Current affairs, engineering, Uncategorized

PPFF #173: Tally Sticks

Good morning,

It has taken a while for this one to sink in with me and an even longer while to form any kind of opinion on this ever more baffling phenomenon.

I’ve recently read this Guardian article; terribly negative about the whole cryptocurrency thing. The gist of it was; ‘don’t do it’ by calling it collective insanity and a modern day tulip mania or whatever disparaging remarks must have come to their mind, which I found a little lazy – If you asked me, it seems to be a perfectly rational(ised) response to the underlying conditions that gave rise to this ‘mania’. Low interest rates. Low wage rises. Overvalued and saturated traditional asset prices. Crisis of faith in the traditional economic/monetary system. Growing inequality. Cheap money from loose monetary policies. ‘Shrinkflation’. Etc. Certainly more rational than waiting in the hope that the next lottery draw would hit our lucky numbers, or blaming Mexicans and Romanians for all our social ills yet again)

In any case, the other day, I also came across a podcast where Pippa Malmgren (author of Signals: the Breakdown of the Social Contract and the Rise of Geopolitics), started talking about bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in general, and how they could, overnight make conventional fiat currencies obsolete. A little far-fetched I thought, but it made me wonder how many bitcoins she might have bought before that lecture.

What was more interesting, mentioned in the same talk was the 1782 Act of Parliament,  which basically stipulated that all accounting should be on paper ledgers, and abolished the widely circulated ‘tally sticks’ as a part of accounting procedures.

Now, you might be wondering, what on earth are tally sticks? Simply put, tallies were a tamper-proof way of recording lending/borrowing transactions back in the days. The wooden stick containing a record of a debt, would be split in half, down its length. The debtor would retain one half, called the ‘foil’ while the creditor would retain the other half, called the ‘stock’, and because of the way the wood split, every split tally record would be unique and virtually tamper-proof. Does that remind you of anything?

Normally, these transaction records would be kept in a ledger somewhere. However, something cool happened; tally stocks (the creditor’s half) began being traded. For example, a stock showing, say ‘John Smith owed £11,563’, would actually be traded for £11,563 more or less, assuming John Smith was creditworthy. Basically a ‘stock’ market was born, where it was possible to use stocks to pay for goods and services as a convenient form of payment, not relying on officially minted coins or gold. Does that remind you of anything?

Well, to find out how it all ended, google ‘16 October 1834’

Have a good Friday


PPFF #153: Morning

Good morning,

Here’s the thing. Have you ever wondered what the connection is between the word ‘morning’ and a similar-looking word ‘morn’ that means the same thing? Here’s what I found out.

‘Morn’ historically precedes ‘morning’ as ‘morn’ was derived from an Old English word yonks ago, whereas ‘morning’ dates back to the 13th century and it is a derivative gerund of ‘morn’. These two actually meant different times of the day but this time with ‘morning’ preceding ‘morn’ in daily chronological order. ‘Morn’ originally meant ‘sunrise’. ‘Morning’ hence used to mean the ‘time just before sunrise’ or ‘sunrising’ i.e. the period of time that is ‘becoming a morn’ but not quite there yet. one could argue, perhaps the time before morning should then be called ‘morninging’ but i think we already have the word ‘dawn’, so let’s stick to readily available existing words for now.

And at this point if you’re wondering if ‘evening’ would follow the same logic, you’re absolutely right. The word ‘even’ used to mean ‘sunset’; ergo, ‘evening’, ‘sunsetting’ or the period of time that is ‘becoming an even’ but not quite there yet.

Have a good Saturdaying (or Friday)


PPFF #145:puffin poo

Good morning,

I learnt something quite cool this week. This is how I came across it.

Someone from the office brought in ‘puffin poo’. Not the actual faecal substance from the birds (not least because that would be in violation of HSE regulations and/or social protocol) but ‘delicious white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut’ from Shetlands, whose appearance vaguely resembles animal droppings. To learn more about actual puffin guano, I googled ‘puffin’. One of Google’s suggestions was ‘puffin crossings’. Unwittingly I clicked on that link. Then I found out that ‘puffin’ in ‘puffin crossing’ is a loose acronym for Pedestrian User Friendly INtelligent’ or a ‘backronym’. What’s a ‘backronym’? It’s a specially constructed phrase claimed to be an acronym, which in many cases are contrived to spell an existing word; a ‘type of folk etymology’, Wikipedia said. Now what the heck is ‘folk etymology’? Basically it’s a false origin story of a word that language experts know so little about that laypersons like you and I come up with something that sounds plausible as the origin of a particular word or phrase. A well-known example would be ‘posh’, abbreviated from ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’, originating from the fact that the most expensive cabins on ship would be on the port side going out, and the starboard side when it’s homebound. This is absolute rubbish, of course but it sounds so logical that it ought to be true and if it weren’t true, you want it to be true. Anyhow, after a few more clicks later, my mini click quest came to a satisfying end when I eventually stopped on the page that explained the real origin of the word ‘female’.

