Tag Archives: language

Origin of the Term Jaywalking

1937 Works Progress Administration (WPA) Jaywalking Poster

1937 Works Progress Administration (WPA) Jaywalking Poster

Today I found out where the word “jaywalking” came from.

For those not familiar with this term (i.e. many people outside of the United States), jaywalking is when, “A pedestrian… crosses a street without regard to traffic regulations.” (OED)  For instance, depending on where one lives, it may be against the law to cross a street where there is a crosswalk nearby, but the person chooses not to use it.  Alternatively even at a crosswalk, it is often illegal to cross if there is a “Don’t Walk” signal flashing or the like.

Contrary to popular belief, the term jaywalking does not derive from the shape of the letter “J” (referencing the path a jaywalker might travel when crossing a road).  Rather, it comes from the fact that “Jay” used to be a generic term for someone who was an idiot, dull, rube, unsophisticated, poor, or simpleton.  More precisely, it was once a common term for “country bumpkins” or “hicks”, usually seen incorrectly as inherently stupid by “city” folk.

Thus, to “Jay walk” was to be stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road for pedestrians in an urban environment, so would attempt to cross or walk in the streets anywhere.  As it stated in the January 25, 1937 New York Times, “In many streets like Oxford Street, for instance, the jaywalker wanders complacently in the very middle of the roadway as if it was a country lane.”

Although the Oxford English Dictionary states that the first known use of the term “jaywalking/jaywalker” was in the June of 1917 edition of Harper’s Magazine, “The Bostonian … has reduced ‘a pedestrian who crosses streets in disregard of traffic signals’ to the compact jaywalker.”  In fact, the first actual known reference was from a 1909 Chicago Tribune where it stated, “Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their `joyriding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jaywalking.”

The term was also mentioned in a 1915 New York Times article where they stated they found the term “jay walking” “highly shocking” and “truly opprobrious” (shameful). This was in reference to the way it was used at the time, akin to a racial slur, but in this case more of a pejorative “class” term.  Specifically, a derogatory term against poor people by people who were wealthy enough to drive. Automobile related companies popularly used this term in various anti-pedestrian campaigns.  For instance, John Hertz, president of Yellow Cab, even went so far as to say, “We fear the `jay walker’ worse than the anarchist, and Chicago is his native home.”  Chicago is still noted today for rampant jaywalking among the populace.

In order to counter the automobile interests who were trying to get pedestrians off the road, for a time the term “jay drivers” was used as a derogatory term for people who drive cars in such a way as to hog the road or pose a danger to pedestrians.  This obviously didn’t catch on and, in the end, the automobile companies won the fight for use of roads.

The interesting thing about the “safety” factor of crosswalks vs. jaywalking is that it isn’t entirely true. As noted in an article a few days ago, recent studies have shown that pedestrians actually are about 28% less likely to be hurt while crossing a street if they jaywalk, rather than cross at a crosswalk that doesn’t include any additional signals like traffic lights.  This is thought to be the case because people who jaywalk tend to be more careful when crossing the road than those who are crossing in crosswalks.

It’s not surprising then that in many countries in the world not named the United States, it’s often perfectly legal to cross any road except freeways (motorways) anywhere you like, regardless of whether there is a crosswalk or not.  When there are crosswalks, the onus of safety is generally put on the drivers, though pedestrians are never to dart out into a crosswalk suddenly without regard for automobiles.  When crossing in locations that don’t have a crosswalk, the burden of safety is put on the pedestrian, though in this case cars are to pay attention and slow as necessary for pedestrians. So basically, an approach that seems to be dying out in all sorts of areas of every day life, “use your brain and be considerate”.  Or, as is taught in the United Kingdom to children (The Green Cross Code), “Stop, Look, Listen, and Think” when crossing a road.  This is slightly superior to the “Stop, Look, and Listen” jingle that is sometimes taught to children here in the United States, which of course lacks the critical “Think” bit. ;-)

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Bonus Facts:

  • In the early days of public streets in the United States, roads were legally to be shared equally between cars and pedestrians.  Due to the danger this posed to pedestrians, particularly when automobiles became common, this changed to roads being nearly exclusively for use by vehicles. Although, especially recently, pedal bikes are beginning the process of re-claiming use of the roads in some areas.
  • Despite the fact that jaywalking as been shown to be safer than crossing at crosswalks that don’t have additional signals like traffic lights, 3/5 of all pedestrian deaths on the streets of the United States occur outside of crosswalks.
  • The word “jay” comes from the Old French “jai” meaning “gay, merry”, which in turn comes from the Old Frankish “*gāhi”, meaning “quick, impetuous”.  This Old Frankish term comes from the Proto-Germanic *ganhwaz, meaning “sudden”.
  • The common crosswalk “painted stripe” pattern is known as a “Zebra Crosswalk”.
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The Difference Between an Acronym and an Initialism

Now You Know

Now You KnowYou should know the difference between an acronym and an initialism.

Both acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations, but there is a key difference between the two, at least at present. Due to rampant misuse of the term “acronym” some dictionaries are now starting to add an extra definition to it, allowing acronyms to expand their scope to include initialisms.  So as the English language evolves, this additional definition of acronym may stick and become widely accepted. But at present, it’s generally still good form to distinguish between the two.

Acronyms, of course, are abbreviations where the abbreviation is formed from letters of other words (usually the first letter of each word, though not always).  The part of the definition of acronym that many people miss is that the resulting abbreviation needs to be pronounceable as a word.  Examples of this would be things like RAM (Random Access Memory); LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation); NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Initialisms are very similar to acronyms in that they are made up of letters of some name or phrase, usually the first letter of each word as is common with acronyms.  The difference between an acronym and initialism is that the abbreviation formed with initialisms is not pronounced as a word, rather you say the individual letters, such as FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and DVD (Digital Video Disk*).

And, of course, if it’s just a shortened form of a word, like “ex.” for “example”, then it’s neither an acronym nor an initialism, rather just an abbreviation.

Another thing about acronyms and initialisms that often causes confusion is whether or not one should place periods after each letter in order to be grammatically correct. Some grammar guides do advise doing so, but just as many say you should not, usually arguing that to add the periods can sometimes make things look messier and it’s already clear by the all-capitals that it’s an abbreviation, so the periods are pointless *snicker*. So really, it’s whatever you prefer as to whether to put periods after the letters of acronyms and initialisms or not.  The important thing is just to be consistent throughout your writing.

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*DVD probably originally stood for “Digital Video Disk”, but today often is changed to stand for “Digital Versatile Disk”

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“To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before” is Thought to Have Been Inspired by a Line from a White House Pamphlet on Space

Certain members of the Star Trek cast and creators stand in front of the Shuttle Enterprise

Certain members of the Star Trek cast and creators stand in front of the Shuttle Enterprise

Today I found out the famous Star Trek line “…to boldly go where no one has gone before” is thought to have been inspired by a passage in a White House issued pamphlet on space.

Specifically, it is thought to be from this passage in the pamphlet, “Introduction to Outer Space“:

It is useful to distinguish among four factors which give importance, urgency, and inevitability to the advancement of space technology.

The first of these factors is the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before.  Most of the surface of the earth has now been explored and men now turn to the exploration of outer space as their next objective.

The pamphlet was published on March 26, 1958 by the Presidential Science Advisory Committee.  It was originally made for the President’s benefit, but was released publicly by President Eisenhower, who hoped it would be widely disseminated throughout the U.S. and the world. It is a fascinating read (really, you should read it) and nearly as relevant today as it was when it was written, in terms of why we should pursue space travel and as a general, good non-technical introduction to space (as was the main point of the pamphlet).

Any article centering around the phrase “to boldly go” would be remiss if it didn’t mention the often cited grammatical error in that statement, with the use of a split infinitive.  However, since this is already an amazingly long article (primarily because of all the Bonus Facts below), I will just briefly say here that split infinitives are not incorrect grammatically, contrary to popular belief and what some English teachers will tell you, even today.  In fact, the majority of modern English grammar guides list split infinitives as being perfectly acceptable.  This has also been the case, not just in modern usage, but throughout a good percentage of the history of the English language (since those split infinitives first popped up around the 13th century).  For much more on this, click here: Split Infinitives are Not Incorrect Grammatically

Bonus Facts:

