Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sealed With a Kiss: Scotland, Saints & Signatures

Here’s some more of Bill’s Bologna:

I’m sure everyone has either signed a letter or received a letter with X’s representing kisses. How did it come to represent a kiss? Well, you’re about to find out. Here’s how:

Scotland’s Patron Saint is St. Andrew & in medieval times, contracts weren’t legally binding until the signer added a St. Andrew’s cross, or Saltire to the end. The story says that when St. Andrew was set to be crucified, he decided that he was unworthy of being put up on the same kind of cross as Jesus. They turned it sideways. So, what does a cross look like when it’s turned on its side? It looks like this:


The X on my keyboard isn’t a great representation of the Saltire, so here’s a picture of the Scottish flag:

The Saltire, or St. Andrew's Cross, as it appears on the Scottish flag.

The Saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross, as it appears on the Scottish flag.

The person signing the contract would then have to kiss the cross, pledging sincerity to the Scotland & its Patron Saint.

Eventually, the practice became obsolete. People still remembered the X & over time, the meaning became a little diluted. As the contract signing tradition was forgotten, the X evolved to become the symbol you know & it worked its way into everyday mail as a show of affection.

Most etymologists think that this is also where we get the term, “Sealed with a kiss.”

Now you know. You’re welcome–

1 Comment

Filed under Etymology

You Won’t Believe How Fast it Goes… Part 2

Alright, it’s Monday & that means we’re back with another installment of Bill’s Bologna.

Let’s continue where we left off on the topic of speed.

Alright, so last week, I stopped writing when I hit the speed which currently holds the record for the fastest any human being has ever gone. That’s what happens when you fly in the Saturn V rocket at the absurd speed of 25,000 miles per hour.

When rocket scientists make changes to something so it can be safe for human flight, they call it man rating. Many things come into play here, like acceleration, the amount the vehicle can shake, G forces & acoustics (Yes sound can kill you. Check out the Sound Suppression Water System on NASA’s manned flight launch pad, 39A). The thing is, if you aren’t launching living things, you don’t have to worry about killing them. To an extent, you can do away with some of these requirements. This means that the limit of G forces can increase, especially after leaving the atmosphere. Since there’s no air, there is no atmospheric drag holding the craft back & threatening to rip it apart. This means the rocket can accelerate faster.

I’ll talk about distances in another post, but in short, space is unimaginably big. To get from point A to B might be billions of miles. You need to go fast to get there in any kind of timely manner & timely is definitely a relative term. Let’s start with the New Horizons spacecraft. You can find some interesting information about it here. It’s going to Pluto, & holds the record for the fastest object launched. By the time it left Earth’s orbit, it was moving about 10,000 miles per hours faster than the Saturn V, at 36,373 miles per hour. Here is the launch, if you’re interested.
Voyager was launched in the 70’s. Its mission was to explore the gas giant planets & make its way out of the solar system, into interstellar space. It’s the farthest man made object from the sun & is also the fastest man made object moving away from the sun. It’s only traveling a few thousand miles per hour faster, at about 38,610 miles per hour.

Painting of one of the Voyager probes passing Jupiter. Currently. Voyager I is the farthest man made object in the solar system & it's moving at about 39,000mph.

Painting of one of the Voyager probes passing Jupiter. Currently. Voyager I is the farthest man made object in the solar system & it’s moving at about 39,000mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Okay let’s move away from man made objects. Let’s talk about things that occur naturally, & if you think the things we’ve talked about are fast, you have no idea what’s coming.

Asteroids. They’re space rocks & they’re hurdling through space at fantastic speeds. 65million years ago, one the size of a small island decided to hurl itself into the Gulf of Mexico, killing the dinos, while leaving a 110 mile wide crater. To do that, it needed to smack into the Earth at 44,600 miles per hour. That’s 20 times faster than a bullet. To stop something that big, which was traveling that fast, unleashed an amount of energy equivalent 100 teratons of TNT going off at once. That’s 2 million times more powerful than the largest man made explosion. Speed & mass equal lots of power. No wonder they’re all dead.

Let’s keep moving. We all know the Earth orbits the Sun. It takes 365.26 days to make one orbit of about 585 million miles. If we do the math & divide by 365.26 to get how far it travels in a day & then divide that by 24, we can get the speed in miles per hour. That comes down to 66733.28 miles per hour around the Sun. That’s about 18.5 miles per second. If it takes two seconds to read that last sentence, you’ll be 37 or so miles further into your yearly circuit.

