The Cloak of Secrecy – WIF Government Confidential

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Leaked or Declassified

Government Secrets

We were going to put together a list of “things the government could be hiding from you,” as a kind of sober take on some of the more plausible conspiracy theories. But, having already done a list of things they actually hid from us, it would have been an underwhelming follow-up.

And for no good reason! There are plenty more disturbing and/or bizarre secrets our governments would have preferred to keep quiet.

10. Project Horizon

Back in the late 1950s, the US was lagging behind in the space race. In 1957, for example, the Soviets launched Sputnik—the first manmade satellite—into orbit, and Eisenhower’s America was crestfallen. Of course, it didn’t help that many now saw the US as basically defenseless against a Russian nuclear strike.

Their response? They made plans to fire a nuke at the moon.

It’s easy to see this as a kind of geopolitical temper tantrum, a toddler throwing his toys at the wall, but for the Air Force it was a “P.R. device.” Above all, it was a way “to impress the world with the prowess of the United States.” The flash of the detonation would be visible from Earth, said the experts, and, because of the negligible lunar atmosphere, the dust would fly off in all directions (as opposed to the usual mushroom cloud shape). It would also leave a gaping lunar crater, forever changing the face of the Moon.

Ultimately, the plan was shelved. But only when they came up with a “better” one. Documents declassified in 2014 revealed plans to build a base on the Moon. Outpost Horizon was to be a permanent, nuclear-powered, and completely self-sustaining installation, constructed by its inhabitants beneath the lunar surface. It would have air locks, living quarters, dining and rec rooms, a hospital, science labs and storage for explosives. It was, in other words, dangerously ahead of its time.

The 12 men expected to live up there by 1965 were to drink their own urine, grow plants in their poop, and look after chickens and fish. And, if anyone lost their mind, there was a solitary confinement room “for the complete isolation of psychiatric patients.”

The plan was finally abandoned when NASA took over the space program.

9. Acoustic Kitty

From missile-guiding pigeons to mine-detecting dolphins, animals have long been co-opted for war. As retrograde as it sounds now, behavioral conditioning to this end was at the forefront of  of military research back in the 1960s.

The I.Q. Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas was basically a front for such studies. On the one hand, it was a quirky visitor attraction—a place for the public to watch pigs playing the piano, chickens playing baseball, macaws riding bicycles, and reindeer operating a printing press (etc.). But on the other, it was a top secret facility for training animal spies—bug-planting ravens, mine-locating dogs, and the so-called Acoustic Kitty.

The idea for the latter was hatched while visually surveilling a target. Since cats could be seen freely wandering in and out of the target’s strategy sessions, the CIA thought of bugging one to listen in. But simply attaching a microphone wouldn’t do. Instead, researchers transformed a living cat into a $20 million radio transmitter. They ran a wire through the ear canal to instruments inside the rib cage and spiraled a super-thin antenna around the kitty’s tail. Using ultrasound cues, they could also direct the cat’s movements left, right, and straight on.

We don’t know if it was ever deployed. The fate of the project is murky. Some say the Acoustic Kitty was flattened by a taxi just seconds into its very first field test. Others say the implants were removed and the kitty lived a long and happy life. The CIA refuses to comment, although one declassified document does appear to suggest the impractical project was canceled.

Anyway, now that we can eavesdrop with lasers, it’s likely to be a thing of the past.

8. Mapimí Silent Zone

Usually when a country fires upon another, it’s considered an act of war. But America’s long-suffering neighbor to the south has been known to let it slide. On July 11, 1970, an ATHENA V-123-D rocket was fired at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range, but it overshot the target and landed near old Mexico’s Bolsón de Mapimí instead—an important ecosystem 200 miles south of the border.

The clean-up operation (with the help of the Mexicans) was huge, requiring a brand new road just to get vehicles to the blast zone. Hundreds of tons of cobalt-57-contaminated soil were removed, the radioactive isotope having been added to the bomb to maximize fallout and civilian casualties.

