sizes for fixing plasterboard to studding.
  • Hardboard pin - the diamond shaped head is hidden when used in materials like hardboard
  • Staples - both zinc and galvanised, used mostly for fencing.
  • Corrugated fastener - this will hold the corners of wood frames firmly together
  • Upholstery pin - normally finished in bronze or brass with a 10mm diameter head
  • Copper clout nail - generally used for slate roofing
  • Plastic headed nail - used mostly for fixing plastic facia boards and timber joints 4 trims. available in white and brown.
  • Springhead nail - used for fixing sheet materials. the large domed head helps to keep hole waterproof.


Monday, 16 June 2008

ID Ten T

I was having trouble with my computer. So I called Eric, the 11 year old next door, whose bedroom looks like Mission Control and asked him to come over. Eric clicked a couple of buttons and solved the problem.

As he was walking away, I called after him, 'So, what was wrong? He replied, "It was an ID ten T error."

I didn't want to appear stupid, but nonetheless inquired, "An, ID ten T error? What's that? In case I need to fix it again."

Eric grinned.... "Haven't you ever heard of an ID ten T error before?"

"No," I replied. "Write it down," he said, "and I think you'll figure it out."

So I wrote down: I D 1 0 T

I used to like Eric.............

from uk.rec.humour

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Forty-Niners Gold Rush

The miners, forever known as the forty-niners, produced the second gold rush in the USA in 1849. It started when the news of the discovery at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 spread around the world. James W. Marshall worked for Capt. John Sutter and entered into a partnership with Sutter in 1847 to build a sawmill on the South Fork of the American River. The sawmill was completed by 1848, and on January 24th while inspecting the tailrace he spotted something yellow glistening in the water. After many test performed, by both Marshall and Sutter, it was indeed determined to be gold. They both agreed to keep the discovery a secret, but the news soon leaked out, and the great California forty-niner Gold Rush took off with a roar. By the summer of that year some 2,000 miners were working along the river.


Saturday, 14 June 2008

Let them eat cake!

The French is Qu'ils mangent de la brioche (not gateau as one might expect). And Queen Marie-Antoinette did *not* say this. (When famine struck Paris, she actually took an active role in relieving it.) Jean-Jacques Rousseau attributed the words to "a great princess" in book 6 of his Confessions. Confessions was published posthumously, but book 6 was written 2 or 3 years before Marie-Antoinette arrived in France in 1770.

John Wexler writes: "French law obliged bakers to sell certain standard varieties of loaf at fixed weights and prices. (It still does, which explains why the most expensive patisserie will sell you a baguette for the same price as a supermarket.) At the time when this quotation originated, the law also obliged the baker to sell a fancier loaf for the price of the cheap one when the cheap ones were all gone. This was to forestall the obvious trick of baking just a few standard loaves, so that one could make more profit by using the rest of the flour for price-unregulated loaves. So whoever it was who said Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, she (or he) was not being wholly flippant. The idea was that the bread shortage could be alleviated if the law was enforced against profiteering bakers. I have seen this explanation quoted in defence of Marie Antoinette. It seems a pity, after all that, if she didn't say it."

Gregory Titelman, in Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs & Sayings (1996), writes: "Zhu Muzhi [head of the official Chinese Human Rights Study Society in the People's Republic of China] traces it to an ancient Chinese emperor who, being told that his subjects didn't have enough rice to eat, replied, 'Why don't they eat meat?'"


Friday, 13 June 2008

In Spades

Q: People say things like "if you spend time learning to garden you'll be repaid in spades." I'm sure the reference is to cards, but I wonder what the meaning of the expression is.

A: For the sake of getting the discussion ball rolling, here's some information I found regarding the relation between spade, a garden implement, and spade, a card:

SPADE - "A spade on a playing card is not called a spade because of its resemblance to a digging tool. The word 'spade' meaning 'a tool for digging' is only a distant etymological relative of 'spade' meaning 'a suit of playing cards.' The first 'spade,' the implement, is descended directly from the Old English word 'spadu,' which meant 'a digging tool.' The second 'spade' was borrowed into English from the Italian word 'spada,' which meant 'sword.' 'Spada' is derived via Latin 'spatha' from the Greek word 'spathe,' both words meaning 'broad blade.' 'Spathe' goes back to the same Indo-European form 'spadh' - as does the Germanic ancestor 'spadan' of Old English 'spadu,' so the two words spelled 'spade' are indeed distantly related. A broad-bladed sword was used on Italian playing cards as the symbol of a suit, and this suit was called 'spades' in English. However, the symbol for spades on English playing cards was borrowed not from the Italian sword but from the French pike ('pique' in French). The shape of this pike was probably fashioned after the leaf symbol that appeared on early German playing cards." From "Word Mysteries and Histories" by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1986).

