Monday, 27 October 2014

Heavens to Murgatroyd

'Heavens to Murgatroyd' is American in origin and dates from the mid 20th century.

The expression was popularized by the cartoon character Snagglepuss - a regular on the Yogi Bear Show in the 1960s, and is a variant of the earlier 'heavens to Betsy'.

The first use of the phrase wasn't by Snagglepuss but comes from the 1944 film Meet the People. It was spoken by Bert Lahr, best remembered for his role as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Snagglepuss's voice was patterned on Lahr's, along with the 'heavens to Murgatroyd' line.

See more at

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

25 or 6 to 4

The title is "just a reference to the time of day" and that "the song is about writing a song. It's not mystical." The time of day in reference is 3:35 AM (or 3:34 AM), which would then be 25 (or 26) minutes to 4 AM.

See more at

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Heavens to Murgatroyd

'Heavens to Murgatroyd' is American in origin and dates from the mid 20th century.

The expression was popularized by the cartoon character Snagglepuss - a regular on the Yogi Bear Show in the 1960s, and is a variant of the earlier 'heavens to Betsy'.

The first use of the phrase wasn't by Snagglepuss but comes from the 1944 film Meet the People. It was spoken by Bert Lahr, best remembered for his role as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Snagglepuss's voice was patterned on Lahr's, along with the 'heavens to Murgatroyd' line.

See more at

Friday, 19 September 2014

I wouldn’t talk to him with a barge pole

This Is an eggcorn heard recently

See more on eggcorns at

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Golden Ratio

The golden ratio (symbol is the Greek letter "phi" ) is a special number approximately equal to 1.618
It appears many times in geometry, art, architecture and other areas.

See more at

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Olbers' Paradox

Why isn't the night sky uniformly at least as bright as the surface of the Sun? 

If the Universe has infinitely many stars, then presumably it should be. 

After all, if you move the Sun twice as far away from us, we will intercept one quarter as many photons, but the Sun's angular area against the sky background will also have now dropped to a quarter of what it was.  So its areal intensity remains constant. 

With infinitely many stars, every element of the sky background should have a star, and the entire heavens should be at least as bright as an average star like the Sun.

See more at

Sunday, 24 August 2014


A game in which trinkets are set upon sticks, to be thrown at by the players; -- so called from an ancient popular sport which consisted in shying or throwing cudgels at live cocks.


Friday, 22 August 2014

Uptalk, the upward inflection

You know how it sounds.  That upward inflection makes every sentence sound like a question, whether you wanted to ask a question or were striving for something else.



The high rising terminal (HRT), also known as Uptalk, upspeak, rising inflection, or high rising intonation (HRI), is a feature of some accents of English where ostensibly declarative statements are uttered on a rising note of apology or inquiry.



Whether it's called the upward inflection, high-rising terminal or simply "uptalk", the habit of making statements sound like questions is a genuine linguistic mystery


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

George Carlin on stupidity

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.


Friday, 15 August 2014

Events, dear boy, events.

Harold Macmillan’s response to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course.

The quote is also given as "Events, my dear boy, events", with the word "my", but it may never have been uttered at all.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Up the ante

Upping the ante comes from betting games.

The ante is the amount that all players must commit to the "pot" before the game begins.

The pot is what is won in the game, and will be the total of the ante plus all bets during the game.

Because a player must at minimum "ante up," or pay the ante, in order to be allowed to play the game, upping the ante can quickly demonstrate how serious, committed, and solvent a player is.

The significance of "upping the ante" is that it increases the overall cost of the game, hence the idiomatic meaning of "increasing the cost or risk of something."


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Deaver on outrunning a bear

"You know how fast you have to be to outrun a bear, Corte?"

"How fast?"

"Just a little faster than the guy with you."

From Edge, by Jeffery Deaver

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


Geneviève Guitel was a female French mathematician. She is mostly remembered for the introduction of the terms échelle longue and échelle courte (long scale and short scale) to refer to two of the main numbering systems used around the world.

See more at

Friday, 1 August 2014

The world's deepest lock

In December 2005's Waterways World, we looked for the world's deepest lock - and found it at Oskemen, in Kazakhstan. Here's how we described it:

Oskemen is on a resurgent river route from northern China to Russia. Its rise of 40m-42m (around 138ft) is seven times the deepest on the British canal system.

See full article at

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dash/Plus metadata markup system

Dash/Plus is a metadata markup system created for paper based notes to mark the status of action items on a todo list.

It quickly evolved to be equally well versed at marking up meeting notes for easy scanning and processing.

This is mainly designed for those who keep lists or take notes using pen or pencil and paper.

See the system at

Sunday, 27 July 2014

When to take your hat off

Take off your hat (civilian, that is) whenever you are indoors, except in a synagogue and except in places which are akin to public streets: lobbies, corridors, street conveyances, crowded elevators of non-residential public buildings (department stores, office buildings). Apartment house elevators and halls are classed as indoors, and so are eating places!

See more on hats and “The Anatomy of Etiquette” at

Friday, 25 July 2014

Flyback and Double chronographs

A Flyback chronograph is a complication watch, which uses a single push of the button for stopping, resetting and restarting the chronograph function of the watch.

Other names: Taylor system, Permanent zero setting

See more at


A Double chronograph is a watch that includes two separate stopwatch mechanisms in order to estimate two separate events of different durations. It is often confused with the flyback chronograph.

Other names: Split-second chronograph, Split chronograph

See more at


In horology (study of clocks), complication refers to any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. A timepiece indicating only hours and minutes is otherwise known as a simple movement.

See more at

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Deaver on sand, gravel & silt

Sand, Lincoln Rhyme reflected, is a criminalist’s delight: bits of rock, sometimes mixed with other material, ranging from .05 to 2 millimeters (larger than that is gravel, smaller is silt).

