Man On Mars – Press to Start

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10 Reasons We

Will Colonize Mars

We’ve got some awesome news for you. Right now, you are standing on the edge of history. Yeah, you. Sometime soon, something’s gonna happen that will send you tumbling over into a whole new era of human evolution. We’re gonna colonize Mars.

 You read that right. That big, cold, lonely lump of rock spinning through the endless void 54.6 million kilometers away? We’re gonna land there. And we’re gonna build. Small bases. Biodomes. Research labs. Houses. And, eventually, even cities.
We can guess what you’re thinking: Yeah, right. Sure, Mars seems a long way away right now. Colonizing it sounds like the stuff of a science-fiction film, one that probably stars Matt Damon freaking out about a bunch of space potatoes. But it’s much, much closer than you think. At some point, in your lifetime, there’s gonna be a functioning civilization on the red planet. How can we be so sure? We’re glad you asked.

10. Risk Insurance

 Imagine you’re out and about, strolling along the beach or whatnot, when you stumble across a nest of dinosaur eggs. Like, real-life dino eggs, the kind that haven’t been seen for millions of years. As far as you know, they’re the only ones in existence.

They seem to be doing OK, but you can’t help but wonder whether they’re as safe as they seem. What if some predator comes along and eats them? What if some kid stomps on them? Isn’t it kinda your responsibility to move a few of those eggs, to make sure they survive?

In a nutshell, that’s the problem facing humanity today. Like the eggs, we’re doing fine right now, safe and sound on planet Earth. But, like with the eggs, our safety could be an illusion. There’s a chance that a meteor could come along at any moment and wipe us out. It’s slim, sure, but not impossible. And here the worry starts to creep in. As far as we know, we humans are the only intelligent life in the universe. Like the dino eggs, we could be invaluable. Isn’t it our responsibility to spread out, in case some meteor metaphorically stomps on us?

That’s the argument guys like Elon Musk are putting forward for why we need to colonize Mars: as a form of interplanetary risk insurance. And it’s proving pretty powerful. Already SpaceX are gearing up to send a manned craft to Mars by 2022, for this very reason.

9. It’s a Challenge

Make no mistake, getting to Mars is probably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Most of us probably can’t even grasp the technical leaps required to colonize a whole other celestial body. But you know what else once seemed an impossible challenge? Establishing a permanent base on Antarctica. Heck, even getting to Antarctica in the first place. Or climbing Everest. Or navigating the Northwest passage. Or colonizing the New World. Or…

Well, you get the idea. If humans were a sensible species that erred on the side of caution, we’d probably still be living in caves, congratulating ourselves on not being dumb enough to venture out into the sabretooth tiger-infested woods around us. But sensible is exactly what humans aren’t. We do dumb things, like climbing a mountain we know could easily kill us, just to say we reached the top. We even build civilizations in horrifically hostile places like Greenland and the Sahara, for Pete’s sakes.

What we’re trying to say is that humans rise to challenges, especially crazy ones like setting up a base on Mars. And especially when there’s the added incentive of competition…

8. Competition Between Nations (and companies)

Landing on the Moon was, arguably, one of the biggest wastes of money in US history. The entire Apollo program cost the equivalent of $110 billion in today’s dollars, a sum that doesn’t include the earlier Mercury and Gemini programs necessary to prepare NASA for Apollo. And what did America get out of it?

Well, there are two answers to that question. The utilitarian one would go something like “a dude, standing on a lump of rock.” But the other one would ring much truer. The US got something intangible from Neil Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface: a sense of prestige, of national pride.

The last part is the key here. The only reason man ever set foot on the Moon was because the Americans were terrified Russia would get there first. During

the Space Race, it was calculated that spending insane amounts of money was preferable to losing the propaganda war. Fast forward to 2017, and we may be witnessing the dawn of Space Race II.