  • In the Introduction to Outer Space pamphlet, it was stated: “Remotely-controlled scientific expeditions to the moon and nearby planets could absorb the energies of scientists for many decades.  Since man is such an adventurous creature, there will undoubtedly come a time when he can no longer resist going out and seeing for himself.  It would be foolish to try to predict today just when this moment will arrive.  It might not arrive in this century, or it might come within one or two decades.  So much will depend on how rapidly we want to expand and accelerate our program.”  Just a little over 11 years later on July 20, 1969, two human beings walked on the moon.  Moon landings continued until December 14, 1972 at 12:41 EST when Apollo 17 astronauts entered back into the lunar module and soon left the moon.   The Apollo 17 mission was also the last time any human left low Earth orbit.  That was almost 40 years ago… 40. years. ago!  You can read more about this here: December 11th: Humans Land on the Moon for the Last Time
  • The original Star Trek intro line actually said “…where no man has gone before.”  This was changed in Star Trek, The Next Generation to match the original White House pamphlet, “…no one has gone before” in order to be more politically correct.  However, it should be noted, this doesn’t make any sense in the context of Star Trek, The Next Generation where they’re fully aware of other intelligent beings that travel throughout the universe.  Thus, “…no one has gone before” isn’t entirely accurate.  Q, for instance, has ostensibly been everywhere, or at the least most everywhere, with his entire existence unbounded by time.  While it’s possible there might be some part of the universe no intelligent being has gone before, that seems somewhat unlikely, in terms of where the humans are capable of going in the series. Thus, use of the original meaning of “man”, in the gender neutral sense (note: the word man was originally exclusively gender neutral), makes a lot more sense than using “one”.  If they really wanted to be both politically and technically correct, they should have instead said something to the effect of “…no human has gone before”, but of course that doesn’t quite sound as climactic.  And, I suppose, it is the intent of the Enterprise to explore where no one has gone before, even if they aren’t actually capable of doing so. /pedantic rant
  • While this very real pamphlet is thought to be where the Star Trek creators came up with a key point of the intro to each episode, in the show itself, it was supposedly pulled from a speech given by the inventor of Warp technology, Zefram Chochrane in 2119: “On this site, a powerful engine will be built. An engine that will someday help us to travel a hundred times faster than we can today. Imagine it. Thousands of inhabited planets at our fingertips. And we’ll be able to explore those strange, new worlds. And seek out new life and new civilizations. This engine will let us go boldly where no man has gone before.”
  • H.P. Lovecraft also used a similar line to the one used in Star Trek in his 1927 work “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (published in 1943): “Carter resolved to go with bold entreaty whither no man had gone before, and dare the icy deserts through the dark to where unknown Kadath, veiled in cloud and crowned with unimagined stars, holds secret and nocturnal the onyx castle of the Great Ones.”
  • Samuel A. Peeples is thought to be the one that originally suggested the use of the phrase “…where no man has gone before”.  He was the main writer of the second pilot for Star Trek, with the episode being called “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”  The full phrasing was written as a collaborative effort between Gene Roddenberry, John D. F. Black, and Bob Justman.  Before getting other input, Roddenberry had originally planned on this being the words spoken during the opening sequence: “This is the adventure of the United Space Ship Enterprise. Assigned a five year galaxy patrol, the bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange new worlds, uncharted civilizations, and exotic people. These are its voyages and its adventures.”
  • No one in the original Star Trek show ever stated the words “beam me up, Scotty.”
  • In the original Star Trek, the arrowhead badge worn by Enterprise crew members was exclusive to the Enterprise.  Basically, it signified those who wore it were part of the Enterprise crew.  Crew members of other ships wore different symbols.  This changed in the movies and later shows (though not, Enterprise) with the arrowhead becoming the insignia of all of Starfleet.
  • The iconic “live long and prosper” hand gesture was originally a Jewish sign. Read more here:  Live Long and Prosper
  • Leonard Nimoy was the one to come up with the Vulcan nerve pinch.  In the first episode this pinch showed up, Spock was originally supposed to club evil Kirk over the head, knocking him out.  Nimoy thought this was inconsistent with Spock’s personality.  He felt a non-violent nerve pinch would be more fitting with Vulcan’s being able to emit energy from their fingertips; this energy when applied to the correct nerves of a human would then render the human unconscious.
  • The actor that played “Scotty” on Star Trek was shot six times on D-Day.  Read more here: James Doohan was Shot Six Times on D-Day
  • Contrary to what many people think, James Doohan was not Scottish.  He was Canadian.  When he was auditioning for the role of the ship’s engineer, he went over various accents for Gene Roddenberry for the character.  After he finished, Roddenberry asked him which he liked best and he responded: “Well, if you want an engineer, he better be a Scotsman because, in my experience, all the world’s best engineers have been Scottish.”
    Although he wasn’t Scottish, Doohan described the character of Scotty as: “99% James Doohan and 1% accent.”  “It was a natural. When I opened my mouth, there was Scotty.  Scotty is the closest to Jimmy Doohan that I’ve ever done.”
  • The name Montgomery Scott was chosen because Montgomery was Doohan’s middle name and the character was portrayed as Scottish.
  • Doohan was married three times in his life and fathered four children.  He met his final wife, Wende Braunberger, when she was just 17 and he was 54, marrying her very shortly after their first meeting.  The two had three children, the last in 2000, and remained married for 31 years until Doohan’s death in 2005 at the age of 85.
  • The planet Vulcan is stated to be just 16 light-years away from Earth.  If this were true in real life, that would probably put it in the trinary system 40 Eridani, which is 16.45 light-years from us.
  • Both the Klingon language and the Vulcan language were initially very crudely developed by James Doohan.  Later, these languages were expanded and refined by professional linguists, primarily by Marc Okrand.
  • Doohan didn’t have a middle finger on one of his hands.  While great pains were taken in Star Trek to conceal this fact, there are several episodes where this can be observed.  These include: Cat’s Paw; Day of the Dove; and The Lights of Zetar.  This can also be observed in a scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  In the former, it can be observed when he hands McCoy parts for the Transwarp Drive and in the latter when he’s holding a plastic bag dinner which was given to him by Lt. Uhura.
  • In the first two seasons of Star Trek, The Next Generation, you’ll notice that their uniforms are extremely tight.  These uniforms were made of one-piece spandex.  To make matters worse, the suits were intentionally sized too small so that they’d stretch extremely tightly over the actor’s bodies and not have any wrinkles.  The actors hated them and eventually Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor told him that if he kept wearing them, it would cause real and possibly permanent damage to his spine.  Hence, in season three, the uniforms were switched to being two-piece, less form fitting, and made of wool (obviously Counselor Troi still often wore tight Spandex, thankfully, as did many other guest cast members).
  • A byproduct of the switch to the two piece uniforms for main cast members was that  the top piece had a tendency to ride up on the actors.  This gave rise to Patrick Stewart developing the habit of pulling down the top piece of the uniform periodically.  He did this so much, that it became known as “The Picard Maneuver”.
  • Originally, the Borg were not supposed to be a race of cyborgs, but rather, a race of insects.  However, this was going to prove to be too expensive, so instead, they switched them to being a race of cyborgs and obviously came up with the name after the fact.
  • The Interceptor (sailing vessel) in Pirates of the Caribbean film series is also used in the film, Star Trek Generations in a holodeck scene where Lieutenant Worf is promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
  • The character of Guinan is of the race El-Aurians.  El-Aurians derives from the Latin “Auris”, meaning “ear”. This is in reference to Guinan’s character being a good listener and why Soran from Star Trek Generations, who was also of that race, said they were a “race of listeners.”
  • Malcolm McDowell, who played Soran, is the uncle of the doctor on Star Trek, Deeps Space Nine (Alexander Siddig).
  • When Whoopi Golberg first learned they were making a new Star Trek series, she wrote to the creators and asked if she could have a part because she had been a huge fan of Star Trek since she was a little girl.  She particularly was enamored with the character of Uhura, who was one of the first African Americans to star as a main character on network television.  Goldberg even stated when she first saw the character of Uhura on the show, she yelled “Momma! There’s a black lady on TV, and she ain’t no maid!”   The producers initially ignored Goldberg’s request, as they didn’t think she was serious in wanting a recurring role on the show, but when they learned she was serious, they wrote the character Guinan for her.
  • Ronald McNair, the second black person to go to space also was apparently significantly impacted by the character of Uhura.  McNair’s brother, Carl, once stated that his brother, who died in the Challenger explosion, was inspired to become an astronaut because of it.  He stated: “Now, Star Trek showed the future where there were black folk and white folk working together. I just looked at it as science fiction, ’cause that wasn’t going to happen, really.’ But Ronald saw it as science possibility. He came up during a time when there was Neil Armstrong and all of those guys; so how was a colored boy from South Carolina – wearing glasses, never flew a plane – how was he gonna become an astronaut? But Ron was one who didn’t accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.”
  • Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, once stated that she was going to leave the show, but Martin Luther King told her she needed to stay because she was not only playing a black person as a main character on TV, but she was also playing a character that didn’t conform to the stereotypical black person of the day, usually portrayed.  Rather, Uhura was portrayed as an intelligent member of the crew and an equal to those around her.
  • Nichols once worked for NASA.  They hired her to recruit minorities and women to become astronauts.  In that position, she actually was the one to recruit the first black man to go to space, Col. Guion Bluford.  She also recruited McNair.
  • Brent Spiner, who played Data, hates cats.  Hence, he was never a fan of the scenes with himself and Spot, Data’s cat.  When Spiner read the scene where Data finds that his cat Spot is still alive after the Enterprise wrecks in Star Trek Generations, he apparently stated: “Does he have to find the cat? Can’t he find, like, Geordi or something?”
  • At the end of Star Trek Generations, Kirk was originally killed off-hand by Soran, by getting shot in the back.  Audiences hated this way for the famous Captain Kirk to die, so Paramount was forced to spend around $5 million to re-shoot Kirk’s death scene to be more heroic.
  • The character of Data was originally supposed to be the Chief Science Officer.  However, when they first started shooting, they realized this wouldn’t work because the blue uniform clashed with the android make-up Spiner had to wear.  Instead, Data was made Chief of Ops, so he could wear yellow.
  • You may have noticed that the number 47 pops up a lot in the Star Trek franchise.  This is because one of the writers and producers of Star Trek, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek, Voyager, Joe Menosky, had a mathematics professor in college, Donald Bentley, who used to joke that all numbers are equal to 47.  This quickly became a running gag on the show.  If you didn’t notice it before, you’ll certainly notice it now when watching Star Trek! (47 is everywhere if you watch closely)
  • Marina Sirtis, who ultimately ended up playing Counselor Troi, was actually originally cast to play the chief security officer.  Interestingly, Denise Crosby, who played the chief security officer Lt. Natasha Yar, was originally cast to play Counselor Troi.  Obviously the roles were switched by the time filming began.  Further, the character of Counselor Troi was actually going to be gotten rid of after the first season, but when Denise Crosby asked out of the show and Gates McFadden also left, they decided to keep Troi around, rather than get rid of another female cast member.
  • Gates McFadden was released from the show after season one because of constant arguments with the producers over the lack of development in her character.  Particularly, she was unhappy about the fact that originally she had been told her character and the captain’s would become involved romantically, which wasn’t taking place.  Obviously they second guessed their decision after the second season and asked her back.  She only agreed after Patrick Stewart himself called her to try to get her to come back.  She and Stewart were apparently very close friends, having worked together before Star Trek, The Next Generation.
  • Denise Crosby wanted to leave the show, and ultimately did, for the same reason McFadden was unhappy, namely the lack of development in her character.
  • The character of Counselor Troi has deep brown eyes.  In reality, Sirtis has green eyes and wore colored contact lenses for the role at the request of the producers who thought brown eyes went better with her hair.
  • You might have noticed Troi’s accent changed from the first season to the later seasons.  This switch happened around the time her mother came on board.  Originally, Sirtis had tried to do some sort of “alien” accent, to reflect the Betazoid side of the character.  However, Majel Barrett, as her mother, just used an American accent.  From that point, Sirtis decided to make Troi’s accent sound Eastern-European, with the idea that that’s where Troi’s father was from, hence where she picked up the accent.
  • The character of Geordi La Forge was named after a long time Star Trek fan who was confined to a wheelchair, George La Forge.
  • The character of Q was also named in homage of a real person, a British fan of the show by the name of Janet Quarton.
  • You may have noticed that Star Trek main characters tend not to get promoted much.  However, the one notable exception was Geordi.  In the beginning, his character was a Lieutenant junior grade.  By the second season, he had been promoted to Lieutenant.  By the third season, he was made Lieutenant Commander.  He also appeared as a Captain in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager (Timeless).
  • Wesley Snipes and Reggie Jackson (yes, the baseball player) originally both tried out for the part of Geordi La Forge.  One can only imagine the train wreck that would have been the union of Wesley Snipes and the character of Geordi. ;-)
  • The character of Wesley Crusher was originally supposed to be Leslie Crusher.  Luckily for Wil Wheaton, this was changed and they decided to go with a son for Dr. Crusher.  The name “Wesley” was Gene Roddenberry’s middle name.
  • Data’s name was originally supposed to be pronounced dat-uh, rather than date-uh, but it was changed before filming.
  • After season one of Star Trek, the Next Generation, Jonathan Frakes grew a beard in between the filming of that season and the next.  He was going to shave it off, but when the producers saw it, they asked him to keep it for the show.
  • If you were to zoom in on the Engineering schematic of the Enterprise in The Next Generation, you’d see a mouse on a wheel in Engineering and a Porsche in the main shuttle bay.  Obviously these elements are too small to see on TV.
  • In The Next Generation episode “The Arsenal of Freedom”, the killer hover probe was made primarily out of a shampoo bottle and a pantyhose container.
  • Another interesting simple visual effect was how they made the “edge of the universe” in “Where No One Has Gone Before”.  Basically, they just bounced a laser beam off of a beer can.  The transporter visual effect (for TNG) was created by filming glitter swirled around in water.  In the original, it was aluminum powder blown by a fan under a spotlight.
  • The famous sliding door sound effect on Star Trek was made by James Wolvington, a sound editor, rubbing his shoe across the floor and then editing that up until he got a satisfactory sound.
  • The character of Data was quoted as having a memory capacity of 800 quadrillion bits or about 100 petabytes.  For reference, this is about 1/716 the amount of data downloaded on the internet every day.  That might not sound like much in terms of his capacity, but it is currently estimated that all the digital data in the world today only adds up to around 8000 times Data’s storage capacity.  Further, as recently as 2005, all the text data on the internet was thought to only add up to around 1/50th of Data’s capacity.
  • Patrick Stewart’s been bald since his late teens / early 20s.  The producers of the show, thus, asked him to wear a toupee when he first met the Paramount executives as they were afraid the executives wouldn’t want to cast him as the captain if they knew he was bald.  Instead, though, after the meeting, they said they wanted him, but only if he didn’t wear a toupee when on the show.  :-)
  • One of the ongoing bloopers that happened on Star Trek was actors running into doors that didn’t open in time.  Rather than actually make the doors motorized and electronic on the set, instead, they just had stage hands open and close them manually via ropes and pulleys.  However, the stage hands occasionally would not get the timing right and because the actors were told they were to always act like the doors were going to open and not hesitate, they frequently walked and sometimes ran right into the doors.  If you’ve ever been to a Star Trek convention, you’ll likely see a video of some of these bloopers, such as one video that shows a minute straight of numerous times William Shatner ran into a door that didn’t open.
  • Patrick Stewart was not the first choice for Captain Picard.  Rather, the role was first offered to Edward James Olmos.  He turned it down (thankfully, not to disrespect him, but it’s hard to imagine someone playing the part better than Patrick Stewart).  Olmos is best known for his work in Miami Vice as Lt. Martin Castillo.  In the sci-fi world, he’s probably best known as Detective Gaff in Blade Runner or William Adama in Battlestar Galactica.
  • The U.S. Navy has a motto: “Ex tridens scientia” (From the sea, knowledge).  This was borrowed in Star Trek with Starfleet Academy having the motto: “Ex Astris, Scientia” (“From the stars, knowledge”).
  • The practice of calling Riker “Number 1″ stemmed from the British tradition of calling a first officer aboard a ship “Number 1″.
  • The stardate used on Star Trek, The Next Generation often seems like random numbers, rather than an actual date.  In fact, though, they do signify a real date/time system.  There are 1000 units in an Earth year in that system, so 0 to 1000 would be year 0 to year 1.  In the first episode of The Next Generation, the stardate is 41153.7; thus, the last three digits can be converted to the month and day of the year.  So, in this case, 153.7/1000 = .1537 *365 = 56.  Thus, by our calendar system, the first episode would be on February 25, 2364.  The last episode, 47988, would then be on December 26, 2370.
  • You might have noticed that the Klingons in the original Star Trek don’t closely resemble the Klingons in the later movies and shows.  This was originally due to budget problems where Roddenberry wasn’t able to get the Klingons to look as he had wanted.  Obviously this was no longer a problem with the movies and later shows.  This change isn’t addressed until an episode of Deep Space Nine where Worf mentions an event that occurred to make Klingons look more human, but doesn’t elaborate further.  However, this is later expounded upon in Enterprise where it is found a virus affected the Klingons and caused some of them to appear more human, as in the original Star Trek.
  • NBC was originally concerned with Spock looking like a depiction of the devil (indeed, Roddenberry even originally had wanted Spock’s skin to be red).  NBC even went so far as to have Spock’s ears and eyebrows airbrushed in promotional magazine campaigns to make him look more normal.  Spock’s skin color ultimately was made to be normal, rather than red, due to the fact that the red color on black and white screens looked black.
  • Spock’s hair style briefly became popular back in the 1960s among kids.  Interestingly, Nemoy’s dad was a barber and once the show became somewhat popular, he kept getting kids coming in asking for “Mr. Spock’s haircut”, though most were ignorant of the fact that Nemoy was his son.
  • To date, the Star Trek movies alone have grossed over $2.145 billion.  Further, the merchandising gross for the entire franchise is estimated to be over $4 billion.  I was not able to find gross numbers for the shows themselves, but one imagines they did pretty well for themselves, running for a combined 30 seasons (including the animated series).
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Origin of the Term Layman