You never really stand in the same place twice. This little ball where you live is moving at more than 65,000 mph.

You never really stand in the same place twice. This little ball where you live is moving at more than 65,000 mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Okay, moving up. Did you know the Sun is actually in orbit as well? You know that white splotchy thing you can see in the sky, on a clear night? That’s the Milky Way & it’s the center of our galaxy. Behind all that gas & dust you see is what astronomers call a super-massive black hole. That’s exactly what it sounds like & everything in our galaxy, from dust to the 400 billion possible stars, are moving around it. The time it takes for the Sun to complete one orbit is called a cosmic year. Because the Sun is 2/3 of the way to the edge of the galaxy, it orbits at a slower velocity than stars which are closer. It takes 225 million Earth years to equal one cosmic year. The last time the Earth was here, those dead dinos were just starting to show up. The velocity of the Sun around the galactic center is 137 miles per second. Multiply by 60 to get miles per minute & multiply by 60 again to get miles per hour. That’s staggering 493,200 miles per hour. We’re all absolutely flying & we can’t even feel it.

Speaking of the Milky Way, did you know it’s moving too? Kind of. See scientists consider galaxies to be the largest reference points for velocity. The only reference points for velocity we have are other galaxies. If the Milky Way was the only thing out there, we’d have no idea. Thank God there are are billions of others because we know the Universe is expanding. Using the other galaxies as a point of reference, relative to where you are, nearly everything is moving away from you. I say nearly because this is where it gets a little complicated… again. Because of this constant expansion, most of the galaxies are moving away from each other at 600 miles per second. That is- Are you ready for this?- 2,160,000 miles per hour. However, all matter has mass & with mass, comes gravity. This causes galaxies which are close to each other to fall towards each other. For example, while the Milky Way is flying away from other galaxies, it’s also moving around with respect to its galactic neighborhood & that makes its expansion speed significantly lower. It’s still unbelievably fast speed of 1,404,000 miles per hour, though. This is a lot of typing. If you want to get a general idea, head over to Wikipedia.
Just don’t use it in a paper. That’s bad.

There are trillions of different things in the Universe, traveling at breakneck speeds. I’m going to spare you every single one of these things, & head straight to the the most massive, yet most compact thing in the Universe. Black holes. Just like the one in the middle of our galaxy. Remember the term “escape velocity,” which I mentioned in Part 1? A black hole has such a gigantic gravitational pull, the fastest thing in the known Universe doesn’t even have enough speed to reach escape velocity. That would be light, & believe it or not, so far, after all my ramblings about speed & velocity, we’ve only reached .002 times its speed. Want to know how fast that is? Of course you do.

Okay, sit down.

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per……


That’s just about equal to 670,000,000 miles per hour. Yeah, that’s 670 million, but humans will never get there. You know why? Mass & time distort, that’s why. You’re going so freaking fast that everything you experience around you effing changes. You know what else? If someone was at a dead stop watching you careen away from them, they’d have a completely different experience watching you as you’re having, as the one doing the careening. If your crossed the event horizon, (that’s the invisible boundary where the gravitational pull of the black hole becomes so strong, it not only pulls matter in, but it pulls space, itself, but I digress.) & started falling, you would experience what scientists like to call spaghettification. That’s exactly what it sounds like. See, a black hole has so much gravity, its pull would be much stronger at your friend’s feet than at his head. That means that your feet would be falling insanely faster than your head, which is just about 6 feet away. So much, in fact, that you would be pulled into a single line of atoms… like spaghetti.

That’s what you’d experience falling in. If you were outside watching a friend fall towards a black hole, you would see your buddy fall closer & closer to the black hole, accelerating the whole time. This is where the whole “time distorts” thing comes into play. Time actually slows down the faster you go. Eventually time will slow down enough &  he’ll get to a point where he’s accelerating faster than the light he’s giving off. It will start to look like he’s falling slower & slower until he gets just before the surface. Then he. just. stops. Even at 670 million miles per hour, his light can’t escape anymore. You’ll never see him hit the surface. You can read more about this here.

Einstein says you can never accelerate past the speed of light. Presumably because if you the above scenario happens, you’ll create some rift in space time & everything will just blow up or something because 2 things are happening at once. Hey, I’m not a scientist, but I have a feeling I’m right.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that thought to sleep on. Now you know. You’re welcome.

