Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 Word of the Year

According to the American Dialect Society is:

Tweet: noun, a short yet meaningless message sent via the Twitter.com service about navel gazing, and verb, the act of sending such a meanless message.

Other winners this year -

Word of the Decade: google as a verb

Most Useful: fail (Usually written as FAIL!)

Most Creative: Dracula sneeze

Most Unnecessary: sea kittens fish (according to PETA)

Most Outrageous: death panel

Most Euphemistic: hike the Appalachian trail

Most Likely To Succeed: twenty-ten (a pronunciation of the year 2010)

Least Likely To Succeed: Any name of the decade 2000-2009, such as Naughties, Aughties, Oughties, etc.

Here is your Today in History -
If you were ever an alter boy or ever took Latin, I don't need to tell you what jacta alea est means. But if you're like most Americans, to whom Latin is about as familiar as Urdu, let me translate: it means the die is cast. At least that's how it's usually translated. Back in the early days of English, when the phrase was first translated, that's how they would have said "the dice are thrown."

This Latin snippet is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly because it demonstrates the popularity of gambling with dice in the ancient world, which is an important bit of trivia for keeping wayward adolescents interested in the classics; secondly because it's a short little Latin phrase you can drop into conversation to impress snobs; thirdly because the event of its utterance changed the course of western civilization for ever.

The line was uttered by Julius Caesar on this very date in 49 BC. Caesar and his army had just crossed the Rubicon, a little stream in northern Italy. The Roman Senate had long ago established a rule that Roman citizens should be forbidden from crossing the the Rubicon with their armies, since they figured anyone coming south toward Rome with an entire army probably wasn't up to any good.

(If the Roman Senate had really wanted to play it safe, maybe they should have designed the infrastructure of their empire so that all roads didn't lead to Rome—but that's beside the point.)

You may be wondering why Caesar would set out to break the law this way. He had, after all, been a popular and successful general and had been governor of Gaul for some time. But that's exactly why he decided to cross the Rubicon: he had become so popular and so powerful that the Roman Senate ordered him to disband his army and give up Gaul. Which has always made me wonder why the Roman Senate didn't say jacta alea est after issuing their demands. Maybe they were just too eager to get back to their dice.

Anyway, by crossing the Rubicon Caesar had officially committed treason and launched the Roman Civil War. I've also saved you several hours of watching HBO series Rome. Except for the naked parts.

The rest is history.

January 12, 1865 -
General William T. Sherman issues Special Field Order No. 15, entitling the household of each freed slave "a plot of no more than forty acres of tillable ground" along the Carolina coastline between Charleston and Jacksonville.

After the Confederate surrender, the Johnson administration makes a halfhearted attempt to follow through on the acreage, but all efforts to parcel out the land in question are abandoned just a few months later.

January 12, 1944 -
Probably Alfred Hitchcock's most underrated film, Lifeboat, opened in NYC on this date.

During filming, several of the crew members noted that actress Tallulah Bankhead was not wearing underwear. When advised of this situation, director Alfred Hitchcock observed, "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing."

January 12, 1965 -
Hullabaloo, a musical variety show, premiered on NBC on this date.

The Hullabaloo Dancers - a team of four men and six women - appeared on a regular basis. Two of them - Michael Bennett and Donna McKechnie - went on to achieve considerable fame on Broadway.

January 12, 1966 -
Holy homoeroticism!!!

ABC premieres the brightly colored underwear wearing, perfectly genitally arranged comedy Batman today.

January 12, 1971 -
Oh Geez, stifle yourself. The first episode of All in the Family made television history by broadcasting the sound of a toilet flushing.

This is not, however, the first time a toilet tank is seen on television.

That honor goes to Leave it to Beaver premiere episode, "Captain Jack" back in 1957.

And so it goes.

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