Fortunately, the site had few if any humans. But the bomb could have hit just about anywhere. In a memo sent to Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made it out to be an unforeseen blunder—attributable to the missile’s “abnormal re-entry into the atmosphere.” However, the ATHENA program had already been suspended in July 1968 following three consecutive flight failures. And funding had been slashed between 1966 and 1969, forcing the Air Force to cut corners with design. Although officials involved in the program expressed safety concerns, they presumptuously reasoned that “the public is willing to accept some risk if such tests appear necessary in the national interest.”Far from an unforeseen blunder, the military allowed for such incidents; it expected them.

Nowadays, the blast site is known as the Mapimí Silent Zone, or sometimes as the “Mexican Bermuda Triangle.” And it may be no coincidence that its renown as a UFO hotspot outweighs any memory of American hubris.

7. 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash

In our last list on this topic, we mentioned the 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash, a potentially apocalyptic “nuclear mishap” that you would’ve thought America had learned from. Unfortunately not. Almost seven years later to the day, on January 21, 1968, another nuclear-armed bomber hit the dust (or snow, as it happens), this time on overseas territory.

The aircraft has been circling Thule Air Base in northern Greenland as part of Operation Chrome Dome. (These missions kept bombers on continuous airborne alert between 1960 and 1968, each of them on standby to go and annihilate Moscow.) When a fire broke out in the navigator’s compartment, however, the plane lost electrical power and slammed into the ground just seven miles away from the base. Actually, it slammed through the ground, blasting through the ice into North Star Bay at a speed of 500 knots. Six of the crew of seven ejected and the aircraft was destroyed upon impact. Whatever was left was consumed by the fires of 200,000 pounds of jet fuel. The casings of its four 1.1-megaton H-bombs were also destroyed, scattering tiny fragments of highly radioactive tritium and plutonium across the crash site.

A major clean-up operation followed, involving scientists from Denmark and more than 70 federal agencies. And, while the major general in charge downplayed the extent of contamination, framing the incident as an “exciting” and “classic example of international cooperation,” many of those involved suffered ailments later on. Over the subsequent decades, hundreds of them contracted cancers and, of 500 Danes studied, only 20 were able to have children—several of which were born with deformities.

The US didn’t even have express permission to be flying nukes over Danish territory—much less deploying them on the ground (as documents declassified in the ’90s show they did).

But did the Air Force finally learn its lesson?

Kind of. Nuclear weapons were removed from all planes on airborne alert in the immediate aftermath of the incident. After all, it wasn’t just Goldsboro and Thule; there had been eight other nuclear-armed crashes. More recently, however, there has been talk of a return to Chrome Dome-style strategy.

6. 1953 Iranian coup d’état

Historically, the US and UK have controlled oil supplies in the Middle East. The Arabian-American Oil Company owned Saudi Arabia’s and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) owned Iran’s. But all that changed in 1950.

When the US finally gave in to pressure to start sharing revenue with the locals, Iran expected Britain to follow suit. And when it didn’t, the Iranian PM Mohammad Mossadegh simply nationalized his country’s oil industry—depriving the UK of any share and securing (or so he thought) crucial funding for his program of liberal reforms.

In response, Britain conspired with the US to overthrow Mossadegh—the closest Iran has ever come to a truly democratic and socialist leader, and one who intended to abolish the monarchy. Although he saw the first attack coming and arrested those involved, the coup against him was ultimately successful. The status quo was restored and BP got a share of the oil. But such blatant interference by the US and UK earned them the nickname “the Great Satan.” And their 1953 coup d’état paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution—the devastating transformation of a once progressive nation into the fundamentalist nightmare we see today.

