Lesson #361: The Letter H

At the risk of sounding something like a Sesame Street advert, today is being brought to you by the letter H.

I learned something very interesting about the letter H today and it’s that the letter existed in Late Latin, was dropped from Old and Middle French entirely, and then started reappearing in Modern English.

Take, for example, the word habit (in the clerical sense, not the things-you-do-a-lot sense). The Latin word is habitus, the Middle French is abit, and then English tacked the H back on to make habit.

You can read more about it here and here.


Lesson #360: The Tottenham Crest

The supporters club I’m part of has a Facebook page where we keep each other updated on team-related news. Sometimes, it’s whether we need to relocate to the Chelsea bar (ugh) for the super early match because our bar staff didn’t show up to open for us. Sometimes, it’s videos of fans spontaneously deciding, despite being down four goals to Liverpool, to cheer like Spurs scored a goal (which they did not). Sometimes, it’s lost posters for a certain Argentinian striker. Sometimes, it’s wild speculation that I feel the need to correct. Because, as you may have noticed, I cannot abide poor research.

In this case, it’s the source of the cockerel (or, as Spurs fans are wont to call it, “the cock on a ball”) that makes up the Tottenham crest. One of the members of the club posted about the possibility that the crest had arisen from the fact that White Hart Lane was built on what used to be a farm.

It literally took me 20 seconds to find the actual information. Twenty. Seconds.

According to Ken Ferris’ book, Football: Terms and Teams, the cockerel has been part of Spurs since the 1901 FA Cup final. The cock and ball* first appeared in 1909 when a former player cast a copper statue to place in the West Stand at White Hart Lane. The spurs on the cockerel are related to the late medieval nobleman Harry Hotspur’s riding spurs.** And also, you know, because fighting cocks wear spurs. As I’m sure you can guess, Tottenham Hotspur take their name from our friend Harry, who had ties to North London.

*That just never gets old…I sometimes have the sense of humour of a 12-year-old boy.

**That’s late medieval, not late, medieval, though that’s also accurate. Obviously.



Busy life…

The last ten-ish days have been really busy. I’m catching up all the things I  had to abandon during tax season — seeing my friends who don’t live in my neighbourhood and/or aren’t part of the supporters club, job hunting, hiking, running a number of errands I’d let slide, getting my hair cut (finally), Champions League, playoff hockey, etc. And it’s all very busy this weekend. I’ve got two friends in from out of town — who hate each other, so I’ve had to schedule my time with them individually, one of my closest (male) friends is doing a charity walk in high heels tomorrow morning, there’s a Spurs match…

I have a lot of plates spinning until Monday, so there won’t be a new lesson until then. But you can expect a new lesson on Monday afternoon.

Lesson #359: 1 Planck

Today, I learned that the smallest unit of measure is a Planck.

A Planck measures 1.616199(97)×10−35m, which is really, really, really effing small.

So this is kind of a cheat because I don’t actually quite understand the use of the Planck length. I know it’s a constant in quantum physics and is directly related to Planck’s constant (h-bar*, which I know a little more about because I happen to know that ΔE x Δt  ħ/2, which is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle), and I know that it is the outcome of taking Għ/c3 (the square root of the gravitational constant times Plank’s constant divided by the speed of light cubed), but outside of that, my grasp of quantum physics is so limited that the entire concept is hard for me to wrap my head around. Especially now that I’m not living with physicists who were able to dumb everything down for me.

Still though, it’s a good thing to know for Jeopardy! or at a random party.

*My physicist friends used to joke that someday they were going to open up a bar and call it H-bar, but it would be written like so: Ħ. I fully support that idea! 

Lesson #358: Wagner’s Flamingo Feather Rug

Apparently, Richard Wagner was a big fan of the colour pink, including for his undergarments. I feel like Hitler must have ignored this particular piece of information.

Anyway, for his 66th birthday, Wagner’s wife, Cosima, had a rug made for him. A bright pink rug made of flamingos’ breast feathers. That was bordered with peacock feathers.

Read more here.


Lesson #357: When A Quote is Not A Quote

This is a lesson that isn’t really a lesson in anything other than assuaging my own curiosity.

Over the whole of a body of work, Milan Kundera is, hands down, my favourite author. I think he’s brilliant. He’s existentialism the way I wish I’d learned existentialism in college. Instead, I got Sartre bashing me over the head with his point.* I’m not a fan. My first introduction to Kundera was The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I think is his strongest work (I’ve since read all of his books except The Joke and Life is Elsewhere, both of which are sitting in my library waiting for me to pick them up) and remains one of my three favourite books ever written.

It’s been a while since I read it, so memory fails me some in direct quotes, but something I’ve read over and over again since my last reading of the novel is, “there is no perfection only life.” And it’s always attributed to Kundera. And always to The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Except that it’s not from the novel at all. And I know this because I’ve been re-reading it in its original French.** Only to find it didn’t exist. So I found PDFs both in English and French and did a search. It’s not there. The quote is made up.

Which is too bad; it’s a wonderful sentiment.

*In fairness, I did also get Duras, whose style is much closer to Kundera than to Sartre. The Lover is still one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read.

**Technically, it was originally written in Czech, but its first publication was in French.

Lesson #356: The Zamburak

Today’s lesson comes by way of a Rock, Paper, Cynic comic. First off, Rock, Paper, Cynic is awesome and you should read it.*

Moving on…

Holy crap, you guys, camel cavalry! Camel cavalry with mounted cannons!

Technically the comic is incorrect; the zamburak (or zumbooruk) is the mounted cannon, not the camel with the mounted cannon. But the point remains. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information available on the zamburak.

There’s some etymology here, but there’s not really anything to verify any of the information listed on the Wikipedia page, which is disappointing. The zamburaks were mostly used by the Persians and Indians as light artillery, though the range and accuracy wasn’t particularly good. They were used in combat against the British in the Anglo-Afghan and Anglo-Sikh wars in the 19th centuries, but had been used for centuries before that, at least as far back as the Persian Safavid Empire.

You can read more here. And you can see a LEGO version here.

*This one is still my favourite! It plays to both my love of words and my deep, deep love of dark humour. And if you read French and have a basic understanding of Canadian politics, read this one.