English Is A Complex Language (vi)

English is a complex language. Meanings of words are constantly changing and new definitions arise all the time. See if you can spot some new meanings in the alphabetic list below.

Billiard felt [Noun.]
Sports: sexual assault after a billiard game.

Brazilian Rainforest [Noun.]
Contradiction in terms.

Divine [Verb.]
To sober up.

Extricate [Noun.]
A spare girl called Kate.

Geography [Verb.]
To write in sand.

Mineral [Noun.]
Tiny general.

Petty [Adj.]
The act of stroking one’s submissive partner.

Pressure cooker [Noun.]
Chef who is overwrought.

Transitive verb [Noun.]
Verb that has undergone a sex change.

See other: English Is A Complex Language

Five-second Rule

Whoever came up with five-second rule had probably just dropped an entire cookie on the ground and needed a sanitary excuse to save it. However, according to research from Clemson University, such a cookie could have picked up toxic salmonella bacteria during that brief time window, especially on a tiled or wooden surface.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Having said that, different foods produce a smorgasbord of results. Comparing the bacteria colonies picked up by dry saltines and wet pastrami after the sodium-rich snacks hung out on a contaminated floor for a few seconds, moist sausage tends to pick up far more flora.

Even food that has spent a mere two seconds on a contaminated surface can be considered suspect. The “five-second rule” seems to be a juvenile fiction. In fact, even if something spends a mere millisecond on the floor, it attracts bacteria. How dirty it gets depends on the food’s moisture, surface geometry and floor condition – not time.

Sad news for clumsy eaters and students everywhere: the “five-second rule” is a myth.

“You could also ask who’s in charge. Lots of people think, well, we’re humans; we’re the most intelligent and accomplished species; we’re in charge. Bacteria may have a different outlook: more bacteria live and work in one linear centimeter of your lower colon than all the humans who have ever lived. That’s what’s going on in your digestive tract right now. Are we in charge, or are we simply hosts for bacteria? It all depends on your outlook.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

International Prototype Kilogram

In order to keep track of what a kilogram is, there exists a unit of metal which serves as the official world benchmark. This special piece of metal is known as the International Prototype Kilogram.

A replica of the IPK, kept under three glass bells.

A replica of the IPK, kept under three glass bells.

The International Prototype Kilogram, or IPK, is a right-circular cylinder made of 90% platinum and 10% iridium. Both its height and diameter are only 39.17 mm, due to the extremely high density of platinum (almost twice as dense as lead and more than 21 times as dense as water). Iridium was added to improve the IPK’s hardness while still retaining the beneficial properties of the platinum, being extreme resistance to oxidation, average thermal and electrical conductivities, and low magnetic susceptibility.

The IPK as well as six sister copies are located in Sèvres near Paris, France. Outside of France, 42 countries have one or more national prototypes of their own.

The kilogram as a unit of mass is always equal to the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram. However, the IPK has been gradually gaining weight through adsorption of atmospheric contamination ever since it was introduced in 1875 by the BIPM (Bureau International des Poids et Mesures). As a result, the kilogram as a unit of mass is constantly getting lighter.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
– Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Like almost all seven base units in the International System of Units, the kilogram is a completely arbitrary value. It is not based on any existing natural value – at one point in history, it was simply decided that what we now know as a kilogram, would be a kilogram from then on. The second, however, equals one sixtieth of one sixtieth on one twenty-fourth of the time it takes for the Earth to rotate around the Sun, and is thus based on a physical, natural value, albeit not a universal one.

The metre was similarly once based on an actual object, the International Prototype Metre. In 1960 it was decided that the definition of a metre would be changed to ‘the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1299,792,458 of a second.’ Consequently, the kilogram is the only remaining value in need of an international prototype.

The seven SI base units - Kelvin, second, metre, kilogram, candela, mol and Ampère.

The seven SI base units – Kelvin, second, metre, kilogram, candela, mol and Ampère.

The IPK plays an important role in determining the values of many units, both clearly weight-related units as well as seemingly unrelated units like the lumen (luminous flux). One newton is defined as the force necessary to accelerate one kilogram at one metre per second squared. The joule is defined as that which is expended when a force of one newton acts through one metre. The watt equals one joule per second. The candela, the unit for luminous intensity, is defined as the magnitude of an electromagnetic field, in a specified direction, that has a power level of 1/683 watt per steradian at a frequency of 540 terahertz. And finally, lumen is defined as emission of candela per solid angle of one steradian (squared radian).

The long-term solution to the increasing weight of the IPK and subsequent devaluation of other units is to liberate the SI system’s dependency on the IPK by developing a practical realization of the kilogram that can be reproduced in different laboratories by following a written specification. The units of measure in such a practical realization would have their magnitudes precisely defined and expressed in terms of fundamental physical constants.

