Easy Reading

Can you understand the meaning of this passage?

Interlingua se ha distachate ab le movimento pro le disveloppamento e le introduction de un lingua universal pro tote le humanitate. Si o non on crede que un lingua pro tote le humanitate es possibile, si o non on crede que interlingua va devenir un tal lingua es totalmente indifferente ab le puncto de vista de interlingua mesme. Le sol facto que importa (ab le puncto de vista de interlingua mesme) es que interlingua, gratias a su ambition de reflecter le homogeneitate cultural e ergo linguistic del occidente, es capace de render servicios tangibile a iste precise momento del historia del mundo. Il es per su contributiones actual e non per le promissas de su adherentes que interlingua vole esser judicate.

Remarkably, if you’re familiar with a Romance language or are an educated speaker of English, you probably can. It’s Interlingua, a language that combines a minimal grammar with a widely familiar vocabulary, making it unusually easy to learn and comprehend. Here’s a translation of the passage above:

Interlingua has detached itself from the movement for the development and introduction of a universal language for all humanity. Whether or not one believes that a language for all humanity is possible, whether or not one believes that Interlingua will become such a language is totally irrelevant from the point of view of Interlingua itself. The only fact that matters (from the point of view of Interlingua itself) is that Interlingua, thanks to its ambition of reflecting the cultural and thus linguistic homogeneity of the West, is capable of rendering tangible services at this precise moment in the history of the world. It is by its present contributions and not by the promises of its adherents that Interlingua wishes to be judged.

Devised in the early 20th century, the language is now taught in high schools and universities; among international auxiliary languages, it’s the easiest to understand without prior study.

More Fun

If the proportion of blonds among blue-eyed people is greater than among the population as a whole, is it also true that the proportion of blue-eyed people among blonds is greater than among the population as a whole?

Click for Answer

Podcast Episode 78: Snowshoe Thompson

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In the 1850s, settlers in western Nevada were cut off from the rest of the world each winter by deep snow. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their lifeline, Norwegian immigrant John Thompson, who for 20 years carried mail, medicine, and supplies through 90 miles of treacherous snowdrifts on a pair of homemade skis.

We’ll also hear listener contributions regarding prison camp escape aids in World War II and puzzle over how lighting a cigarette results in a lengthy prison sentence.

See full show notes …

In a Word

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conticent
adj. keeping silence, silent

As a joke, Elbert Hubbard published an “Essay on Silence” that consisted of 12 blank pages, bound in brown suede and stamped with gold. It was advertised with these testimonials:

“Your elaborate work on ‘Silence’ received, and perused this day. The depth of your argument is perceptible from the start. The continued logic is convincing to the end, and makes its impression on the attentive mind. It is singular how much can be said in a limited space. You are certainly master of our language.” — G.E.Nelson

“Kindly accept my heartiest thanks for your little volume on ‘Silence.’ The subject is treated so exhaustively, and in such a quaintly original manner, that it is beyond the pale of criticism.” — Alex L. Pach

“Your valuable ‘Essay on Silence’ is a masterpiece, for it appeals to one in purity, like a cloudless sky. The language is grand as the voice of God; the story it tells is as deep in its meaning as that which is written on the pages of the book of Nature.” — Albert J. Atkins

“Your ‘Essay on Silence’ is all that the bills promised, and could not be more to the point. Thirty cents is exactly the right price.” — Alice L. LeCouver

“It is with great pleasure that I have looked into your ‘Essay on Silence.’ There is nothing in it to prevent its becoming a classic. No word has been wasted, and there is not one line that can be misunderstood. In the perusal of many writings, we realize that the same thought has been framed in our own minds without having been given an utterance; and so it is that this last work of yours has found me most sympathetic and appreciative, for in turning over your pages I am struck frequently with resemblances to my own mental condition. Your little book is simple, direct and convincing. I am reminded, in putting it down, of a certain passage in the biblical story, in which it is set forth that from nothing God made heaven and earth and all that therein is, consequently it is not surprising that you in this case have done so well.” — George W. Stevens

Earnings Report

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My employer has nine workers. The nine of us want to determine what our average salary is, but none of us wants to divulge his own salary. Can we find the average without doing so?

