Tag Archives: culture

Turn-of-phrase inflation.

The etymology of “the whole nine yards” is a total mystery. Anybody who tells you that they know its origin is either lying or unknowingly parroting an urban legend. The number of feet of fabric required to make a suit? Number of cubic yards of soil removed to dig a grave? Number of cubic yards of cement that fits in a mixer? The length of a WWII-era ammunition belt? Nope, none of those are it. The earliest known use of the phrase was in 1962, but now there’s been a trio of new discoveries from 1921 and 1912. Why weren’t they found before? Because the phrase was “the whole six yards.” The number was inflated over the years, much as “cloud seven” became “cloud eight” and is now “cloud nine.” The origin of the phrase is still unknown, but one potentially important clue is found in the pair of 1912 uses—both were in Kentucky. 

Links for May 16th

  • Discovery Channel: Mike Rowe Senate Testimony
    The host of "Dirty Jobs" provided an important argument to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about why our education system needs to emphasize skilled trades. College is not for everybody. Way too many kids are going to college—it doesn't make economic sense, for them or for our society. More kids need to learn skilled trades.
  • Wikipedia: Benford’s law
    Numbers are not evenly distributed. Not theoretical numbers, but the real numbers that describe the world around us: stream flow rates, bank account numbers, atomic weights, street addresses, etc. Numbers start with 1 about 30% of the time. (e.g. 11, 103, 1539) They start with 2 about 18% of the time, 3 about 12%, and so on, until 9, which leads of numbers 4.6% of the time. This is described by Benford's law, which has become useful for forensic analysis of any numbers (such as accounting data), to see if it's real, or somebody has just made the numbers up. The less the adherence to Benford's law, the greater the cause for suspicion.
  • New York Times: Wealthy Donors to G.O.P. Are Providing Bulk of Money in Gay Marriage Push
    The push to legalize gay marriage in New York is being bankrolled by Republicans. You might need to re-read that sentence to comprehend that—a double take is a reasonable response. Although some Democrats may regard this as bad news—we've basically got a lock on the gay vote—I think it's great news. My gay conservative friends will surely welcome it. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I hope this is a sign that transformation is in progress.

Links for May 11th

  • Slate: More than half of Republican voters still doubt President Obama was born in the U.S.
    34% of Republicans are convinced that the president was not born in the United States. I think this gives us a good baseline of the percentage of the Republican Party that is racist and/or mentally ill. Another 18% just aren't sure, a bloc that I think we can just chalk up as dumb and/or ignorant. The leading presidential candidate among this choice group? Sarah Palin.
  • New York Times: Like Magic, Great Sports Nicknames Are Disappearing
    The heyday of nicknames was the early twentieth century. Looking at my grandmother's high school yearbook last week, I was surprised to see that the majority of her classmates went by a nickname—boys and girls alike. Now they're pretty uncommon. Why? Probably because of the increasing diversity of given names. The Times points out that, in 1956, the ten most popular names for boys went to a third of all boys. The top ten names given in 2010 were bestowed to 8.4% of all newborn boys. Nicknames are necessary when a group of friends has three Davids, three Daniels, and four Michaels. Now that our name pool is less homogenous, we just don't need them.
  • Daily Progress: New poll shows Obama approval hits 60 percent
    Most Americans agree that President Obama should be reelected. Two thirds agree that he's a strong leader who keeps us safe. Most approve of his handling of the economy, most approve of how he's handling unemployment, and almost half agree that the country is headed in the right direction.