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Yan tan tethera pethera pimp: old sheep-counting systems in the UK
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I could not more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself and other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
—Jane Austen, April 1816, in a letter to James Stanier Clarke, who had suggested that she write a historical romance.
The earliest linguistic maps of the four continents. Where he can, Hensel translates the first few words of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”) into local languages. Elsewhere, as in America and Africa, he notes human migrations. In Brazil, for example, evidence suggests, he says, that the first humans there came from Africa. In the box at the bottom right of Africa, he states that the map colors mark areas settled by descendants of the three sons of Noah: Japhet (“rubicundi,” here pink), Shem (“oriundos,” here yellow-orange), and Ham (“virides,” here olive green). Along the sides and at the bottom of the four maps are alphabet tables that cover most known written languages. (1741) [3397 × 2806]
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Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins, because it flickers so.
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The Catholic Church originally insisted that there were no such things as witches flying through the air. In the year 1000 A.D. it was forbidden to believe that such flight really took place; later, after 1480, it was forbidden to believe that they did not take place. In 1000 A.D. the Church officially maintained that the ride of the witches was an illusion produced by the Devil. Five hundred years later, the Church officially maintained that those who claimed that the ride was merely an illusion were themselves in league with the Devil.
Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches: The Riddles of Culture (1974)
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He had made up honor early in his life and stuck with his rules, fierce in the protection of them. In 1951 he went to jail because he and two other trustees of the bail bond fund of the Civil Rights Congress refused to reveal the names of the contributors to the fund. The truth was that Hammett had never been in the office of the Committee and did not know the name of a single contributor. The night before he was to appear in court, I said, ‘Why don’t you say that you don’t know the names?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I can’t say that.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I don’t know why.’ After we had a nervous silence, he said, ‘I guess it has something to do with keeping my word, but I don’t want to talk about that. Nothing much will happen, although I think we’ll go to jail for a while, but you’re not to worry because—’ and then suddenly I couldn’t understand him because the voice had dropped and the words were coming in a most untypical nervous rush. I said I couldn’t hear him, and he raised his voice and dropped his head. ‘I hate this damn kind of talk, but maybe I better tell you that if it were more than jail, if it were my life, I would give it for what I think democracy is and I don’t let cops or judges tell me what I think democracy is.’ Then he went home to bed, and the next day he went to jail.
– Lillian Hellman, in her introduction to Hammett’s The Big Knockover and other stories
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When Johnson kicked the stone he was not refuting Berkeley, in spite of what he said at the moment. He was rather attacking the fact which he always greeted with impatience: that in a world, in his own phrase, “bursting with sin and sorrow,” men should wander in the endless labyrinths of metaphysics when they might be improving the lot of others in this world or their own in the next. As a philosophical answer to Berkeley, his gesture is meaningless; as an emphatic assertion of the imperative reality of a world in which men live and suffer, it is the essential statement of Johnson’s doctrine.
Herman W. Liebert, ‘Reflections on Samuel Johnson’, in Donald J. Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice-Hall, 1965)
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The laser is a prime illustration of a tool made for a given purpose (actually no real purpose) that then found applications that were not even dreamed of at the time. It was a typical “solution looking for a problem.” Among the early applications was the surgical stitching of detached retinas. Half a century later, The Economist asked Charles Townes, the alleged inventor of the laser, if he had had retinas on his mind. He had not. He was satisfying his desire to split light beams, and that was that. In fact, Townes’s colleagues teased him quite a bit about the irrelevance of his discovery. Yet just consider the effects of the laser in the world around you: compact disks, eyesight corrections, microsurgery, data storage and retrieval — all unforeseen applications of the technology.
We build toys. Some of those toys change the world.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
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Let us grant, by all means, that there are quite sufficient unsolved riddles in nature and life without raising up artificial mysteries. Let us even admit that when evidence is available (which, by the way, is not the same thing as existent) it is better to settle a question straight away than to leave it open to further argument. At the same time, let us not be too hasty in accepting speculations, however shrewd, as proved facts. Antiquarian books should naturally be as free as possible from actual misstatements, but they have lost all their charm when they become collections of bald dogmatic statements or mere descriptive catalogues.
W. H. Matthews, Mazes and Labyrinths: A General Account of their History and Developments (1922)
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