1 Comment

Filed under Nerdy Science Stuff

You Won’t Believe How Fast it Goes… Part 1

Today’s post is going to be a little different. I know I usually write about origins of words & phrases, but I’m going to start throwing some science related stuff in here as I write more.

So today I’m going to write a little bit about speed & how what we perceive as fast, really isn’t that fast in the large scheme of things. Hopefully, I can put some of this stuff into perspective for those who don’t know.

Let’s start simply with things we’re used to here on Earth. How fast do you walk? The average running speed of a human is between 5 & 8 miles per hour. Doesn’t seem that fast just yet, right? What if I told you that Usain Bolt holds the record for being the fastest man alive with an average of 23.5 miles per hour? That’s close to how fast you’d drive down a residential side street. Speaking of cars…

We’re going to pick up speed a little, here. Remember how fast it felt when you hopped behind the wheel on the highway for the first time? You were traveling about 65 miles per hour. Keep that feeling in mind while we accelerate to almost 4 times that speed.  Depending on the size of the track, NASCAR racecars can reach speeds of up to 230 mph. Those things are a blur as they pass. Now, things are starting to get fast, right? Well, actually no. Let’s keep accelerating.

Airplanes. A normal passenger jet can get you across the Atlantic Ocean in 5-6 hours, depending on what kind of winds it’s facing. That’s because they travel on an average of 600mph. That’s almost the speed at which sound travels through air. That would be 761.2 mph. At this speed, a moving object creates pressure waves which are compressed together because they’re moving too fast to get out of their own way. They mesh into one wave & this creates the familiar sonic boom. 761 miles per hour.

Takeoff speed is only about 160mph, but cruising speed can be much faster.

Takeoff speed is only about 160mph,
but cruising speed is much faster.

Throttle up. Bullets. Their speeds range, but the average pistol fires a bullet at about 800mph. Certain hunting rifles fire bullets at 2,000 mph & ammunition from some military weapons can reach speeds of 3,000 mph. That’s too fast for the brain to process, so we can’t see it. Believe it or not, compared to other things, it might as well be stopped.

Before I move on, I want to let you know that the reason I kind breezed through those is because, while we consider a lot of those things fast, we’re very familiar with them. Now, it’s time to leave Earth & head into space, where speed & velocity tend to really rocket away.

Speaking of rockets… What do the International Space Staion, the Space Shuttle & the Gemini Capsule have in common? They all orbit Earth.  In order to reach an orbit around the earth, the pull of gravity needs to be equal to the velocity of the object. The gravity of the central object is trying to pull the orbiting object towards it, while the orbiting object’s inertia is trying to keep it going in a straight line. It results in a constant free-fall around central body. In the case of Earth, how fast does the orbiting object need to be moving? Well, to us humans, it’s astronomical (Yeah, all pun intended. Har har har). That speed is about 17,500 miles per hour. The website What If, is a weekly updated site which answers questions in layman’s terms about physics. To put that speed into perspective, they put it this way: “The ISS moves so quickly that if you fired a rifle bullet from one end of a football field, the International Space Station could cross the length of the field before the bullet traveled 10 yards.” Nuts.

Gemini 6 & 7 rendezvous at 17,500mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Gemini 6 & 7 rendezvous at 17,500mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

To be safe for human flight, the space shuttle & other man rated rockets need to accelerate to the same speed, but need to do it in a manner which is safe enough for humans. It reaches it’s top speed in just under 10 minutes. In other words, the when the space shuttle needed to go from 0-17,500 in about 8 minutes. Think about that for a second.

By the time it cleared the tower, the shuttle was already moving at over 100 mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

By the time it cleared the tower, the shuttle
was already moving at over 100 mph.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

The last bit I’ll give you today is about the Saturn V. That was the moon rocket.