Spades is the highest suit in contract bridge, and many other card games where suits are ranked. (Clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades.) It is the most powerful suit, and the relation to winning decisively is a logical extension.


Thursday, 12 June 2008

Eighty Six


This little term has several, possibly related, meanings:

  • To refuse to serve an unwelcome customer at a bar or restaurant.
  • To throw away.
  • Indicating that an item is no longer available.


The term is American and originated in the restaurant trade. All the meanings loosely refer to something that was previously okay becoming not okay. The actual origin is uncertain but is likely to be one of these:

  • From Chumley's Bar and restaurant at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village NYC.
  • A reference to article 86 of the New York state liquor code which defines when bar patrons should be refused service.
  • From Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City. Item number 86 on their menu, their house steak, was often unavailable during the restaurant's early years.


Wednesday, 11 June 2008


The Mayday callsign was originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897-1962).

A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French m'aider.

The French word "m'aider" translates as "help me".

from alt.usage.english

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


JCB, or "J. C. Bamford (Excavators) Ltd." as it is more properly known, is a family business named after its founder J. C. Bamford, producing distinctive yellow-and-black engineering vehicles, diggers ("Backhoes") and excavators.

In the UK, the word "JCB" is sometimes used colloquially as a genericised trademark for any such type of engineering vehicle, now appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary, although it is still treated as a trademark. JCB now make over 220 types of machines for construction, industry, and agriculture


Monday, 9 June 2008

True Family Fortunes Answers

The following are ACTUAL answers given by contestants on "Family Fortunes" in the UK.


Q. Name something you take to the beach

A. Turkey sandwiches


Q. Name something a blind person might use

A. A sword


Q. Name a song with moon in the title

A. Blue Suede Moon


Q. Name a bird with a long neck

A. Naomi Campbell


Q. Name an occupation where you need a torch

A. A burglar


Q. Name a famous brother and sister

A. Bonnie & Clyde


Q. Name an item of clothing worn by the Three Musketeers

A. A horse


Q. Name something that floats in the bath

A. Water


Q. Name something you wear on the beach

A. A deckchair


Q. Name a famous royal

A. Mail


Q. Name a number you have to memorise

A. 7


Q. Name something in the garden that's green

A. Shed


Q. Name something that flies that doesn't have an engine

A. A bicycle with wings


Q. Name something you might be allergic to

A. Skiing


Q. Name a famous bridge

A. The bridge over troubled waters


Q. Name something a cat does

A. Goes to the toilet


Q. Name something you do in the bathroom

A. Decorate


Q. Name an animal you might see at the zoo

A. A dog


Q. Name something associated with the police

A. Pigs


Q. Name a sign of the zodiac

A. April


Q. Name something slippery

A. A conman


Q. Name a way of cooking fish

A. Cod


Q. Name a food that can be brown or white

A. Potato


Q. Name a jacket potato topping

A. Jam


Q. Name a famous Scotsman

A. Jock


Q. Name something with a hole in it

A. Window


Q. Name a non-living object with legs

A. Plant


Q. Name a domestic animal

A. Leopard


Q. Name a part of the body beginning with 'N'

A. Knee


Q. Name a kind of ache

A. Fillet 'O' Fish


Q. Name something you open other than a door

A. Your bowels


from uk.rec.humour

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The 12 Labors of Hercules

Below is a list of Hercules' 12 labors.

Hercules had to perform them to make amends for murdering his family.

  1. Nemean Lion
  2. Lernean Hydra
  3. Cerynitian Hind
  4. Erymanthian Boar
  5. Stables of Augeas
  6. Stymphalian Birds
  7. Cretan Bulls
  8. Mares of Diomedes
  9. Belt of Hippolyte
  10. Cattle of Geryon
  11. Apples of Hesperides
  12. Hound of Hades


Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Kaprekar Number

The number 6174 is called the Kaprekar number.