Today I found out the origin of the term layman.

The term layman has today come to mean “a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field.”  It also has a somewhat less commonly known meaning of “a person who is not a member of the clergy”, which is its original definition. Layman derived from the two existing words “lay” (from the Old French “lai”, meaning “secular”) and “man”, hence the “non-cleric” meaning.

The term layman popped up around the 15th century and within about 100 years the term laywoman also became common.  In both cases, outside the non-cleric definition, they first particularly seemed to refer to people who were not specifically accredited in medicine or law, with the definition broadening from there to include any non-expert in a certain field.

The term “laity” has a similar origin as layman, deriving from the Middle English “laite”, which in turn derives from the French word of the same spelling. The French word “laite” comes from the Latin “laicus”, and finally from the Greek “laikos”, meaning “of the people” or “common” (“laos” meaning “people”).

The exact definition of laity varies slightly based on what religious sect one consults, but in general this word just means people who are not ordained, but belong to a certain religious group.  So, for example, in the Catholic Lumen Gentium, laity is defined as follows:

The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

Interestingly, the word ‘man’ was originally gender neutral, coming to eventually mean the same as the modern day word “person”, though originally was more accurately defined as “the thinker.” In addition to that, the word “men” used to just mean “to think” or “to have a cognitive mind” and was also considered to be completely gender neutral. It wasn’t until about a thousand years ago that the words man and men started to refer to a specific gender (males) and it wasn’t until the late 20th century that it was almost exclusively used to refer to males.