From The Coffin Dancer, by Jeffery Deaver

Monday, 21 July 2014

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Dangerous Hats

In the late 19th Century, the size of a civil engineer’s top hat denoted his status.

They continued to increase in size until they became a danger to the public.

This led to the passing of The Dangerous Hats Act 1887


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Strike on Lies

Strike remembered Adler: “A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt as dangerous.”

From The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Poker or Bridge Playing Cards

Modern playing cards are most commonly referred to as either 'poker' or 'bridge' sized. Notwithstanding these generally accepted norms, there is no formal requirement for precise adherence to these dimensions and minor variations to card lengths and widths within their respective categories are produced by various manufacturers.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Long and short scales

The long and short scales are two of several different large-number naming systems used throughout the world for integer powers of ten:

Long scale: Every new term greater than million is one million times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a million millions (10^12), trillion means a million billions (10^18), and so on.

Short scale: Every new term greater than million is one thousand times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a thousand millions (10^9), trillion means a thousand billions (10^12), and so on.

See more at

Friday, 11 July 2014

Deaver on trembling hand equilibrium

I doubted we'd find much about his immediate plans; he was too smart to leave obvious evidence but even a player as conscientious as he made mistakes sometimes.

Game theory takes this into account.

In a "trembling hand equilibrium," a player can accidentally pick an unintended strategy--say, when you reach for a queen's bishop's pawn and accidentally move the knight's in error. If you release the piece, you've made the move, even if the consequences are the opposite of what you'd intended and are disastrous.

From Edge, by Jeffery Deaver

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


S. W. Erdnase is a pseudonym used by the author of The Expert at the Card Table, a book detailing sleight of hand, cheating and legerdemain using playing cards.

Still considered essential reading for any card magician, the book, known also as either the Bible or, commonly, just Erdnase, has been in continual publication since 1902.


Saturday, 5 July 2014


The coinage of new words and phrases into English has been greatly enhanced by the pleasure we get from playing with words. There are numerous alliterative and rhyming idioms, which are a significant feature of the language. These aren't restricted to poets and Cockneys; everyone uses them. We start in the nursery with choo-choos, move on in adult life to hanky-panky and end up in the nursing home having a sing-song.

The repeating of parts of words to make new forms is called reduplication. There are various categories of this: rhyming, exact and ablaut (vowel substitution). Examples, are respectively, okey-dokey, wee-wee and zig-zag.

See full article at

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What are antigrams?

Antigram is a new word.

It is an anagram but which renders the opposite meaning. 

Here are some examples!

silent listen
funeral real fun
violence nice love
forty-five over fifty
united untied
earliest arise late

See more at

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Full-Grain Leather vs. Top-Grain Leather

The strongest and most durable part of the hide of an animal is just below the hair. The grain pattern in this part of the hide is very tight, and the leather made from here is called "full-grain" leather. Full-grain leather is the strongest and most durable leather. Additionally, since the grain is so tight, it resists moisture very well. Over time, full-grain leather will look nicer and nicer and develop a patina from being handled.

The next best—and second strongest—leather is called "top-grain" leather. Top grain leather is similar to full-grain leather, except that the top couple millimeters have been sanded and buffed to take away imperfections. With the top layer removed, the leather will have a more uniform finish, but it won't be as durable—and it will break down much faster. This is more of a "cookie cutter" leather that most leather wallets and handbags are made of, which lends to their generic appearance. Top-grain leather can be good leather, but its strength and durability is not even close to the strength of full-grain leather.

See full article at

Friday, 27 June 2014

Deaver on take or trash

He bent down and pocketed the man's phone and radio, after shutting them off, as well as his pistol, while I patted him down for other weapons.
Even though tactical ops aren't my specialty, I knew you never left weapons for the other side to pick up later.
Take or trash, the saying went.

From Edge, by Jeffery Deaver

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Before you criticize someone ...

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.

That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.

Jack Handey (American Comic Writer) 


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Weasel word

A weasel word (also, anonymous authority) is an informal term for equivocating words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated.
For example, an advertisement may use a weasel phrase such as "up to 50% off on all products".
See more at

“Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals … except the weasel. “
Homer Simpson

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Notoriety of note

The state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed:

of note
Important, of distinction, famous, as in I have nothing of note to report , or The speaker was a man of note .

Friday, 13 June 2014

Corte on trembling hand equilibrium

I doubted we'd find much about his immediate plans; he was too smart to leave obvious evidence but even a player as conscientious as he made mistakes sometimes.

Game theory takes this into account. In a "trembling hand equilibrium," a player can accidentally pick an unintended strategy--say, when you reach for a queen's bishop's pawn and accidentally move the knight's in error. If you release the piece, you've made the move, even if the consequences are the opposite of what you'd intended and are disastrous.

From Edge, by Jeffery Deaver

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World's first webcam - the Trojan Room coffee pot

The Trojan Room coffee pot was the inspiration for the world's first webcam. The coffee pot was located in the corridor just outside the so-called Trojan Room within the old Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.

The webcam was created to help people working in other parts of the building avoid pointless trips to the coffee room by providing, on the user's desktop computer, a live 128×128 greyscale picture of the state of the coffee pot.


Monday, 9 June 2014

P is not for telephone

So here’s a handy guide to the single-letter abbreviations you can safely use for your English-language contact details.

T Telephone — the person’s phone number.

M Mobile — the person’s mobile phone number.

F Fax — the person’s fax number.

E Email — the person’s email address.

W Web — typically the general company website.

See full article at

Saturday, 7 June 2014

... Rides Again

Destry Rides Again (aka The Man from Montana) (1939) is a western starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, and directed by George Marshall.

The Lone Ranger Rides Again is a 1939 American Republic serial. It was a sequel to Republic's 1938 serial The Lone Ranger, which had been highly ...

