One Last Tank Bit (For Now. Maybe. Who Can Tell? We Don’t Plan That Far Ahead.)


Here’s an old Suck art spot from 2001. We put it up because we’ve had some other bits about tanks lately and it’s a picture of a tank. Speaking of the motive power of tanks… Were we talking about that? Well, the picture is sort-of about that. Were there horse drawn tanks? Don’t be so literal, it’s a cartoon.

Anyway, speaking of the motive power of tanks and how folks like to point out the Sherman was gasoline powered; guess what? British tanks had gasoline engines, too. (That would be petrol engines to Brits.) And, despite what you may have heard, German tanks used gasoline engines as well. On the other hand Russian tanks were diesel engined, but they were the exception and not the rule.

Filed 8/21/17

Ivory Tower of Babble

Xcorpse1 Xcorpsespring Xcorpsehead Xcorpse2

Have you even read some bit of jargon-filled professorial text and thought, “It looks like a sentence, it reads like a sentence, but it’s all Greek to me.” Is it because you don’t understand, or is it in fact utter gobbledegook? Or double-talk? Or an exquisite corpse?


In the early years of the Surrealist movement, a typical evening spent among its poets and artists might include a game of “exquisite corpse.” Based on an old parlor game, Exquisite Corpse was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.

The technique got its name from results obtained in initial playing, “Le cadavre / exquis / boira / le vin / nouveau” (The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine). Other examples are: “The dormitory of friable little girls puts the odious box right” and “The Senegal oyster will eat the tricolor bread.” These poetic fragments were felt to reveal what Nicolas Calas characterized as the “unconscious reality in the personality of the group” resulting from a process of what Ernst called “mental contagion.”

Read that last sentence again. Does “unconscious reality in the personality of the group” say anything real, or is it itself an exquisite corpse? Anyway, just for fun we give you our mini exquisite corpse generator below. Just click on the category menus, select various words, and presto! Grammatically correct, yet incoherent sentences. You, too, can write like an academician.

Filed 8/18/17

Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard


If, as they say, laughter is the best medicine then you might want to be attended by the medicos who made these real-life patient chart notations:

We wonder what was jotted on the chart of the college student whose medical excuse for dropping out of class was that she, “Contracted pregnancy.” We can only assume she got it from sitting on a tractor seat.

Filed 8/16/17

Grandpa Fought in WWII? These Brothers Grandpa Fought in the War of 1812 and They Can Tell You about It Today


John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States taking office in 1841 upon the death of William Henry Harrison. He’s remembered as the Tyler in the campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” He’s not much remembered for being elected to congress. Of the Confederate States of America, that is. None of which is too terribly interesting as trivia. What’s more interesting, or perhaps surprising, are his two grandsons.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, are alive today, 227 years (and counting) after their grandfather, John Tyler, was born in 1790. Both are the sons of Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. who was born when John Tyler was 63 years old. Harrison Tyler was born in 1928 when his father, Lyon Tyler Sr., was 75 years old.

John Tyler was 22 years old in 1812. And he was in the Army. And he fought in the War of 1812. If only he had also fought at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 this trivia snippet would have been just that extra bit better.

Filed 8/14/17

Another Tiny Mystery (Or the Frivia Just Keeps Getting Frivialer All the Time)

Fbutton Fflat
Ebutton E
Esharpbutton Esharp

My iTunes music list reads, “Beethoven: Symphony #3 in F flat, Op 36.” Which confused me. Here’s why. The pic above shows a bit of a musical keyboard. The keys are labeled with the notes of C major. The black keys are sharps or flats, depending. Sharps are a half step above, flats are a half step below. Now then, as you can see there is no black key between E and F. So, what and where the heck is F flat?


The F-flat major scale has 1 double-flat, 6 flats.

Warning: The F-flat key is a theoretical major scale key.

This means:

> Its key signature would contain either double-sharps or double flats.

> It is rarely used in practice, because it is too complex to use.

Why on earth would Herr Beethoven compose in F flat major, especially since it’s the very same notes as E major? (Mouseover the bottom buttons to see.) Well, he didn’t. His third symphony is in E flat. The listing in my iTunes is a typo. But don’t blame me, it was automatically downloaded that way.

Of course, it might be worse. You could go a half step up from E and get the theoretical E sharp major key. Which would mean three sharps and four double sharps. (Mouseover button to see.) Why bother with such a scale? Compose in F, get the same results and save the bother.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of possible scales to learn. C major is the easiest, just play the white keys. C minor substitutes two flats, E flat and B flat. Being the third and seventh note they make for easy fingering because… just take my word for it. Now then, with modern electronic keyboards it would be possible to assign any note to any key. In which case you could learn the two easy C scales and at the push of a button transpose to another key signature and pretty much play any pop tune going.

