The SpecGram Archive Elves recently made another large collection of documents available to the XQK Directorate, leaving them on our doorstep in black plastic sacks in the middle of the night. In order to avoid any more unfortunate incidents involving a cucumber, a marmot, or the Director’s favorite coffee mug, we were given the task of cataloging these documents. Going through the collection, we have found again that, while apparently lacking provenance (which the Archive Elves still attribute to a bizarre set of circumstances obscurely alluded to in editorials passim), they shed unexpected light on the origin of several well known words and phrases. Note that some entries contradict others. Etymology is like that.
Here we publish the fifth half of our collection of excerpts.
...and when Wee Wullie McTavish was first informed of the existence of an animal with an exceedingly long neck, he is reported to have said, “Ger aff yer heid”. And the name stuck.
Since Catholic Liturgy centres on the divine transformation of the gifts brought to the altar, anything whose nature was transformed was said to be “altared”.
Astrologers have always been careful to keep track of the “wandering stars” which we now know are worlds like our own Earth, for their sometimes complex movements through the sky could spell disaster for an event scheduled on the wrong day. To remind colleagues or clients to take the positions of these celestial luminaries into account at all times, an astrologer would point to one in the sky and tersely say “Plan it!”
The phrase “how do you Likert that?”, referencing the Likert scale of subjective evaluation, was popularly used. Over time, the second syllable of “Likert” was omitted, resulting in the familiar verb “like.”
PR for statistical discoveries used to be even better than it is now. Famous for his charismatic handling of the press, Dan Likert soon became known as Media Dan. By the midpoint of his career, this had been reduced to Median, and a new statistical value was born.
His popularity made him a target. A shady group, called the outliers, aimed to kill him with cardboard cubes. Their plan was soon labelled the box plot.
At this time it was customary for scientists to dedicate their findings to relatives who had supported them through times good and bad, without whom their discoveries would not have been possible. The researcher who first discovered the distinctive frequency components of speech printed a spectrogram bearing the legend “for my aunt,” but since his handwriting wasn’t particularly good, it was misread as “formant” and the term stuck.
Paul Dirac was in the habit of prefacing lectures with long, rambling anecdotes about his relatives. One day, a frustrated student called out, “Professor, does your auntie matter?” Professor Dirac then went on to announce his latest discovery, which has been associated with the student’s cry ever since.
By coincidence, in Punic, the word “ant” meant, as it does in English, a small insect. With the prefix “eleph”, meaning “absolutely nothing like”, it came to mean an animal that is absolutely nothing like a small insect.
In those days did our ambassador do one too many plays on words in front of the Carthaginians, sparking the Pun-ic Wars.
Many preindustrial societies depended on a single staple grain for untold generations, leading to extreme boredom especially on the part of young eaters. When cooks along the Yellow River discovered, 4000 years ago, how to fashion the flour of their staple, millet, into novel shapes that were long and thin, their unexcited children referred to the results as “new dulls”.
However, as this was China, the children actually said “Maaaan” with diphthongization of the vowel, giving modern Mandarin ‘mian’. On the other hand, when rice noodles were introduced, the children loved them so much they said, “fuuuun!”, giving modern Mandarin ‘fen’.
More to come...