Monkeys at Typewriters:
How Many Does It Take?

When I was in high school, computers didn’t exist, not the home version anyway. Typewriters abounded, however, and typing classes were pretty much required as you went through school.

Image by Oliver Hammond

In those low tech days,  a famous saying, with what seemed like endless variations, went something like this: “If you put a million monkeys in a room with a million typewriters, they’d eventually write the great books of the western world.”

There were/still are versions with 100 or 1,000 monkeys toiling away to recreate Shakespeare, or at least Hamlet.

Of course, all such outcomes are literally impossible. Or, as Glen Tickle calculated in 2014:

“The chances of monkeys typing Hamlet are one in infinity. Unless someone wants to multiply out 36169,541, that’s good enough for us.”

In the process of researching this saying (how many monkeys would it take if you gave them PCs?), I did discover a useful resource, wordcounter.net. Not only will the site tell you how many words are in your document, it will also check your grammar for you. Give it a try.

There’s No ‘Jerry’ in ‘Gerrymander’
(Try ‘Gary’ Instead)

The term gerrymander, commonly used as in “gerrymandering a Congressional or other electoral unit to the benefit of one political party or the other,” should not be pronounced with a soft “g “resembling a “j.”

Elbridge Jerrry, pronounced with a hard ‘g’

So say the good folks of Marblehead, Mass., once home to Elbridge Gerry (hard “g”), a governor of the fine state and also a U.S. vice president, after whom the term gerrymander was coined.

The Selectmen of Marblehead (kind of like supervisors and city councilpersons, one would assume) even fired off a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to inquire of how he pronounced the word.

Jeffrey P. Minear, counselor to the chief justice, wrote back:

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‘The Shadow Knows’

Precisely, The Shadow knows “What evil lurks in the hearts of men.”

I can’t believe this was a radio show. I would’ve sworn “The Shadow” was a television vehicle when I was growing up back in The American Pleistocene (what a book title!).

Alas, it was a radio show, dating me beyond what I even remember.

As for The Shadow, he was played by Orson Welles and others, but here goes — and I beg you to prove that evil doesn’t lurk within all of us, maybe nascent but there nonetheless:

IHOb: International House of BS?

We’re all waiting for Monday to arrive to see what transpires in Singapore in a dramatic upcoming summit between North Korea and the U.S., right?

Wrong. We’re waiting for the owners of the International House of Pancakes (IHOP, an abbreviation well known for 60 years) to tell us what the b in its new acronym IHOb means.

Questions abound: As for the meaning of the b, some have said breakfast, others burgers. I’m setting on bullshit (bs, or b for short).

Also, why is the b lower case and IHO upper case?

What a grand way to ruin a brand.

Anyway, I guess I have to call in sick Monday to await with bated breath what the b stands for.

POSTSCRIPT: Now that Monday is here, we all know (if we care to know) that the name change is only temporary so the company can promote its new line of “Ultimate Steakburgers.”

Spelling Bee More Compelling
Than NBA Finals

I had ESPN on as a prelude to the NBA Finals, featuring the highly favored Golden State Warriors against the undermanned-except-Lebron-James Cleveland Cavaliers in what will probably be a snorer, when all of a sudden the National Spelling Bee came on.

Vanya Shivashankar

First off, I was impressed by the sheer verbal genius of these kids (teenagers for the most part in the latter rounds), and second, by the sheer number of South Asian natives — whose Queen’s English seems to serve them admirably.

I was even more impressed when the 2015 Co-Champion, Vanya Shivashankar, now 16 maybe, did a roving interview asking luckless people on the street if they could spell the word by which she co-won — to wit, scherenschnitte, whatever that means. Looks German anyway.

Ms. Shivashankar, who seems to be a natural for TV and probably every other pursuit in life, concluded that a dog she asked for the spelling came the closest.

I agree. My dogs are always smarter than I am. Which probably ain’t saying much.

You go, Vanya. Set the world on fire.

‘Turning Up Like a Bad Penny’

During a meeting at work this morning, I was trying to describe a situation wherein a bad task that I had shaken off after years was returning to my job duties. In describing this, I was searching for an old saying I remembered from my youth about a “bad penny,” but it escaped me.

So, now at home, I researched the saying:

Basically, “Turning up like a bad penny” refers to someone — or in my case something — unwelcome returning to one’s life after a long absence. If a person, it could be someone who harmed you or took advantage of you in the past, or even a former lover in a relationship gone much too sour; if a thing, it could be old debts, old unpleasant situations, or in my case more specifically, old hated job duties.

Here is the best description I found:

…when the term ‘bad penny’ first appeared in the 18th century, pennies were serious money. This made them ripe targets for counterfeiters, and to reach into your pocket or purse and discover that you had ended up with such a counterfeit coin, a ‘bad’ penny, was a depressing and annoying experience…. Thus ‘bad penny’ became an idiom meaning ‘an unwanted thing that keeps showing up’.

Amen.

As Seen on ‘Silicon Valley’:
Less v. Fewer

When I watch television, especially the live sort where so-called educated people mangle the language daily, I find myself correcting people as they speak.

silicon-valley-tv-show-titleFor instance, if someone says, “If I was you,” I correct it in my mind to “If I were you,” using the proper plural (conditional) form of the verb.

It was interesting to see such correcting done on a TV series, the tongue-in-cheek (so to speak) “Silicon Valley,” which aired Sunday (April 29).

When Dinesh said something like, “My code had less errors than yours,” Gilfoyle corrected him, saying, “Fewer.” (Later, of course, in a reverse, Gilfoyle would use “less” incorrectly too.)

Look at up: Fewer refers to quantity, or number; less to weight or volume.

Now, if I was Dinesh…

 

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