This is not a new idea. A transposing piano does that very thing. Only mechanically, the keyboard could be cranked back and forth to line up the keys and thus transpose to any scale while playing in C and C minor. In fact, Irvin Berlin used one just to make composing tunes easier

Filed 8/11/17

Hooray for Hollywar Redux


Here’s an old Suck spot that fits the bill of some new content better than most of our repurposed old spots. Well, except for the guy getting crushed. Still, it continues our WWII theme of late.

Things we wonder about in Saving Private Ryan (other than how the entire mission is pretty stupid)

  1. Why were the U.S. infantrymen swarming atop the German tank?
  2. Why didn’t the German tank use its machine guns?
  3. How did Captain Miller shoot into the German tank’s driver’s view port?
  4. How probable was the Mustang tank buster?
  5. How probable was the kill shot through the sniper’s scope?

1. There’s nothing an infantryman can do climbing on a buttoned up tank, except maybe put something in the ventilation opening. So, what were they trying to accomplish? Other than getting shot to pieces by the German infantry.

2. The hull machine gun on the tank wasn’t just for looks, was it? It’s an anti-infantry weapon. Same for the turret mounted coaxial machine gun. The Germans loved machine guns. The infantry was based around them. Why weren’t they using them?

3. German tanks had really thick glass in the driver’s view port to prevent some infantryman from sticking a gun in and spraying the crew. The very thing Captain Miller does.

4. While a Thunderbolt was a more likely tank buster, the fact was neither were very effective in that rôle. Tank kills by either plane were extremely rare.

5. Not only improbable, probably impossible. At long range the bullet travels in an arc and would be heading slightly downward when it hit the scope. The possibility it would strike the optical glass and turn up to get through is incalculably infinitesimal.

Filed 8/9/17

WWII Tank Trivia Part Two


You likely know the Sherman Tank was named after American General William Tecumseh Sherman, but do you know who named it that? It wasn’t the U.S. Army, it was English Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Thing was, the Americans didn’t called it the Sherman during the war. Nor did they use any of the other American general tank names: Stuart, Lee, Grant, Pershing. Those were used by the British.

Churchill came up with those names because he couldn’t keep the American alpha-numeric designations straight. U.S. troops called the Sherman the M4 medium, or just the M4 or the medium. It wasn’t until later that American writers picked up on the British nomenclature and started using it. Now everyone calls it the Sherman. Anyway, Churchill did have a point, Lee, Grant, and Sherman are much easier to keep track of than M2, M3, and M4. Plus names simply sound better. Just like with planes. P51, OK. Mustang, cool.

On the other hand the British had a tank called the Churchill, which wasn’t named by Winston Churchill or after Winston Churchill. Or actually it was, just after the first Winston Churchill, Marlboro, not the WWII Prime Minister. So, why not name it the Marlboro? Because that doesn’t start with C. The British system was to name what they termed cruiser tanks with C names: Cromwell, Crusader, Churchill. They continued that after the war: Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger.

Is that why the pic shows the tank being renamed “Cump”? Nope, that’s your bonus trivia. General Sherman’s nickname among his friends was Cump.

Filed 8/7/17

Smart-Ass Phone


Does your computer and phone know way too much about you? Or rather, the folks on the other end gathering all manner of information about you via the magic of the Interwebs. Does Amazon really know what you want before you do? Is targeted advertising a case getting what you want or wanting what you get? Perhaps this 2002 art spot done for Business Week still works fifteen years on.

You’ll be relieved to know we at terrycolon dot com know absolutely nothing about you. We don’t keep tabs on anyone or anything. Call us oblivious. Or call us aloof. Call us whatever you want, we’ll never know.

Filed 8/4/17

America’s Tank in WWII


Myth or Reality?

  1. It took five American Shermans to knock out one German Tiger.
  2. The Sherman’s hull was too tall and under-armored because Americans didn’t understand modern tank design (or whatever).
  3. The Sherman had a propensity to catch on fire from using a gasoline engine rather than a diesel.
  4. The Sherman was the most reliable main battle tank of WWII.
  5. German tanks were just plain better.

1. Shermans didn’t take on Tigers all that much, Tigers were rare. The late war German main battle tank was the Panther. Still, American tanks often outnumbered german tanks in combat. Not because they had to, but because they could, the U.S. had a lot more tanks.

