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Showing posts from January, 2019

Computer mice or computer mouses?

The first computer mouse (1964)   The English word mouse has been around longer than the English language has.   Its origin is in the Proto-Germanic word m ū s , which is also a word for the rodent.   It gave rise to the Old English mous and mowse , the German Maus , and the Dutch muis .   The reason the word has the peculiar plural form of mice is due to a process known as cheshirization, where a change in the way certain sounds in a language change, but an obsolete phonological distinction gets reclassified as a new form.   To make this simpler, mice is descended from the Proto-Germanic m ūsiz, which is the form of the nominative and vocative declensions of m ūs .   You need not know what a declension is, except that the vocative declension no longer exists in English (not as a distinct, marked form, at least).   The only way a declension changes the modern English word mouse is when we use the possessive declension mouse’s .   Declensions are something you n

Genesis 27: Favorite Son and Casual Racism

"Isaac Blesses Jacob" by Govert Flinck (1615-1660). Isaac was old and practically blind.   He felt the end was coming, so he called his boy Esau in and told him to go out hunting wild game for him.   “Kill me something that tastes good and I’ll do something really nice for you before I die.   Which is soon.”   So Esau took off for the countryside to go kill an animal. Rebekah heard this and approached her boy Jacob.   She told him she’d like him to bring her a couple of kids so she could make something she knows Isaac will like, rather than take their chances on whatever animal Esau happens to catch.   (Oh, and kids means baby goats, just to be clear.   Isaac hasn’t converted to Baalism or anything like that.   Kosher laws do not exist yet, but cannibalism is still frowned upon.)   Jacob wasn’t sure about this plan.   “Dad expects Esau to do this, not me,” he told his mother.   “He can barely see anymore, so we might be able to pull this over on him.   But what


A cheap, easy high.  Just watch your step. In the late 1960s, recreational drugs were becoming more popular than ever in the United States.  They were promoted and celebrated by the counterculture.  Marijuana and cocaine were widely used, as were hallucinogens like psilocybin and LSD.  Most of these drugs were processed plants and/or chemicals, but marijuana was pretty much rolled and smoked in its natural form.  Its only processing was drying it out, just like tobacco.  40% of Americans smoked tobacco, and it was perfectly harmless (except for increased risk of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc.)  “How can you ban a plant?” defenders of marijuana asked.  “It’s a dangerous, addictive plant!” its detractors replied. Defenders of marijuana wanted to move the fight to their territory: you can’t ban a plant.  That’s why the discovery of bananadine was so important.  It, too, came from a plant.  It was a hallucinogen, like the synthetic LSD.  Bananadine was found

Napoleon vs the Rabbits

On July 7, 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte signed the first of the Treaties of Tilsit.  This was with Emperor Alexander I of Russia, which established an alliance between the French Empire and Imperial Russia that would endure forever, or for the next five years, whichever came first.  The second Treaty of Tilsit was signed on July 9 on behalf of the King of Prussia.  Prussia had already signed an armistice with France a couple weeks earlier, but the purpose of this treaty was to demand territory from Prussia.  From this territory, Napoleon set up the puppet states of the Kingdom of Westphalia, the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), and the Duchy of Warsaw.  Prussia was stripped of about half of its territory, and was forced to reduce its army significantly.  Russia entered into war with Great Britain and Sweden when it aligned itself with France, which was great news for France.  France was shaping up like a military juggernaut in Europe; no continental power seemed strong enough to


Sideburns are nothing new.  They go in and out of fashion, and have for centuries.  In recent years, they seem to be enjoying an upswing in popularity, but we have records of them dating back at least to the fourth century BCE, in a mosaic that shows Alexander the Great sporting them.  Depictions of Alexander usually show him clean-shaven, since the Greek military of the time famously forbade facial hair.   (This was mostly aimed at beards, which men might grow very long, giving the enemy something on your face to pull in the heat of battle, potentially putting you at a disadvantage.) Is Alexander greater with sideburns? or without? The ancient Greeks might have had a word for sideburns, or at least a way to describe them.  In America they were known as side-whiskers until the 1860s.   Beards were getting to be more fashionable than they had been in the early part of the century, and some men saw an opportunity to use facial hair for an expression of style. One such m