5. British Governmental Pedophiles

In November 2014, London’s Metropolitan Police finally agreed to investigate historical claims of child sex abuse at the highest levels of government (and, more famously, in the media). These claims are mostly concentrated on the 1970s and ’80s—at a time when senior police officers and politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, are alleged to have blocked all inquiries. But the evidence has piled up in the shadows.

According to a prominent Member of Parliament (MP) in 2012, there is “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10.”Indeed, one senior lawyer claims to have seen records of government funding for the Paedophile Information Exchange—a pro-pedophile activist group—during the 1970s.

Allegations from the victims are even more harrowing. Survivors claim to have been trafficked via care homes into violent orgies with high-ranking defense and intelligence officials, MPs, and others within the British establishment. Even former Prime Minister Ted Heath has been implicated. Allegedly a number of children were killed. One twelve-year-old boy was raped and strangled by a Conservative MP, says a witness, and another boy, a ten-year-old, was deliberately run over by a car. This was apparently a display of his rapist’s legal immunity.

Of course, much of this has yet to be proven. But declassified documents do suggest that investigations were blocked. And, while the Metropolitan Police have attempted to dismiss the claims, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted in 2015 there was enough evidence to prosecute at least one of the accused: Lord Greville Janner. But they refused to do so. Citing his “severe dementia” and advanced age of 86, they argued that it wouldn’t be “in the public interest.” This is ironic given that Janner himself had, back in 1997, criticized the British justice system for letting a similarly demented 86-year-old Nazi war criminal off the hook, fuming “I don’t care what bloody age they are.”

Janner died in 2015 and the public hearing for allegations against him has been scheduled for 2020Other investigations into British establishment pedophiles are ongoing.

4. JTRIG/HSOC

In August 2013, Brazilian journalist David Miranda was detained in the UK “under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.” But he wasn’t suspected of terrorism. What security officials really wanted to know was how much he knew about British surveillance programs, as well as those of the NSA. Furthermore, by imposing the full nine hours’ detention afforded them under the Terrorism Act, they hoped to send a warning to his husband, the British journalist Glenn Greenwald.

It didn’t work. Hours later, Greenwald released a statement of outraged defiance via the Guardian’s website, knowing that GCHQ (Britain’s state surveillance agency) would probably see it within minutes. The following year, he won the Public Service Pulitzer for bringing Edward Snowden’s NSA/Five Eyes (FVEY) revelations to light.

Thanks to Greenwald, Miranda, and of course Snowden among others, most of us are by now at least dimly aware that our governments are spying on us all. But their fear of the internet, and hence their need to control it, goes deeper than mass surveillance.

The Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is a unit within GCHQ whose aim it is to sow discord and disinfo online. It seeks to influence or “game” online interactions (e.g. forums, comments sections) by applying theories of compliance and trust. In other words, it employs an army of trolls. Its partner-in-crime is the Human Science Operations Cell (HSOC), whose agents apparently refer to themselves as “magicians of persuasion.”

Unnervingly, JTRIG also targets individuals. But these targets needn’t be criminals or “terrorists.” Investigative journalists, political activists, and other inconvenient civilian subtypes—who, by virtue of their legal innocence, are rightly out of reach for law enforcement—can find their reputations and livelihoods suddenly destroyed by vicious rumors spread online or sent to their smartphone contacts.

As far as we know this happens all the time. And not just in Britain. These tactics are shared between each of the Five Eyes surveillance states: the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

3. Project MKUltra

During the 1950s and ’60s, LSD was revolutionizing psychotherapy (just as it probably will again). Hollywood stars like Cary Grant and Esther Williams attributed life-changing revelations, the overcoming of addictions, and the processing of childhood trauma to LSD-assisted therapy. Breakthroughs expected to take years were happening within a few hours. As Grant put it in an interview with Look magazine in 1959: “At last, I am close to happiness.”