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again starring Walter Brennan and Fred Astaire is a 1970 ABC Movie of the Week sequel to the Western comedy The Over-the-Hill

Steptoe and Son Ride Again is the 1973 sequel to the 1972 film Steptoe and Son . Again the film starred Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett.

Herbie Rides Again is a 1974 comedy film. It is the sequel to The Love Bug, released six years earlier, and the second in a series of movies made by Walt ...

Zorro Rides Again (1937) is a 12-chapter Republic Pictures film serial. It was the eighth of the sixty-six Republic serials, the third with a western theme (a third of ...

Blackadder Rides Again is a 60 minute documentary produced by Tiger Aspect for the BBC and ...


Thursday, 5 June 2014

The handmaiden of Beelzebub

Some Criteria for Buying a Fountain Pen

So you have decided you want to buy a fountain pen because you are tired of ballpoint pens—the "handmaiden of Beelzebub," or other inferior products that put more strain on the environment because they need cartridges, etc.

What would be some of the criteria you should employ?

See full article at

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Broker’s Elbow

Q: Why do my dress-shirt elbows keep ripping? I seem to have a problem of my shirt elbows failing on me just about every year to two years.

A: You are hereby diagnosed with “Broker’s Elbow“. The term allegedly comes from business men who spend a lot of time at their desks working the phones.

See full article at

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Use of 'as per' vs 'per'

Among meanings for preposition per, includes "in accordance with [ e.g.] I parked my car at the curb per your request." It defines as per as a preposition meaning "Consistent, or in accordance, with." Taking wiktionary as a guide, one can use either form with little difference in meaning, but I think some people will object to such use of per and others to such use of as per. My preference is for per because most uses of as per that I've heard seem pompous and verbose.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Narrowest Houses in the World

The 47 inch wide Wedge in Milport, on the island of Great Cumbrae in Scotland, United Kingdom

The 3.2 ft (1 m) wide by 32.8 ft (10 m) tall house of Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and two other rooms in Madre de Deus, Brazil

The Gap House on an eight-foot-wide (2.5 m) site by Pitman Tozer Architects, London, 2007

The 10.4 ft (3.16 m) wide Skinny House in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts

See full list and photos at

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Types of timber fasteners and connectors

Fasteners and connectors are fixings used to create joints between timbers or to attach other materials to timber.

Fasteners include nails, screws, staples, dowels and bolts.

Connectors are available in a much wider range of shapes, including punched metal plates, joist hangers, split ring connectors and shear plate connectors.

See full article at

Monday, 26 May 2014


In horology, a tourbillon is an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement.

… a tourbillon aims to counter the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (thus the escapement) is stuck in a certain position.

Originally an attempt to improve accuracy, tourbillons are still included in some expensive modern watches as a novelty and demonstration of watchmaking virtuosity. The mechanism is usually exposed on the watch's face to show it off.

See full article at

Friday, 23 May 2014

Langdon on inaction

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

For Langdon, the meaning of these words had never felt so clear: In dangerous times, there is no sin greater than inaction.

From Inferno, by Dan Brown

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Quire, ream, bundle & bale

25 sheets = 1 quire

500 sheets = 20 quires = 1 ream

1,000 sheets = 40 quires = 2 reams = 1 bundle

5,000 sheets = 200 quires = 10 reams = 5 bundles = 1 bale

See more at

Monday, 19 May 2014

PK Porthcurno

Porthcurno is unusually well known for its size because of its history as a major international submarine communications cable station. In the late nineteenth century, the remote beach at Porthcurno became internationally famous as the British termination of early submarine telegraph cables, the first of which was landed in 1870, part of an early international link stretching all the way from the UK to India, which was then a British colony.

Porthcurno was chosen in preference to the busy port of Falmouth because of the reduced risk of damage to the cables caused by ships’ anchors.

In the Inter-War years, the Porthcurno cable office operated as many as 14 cables simultaneously, for a time becoming the largest submarine cable station in the world, with the capacity to receive and transmit up to two million words a day.

Porthcurno is still known colloquially by the acronym 'PK' being represented in Morse code as 'di-dah-dah-dit' followed by 'dah-di-dah'. In the early days of expensive telegraphy, this could be sent unambiguously with just two letters instead of ten.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Envy v Jealousy

The main difference between envy and jealousy is that envy is an emotion related to coveting what someone else has, while jealousy is the emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.

See more at

Thursday, 15 May 2014

What is a Mummers Play, and what is mumming?

Mumming is a word for disguising oneself, going door to door, and performing songs, dances and plays in neighbour's homes and in public places. It's a very old and widespread custom, going back at least to the Middle Ages.

The type of play we call a Mummers Play today is a little less ancient and less universal. In fact, it may not go back any further than the 18th century, since earlier English-language references to "mumming" either are vague about the exact type of performance, or are clearly a different kind of play.

Modern Mummers Plays have a basic recurring plot that is used as an excuse for the actors to sing, dance and rhyme. The plot involves a fight between two champions, who can be St. George and the Dragon, or St. Patrick and the Turkish Knight, or any other combination of historical or fantasy characters.

See more at

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Atlantic Crossing (1)

Atlantic Crossing is Rod Stewart's sixth album, released in 1975. It peaked at number one in the UK (his fifth solo album to do so), and number nine on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart.



Atlantic Crossing 1 (AC-1) is an optical submarine telecommunications cable system linking the USA and three European countries. It transports speech and data traffic between the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dually noted

I emailed someone today about two topics.

She responded, "Dually noted."

I'll never know if she was demonstrating her ignorance or her wit.

from Google Groups

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Errors of automaticity

When our attention is distracted we carry out highly practised behaviours automatically, occasionally at inappropriate times.

Like putting the milk out and the cat in the fridge.

In a classic diary study of everyday slips and lapses Reason (1979) got people to describe all sorts of cute out-of-context slips.