Like all sequels, SRII is gonna be bigger, crazier, and chock full of extra characters. China has already declared it wants to get to Mars in the next decade. NASA wants a man on Mars by 2030. India is sending satellites and probes. Then there are the private actors. SpaceX is already facing competition from Blue Origin and, to a lesser extent, Mars One. With everyone fighting for that sweet Martian prestige, expect SRII to start hotting-up like crazy.

7. We Already Have the Technology to Get There Safely

One of the big stumbling blocks for a Mars mission – let alone a colony – has long been getting there. Mars is 182 times the distance from Earth as the Moon. Getting there will require flying for over six months. There are cosmic rays to deal with. The problem of landing on a planet with gravity and atmosphere conditions very different to Earth’s. Many have called the idea “impossible” (at least, without killing all the astronauts).

Yet all this overlooks one key fact. We already have the technology to get there.

For years now, SpaceX have been flying payloads for NASA to the ISS. As part of each mission, they’ve casually tested some of their Mars-landing tech on the side. Importantly, they’ve been doing it at a distance of 40 kilometers to 70 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where our atmosphere perfectly mimics conditions on Mars. And they’ve succeeded. Repeatedly. The ingredients for a successful Mars landing are essentially already there.

What about those pesky cosmic rays? NASA already has the tech to eliminate around 33% of the risk they pose, and engineers are confident that number is only gonna increase.

6. We Already Have the Technology to Make Mars Habitable

Here’s a quote to blow your mind. It comes from aerospace experts Chistopher McKay and Robert Zubrin, and we’re gonna reproduce it exactly as they said it, just to let the full weight of its craziness sink in. In a paper, the two wrote: “a drastic modification of Martian conditions can be achieved using 21st century technology.”

We’ve highlighted that last bit, because it’s the important one. What McKay and Zubrin are saying is that it’s totally possible for humanity to start terraforming Mars, using technology we have at our disposal right now. That’s right, 2017 man is so advanced he can literally change the surface of an entire alien world (though for some reason he still chooses to wear sweatpants in public. Weird, huh?).

If you don’t read Sci-Fi, terraforming means changing a planet so it becomes more Earth-like, and thus more-livable for humans. On Mars, that means we could trigger a deliberate greenhouse gas effect that would melt the ice at the poles, release a load of CO2, make the atmosphere denser, and trap more heat and energy from the sun. Then we’d have liquid water and could start planting; little mosses at first, but then plants, flowers, and even trees.

The end result would be a planet that looked like Earth, was warm enough to not kill us and with a bearable pressure. The air wouldn’t be breathable, but even that could change. A few centuries after terraforming, Mars could have an atmosphere as breathable as that on Earth.

5. We Already Know There’s Water There

Water is the main ingredient we humans need to live. No water, and the deal is off. Luckily, Mars has something that very, very few other places in our solar system do: ice. Lots and lots of ice. Frozen H20, just waiting to be thawed, filtered and used to keep a human colony alive.

We’re not exaggerating. Beneath just one stretch of the Martian plains, NASA have discovered a single ice deposit containing as much water as the whole of Lake Superior. It exists in an area known as Utopia, because it would be easy to land a craft there and then drill down to and extract the water. And that’s just on the plains. Go to the poles, and you’ll be sitting on enough water to keep a civilization running more or less eternally. If you melted all the ice on Mars, you’d wind up with enough liquid to drown the entire planet beneath an ocean some 30 feet deep.

This means you wouldn’t need to transport your own water from Earth, something so hideously impractical as to make it effectively impossible. It also means you could sustain not just an expedition, but an entire colony. Even if we reach the point where there are a million or so people living on Mars, we could rest safe in the knowledge that the water supply was unlikely to ever run out.

4. Mars Probably Has the Minerals We Need, Too

Of course, building a habitable city on another planet takes a lot more than water. It requires an insane amount of construction materials, which would cost eye-watering sums of money to send from Earth. At least, it would if we had no alternative. But we probably do. There’s a relatively good chance that Mars has the minerals we need to start building our space utopia.