Like a lot of words in English, the word ‘female’ came from the French word ‘femelle’, which was a diminutive form of ‘femme’(woman), meaning ‘young woman’ (like madame and mademoiselle). Some centuries later English speakers, unfamiliar with suffix –elle, altered its spelling to ‘female’, to be morphologically in line with the existing word ‘male’, to appear in contrast, sort of like how ‘aluminum’ changed to ‘aluminium’ to appear similar to other existing metallic element names such as potassium etc.

It’s strange but it seems to me that some people have an innate desire to make sense of things that they come across, even if they’re not true, preferring  coherence over facts. Food for thought. 

Have a thoughtful Friday



PPFF #138: Fish and Chips

Good morning,

I know Friday fish and chips as a topic have been written about to death, but as they are one of those quintessentially definitive features of British life, I’ll repeat the same information others have already disseminated. And also someone asked me at the end of last week what was the reason behind the peculiar practice of eating fish and chips on Friday in Britain. At first I thought it was obvious; because the combination of crispy golden batter and soft, succulent white meat of fish, the joy of which is only multiplied by accompaniment of steaming hot, crisp chips, is basically perfect and irresistible, duh – and if we ate these gastronomical wonders every day, first of all we would make everything else unbearably boring hence end up killing ourselves, or we would probably die of heart attack in the 10th week of eating them every day, double duh!

Well, neither of them is actually the reason. Here are the facts. As with most things British, in their origin they weren’t British at all, though they have been successfully appropriated and integrated into the collective British cultural fabric (which also reminds me to mention that Fabric got shut down this week). There are more than a few articles about them online and reading any number of them would reveal the following in common:

  • Eating fried fish on Friday was practised by 16th century Jewish refugees from Portugal who came to Britain.
  • Chips (fried potatoes) came to Britain from 17th century Belgium or France; maybe that’s why they call them French fries in the US
  • Fish and chips were very rarely (if at all) sold together until apparently first sold together by a shop that opened in Bow, East London in 1860, by a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin.
  • These were later ‘exported’ from England to Scotland and Wales by Italian immigrants.

It’s also claimed that the reason behind fish and chips on Friday in Britain (or at least the fish part) might be the old Christian tradition of meatless Friday meals in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. This does sort of tie in with the Jewish thing mentioned earlier, as a lot of Christian things have been borrowed from Judaism and it’s possible that they have been post-rationalised for legitimacy.

Enjoy your fish and chips. Have a good Friday

etymology, origin

PPFF #137: Theater Centre

Good morning,

If you have a keen eye for detail, you may have noticed the inconsistency in spelling in the title; ‘theater’ being (North) American and ‘centre’ being British. This morning’s topic has nothing to do with the space for thespian endeavours nor the equidistant point of regular geometries, but all to do with the reason why we spell these in different ways. I say ‘the’, emphatically because unlike many origin stories of sayings, idioms and colloquialisms or etymologies of words we come across, (often inconclusive and ambiguous), the reason for the “two countries separated by a common language” almost points to one unequivocally distinct juncture; Noah Webster of Webster’s Dictionary.

In 1806 by compiling and publishing “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language”, (somewhat politically motivated) Noah Webster brought about a significant spelling reform which included the most distinguishable features of the common American English spelling patterns (e.g. theatre/theater, sceptical/skeptical neighbor/neighbour etc.). It’s not that he came up with any of these spellings himself but that it was an attempt, successful one at that, to break away from the traditions of America’s old colonial ‘master’, i.e. the British. I was surprised to learn but it’s probably also worth mentioning that the spelling patterns we know in Britain aren’t as ‘authentic’ as we think. For example, Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labours Lost’ was actually first printed as ‘Loves Labors Lost’, not ‘Loves Labours Lost’ (1598) but through superficial gallicising (not to be confused with gaelicising) efforts borne of ostentatious affectation to appear more French, by 1623 ‘Loves Labors Lost’ would be printed as ‘Loves Labours Lost’.  (Perhaps it’s worth mentioning although such words had made into the English vocabulary from French in the first place, by 16th century spellings of many words had already been economised and phoneticised from their original forms). I guess all things French were fashionable even then.

A slightly digressing but nonetheless interesting example of these differences in spelling is ‘aluminium’ or ‘aluminum’, those of you who read dictionaries for fun would already know, the word was coined by an Englishman as alumium (1808), then changed it to aluminum (the American spelling), but the British editors didn’t like it because it didn’t fit in well with existing element names such as sodium and potassium, so at their whim, they changed it in to aluminium (1812).

So there you have it. We sometimes spell things the way we do because although we hate to admit it, we’re secretly harbouring/harboring a little bit of love for all things French (cheese, wine and now spelling). And Americans decided to walk away from that love because they meant to express their newly gained independence and nationhood etc by all means available to them, which included the way they wrote – the debatable opinion that their spelling patterns are more logical, less superfluous and more phonetic is besides the point, I think.

