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Weekend Word Wrap: Einstein's words

einstein-tongue.jpgAs you loyal readers know, here at the _floss, we take Albert Einstein seriously. That's why we were outraged to learn the other day that a couple of numbnut German physicists claim they've moved microwave photons faster than the speed of light!

Anyone who knows even a smidgeon of Einstein's special theory of relativity knows that nothing, according to THE MAN, can travel faster than light. To travel that fast would mean, for instance, that if you were shot through space, you could theoretically arrive at your destination before you even left!

Einstein wrote that it would require an infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000 miles per second. But Drs. Gunter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen now say they've got packets of light to travel "instantaneously" between two prisms standing 3 feet apart.

Outrageous? Maybe. I'm not sufficiently educated in the field of quantum tunneling to say. But I'll put my money behind Einstein's words.

Besides the theories, he was a very quotable man, as you all know. What follows is a list of some of my all-time favorites. Anyone want to add one that I've left off? Anyone able to dispel the numbnuts' claim? Physicists, PLEASE step forward and show off your smarts.

  • "If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut."
  • "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
  • "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
  • "It is my belief that the problem of bringing peace to the world on a supranational basis will be solved only by employing Gandhi's method on a larger scale."
  • "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
  • "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
  • "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
  • "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • "Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love."
  • "Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing."
  • "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
  • "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."
  • "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
  • "A person starts to live when he can live outside himself."
  • "I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice."
  • "I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."
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6 Wordsmiths Who Couldn't Spell

This month marks my 6-year anniversary blogging for mental_floss. It also marks mentalfloss.com's 6-year anniversary in the blogosphere. To celebrate the more than 2,000 daily posts, I'll be republishing some of my favorite posts from these last half-dozen years, starting today, running to the end of the month. Hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane...

(Originally published on Feb. 3, 2009)

1. Alfred Mosher Butts

Best known for: inventing Scrabble (first called Lexiko, and then later, Criss Cross Words)
But did you know: We owe our Scrabble addictions to the Depression? Butts was an architect who suddenly found himself unemployed. With nothing but time on his hands, he set about to invent a board game (he must have been, er, bored, without work).
So how bad was his spelling? By his own admission, Butts says he wasn't a good speller, and was delighted when his Scrabble score hit 300. Apparently his wife Nina, a former school teacher, usually outplayed him.

2. William Faulkner

faulkner.jpgBest known for: his stream of consciousness technique in such celebrated novels as his 1929 classic, The Sound and the Fury
But did you know: the title of the novel comes from a Macbeth soliloquy? "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
So how bad was his spelling? One of Faulkner's editors at Random House, Albert Erskine, said, "I know that he did not wish to have carried through from typescript to printed book his typing mistakes, misspellings (as opposed to coinages), faulty punctuation and accidental repetition. He depended on my predecessors, and later on me, to point out such errors and correct them; and though we never achieved anything like a perfect performance, we tried."

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzgerald-1921.jpgBest known for: The Great Gatsby
But did you know: The novel didn't sell well during Fitzgerald's lifetime? (fewer than 25,000 copies)
So how bad was his spelling? Preeminent American literary critic Edmund Wilson described This Side of Paradise as "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

4. Ernest Hemingway

hemingway.jpgBest known for: those great stoic characters, like Robert Jordan in the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls
But did you know: Hemingway was decorated as a hero after being injured during WWI? And served as a war correspondent in both the Spanish Civil War and WWII? (in case you ever wondered how he got all those Spanish Civil War details down so well in For Whom the Bell Tolls)
So how bad was his spelling? Whenever his newspaper editors complained about it, he'd retort, "Well, that's what you're hired to correct!"

5. John Keats

john-keats.jpgBest known for: the 1820 poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn
But did you know: tuberculosis took the young Keats in 1821, at only 26 years of age? The same disease had already claimed his mother and younger brother.
So how bad was his spelling? In a letter to his great love Fanny Brawne, Keats spelled the color purple, purplue. This generated a longer conversation between the two, as Keats tried to save face by suggesting he'd meant to coin a new portmanteaux - a cross between purple and blue.

6. Jane Austen

HI08_JaneAusten_1.jpgBest known for: her elegant novels, like Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813
But did you know: she'd actually written the novel a good 15 years earlier, under the title First Impressions, but the publisher rejected it? (Let this be a lesson to all ye aspiring writers!) Then, after Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, there was interest in the older story, which, after some editing, was eventually published with the title we know today.
So how bad was her spelling? She once misspelled one of her teenage works as "Love and Freindship" and is infamously known to have spelt scissors as scissars.

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps>>

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Phrase Origins: The Real McCoy and On The Wagon

We use these hackneyed expressions all the time (hence the hackneyed element), but where do they come from? I’m reviving the Weekend Word Wrap feature from years ago to take a look at a couple each week or so. First up, The Real McCoy.

The Real McCoy

Our version is actually a variation of the original Scottish phrase dating back to the mid 19th century, “A drappie o’ the real MacKay" What’s interesting here is that the ay in MacKay is actually pronounced like “eye.”
But what about the real meaning? Well, there are a few interesting theories. The first refers to a brand of fine whisky that was made in Scotland in the 1850s and then was marketed as 'the real MacKay' starting in 1870. Another theory involves Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor who was educated in Scotland, who invented a successful machine for lubricating engines that wound up spawning myriad copies, all inferior to the original. The design was patented in 1872.

On The Wagon

The term “On The Wagon” also has a few origin stories but my favorite derives from prisoners who were on their way to jail on the back of a wagon. They were allowed one last drink in the local pub before the enforced temperance inside their cells. The other popular one, and the one many say is more accurate (though one can never be sure) is about being "on the water wagon." Back in the day, water wagons would come through town hosing down the streets to keep the dust from getting out of hand. So if you were sitting atop this wagon, you were drinking water, not alcohol.

Have any phrases or expressions you want me to take a look at next week? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Check out past Weekend Word Wraps here.

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