2. The height of the Sherman was due to the size and shape of the available engines of the time. The armor thickness was limited by engine power and by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. What? In order to get tanks built in North America (some Shermans were made in Canada) to where the war was they had to be loaded on ships. Which back then meant being lifted onboard by cranes. The Sherman’s weight had to be kept below what most dockside cranes of the time were capable of lifting.

On the plus side, the Sherman’s size and weight meant it could be easily transported on railroad cars and cross bridges heavier tanks couldn’t. Anyway, what good is a “better” tank that can’t get to the battle?

3. The Sherman was no more likely to burn than other tanks. Besides, over 90% of the time it was the ammo propellant that caught fire, not the fuel. When the U.S. switched to a damp ammo storage system it was less likely to catch fire than other tanks.

Was the Sherman a death trap as sometimes claimed? The Sherman had, perhaps, the best escape hatches (after adding a second turret hatch for the gun crew) so if it did get hit the crew had a better chance of escaping alive. The Sherman was at the top of the survivability rankings.

4. Reliable? If you mean doesn’t break down, the Sherman was a bit better than most. If you mean it can be relied on to be ready to fight, it wins. That’s because it’s design made it quicker to repair and spare parts were readily available since the U.S. Army logistical support and parts supply far outpaced everyone else. So U.S. Army commanders could rely on tanks to be working when needed.

5. Folks like to compare tanks’ running speeds, armors, gun sizes, shell penetrations and whatnot. But specs are one thing, combat effectiveness is another. Like other types of gunfight, the winning formula is getting your kill shot on target first. In that the Sherman was a winner.

In order to shoot the other guy you first need to acquire him, see him and train your gun on target. Three things helped the Sherman excel in that area. The gunner’s periscope had a wider and higher field of view. The turret traverse was faster. The main gun had a stabilizer. (Though not every crew learned how to use it. But that’s another story.) These all helped the Sherman get in the first shot. Because it was less cramped inside it could also be reloaded faster for followup shots.

When you tally it all up, you might make the argument the Sherman was the best medium tank of WWII. Despite scoring near the bottom on looks.

Filed 8/2/17

Fair Trade?


“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.”
–Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

On the other hand, what if everyone were born with the same capacities, would everyone come out equal? Have you ever played Monopoly? Everyone starts out equal and plays by the same rules, yet at the end of the game one person has all the money and property while the rest have nothing. So, what does inequality show anyway?

Filed 7/31/17

Let Slip the Mad Dogs of War


France, June 1944, Churchill assaults the Normandy beaches brandishing a sword. Later in the war he takes out a German soldier with his crossbow. Never heard of any of that? Well, we’re not talking about Winston, but Lieutenant-Colonel “Mad Jack” Churchill. How mad? If he really said what he’s reported to have said, well, you be the judge:

“If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another ten years.”

Not crazy enough? How about a man who would habitually throw his briefcase out of the train window as he approached his station? Why? Because his home bordered the tracks and rather than bother schlepping his briefcase home from the station he’d chuck it in the backyard.

Short, Snappy Bio of “Mad Jack” Churchill

Full Bio of “Mad Jack” Churchill

Filed 7/28/17

Instant Fossils


It takes hundreds or thousands of years to petrify something to stone, right? Wait, not so fast. Or rather, not so slow. Eric Milton describes his examination of a petrified tree trunk in Alberta, Canada:

“The piece was pure clear silica inside, it was coated with a rougher opaque crust of partially fused sand. The tree, whose stump was petrified, was alive five years ago! After the tree was cut down to accommodate the right of way for a new power transmission line, an accidental break allowed the live high-voltage wire to contact several tree stumps still in the ground. The power was cut off within hours of the break. All of the tree roots which contacted the broken wire were fossilized.”

Perhaps now we know what really happened to Lot’s wife. She didn’t turn to salt, it was basalt. Kerzap!

Peter Mungo Jupp: Electric Fossilization

Filed 7/26/17

Two Bit Trivia About the U.S. Money In Circulation

money1 money1 money2
money1 money1 money2
money3 money4
money3 money4
money3 money4

On that last one, is rag paper not paper? While it’s not made from wood it is from vegetable fibers. As opposed to vellum which comes from lamb, kid, or calf skin. Anyway, dollar bills are not some kind of currency cloth woven from cotton/linen threads, it’s pulped and made just like wood based paper. In fact, paper made from rags came first, wood pulped paper came later.

Filed 7/24/17

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


This old spot just never seems to go out of date. The government run National Health Service in the U.K. reports: about 20 percent of those trying to schedule an appointment with a G.P. can’t get one within seven days; over 11.3 percent can’t get an appointment at all; over 27 percent said they had problems simply reaching a doctor’s office by telephone.