But the CIA was more interested in weaponizing the psychedelic. Documents declassified in 1975 revealed a 20-year-long (1953-1973) human experimentation project, exploring, among other things, whether LSD could be used for mind control. Specifically, they wanted to be able to program people to carry out missions—or, as the CIA put it, “do our bidding”—against their will and without any regard for survival. Only rarely did participants consent, and even then they weren’t fully informed.

Electroshock, sensory deprivation, and neurosurgery were also explored, and those subjected to the tests included prisoners, medical professionals, cancer patients, prostituteschildren, and animals. In the 1960s, for instance, the CIA “successfully” made remote-controlled dogs.

Of course, it’s hardly possible to go into much detail here—not least because CIA Director Richard Helms burned most of the records back in 1973. And the fact that “only” 20,000 documents remain, as a fraction of the original archive, gives a sense of its overall scale. But what’s interesting is that MKUltra began the very same year that America adopted the Nuremberg Code. This international standard for research ethics emphasized the necessity for informed consent and was expressly worded to prevent any repeat of Nazi-style human experimentation.

2. Operation Cauldron

During the Cold War, the British were taught to fear the Soviets. But their own government was more of a threat. Between 1953 and 1964, the UK’s chemical/biological warfare research unit, Porton Down, released 4,600 kilos of zinc cadmium sulphide—a potential carcinogen—from aircraft, ships, and trucks onto civilian populations in Wiltshire, Bedfordshire, and Norfolk. Then in 1964 they released Bacillus globigii—linked to food poisoning, eye infections, and sepsis—into the London Underground. They wanted to see how rapidly it spread through the Tube network.

Some might say the scientists weren’t aware of the risks, that in those days the research was lacking. But a number of them had “grave misgivings” about conducting the field trials. And none of them could have been in any doubt whatsoever as to the toxicity of Pasteurella [Yersiniapestis (the Black Death or bubonic plague), which they released off the coast of Scotland in 1952. This test staked the lives of thousands of Hebridean islanders on the plague being blown out to sea, and on the wind not simply changing direction. That was irresponsible enough. But when a fishing vessel unexpectedly appeared and passed through the cloud of live bacteria, the government’s response was even more disturbing. Instead of alerting and quarantining the trawler, they allowed it to dock on the mainland. In other words, Churchill’s post-war government was more prepared to risk an outbreak of plague than to come clean about having released it.

As it turned out, the fishermen hadn’t caught the Black Death. But they had been affected by a number of other agents leaking from the tanker that spread it. This led to hair loss for at least one of them.

The government didn’t learn from the test. After burning all but one of the documents pertaining to it, they simply relocated their research overseas. Churchill personally approved a plan to test bio-weapons in the colonies instead. Bahamians were subjected to encephalomyelitis (a cause of fever, fatigue, and even death) and Nigerians were subjected to nerve gas. More than 14,000 British troops were also experimented on between 1945 and 1989.

The British military is now thought to have carried out more than 30,000 secret tests—and largely done away with the evidence.

1. Operation Gladio

After WWII, with the threat of Soviet expansion looming, the US/UK-led NATO set up a network of secret armies throughout Europe. Modeled on the guerrilla resistance movements of the war years, these groups were totally unaccountable to citizens and often unknown to governments. In fact, it wasn’t until 1990 that European Parliament formally exposed and objected to their existence.

Their job was to undermine the Communists at all costs—and to keep doing so even if the Communists won. However, the Communists weren’t all that disliked. The Italian Communist Party, for instance, was a valued part of the mainstream—despite US efforts to destroy it. If Operation Gladio was to uphold Capitalism in Europe, therefore, it had to make people hate Communism. And it had to recruit the only people who hated it enough in the first place: Nazis.

NATO’s illegal foot soldiers carried out terrorist attacks across the continent and blamed them on the USSR. Civilians, including children, were brutally murdered at random, including at the 1980 Oktoberfest in Munich. It had to be at random and it had to involve children so that nobody nowhere felt safe. Eventually, NATO assumed, everyone would be so afraid of the Commies they would eagerly support previously unthinkable infringements of their hard-won civil liberties (such as mass surveillance).

