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CHAT: Con-English chat: 50 Watsons (was: RE: [CONLANG] Some more Madzhi

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Monday, March 18, 2002, 18:04
And Rosta scripsit:

> Observing standard Poccessorial criteria for relevance of comment, I > remark that if one can manage to misread that sentence as "He dogs my > footsteps with an incompetent zeal of fifty Watsons", we get a > rather pleasing reading whereby a Watson is a unit for the measurement > of degrees of incompetent zeal.
Indeed. Or one could see "incompetent zeal" as the collective term, like "gaggle" for geese, in which case "with" becomes comitative.
> This reminds me of a footnote in Pollard & Sag's 1994 _Head-driven > Phrase Structure Grammar_ in which they (giving due credit to their > source) define a _millihelen_ as that unit of beauty sufficient to > launch one ship.
Isaac Asimov claimed to have invented this, but it is probable enough that there were multiple independent inventions. Computer scientist Donald Knuth's first publication (in _Mad_ magazine, no less) was "The Potrzebie System of Units", an alternative measurement system based on the fundamental units of Furlongs, Firkins, and Fortnights (respectively 201.164 m, 34.069 l, 1209600 sec; equivalently, 660 ft, 36 U.S. qt/29.976 Imperial qt, 14 days)
> Feel free to cite other cute units of measurement, and I'll compile a list.
A few from the _Hacker's Dictionary_: microlenat: the unit of bogosity (devised as an attack on CS professor and CYC creator Doug Lenat). millilampson: unit of talking speed, abbreviated mL. Most people run about 200 milliLampsons. The eponymous Butler Lampson (a CS theorist and systems implementor highly regarded among hackers) goes at 1000. A few people speak faster. This unit is sometimes used to compare the (sometimes widely disparate) rates at which people can generate ideas and actually emit them in speech. For example, noted computer architect C. Gordon Bell (designer of the PDP-11) is said, with some awe, to think at about 1200 mL but only talk at about 300; he is frequently reduced to fragments of sentences as his mouth tries to keep up with his speeding brain. [I've heard him talk, and this is only too true. --J.C.] nanoacre: unit (about 2 mm square) of real estate on a VLSI chip. The term gets its giggle value from the fact that VLSI nanoacres have costs in the same range as real acres once one figures in design and fabrication-setup costs. smoot: unit of length equal five feet seven inches [170.18 cm --J.C.]. The length of the Harvard Bridge in Boston is famously 364.4 smoots plus or minus an ear (the ear stands for epsilon). This legend began with a fraternity prank in 1958 during which the body length of Oliver Smoot (class of '62) was actually used to measure out that distance. It is commemorated by smoot marks that MIT students repaint every few years; the tradition even survived the demolition and rebuilding of the bridge in the late 1980s. The Boston police have been known to use smoot markers to indicate accident locations on the bridge. vaston: [Durham, UK] The unit of `load average'. A measure of how much work a computer is doing. A meter displaying this as a function of time is known as a `vastometer'. First used during a computing practical in December 1996. zorkmid: canonical unit of currency in hacker-written games. This originated in Zork but has spread to nethack and is referred to in several other games. [It is 50 zorkmids, rather than dollars, that Arlo Guthrie is fined in the various hackish parodies of "Alice's Restaurant". --J.C.] -- John Cowan <jcowan@...> I amar prestar aen, han mathon ne nen, han mathon ne chae, a han noston ne 'wilith. --Galadriel, _LOTR:FOTR_


Bob Greenwade <bob.greenwade@...>