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 sixth half of our collection of excerpts.
The tradition of using birds for counting goes back a long way, predating even “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Red birds are the easiest to see, so it was inevitable that counting this way would produce cardinal numbers. Mathematically inclined bird watchers would compare the largest flocks they had seen. One day an unimaginably large number of birds showed up at a drunk mathematician’s estate.* When his colleagues asked him the cardinality of the set, he tried to say, “Hell if I know!” Misheard as “aleph-
Years later, a very large, mysterious animal showed up, completely blocking the field of view of anyone who stood too close to it. People argued over its cardinality. There were those who claimed that it was an infinity of little pieces, like that big set of cardinals but even bigger. Others argued that, whatever it was, there was only one of it. To quell the riot that was forming, one brave soul suggested a compromise: its cardinality was “aleph-
* This was in an era when research funding was generous.
When presented with a live specimen of this wriggly many-
At fish markets, edible cephalopods of the order Teuthida would generally sell for £5, or as it was conventionally written on signs, “5 quid.” A misreading of the 5 as an S gave rise to their currently used common name.
In the heady 19th Century at Cambridge, each incoming group of “fresh” men would choose a whimsical mascot, representing the stout character and high aspirations of the students. The group which began its studies in Christ’s College 1829 chose as its symbol the recently-
New microbes are discovered in the strangest places. One type of protozoan was first found in a container of shaky cheese in the back of a grad student’s fridge, and so the discoverers dubbed it Parmesanium. Due to a series of mishearings and typos, this mutated into Paramecium.
Another notorious microscopic creature was found in a bad batch of lox from a fish market run by a woman nicknamed “Salmon Ella.” After several much-
When early settlers landed at Roanoke, they found that personal hygiene was an issue. They soon created a site for ablutions around the Potomac River and named it Washing Town. Over time and use, this was simplified to its current name.
The dojo should maintain a record of which training routines each student has studied and mastered. This is known as the kata log.
A group of naturalists on a sea voyage spotted a large flock of aquatic birds which were too far away to identify. An entomologist (or possibly etymologist; accounts vary) by the name of Connor “Cor” More joked that from this distance they looked like ants. In that day’s observation log, the captain wrote “Cor More: ants.”
When quizzed on how to destroy the Houses of Parliament, Mr Fawkes is rumoured to have said “fire works.”
Instead he opted for stuffing barrels full of the rather explosive clam dish made by a local street vender called Frances Gump. Gump Chowder, as it was known, was subject to later sound changes and confusion with a similar Chinese concoction.
More to come...