Filed 7/21/17

Foody Frivia


Do you like cold pizza? Some do, some don’t. For us, pizza fresh out of the oven, yummy; Pizza fresh out of the fridge, yuck. Is it just the temperature, the texture, the look? Not really.

Despite being the same ingredients in the same arrangement hot pizza and cold pizza tastes different. But it’s not the pizza, it’s us. Taste receptors work differently at different temperatures. That’s why many things need to be spiced up a bit when eaten cold. Like leftover fried chicken. Just needs a little more salt and pepper, right? Or is that just us?

Know what else makes a difference? Packaging. The French gave experts the exact same wine poured from a high-price brand bottle and a low-price brand bottle and the experts declared the high-price brand wine was better. So then, you can feel better for buying that store brand box-o-wine. Just decant it into a fancy bottle and, “Voila, tres magnifique.”

One more trick. Want diners to laud your culinary offerings? Give it a fancy description. Folks will compliment the chef’s herb-crusted calamari, but will rate lowly the fried squid. Same dish, different name. Guess Shakespeare got it wrong. A rose by any other name… stinks.

Filed 7/19/17

Happy Anniversary


A 2011 art spot from the Fortean Times “Strange Deaths” file. For which strange death? Take your pick.

A devoted couple married for 56 years died within a minute of each other. Donald Dix, 85, a retired steelworker, collapsed at home in Cardiff and his wife Rosemary dialled 999 for an ambulance. Mrs Dix, 76, stayed at home to call their two daughters with the bad news as her husband was driven off – but she was found dead with the phone still off the receiver. Mr Dix died in the ambulance on the way to hospital at almost exactly the same time Mrs Dix died. “They didn’t know how to live without each other,” said their daughter Jacqueline. The couple met at a dance in Nottingham, married in 1956, and were buried together.

Another devoted couple who were inseparable for more than 70 years died on the same day. Bert and Doreen Swan met in Birmingham in the late 1930s, married in 1941, and had three sons. Mrs Swan, 91, died at the nursing home in Marlborough where they both lived at 11:30am while Mr Swan, 93, who was not told of his wife’s death, died in hospital of a chest infection at 10:30 that night. He had been a pioneering metallurgist. The couple retired in the 1980s and spent their time ballroom dancing and tandem riding.

In October 2008 Robin Rothwell was travelling to visit his 90-year-old father George in a nursing home when he got a call saying he had died of pneumonia. Then his phone rang again, with the news that his mother Kate, 89, had been found dead at the couple’s home in Torbay, Devon. Neither knew the other had died. Another couple died within hours of each other the following month, after being married for 60 years. Farmer Austin Debenham and his wife Jean were in different hospitals. Mr Debenham, 82, died of bronchial pneumonia at 11pm on 7 November. Mrs Debenham, 79, who had a heart operation, passed away at 2am that night, not knowing her husband had died.

Frank Kemp, 79, father of Martin and Gary Kemp who found fame in the Eighties band Spandau Ballet, died of a heart attack in Bournemouth Hospital in January 2009. His wife Eileen, 77, who was in the same hospital after a heart bypass, died 48 hours later “of a broken heart”. They had been married for 55 years. Kevin and Liz O’Connor had been married for 35 years. Mr O’Connor, a 61-year-old store manager, had a fatal heart attack near his home Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, in February 2009 after popping out to the corner shop. His wife, 58, collapsed with breathing difficulties after hearing the news and died later that day in hospital.

Ronnie and Connie Pilling of Emley, West Yorkshire, were married for 67 years. Mr Pilling, 86, died of pneumonia on 16 May 2009 with his wife at his bedside. She died at home the next morning of a suspected blood clot. Olga Whitfield, 61, had a heart attack at 10pm on 18 October 2009. Her husband Stewart Whitfield, 56, dialled for an ambulance but also suffered cardiac failure. Shortly afterwards, paramedics found them both dead at their home in West Boldon, South Tyneside. Fred Launder, 95, and his wife Dorothy, 93, died at home in Newport, Isle of Wight, on the same day in December 2009 after 69 years of marriage.

A widow died at the exact moment the funeral began for her husband of nearly 70 years. Irene Edwards, 88, was in hospital for a broken hip and the night before the service she checked: “It’s 11 o’clock, isn’t it?” She died at exactly that time the next day as her beloved husband Fred, 96, of Stourport, Worcestershire, was laid to rest.

