Sunday, 9 June 2019

Alexa: What is alexia?

People of my vintage, hearing the prompt: "5½ yards?" will unhesitatingly respond "1 rod, pole, or perch" (well, maybe not all of them) , remembering those glossy red exercise books with tables on the back (I never did find out what "Troy weight" was, though I'm pretty sure the number 20 came into it somewhere; ounces in a pound, maybe.) Anyway, this information was hardly crucial to anything very much, and I don't think any less of people who don't have it at their fingertips.
<digression theme="5½ yards">
Although this measurement is not in wide use today, it may be of interest to those of an etymological bent. Another of those numbers on the back cover of 1960s exercise books was "22 yards = 1 chain".

That quantity crops up all over the place: in measurements (10 square chains = 1 acre); in the phrase chain boy (mentioned in a previous post...
But staying with the subject of measurements (the grit at the centre of this ... erm, whatever) someone on  that programme mentioned how memorable measures (resisting metrication) tended to be monosyllabic – foot, inch, yard, and so on. Which brought to mind another such monosyllable –  chain – which was mentioned too. But what wasn't mentioned, on the subject of persistent obsolete technology metaphors, was the surveyor's assistant: chain boy. (The term was current when my brother was one in the 1970s, and a quick Google search confirms that it's still in use [though sometimes, in a diverse workforce, with PC tweezers]).
...); (oh yes, this sentence is still going; it started back at "That quantity..."); in arbitrary measures, such as the length of a cricket pitch...
On a Rugby Union pitch, early in my rugby-playing career, this arbitrary 22 yards thing was avoided. The line about a quarter of the way down the pitch was 25 yards away from the goal line. But the numerological gods were not satisfied: the number 22 ought to crop up arbitrarily in sports fields. Along came metrication to save the day; the "25 yard line", commonly referred to as "the 25", became "the 22 metre line". In fact, 25 yards is very much closer to 23 metres (22.86), but truncation rather than rounding was chosen; I suspect the numerological gods may have been involved.
...(Phew, NOW the sentence is ended.) 

But this digression started out on the subject of 5½. Probably – I haven't checked – the idea of a quarter of 22 yards is the root of the naming of a quarterstaff.
I have checked now [couldn't resist], and Wikipedia says it's "probably" derived from something else. I'm not convinced.

Per contra
,  a fighting implement 5½ yards long  would be pretty unwieldy even for Little John (who was wielding the first quarterstaff I ever met [in a picturebook, about sixty years ago]).
But a recent survey for Mashable (I say "recent" because the Mashable report is recent; the video itself has no datestamp). But the issue of telling the time on an analogue clock has been around for some time. The late lamented Dave Allen had a routine about it which is worth 6'03" of anyone's time. And many other commentators have said that telling the time from an analogue clock is not a crucial skill for a 21st-century child. (It's just struck me that the ability to read an analogue clock is as irrelevant today as, when analogue clocks were invented, the ability to read a sun-dial became – it can be an impressive trick, but that's all.)

It's not crucial; but losing any skill is a shame. And a risk inherent in any new  technology is that it fosters dependence on it. In case of power cuts it's wise  to keep a few candles handy; and a box of matches. (Luckily, when friction matches replaced tinder boxes, power cuts were a thing of the future.)  But how many new boxes of tricks erode our abilities? Since agreeing (reluctantly...
I feel the word doesn't have the force of the Spanish a regañadientes, with its implication of gritted teeth.
...) to the use of SatNav,  I've noticed a reduction  in the accuracy of my sense of direction (never great).

Which brings us to alexia (see the subject line). It's related (etymologically, at least, though I have no idea whether the two disorders share any part of the same cognitive mechanism) to dyslexia. but a- instead of dys- – so not-at-all rather than mistakenly).  I wonder what Alexa would make of that. And I wonder whether 22nd-century people (provided that homo sapiens's sapience extends to the avoidance of self-annihilation for that long) will have their ability to read – while probably not entirely eradicated – at least attenuated.

Anyway, cricket calls.


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