Bonus Facts:

  • Before “man” meant a male, the word “wer” or “wǣpmann” was commonly used to refer to “male human”.  This word almost completely died out around the 1300s, but survives somewhat in words like “werewolf”, which literally means “man wolf”.
  • Women at that time were referred to as “wif” or “wīfmann”, meaning “female human”.  The latter “wifmann”, eventually evolved into the word “woman” and retained its original meaning.  The word “wif” eventually evolved into “wife”, with its meaning obviously being changed slightly.
  • One interesting convention that was thought up in the early 1900s to deal with this issue of “man” coming to mean both male and female and also sometimes meaning males exclusively is, in literature, to do the following: when referring to all humans, “man” should be capitalized as in “Man”; when referring to “man” as in “male”, it is to be left lower case.  This convention was used in such literary works as “The Lord of the Rings” and was a key point in the prophecy concerning the Witch-king of Angmar: “no man can kill me”, meaning that according to the prophecy, a woman, Eowyn, could kill him because “man” in the prophecy was not capitalized.
  • The surname of “layman” (though not actually spelled like that) actually predated the “layman” term as we think of it today by about 600 years.  This name originally came through the Old English “leah”, meaning “a glade”, with “mann”, meaning more or less “a person responsible for something”.  Thus leahmann, layman, leyman, lyman, etc. would mean “a person who cares for a glade.”
  • In some religious sects, a lay priest once referred to someone who is a priest, but is not ordained in any specific order.  In Buddhism, however, a lay monk or lay priest was once considered to be someone who was a Buddhist monk, but did not live in a monastery, rather, lived among the people.
  • The term “layperson” didn’t come about until the 1970s, as an alternate explicitly gender neutral version of layman or laywoman.

Expand for References

Where The Term Goodbye Comes From


Today I found out the origin of the term “Goodbye”.

“Goodbye” comes from the term “Godbwye” a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye”. Depending on the source, the contraction seems to have first popped up somewhere between 1565 and 1575. The first documented use of the “Godbwye” appeared in a letter English writer and scholar Gabriel Harvey wrote in 1573.  In it, he wrote, “To requite your gallonde of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes.”  As time went on, it is believed the phrase was influenced by terms like “good day” and “good evening”, transitioning then from “god be with ye” to god-b’wye to good-b’wy and finally ending in today’s blessing of goodbye.

Bonus Facts:

  • In Spanish, there are several different ways to say goodbye: there is adiós, which literally translates “to god” but functionally means “good-bye”; hasta luego, literally meaning “Until then or next”; hasta la vista literally “until the sight” but functionally “see you later”.
  • “Hasta La Vista, Baby” was popularized in American culture by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $15 million dollars for his role in T2. Having only 700 words of dialog in the movie, he was paid $21,429 for each word. That’s $85,716 for the phrase “Hasta la vista, baby”.
  • The “Judgment Day” in the movie was August 29, 1997. This is the anniversary of the first atomic bomb detonated by the Soviet Union in 1949.
  • The first nuclear bomb the Soviet Union detonated was RDS-1, also known as “first lightning”.
  • On January 28, 1573, the same year Gabriel Harvey wrote his letter referenced above, the Articles of Warsaw Confederation were signed. These articles sanctioned the freedom of religion for Poland. At the time, Poland was populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Germans, Georgians, and Jews. Poland, as a result, had a very religiously tolerant society. When the King died the year previous leaving the reform of their legal system up in the air, it was feared that the election of an unsuitable candidate might bring this religious tolerance to a halt. This would have been disastrous for the region at the time because Poland was situated between Moscow, Turkey, and the rest of Western Europe which were themselves being torn apart by religious conflicts. Refugees from all of Poland’s neighboring countries would seek the tolerance of Poland, thereby escaping persecution in their home countries. Cardinal Hozjusz called Poland at the time “a place of shelter for heretics”. The confederation then legalized this societal tolerance and allowed for the peaceful co-existence of all religious denominations.
  • Freedom of religion in the United States is provided for under the 1st amendment to the US Constitution. The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There are also 2 religious clauses to the first amendment. The establishment clause and the free exercise clause. They do not allow government to establish a national religion or show preference by the U.S. Government to one religion over another.
  • The 14th amendment of the US Constitution guarantees religious civil rights and prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of religion, by securing “the equal protection of the laws” for every person.
  • On March 3rd 1991 Rodney King was beaten by members of the Los Angeles police department. The acquittal of the police officers involved kicked off the “1992 South Central riots.
  • The same videocassette recording that shot the beating of Rodney King was used earlier that same day to record the film crew of the Terminator 2 movie while they were themselves filming the exterior of a bar for the opening scene of the movie.
  • On November 25, 1981, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”. This declaration recognized that the international community believes freedom of religion to be a fundamental human right. It is unfortunate, however, that they haven’t passed any legal ramifications for those who do not guarantee the right to freedom of religion.
  • A report by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that approximately 2.2 billion people live in countries where persecution for religious reasons increased between 2006 and 2009.
Expand for References

“Nephew” Used to Refer to Both Boys and Girls


“Nephew” at one time was a gender neutral term, but since around the 17th century has referred nearly exclusively to male children of one’s siblings or brother/sister-in-law’s children.  The word “nephew” comes from the Old French “neveu” meaning “grandson, descendant”, which in turn comes from the Latin “nepotem”, meaning “sister’s son, grandson, or descendant”.  The first documented case of “nephew” being used in English was in the 14th century.

Today, because we now lack a gender neutral word to refer to a niece or nephew, it has been suggested that the slang word “nibling” be adopted, derived more or less from “sibling”.


Mexico is Really Called the United Mexican States


Today I found out that Mexico is really called the United Mexican States or Estados Unidos Mexicanos.  Specifically, there are thirty one states in the UMS, with 111 million people making it the 11th most populated country in the world.

The United Mexican States was originally called “New Spain” around the time they won their independence from Spain.  They then decided to name the country after the capital city, Mexico City, which was originally founded in 1524 at the same location as the Aztec capital, Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

Interestingly, the original meaning of this name is not known, though it is known it is from the Nahuatl language.  A variety of theories have been suggested about it’s meaning though.  One of the most popular is that it is derived from the secret name for the Aztec god of war, Mexihtli or Huitzilopochtli, “Place where Mexihtli lives”.

The name of the country has also changed as the government has changed.  Two other names the United Mexican States have gone by are (in English): the Mexican Empire and the Mexican Republic.

Bonus Facts:

  • “Tenochtitlan” comes from the Nahuatl “tetl”, meaning “rock”, and “nochtli”, which means something to the effect of “prickly pear”.  Thus, it more or less means “at the place near rock-cactus-fruit”.
  • Words that have come to the English language via the Nahautl language include: tomatoes (tomatl); chocolate (chocolatl); and avacados (ahuacatl).
  • One of the many ways the Aztecs would chose who was to be sacrificed to keep the sun moving (by giving it human blood) was to play a ball game called tlachtli, which is thought to have been something like racquetball, though the rules of the game are not precisely known.  At the times when this game was used to pick who was sacrificed, the loser would be sacrificed to the gods.
  • Because Mexico City is built on a lake, it is sinking at around 8 inches per year.
  • The first major civilization in Mexico is thought to be the Olmecs beginning around 1400 BC to around 300 BC.
  • The Mayan’s once had a “hornet bomb” weapon, which is pretty much exactly what you’d think.  They would take a hornet’s nest and throw it at enemies in battle, very sophisticated.
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A Group of Cats is Called a ‘Clowder’

Kitty with Pancake on his head

kittensToday I found out that the correct term for referring to a group of cats is ‘clowder’.  Interestingly, there are also two other valid ways to refer to a group of cats, other than just saying “group of cats” or “cats”.  Those other two terms are ‘clutter’ and ‘glaring’.

In addition to this, if one wants to refer to a group of wild cats, the correct terms are ‘dowt’ and ‘destruction’.   A male cat, when neutered, is called a “gib”, when not, is called a “tom”.  Female cats are known as “molly”.

The word “cat” itself derives from the Old English “catt”.  Catt has its source in the Late Latin “catus”, meaning: “domestic cat”.  This Late Latin word probably derives from an Afro-Asiatic word: “kaddîska”, meaning “wild cat”.