Filed 7/17/17

What’s This?

no1 zenniB
no2 zenniC
no3 zenniD

What are we looking at above? Are they black squares with blue stripes or blue squares with black stripes? What if we remove the black?

Mouseover box 1: Do we still have squares and stripes or just some triangles and slashes? Let’s go another step and add more bits.

Mouseover box 2: Are we seeing anything but squares, stripes, and triangles? Is there something more to it? Finally, let’s add a black background all around.

Mouseover box 3: Aha! Now we can see it easily. It’s not a bunch of iconundrums, it’s type. ZENNI.

The reader might still be asking what’s this. Or maybe what’s that. It’s the trademark for a brand of eyewear. We just thought their typography was rather clever. And it shows how the human eye can read the most abstract letter forms. Which is also pretty clever. Can a computer optical reader do it? Nope. That’s why online forms use those twisted up numbers and letters to test if someone is a real person or a bot. Computers might be very powerful, and perhaps smart, but they aren’t very clever. But then, there are people like that, too.

One more thing. Once you see it as type it’s hard to unsee it. They’ll always be boxes and stripes and shapes and letters all at the same time. Try it and see.

Filed 7/14/17

Another Damp and Desultory Day in Motor Town


Mouseover pic to enlarge

Raining a lot hereabouts this year. Keeps the garden green. That’s good. Rather dampens getting out in the fresh air on the scooter and whatnot. That’s not so good. Meaning the terry colon dot com staff lolls about inside our global headquarters lacking for something to do. We haven’t been reduced to luggage spotting, as depicted in this old mystery art spot from 2000. Still, we wouldn’t object to getting outside more. Even if it were only to mow the lawn or clean the garage. Something. Anything.

Instead we’ve settled on penning this drizzly day blog babble packet of piffle. A sentence we guarantee you’ll never read anywhere else. Lucky you.

Filed 7/13/17

Motor Sport Old News


Being the Casual Sportsman we admit to not following the sports ticker daily. (Is there even a sports ticker?) In place of daily we might substitute the word accidentally. Which is more-or-less how we stumbled upon the following items.

What happens when a chicken farmer puts a pickup truck engine in a twenty year old chassis from a company making wheel­chairs? You win Le Mans and dethrone Ferrari as GT world champion. In other words, you get the Shelby (AC) Cobra.

Cobra Ferrari Wars

Something that happened over fifty years ago is beyond old news, it’s history. Something that happened last year is old news. Combine the two and you get the story of the triumphant return of the Ford GT to Le Mans on the fiftieth anniversary of its one-two-three finish in 1966.

Ford Returns to Le Mans

One bit of trivia while we’re on the subject. The now traditional wildly spraying the big bottle of champagne all over was started spontaneously by Dan Gurney after the GT 40s second Le Mans victory in 1967.

Filed under The Casual Sportsman 7/11/17. Though perhaps we’ve gone beyond that to The Nostalgic Sportsman.

A-a-a-h-h-h, Choo


Bit of an unplanned break there as the entire terry colon dot com staff (of one) was under the weather, as they say. Why they say that we don’t know, not seeing how the weather has anything to do with it. Anyway, we’re back in the saddle. In a chair, actually. Or on a chair. Either one. Can you be on the saddle or only in it? We know you can only be on the couch and not in the couch. Same for a stool and bench; for sitting on only, not in. Though a pew is a bench you can sit in or on…

All this inane on/in blather suggests we’re not quite back up to snuff. Up to snuff, another peculiar turn of phrase. Though for this one we have a derivation. In which you’ll find the smart drug of the past was tobacco. Ah-choo.

Up to snuff

Filed 7/10/17

Fourth of July On Tap


Since declaring independence from Britain two hundred and whatever-it-is years ago tomorrow, America has become a land of plenty. And there’s plenty of plenty beyond milk and honey to go around. Even excess. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But we’ll leave others to debate those points. The plenty we concern ourselves with is foodstuffs since that’s what we’ll stuff ourselves with at Fourth of July barbecues from coast to coast. Which sort-of leaves out Hawaii, but they can have a luau so it’s all good.

There’s really not much more for us say, the picture should speak for itself. Not literally, that’s just a figure of speech, you will have to read the callouts.

Mouseover to enlarge

Now then, if we hadn’t split with Britain what would we be barbecuing? Fish and chips, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, haggis? Nah. Likely pretty much the same as now, great slabs of meat and burgers and such. We know they barbecue over the pond, but they’re not exactly famous for it so we don’t know what they make. One also wonders about continental barbecue, too. None of the cooking shows of TV seem to feature Euro-BBQ. Caribbean, South American, Asian, yes; European, no. Just what do they barbecue in France, Germany and Italy? It’s a mystery to us.