“Weight doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I mean, it does if you’re a model or whatever.”
– Meg Cabot, Queen of Babble

Freak Wave

Rogue, freak, or killer waves have been part of marine folklore for centuries, but have only been accepted as a real phenomenon by scientists over the past few decades.

They are relatively large and spontaneous ocean surface waves that occur far out at sea, and are a threat even to large ships and ocean liners over 250 meters long.

Rogues, called extreme storm waves by scientists, are those waves which are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves; they are very unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves.

Most reports of extreme storm waves say they look like walls of water. They are often steep-sided with unusually deep troughs.

“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.”
– James Joyce, Ulysses

Since these waves are uncommon, measurements of this phenomenon are extremely rare, making it a very hard natural occurrence to analyse. It is only since 1995 that the by then almost mythical freak wave was substantiated by something more than anecdotal evidence.

The Draupner wave or New Year’s wave is often believed to be the first freak wave to be detected by a measuring instrument, occurring at the Draupner platform in the North Sea off the coast of Norway on 1 January 1995.

Minor damage was inflicted on the platform during this event, confirming the validity of the reading made by a downwards-pointing laser sensor. In an area with significant wave height of approximately 12 metres (39 ft), a freak wave with a maximum wave height of 25.6 metres (84 ft) occurred with a peak elevation of 18.5 metres (61 ft). The freak waves are real, and as yet (conclusively speaking) unexplained by science.

Through the centuries that man has roamed the seas, freak waves have probably been responsible for countless of deaths, and tragically continue to do so, even in modern times. “Seems Neptune has claimed another soul.” (Firth of Fifth – Genesis, 1973).

The European Space Agency stated in 2004 that “Severe weather has sunk more than 200 supertankers and container ships exceeding 200 metres in length during the last two decades. Rogue waves are believed to be the major cause in many such cases”.

“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

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A community in Thule, in north-western Greenland, was so remote that until the start of the 19th century they believed themselves to be the only people in the world.

The potato originated in Peru about 3 million years ago; the Peruvians consider the spud a point of national pride.

During the late 1800s, sewage from the Chicago River repeatedly polluted Lake Michigan, Chicago’s main water source, causing devastating disease outbreaks. In the 1900, engineers built the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which reversed the river’s natural east-to-west flow and directed water toward the Mississippi River.

Backpfeifengesicht is German for ‘a face that makes you want to hit it’.

Aristotle believed that the Sun went round the Earth, that intelligence was located in the heart, and that the brain was a device for cooling the blood. He also taught that flies had four legs.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

What about Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the south-east; it is located between the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Its name means ‘rich coast’ in Spanish.

It is not a country that will be well known to most, but observed more closely, it is a nation which has some quite interesting characteristics:

  1. Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas.
  2. Costa Rica is slightly smaller than Lake Michigan.
  3. There are 800 miles of coastline, both on the Atlantic and Pacific.
  4. It only takes up .03% of planet’s surface but holds 5% of its biodiversity.
  5. There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies (10% of the world’s butterflies are in Costa Rica), 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects.
  6. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges.
  7. The average life expectancy of 77 years is one of the highest in the world.
  8. Costa Rica has no standing army. It was constitutionally abolished in 1949.
  9. They claim a 96% literacy rate. In very poor and rural areas, where children can’t get to schools, they teach classes over a national radio station.
  10. When a woman is pregnant they say she is con luz, or “with light.”
  11. When someone is your significant other, your other half, they are your media naranja, or the other half of your orange.
  12. Pura vida is the national saying, which means “pure life,” a sunny, feel good expression used as a greeting, goodbye, or if someone asks how you are doing.
  13. The average Tico makes $6,000 a year and the average wage labour is $10 per day, the highest in Central America.
  14. Costa Rica aims to be carbon neutral.
  15. Names are confusing in Costa Rica. Ticas do not take their husband’s last name.  The woman uses her full maiden name for life. No changing of national ID cards, drivers licenses, etc. She also adds her mother’s maiden name. Children take their father’s name.
  16. The older generations of Ticos are not tall, so most furniture, like chairs, couches, beds, etc. are built 6-8 inches lower than in the US.
  17. Locks (on houses, doors, and gates) almost always work backwards.
  18. Milk, eggs, and other perishable items are often sold unrefrigerated.
  19. It is common to buy wine in little paper boxes, which you do refrigerate.
  20. Often times milk is sold in a little plastic bag, and you have to cut the edge with scissors to open it, which often results in inexperienced gringos covered in milk and putting water on their cereal.
  21. Costa Rica is a Catholic country but ensures freedom of religion.
  22. On the Atlantic Coast, the Caribbean side, most of the population is descended from African roots, like Jamaica, and speak Spanish as well as a patois.
  23. A Costa Rican female swimmer won a gold medal in the 1996 summer games in Atlanta.
  24. Costa Rica is the longest-standing democracy in Central America.