Bonus Facts:

  • Cats can survive a fall from virtually any height. According to a study done by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 132 cats falling from an average of 5.5 stories and as high as 32 stories, the latter of which is more than enough for them to reach their terminal velocity, have a survival rate of about 90%, assuming they are brought in to treat their various injuries that may occur because of the impact with the ground.  Read more Here
  • Cats cannot detect the sweet taste.  This is due to a mutant chemoreceptor in their taste buds.  Because of this, cats generally ignore sweet tasting food items like fruit.
  • Cats purr at around 26 cycles per second, which is about the same as an idling diesel engine.  Cats are also not the only animal that purrs.  Other animals that purr include: squirrels, guinea pigs, lemurs, and elephants, among others.
  • Domestic cats can run as fast as 30 mph.
  • It was long thought that domestic cats have their origin in Ancient Egypt.  However, in 2007 it was discovered that domestic cats pre-date Ancient Egypt and actually go as far back as 8000-9000 BC, with the first direct evidence being of a cat buried along side a human in Cyprus around 7500 BC.
  • It was also once popularly thought that cats were domesticated by humans in order to provide rodent control.  However, it is now thought that domestic cats were probably self domesticated in that they simply lived around humans long enough, hunting rodents and other vermin in towns, and gradually became adapted to domesticated life. Fast forward to today and cats are currently the most popular pet in the world.
  • A cat’s forelimbs have a free-floating clavicle bone.  Unless they are very overweight, this allows them to fit through any space their head can fit through.
  • The heaviest cat ever recorded was 46 pounds 15.2 ounces.  The lightest adult cat ever recorded was just 3 pounds.
  • A cat’s normal body temperature is around 101.5° F.  Unlike humans, they can comfortably withstand high external temperatures ranging up to 126° F to 133° F before showing any signs that they are hot.  This is thought to be a remnant of the fact that they were once probably desert animals.  Their feces is also typically very dry and their urine highly concentrated so as not to waste water.  In fact, cats need so little water that they can survive on nothing but uncooked meat, with no other water source needed.
  • Cats can see quite well in light levels as little as 1/6 of what is required for humans to see well.  They accomplish this largely via a tapetum lucidum, which reflects light passed through the retina back into the eye.  They also have exceptionally large pupils for their body size.
  • Cats also have some of the best hearing of any animal.  They can hear frequencies as high as 79 KHz and as low as 55 Hz.  For reference, humans hearing range is typically between 31 Hz to 18 KHz and dog’s hearing range is typically between 67 Hz and 44 KHz.  This extremely good hearing helps cats hunt rodents in that rodents often communicate in ultrasonic frequencies which the cats can hear.
  • A cat’s sense of smell is also about twice that of a typical human.
  • Cats are attracted to catnip largely because of the chemical nepetalactone, which mimics the smell of a certain pheromone found in cats.  Other plants that produce the same effect in cats are Silver Vine and the herb Valerian.  Interestingly, nepetalactone has the opposite effect on cockroaches and mosquitoes in that it repels them.
  • Domestic cats typically have a lifespan of around 12 to 14 years.  The current world record holder for oldest cat, though, is 38 years.  The cat’s name was Creme Puff.
  • Human foods that can be toxic to cats include: chocolate, because of the theobromine; onions, in large amounts; and garlic, again, in large amounts.  Tylenol is also very toxic for cats.
  • The male cat’s penis has around 120-150 barbs on it that point backwards.  When the penis is withdrawn from the female, this scrapes her vagina and triggers ovulation, as well as attempts to clean out any sperm from other cats.
  • A female cat will often mate with several male cats while they are in heat.  This will often result in cats within the same litter having different fathers.
  • While domestic cats are pets in most parts of the world, in certain parts of Asia, particularly southern China in the Guangdong province, cats are also seen as a food source.  It is estimated that around 10,000 cats per day are eaten in that province alone.  In all of Asia, it is estimated that around 4 million cats are eaten every year.
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Why Carbonated Beverages Are Called “Soft Drinks”

Crown Cork

Funny Vintage Soda AdToday I found out why flavored carbonated beverages are called “soft drinks”.

It turns out, soft drinks aren’t just flavored carbonated beverages.  “Soft Drink” refers to nearly all beverages that do not contain significant amounts of alcohol (hard drinks).

The term “soft drink” though is now typically used exclusively for flavored carbonated beverages.  This is actually due to advertising.  Flavored carbonated beverage makers were having a hard time creating national advertisements due to the fact that what you call their product varies from place to place.  For instance, in parts of the United States and Canada, flavored carbonated beverages are referred to as “pop”; in other parts “soda”; in yet other parts “coke”; and there are a variety of other names commonly used as well.  Then if we go international with the advertisements, in England these drinks are called “fizzy drinks”; in Ireland sometimes “minerals”.  To account for the fact that they can’t refer to their product in the generic sense on national advertisements, because of these varied terms, these manufactures have chosen the term “soft drink” to be more or less a universal term for flavored carbonated beverages.

Interestingly, according to a study done in 2006, most carbonated “soft” drinks actually do contain a little alcohol.  In older methods of introducing the CO2 to the drink, this was resulting from natural fermentation, similar to how most beer gets its alcohol.  However, with modern methods of introducing CO2 to the drink, this is not an issue; yet measurable amounts of alcohol remain.  This is due to the fermentation of sugars in the non-sterile environment of the drink.   In some types of soda-pop, additional alcohol is also introduced due to the fact that alcohol is used in the preparation of some of the flavor extracts.  However, before anyone starts campaigning to make soda-pop illegal for kids due to the alcohol content, it should be noted that a typical container of yogurt of similar volume to  some amount of soda-pop, will contain about 2 times the amount of alcohol over the amount in the soda-pop.

Pop vs Soda vs Coke Map

*Note: this article was by request.  If there is anything you’d like to know, feel free to send me an email and if I think it’s something worth doing an article on, I’ll do the research for you and write an article on it.

Bonus Facts:

  • Carbonating beverages, introducing CO2 into the drink mix under pressure, makes the drink slightly more acidic (carbonic acid), which serves to sharpen the flavor and produces a slight burning sensation.  It also helps preserve the drink longer without going bad.
  • The first known reference of the term “Pop”, as referring to a beverage, was in 1812 in a letter written by English poet Robert Southey; in this letter he also explains the term’s origin: “Called on A. Harrison and found he was at Carlisle, but that we were expected to supper; excused ourselves on the necessity of eating at the inn; supped there upon trout and roast foul, drank some most admirable cyder, and a new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn, and pop you would go off too, if you drank too much of it.”
  • The term “soda-pop” was a moniker given to carbonated beverages due to the fact that people thought the bubbles were produced from soda (sodium bicarbonate), as with certain other products that were popular at that time.  A more correct moniker would have been “carbonated-pop”.
  • In ancient cultures, people believed that bathing and drinking mineral waters from springs, which were naturally carbonated, could cure many diseases.  As such, scientists and inventors sought ways to artificially produce these mineral waters.  Artificially produced carbonated beverages get their start from this; the first carbonated beverages were just non-flavored carbonated water sold as mineral water tonics.
  • The first flavored carbonated drinks were created in the United States in 1807 by Townsend Speakman.  The purpose of adding flavor wasn’t just to make it taste better, but also to improve on the supposed natural curative properties of mineral water.  Popular ingredients to add were birch bark, dandelions, ginger, lemon, coca, and kola (the latter two combined ended up producing Coca-Cola, which was originally formulated by Dr. John Styth Pemberton and first sold on May 8th, 1886).
  • The father of the soft drink industry is generally held to be German-Swiss jeweler Jacob Schweppe, who was the first large-scale producer of aerated water around 1783.  Although, there were many before him that produced aerated water, such as William Brownrigg from England, who created the first artificial mineral water in 1741.
  • Keeping aerated drinks in a bottle was a huge problem for a long time in the distribution of soft drinks.  As such, until the advent of crown cork (crown cap), carbonated beverages were generally only available in pharmacies (hence why many of the most popular soft drink flavors that survived to this day were invented by pharmacists).
  • Crown CorkOver 1500 types of cork and other bottle stopper patents were filed to attempt to stop aerated drinks from losing their carbonation too quickly. Finally, in 1891, in the United States,  William Painter invented the “crown cork”, which gave the first truly effective, mass producible, way to stop the carbonation from escaping from bottled carbonated drinks.   This allowed, for the first time, people to buy carbonated beverages they could store at home.
  • However, at the time of this invention, glass bottles had to be made by hand by glass blowers.  This changed in 1899 with the invention of an automatic glass blowing machine which, in a very short span, increased annual glass bottle production from about 1500 bottles a day to 57,000 bottles a day in the United States.  This further drove down the price and helped popularize bottled carbonated drinks.
  • Most modern carbonated beverage bottles are designed to hold as much as 20 atmospheres of pressure before bursting.  The carbonation itself though is only introduced at about 2 atmospheres of pressure, though this varies slightly from drink to drink.
  • If you were to let all the CO2 out of a typical carbonated drink, at 1 atmosphere of pressure it would fill a volume about four times that of the original drink container.
  • Glass bottles make significantly better containers for carbonated beverages due to the fact that air can diffuse through plastic, allowing the CO2 to escape.  Thus, carbonated beverages stored in plastic containers have a much shorter shelf life than their glass counterparts.
  • The first mass produced, non-tea/coffee, soft drinks were non-carbonated, appearing popularly around the 17th century.  The most popular of these were made from water, lemon juice, and honey.  At one time, in France, a company was given a monopoly for selling this lemonade concoction to thirsty Parisians.  The sellers would literally walk around with cups and small tanks on their backs and sell this non-alcoholic flavored drink to anyone who wanted it.
  • Almost all of the food energy in soda-pop is from refined cane sugar or corn syrup.   Each serving of a typical carbonated soft drink contains more than the recommended daily allotment of sugars.
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The Origin of the Phrase “Pipe Dream”

Pipe Dream: To the Moon

Pipe Dream: To the MoonToday I found out the origin of the phrase “pipe dream”, meaning “a fantastic hope or plan that is generally regarded as being nearly impossible to achieve.”