We should stress the ‘relatively’ part of that sentence. We don’t have a huge amount of geological data on Mars, and NASA have been unable to identify any large ore deposits. However, they have identified areas where the probability of mineral deposits is quite high. Nickle, copper, platinum, titanium, iron and silicone dioxide are all likely to exist on Mars, along with clay for making porcelain and pottery. Put it all together, and you have the fundamentals for building some pretty complex stuff.

As for the technology to extract it… well, the basics are already there. We could use bacteria to mine from ore, or we could just develop robots to do some old-fashioned digging.

3. The Idea Has Big Backing

Every grand scheme needs its visionary backers. Without Columbus, you don’t have the new world. Without Genghis Khan, you don’t have the Mongol Empire. Without JFK, you don’t have Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon. Lucky for humanity’s interplanetary prospects, we already have our Mars visionary. In fact, we’ve got more than one.

The most-famous is a guy we’ve already namechecked a few times in this article. Eccentric billionaire/possible supervillain Elon Musk has been key to pushing private space exploration from a dystopian dream to a benign reality. Through his company SpaceX, he’s made huge technological leaps toward making Mars colonization a Thing We Could Actually Do. But he’s not the only one. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos isalso determined to get millions of humans into space and living on other planets. Like Musk, he has the money and the technology – via his private space company Blue Origin – to potentially make it happen.

Then there’s the signals coming from the current administration. In March 2017, President Trump signed a bill adding manned exploration of Mars to NASA’s official mission statement. The last time humanity looked this serious about space exploration, it resulted in Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon.

2. It Will Drive Technological Change on Earth

One objection that often gets raised when talking about Mars is that we should focus on solving problems here on Earth first. Well, what if we told you that the two aren’t mutually exclusive? That by going to Mars, we will improve life for billions of people on Earth?

Intrigued? You should be. Technological advances in one area often bleed through into others, in hugely unpredictable ways. When Hubble was first launched, it had a fault in its lens that meant images came back all blurry. For 3 years, NASA scientists were stuck trying to decipher space photos that looked like a dog’s regurgitated dinner. So they developed an algorithm to detect images in the mess. A really good algorithm. So good, in fact, that it turned out to be excellent at detecting early-stage breast cancer from X-ray images. There are thousands of people alive today because NASA messed up Hubble.

Need some more examples? OK. NASA tech has given us everything from portable vacuum cleaners, to freeze-drying, to modern firefighting gear, to grooved tires and roads that lower the number of car crashes. Artificial limbs have improved drastically due to Nasa tech, as have insulin pumps. That’s just from trundling around in our planet’s orbit. Imagine what totally unexpected stuff could result from the process of landing on and terraforming Mars?

1. Destiny

Stop and think about the future for a minute. No, we don’t mean five years from now. We don’t even mean fifty years from now. We mean hundreds, if not thousands, of years from now. We mean a span of time as great as that separating you from Jesus or Julius Caesar. What do you see happening to our species when all that time has passed? Where are we?

One cynical answer might be: “dead. Wiped out by war or disease or a marauding AI.” But move away from the worst case scenario, and a clearer picture likely emerges. Of humanity, spread out among the stars. Of colonies on Titan and Ganymede. Of cities in space. Of exploration beyond the edges of the Oort Cloud, out into the depths of our galaxy. Imagine: a future where we have the space and minerals for everyone. You could even call it our destiny.

Now, terms like “manifest destiny” come with a lot of historical baggage. It was ‘destiny’ that led European settlers to kill a whole lotta Native Americans. But Mars doesn’t have any native population at all (unless they’re really, really good at hiding). Nor does the rest of our solar system. Humanity can expand without prejudice or violence, or anything but a Star Trek-style desire to learn and explore. And when you put it like that, we come to maybe the simplest, best reason we have for colonizing Mars: why on Earth would we choose not to?