One person reported unwrapping a sweet (candy to the rest of you), throwing the sweet away and putting the wrapper in his mouth, another to putting shaving cream on his toothbrush and another to going upstairs to change for the evening, then finding himself wearing pyjamas.

Although practice makes perfect, it can also make an unthinking robot.

See other ways attention goes wrong at

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Cocktail Party Effect

For psychologists the ‘cocktail party effect’ is our impressive and under-appreciated ability to tune our attention to just one voice from a multitude.

At a party when bored with our current conversational partner — and for the compulsive eavesdropper — allowing the aural attention to wander around the room is a handy trick.

See full article at

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

What is a ‘GRAIL’ watch and why?

To me a grail watch is one that you usually covet for ‘some time’ but that you will never sell.

Typically grails are watches that are sought after by collectors for long periods. However I will say ‘usually’ covet for some time as I believe there are instances where a watch becomes available that you never thought would, or that you never even knew existed,  but instantly generates a level of desire and need similar to that of something coveted for a long period.

However for it to be a true grail it must fall into the category of never to be sold.

See full article at

Monday, 28 April 2014

How to take a hat off

Handle it by the brim, not the crown. I’ll admit that I like doffing my hat by grabbing it by the crown. It just looks cool. But unfortunately, while it may be suave, it’s no good for your hat. All that pinching will weaken the crown’s ability to holds its shape or create a crease that can’t be fixed. Oils and dirt from your hand will also soil the hat. Take off or pick up your hat by grasping it at the front and back of the brim. Always handle your hat with clean hands to avoid transferring grime to it.

See more at

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Restaurateur or restauranteur?

The French word for a person who owns or runs a restaurant is restaurateur, with no n, and this is the spelling used most often in English, especially in edited writing.

Restauranteur, with an n, appears in English about once for every ten instances of restaurateur. But while this spelling is common and has a long history, many people consider it wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes restauranteur as originally from the U.S. and lists examples from as far back as 1859, though a historical Google Books search covering the 19th century uncovers no more than a handful of instances of restauranteur. Many more examples are found in texts from the first half of the 20th century, including many from outside the U.S. Today, the misspelling appears about equally often throughout the English-speaking world.

See full article at

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Hat Law

THE WORLD'S first hat revolution took place in Turkey in 1925. On November 25 of that year, the parliament passed a law that made it mandatory for all men to wear Western-style hats in public places; all civil servants had to wear them, and no other type of hat would be allowed. Those who went hatless would be left alone, but if one wanted to wear a hat then one had to either wear the proposed model (and not the traditional turban or fez) or face the consequences, which could be as severe as the death penalty.

See full article at

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Are "recant" and "retract" interchangeable?

RECANT is likely to indicate rejection of a previously adhered-to belief or position accompanied by admission of error and acceptance of a sanctioned belief

  • Shostakovich, as our newspapers have told us, has suffered from official criticism and been forced to recant and rewrite -- W. C. Huntington
  • if Christians recanted they were to be spared, but if they persisted in their faith they were to be executed -- K. S. Latourette

RETRACT indicates a withdrawing or calling back, often of a statement or implication to someone's discredit

  • give the present writer an opportunity of retracting criticism from his own pen which he now feels to have been unjust -- Richard Garnett
  • they ... retract what they have said, and say publicly that they were mistaken -- Rose Macaulay

from alt.usage.english

Monday, 14 April 2014

The longest canal tunnel in Britain

At 3.25 miles long, Standedge is Britain's longest canal tunnel

Opened in April 1811, Standedge Tunnel is over 200 years old

Typical cargos through the tunnel included wool, coal and horse manure!

Before diesel power, boats were legged through the tunnel

See more at

Standedge - disused since 1940s, re-opened in 2001, width restrictions, boat passage is escorted and must be booked


Friday, 11 April 2014

What are antigrams?

Antigram is a new word.

It is an anagram but which renders the opposite meaning. 

Here are some examples!

silent listen
funeral real fun
violence nice love
forty-five over fifty
united untied
earliest arise late

See more at

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Simpson's paradox

In probability and statistics, Simpson's paradox, or the Yule–Simpson effect, is a paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data.

From <'s_paradox>

Monday, 7 April 2014

Hue and cry

In medieval England ... what would you do though if you discovered a crime being committed?

You would be expected to raise the alarm or in other words give hue and cry.

In 1285 the Statute of Winchester declared that anyone who witnesses a crime shall give hue and cry. All able-bodied men, upon hearing the shouts, were obliged to assist in the pursuit of the criminal. The sound of the hue and cry varied from place to place but was most likely a shout and would probably have varied depending upon the nature of the crime.

See more at

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Why Did Pirates Wear Eye Patches?

Pirates frequently had to move above and below decks, from daylight to near darkness, and … the smart ones "wore a patch over one eye to keep it dark-adapted outside."

When the pirate went below decks, he could switch the patch to the outdoor eye and see in the darkness easily (potentially to fight while boarding and plundering another vessel).

See full article at

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Bedsheet Problem

The bedsheet problem is an urban legend that states the following: any piece of paper (no matter the dimensions) cannot fold more than 7 times . All who claimed the myth was valid could only cite empirical evidence. They could not explain or prove it mathematically. The puzzle was both mysterious and inexplicable.

Theoretically if we are given an infinitely long sheet of paper, then there would be no absolute folding limit. However, this result does not seem true when the experiment is conducted. In December 2001, Britney Gallivan created a mathematical representation of the bedsheet problem in which she described the interaction between the thickness, length, and number of folds that were possible. Gallivan's mathematical model describes the reality of the physical system. Her derivation gives the loss function for folding a piece of paper in half.

