Lo­gophiles know that odd nau­ti­cal terms have made it into our daily lex­i­con

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - WEIRD NOTES ABOUT THE AU­THORS Bill is a jour­nal­ist, Rich holds a doc­tor­ate in physics. To­gether the brothers bring you “Strange But True.” Send your ques­tions to strangetrue@com­puserve.com.

Q. In the late 1600s, French King Louis XIV com­plained that he was los­ing more ter­ri­tory to his as­tronomers than to his en­e­mies. What, by Jove, did he mean? A. In 1610, using a prim­i­tive tele­scope, Galileo dis­cov­ered sev­eral of Jupiter’s moons. Io, the clos­est, or­bits the planet very reg­u­larly, about once ev­ery 1.8 days. Any­one ob­serv­ing Io from any­where on Earth sees it eclipsed by Jupiter at the same time. So ob­ser­va­tions of Io al­low ac­cu­rate syn­chro­niza­tion of time mea­sure­ments be­tween dis­tant places. For ex­am­ple, if one had the ex­pected eclipse times for Paris, then these could be com­pared to lo­cal eclipse times to es­ti­mate lon­gi­tu­di­nal dis­tance from Paris. In fact, this was the most ac­cu­rate way of es­ti­mat­ing lon­gi­tu­di­nal dis­tance in the 1600s.

King Louis XIV, seek­ing to make his coun­try the world leader in sci­ence, com­mis­sioned as­tronomers to use mea­sure­ments of Io’s eclipses to im­prove the map of France, says Tyler Nord­gren in “Sun, Moon, Earth: The his­tory of so­lar eclipses from omens of doom to Ein­stein and ex­o­plan­ets.” “It was the most ac­cu­rate map ever pro­duced up to that time, and it re­vealed that many roads and dis­tances were ac­tu­ally shorter than had been be­lieved.” Ergo: France was smaller than had been be­lieved. Q. Ae­o­lian (ee-O-leeuhn) pro­cesses: The name is both po­etic and in­struc­tive. What does it sig­nify? A. Visit Cal­i­for­nia’s Death Val­ley to view the sand dunes and you’ll see its hand­i­work. Named after the Greek god Ae­olius, keeper of the winds, Ae­o­lian pro­cesses per­tain “to the god­like ways wind can sculpt a land­scape,” says Lacy Sch­ley in “Dis­cover” mag­a­zine. “Over time, fine sed­i­ments such as silt or sand are picked up and de­posited, build­ing dunes or scour­ing rock bare.” Ac­tive in shap­ing ex­posed ar­eas in deserts and along coast­lines, Ae­o­lian pro­cesses are likely re­spon­si­ble for many of the for­ma­tions on the sur­face of Mars and other plan­ets as well. Q. How is the drone “Helper” liv­ing up to its name as the new mem­ber of a res­cue team? A. At Bis­car­rosse beach, on the south­west coast of France, a life­guard team with an air­borne di­vi­sion can come to the res­cue of dis­tressed swim­mers more quickly than a solo life­guard, re­ports “IEEE Spec­trum” mag­a­zine. Helper, a re­motely op­er­ated sur­veil­lance drone, can fly out to those in dan­ger of drown­ing and drop them a life buoy, giving the life­guard pre­cious ex­tra min­utes to run across the sand, dive into the surf and com­plete the res­cue. Q. Ahoy, all you “lo­gophiles” (word lovers) out there: Can you ex­plain the nau­ti­cal na­ture of “jet­ti­son,” “jury-rig,” “off­ing,” “pinchgut,” and “slush fund”? A. “Jet­ti­son,” mean­ing to cast off some­thing un­wanted or bur­den­some, orig­i­nally comes from throw­ing goods over­board to lighten a ship in dis­tress (ear­li­est doc­u­mented use 1426), says Anu Garg on his “A.Word.A.Day” web site. “On a sail­ing ship, a ‘ju­ry­mast’ is a tem­po­rary mast, rigged when the orig­i­nal is dam­aged or lost,” so to “jury-rig” is to fix tem­po­rar­ily using what­ever is avail­able. And some­thing “in the off­ing” means “in the near fu­ture”; “in nau­ti­cal use, ‘off­ing’ is the part of the sea vis­i­ble from the shore but be­yond an­chor­ing ground.”

The com­pound word “pinchgut” might sug­gest be­ing miserly, and in fact it orig­i­nally re­ferred to “some­one who didn’t give enough food to a ship’s crew.” Fi­nally, a “slush fund,” as you may know, is es­tab­lished for il­le­gal activities, es­pe­cially in busi­ness and pol­i­tics. But did you also know that in a ship’s gal­ley, “slush” was refuse fat? Thus, a “slush fund” was money raised from the sale of slush to buy small lux­u­ries for a ship’s crew.

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