Filed 7/3/17

A-a-a-a-h-h-h, July


It’s fairly widely known July and August were renamed after Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar respectively. Quick quiz: what were the names of the months they replaced?

July was originally Quintilis, August was originally Sextilis. These fell into the whole month name by number business: September, seventh month; October, eighth month; et cetera. If you know your Latin number prefixes you can tell that Quintilis meant fifth month and Sextilis meant sixth month. (If we knew Latin we might explain why it was Quintilis and not Quintember, but as we don’t know Latin we’ll just have to let it slide.)

But wait, isn’t July the seventh month? Well, yeah. Thing was, the original Roman calendar had only ten months and lasted 304 days with unaccounted for days in the winter. We don’t know how that was supposed to work. Neither did the Romans really because it didn’t. Which is why they added January and February in about 700 BC. They tacked these new months on the beginning of the year and so the numerical month names didn’t make sense any more.

Even then the Roman calendar didn’t add up and the seasons got out of whack. So much so they sometimes added a thirteenth month, Intercalaris, to try to rejigger the seasons back in line. Then the two Caesars got involved and reformed the thing to the calendar we enjoy today. If you don’t enjoy it, that’s on you.

The Roman Calendar

Filed 7/1/17

Follow-up Article on Articles


Continuing the topic of the use of articles in language, or lack of use in the case of Russian, there’s some curious variations in how it’s done. For instance Basque puts the article after the noun. Which would be something like, “Basque puts article the after noun the.” Sounds pretty strange, and it is if you were speaking English, but not if you were speaking Basque where it’s normal.

In other languages the article can become part of the noun as a prefix. For instance in French “an airplane” becomes l’avion. In other cases (Finnish we think but don’t hold us to that) the article becomes a suffix. Which would be along the lines of, “Articlethe becomes suffixa.” Weird here, but not there.

English, of course, doesn’t do that sort of thing. Or does it? Take the words today, tonight, and tomorrow. In Scots English those are the day, the night, and the morrow. English English writers will sometimes use “the morrow” in place of tomorrow. So then, is ‘to’ in tomorrow an article prefix equivalent of ‘the’? Might that explain why those words used to be spelled to-day, to-night, and to-morrow?

Could it be the word today was “the day” shortened in speech to th’day to t’day and finally wound up as today? We actually kind of say it as t’day, right? Too much of a stretch? Our hypothesis certainly can’t account for yesterday. Unless we go out in left field and say yesterday was from the phrase “erst the day.” Erst is an archaic word meaning formerly. (As in erstwhile.) Could be yesterday once was something like “formerly the day.” Sound plausible? We have absolutely no evidence that’s the case, but it is fun to speculate. Folk etymology at its finest.

Folk Etymology Folks Invent From Whole Cloth

Filed 6/28/17

To Sound Like (a) Russian Omit (the) Articles


By our reckoning German has an excess of articles: ein, eine, das, die, der, dem, etc. English gets by fine with three: a, an, the. But to a Russian speaker that might seem too many. That’s because Russian has no words for a or the. Which means you can have a perfectly coherent language without these articles. This is why Russians speaking English some­times don’t include them, they just don’t come naturally. This quirk is used in lots of old jokes when Russians are speaking. As in…

Cosmonaut: In Russia we have world’s greatest space program. In one year we go to sun.
Astronaut: You can’t go to the sun, you’ll burn up.
Cosmonaut: This is not problem. We go at night.

Filed 6/27/17

Pointless Trivia Monday

cement1 cement2 cement3
Infrequently Answered Question #117: What’s the difference between cement, concrete, and mortar?

A: Cement can be a synonym for paste or glue, as in rubber cement and contact cement. But in the question we know we’re talking about a specific product used in pavement and such which isn’t acting as some kind of adhesive. Though is does harden and cling, but not in a glue-like way. But enough of that.

Cement was actually used by the Romans two thousand years ago. How close it was to modern cement we don’t know. Who exactly invented it is unknown, there are no patent records from back then. Modern cement was reinvented in England in the nineteenth century by Joseph Aspdin of Leeds. It is often called portland cement because Mr. Aspdin likened the color to the stone from the quarries on the coastal island of Portland. These days portland cement remains the most common cement used. It is a type of “hydraulic” cement, meaning that it sets and hardens when combined with water.