Man On Mars

– Press to Start

Recasting Indiana Jones – WIF Casting Couch

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 Actors Who Could Replace

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford is over 70 years old, a fact that isn’t going to change anytime soon. When Sean Connery played Ford’s father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Connery was younger than Ford is now. Let’s put it another way: when George Hall played “Old Indy” in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, he was only 5 years older than Ford is now.

We love Harrison Ford, but Indiana Jones to iconic a character to age like us mere mortals. While you can cast a movie with Ford portraying Old Indy, you’ll need someone else to play Young Indy during the actual adventures. Might we suggest …

10. Chris O’Donnell

chris-o-donnell

Yes, Chris O’Donnell played Robin in one of the most universally panned Batman movies ever. If that is all that you know about Chris O’Donnell though, please watch NCIS: Los Angeles, Scent of a Woman, or even The Three Musketeers. O’Donnell was also completely underrated in the adaptation of the John Grisham novel The Chamber. O’Donnell can do action sequences, has a really pleasant and likable sense of humor, and is also convincingly intelligent. The latter, for the record, is the main reason that Keanu Reeves was left off of this list.

9. Sam Rockwell

sam-rockwell

In 1999, Sam Rockwell played the hapless Guy in Galaxy Quest, as well as the horrifying Wild Bill in The Green Mile. People literally had to be told that it was the same guy, which both exemplifies how good of a character actor the man is, and also explains why you probably don’t know his name.

Getting so far into character that people forget the actor is a trait that Ford himself initially tried to emulate, by the way. Ford was once told by a producer that a producer could see Tony Curtis play a bag boy and still know that Tony Curtis was a movie star. Ford responded that he thought we were supposed to simply see a bag boy, and not an actor.

Rockwell has done Shakespeare, comedy, and action. Given half a chance, people would debate Rockwell versus Ford with the same veracity that they now debate Kirk versus Picard.

8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

joseph-gordon-levitt

Kevin Smith was once asked why he suggested Ben Affleck for Daredevil. Smith responded that Affleck was such a versatile actor that Affleck was his response for everything.

Well, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has fit into the Affleck “would be good for anything” persona quite well. Gordon-Levitt is quickly becoming one of the most critically acclaimed and trusted actors in the adventure set. Movies such as Looper and The Dark Knight Rises show that Gordon-Levitt could bring a certainly believably to a role like Indy. Gordon-Levitt also seems to possess the sort of improvisational vulnerability and intelligence required of the esteemed Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.

7. Noah Wyle

noah-wyle

It is no small thing that Steven Spielberg is the producer of the series Falling Skies. Wyle has portrayed intelligence through years of work on ER. The other side of the coin is the Librariantelevision movies, which happened to be an awful lot of popcorn fun. They were thoroughly in the vein of almost everything we love about Indiana Jones movies. This would indicate that an older Wyle may well be ready to step into the role of Indy.

6. Matt Damon

Matt-Damon

On the IFC show Bollywood Hero, Chris Kattan asked a producer, “What happened to all those action roles Harrison Ford used to have?” The producer responded “They all went to Matt Damon.” While it is depressing to even mention the continuing career of Chris Kattan, the point made is valid. Once Ford started getting a little old for his go-to roles, Matt Damon started to step in. Damon played “super intelligent” convincingly in Good Will Hunting, and the Bourne movies established Damon as a legitimate action star. All in all, Damon would be instantly believable as Indiana Jones.

5. Jason Sudeikis

Jason-Sudeikis

Write the following down, or at least remember where you read it: Jason Sudeikis is on the verge of becoming one of the biggest stars in this decade. Sudeikis really just lacks a signature role to put him there, and what could be more signature than the hat and whip?

Sudeikis’ roots in Saturday Night Live would oddly suit him well in the role of Indiana Jones. Lets face facts, Indy is more than a bit of a cad with the women. Jones is also a very smooth operator. Another great facet of the Jones mythos is that he often finds himself in ridiculous cliffhangers worthy of the best of Jackie Chan. Those comic / action situations often requires equally ridiculous solutions. For example, Jones once hung a guy on a ceiling fan. He also backed an opponent into a whirling propeller blade. Both sides of Jones could and would suit Sudeikis perfectly.