Click for Answer

Head Games

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Or how about this amazing result. Each of a million men puts his hat into a very large box. Every hat has its owner’s name on it. The box is given a good shaking, and then each man, one after the other, randomly draws a hat out of the box. What’s the probability that at least one of the men gets his own hat back? Most people would answer with ‘pretty slim,’ but in fact the answer is the astonishingly large 0.632! Who would have guessed that?

— Paul J. Nahin, Will You Be Alive 10 Years From Now?, 2014

Double Duty

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Except for the final chord, the last movement of Paul Hindemith’s 1942 piano work Ludus Tonalis is the same as the first rotated 180 degrees.

In between is an hour of music, with 12 three-part fugues and 11 interludes. The title means “Game of Tones.”

A Better Promise

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In 1889, the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka introduced a circle dance that he said would drive the whites out of America and restore the country to the Native Americans. As the Ghost Dance spread throughout the West, an alarmed U.S. government ordered it stamped out, which led to several violent encounters. When the Chicago Tribune published an editorial condemning the dance, Massa Hadjo, a Sioux, responded:

You say, ‘If the United States army would kill a thousand or so of the dancing Indians there would be no more trouble.’ I judge by the above language you are a ‘Christian,’ and are disposed to do all in your power to advance the cause of Christ. You are doubtless a worshiper of the white man’s Saviour, but are unwilling that the Indians should have a ‘Messiah’ of their own.

The Indians have never taken kindly to the Christian religion as preached and practiced by the whites. Do you know why this is the case? Because the Good Father of all has given us a better religion — a religion that is all good and not bad, a religion that is adapted to our wants. You say if we are good, obey the Ten Commandments and never sin any more, we may be permitted eventually to sit upon a white rock and sing praises to God forevermore, and look down upon our heathen fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who are howling in hell.

It won’t do. The code of morals as practiced by the white race will not compare with the morals of the Indians. We pay no lawyers or preachers, but we have not one-tenth part of the crime that you do. If our Messiah does come we shall not try to force you into our belief. We will never burn innocent women at the stake or pull men to pieces with horses because they refuse to join in our ghost dances. … You are anxious to get hold of our Messiah, so you can put him in irons. This you may do — in fact, you may crucify him as you did that other one, but you cannot convert the Indians to the Christian religion until you contaminate them with the blood of the white man. The white man’s heaven is repulsive to the Indian nature, and if the white man’s hell suits you, why, you keep it. I think there will be white rogues enough to fill it.

Three weeks later, at Wounded Knee, the U.S. Army killed more than 200 Lakota.

(Massa Hadjo, “An Indian on the Messiah Craze,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 5, 1890.)

A Peek Ahead

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Readers of the London Evening Standard saw a startling headline on Nov. 10, 1971: “The Prophecy H.G. Wells Made About Tonight’s Standard.” Wells had published a story in 1932 in which a man unaccountably receives a copy of the newspaper from 40 years in the future. “He found himself surveying a real evening newspaper,” Wells wrote, “which was dealing so far as he could see at the first onset, with the affairs of another world.”

Most of “The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper” is devoted to Wells’ prophecies regarding world events in 1971, and most of these, unfortunately, are misses. Newspapers today are printed in color and the Soviet Union has fallen, but geothermal energy has not replaced the age of combustion, body clothing has not (quite) been reduced to a minimum, finance and nationalism still thrive, gorillas are not extinct, the human birthrate has not dropped to “seven in the thousand,” and there are no plans to add a 13th month to the year.

To be fair, predicting the future is difficult, as even Wells’ narrator points out. “After all, in 1831 very few people thought of railway or steamship travel, and in 1871 you could already go around the world in eighty days by steam, and send a telegram in a few minutes to nearly every part of the earth. Who would have thought of that in 1831?”

In the 1932 story, Brownlow finds that his strange newspaper has been delivered to the correct address but is directed to a Mr. Evan O’Hara — evidently the subscriber who will occupy his own apartment 40 years hence. In November 1971 the newspaper sought the Evan O’Hara in Sussex Court whose paper had (presumably) gone missing that evening, but it found no trace of him. Perhaps he had gone looking for it.

See On Time.