Britney Gallivan, who was at the time a junior in high school, solved this well-known problem. She was asked by her teacher to fold a sheet of paper 12 times and as an incentive she would get extra credit. She failed multiples times. Later she succeeded after using a thin gold sheet and proved the assumption wrong. Gallivan was able to achieve 12 folds by folding a roll of thin toilet paper that stretched over three-fourths of a mile. It took seven hours in a shopping mall with her parents, but Gallivan was able to bust a myth as well as derive a formula relating the width, thickness of a paper and the number of folds achievable. The urban legend of 7 folds was disproved in 2001. Gallivan wrote a 40 page pamphlet on her discovery in which she explained the mathematics, the story and other information about her project.

See full article at

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Top Works by Russian Authors

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).

3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).

4. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).

5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).

See more at

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Anchor Graveyard

This one's right up there with the Easter Island heads in terms of haunting landscapes: hundreds of massive iron anchors standing in perfect rows in the sand on an isolated Portuguese island.

Not merely the detritus of the ocean, they are the last remnants of Tavira's once thriving tuna-fishing industry – an enterprise that fed Portugal for hundreds of years.

But when the tuna dried up, the ships stopped sailing. And whenever one of them docked for the last time, they'd leave their anchor on Barril beach. After a while, there was enough that someone decided they needed to be kept in order, as if waiting for the moment when the island's lifeblood would return. Sadly, it never did.

See photos at

Saturday, 29 March 2014

World's Largest Fork

As road trippers, we often come to a fork in the road and have to choose which path to take…or, we may come to a giant fork in the road and stop to take photos!

Located in the parking lot of Noble & Associates advertising agency in Springfield, Missouri, this 35-foot tall utensil is the world’s largest fork!

See photos at

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Name some jobs that have the word "man" in them

bin man
cable man
delivery man
door man
maintenance man
middle man


Tuesday, 25 March 2014


The banshee, from Irish: bean sí ("woman of the sídhe" or "woman of the fairy mounds") is a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld.

In legend, a banshee is a fairy woman who begins to wail if someone is about to die.

In Scottish Gaelic mythology, she is known as the bean sìth or bean-nighe and is seen washing the bloodstained clothes or armour of those who are about to die. Alleged sightings of banshees have been reported as recently as 1948.


Friday, 21 March 2014

The Orient and the Occident

The Orient means the East. It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Near East or Far East, in relation to Europe. In English it is largely a metonym for, and coterminous with, the continent of Asia. 



The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident, is a term referring to different nations depending on the context. There is no agreed upon definition about what all these nations have in common.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche lorraine is a classic dish from the French cuisine which originally was an open pie with a filling consisting of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon.

Quiche actually originated in Germany in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine

The word quiche is from the German Kuchen meaning cake.

See full article at

Monday, 17 March 2014

Josip Belušić

The speedometer was invented by the Croatian Josip Belušić in 1888, and was originally called a velocimeter.

See full article at

Friday, 14 March 2014

Duffel / Duffle

Duffel is a municipality in the Belgian province of Antwerp.

The town gives its name to a heavy woollen cloth used to make overcoats, especially for the military, and various kinds of luggage.

Items made from this material are sometimes spelled duffle as in Duffle Coat and Duffle bag.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Pulp Fiction – The Shadow, Doc Savage, …

Pulp fiction / magazines (often referred to as "the pulps") are inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s.

The typical pulp magazine was 7 inches (18 cm) wide by 10 inches (25 cm) high, 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick, and 128 pages long.

Pulps were printed on cheap paper with ragged, untrimmed edges.

The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed.

Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art.

Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Phantom Detective.

See more at

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Drop, Smidgen, Pinch, Dash and Tad

Measure Equivalent
Drop 1/64 teaspoon
Smidgen 1/32 teaspoon
Pinch     1/16 teaspoon
Dash     1/8 teaspoon
Tad    1/4 teaspoon

See more at

Sunday, 9 March 2014

12 Old Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms

English has changed a lot in the last several hundred years, and there are many words once used that we would no longer recognize today. For whatever reason, we started pronouncing them differently, or stopped using them entirely, and they became obsolete. There are some old words, however, that are nearly obsolete, but we still recognize because they were lucky enough to get stuck in set phrases that have lasted across the centuries. Here are 12 lucky words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms.


1. wend

You rarely see a "wend" without a "way." You can wend your way through a crowd or down a hill, but no one wends to bed or to school. However, there was a time when English speakers would wend to all kinds of places. "Wend" was just another word for "go" in Old English. The past tense of "wend" was "went" and the past tense of "go" was "gaed." People used both until the 15th century, when "go" became the preferred verb, except in the past tense where "went" hung on, leaving us with an outrageously irregular verb.


2. deserts

The "desert" from the phrase "just deserts" is not the dry and sandy kind, nor the sweet post-dinner kind. It comes from an Old French word for "deserve," and it was used in English from the 13th century to mean "that which is deserved." When you get your just deserts, you get your due. In some cases, that may mean you also get dessert, a word that comes from a later French borrowing.


3. eke

If we see "eke" at all these days, it's when we "eke out" a living, but it comes from an old verb meaning to add, supplement, or grow. It's the same word that gave us "eke-name" for "additional name," which later, through misanalysis of "an eke-name" became "nickname."


See full list at

Friday, 7 March 2014

Abstainers, moderators and temptation

In a nutshell, when facing a temptation, abstainers do better if they abstain altogether, while moderators do better if they indulge a little bit, or from time to time.

See full article at

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Thieves' cant

Thieves' cant or Rogues' cant was a secret language (a cant or cryptolect) which was formerly used by thieves, beggars and hustlers of various kinds in Great Britain and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries.

The classic, colourful argot is now mostly obsolete, and is largely relegated to the realm of literature and fantasy role-playing, although individual terms continue to be used in the criminal subcultures of both Britain and the U.S.


See also the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence) by Francis Grose, ay the Project Gutenberg online digital library,

Monday, 3 March 2014

Ems and ens, muttons and nuts

Printers do not measure their types in inches or centimetres but in "points".

There are roughly 72 points to an inch (more precisely 0·9962").