  The Saturn V. The most powerful vehicle to successfully work & this photo proves it. The entire rocket was about 360ft tall. The flame is big enough to fit at least 3 Saturn rockets inside it. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

The Saturn V. The most powerful
vehicle to successfully work &
this photo proves it. The entire
rocket was about 360ft tall. The
flame is big enough to fit at least
3 Saturn rockets inside it.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

It was bigger, but needed to go much faster than the space shuttle. You see, while something is in orbit, it is still held to the central object by gravity. In order to break this hold, you have to reach what physicists call an escape velocity. The more massive an object, the faster you need to be moving to leave its gravitational influence. The Saturn V was a three stage rocket. That means it had three parts. All three stages of the rocket fired to put it into a temporary orbit around Earth. When everything was squared away & stowed properly, the third burned again to accelerate the spacecraft to reach Earth’s escape velocity of 25,000 miles per hour. That’s about 7 miles per second. The spacecraft would’ve covered 28 miles in the time it takes you to read this sentence, which means the astronauts who flew in the Saturn V hold the record for being the fastest humans on (& off) Earth.

That’s it. Humans haven’t moved faster than that yet. Hopefully, we’ll reach faster speeds as we head to other planets in the future. At any rate, I figure reaching the end of man’s physical capabilities is a good place to put the bookmark, but believe it or not, what I’ve discussed so far doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the mind blowing speeds the rest of Universe is capable of. I’ll touch upon those next week

For now, this has been another installment of Bill’s Bologna. Thanks for reading. You can walk away knowing just a little bit more about than you did 10 minutes ago.

Now you know. You’re welcome.

1 Comment

Filed under Nerdy Science Stuff

Bottom’s Up…. Or You’re Drafted

Bottoms up- It’s a fairly common expression used to kick off a round of drinks, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. This one has its roots in England.

Okay, so, imagine you’re part of a group of 18th century English sailors called a press gang. Your job is to go ashore & persuade (also known as beating the ever-loving snot out of) young men from town to join the navy. You have a quota of men to recruit or face a beating from your superior officer, yourself.
Even so, beatings, as common as they are, are a last resort & to avoid the trouble having to beat the piss out of someone until they say, “Yes,” you’ll have to come up with a way to outsmart a room full of obliterated 20 year-olds into enlisting.

"Would you like to join the Navy?” “No, thanks. It’s not for me.” *Wooden stick to the face* “Would you like to join the Navy?” “Yes.”

“Would you like to join the Navy?”
“No, thanks. It’s not for me.”
*Wooden stick to the face*
“Would you like to join the Navy?”

Here’s your plan: Find a drunk man, & when he isn’t looking, drop a shilling coin into his stone beer mug. It’s alright; he won’t see it until he’s finished because the stone mug isn’t clear & by that time, you can claim to have paid for his beer in exchange his service. Boom. New sailor to fill that spot manning the 12 pounder, that’s been vacant since the old guy took a foot long cannon ball splinter to his face.

After a little while, the pubs started catching on & fixed this by putting glass bottoms to their mugs. They’d always remind customers to put their bottoms up & check to see if there was a coin. If there was, they could find out who put it there & kick them out. Although, I can only assume this would end in a giant bar brawl, with both you & the drunk guy being dragged out by the press gang anyway.

Seriously, you didn’t mess with those guys.

There you have it. Now you know. You’re welcome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology

If You’re in the Navy, Try Not to Let the Cat Out of the Bag.

Hello everyone.

I was just down Cape Cod over the weekend & since the Cape is all about all things sailing & the ocean, I’ll give you an idiom that had its origins in sailing.

Don’t let the cat out of the bag. You’ve heard it before. Today, it means letting something slip or letting some bad news out, often causing someone else some trouble.

That’s not exactly what it meant back in the day. See, up until the Twentieth Century, if you did something wrong aboard a ship in the Navy, you’d most likely be flogged, or whipped. The process you would go through was, needless today, not a pleasant experience. You’d be brought before the captain & he’d hand you your sentence. If you were to be whipped, he’d decide how many lashes the you would get & then would see to it that the boatswain’s mate dished out the punishment. The worse the punishment, the more lashes you’d receive. Most were scarred & would pass out during the whipping. Others flat out died.

The whip itself was usually made out of leather, with its end separated into nine knotted ends, or tails. If there was no whip to be found on the ship, the offending sailor was given a piece of cut rope with one end dipped in tar, so it wouldn’t fray. Under the boatswain’s mate’s close watch, he would unravel the other end of the rope to make nine ends of the whip. He’d then knot each end & dip those in tar, so each one would stay intact during the flogging. The sailors nicknamed this whip, “cat o’ nine tails.”

Yeah, yeah, I know where most of your minds went when I used that term. Stop it; I only have a little bit more to go.

