Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year For 2014

In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary crowned “selfie” as the Word of the Year. The year before, it was “gif.” Now the folks behind the dictionary have announced the 2014 Word of the Year, and it’s “vape.” Vape is a verb meaning to use an electronic cigarette, although it can also be used as a noun for the e-cog itself. The word is an abbreviation of vapor, and was coined in 1983 in reference to using a hypothetical inhaler as a cigarette substitute. With the introduction of e-cigs, the word took off significantly in 2009.

As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.

Usage of vape peaked in April 2014, around the time that the UK’s first ‘vape café’ (The Vape Lab in Shoreditch, London) opened its doors, and protests were held in response to New York City banning indoor vaping. In the same month, the issue of vaping was debated by The Washington Post, the BBC, and the British newspaper The Telegraph, among others.

The Mystery of the Persian Princess Mummy

In October of 2000, Pakistani authorities heard that a Karachi resident was trying to sell a mummy on the black market for $11 million. When the police interrogated the seller, he told them he got the mummy from an Iranian man, who supposedly found it after an earthquake, and the two agreed to sell it and split the profits. The seller eventually led them to where he was storing the mummy, a region that borders Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities brought the mummy to the National Museum in Karachi, where museum officials inspected the remains and its sarcophagus. Museum officials announced that a mummy wrapped in an Egyptian style had been recovered in a wooden sarcophagus with cuneiform inscriptions, the written language of ancient Persia, and carvings of Ahura Mazda, a Zoroastrian deity. The mummy had a golden crown, mask, and a breastplate that proclaimed, “I am the daughter of the great King Xerxes. Mazereka protect me. I am Rhodugune, I am.” This meant that this mummified body potentially belonged to a Persian princess and was 2,600 years old.

persian mummy

The mummy of the Persian Princess generated a lot of international interest because no remains of the Persian royal family had ever been found and mummies are not generally found in Iran. At one point the mummy caused diplomatic tensions between Iran and Pakistan because both countries claimed ownership. But months later, after examinations by experts in ancient Persian script, CT scans, chemical testing, and carbon dating, the mummy was not only declared a fraud, but there was also evidence that she may have been a modern murder victim.

Scholars grew suspicious of the mummy’s authenticity when experts in ancient cuneiform examined the mummy’s breastplate and determined that someone “not well familiar with Iranian script,” had carved the inscription.

This mummy hoax began to unravel after subsequent testing.

CT scans revealed that the mummy belonged to an adult woman who was about 4 feet 7 inches tall and was older than 21 years old when she died. The scans also showed that all of her internal organs had been removed, and her abdominal cavity had been filled with a powdery substance. An autopsy exposed that the cause of death was a broken neck caused by blunt force trauma to the cervical vertebrae. But a forensic pathologist could not determine if the woman’s neck had been broken deliberately.

Chemical analysis indicated her body and hair had been bleached and her abdomen had been filled with modern drying agents, like bicarbonate of soda and sodium chloride. The results of carbon dating on bone and tissue revealed that the remains belonged to a woman who had died in 1996.

Investigators believe that the perpetrators of this fraud obtained a fresh corpse from grave robbers who looted a burial from the area between Pakistan and Iran. The forgers then removed the corpse’s internal organs and covered the body with chemicals to dry the body over the course of months. This was an intricate forgery that took months to execute and had to involve scholar(s) and someone familiar with anatomy.

The evidence of the broken neck caused Pakistani police to open a murder investigation for which they re-interrogated the middlemen involved with the black market sale. They hoped to identify the woman and her murderer, but so far this remains a cold case.

Full Circle

memorial bridge

For 88 years the Memorial Bridge carried traffic across the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine.

At its opening in 1923, 5-year-old Eileen Foley cut the ribbon.

In 2011, Foley, then 93, tied a ribbon at the closing ceremony.

In the interval she had served several terms as mayor of Portsmouth. “Thank you very much for this afternoon,” she said. “I will never forget it.”

When British History Lost Eleven Days

For 11 days in September 1752, no one was born and no one died in the British Isles or in any of the English colonies. In fact, nothing happened at all. This wasn’t due to a cosmic wrinkle in time or some other such phenomenon but because a calendar was rearranged. Yes, in 1752 the days of September 3–13 were omitted from British history when the country switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Those days simply don’t exist.

As we might imagine, the adoption of a new calendar caused a bit of disorder and not all were happy about making the switch. According to some accounts (although these tales might be exaggerated), villagers even rioted in the streets with complaints that the government was stealing days of their lives. Not only did the citizens have to give up 11 days in 1752, the year 1751 was also about three months short. This was because, in preparation for taking on the Gregorian calendar, England also had to change its New Year’s from March 25 to January 1. So, December 31, 1751 was followed by January 1, 1752 (instead of remaining 1751 until March 25, as usual).

Despite all the complaints and the hassle of getting rid of their old calendar, the Parliament felt it had no choice but to make the change, as the British were quite literally falling behind in time from neighboring countries.

Britain’s lag in time was due to the fact that most of Western Europe had accepted the Gregorian calendar 170 years earlier, when Pope Gregory XIII declared that all Catholic countries should use his new calendar. The problem with the Julian version was that it calculated a year as being 365 days and six hours long, when in actuality it’s closer to 365 days, five hours and 49 minutes. While that 11-minute difference might not seem like a big deal, over time it really started throwing things off. Most importantly, at least to the Pope, Easter had drifted 10 days too far away from the spring equinox, an error that was unacceptable to the Catholic Church. So, in 1582 the Pope eliminated 10 days from the year and decreed that all should use the Gregorian calendar.

The English of 1582, however, felt they were too powerful to yield to the wishes of the Pope, and on top of that, they weren’t on the best terms with the Catholics considering they had just broken off from them around 50 years prior when they formed the Church of England. It took another 170 years before they finally succumbed to the Gregorian calendar, after they were thoroughly fed up with using two calendars, double-dating documents, and having two New Year’s Days.

Still, getting their dates in line with the rest of Western Europe didn’t totally eliminate the confusion. Even today, historians and genealogists have to pay careful attention to what system was used when a document was recorded, and double-dating still persists when it’s unclear whether a date was under the “Old Style” or “New Style.” Some people at the time even took the liberty of converting documented dates to the New Style. For example, George Washington was technically born on February 11, 1731, but, after the calendar change, he amended his birthday to February 22, 1732. This also had the side benefit of making him seem a year younger than he really was (at least on paper).

Nowadays, the only chance we have to manipulate days in time is on a leap year when we add a day onto February. Of course, leap years only happen every four years—assuming the number of the year is divisible by four and not divisible by 100 (unless it can also be evenly divided by 400). The bottom line: Time is confusing and always relative.

Our Ancestors May Have Bred With Unknown Species

A new study presented to the Royal Society meeting on ancient DNA in London last week has revealed a dramatic finding – the genome of one of our ancient ancestors, the Denisovans, contains a segment of DNA that seems to have come from another species that is currently unknown to science. The discovery suggests that there was rampant interbreeding between ancient human species in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago. But, far more significant was the finding that they also mated with a mystery species from Asia – one that is neither human nor Neanderthal.

Scientists launched into a flurry of discussion and debate upon hearing the study results and immediately began speculating about what this unknown species could be. Some have suggested that a group may have branched off to Asia from the Homo heidelbernensis, who resided in Africa about half a million years ago. They are believed to be the ancestors of Europe’s Neanderthals.

However others, such as Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the London Natural History Museum, admitted that they “don’t have the faintest idea” what the mystery species could be.

Traces of the unknown new genome were detected in two teeth and a finger bone of a Denisovan, which was discovered in a Siberian cave. There is not much data available about the appearance of Denisovans due to lack of their fossils’ availability, but the geneticists and researchers succeeded in arranging their entire genome very precisely.

“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world – that there were many hominid populations,” Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London. The question is now: who were these mystery people that the Denisovans were breeding with?

The One Universal Word

No matter where you are and no matter what language that above-mentioned statement is presented in, you’ll have a suitable way to respond. With the nearly infinite amount of words and potential words that exist in our realm of language and communication, there’s one that’s universal in both pronunciation and meaning: “Huh?”

It’s not as straightforward a discovery as it might seem, either. The tricky part comes in just defining a word, as it’s easy to say that “huh” is just a sound and not a real, proper word. But it meets all the criteria of a word, and that’s important. It’s not innate, and babies don’t automatically start making that particular noise; they have to learn it. Another discerning feature is that there’s no animal equivalent of the sound—it’s not like a snort we might utter to show our disgust at something. It’s also not an involuntary response to something, it’s something we have to think about uttering. Hey presto! We’ve got ourselves a real word.

In English, “huh” can have a couple of different meanings. While it can also be used to express surprise at something, it’s also used as a short, quick indicator that you need clarification on something you didn’t hear or didn’t understand. And that’s the way that it’s been found to be used universally.

The term isn’t 100 percent interchangeable; in some dialects, such as Russian, it’s ever so slightly different. There isn’t exactly an “h” sound in Russian, so it comes out sounding a little bit more like “ah.” But it’s there and it means the same—in a way that no other words or group of words even come close to doing.

Linguists have also looked at just why “huh,” out of all the possible words, is one that’s so universal. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics suggest that it’s because of the context it’s used in. When you say “huh,” you need clarification on something, and in many cases, that something can be very, very important. It can be crucial that the listener stops the conversation before it goes any further to clarify a point, so the human race as a whole needed a quick way to do just that.

The Truth About Executive Orders

President Obama has made it clear that if Congress doesn’t do something about immigration reform by the end of the year, he will. And Obama can make good on that threat because he has the option to use Executive Orders.

So What Exactly Is An Executive Order?

Executive Orders are basically legally binding orders given by a President. They carry the same weight as any law passed by Congress, but they do not need Congressional approval. President Obama is legally allowed to pass an Executive Order, just like all of his predecessors, based on our Constitution. Article II, section 1 of the Constitution gives the President authority to use “Executive Power.” Article II, section 3 goes on to say that the President should “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

The whole reason that the Conservatives are so upset about the President using executive action is because it allows him to make major decisions, and even laws, which potentially could go against the wishes of the Congress. He can do this because he does not need their consent. And in a case like we have now, when the Congress refuses to do its job, the President is left with the option of using Executive Orders.

What Can The Conservatives In Congress Do About It?

Basically at this point if the Congress doesn’t like Obama’s Executive Order they have two choices. The first is that they could write their own bill on immigration. Of course the President always has the option of the Veto if he doesn’t like what they come up with. So ultimately, the Congress would need a 2/3 majority of both the House and Senate to override a veto and thereby stop an Executive Order.

They could also challenge the Executive Order by pursuing Impeachment. But again the Republicans will have little to no luck on this because they simply don’t have the votes.

As the Washington Examiner points out, any attempt to impeach Obama would be doomed to failure:

“Even if House Republicans gathered the 218 votes required to bring articles of impeachment — a far-fetched scenario — conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 votes. There are now 45 Republicans in the Senate. In 1999, when the GOP impeached Bill Clinton, Republicans held 55 Senate seats, and got 50 votes to convict the president. So impeachment will not succeed now, any more than it did then.”
Are President Obama’s use of Executive Orders unprecedented?

In a word? NO.

As a matter of fact President Obama has used fewer Executive Orders than any modern POTUS.

Nixon signed 346
Reagan signed 381
Clinton signed 364
Bush signed 291
Obama has only signed 193

President Obama has vowed to aggressively address immigration concerns before the end of the year. As to Republican efforts to block those anticipated actions, they need to pass legislation that denies those concerns. This would likely be political suicide for them, as they will alienate even more minority support, and the President can easily veto it and have his veto upheld.