This phrase first popped up in the 19th century, with the earliest known documented case coming from Chicago, Illinois; specifically, coming from the December of 1890 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, in this case referring to aerial navigation: “It has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years.”

Yet another reference in Chicago, in September of 1895, demonstrates the true origin of phrase in terms of meaning, namely, as a reference to the dreams experienced when smoking opium.  This September of 1895 reference is from the Fort Wayne Gazette:

There are things taking place every day in Chicago which are devoid of rational explanation as the mysterious coinings of the novelist’s brain. Newspaper men hear of them, but in the rush for cold, hard facts, the ‘pipe stories‘, as queer and unexplainable stories are called, are at a discount. Were it not for this the following incident, which can be verified by the word of several reputable men, would have long ago received the space and attention it merits instead of being consigned to the wastebasket as the ‘pipe dream‘ of an opium devotee.

Bonus Facts:

  • “Pipe Dream” isn’t just a commonly known phrase, it is also a less commonly known musical by Rogers and Hammerstein, which premiered November 30th, 1955 and closed just eight months later, making it the shortest run (245 performances) of any Rodgers and Hammerstein show and was somewhat a flop by their normal standards.  The title was chosen as a play on words in the fact that the lead female character ends up living in an old boiler pipe.
  • Due to the fact that the main character of Pipe Dream lived in a pipe, Jim Henson, in 1989 shortly before his death in 1990, considered producing a version of the musical in film form with Muppets.  This idea was later abandoned.
  • Julie Andrews auditioned for Pipe Dream, but was turned down, not because she wasn’t preferred for the role as the lead, but because Rodgers thought she’d be better off trying out for My Fair Lady.  Her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady was what initially propelled her to stardom.   Specifically, due to her outstanding performance in My Fair Lady, Rodgers decided to cast her in the Rodgers and Hammerstein TV musical Cinderella, which was broadcast to over 107 million viewers in 1957.
  • Despite this, in 1960, Jack Warner, an executive at a movie studio that was producing a film version of My Fair Lady, dropped Julie Andrews as he felt she lacked sufficient name recognition.  This opened up an opportunity for Andrews to play the lead in Disney’s Mary Poppins, which she actually initially turned down because of being pregnant, but Disney insisted and waited for her.    Andrews subsequently won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe award for Best Actress for that role.  She also won a Grammy Award, along with her fellow actors, for best Children’s Album.  As a not-so-subtle jab at Jack Warner, who had said she lacked “name recognition” when he rejected her from the film version of My Fair Lady, she closed her Golden Globes award for Best Actress speech with “And, finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.”
  • “Operation Pipe Dreams” was a 2003 nationwide United States investigation which targeted business selling drug paraphernalia.  In the end, hundreds of businesses and homes were raided nationwide.  Fifty-five people were charged with trafficking of illegal drug paraphernalia and eventually fined and generally given home detentions.   The estimated cost of the operation was around twelve million dollars or about $220,000 per person charged and about 2,000 officers involved or about 36 officers per charge.
  • Actor Tommy Chong was particularly hurt by this sting due to financing and promoting Chong Glass Works/Nice Dreams, which was started by his son and produced over 100 hand blown pipes a day.  Nice Dreams had a policy of not selling to shops where it would be illegal to do so.  However, federal agents under the guise of shop owners in those states where it would be illegal to sell to entrapped Chong’s son by continually contacting him and trying to get him to sell to them.  He initially refused, but eventually they sweetened the deal enough and he agreed to sell, at which point charges were filed.  Tommy Chong eventually agreed to a plea-bargain that made it so neither his son Paris, who had committed the illegal act, nor his wife would be charged.  Tommy Chong was sentenced to 9 months in prison and fined $20,000 along with forfeiting $103,000.   Prosecutors later admitted that they were much more severe with Chong than others charged due to the fact that his movies hindered “law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking and use.”
  • The movies “Down Periscope” (1996) and The Wild Bunch (1969) are both officially called “Pipe Dreams” in many countries the world over.

*Note: this article was by request from a Today I Found Out reader.  If there is anything you’d like to know or something you already know that you think is interesting and not commonly known, feel free to send me an email and if I think it’s something worth doing an article on, I’ll do the research and write an article on it.

Expand for References:

The Words “Blond” and “Blonde” are Not Wholly Synonymous

Blonde Hair

Blonde HairToday I found out the words “blond” and “blonde” are not wholly synonymous.  So what’s the difference between the words “blond” and “blonde”? (besides the obvious extra ‘e’) ;-)

The difference is simply in what gender the word is referring.  When referring to a woman with yellow hair, you should use the feminine spelling “blonde”.  When referring to a male with yellow hair, you should use the spelling “blond”.

This then is one of the few cases of an adjective in English that uses distinct masculine and feminine forms.

Bonus Facts:

  • The word blond derives from the Old French word “blund”, meaning literally “a color midway between golden and light chestnut”.  “Blund” then is typically thought to have come from the Latin word “blundus”, which was a vulgar pronunciation of the Latin “flavus”, which means “yellow”.  The French origin of the word “blond” is how we get the added “e” on the end when using the feminine form.
  • Another oft’ misused spelling of a word is fiancé vs. fiancée.  The former is a male engaged to be married; the latter, with the extra ‘e’, is a woman engaged to be married.
  • “Blond” first appeared in English around 1481 and was later reintroduced in the 17th century; and has since gradually replaced the term “fair”, in English, to describe yellow hair.
  • “Blond” isn’t the only hair color that has alternate spellings based on whether it refers to male or female hair.  The word “brunet” also shares that distinction.  The spelling is “brunet” when referring to a man’s hair and “brunette” when referring to a woman’s hair.
  • Alfred Hitchcock liked to cast blonde women for main characters in his films as he believed people would suspect them least, hence the term “Hitchcock blonde”.
  • A person with a typical full blond head of hair will have about 120,000 hairs on their head; brunets average about 100,000 hairs on their heads while red heads generally only average around 80,000 hairs.
  • Hair does not grow faster or longer the more you cut it.
  • While the previous “old wives’ tale”, that hair grows faster/longer the more it is cut, has been proven false; another such long held adage, that stress contributes in making your hair go gray faster, has been proven true.  This is because the same effects of stress in your body that do damage to DNA also deplete the melanocyte stem cells in hair follicles.  These MSCs are responsible for making pigment producing cells.
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There is Nothing That Comes After Once, Twice, Thrice

English Sign

Today I found out there is nothing that comes after the sequence “once, twice, thrice”.

Interestingly, even though these words are roughly equivalent, differing only in the numeric value they refer to, it is now considered poor English to use “thrice” instead of the equivalent “three times”.  At the same time, it is considered poor English to use “one time” instead of “once”, which seems odd given “thrice” is now taboo.  Just as odd, “twice” is currently considered equally as proper as “two times” in modern English.

So what we now have here is “once” being proper to use; twice being acceptable, but not necessarily preferred over its equivalent “two times”; “thrice” being a no-no; and then nothing beyond that.  English!

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The Effects of Scurvy


Yar me maties, today I found out what be causing scurvy.

Like most people, I already knew that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C and that it was a major problem aboard ships out to sea for a good length of time and is still somewhat of a problem in places where people are malnourished.  But I previously had no idea what the actual symptoms of scurvy are and why it should be such a life threatening thing; indeed, untreated scurvy is fatal, though if you ever find you have scurvy, all that’s required to cure it are healthy doses of Vitamin C.

So what are the major signs of scurvy; I’m glad you asked:

  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • irritability
  • inability to gain weight
  • muscle weakness or pseudoparalysis
  • joint and muscle aches and stiffness
  • rashes, particularly on your legs; generally looking like tiny red blisters and eventually large purple blotches
  • bleeding gums which turn blue-ish purple and feel spongy
  • bulging eye balls
  • corkscrew hair (only in non-infantile scurvy), particularly noticeable on your arms and legs
  • loosened teeth which will eventually fall out in the advanced stages of scurvy
  • fever
  • swollen legs, particularly swelling over the long bones of your body
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • scar tissue will break down and you’ll begin bleeding again from these formerly healed areas
  • slow wound healing
  • anemia
  • depression
  • unusual paleness
  • bleeding under the skin and from hair follicles
  • eventual death due to cardiac failure

Ya, scurvy is pleasant apparently.  Luckily for adults, it will typical take several weeks and possibly even a couple months for a Vitamin C deficiency to cause symptoms of scurvy.  In babies and children, this is not the case.

So what’s really going on here?  How does the loss of one little amino acid in your system cause such a systemic problem in your body?  Simply speaking, ascorbic acid, Vitamin C, is not only important for our immune system, but also is important for the proper development of connective tissues; *warning: medical nerdery ahead* it’s also important for lipid and vitamin metabolism, bio-synthesis of neurotransmitters, and wound healing.

For those who don’t know, “lipid” is just a name for a broad group of hydrophobic or amphiphilic small molecules, such as  fats and fat-soluble vitamins (such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K) among others.  So from that, already you can see why a lack of Vitamin C would create a variety of problems in your body, if nothing else by diminishing your ability to metabolize several some other important vitamins and fats.  Oh but it gets better and much more serious.

Another principal problem caused from a lack of Vitamin C is the inability to properly develop collagen in your body.  Collagen is quite literally the glue that holds you together; from your muscles (makes up about 1-6% of your muscle tissue, depending on the specific muscle) to scar tissue; to your skin (one of the principle things along with keratin that gives your skin strength and elasticity); also gives bones some elasticity and strength (without it bones are quite brittle); it strengthens blood vessels; is essential in your eye and lens; plays an important role in weight management (hydrolyzed collagen); the list goes on and on and on.

*Warning: EXTREME medical nerdery ahead for the benefit of my paramedic brother who was curious about this; for everybody else, skip to the bonus factoids, because seriously ;-)*  What’s going on here is Vitamin C is required as a cofactor for prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase; these enzymes need an Fe2+ ion to be present.  The problem being, that Fe2+ is unstable and will oxidize very easily.  Vitamin C though, which is a water-soluble antioxidant, will end up keeping the Fe from going to the more stable 3+ form, rather keeping it at the required 2+ form.

Now these prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase enzymes are then responsible for the hydroxylation of the proline and lysine amino acids in collagen (knee bone connected to the, thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the hip bone…).  These stabilize the collagen by cross-linking the propeptides in collagen.

So bottom line, without the Vitamin C, the collagen can’t synthesize properly which in turn affects all the stuff collagen is in, which is pretty much most of your body.  If the collagen development is impaired, effectively, you’re screwed (eventually).  Not only would this eventually cause a lot of the symptoms of scurvy and eventual death, but after you died from cardiac failure (remember the collagen in your muscles?), your body wouldn’t even be good for making premo-jello jigglers. (if you got this far you probably already knew that jello is made from collagen, right? … yummy)

And then of course if all these above problems aren’t enough, there is the problem with the lack of vitamin C affecting the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that relay, amplify, and modulate signals between neurons and another cell (ya, that’s not important at all and yes, I looked up that definition).  Without vitamin C, many essential conversions in synthesizing some of these neurotransmitters can’t take place and thus your body can’t synthesize them.

So bottom line, go eat some oranges, cause seriously… seriously.

*note: this article was by request.  if there is anything you’d like to know, feel free to send me an email and if I think it’s something worth doing an article on, I’ll write it up.

Bonus Facts:

  • May 2nd is Scurvy Day.  So happy belated Scurvy day to you.
  • The word “scurvy” is from the Latin, scorbutus; this same Latin word is where we get the name “ascorbic acid”, which is Vitamin C or “scurvy acid”.
  • Vitamin C was isolated by the Nobel Prize winning biochemist Szent-Györgyi in 1927.  It was 5 years later when the connection was made between scurvy and a Vitamin C deficiency.  Researchers discovered that guinea pigs also contracted scurvy.  This was the first time any animal other than humans was shown to contract the illness.  Guinea pigs happen to be one of the few animals besides humans who cannot synthesize their own Vitamin C.  Once researchers discovered that guinea pigs could get scurvy, thus having an animal to experiment on, it was simply a matter of isolating which nutrient cured the scurvy in the guinea pigs and since it was already known that fresh citrus fruits cured it, it made it easier yet.
  • Besides guinea pigs and humans, fruit bats and other primates are about the only other animals not able to synthesize our own vitamin C; thus, we need to consume it regularly to keep our bodies supply up or quite literally our bodies start to fall apart.
  • Refined carbohydrates accelerate the process of depleting Vitamin C from your body.  The insulin in the bloodstream ends up causing amino acids to be stored as fat (except for tryptophan).  The tryptophan then competes with the vitamin C to enter the bloodstream, causing less of the vitamin C to be available in the body.  This further made sailors susceptible to scurvy, as their daily rations tended to be heavy in refined carbohydrates, such as hard biscuits and the like.
  • Documented cases of scurvy go all the way back to the ancient Egyptians in 1550 BC and Hippocrates around 460 BC.  Interestingly, various cures for scurvy have popped up off and on throughout history, only to be forgotten and then later re-discovered.  The ones that worked obviously were all centered around Vitamin C intake, though it has only been recently that it has been known what actually cures scurvy.
  • Consistent cures for scurvy were hard to identify for much of history because of the lack of isolating Vitamin C and also because when Vitamin C is exposed to air or copper, it is destroyed.  So for instance, when the British sailors became convinced that citrus fruits cured scurvy, they began storing lime juice and the fruit aboard ships (though the fruit itself would go bad very quickly).  So the whole limes did a great job of curing the scurvy, but as soon as those ran out and they relied on the lime juice, it seemed that limes didn’t cure scurvy.  The problem was that the lime juice was not only exposed to air, but also run through copper pipes when originally processed.  So this destroyed most all the vitamin C and made it appear as if limes didn’t actually cure scurvy.  This same type of misdirection manifested itself among a variety of the other things used to cure scurvy, such as  fruits, herbs, certain tree needles, fresh meat, etc.  The problem with creating a cure, until recently, was that no one knew what about these various cures was actually doing the curing.
  • The problem of finding the cause of scurvy was further exacerbated due to the fact that fresh meat, particularly organ meat, also cures scurvy due to its Vitamin C content.  Thus, it was popularly believed that any fresh food would cure scurvy.
  • The fact that fresh meat contains Vitamin C is essential to people who live in frigid climates where fresh fruits are hard to come by, such as the case with the Eskimos.
  • British sailors and eventually British people were given the nickname “limey” due to the fact that in the 1790’s the royal navy took Bachstrom and Lind’s recommendation of using fresh lemons and limes to cure scurvy.  So each sailor was given a ration of these fruits, by the Merchant Shipping Act,  hence, “limey”. Though it was still quite hard to keep these fruits fresh over long voyages so cases of scurvy persisted.
  • The British eventually ended up using limes over lemons due to the fact that they had an abundant supply of limes in the British Caribbean colonies.  Interestingly, these limes actually contained about 1/4 of the Vitamin C than the lemons they were originally using.  In addition to this, they were also often served in juice form, as described above, which even further diminished their Vitamin C content.
  • The recommended amount of Vitamin C for adults is around 50-60 mg per day; for infants it’s only about 30 mg per day; and 40-45 mg per day for children aged 1-14.  Pregnant women need a slightly higher dosage at around 70 mg per day and more like 90-95 mg per day when they are breastfeeding.
  • Babies and lactating mothers will develop scurvy if the mother doesn’t up her vitamin C intake accounting for the fact that she needs to take in enough vitamin C for two people.
  • Infants weaned from breastfeeding to drinking pasteurized cow milk will need to take additional supplements of Vitamin C or they will develop scurvy.  The pasteurization process destroys the Vitamin C in the milk; this resulted in a large amount of infantile scurvy cases in the early 19th century.
  • Smoking, stress, and a variety of medications also causes need for more Vitamin C intake than most people need.
  • When talking about scurvy in babies, it is often referred to as “Barlow’s disease”, named after Sir Thomas Barlow, who was a physician who studied it.
  • A British civilian in 1614, nearly stumbled on the actual thing that cured scurvy, when he theorized that it was the acidic principles of citrus fruit that did the curing and thus it was a dietary deficiency.  Unfortunately, he thought that any acid would cure scurvy and never went on to discover that it was specifically something now called citric acid or more commonly Vitamin C that was doing the curing.
  • It was once common for ship crews to eat the fat scrubbed from copper pans after cooking things.  This actually increased the likelihood of the sailors to contract scurvy as the fat on the hot copper would absorb substances which irritated the gut and reduced the ability of their bodies to absorb vitamins.
Expand for References:

The British Equivalent of “That’s What She Said”


bishopToday I found out there is a British equivalent to “that’s what she said” that’s been around for over a century, namely, “said the actress to the bishop”.  This phrase is thought to have its origins as far back as the Edwardian period (around 1901-1910), though it didn’t appear in print until “The Saint” novel “Meet the Tiger” was published in 1928.

This phrase derives from the fact that, during early English theater, actresses were poorly paid and often used prostitution to supplement their income.  Because of these “loose morals”, clergymen spent a lot of time with these actresses… trying to get them to turn from their sinful ways.   Thus, it was a common occurrence for actresses to confess their sexual sins to these clergymen (bishops).  Somewhere along the line (and nobody knows exactly where or when), it became common then to say “as the actress said to the bishop” or alternatively “said the actress to the bishop” any time someone uttered a phrase that could be taken sexually, if viewed in the correct light.

If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • “Said the actress to the Bishop” became a near extinct phrase by the 1970s, but saw a huge resurgence in common usage recently due to Ricky Gervais, playing the character David Brent in the British The Office, frequently using this wellerism.
  • In homage to Ricky Gervais, Steve Carrel adopted the American equivalent of “that’s what she said” for his corresponding American The Office character.  Similar to how the British The Office caused a resurgence of “said the actress to the bishop”, the American The Office spawned a huge resurgence of “that’s what she said”, which had fallen out of common usage after its peak in the 1990s.
  • “That’s what she said” is thought to have been around since the 1970s with the earliest documented case of the phrase showing up on Saturday Night Live, spoken by Chevy Chase in a weekend update skit in 1975, which also happened to be the first season of SNL.  “That’s what she said” was later hugely popularized thanks to Wayne’s World skits on Saturday Night Live and later usage in the movie “Wayne’s World”.
  • Both “that’s what she said” and “said the actress to the bishop” are used to turn seemingly innocent phrases into phrases with sexual connotations.  The innocent phrase itself, such as “I can’t do it; it’s just too hard”, is called a “double entendre”, which basically means it’s a spoken phrase which can be understood in two ways, with the first meaning being straightforward while the second is generally either ironic, inappropriate, or risqué.
  • “Said the actress to the bishop” is also commonly reversed, if it fits the double entendre better.  Such as “Don’t grip it so tight!” *said the bishop to the actress*
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Where the Word “Algebra” Came From


Today I found out the origins of the word “Algebra”.

It all started back around 825 AD when a man named Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, the “father” of Algebra, wrote a book called “Kitab al-jabr wa al-muqabalah”.  This roughly translates to “Rules of Reintegration and Reduction”.  This work was specifically covering the branch of mathematics we now know as Algebra and was the most notable work on the subject during this period, covering such things as polynomial equations up to the second degree; introducing methods for reduction and balancing; and other such staple algebraic methods.

It was so notable that it eventually found its way into Europe, becoming the first text book on the subject of Algebra in Europe.  The Europeans eventually used the name “al-jabr” for the name of this subject (which in the translated Latin text version was “algebrae”, hence “algebra”).

“Al-jabr” more or less just means “reunion of broken parts”; basically describing the method for solving both sides of an equation.

Bonus Fact:

  • The word “algorithm” comes from none other than al-Khwarizmi’s name.    If you distort the name slightly when you say it, you’ll get the connection.
Expand for References

What the SOS Distress Signal Stands For


Today I found out what SOS stands for.

It is commonly held that SOS is an acronym for “Save Our Ship” and thus often written “S.O.S.”.  Interestingly though, SOS actually stands for nothing at all.  It’s not an acronym for anything, which is why it is incorrect to put full stops between each letter.

So why was SOS chosen to signify a distress signal?  The thought was that SOS, in Morse code signified by three dots, three dashes, then three dots, could not be misinterpreted as being a message for anything else.  Also, being sent together as one string (with no stops), it could be sent very quickly and needing very little power to transmit.  As the 1918 Marconi Yearbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony notes, “This signal [SOS] was adopted simply on account of its easy radiation and its unmistakable character.  There is no special significance in the letters themselves…”

Bonus Facts:

  • The SOS signal was created and adopted as the universal international distress signal at the 1906 Berlin Radiotelegraphic Conference.
  • In 1909, T.D. Haubner of the SS Arapahoe became the first person to use the SOS distress signal call.  The ship he worked on had lost its screw near the Diamond Shoals which are also known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.  Interestingly, a few months later Haubner, still working on the SS Arapahoe, received the world’s second SOS call; this one sent from the SS Iroquois.  So he was the first sender and the second receiver.
  • The signal “SSS” was adopted during WWII when the emergency was caused by a submarine attack.  This was to let any potential rescuing ships know there was a hostile submarine in the region.
  • The creator of the S.O.S pads wife thought that the SOS signal stood for “Save Our Ships”, which inspired her to name her husband’s cleaning pads S.O.S, standing for “Save Our Saucepans“.
  • The SOS standard signal for distress was preceded by the standard “CQD” signal which meant literally: CQ: general call or “all stations”; D: Distress.
  • The Titanic’s radio officer Jack Phillips first used the old standard “CQD”  to call for help.  He transmitted “CQD” six times followed by the Titanic’s call letters “MGY”.  He later interspersed “SOS” in with the “CQD” messages, at the suggestion of junior radio officer Harold Bride.
  • Interestingly Marconi, of the Marconi Company who had originally suggested “CQD” for a distress signal, was waiting in New York to return to England on the Titanic.
Expand for References:

What the Dot Over the Lower Case Letter “i” is Called

Tittle Tattle Lost in Battle
Tittle Tattle Lost in Battle

Expression and poster used in WWII, warning soldiers that if they idly chatted about their mission, the enemy could learn their plans.

Today I found out what the dot over the lower case letter “i” is called, namely a “tittle”.

While this isn’t a commonly used word any longer, the expression “jot or tittle” still endures in some places, meaning something to the effect of “a very small amount” or “iota”.  A classic example of this expression can be seen in the Gospel of Matthew (5:18): “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (NKJV)

The word “tittle” itself comes to us from the same Latin word that “title” derived from, but has since come to mean something very different, namely a small stroke or mark in writing, generally referring to the dot over the lower case letter “i”, when used at all.

Another expression that is associated with “tittle” is the expression “to a T”, being a shortened version of “to a tittle”, meaning “precise / exact down to every last detail”.  As much as a hundred years before “to a T” first showed up, “to a tittle” was a common expression meaning the exact same thing as “to a T” came to mean, so it is thought the former led to the latter.

Bonus Facts:

  • The first recorded use of the expression “to a tittle” was in the play Woman Hater, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher in 1607, which had the following line: “I’ll quote him to a tittle.”
  • The terms “upper case” and “lower case” actually come to us quite recently, from the early days of the printing press.  At this time, the letter blocks themselves were stored in specially organized boxes called cases.  By convention, the cases containing the capital letters were stored higher than those containing the smaller versions of the letters.  If one single case had compartments for all the letter blocks, the capital letters were stored in the back so that when the case was set upright, angled, they were higher, hence “upper case” and “lower case”.  There were also several other such conventions with the storing of these letter blocks to make it easy for the compositor to set the type.
  • There are some words that change their meaning based on whether the first letter is capitalized or not.  These words are collectively known as “capitonyms”.  These capitonyms are particularly troublesome when they appear at the beginning of a sentence, as there is no way, based on the single word alone, to tell which meaning is being referred to.  Examples of these include: August vs. august (month vs “majestic or venerable”); Calorie vs. calorie (1000 calories vs. 1 calorie); Moon vs. moon (the Earth’s natural satellite vs. any natural satellite); Divine vs. divine (related to God vs. to discover by intuition or insight); etc.
  • The word “jot”, in the expression “jot or tittle”, comes from the Greek iota or keraia (κεραία).  An iota is simply the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet (ι).  The word iota itself has come to mean “small” in English.
Expand for References:

Where the Word “Wiki” Comes From

wiki wiki bus
wiki wiki bus

The Famous Wiki Wiki Shuttle Bus at Honolulu Airport

Today I found out where the word “wiki” comes from.

Howard G. Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki which was launched in 1995 called WikiWikiWeb, upon his first visit to Hawaii was informed by an airport employee that he needed to take the wiki wiki bus between the air port’s terminals.  Not understanding what the person was telling him, he inquired further and found out “wiki” means “quick” in Hawaiian; by repeating the word, it gives additional emphasis and thus means “very quick”.

Later, Cunningham was looking for a suitable name for his new web platform. He wanted something that was unique, as he wasn’t copying any existing medium, so something simple like how email was named after “mail” wouldn’t work.   He eventually settled on wanting to call it something to the effect of “quick web”, modeling after Microsoft’s “quick basic” name.  But he didn’t like the sound of that, so substituted “quick” with the Hawaiian, “wiki wiki”, using the doubled form as it seemed to fit; “…doublings in my application are formatting clues: double carriage return = new paragraph; double single quote = italic; double capitalized word = hyperlink.”  The program was also extremely quick, so the “very quick” doubling worked in that sense as well.

The shorter version of the name, calling a wiki just “wiki” instead of “Wiki Wiki” came about because Cunningham’s first implementation of WikiWikiWeb named the original cgi script “wiki”; all lower case and abbreviated in the standard Unix fashion.  Thus, the first wiki url was http://c2.com/cgi/wiki.  People latched on to this and simply called it a “wiki” instead of a“Wiki Wiki”.

It should also be noted that the proper pronunciation of “wiki” is actually “we-key”, rather than the way most today pronounced it, “wick-ee”. However, given the popularity of the mispronunciation of the word, Cunningham and others have long since stopped trying to correct people on the matter.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • The word “wiki” has been backronymed by many to mean “What I Know Is”.
  • Wiki was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on March 15, 2007.
  • The most famous of all wiki’s, Wikipedia, was launched on January 15, 2001.  The word got out fast about this fledgling site with grand ambitions through Slashdot and gained a lot of early contributors through Nupedia, which by 2003 was shut down with all its articles being incorporated into Wikipedia.
  • By the end of 2001, Wikipedia had approximately 20,000 articles written in 18 different languages.
  • On September 9, 2007, Wikipedia broke a 600 year old record for the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, surpassing 2 million articles.  The encyclopedia it surpassed was the Yongle Encyclopedia of 1407.
  • Wikipedia currently uses the open source software MediaWiki, written by Lee Daniel Crocker, as its platform.  This is written in PHP with MySQL as its back end.  Originally though, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki, which was written in Perl by Clifford Adams.  Within a year of the launch, they switched to a custom PHP/MySQL platform written by Magnus Manske.  Within 6 months after that, they switched to the above MediaWiki with several custom extensions installed.
  • Wikipedia receives between 25,000-60,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day.
  • The original wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was added to Cunningham’s Cunningham and Cunningham software consultancy website c2.com on March 25, 1995.  This was an add-on to the Portland Pattern Repository.
  • Cunnigham not only developed the first wiki, but also is a pioneer in program design patterns and Extreme Programming.  He currently lives in Beaverton, Oregon and is the chief technology officer for AboutUs.
Expand for References:
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