2005-06-15

More tidbits of truth and fiction

I decided this was too long and moved the top half to another posting.

The state of New York, where I live, is divided into counties, and each county is fully partitioned into towns, cities, and Indian reservations. The term "village" also has legal significance: a village must be contained in a county, can overlap various towns, but cannot overlap any cities. A city can unilaterally (if the state legislature agrees) incorporate any towns adjacent to it, but cannot incorporate an adjacent city without a reciprocal agreement. Therefore, New York City is completely surrounded by technical cities, some of them quite small.

It's been said that technology cannot solve business problems, but automobile technology solved the business problems of the buggy-whip manufacturers rather well. Internal-combustion buggy whips save the industry, but with an engine in the handle, the whips were too unbalanced and hit the horses too hard.

In Latin class, I once said something to the effect that Caesar won such-and-such a battle multo equo 'with much horse'. Priscian's head shrank and cracked. It should have been multis equis, of course -- 'with many horses'. I'm still blushing.

Roses are red,
violets are blue,
I have D.I.D.,
and so do I.

There are basically five known roots of the writing-system tree: Egyptian hieroglyphics (which led to the Semitic syllabaries), Chinese characters, cuneiform, Cretan (Linear B etc.), and Mesoamerican. In some cases, we are dealing with "stimulus diffusion" rather than direct inheritance: the idea of writing Georgian must have been derived from the Greek alphabet, as the order of the letters shows, but their actual shapes seem to owe nothing to Greek script.

English is full of idioms involving the word "Dutch". Here's a few: Dutch anchor 'a useless object (archaic)', Dutch uncle 'someone who talks to you patronizingly', Dutch treat 'each pays for himself, thus not a treat at all', Dutch auction 'the price is lowered until someone bids', if that's so I'm a Dutchman '[emphatic negation]', Dutch courage 'courage induced by alcohol', double Dutch 'jargon'.

I'm glad to see that H. L. Mencken's rewrite of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in spoken American made it to the Net.

At International Falls, Minnesota, on the Canadian border in the heart of the heart of North America, the annual temperature range is about -25 C to +25 C, with the records (not in the same year) being -51 and +46. Average precipitation days per year is only 132, certainly far from rain-forest conditions, but still involving plenty of rain (660 mm per year) and snow (1524 mm per year). International Falls is distinctly noticeable on the U.S. weather map as usually being at the center of the most brightly colored spot.

My wife, many moons ago, worked for GTE in Florida as a long-distance operator — this was before, or nearly before, subscriber-dialed long distance. People typically asked for numbers by city and local number, or even city and subscriber name, and she set up the trunk connection. When she moved to Denver, she got the same job with Mountain Bell. One day, a subscriber asked to be connected with such-and-such a number in "Hollywood". He meant Hollywood, California, of course, but out of habit my wife promptly forwarded him to the same number in Hollywood, Florida. And there was much confusion.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid (in Colorado) we used the phrase "in double Dutch" to mean "in big trouble".

John Cowan said...

Yes. "In Dutch" = "in trouble", so that's not too surprising.

fatbear said...

In Philadelphia, double dutch was a double-rope jump-rope routine.

re: Mencken - a true irony; now even his English is unknowable to the average reader; it's a time capsule of 1920's patois. Does anyone know of a more contemporary translation? If not, shall we try?