[LINK] "X" the unknown quantity
Wed, 02 Feb 2000 09:25:05 +1000
Culturally, Westerners seem predisposed to use "X" in many ways. Such an
We have "x, the unknown quantity" which seems to be a meme inherited
from primary school algebra. I wonder when it started?
We have "mr x, the mystery man" from detective fiction, where I suspect
that again, because of the unknown quantity in algebra, and the nature of
detective fiction (finding the unknown), there is a natural resonance.
But we also have XXXX beer and Triple-X strength, presumably from some
simple marking process used in breweries (illiterate people?) to denote
qualitative measure. Not forgetting our roman heritage to use X as a purely
numeric quantitative measure.
Then we have X marks the spot. And using X to sign names if unable to sign.
In computing, X was a REAL for anybody brought up on FORTRAN. thus the
continual re-use of UNIX shell for i in `cmd` since i is the eponymous
i(nteger) and nested loops wind up walking i,j,k while transitional values
seem to walk x,y,z,a,b... (always a bit of a problem that, making the real
values start at the back of the alphabet)
Cultural Linguists may well recognize X as a sound/phonetic value much used
to denote 'legitemacy' in naming medical and scientific items. A companiero
in York did a paper on the use of -tex/-tox/-tax endings in patented names for
drugs in that context.
Now of course, thanks to the BSA, we have X as the unusable letter of the
alphabet, the letter which only denotes se(x) or re(x)stricted.
Perhaps Australian English is going to become one of those tongues where
we're not dealing with a full pack, like the Hispanic troubles with B/P
or the Romance language tendency to avoid pronouncing W "properly".
Any suggestions for what we all replace X with? Harry Harrison in his
wonderful spoof on Heinlien "Bil (with one L) the galactic hero" has the
eponymous spy named Mr Ecks. All true scotsmen of course know wee eck
from "Oor Wully" which usefuly reminds us that the list of candidate names
for the Virum Membris exceeds even those for the names of snow in partibus
esquimotum so to speak...
I suggest we try J. After all, we already know JJJ CD's have to bear
content warnings, so the precedent is there waiting to be used.
George Michaelson | DSTC Pty Ltd
Email: email@example.com | University of Qld 4072
Phone: +61 7 3365 4310 | Australia
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