Anyhow, have a good Fridé.

(did that work?)


PPFF #132: Tiesday

Good morning,

Yes I know. It’s Friday. You didn’t just wake up on a Tuesday, four days after a crazy amnesia-inducing Thursday night-out, and no, it’s not a typo; granted, it may be a bad pun but I meant Tiesday, as in, a day when one would sport a tie as part of one’s work attire.

This Tuesday gone, four of us in our office participated in a Tiesday. I’m happy to report that it was gender-neutral and inclusive with a female colleague willingly participating in this event. If you’ve had the time to google tiesday, you would know that this somewhat trite happening is nothing new and has been done before; for good causes; for charity events etc.

We didn’t have any of those good causes, however; it was as random as some guy with a head full of loose screws deciding that one day he would wear a tie and convince 3 others to do the same in a feeble attempt to manufacture a sense of event in an otherwise mundane work environment. Whatever the motive, in trying to find out the origin of neckties, I found in the past few days, that the subject of necktie, this relatively small piece of garment, is so unexpectedly multi-faceted, complex and politically charged that I had a hard time keeping up; I’d even argue G-strings and bikinis are the only other two things in the western sartorial history that come anywhere near being as controversial as neckties (no, mankinis are not even comparable). I was only trying to find out who invented or popularised it and/or where it came from but in the process I came across the following wide range of ‘related’ topics; interpretation of a tie as an antiquated phallic symbol, wearing a tie and its positive effect on work productivity , Iran’s necktie ban claiming them as a symbol of western decadence,  gender politics crying foul for its sexist nature, implication of the (male) wearer’s aspirations and ambition (equivalent to female power-dressing) – and I can’t find the source now but someone might have even described them as a morbid thing or essentially a noose around one’s neck, ready for that hanging action if required, like a convenient ‘self-destruct’ button after a particularly stressful day at work.

Far from all this misplaced sociopolitical aggression and gender politics, the modern origin of the necktie was nothing like that and it wasn’t merely symbolic at all and it was highly functional (I have to say ‘modern’ because as with everything else, neck ties included of course, irritatingly go back to the Romans and/or the Chinese):

The legend has it during The Thirty Years’ War (17th Century. Very messy. Involved over a dozen countries in Europe) the French King Louis the 13th hired Croatian mercenaries to fight for France. These Croats used to wear a ‘scarf’ around their neck as part of their uniform, which tied either the collar of their shirt and/or the top of their jackets. Not only did these Croats win battles for France but also their fashion sense impressed King Louis to the extent that his majesty made this garment part of the dress code for French court appearances. Indeed the French name for neckties ‘cravates’, comes from German Krabate, which comes from Serbo-Croatian Hrvat, meaning ‘Croat’ or ‘Croatian’.

Going back to the insanity that surrounds neckties, I’d say, even at the risk of being misinterpreted and misconstrued, I’m still going to wear my tie next Tiesday, and the whiteness of the shirt I’ll be wearing will not represent the general mundanity of the work I do and the vivid colour(s) of the necktie I’ll be wearing will not symbolise my desperate attempt to contrive excitement and eventfulness.

Have a good Friesday

Yup, today’s a day you have fries.

Europe, Uncategorized

PPFF #127

Good morning,

Not that anyone cares about these things (thanks to the European orgy of football, also known as ‘Euro 2016′) but the summer Olympic games are fast-approaching; in Rio, apparently this August.

Coincidentally, I came across a paragraph in a book about all things Greek this week, which mentioned the tradition of Olympic torch relay and went on to explain that it wasn’t a Greek invention at all. Intrigued, I looked this one up.

It’s rather conveniently believed (by the Greeks) that it originated in ancient Greece, from their ritual of commemorating Prometheus’ appropriation of fire from Zeus, or from the fires in the sanctuary of Olympia. This myth that a fire was kept burning throughout the duration of ancient Olympic games for the specific purpose of the games has been perpetuated by the International Olympic Committee for quite some time.

But I found that the ancient Greeks had fires burning in front of ALL of their principal temples and they had nothing specifically to do with Olympic games or the temple of Hestia at Olympia.

Unfortunately and perhaps quite inconveniently for the IOC, it’s a pretty well documented fact that we owe the tradition to the Nazis. Yes, as the revival of the Olympic games themselves is attributed to the French educator Pierre de Coubertin, the modern practice of transporting the flame from Greece to the designated sites of the competitions, was created by Carl Diem under the guidance of Joseph Goebbels (yup, him, the Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment & Propaganda) in 1936 for the Summer Olympics in Berlin. As you might have guessed, it probably was an attempt to manufacture a little mystique and a false sense of legitimacy for the Nazi regime by contriving an association with the ancient Greeks.

On a tenuously related note, the UK will now be represented as an independent nation at the next Olympic games now that it’s gained its independence from the oppressive imperial power that is the EU.

Hang on. What? The UK has always been an independent nation? Huh?

I thought we only just won back and declared our independence? I’m confused.

Have a Friday.