It was unusual for the perpetrators to survive these attacks, or if they did they’d be unavailable for questioning. However, in 1984, the neo-Fascist Gladio operative Vincenzo Vinciguerra was brought to trial for a car bomb 12 years earlier. He freely admitted his guilt but said he was under the protection of NATO, and furthermore that he was one of many operatives. Among the few people to actually believe him was the Italian judge Felice Casson, whose subsequent digging around revealed NATO’s “strategy of tension.” This involved the execution of false-flag terror attacks to blame on fabricated enemies, paralyzing the masses with fear to manufacture consent for just about anything: mass surveillance, foreign wars, whatever.

This “strategy of tension” was also behind Operation Northwoods (mentioned in the previous list). And there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s been taken off the table today. The “enemies” have simply changed.


The Cloak of Secrecy –

WIF Government Confidential

World Wide Words Issue 924 – WIF Style

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WIF World Wide Wors

World Wide Words

Issue 924

from the U.K.’s Michael Quinion

 

Lots of letters

Lots of letters

Feedback, notes and comments

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Fewmet. Many readers pointed out that I might more appropriately have quoted from T H White’s The Once and Future King of 1939; this would seem to be the source from which everybody has copied:

“I know what fewmets are,” said the boy with interest. “They are the droppings of the beast pursued. The harbourer keeps them in his horn, to show to his master, and can tell by them whether it is a warrantable beast or otherwise, and what state it is in.”

“Intelligent child,” remarked the King. “Very. Now I carry fewmets about with me practically all the time.”

“Insanitary habit,” he added, beginning to look dejected, “and quite pointless. Only one Questing Beast, you know, so there can’t be any question whether she is warrantable or not.”

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Lie doggo. David Means emailed from Kansas City: “Although I am familiar with lying doggo as a term for hiding temporarily, the term I’ve heard used most often in this region is lie in the weeds, which conveys the same sense. The implication is that weeds are unkempt and tend to grow tall, so it’s easy for someone to lie down in the midst and remain relatively hidden. It’s used most often about someone who has made some gaffe, or has done something that is socially outside the pale, and needs to retire from public life for a time until it blows over.”

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Dingbat. “Allow me to add further detail to your interesting discussion,” emailed P W Bridgman. “I would venture that many Canadians of my vintage (born 1952) will remember the Charles E Frosst calendars that hung in many doctors’ offices in the 1950s and 1960s. The Frosst company was a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals and, undoubtedly, provided its calendars to physicians as part of its marketing program. The calendars are memorable for their whimsical, cartoon-like images of many stylised creatures, called dingbats, all busy at work rendering some kind of medical care or other. The images were clever, highly detailed and perfectly fascinating to children otherwise burdened with feelings of trepidation about being subjected to medical assessment. The calendars provided, I suppose, a welcome and comforting distraction from whatever indignities might be in store when, eventually, the shirt came off or (heaven forbid) the pants had to come down.”

Over to you. I haven’t been able to help Rachel Clark with a query and wonder if anybody can help. She wrote: “I recently came across a wonderful word in my grandmother’s letters and things from the 1930s or so. It is umphidilious (though I’m not positive on the spelling) and apparently means wonderful or awesome or amazing. She lived in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and her heritage is mainly Dutch I believe. My dad remembers her and others using this word (and its short form umfy) quite frequently. I did a web search for this word but could find nothing.”

Lame duck

Q – From James Macdonald: During Barack Obama’s recent visit to London, some British newspapers referred to him as a lame duck president. That expression is familiar to me, of course, but I did wonder why somebody who was ineffectual or unsuccessful should be described in that strange way. Lame I can understand, but why duck?

A – Lame ducks, of course, can be incompetent or ineffectual firms or governments as well as individuals — British political life has seen many examples of both described as lame ducks down the decades. However, the specific reference here is to American politics, an association that began back in the 1860s.

