Showing posts from July, 2012

What is the Union Jack?

We hosts of 2012 (my home city so I am claiming full ownership!) were thrilled to see the Union Jack rise in salute to Jessica, Greg and Mo on British track and field's greatest night of triumph. Or rather to see the Union Flag as pedants insist it should really be called This is because Union Jack is technically a maritime flag used to distinguish British ships. Though purists object it is popularly used to describe the the flag of the United Kingdom. The flag is composed of symbols of the constituent parts of the UK - the red cross at the centre is the cross of St George representing England, the blue for Scotland etc. UK? So why Team GB? Interestingly the Olympics brings to the surface the confusion created by the terms Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Great Britain should only really refer to the core island of Britain, not the outlying islands or Northern Ireland. It would, therefore, be more logical to have a team UK. Uncertainty is also evident in the use


This is a profanity-zone so you'll have to work out - or ask Mr Google - the word that follows 'What' and 'the'. The interesting thing question is the speed at which this euphemistic acronym has spread to become standard online shorthand. I had assumed that the usage was fairly recent and Know Your Meme cites the YouTube 'wtf boom' “wtfboom” is a meme where a normal event gets interrupted by a loud voice screaming “ WHAT   THE  -” cut off by an extremely loud explosion, and a sinister laugh. It is commonly used as an element of surprise/interruption. But a correspondent of Jay Nordlinger suggests earlier origins and a wider definition: I see myself in 1975 at the beginning of my freshman year at university. I sit in a huge lecture hall with hundreds of others and am trying to keep up with whatever subject the professor way down in the front is blathering about. When my spiral notebook scribbling gets hopelessly behind, and I’ve completely lost the c

What does 'what's up?' mean? Why does this question confuse the British?

What does Babra mean? An apparently simple question demonstrating Churchill's dictum about two countries divided by a shared language. An American colleague of mine used to greet me every morning with question 'what's up?' to which I would reply 'Nothing' or 'I'm fine.' After the third time it occurred that for her the question was an all purpose greeting whereas to British ears it meant 'what is the problem?' or 'is something wrong?' So when Bug's Bunny - or Babara Streisand at the other end of the beauty continuum -  ask 'What's up, Doc?' we British assume a sarcasm that may not be intended.

How do I ping? Why would I do this?

To ping is to send a packet to a computer and wait for its return (Packet Internet Groper). For those outside of IT that doesn't help much. In practical terms to ping is to notify a website(s) that you have updated your site with new material. This is often done automatically - the excellent  Posterous , for example, will update a blog and simultaneously send updates to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

What is LIbor? Why is it important?

Libor stands for London Interbank Offered Rate. Put simply it is the rate at which banks offer short-term loans to each other. It is extremely important for two reasons a) it affects all other interest rates  b) it indicates the confidence financial institutions have in lending to each other. A crucial factor in the 2008 financial crisis was that the Libor went up dramatically. This exposed key financial institutions like Freddie Mae, and Northern Rock which were effectively bankrupt. Because they were considered 'too big to fail', the were partially nationalised by the US & UK authorities. By September 2008 Lehman Brothers was essentially in the same situation. It had unsustainable debt and no means to borrow the money to stave off bankruptcy. But in this case the authorities did not step in, triggering the financial crisis. At the height of these turbulent events the Treasury undoubtedly desired a reduction in Libor to help restore stability. Meetings were held be