Generally, the cat o’ nine tails was kept in a leather bag, so whenever a sailor did something that warranted a beating, the other sailors would say that he let the cat out of the bag.

Another common expression revealed. There you have it.  Now you know. You’re welcome.


Filed under Etymology

Hearing it Through the Grapevine: Turn of the Century Gossip

I Heard it through the grapevine. As you probably know, aside from being the title of a pretty kickass Motown song, it means hearing something via the gossip circuit. Well, here’s why we say it:

Back in the day, long distance communication was done via telegraph- you know, that little tappy thing on the Titanic that sent SOS over the radio & all that. Anyway, before the telegraph went wireless, the electric dots & dashes were transmitted through gigantic wrapped telegraph wires. Most people believed that these cables resembled grapevines because of the thickness & the way they were almost haphazardly strung up on the poles.

Any major city would’ve been jam-packed with these:


What does this have to do with gossip, though? Well, that’s also pretty easy to explain away.
Because telegraph messages, or telegrams, were pretty expensive to send, aside from newspapers, the most common people to send them were rich people.

Now, upper class Americans didn’t have much else to do back then than gossip with each other. How do you tell a rich friend from New England about something you saw the Turn of the Century version of Kim Kardashian do out in California at lightning speed? You send a telegram.

If gossip wasn’t heard through word of mouth, it was heard through the telegraph lines, or “grapevines.”

How little things change. Another meaningless mystery solved. You’re welcome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology

Real Best Men Carry Swords…

I figure I’ll post this one in honor of my best friend, Scott & his lovely fiance, Laura, who are set to get married next summer.

We all know that every wedding party has a best man. He’s the guy who gets to publicly take jabs at the newlyweds at the reception & the one who stands right next to the groom looking all proud & stuff. He’s usually either a brother or best friend… Yeah, you really shouldn’t need me to explain who he is.

Here’s why we carry this tradition on:
Living during the Dark Ages was dangerous & because of this, the best man wasn’t the best friend; he was the groom’s STRONGEST friend. The reason he’s called the “best” man is because the best man was the groom’s best soldier.

Basically, if you were at a wedding in the Middle Ages, you’d look like this:


Pretty sweet, huh?

Back then, weddings were considered financial agreements between the two families. At weddings of the nobility, especially, a whole lot of money or property was exchanged. It wasn’t uncommon for one or both sets of parents to have second thoughts. Kidnappings & ambushes were often preplanned by one family to swindle the other out of money. It was the best man’s job to guard the ceremony & make sure it went as the two families agreed. He also stood guard outside the married couple’s bedroom on the wedding night to make sure nothing happened after the ceremony.

After all, a deal’s a deal, right?

Of course, now we have police & dowries aren’t really a thing in the Western world anymore, so the role has become entirely symbolic.

There you have it. Now you know. You’re welcome.

Hey, Scott, do your best to talk Laura into letting me carry a sword. Okay? That would be freaking COOL.

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology

Salaries… Are They Worth Their Weight in Salt?

Welcome to the first ever installment of Bill’s Bologna! I’ll save you an intro. Let’s get right to it.

If English is your first language & you don’t know that your income is also called your salary, you’re an idiot. I kid, but really, you should know the word for the stuff you get paid. That being said, you’re not an idiot if you don’t know where that word comes from.

I’m here to fix that.

Different words describing salt & words for things containing salt have the root word, “sal” (as in saline). That comes from the Latin word for salt, which is salis.

See, in Ancient Rome & into the Middle Ages, salt was a very valuable mineral. Remember, there was no such thing as refrigeration, so salt was used to dry meats & preserve them. A lot more was used back then, so it was always in high demand.

Back then, it took a whole lot more work to go from this:


To this:


It took so much labor & was so expensive, that the nobility were the only people who could afford it in large amounts. Less wealthy people, mainly the soldiers, were either paid in salt or money that was worth the same as the amount of salt given out. Workers & soldiers who stood out were considered to be, “worth their weight in salt.” Not gold or silver. Salt. It was that damn valuable.

If you were paid in actual money, your wages would have been called a, “salarium,” which is a contraction of two Latin words meaning, “salt money.” At some point wages were standardized by paying cash instead of handfuls of salt, & the name stuck. Eventually, it made its way to English as the word salary.

Now you know. You’re welcome. Go buy a ton of salt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology