Monday 20 January 2014

Cigars are trains, so

The blogosphere delivered a nice illustrated article about streamlined trains the other day and without even reading it properly, I sent the link off to The Boy who is, after all, a railway engineer.  But I had to make a facetious remark hinting that the reason boys were interested in trains was because of their obvious phallic symbolism - especially when they are roaring into tunnels, wha'?  He came back with "I really like the style from this era but then I guess everyone thinks there's something endearing about penises. Just as well really."
Indeed there is nothing objectively attractive about penises, so unless some people found them endearing there wouldn't be 7 billion people of the planet, half of which possess the strange appendage.    So I conceded (and I thought concluded) with 'But as Freud said "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"'.
The Boy has a much better crap detector than me and wasn't going to allow that Freud had ever expressed such a sentiment.  Turns out that he is correct.  It takes 3 seconds to fire off a glib remark recycled from what we all have heard before, it takes hours or days to track down who really said what. The brave and stalwart researchers at Quoteinvestigator can't find the Cigar quote any earlier than 1950 a decade after Freud pegged out.  You've got to take your hat off to people from the Arts Block, they may be working in the finite universe of previous human endeavour, but they can track down the pig and bring home the bacon.  My favorite example of worrying a phrase to death is Robert Merton's book On the Shoulders of Giants: a Shandean postscript.  Which looks sideways at the phrase "If I have seen further than other men, it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants".  This is usually attributed to Isaac Newton, but Merton's wonderful investigation tracks it back at least as far as Bernard of Chartres who lived 500 years earlier.  "Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos, gigantium humeris insidentes, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine, aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvenimur et extollimur magnitudine gigante".  Esse quasi nanos = are like dwarfs, gives us nanometer (10^-9m) and the currently trendy nanotechnology.

The blogosphere is strong on churning the obvious and recycling the trivial, but in the long tail there is a rich fund of the quirky, the counter-intuitive and the iconoclastic.  We'd all be better off if we read some of this rather than yet more Harry Potter. It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”  Mark Twain.  Which I never tire of citing.

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