Cement is the binding ingredient in both concrete and mortar and is usually made of limestone, clay, shells, silica sand and other materials. These materials are crushed and then combined with other ingredients (including iron ore), and then heated to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. This material, called clinker, is ground into a fine powder. Then it’s cement.

Concrete is cement plus sand and gravel. Traditionally the gravel was quarried natural gravel, you know, stones, pebbles, whatever. Nowadays it is often aggregate, crushed rock and pulverized old concrete. This is basically cheap filler that makes your cement go further. They can control how hard or how smooth the concrete is by how much sand it contains and the size of the aggregate.

Mortar is cement plus sand and sometimes aggregate, finer than in concrete. Mortar has more sand than concrete so it’s not as hard, and for good reason. Mortar cements masonry together, you know, bricks. When it gets hot both expand. If they expand too much things can break and it’s better to have the mortar break than the brick. If the mortar breaks you have to replace the mortar. If the brick breaks you have to replace the brick. Which means taking out the mortar around it and replacing that, too. If the mortar has enough give to it, nothing breaks. Though if it has too much give the wall falls apart. Still, masons have figured out the right formulas for the type of bricks or stones or cinder blocks and your house, foundation, or wall doesn’t fall apart too easily.

Anyway, folks often call concrete cement. While it might not be exactly accurate, there is cement in concrete so, what the heck, call it either one. We don’t mind.

Filed 6/26/17

The Operation Was a Success But…


If you discover one of these real notations from medical transcriptions on your own record, maybe it’s time to get a second opinion. Or perhaps a rewrite. Or a refund. Something.

Though if you want real dubious medical commentary, toss a lawyer into the mix.

Lawyer from court records: Now, Doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, in most cases he just passes quietly away and doesn’t know anything about it until the next morning?

Yep. We’ve also heard it’s hard to solve some murders because the victims won’t coöperate.

Filed 6/23/17

A-a-a-a-h-h-h, Summer!

summer171 summer172 summer173

Yes, summer started yesterday, but today’s the first full day and that’s what counts by our reckoning. Besides, what does it matter? Most people don’t come here for calendar news. Heck, most people don’t come here for any reason whatever. At any rate, spring cleaning is over and now we can proceed to our summertime to-do list. Though we got some of it done already. Might be the first year we run through the entire list. Though things keep getting added. Funny how that is. Just like summer. There’s another one every year.

Filed 6/22/17

See Run Run. Run, Run, Run.


It’s curious, to us at least, how one word can have so many completely different meanings and not be confusing when it crops up. There are lots of such words. In fact, the word lots is one. “He owned lots and lots of lots.” Lots can mean many, or parcels of land. It can also be chances, as in drawing lots. Still, the quote is not confusing as to what lots means in each instance. Still is another such word. Still is unmoving or something for brewing hootch or means yet. Yet has multiple meanings… we could go on and on. On is another. It’s maddening.

On the other hand, we have the reverse case. That is, one meaning with multiple words. We have a term for that, synonym. What’s the term for the the other? We’re not entirely sure, but there is this:

homograph (hŏm′ ə-grăf, hōm′ ə-grăf) noun, a word of the same written form as another but of different meaning and usually origin, whether pronounced the same way or not, as bear “to carry; support” and bear “animal,” or lead “to conduct” and lead “metal.”

As you can see as in the word lead, a heteronym is a homograph, though not always the other way around. (You just knew we’d squeeze heteronym in here one way or another.) Then there is…

polysemy (pŏl′-ē sē-mē, pə-lĭs′ ə-mē) noun, a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.

Think of the phrase, “all over.” Which could mean everywhere or totally finished.

English Words with the Most Multiple Meanings

Whether the words at the link qualify as homographs or not, we’re not entirely clear. Nor do we know what you call a word that can be pronounced more than one way. Though, considering accents and dialects, that might include half the dictionary.

Filed 6/20/17

A New Old Pic from Diablo Magazine of 1999


Mouseover pic to enlarge

Because there’s just not enough cooking shows on TV. At least no witch cuisine show. Or medieval cooking shows, for that matter. That would be the true all natural cooking, eh? Pass the health gruel, please.

Filed 6/19/17

On the Horns of a Di-llama


A goofy follow up to a previous post with a Dr. Doolittle twist. Proving we can be as silly as we want. We are the editor and art director and publisher and bottle washer and everything else. We answer to no-one. Which is a mixed blessing of total freedom combined with absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. And that, dear reader, sums up the web in a nutshell.