4. Josh Brolin

josh-brolin

Josh Brolin has definitely emerged as one of the better actors of his generation. Also, quite frankly, Josh just looks the part more than virtually anyone else. The thing that really ranks Brolin so high on this list though, is how he seems to play younger versions of people so well. Brolin nailed the role of Young K in Men In Black III. You can freely debate the merits of the rest of the movie, but Brolin made you believe. Brolin also did the same with a younger version of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. Brolin just has that uncanny ability to fit himself into other people’s skin. With Brolin’s build, talent, and good looks, his performance as Indiana Jones would rise far above simple mimicry, and straight to the level of true cinema.

3. Sean Patrick Flannery

sean-patrick-flannery

Honestly, why not go with someone with experience in the role? Sean Patrick Flannery played Indy in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Flannery went on to star in the cultfavorite The Boondock Saints, as well as its sequel. Flannery has a great familiarity with the character, and performed Indy admirably. Meanwhile, time has given Flannery a certain “edge” to his performances. Flannery has also grown increasingly bold with his character choices, which would only make his second go-round with the character better and more satisfying. Hey, if Chris Evans can grow from the Human Torch into Captain America, then Sean Patrick Flannery should certainly be allowed to grow from young Indiana Jones into older Indiana Jones.

2. Daniel Craig

daniel-craig

Daniel Craig is one of the few actors who can claim to be a spiritual successor to both Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. Of course, Craig took over the role of James Bond (with the personal endorsement of Connery himself.) Craig also got the praise of Harrison Ford when they worked together on Cowboys and Aliens. Craig also lent his voice to Steven Spielberg’sThe Adventures of Tintin, and also starred in Spielberg’s Munich movie. OK, Cowboys and Aliens may have sucked every egg in the chicken farm, but Craig looked awesome in what was essentially an Indy throwback outfit. The only possible roadblock toward Craig portraying Indy might be the number of commitments he already has over the next few years.

1. Joaquin Phoenix

joaquin-phoenix

River Phoenix’s death was a tragedy on multiple levels. The world has almost forgotten what an incredible actor was lost. In roughly ten minutes, at the beginning of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, River Phoenix established himself as the future of the Indy franchise. Sadly, that would never come to be. However, Joaquin has successfully managed to step out of his brother’s shadow with a masterful career on film.  From portraying historical characters such as Commodus and Johnny Cash, to appearing in critically acclaimed fare such as The Master,Phoenix has established himself as one of the most talented and quirky actors of his generation. Not only would Phoenix portraying Jones further his brother’s legacy, it would put a legitimate Oscar-worthy actor in the role of Indiana Jones.

Recasting Indiana Jones

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WIF Casting Couch

WORLD WIDE WORDS Issue 875 – WIF Style

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Issue 875

Issue 875

WORLD WIDE WORDS NEWSLETTER
Issue 875: Saturday 29 March 2014

Online version| Home page| Contact me| Subscriptions| Surprise me!

Contents

1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Cacoethes.

3. Wordface.

4. Box of birds.

5. Sic!

Supernaculum Richard Brookman suggested an origin for heel tap: “I remember heel taps from my childhood in Yorkshire, where they were the metal (or sometimes rubber) reinforcements that a cobbler would insert into the outside edge of the heel of the shoe, where most wear occurs. Metal ones made a tapping noise as you walked, hence the name. Its shape surely gives the connection with drink: it’s exactly the one a slug of drink takes up in the bottom of a tilted glass. I had never heard the term in reference to drinking before, but the visual image was so exact I laughed.”