Despite that, for its origin we have to look to Britain and to the stock market of the middle of the eighteenth century. The disabled bird belongs with the other members of the market’s menagerie, the bulls, bears and stags (more on the first two here). London stockbrokers and jobbers operated from coffee houses such as Jonathan’s and Garraway’s in a little street called Exchange Alley, close to the main commodity trading centre, the Royal Exchange.

The street name was often abbreviated to Change Alley or just the Alley. It still exists, now officially called Change Alley, as a network of five back streets of no particular distinction in the City of London. The coffee houses are long gone; the jobbers and brokers left even earlier, decamping to a specially constructed building in Sweeting’s Alley in 1773, which later became the Stock Exchange.

About 1760, some wit created the term for stock market traders who failed to pay up when bills became due, effectively bankrupting themselves and leading to their being barred from trading. Among the first people to use the term was the antiquarian and MP Horace Walpole, the son of Sir Robert Walpole, the man usually regarded as the first British prime minister. He was puzzled by the language of the trade:

Apropos, do you know what a Bull, and a Bear, and a Lame Duck are? Nay, nor I either: I am only certain that they are neither animals or fowl.

A letter to Sir Horace Mann by Horace Walpole, 28 Dec. 1761.

Walpole clearly kept a close ear on evolving language because the currently earliest known example appeared in the Newcastle Courant on 5 September that year, in a brief report of moneys being paid by subscription into the Bank of England, with a note that there were “No lame ducks this time”. Within a couple of months the term began to appear in London newspapers and quickly became common. This is the earliest metropolitan example that I’ve so far unearthed:

Thursday a Lame Duck disappeared from J———’s, to the no small Mortification of his Brother Bulls and Bears, whom he has touched very considerably. … Yesterday four more Lame Ducks took their Flight.

London Evening Post, 21 Jan. 1762.

London Evening Post

It’s easy enough to see how the lame part came about, a figurative reference to a person injured through inability to maintain his financial position. But no reference of the time that I can find makes clear why they were visualised as ducks. It might, at a stretch, be a rhyme with luck, I suppose.

Almost every one of the many later references to these failed traders refers to them as waddling away, an early example being in the Leeds Intelligencer on 29 June 1762 (emphases in the original): “Yesterday a lame duck or two made shift to waddle out of ’Change Alley”. Perhaps they were low-slung portly gentlemen, the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s fat cats, and the way they walked suggested a duck with a bad foot? More probably, having established that failures were to be called lame ducks, the derisive image of them struggling away limping was too good not to use.

Incidentally, I can find no examples of lame duck being used literally before it took on this sense. This casts doubt on the commonly stated view that failed financiers were called lame ducks because they resembled an injured bird that was unable to keep up with the flock and so was more vulnerable to being attacked by a predator. And the failures of lame ducks in any case were usually due to their over-stretching themselves in speculative ventures, not being brought down by others.

The term was taken to North America and came to mean there a financially unstable or insolvent undertaking. Its association with Washington politics is said to have begun in 1863. It refers to an elected politician who is coming to the end of his or her period in office and so has little or no time left to do anything effective. More strictly, it means one at the very end of that period, after a successor has been elected but before his or her term actually ends. At one time, this period was several months, which tempted representatives to use their final time in office to act in a way that benefitted only themselves. Scandals led to the 20th amendment to the constitution in 1933, sometimes called the Lame Duck Amendment, which shortened the period between elections and new members taking office.

Logomaniac

You, dear reader, would almost certainly happily admit to being a logophile, a lover of words — why else are you here? But what if somebody called you a logomaniac? I suspect you might reject the assertion of uncontrolled passion that maniac implies.

Logomaniac was coined in the nineteenth century:

We have outgrown the customs of those logo-maniacs, or word-worshippers, whom old Ralph Cudworth in his True Intellectual System of the Universe, p. 67, seems to have had in view.

