A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: September 2006

One small step for a man

It’s looking as if Neil Armstrong did say “One small step for a man…” rather than “One small step for man…”; this is what he has always maintained as his intent (Houston Chronicle story; via /.).

Perhaps someday historians will correct it again to “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for humanity.”

Update: I should have been a bit more skeptical, I think. At least taken a closer look at the data, which David Beaver has now done in a post on Language Log. Thanks, David.

Update 2: Mark Liberman presents more evidence:

My conclusion: Neil Armstrong apparently meant to say “for a man”. And perhaps he produced an unusually rapid performance of the “for a” part, with a brief syllabic /r/ followed by a brief and very weakly de-rhoticized schwa. But it seems much more likely that what he actually said was just what everyone has always heard, namely “for man”.

Kids tried this at home

For Jane’s science class, we performed a science experiment at home (She is studying the scientific method again). Because Bess works with peppers, we designed a simple experiment to see which part of an Anaheim pepper is the hottest: the seeds, the flesh, the placenta or the stem. Bess carefully cut a small piece of the flesh and the placenta (she put the stem aside) about the size of a seed for each of us. We each tasted a seed, the flesh and the placenta and marked whether it was mild, a little hot, hot, or very hot. Seed: a little hot, a little hot, a little hot. Flesh: mild, a little hot, mild. Placenta: very hot, very hot, yeeyaw!

So now you know: it’s not the seeds, but the white placenta that holds the seeds that contains the heat.

Oh, and the stems? We’re holding them back for stem cell research. (Sorry, that was Bess’s joke).

'Imperial History' of the Middle East

A wonderful animation of the
‘Imperial History’ of the Middle East from Maps of War.

Powar(+) law

This just in: Results from International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Comments turned off for a while

Getting spam-blasted, so comments are turned off for a while.

In the midst of it

A note I wrote to the Fasola discussion list, on whether ‘midst’ is archaic or not

Although my mama warned me never to discuss language usage in public forums, let me weigh in here a bit …

Here is the line from “On the swiftness of Time” posted by Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg:

Unthinking man! remember this,
Thou, 'midst thy sublunary bliss,
Must groan, and gasp, and die!

I think what is ‘archaic’ (that is, no longer in common use) about the use of midst here is its use as a preposition. I don’t have much data at my finger tips, but I think that US speakers (even in the south) would now tend to say ‘in the midst of’ or perhaps ‘amid.’

For example, from some emails I’ve written or received:

We are in the midst of several technological debates ...
Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict ...
It was in the midst of structural repairs to its foundation ...

Try putting ‘midst’ in place of ‘in the midst of’ in the phrases above, and I think you will probably agree they sound ‘archaic’:

We are midst several technological debates ...
Peacemaking midst violence and conflict ...
It was midst structural repairs to its foundation ...

Interestingly, Dr. Johnson’s dictionary says ‘midst’ comes from ‘the middest’, which Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary repeats, but I think the modern concensus is that it comes from Middle English ‘middes,’ that is, the very archaic genitive form of ‘mid.’ For example the Online Etymological Dictionary says:

c.1400, from M.E. middes (1340), from O.E. mid + adv. gen. -s.
The parasitic -t is perhaps on model of superlatives.

I’m quite sure that ‘midst’ is not a contraction for ‘amidst.’ In fact, I’m quite sure that things go the other direction: ‘amid[st]’ is based on the root form mid[st], with the periphrastic ‘a-‘, as in ‘anew,’ ‘abreast,’ see the Online Eytmological Dictionary entry. It would be easy to construe it as such, though, and this would account for ‘midst in the poetry above.

[In the midst/a-]Mid[st] [of] pleasures and palaces,
Will Fitzgerald

Bad dog, Ruby, Bad dog!

>> x = [1, nil, 2]
=> [1, nil, 2]
>> x.find_all { |x| x}
=> [1, 2]
>> x
=> 2

Gymanfa Ganu

Last night, i attended the annual Gymanfa Ganu (/gI’manfa ‘ganI/ at Salem Presbyterian Church in Venedocia, Ohio with good friend Samuel Sommers. A gymanfa is a Welsh hymn sing; Sam is a fellow Sacred Harp singer with relatives at Salem, and it was great fun talking with him to and from Venedocia. The singing itself was interestingly different from Sacred Harp singing. We sat in parts, but we had a director (Trevor Williams) who would instruct us and even stop us if he wanted to correct or encourage certain things. There was some special music, most of it sung in Welsh, and we sang a few hymns in Welsh (I was glad I had studied up a bit on Welsh pronunciation–it’s not as hard as it looks). We sang a couple of tunes I haven’t sung in a very long time, including “Rachie” and “Huddersfield,” which I remember from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship days as “Who is on the Lord’s Side?” and  “Great God of Wonders,” respectively.

Perhaps my father’s father’s mother’s family–the Griffiths, immigrants from Wales, would be glad to know I sang Cym Rhonddha.

The Parting Hand

Here’s something very Sacred Harp: The Parting Hand, a site to record songs you’d like sung and other remembrances made at your own funeral. It’s a quick site Annie Grieshop and I put together over the past few days in our spare time.

The Parting Hand” is the tune most frequently sung at the end of a Sacred Harp convention.

My Christian friends, in bonds of love,
Whose hearts in sweetest union join,
Your friendship’s like a drawing band,
Yet we must take the parting hand.
Your company’s sweet, your union dear,
Your words delightful to my ear;
Yet when I see that we must part
You draw like chords around my heart.

(One of the interesting things about Sacred Harp singing is how these words resonate even with non- or ex-Christian singers).