Bill Winward recalled another association: “Almost fifty years ago when I first went to the working men’s club with my father, he explained the etiquette of drinking in a round. Basically the rule was that the first man to finish his drink bought the next round of drinks. It was bad form to drink too quickly and rush other people and stupid to do it again as it could get very expensive. However, it was shameful to be considered a heel-tapper, a person who drank all but a small amount and then waited for someone else to finish their drink and get the next round in. I had thought that the expression derived from the person impatiently tapping their heels on the floor waiting for others to finish their drinks but now I know better.”

2. Cacoethes/kækəʊˈiːθi:z/

An English word starting with a kak sound suggests something bad or unpleasant, by analogy with words such as cacography for bad handwriting and cacophony for a horrible discordant noise. These join a plethora of medical terms, mostly long obsolete, that include cacothymia, a disordered state of mind, and caconychia, decaying nails.) Cack, dung or faeces, is a distant relative.

Horrible Noise

Cacoethes is of the same sort. It’s an uncontrollable urge to do something, especially something harmful. The first part is from Greek kakos, bad. To it has been added thos, a disposition, making a word for a bad habit. It arrived in English unchanged via Latin.

It’s almost, but not quite, as rare as some of those medical terms, appearing sporadically in prose of the more elevated or pretentious sort. (I was astonished to find hundreds of usages in newspapers in the late 1980s. Was this a sudden outburst of classical erudition? Alas not, just a successful racehorse. If it had been named as an attempt at inverted magic, it seems to have worked.)

In a dictionary of quotations of 1808, D E Macdonnel commented that cacoethes was never written alone, but always in combination with some other word. That’s not true today, but one of his phrases is a Latin tag still known and quoted: cacoethes scribendi. It’s from the Satires of the Roman author Juvenal: “Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes”; in English, “many suffer from the incurable disease of writing”. Aspiring wordsmiths should note that an uncontrollable urge to write doesn’t necessarily lead to anything worth reading.

Macdonnel also listed the vastly less common cacoethes loquendi, a compulsive desire to speak, where the second word derives from Latin loquax, loquacious or talkative; and cacoethes carpendi, where carpendi is from Latin carpere, to pick, pluck or seize. He defined this as a rage for collecting, but more usually it has been an irresistible desire to criticize or find fault.

3. Wordface

Lines aligned We’ve had sequels, prequels, interquels and midquels, now we have parallelquels. These are subsequent works that take place in a similar period to an earlier one but from a different perspective. Films tagged with the term include The Bourne Legacy,

whose events take place around the same time as those in the earlier Bourne Ultimatum, and 300: Rise of an Empire, a parallelquel to Zack Snyder’s earlier film, 300, about the Battle of Thermopylae. But the first work to have the word used of it, in 2007, was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, in which he transforms the concept of fiction into Bookworld, a tangible fantasy alternative universe. The action takes place mainly within Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; in the Bookworld version Jane goes to India with St John Rivers and leaves Rochester in Thornfield Hall. Her kidnap by an evil real-world character who is hiding in the book throws Bookworld into chaos and leads to the work changing to the version we know.

I’m terribly sorry It’s been around for years and I didn’t know until this week. Michael Gove, the controversial British secretary of education, confessed in the Mail on Sunday last weekend that he had a soft spot for contemporary eccentric music and was addicted to chap-hop. This has been described as a mixture of hip-hop, steampunk and affectionate ridicule of traditional English obsessions such as cricket, tea and the weather. “Chap-hop artists,” the Guardian commented, “rap about anachronistic British stereotypes in received pronunciation, often while smoking pipes and playing the banjolele”. Chap-hop artists — frightfully nice chaps, one and all — include Poplock Holmes, Professor Elemental and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. The genre is linked to a magazine, The Chap, and to Chappism, whose followers advocate dressing well, wearing hats and moustaches, and drinking fine beverages. If you detect the influence of Wodehouse, the Goons and Monty Python, you’re on the right lines.