Twelve points, still referred to by the old name of "pica", is a unit used for measuring the lengths of lines of type.

There is also the "em". This is the square of any body size -, it is correct to speak of 6 pt. ems, of a 10 pt. em, and so on - but if no size is referred to then the "em" meant is the 12 pt. ot Pica em.

Half an "em" is known as an "en"; these words sounding so alike many printers refer to them as "mutton" and "nut" respectively.

Below the em and en there are other standard spaces; as fractions of the "em" they are: 1/3 em or "thick", 1/4 em or "middle" and 1/5 em or "thin"; there is also the "hair" space of 1/12 em.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Fayre, Fair and Fare

Generally speaking, a fair is a gathering of stalls and amusements for public entertainment whereas fare is a range of food (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1999).

However, the archaic (15th to 17th century) spelling fayre is confusingly used for both words by those who think it lends an historic flavour.


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Casino Dice

Casinos don't take any chances when it comes to profit so they don't use just any dice when thousands of dollars are riding on a roll.

Casino dice are called perfect or precision dice because of the way they are made.

They are as close to being perfect true cubes as possible, measured to within a fraction of a millimetre, manufactured so each die has an absolutely equal chance of landing on any one of its six faces.

Casino dice are specially hand made to within a tolerance of 0.0005 of an inch.

The spots are drilled and filled with material that is equal in weight to the material removed.

See full article at

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This Friday or next Friday?

Q: Quandary - Some friends and I were talking about a day in the future (Friday, say, when we go for our weekly lunch) and we ended up in nice discussion about next versus this.
On Wednesday we might say "Let's do this this Friday".
On Saturday we might say "Let's do this next Friday".
But, on Thursday if we said "Let's do this next Friday I would think it's the week Friday and not tomorrow."
Shouldn't we have day limits on "next" and "this"?

A: We probably should, but we don't. As a general rule, "this Friday" should be the immediate Friday in our future, whether we're talking about it on Saturday or Thursday. "Next Friday" should be the following Friday. In practice, however, many people use the terms interchangeably, and confusingly.

The British and some Commonwealth countries have a useful expression: "Let's meet for lunch on Friday week"—that is, one week after the coming Friday. I have no idea why Canadians and Americans prefer the longer "a week from Friday."


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Don't bet the farm

The idiom bet the farm is often preceded by words of caution, as in "I wouldn't bet the farm on that new invention if I were you," or "He might offer you the position, but don't bet the farm on it."

It literally means to risk virtually everything on a single investment, idea or opportunity.

See full article at

Friday, 21 February 2014

Hat Etiquette for Men

Removing your hat is considered to be a gesture of respect for certain occasions and in certain places. Keeping your hat on during these occasions and in these places is a gesture of disrespect.

All hats, including baseball caps and knit caps, should be removed when the wearer is indoors, including in private homes and restaurants. Although it is not necessary for the hat wearer to remove his hat in public places such as lobbies, corridors, and elevators.

Hats should be removed during the singing of the National Anthem, the passing of the American flag, funeral processions, and during formal outdoor occasions such as weddings and dedications.

After removing your hat, hold it so that the inside of the hat is toward you and not visible to others.

Some people believe that it’s bad luck to put a hat on a bed. So when you take your hat off in someone’s home, look for a hat rack or some other place to put it.

See more at

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Canadian Tuxedo

… a ‘classic’ Canadian Tuxedo consists of a matching denim shirt and jeans accompanied by a denim jacket of the same maker (Faded Glory, Levi’s) and of the same shade. To be a true ‘Canadian’ the shades of denim must be identical as though both top and bottom were cut from the same roll at the factory.

See full article at

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Neck Verse

Until 1827, people charged in ordinary criminal courts could claim exemption from some punishments, especially capital punishment, by virtue of ‘benefit of clergy’, or being a professional member of the Church.

In 1305, even minor members of the church were granted 'benefit of clergy'. Defendants could satisfactorily prove their right to 'benefit of clergy' by demonstrating their literacy.

Defendants used to read an appropriate verse from the Bible. This was commonly verse 3 of Psalm 50.

As recitation of this verse was enough to escape hanging (offenders were branded on the thumb, to make sure that they could only claim this benefit once), it was known as the neck-verse.


Monday, 17 February 2014

Diary that’s eight times size of War and Peace

Meet Mr. John Gadd, 83, of Fontmell Magna in Great Britain.

He keeps a diary. He keeps the most incredible diary I have ever heard of. It is huge,  as in 21,000 pages, filling 151 volumes, and also contains some 33,000 photos and ephemera.

The diary dates back 66 years to 1947 and contains some four million pages.

See full article at

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Nori - brick & dwarf

Accrington bricks, or NORIs were a type of iron hard engineering brick, produced near Accrington, Lancashire, England from 1887 to 2008.

They were famed for their strength, and were used for the foundations of the Blackpool Tower and the Empire State Building.

See full article at


In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Nori was a Dwarf of Durin's folk who lived in the northern Blue Mountains (Ered Luin) in Thorin's Halls and later the restored Lonely Mountain (Erebor). He had two brothers named Dori, and Ori, and was a remote kinsmen of Thorin Oakenshield. His hood was purple, he played the flute, and he was very fond of regular and plentiful meals like his hobbit friend, Bilbo Baggins.

See full article at

Thursday, 13 February 2014

George Washington's Rules of Civility

1st. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

2nd. When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered.

3rd. Shew Nothing to your Freind that may affright him.

4th. In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

5th. If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.

6th. Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

7th. Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.

8th. At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.

9th. Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.

10th. When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.

11th. Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.

See full list at

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Originally a flat spatula for flipping oatcakes on a griddle, the Spurtle is better known as a stick for stirring porridge.

Over time, this implement changed shape and began being used specifically for stirring oatmeal and soups.

It is similar to a wooden spoon without the bowl which was removed as it tears cooked oats apart.

