Showing posts from February, 2012

Who was Shashibiya? When did he first arrive in China?

We can be pretty certain that Shashibiya never visited China. His work, however, has long been venerated by Chinese intellectuals. The first reference to him came in in a translation of Milner’s The History of England in 1857. Can you guess who I am talking about? See here

Where do 'a ghost and a prince meet. And everyone ends in mincemeat'?

In Hamlet, according to the Hollywood anthem 'Thats Entertainment'. More on the relationship between Tinseltown and the Bard here

What is an oscar? Where does the word come from?

Winners of Hollywood's Academy Awards receive a gold-plated statuette on a black metal base.  It is 13.5 in (34 cm) tall, weighs 8.5 lb (3.85 kg) and depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes. The five spokes each represent the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians. The popular name for an Academy Award is an Oscar. But there is no definitive explanation as to why. The name was first publicly used was in an article by Hollywood columnist about Katharine Hepburn's first Best Actress victory at the fifth annual ceremony in 1934. By 1939 the word was universally known - but there remains confusion regarding its origin. One theory is that the name came from an early Academy director, Margaret Herrick, in 1931. According to this legend, Herrick thought that the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar. Another is that Bette Davies named it after her hu

What is an escrow account?

An escrow account is an account managed by a bank and dedicated to a special purpose - for example, the 'bail-out fund' created by the European Union to refinance member states. If Portugal did not have the funds to repay it debts, it could (temporarily) avoid credit default by drawing funds from the escrow account. That might work for the smaller economies. But for Italy? Or France? Who will finance this safety net? And if they money was needed, would this mean a severe  haircut  for those funding the escrow account?

What is a meme?

This cartoon refers to 'Rickrolling (see below) The word meme was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene . Dawkins was looking for "a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'" to apply a biological concept to 'cultural evolution'. He wrote that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics , but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission – in the case of biological evolution, the gene . For Dawkins, the meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution. [1]   The form a meme can take is very fluid. Here BBC Radio 4's Start the Week discuss a 'cultural meme' listen to ‘English FAQ: What is a meme?’ on Audioboo The term  internet meme  is a further simplification of the original scientific term. It is defined on one tech blog as: a catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person t

What is a smoking gun? Where does the phrase come from?

Used to mean indisputable evidence 'smoking gun' was first used in the  Sherlock Holmes  story,  The Gloria Scott  (1893).  We rushed into the captain's cabin . . . there he lay with his brains smeared over the chart of the Atlantic . . . while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand. New York Times columnist  William Safire  identifies the first contemporary use as during the Watergate scandal in 1974. The phrase was then heavily used in the controversy regarding chemical weapons in Iraq. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (Kindle Edition $0.89) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes