This week in The Whippet: crystals , keys, conundrums and a Caveat for Common Cursitors

My secret jaguars!

I’ve been reading about Rastafari language – it turns out that reggae lyrics I thought were just the for-the-sake-of-rhyme-or-rhythm lyrics-twisting of musos are part of Rastafari and highly intentional – along the same lines as spelling women as ‘womyn’. Everything that follows should be taken with a grain of respectful salt because it’s all from the internet.

The use of ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ is a deliberate choice to use the subject instead of the object (in grammar terms). So it emphasises a person’s subjectivity, never turning the self into an object – which Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax defines as the root of all evil (“Sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”)

‘Livicate’ instead of ‘dedicate’ is obviously and immediately a more uplifting way to devote yourself to something.

As heard in Bob Marley’s Rainbow Country:
I got my own
in the promise land.

But I feel at home –
can you overstand?

There was a bit of internet debate here, but best guess is that it means to fully grok something, to not only understand it, but to understand its causes, its context, its place in the scheme of things, at a deep level.

The ‘dread’ in dreadlocks refers to fear of the Lord.

Downpression instead of oppression because it keeps you down. You get the idea.

‘Babylon’ comes up all the time and means the whole system of government, the police, capitalism, all institutions tangible and ideological that keep people oppressed (downpressed). (Seems a lot like Moloch in Alan Ginsburg’s Howl, but I’ve only read like a a quarter of that and you’ll never get me to read more.)

Think about the major criticism George Orwell makes in Politics and the English Language – that ready-made phrases or blocks of words get slotted into place in the sentence like sliding blocks, without the writer really imagining the meaning and consequences of them. He mentions seeing the absurd mixed metaphor 'the fascist octopus has sung its swansong' and the point there is that you could only write a sentence like that if each segment was just a single block or unit, rather than individual words newly combined to create an image in the reader's head. (It's hard to articulate, you should just read the essay.)

But what I see in words like the above is people really thinking about words and the imagery they create, down to the syllabic level. It totally disregards the Latin or Germanic word-roots (dedicate has nothing to do with dead) and focuses on the sound and the feelings, how it resonates for a speaker or listener. And they're playful! (I imagine they become dead and habitual for daily speakers, as anything does, but still: people tried.)

I'm not going to start using Rasta words (I'm not the worst person ever) but I do fully encourage all people to (thoughtfully) make up words and not be weird curmudgeons about new words you don't like yet. If you have an issue with some millennial word, the solution is to do better: quit complaining and make up your own.

Japanese Death Poems


Death poems were traditionally written by ageing samurai, monks, clerks and other literate / upper class people. It seems to be a way to die with dignity, although I'm also 100% on board with the "rage, rage against the dying of the light" response.

They often had patriotic overtones. Narushima Chuhachiro:

For eighty years and more, by the grace of my sovereign
and my parents, I have lived
with a tranquil heart
between the flowers and the moon.


This next was written by suicide-torpedoist Kuroki Hiroshi in 1944:

This brave man
so filled with love for his country
that he finds it difficult to die
is calling out to his friends and about to die


but they could be irreverent too. Moriya Sen'an:

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern.
With luck
the cask will leak.

(Painting is not really related: 'Hanaogi of the Ogiya' by Chobunsai Eishi, ca. 1794.)

Stilts and Stumps


"Hunting for food, ants roam haphazardly. But when they find it, they use celestial cues, perhaps from the sun, to head back to their nests more or less in a straight line – rather than retracing the tortuous journeys they'd made on their outbound searches.

So how does an ant know when to stop running?

It must not be based on seeing the nest entrance, because a returning ant rarely runs straight down into its hole. Instead, when they think they're in the right area, they stop running, make a U-turn, and pace back and forth until they find it."

Scientists showed that they 'count' their steps by giving some ants stilts and amputating the last segment off the legs of other ants (ants' legs can't feel anything because they have to walk across boiling sand). The ants with stilts overshot their nest by 50% and the ants with stumps only got halfway home.

"Interestingly, the ants quickly adjusted to their new leg lengths. The next day the modified ants were allowed to engage in normal foraging, and they returned to the nest as well as the unmodified ants."
Full article

Stupidest Successful Prison Escape

In 1995, two murderers (sorry) escaped a Darwin, Australia, prison by making a copy of the prison master key, which could open every lock in Berrimah jail. In 2013, a former prison officer revealed how:

"The prisoners' information handbook had a pair of crossed keys on the front of it. Those keys were a dead-set copy of the keys that we had."

