Be alert

Many years ago one of my sisters gave me a calendar with a pun-based cartoon on every month’s page. One had a cartoon of two strange animals with the caption “Be alert. Your country needs more lerts.” (Or something like that. One website gives the version “The world needs more lerts”, crediting Woody Allen.)

I have recently been exploring prefixes. For some reason I started at the end of the alphabet and worked my way backwards, and have now reached a-, which is causing me great problems because the humble a– prefix has more meanings than any other.

You probably knew, or guessed, that alert is not derived from a lert. So what is its derivation? It comes from Italian all’erta, or all(a) erta, which means to or on the lookout or watchtower. Erta, in turn, is the feminine form of erto, which is the past participle of Italian ergere, Latin ērigere, meaning to erect, so an erta is something erected. So if you are alert, you are, literally, on the erection. Hmmm …

(The word often seen in close proximity, alarm, is from Old Italian all’arme, to arms – arms being from the Latin arma, not the Old English earmas.)


“Hello, are you my cousin?”

In 1855, one of my great-great-great-grandfathers, one of my great-great-great-grandmothers and one of my great-great-grandfathers arrived in Sydney from England. They and several other children (born in England and Australia) eventually settled in a small town on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Later, various members of the family moved to various other places, but the extended family is clustered around two rivers in mid-northern NSW. Various family members have researched the family history. I have some information from my grandmother and two distant relatives. but haven’t got seriously involved.

Today after church, the drinks were being served by a woman whose name tag showed that surname (which is not the same as mine, because I’m not a direct male descendant). I said “Are you related to the [name] family of [town] and [town]?” She said “No. There’s only me and my husband. You’re the second person to ask me today. The man over there asked me.” I’d seen the man with the same surname on his tag, and vaguely assumed that they were related. I asked him the same thing, and he said that he’d come from England as a boy with his father. I assume that he asked the woman “Are you related to [some given name] [that surname]”, not about the two towns I did.

I know I’ve got hundreds of  relatives on that side of the family, but with each generation fewer of them have that surname. I know some of the associated surnames (the married names of the daughters and some of the grand-daughters), but I’ll spot that surname first. There are several major businesses by that name, which we are not related to.

For a long time, I thought that those were my first ancestors to arrive in Australia, but last year I was looking at some information about the other side of my family, and found that one couple came in 1847. Apart from the fact that they had a daughter who became one of my great-great-grandmothers, we know nothing more about them.

Whatever else they might have done, none of my ancestors were convicts.


Two days ago I went to an automated teller machine to withdraw some money. I inserted my card, entered my personal identification number (PIN), selected “withdraw”, selected the amount, touched “Display balance on screen” (that is, don’t print a receipt) and touched “No” to answer the question “Do you want to save this as your favourite transaction? – at which point the machine told me that I had had entered my PIN incorrectly. Right, then, why didn’t you tell me that immediately after I’d entered it? In fact, I had entered it correctly, but I’d used my credit card instead of my cash card. (It was Monday morning and my two cards are the same colour.) Continue reading

Faster than the speed of time

Every new year, most people go through a shorter or longer period of writing the old year after a date in January (and perhaps into February) (some people refer to this as the 13th month of the year). I managed to do the opposite, dating a folder of photos from my photographic outing to a baseball game on Saturday ’30 December 2018′. When another member of the group pointed this out to me, I said ‘I use a fast shutter speed – faster than the speed of time!’.

(The speed of time is, of course 3.6 x 10^3 seconds per hour.)

inning and innings, outing and outings

On  Saturday evening I went for an outing to a baseball game. This is slightly unusual in Australia (there is a baseball competition, but it is almost unknown) and very unusual for me (I would not otherwise go to a baseball game, except …).

Last year I semi-did a course in photography on Coursera (I watched the videos and did the standard quizzes, but didn’t pay money to do the assessment quizzes and submit my photos for peer review). A few weeks ago one of the lecturers (a professor of photography at a university in the USA) emailed people in Australia who’d done the course, saying that he would be in Australia in late Dec-early Jan and was planning a trip to the baseball. (Which makes about as much sense as me travelling to the USA and going to a cricket match, but his son is involved with the baseball team here.) Seven photographers and three hangers-on attended. We had a short session together, then wandered around taking photos before and during the game. After some time, we each had a one-on-one with the lecturer, and he said some seriously nice things about my photos.

Photos first, then language: Continue reading

Happy one New Year

I have always found the idea of a New Year rather too arbitrary to celebrate. Which may be because I was rarely invited to such parties. Which may be why I was rarely invited to such parties. I spent last night at a Korean church service. Here are some lines to read between / / / /.

So we choose one day with no particular significance, choose a prime meridian such that our time zone falls now instead of one hour sooner or later, ignore the fact that true midnight wanders around relative to clock midnight, ignore the fact that many southern hemisphere countries are on daylight savings (Tweed Heads on the NSW side of the border celebrates one hour before or after Coolangatta on the Queensland side), ignore the fact that a time zone covers at least several hundred kilometres, and all get excited … RIGHT NOW!

Wikipedia lists 46 New Year’s Days from around the world, or one every eight days on average.

Happy New Year, if that’s your thing.

Singing in Korean

Sometime about the beginning of November, my wife arranged with the conductor of her church choir that I could join them to sing in a cantata on Christmas Day. (My church choir is singing at a very early service, and I just can’t get there in time.) I have been attending Sunday afternoon rehearsals for about six weeks, and learning the words by myself on the train. The music is straightforward enough, but the words are entirely in Korean. I’ve sung (actually performed) in other languages before; lots of Latin, some German and French, a sprinkling of Italian, Spanish and Welsh, one movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in Hebrew and all of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in Russian. As far as I can remember, the words for the Bernstein were given in transliteration, but the words for the Rachmaninoff were in Cyrillic and transliteration. (Hebrew is written right-to-left, and would not naturally fit into in a musical score. I have seen a hymn in Arabic for Arabic-speaking Christians, and the whole score is reversed.)

Continue reading