It is in common use throughout Scotland.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Vampires & Mirrors

How do Vampires end up with perfect lipstick / hair when they can't see themselves in a mirror?

A Vampire considers buying a mirror. On reflection, nO.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Mohs Scale of Hardness

Mohs Scale was developed in 1812 by German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839)

Mohs Scale of hardness is a RELATIVE scale, not proportional. I mean by this that a mineral with the hardness of 8 will NOT be twice as hard as a 4. (For example, diamond is 4X harder than sapphire!).

It is really a scale of relative "scratchability".

#1 is softest..................#10 is hardest

  1. Talc
  2. Gypsum
  3. alcite
  4. Fluorite
  5. Apatite
  6. Feldspar
  7. Quartz
  8. Topaz
  9. Corundum
  10. Diamond


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Ten Gallon Hat

A ten gallon hat is often thought to be large enough to hold ten gallons of water. This is not true (unless you have an exceptionally large head).

The gallon in "ten gallon hat" derives from the Spanish galón meaning braid. So a ten-gallon hat is a hat with a braiding around the brim.

A ten-gallon hat actually only holds 3/4 gallon or 3 quarts.


Monday, 3 February 2014

Odin and Thor

Odin was the chief god in the Norse mythology, and the father of Thor, Balder, Hoder, Tyr, Bragi, Heimdall, Ull, Vidar, Hermod and Vali. His wives were Fjorgyn, Frigga and Rind. He had a bad habit to roam around Midgard in human disguise seducing and impregnating women. This is why many mortals were able to trace their ancestry back to him.

Thor was the son of Odin and Fjorgyn. He was the god of thunder, the sky, fertility and the law. Armed with his strength-giving items, a belt and the hammer Mjölnir, he had a simple way of righting wrongs: he more or less killed everything that moved. The other gods -mostly Loki- occasionally took advantage of Thor's simplicity.

See more Viking Gods at

Saturday, 1 February 2014


A path, also known as a rhumb line, which cuts a meridian on a given surface at any constant angle but a right angle.

If the surface is a sphere, the loxodrome is a spherical spiral.

The loxodrome is the path taken when a compass is kept pointing in a constant direction.

It is a straight line on a Mercator projection or a logarithmic spiral on a polar projection (Steinhaus 1999, pp. 218-219).

The loxodrome is not the shortest distance between two points on a sphere.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

The widest avenue in the world

Buenos Aires, Argentina, features the widest avenue in the world.

At over 300 feet wide, 9 de Julio Avenue occupies a gap of an entire block in the city grid, hence its incredible width.

Crossing the avenue at street level often requires a few minutes, as all intersections have traffic lights.

Under normal walking speed, it takes pedestrians normally two to three green lights to cross its twelve lanes of traffic.

See more on record-setting roads at

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Vaughans's Ruling

Chief Justice Vaughan’s ruling explains how it is never possible for those outside the jury to ascertain by what private thoughts or evidence a Juror or Jurors may decide that the verdict of Not Guilty is the only one which is just and appropriate.


Monday, 27 January 2014

Mars Bar - Scar

A scar, usually found on the facial features.

"Franko got chibbed by the Tongs and noo has a big mars bar across his face."

From the Scottish Vernacular Dictionary at

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Sling your hook

‘Sling your hook’ is polite way of telling someone to go away. 

This term has a nautical origin.  ‘Hook’ was a name given to the ship’s anchor, and the ’sling’ was the cradle that housed the anchor.  Therefore, to ‘sling your hook’ meant to lift anchor, stow it and sail away.


Thursday, 23 January 2014


Sagas are stories about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history, about early Viking voyages, the battles that took place during the voyages, about migration to Iceland and of feuds between Icelandic families.

They were written in the Old Norse language, mainly in Iceland.

"Saga" is a word originating from Old Norse or Icelandic language. Saga is a cognate of the English word say: its various meanings in Icelandic are approximately equivalent to "something said" or "a narrative in prose", somewhat along the lines of a "story", a "tale", or a "history".


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Types of nails

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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • PANEL PIN - A very popular way of joining woods although glue is usually included as part of the join.
  • TACK - Can be used for fixing textile materials to wood for example, fixing upholstery to furniture.
  • SPRIG - This no head and is generally used for fixing glass to glass in wood frames.
  • ANNULAR NAIL - The teeth of this nail hold it in place firmly. Therefore, it is used for fixing plywood and other materials.
  • HARDBOARD PIN - The diamond shaped head is hidden when used in materials like hardboard   
  • CORRUGATED FASTENER - This will hold the corners of wood frames firmly together


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Mirrors as portals to other dimensions

Mirrors are viewed by many as portals to other dimensions and with this comes the added risk of meeting the unknown.

Here are some of the things said about mirrors:

  • Mirrors have the ability to suck out souls therefore they must be removed from a room where an ill person lies as they are more vulnerable at this time.
  • People were warned never to look into a mirror at night or by candle light. If you did so you would be certain to see ghosts, demons and portents of death - even your own!
  • When a person died in a room the mirrors had to be covered or turned to face the wall. Failure to do so would result in the deceased person's soul being lost - or they may even turn into a vampire.
  • Even while asleep, it was thought best to cover your mirror as you could be vulnerable to attack from negative spirits or demons during the dark hours. Also, never place your bed in a place where it is reflected in a mirror.
  • In order to prevent mirrors being used as a portal by supernatural entities, the mirror should be frequently moved to different areas of the room. Mirrors with a solid backing placed in the same position for a long period of time, are more likely to become spiritual portals

More on Spirit Reflections at

Friday, 17 January 2014

My Very Easy Method: Just Set Up Nine Planets, etc

My Very Easy Method: Just Set Up Nine Planets. The order of planets in average distance from the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

Toronto Girls Can Flirt, And Other Queer Things Can Do. The order of Mohs hardness scale, from 1 to 10:  Talc, Gypsum, Calcite, Fluorite, Apatite, Orthoclase feldspar, Quartz, Topaz, Corundum, Diamond.