The Indian mathematician D.R.Kaprekar made the following discovery in 1949.

(1) Take a four-digit number with different digits (acbd with .a<b<c<d)..

(2) Form the largest and the smallest number from these four digits (dcba and abcd)..

(3) Find the difference of these digits. Maybe this is 6174 (dcba - abcd = 6174?).

If it is not, form the largest and the smallest  number from the difference and subtract these numbers again. You may have to repeat this procedure.

The end result is always 6174, but there are no more than 7 steps.

1st example: Take the number 1746.

1st step:  7641 - 1467 = 6174

2nd example: Take the number 5644. 

1st step:  6544 - 4456 = 2088 

2nd step:  8820 - 0288 = 8532 

3rd step:  8532 - 2358 = 6174

3rd example: Take the number  7652. 

1st step:  7652 - 2567 = 5085 

2nd step:  8550 - 0558 = 7992 

3rd step:  9972 - 2799 = 7173 

4th step:  7731 - 1377 = 6354 

5th step:  6543 - 3456 = 3087 

6th step:  8730 - 0378 = 8352 

7th step:  8532 - 2358 = 6174



Friday, 6 June 2008

A Few Old Laws

The Important laws of life

The law of avoiding oversell - When putting cheese in a mousetrap, always leave room for the mouse.

The law of common sense - Never accept a drink from a urologist.

The law of self sacrifice - When you starve with a tiger, the tiger starves last.

Boob's law - You always find something in the last place you look.

Weiler's law - Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself.

Law of probable dispersion - Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.

Law of volunteer labour - People are always available for work in the past tense.

Conway's law - In any organisation there is one person who knows what is going on. That person must be fired.

Iron law of distribution - Them that has, gets.

Law of cybernetic entomology - There is always one more bug.

Law of drunkenness - You can't fall off the floor.

Heller's law - The first myth of management is that it exists.

Osborne's law -Variables won't; constants aren't.

Main's law - For every action there is an equal and opposite government programme.

from uk.rec.humour

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Sixty Six

Sixty Six is a four player trick taking card game. This game uses German card ordering, where the 10 is stronger than the King. The deck is made of 24 cards, 9, 10, jack, queen, king, and ace. A deck can be made with the cards 8 and below removed from a standard playing card deck. Black sixes and red fours are commonly used for scoring. This game is played in by two, three or four--two teams of two. Team members sit across from each other.


Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Q: What term describes words like "I scream" and "ice cream"? "Some others" and "some mothers"?

A: Oronym. In the case of Toyota and toy Yoda, our brains are faced with oronyms - virtually identical speech that can be interpreted in different ways. English is full of these devilish duos. For example,

- I scream versus ice cream,

- a notion versus an ocean,

- some others versus some mothers


Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 - 7 January 1943) was a world-renowned Serb-American inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer.

Tesla is regarded as one of the most important inventors in history. He is well known for his contributions to the discipline of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Tesla's patents and theoretical work form the basis of modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems, including the polyphase power distribution systems and the AC motor, with which he helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

In the United States, Tesla's fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture. After his demonstration of wireless communication in 1893 and after being the victor in the " War of Currents", he was widely respected as America's greatest electrical engineer. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States credited him as being the inventor of the radio. Never putting much focus on his finances, Tesla died impoverished and forgotten at the age of 86.

From Pocket Wikipedia,

Monday, 2 June 2008

Literary figures that could fly ...

Peter Pan, (Tinkerbell et al), Jacob Marley (accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas Future s/b Yet to Come), an unnamed cow (that jumped over the moon), Bladud (as recorded by Geoffery of Monmouth), possibly Titania and Oberon, Count Dracula, possibly Adam (from Paradise Lost), and certainly Mary Poppins. Eros is unconfirmed. Gloriana (or anything from the Arthurian canon) is unconfirmed. Phileas Fogg doesn’t count because he used a balloon.


Sunday, 1 June 2008

The BBC's "Green Book"

The BBC's "Green Book" contained the the guidelines for BBC producers and writers that were in force in the 40s and 50s.

See for a transcript, which was taken from Barry Took's book on British radio comedy "Laughter In the Air''.