Filed 6/15/17

Pointless Inanimation


You may have noticed the activity hereabouts lately has slowed to a snail’s pace. How slow is that? The desert snail can sleep for two years at a time. Wonder how they tell it’s asleep. Studying snails can’t be the world’s most exciting job, can it? Lot of down time, we imagine. “Call me when it wakes up.”

Filed 6/14/17

A-a-a-h-h-lmost Summer


Hot today, hot yesterday. Feeling summer-like. Windy, too. Maybe it’s just us, but there seems to be a lot of windy days around here this spring. Maybe the wind gods are angry. Or would they be happy when it’s windy? Anyway, just to keep our hand in, here’s an old spot from Chicago magazine that more or less fits the bill. Minus the windy part.

Filed 6/12/17

On the Horns of a Dilemma


OK, we admit the visual pun, or whatever you’d call it, is an idea stolen from Mad magazine’s “Horrifying Clichés” bit. So sue us. Though it won’t do you any good because they didn’t originate the idea of literal depictions of figures of speech as a gag. That goes back to an Italian cartoon strip Bilbolbul begun by Attilio Mussino in 1909.

A dilemma is a choice between two equal options. Latin, from Greek dilēmma, DI- (double) plus lēmma, proposition. These might be equally good or bad options. Though for a pessimist equally good is equally bad since you are going to miss out on one good option no matter what. Vice-versa for an optimist.

Life is full of dilemmas, unclear choices and trade-offs with upsides and downsides. Many have multiple choices and so might actually be trilemmas, quadralemmas or dodecalemmas. But it’d be ridiculous to have all those specific words when dilemma fairly well fits the bill for them all. Anyway, you could simply substitute the word quandary instead. You have two equal options. Not much of a dilemma, but there you go.

Filed 6/9/17

Making the World Safe for Kleptocracy


Another Reason magazine “Brickbats” rerun, anyone?

In Worcester, England, Bill Malcolm put barbed wire around his tool shed and vegetable plots after thieves struck three times in four months. Shortly after that, local officials ordered him to remove the fence because burglars might get hurt climbing over it.

One wonders if he was allowed to keep the oh-so-dangerous-when-broken glass in the windows.

No thieves were harmed in the making of this post.

Filed 6/8/17

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time; Not


“The purpose of thinking is so our ideas can die instead of us.”  –Karl Popper

Filed 6/7/17

We’re Oblivious All the Time


Infrequently Answered Question #116: Are you one of those people who take everything for granted?

A: Of course. Everybody is. For the most part. That’s because you have to be or you’d probably worry yourself to death or go raving mad with distraction in short order. You can’t pay attention to everything. Think about it, everything, every thing. That’s a heckuva lot of things. You pay attention to what matters at the moment and ignore the rest. The rest being 99.999…% of everything.

Right now, are you aware of every sound in the room? How about how the room smells? Are you noticing what your feet are doing? Are you paying attention to your breathing and heartbeat? As long as all the objects in the room aren’t acting up like something from The Exorcist or singing and dancing as in Cinderella you don’t give them a second thought, eh? You’d never dare go for a walk if you didn’t take it for granted people would drive their cars on the road and not the sidewalk.

We simply haven’t got the brain power to keep track of everything, or even a lot of things. So we ignore most everything. Which works because most of the time most of everything works as expected and so can be ignored, taken for granted. Taking nothing for granted, mistrusting everything and everyone is insane. We have a word for that, schizophrenia. How well does that work?

Filed 6/5/17

June First Musings


Who came up with alphabetical order? Why is it in that order? Why didn’t they include more vowels? There are five vowels for twenty English vowel sounds. Aren’t we short fifteen letters?

Perhaps this is one reason English will never be written phonetically. Besides, which accent’s pronunciation would be the standard? Or would you spell differently depending where you lived? For example, while a Canadian says been as bean, Americans say been like ben or bin. We’d have to translate texts from American to Canadian to Yorkshire to Cockney to Cornish to… you get the picture.

This leads us to a bit of language use trivia hockey fans might be familiar with. And soccer fans, too. Which is Canadian and English announcers treat team city names as plural while Americans don’t. For instance, all would say, “The Maple Leafs are playing well.” Or they might, depends on the game. But we digress. On the other hand Americans would say, “Toronto is playing well,” while a Canadian or English announcer would say, “Toronto are playing well.” Not that there are many hockey announcers from England, so just apply that to soccer. Same deal.

Which way is better? Both are clear in meaning, yet perhaps the Canadian and English way is more proper. That’s because they aren’t referring to the city itself, which would be singular, but to the team, the Maple Leafs, which is plural. Then again, the plural of maple leaf is maple leaves, but that’s another story.

Filed 6/1/17