"Heiss was in a cell where he could reach his arm through the window and reach the lock," the prison officer said. "Baker [a jeweller who had jewellery-making equipment in his cell] was in a cell where he couldn't reach the lock.He used to give the key to Heiss and he would put it in the lock, then give it back and say 'I think it needs a bit more off here or there'."

The officer said Heiss's escape caused a huge amount of embarrassment for the authorities.
"The handbooks were taken off the prisoners straightaway and the contractors were called in to change all the locks," he said.

(Full article is a Murdoch paper so no link)

Molyneux's Problem: thought experiment from 1688 solved in 2003


Q: If a man born blind can feel the differences between shapes such as spheres and cubes, could he, if his sight was restored, distinguish those objects by sight (without touching them)?

A: No. Huh. "Although after restoration of sight, the subjects could distinguish between objects visually almost as effectively as they would do by touch alone, they were unable to form the connection between an object perceived using the two different senses. The correlation was barely better than if the subjects had guessed. They had no innate ability to transfer their tactile shape knowledge to the visual domain."

"Ostrovsky, et al studied a woman who gained sight at the age of 12 when she underwent surgery for dense bilateral congenital cataracts. They report that the subject could recognize family members by sight six months after surgery, but took up to a year to recognize most household objects purely by sight." Wikipedia article

The 23 Types of Vagabond


Each one was a separate chapter in Thomas Harman's A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, vulgarly called vagabonds (published 1566).

Adolf Hitler in 1899



This woodcut is of the vagabond Nicholas Jennings, and appeared in a pamphlet titled Gentleman and Beggar. Jennings was executed in 1566. He was caught with a bag of blood used to paint fake injuries on his head.

The several disorders and degrees amongst our idle vagabonds:

1. Rufflers (thieving beggars, former soldiers, apprentice uprightment)
2. Uprightmen (leaders of robber bands)
3. Hookers or anglers (thieves who steal through windows with hooks)
4. Rogues (rank-and-file vagabonds)
5. Wild rogues (those born of rogues)
6. Priggers of prancers (stealers of horses)
7. Palliards (male and female beggars, traveling in pairs)
8. Fraters (sham proctors, pretending to beg for hospitals, etc.)
9. Abraham-men (feigned lunatics)
10. Fresh-water mariners or whipjacks (beggars pretending to have been shipwrecked)
11. Dummerers (sham deaf-mutes)
12. Drunken tinkers (thieves using the trade as a cover)
13. Swadders or peddlers (thieves pretending to be peddlers)
14. Jarkmen (forgers of licenses) or patricoes (hedge priests)

Of Womenkind:

1. Demanders for glimmer or fire (female beggars pretending to have suffered loss by fire)
2. Bawdy baskets (female peddlars)
3. Morts (prostitutes and thieves)
4. Autem morts (married harlots)
5. Walking morts (unmarried harlots)
6. Doxies (prostitutes who begin with uprightmen)
7. Dells (young girls, incipient doxies)
8. Kinchin morts (female beggar children)
9. Kinchin coves (male beggar children)

More details on A Caveat and the types of vagabonds here.

Archaeology dig in Spain yields prehistoric ‘crystal weapons’


"Archaeologists have uncovered crystal arrowheads, an exquisite dagger blade, and cores used for creating the artifacts, that date to the 3rd millennium BCE." They seem to be grave goods. Honestly the full article is pretty dry, "structure 10.042-10.049 is another large two-chambered megalithic construction made from slate slabs" etc, just be happy there's ancient crystal weapons and don't ask for more.

What's your favourite historical crime?

Reader question from someone who doesn't realise I've already got a fair bit of crime in this issue. (Oh my god, CRIME starts with C.)

Look there's so many good ones, but: Jenny Diver was probably the most skilled pickpocket ('diver') of the 18th Century. Among a million other tricks, she would put pillows under her dress so she looked pregnant, and she had a pair of waxwork arms made that rested on the faux-pregnant belly. She had relatively upper-class looks so she could go to church services in rich areas of London and pick the pockets of anyone sitting next to her without being suspected.

She lived extremely well, had a gang of about eight others, and when she was finally convicted she was so famous, she was allowed to travel to her execution in a mourning carriage, wearing a black dress and a veil.

"If any Woman hath more Art than another, to be sure, ’tis Jenny Diver. Though her Fellow be never so agreeable, she can pick his Pocket as coolly, as if money were her only Pleasure. Now that is a Command of the Passions in a Woman!" — John Gay, 1738

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