Cows Often Sit Down Carefully. Perhaps Their Joints Creak? The order of geological time periods:  Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, Recent.

See more List Order Acronyms at

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Saga of Noggin the Nog

Noggin the Nog is a popular British children's character appearing in his own TV series (of the same name) and series of illustrated books, the brainchild of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin.

The TV series is considered a "cult classic" from the golden age of British children's television.

Noggin himself is a simple, kind and unassuming King of the Northmen in a roughly Viking-age setting, with various fantastic elements such as dragons, flying machines and talking birds.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Within, without, outwith, outside, inside

Q: What is the opposite of within?


Don't tell me outside (which is opposite of inside).

Any one word that can be used?


A: You might not want me to tell you this, but the opposite of within is "outside of" (in English). Inside basically means the same as within.

Interestingly, we Scots (Scottish English is the variety of English spoken here) have come up with a different word which the English (of England) don't use. The word is "outwith" and it is the opposite of "within". "Without" actually means "lacking" or "minus".

Don't use "outwith" outwith Scotland or no one will know what you're talking about!



Saturday, 11 January 2014

What is a kenning?

A kenning is "a concise compound or figurative phrase replacing a common noun".

It comes from the Anglo Saxon era, where swords had names like "death-bringer" or "wound-maker".


Thursday, 9 January 2014

The ‘Sometimes, Always, Never’ 3-Button Rule

A few years ago, we published a guest post on suit buttons, and one of the best things I got out of it was a handy way to remember the right way to button a three-button suit jacket.

It’s called the “sometimes, always, never” button rule.

Starting with the top button and working your way down:

  • it’s sometimes appropriate to have the top button buttoned along with the middle one
  • it’s always appropriate to have the middle button buttoned
  • and you should never button the last button

Sometimes, always, never. Easy.

See full post at

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ptolemy, Copernicus & Galileo

Ptolemy. Ptolemy was an astronomer and mathematician. He believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe. The word for earth in Greek is geo, so we call this idea a "geocentric" theory. This flawed view of the Universe was accepted for many centuries.

Copernicus. Well over a thousand years later, Nicolaus Copernicus came up with a radical way of looking at the Universe. His heliocentric system put the Sun (helio) at the center of our system. His ideas, including the revelation that the Earth rotates on its axis, were too different for most of the scholars of his time to accept.

Galileo. He had his own ideas on how motion really worked, and devised a telescope that could enlarge objects up to 20 times. He was able to use this telescope to prove the truth of the Copernican system of heliocentrism. He published his observations which went against the established teaching of the Church. He was brought to trial and, although he made a confession of wrong-doing, he was still imprisoned for life.

Extracted from

Sunday, 5 January 2014


1. An embankment or dike, especially in India.

2. A street running along a harbour or waterway, especially in the Far East.


Friday, 3 January 2014

The Orders of Chivalry

The Orders of Chivalry are a means whereby the Sovereign may bestow an honour on his or her subjects, either as a mark of personal favour or at the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

Originally the fusion of knightly and religious ideals, brought together by the Crusades, the Orders of Chivalry were founded by European kings as a means of binding their great nobles to the royal cause as Companions of the King'.

In Great Britain the older Orders of Chivalry (Garter, Thistle, Bath, St Michael and St George, the Royal Victorian and the British Empire) all carry the honour of knighthood.


Complete Name, Ranks / Letters

The Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight (KG), Lady (LG)

The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Knight (KT), Lady (LT)

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCB), Knight/Dame Commander (KCB/DCB), Companion (CB)

The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCMG), Knight/Dame Commander (KCMG/DCMG), Companion (CMG)

The Distinguished Service Order, Companion (DSO) - plus bars

The Royal Victorian Order, Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCVO), Knight/Dame Commander (KCVO/DCVO), Commander (CVO), Lieutenant (LVO), Member (MVO)

The Order of Merit, Member (OM)

The Imperial Service Order, ISO

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), Member (MBE)

The Order of the Companions of Honour, Companion (CH)


Thursday, 2 January 2014

New York’s Finest, Bravest, Strongest, Boldest

These terms are used quite often, especially after 9-11.

FINEST—police department

BRAVEST—fire department

STRONGEST—sanitation department

BOLDEST—corrections department

The "finest" is probably the oldest. Most sources claim that it was coined by police chief George W. Matsell. "Finest" ("best" was also used) probably dates to at least July 1874, when Matsell said, "I intend, sir, to make of this the finest police force in the world." The comedian Gus Williams starred in the play One of the Finest in the early 1880s. I believe that "the finest police in the world" is meant to be a similar phrase to Civil War General Joseph Hooker's "finest army on the planet."

The "bravest" probably dates from the 1890s.

The "strongest" and "boldest" are much newer; the first New York Times citation for "boldest" is in 1996, the first hit for "strongest" is in 1981.

See full article at

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Percentage v Percentage Points

The term "percentage point" is used to get around an ambiguity in English when we are comparing two different percentages. The problem is that "percent" implicitly refers to a relative change (some fraction of an original amount, like a salary increase of 10%) rather than an absolute change (some specified amount, like a salary increase of $1000). What do we say when we want to treat a percentage as an absolute amount?

If, for example, the current tax rate were 10% and we increased it to 12%, we might say that we increased it by 2 percent. But that would be taken to mean that we increased it by 2% of the original 10% (that is, by 2/100 of 10%, or 0.2%), to 10.2%. The question is, are we using "percent" to mean one of the units called percent, or a percentage of that percentage? To avoid this problem, we say instead that we are increasing the tax rate by "two percentage points". This unambiguously refers to the number 2% itself as a unit, rather than to 2% of something else.

See full article at