When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: The New York Times

Words For Snow

1984: How many words do the Eskimos have for snow? A handful? Dozens? A hundred?

The anthropologist Franz Boas gave four examples in his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages. Benjamin Lee Whorf expanded the list to at least seven in a 1940 essay. After that, the number snowballed; by 1984, an editorial in The New York Times was mentioning “100 types” of snow and “100 synonyms” for the white stuff.

So how many words do the Eskimos have for snow? It’s not exactly a trick question, but there are a variety of answers, depending on what you mean by “Eskimo” and “word” and “snow”.

Source: American Anthropologist, June 1986

Bump In The Road

1951: The National Safety Council reckoned that towards the end of the year the total number of deaths from traffic accidents in the United States since the advent of the automobile would reach 1 million. In December, the millionth death was reached and passed, like a bump in the road.

Source: The New York Times, 24 December 1951

“Animalistic Hopping”

1937: The Lambeth Walk, a jaunty number from the musical Me and My Girl, was a success first on the London stage, and then in dance halls around Britain and on the Continent. Fascist leaders in Europe, however, took a dim view of the craze. In Italy, the dance was condemned for its “ugly, coarse, awkward motions and gesticulations”, and in Germany it was denounced as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”.

Sources: The Times, 19 May 1939; The New York Times, 8 January 1939

Killer Robot

1979: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics notwithstanding, this year saw the first known killing of a human by a robot. On 25 January, workers at a Ford Motor Company plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, noticed that a robot appeared to be giving incorrect information about the number of parts stored on shelves. When Robert Williams climbed on to a shelf to investigate, he was fatally struck on the head by the robot’s arm.

Source: The New York Times, 11 August 1983

Eduardus Ursus

1958: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus” (“Here is Edward Bear”) coming down the stairs “tump-tump-tump” (“bump, bump, bump”) behind “Christophorum Robinum” (“Christopher Robin”).

The Latin translator of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic was a Hungarian-born scholar who lived on a farm in southern Brazil. Winnie ille Pu was an unexpected publishing success, spending many weeks on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times in MCMLXI.

Source: The New York Times, 18 November 1984

Final Reward

1996: William Vickrey had little time to savour the plaudits after he won the Nobel Prize in economics. The Columbia University professor was notified of the joint award on 8 October. He spent the next three days busily fielding phone calls, giving radio interviews and appearing on television, and then died of a heart attack on 11 October.

Source: The New York Times, 12 October 1996

No More Peace And Quiet For Berlin Bunnies

The Berlin Wall, looking east at Potzdamer Platz, photographed in November 1975 by Edward Valachovic

1989: Spare a thought for Berlin’s bunnies. For 28 years they flourished in the “death zone” on the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Hopping about, nibbling grass, relaxing in the sun. No speeding cars, no farmers with shotguns, no farmers’ dogs. Until November, when hordes of noisy humans came stomping through rabbit heaven.

Source: The New York Times, 24 November 1989

Legal Niceties

1995: Hours before his scheduled execution at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Robert Brecheen overdosed on sedatives. The condemned murderer was taken from death row to hospital, where his stomach was pumped. Once his condition had stabilized, he was returned to prison and executed by lethal injection.

Source: The New York Times, 12 August 1995

Petted And Pampered

1966: Elizabeth Arden (real name, Florence Nightingale Graham) was passionate about racehorses. Her pampered thoroughbreds were fed on special clover and massaged and rubbed down with Elizabeth Arden creams and lotions. When Arden died in October, The New York Times quipped that she “treated her women like horses and her horses like women”.

Source: The New York Times, 19 October 1966