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 Jerry, 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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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…

 

Peoplekind, Unite — You Have Nothing to Lose Except Your Gender

Canada, which this year purged its national anthem to make it gender-less, is now leading the charge toward political correctness.

You may have seen the video in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau corrects a young woman who uses the word “mankind” and advises her to use “peoplekind” instead “’cause it’s more inclusive.”

The woman — and the audience — agreed with smiles and cheers.

When his own nation turned on him for the comment, a week later Trudeau said it was all “a dumb joke.”

“Dumb” I agree with, and “joke” seems to apply to the office of the current prime minister of Canada.

Happy Holidays and Many Happy Returns (for Me)

Happy Holidays” is a pretty simple grammatical construction, as are “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy New Year” and various other celebratory sayings. But we use “Many Happy Returns” without, at least in my case, understanding what it means.many-happy-returns-explained

I’m a weirdo who’s lived way too long for my meager abilities and accomplishments, but my 39th birthday (being celebrating for something like the 39th time) arrives this Sunday, on Christmas Eve. Now I follow astrology, numerology, Buddhism, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Akashic Records, The Lotus Sutra and Tao te Ching (The Way) as guides to my life and basically the meaning of existence.

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Most Annoying Word in the English Language

It wouldn’t be my choice, but a poll by Marist College determined that “whatever” is the most annoying word in the American lexicon for the ninth straight year.

grammar-source-answer-to-all-your-English-questionsThe poll was conducted Nov. 6-9 of 1,074 adults with an error factor of 3 percent.

Now, if I were asked to pick the most annoying (and meaningless) word in use by most Americans, I’d say it’s “awesome.” The use of “awesome” appears to be a substitute for people who can’t formulate a sentence around what they really feel.

“How was the movie?” “Awesome.”

“How was dinner?” “Awesome.”

“How was your death?” “Awesome.”

Anyway, you get the idea.

The rest of the list of the top five, in order, consists of “fake news,” “no offense,” “literally,” and “you know what I mean.”

Now, that’s an awesome list, you know?