4. Box of birds

Box of Birds

Q From Mike Crowl, New Zealand: I was discussing the expression a box of birds with a friend and we wondered about its origins. I couldn’t see any reference to it when searching the site, so I wondered if you’ve ever mentioned it in your weekly posts. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s often used as a way of saying you’re doing well: “I’m feeling like a box of birds.”

A It’s a curious idiom, a common New Zealandism that’s also found in Australia, though much less often. You prompted a vague memory that I’d come across it somewhere before, but it took a few minutes to discover that it must have been in one of the Inspector Alleyn detective stories of the New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh:

“He can answer questions, can’t you, Bellairs?”
”I’m fine,” Breezy rejoined dreamily. “Box of birds.”
A Wreath for Rivera, by Ngaio Marsh, 1949.

This is an earlier example:

At a gathering of his friends recently one insisted on taking a [stimulant] pill to discover its effects. For the remainder of the evening he was “the life of the party,” “a ball of muscle,” “a box of birds,” and everything else synonymous with pep and vitality, according to the soldier.
Auckland Star, 25 Sep. 1941.

The story was about a soldier who had been invalided out after the battle of Crete. We may link this with an article in the Sunday Mail of Brisbane in July 1942, which recorded to feel like a box of birds as Second World War slang of the Australian Navy. These seem to suggest that it was slang of the armed forces that survived in New Zealand after the war but failed to be adopted to a significant extent in Australia. However, the first known use in print is this, only six months after the war began:

I have lately seen an actual “Box of Birds.” The phrase I have always heard applied to a feeling of well-being, pep, or happiness; but now I know that is wrong. The box — or rather boxes — of birds I saw were some dozen or more shallow wooden trays, with small-meshed wire-netting tops, packed with poor miserable bedraggled sparrows, some dead, some on their backs with legs in the air dying, and others huddled together for warmth. They had been trapped for subsequent release as live targets for a gun shoot. Now when answering my inquiry “How are you?” I get “A box of birds” I see red.
Evening Post (Wellington), 23 Apr. 1940.

“The phrase I have always heard” strongly suggests that it predates wartime by a significant period. It could have been services slang from the interwar period, or — more probably in my view — it was a pre-war New Zealand idiom that was borrowed by Australian servicemen through contact with New Zealanders during the war.

The origin is almost certainly a play on chirpy, meaning cheerful or lively, and it’s linked to chirpy as a bird, an expression of carefree happiness common in the nineteenth century. Box of birds is also often to be found much earlier, but solely in the literal sense of a box containing, for example, racing pigeons or chickens. We might guess the two were stuck together to make chirpy as a box of birds as a superlative that was later truncated into the idiom. But no trace exists in the record before the short form appeared.

It’s likely it wasn’t needed: chirpy is found long before chirpy as a bird. New Zealanders do very occasionally use chirpy as a box of birds but — like chirpy as a bird — it appears in the written record more recently than box of birds.

Whatever its origins and history, it has humorously evolved: box of fluffy ducks, box of fluffies, box of fluffy chooks and box of budgies are all ways to say that you’re happy or that everything is going well.

5. Sic!

• A review of Nymphomaniac Vol 1&2 which Alan Featherstone found in the print edition of The Week dated 1 March read: “The two-part film opens with the protagonist, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), being found beaten up in an alleyway by a kindly stranger”. Understandably, the online version has been reworded.

Therapy

Close-enough Therapy

• Howard Ritter was surprised to learn arthritis is infectious. An American TV commercial for an arthritis medication features the golfer Phil Mickelson, who says sympathetically, “If you have painful, swollen joints, I’ve been in your shoes”.

• Athletic escapee shock! Ben Zipper saw this headline on Australia’s ABC News online on 23 March: “Man falls to death from power pole while running from police”.

• Lynn Whinery tells us that the website Wealthy Health featured an item about allergies on 21 March. It commented: “People with this allergy report waking up in the middle of the night after eating meat covered in sweat and hives.” Next time buy from a different supermarket?

WORLD WIDE WORDS Issue 875 – WIF Style