March 11th…..

Why does the G in Margaret sound different from the G in margarine? Why does C begin both case and cease? And why is it funny when a philologist faints, but not phunny to laf about it? English spelling is notoriously clumsy, with its surfeit of silent letters, fickle i’s …

March 10th…….

In The Jupiter Effect (1974), Cambridge-educated astrophysicists John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann warn that a rare alignment of the planets on March 10, 1982, could set off a chain of cataclysmic events here on Earth, culminating in earthquakes and floods that could imperil human civilization. The book was a bestseller, …

March 9th…..

On March 9, 1961, the Soviet Union launched a mannequin named Ivan Ivanovich into space aboard Sputnik 9 to test radiation levels, pressure regulators, and communications equipment in preparation for Yuri Gagarin’s orbital mission a month later. Ivan’s “observations” about space were just a bit peculiar. In programming Ivan’s voice …

March 8th……

On this day in 1939, Jack Mercer and Margie Hines—the cartoon voices of Popeye and Olive Oyl, respectively—wed at a private ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For their first breakfast as a married couple they ate—what else?—spinach. It wasn’t the only romance forged in the voiceover studio. In 1991, the …

February 7th………

Ever since Portuguese traders brought tobacco to Asia in the early 16th century, Japan has smoked with gusto. But after a series of tough anti-smoking laws enacted in the mid-1990s, tobacco use plummeted. At the same time, lawsuits alleging secondhand exposure shot up. The strangest charge from this period of …

Tomayto and tomato……

I read recently that we British are getting rather hot under the collar about the English language. If you Google the word “Americanisms” you will find red faced pedants claiming that the Americans are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so their argument goes, …

Swan song……….

According to tradition, many ancient peoples believed that swans, creatures whose “voices” are not as melodious as those of other birds, burst into clear song when they felt death nearing. The fifth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Socrates is said to have explained that this voice transformation occurred because the swans were …