Posted in History & Literature

Bingo Bango Bongo

Spot the odd one out: King Kong, Ding Dong, Chit Chat, Jibber Jabber, Tick Tock, Flip Flop, Zag Zig. The last one is obviously wrong, with the correct version being “Zig Zag”. The astute reader may have noticed a funny rule here: in words that are repeated with only the vowel sounds changed, I comes before A and O.

This peculiar pattern is known as the IAO rule and it is best shown in the example “Tic Tac Toe”. For some strange reason, words just don’t sound right in English when it doesn’t follow the IAO rule. Pong Ping, Hop Hip, Dally Dilly and Clop Clip all just sound weird.

This rule is formally known as ablaut reduplication and it is seen in almost every English-speaking country. The origin of the rule is unclear (likely Germanic), yet it is so prevalent and ingrained into us. Even if you have never heard of “ablaut reduplication”, the words sound very wrong and awkward if said in a different order.

There is another strange rule in English when it comes to ordering words. When it comes to a list of adjectives, such as “Little Red Riding Hood”, not listing the adjectives in a specific order makes it sound strange.

For reference, the order is:

Opinion – size – age – shape – colour – origin – material – purpose, then the noun.

This means that you can say something like “my big fat Greek wedding” or “that lovely large old brown French wooden clock”, but you can’t say “a red big ball” without it sounding off.

One notable exception is “the Big Bad Wolf”, where the opinion comes after the size. But if you look carefully, you can see it follows the IAO rule instead.

The more you learn about it, the more you realise how (sometimes needlessly) complex the English language is.

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Posted in Science & Nature

Three Little Pigs

The story of the Three Little Pigs is a timeless tale of how important good planning and doing things right is. Also, it serves to remind us that good architecture and engineering is key to one’s survival. A key aspect of the story is how the wolf “huffs and puffs” to blow the straw house and the stick house away. However, he cannot blow the brick house away as it is too well-built. Out of scientific curiosity, how hard does the wolf have to blow to destroy the Little Pigs’ three houses?

An experiment was performed to scientifically test this tale. The researchers built a house out of straw, a house out of sticks and a house out of bricks, then set up a fan to test at what wind speed the house was destroyed. The straw house blew away when the wind speed was 11m/s. The stick house lasted a little longer, up to a wind speed of 21m/s. Then what about the brick house? The brick house withstood winds of 35m/s, whereupon the researchers had to stop as the strong wind nearly blew the people away.

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