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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

What is quantitative easing?

Quantitative easing is when a government pumps 'new' money directly into the economy. It does this is by buying assets - usually financial assets such as government and corporate bonds. 

The financial institutions selling those assets (e.g banks) can then boost the economy by lending this new money to businesses.

Why is QE unusual?
The normal way a government stimulates economic growth is by a) reducing the cost of borrowing  b) lowering taxes, particularly on business investment. The problem in the current financial crisis has been that interest rates are already at historic lows. As a result some governments (notably the US and to a lesser extent the UK) have attempted to inject money directly into the economy. 

The European  Central Bank has resisted QE until recently. Some would argue that this has been a factor in the weakness of the European economic recovery

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Where does the word baseball come from?

Surprisingly the word baseball originates from the country that famously doesn't play the game. 

The earliest reference to baseball comes in a diary entry of an Englishman. Surrey solicitor, William Bray, refers to playing 'base-ball' with his friends. 

But as Scyld Berry points out  the bigger claim that America's summer sport descends from the English game rounders does not 'get to first base'.

Another common misapprehension is that  cricket was always unpopular in the USA. According to this view, Americans could never warm to a game played over five days and often ending in a draw. But cricket 'was stronger in America than in Australia until the 1860s – stronger than anywhere else outside England'

More on the relationship between the rival summer games of 'two countries divided by a single language' here.

What is 'inside baseball'?
What is a curved ball?

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What is a Truther?

British celebrity Russell Brand recently declared on BBC Newsnight that he has 'an open mind' about the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. He was alluding to the claims of the so-called 'truther' movement which emerged in the early 2000s.

Truthers allege that the official version of 9/11 is a cover story for a conspiracy. The exact nature of this conspiracy varies but usually a involves some or all of the usual conspiracy-theory suspects: Big Business, Big Oil, Dick Cheney, the FBI, the CIA, Israel, the Bilderberg Group etc.

But we know what happened on 9/11, don’t we?  
'Truthers' question dismiss all the known evidence and suggest wildly improbable alternative theories. (See here for a comprehensive and systematic rebuttal of the main Truther claims.) 

Were there conspiracy theories before 9/11?
Extreme scepticism about 'official' history has a long history in the USA. It gained momentum after the Kennedy assassination with the rise  - of  'second shooter' theories etc.

The Watergate affair then appeared to give legitimacy to a cynical interpretation of the behaviour of the US Government and its agencies.

Ironically, it has been the brutal reality of terrorist atrocities that has undermined the Truther movement. Whatever Americans feel about their politicians, few doubt that there is a live and present danger to their security.  

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dude! Where does the word dude come from?

with thanks to Taking English One Thumb at a Time
(dūd, dyūdpronunciation
  1. Informal. An Easterner or city person who vacations on a ranch in the West.
  2. Informal. A man who is very fancy or sharp in dress and demeanor.
  3. Slang.
    1. A man; a fellow.
    2. dudes Persons of either sex.
Slang. To dress elaborately or flamboyantly: got all duded up for the show.

interj. Slang
Used to express approval, satisfaction, or congratulations. Source

The origins of the word dude are disputed but certainly predate Dude, Where’s my Car? (2000). According to the American Heritage Dictionary: 
Originally it was applied to fancy-dressed city folk who went out west on vacation. In this usage it first appears in the 1870s.

A New York newspaper declared one Evan Berry (left) the ‘King of the Dudes’ in 1888. 'Dude' makes an appearance  in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). The word also pops-up in the letters of an unlikely hipster P.G Woodhouse, the only English characters the American public would read about were exaggerated dudes

In the 1962 John Ford western, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) is accused of being a 'dude' - a Fancy-Dan lawyer and interloper. 

60 Revival

In the early 60s, 'dude' was adopted as surfer slang and then more generally amongst west-coast hipsters. It appears in the uber-cool counter-cultural film Easy Rider (1969), though the Peter Fonda character needs to have  meaning of the word explained to him.  

By the early 70s 'dude' was a staple of the cool-cat dictionary. David Bowie sent it into the singles chart with All the Young Dudes (1972) , while the ultimate hipsters, Steely Dan, recorded  Every Major Dude (1974). 

Outside of California 'dude' faded in the same way as ‘groovy’ and ‘gear’ went out of fashion. For the next generation of hipsters, the word was slightly embarrassing reminder of the 60s. 

The Dude

By the 90s, dude was beginning to regain its hip status and sub-cultural kudos. But it was the success of The Big Lewbowski (1998) that transformed its fortunes. Dude changed from being the linguistic equivalent of a cult Indie band to the U2 of contemporary vocabulary. Lebowski fans even created a 'religion, Dudeism.

Now dude is everywhere, dude. It has become an all-purpose expression for everything - from expressing approval ("Dude!") to indicating gender ('the dude in the hat').

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where does the word Halloween come from?

Hallowe'en or All-Hallows-Eve takes place on the night of 31 October. Hallow is the old English word for saint On All Hallows Day the Catholic Church remembers Christian martyrs. 

All Saints/Hallows Day has been celebrated on 1 November since the Middle Ages.  

All Souls Day follows on 2 November. On All Souls Day Catholics pray for the 'souls of the departed'.

Is Halloween Christian or Pagan? 

Both. Like Christmas, Halloween combines pagan & Christian customs. 
  • The lighting of bonfires symbolizes the plight of souls lost in purgatory (Catholic) while frightening away witches and ghouls (Pagan). 
  • souling - going door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for "soul cakes" and other treats.
  • mumming (or "guising") was acustom originally associated with Christmas. It consisted of parading in costume, chanting rhymes, and play-acting.  Source

But isn't the Catholic Church against Halloween?

Not exactly. It just does not recognise it as a religious holiday (again like Christmas Eve). Nor does it approve of modern attempts to connect Halloween with devil-worship, witchcraft etc.

Today  the religious elements of Halloween eclipse the pagan ones. Sadly there are no Jack O Lanterns in the Bible!
Another example of the devil having all the best tunes ...

Halloween often features in Victorian ghost stories. 

E. Nesbit's 'Man-Made-in-Marble' is a good example - read and/or listen to a retelling here.

Halloween Traditions 
Halloween Ghost Story
Classic Ghost Stories
About Halloween

Monday, 13 October 2014

What's the difference between satire & parody?

A deceptively complex question. Here is one confidently expressed answer:

Satirical magazine
Alternative explanations put more emphasis on the intent of the parodist/satirist
Satire can be termed as humour and anger combined together. Parody is really meant for mocking and it may or may not incite the society. Parody is just pure entertainment and nothing else. It does not have a direct influence on the society.
While Satire makes a serious point through humour, Parody does not contain any thing serious. Parody is just fun for fun’s sake. Satire can induce the society to think where as parody does not. While satire stands for changing the society, parody only stands for fun and making fun.
In everyday usage satire and parody are used interchangeably but perhaps parody is more a form of caricature: an exaggeration of immediately recognisable traits or features. Parody puts more emphasis on accurate imitation of detail than satire, which is more broadly ideological.
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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What's a troll? Internet Vocab FAQ

An internet troll is someone who joins a group or message board with the aim of causing problems. The etymology is complex and can be traced to old French hunting term troller and a norse one for a mythological monster. 

The interent use of troll probably derives from a slang term used by US naval pilots in the 1970s - see here.

The word has recently re-entered the news with the death of a woman alleged to have carried out a troll campaign against the McCann family.

Trolling can simply consist of crude abuse but some self-confessed trolls pride themselves on their cunning attacks on their victims. One strategy is to join a group under false pretences and then goad genuine members of the group with ridiculous, provocative or abusive comments. 

Sometimes trolling can have a sinister impact Jojo Moyes revealed in a recent article in the Daily Telegraph

Trolling - posting inflammatory comments on web sites is on the rise. Recent victims include a schoolgirl who committed suicide; a reporter attacked in Egypt; and a pregnant celebrity.

See full article here

Internet Slang Dictionary

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