Shakespeare and the Emblem Writers, by Henry Green, 1870.

It had a brief spurt of usage in Australia at the end of the century, such as here:

What a farce must the criminal law in New South Wales be when any rantipole logomaniac can, by appealing to the passions of the “great unwashed,” suspend its machinery and render its punitive provisions and its administrators alike contemptible.

Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 30. Sep. 1895. More on rantipole.

Otherwise, it has only had significant exposure in the past 50 years. Perhaps because its circulation has been so limited, it comes to people fresh and unworn, like a new penny. Without much in the way of usage examples, it’s not always easy for the tyro user, or even the dictionaries, to be sure exactly what people mean by it.

Some reference works define it — certainly incorrectly — as “a person who loves words”, a simple synonym of logophile. Others generate deeper mental associations by asserting that it refers to an obsessive user of words:

[Bertrand] Russell was one of those people who wrote almost continuously; he lived his life on paper. … The only comparable logomaniac over such a lifespan is Shaw.

The Independent, 20 Apr. 1996.

The Century Dictionary of 1899 went further still, suggesting that the obsession was unhealthy by defining logomaniac as “One who is insanely devoted to words.” A recent work implies that it may be a mental malaise, “pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking”, perhaps applicable to people who talk to themselves in public all the time without benefit of mobile phone. Other authors imply it may be the lesser condition of mere talkativeness:

I tried more conversational gambits than a lonely logomaniac at a singles’ bar.

Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz, 2006.

“This is just me, talking.”
“You are crazy.”
“Actually, I believe the technical term is logomaniac. It’s from the Greek: logos meaning word, mania meaning two bits short of a byte. I just love to chat is all.”

Think Like a Dinosaur, by James Patrick Kelly, 1995.

Lego Logo

Confusingly, a more recent affliction given the same name is an obsession with brands and brand images; a logomaniac of this character might be fixated on the fashionable display of trademarked designs on articles of clothing.

While searching online for examples of the word’s usage, I came across an article — it must be hoped that it had been automatically generated as the result of my search — entitled What Is The Meaning Of Baby Name Logomaniac? We trust no loving but word-ignorant parent will foist this abomination onto their offspring.

But and ben

Q – From Jim Black: In Scotland, one may find a style of house known as a but and ben. That’s a curious term and I’m thinking it has an interesting history. Can you help?

A – I can. It’s a phrase steeped in Scottish history and culture, traditionally crofting but also rural life generally. It can evoke a poverty-stricken hardscrabble life that has at times been romanticised, as in this song by Sir Harry Lauder:

Just a wee deoch an’ doris, afore ye gang awa’;
There’s a wee wifie waitin’ in a wee but an’ ben.

Deoch an doris, a custom of a parting drink, is from Scottish Gaelic deoch an doruis, a drink at the door.

The survival of the term in Scotland has been placed squarely on the cartoon strip The Broons, which has appeared in The Sunday Post for the past 80 years. They live in the fictional Auchenshoogle, probably a district of Glasgow, but have a but an’ ben in the hills as a holiday home.

A but and ben is a two-roomed house of one story. There was usually only one door to the outside; this gave access to the kitchen, the public room in which everyday life took place and in which members of the family often slept. This led into a private inner room, where guests could be entertained and which — like many a front room or best room in poor but decent homes everywhere — was often furnished to a higher standard but less often used. If the family was large, however, the inner room could double up as a bedroom.

The outer room was the but and the inner one the ben. Putting them together the but and ben was the whole house.

The cottage had originally consisted of the usual “but-and-ben”, that is to say, in well regulated houses (which this one was not) of a kitchen — and a room that was not the kitchen. The family beds occupied one corner of the kitchen, that of Bridget and her husband in the middle (including accommodation for the latest baby), while on either side and at the foot, shakedowns were laid out “for the childer,” slightly raised from the earthen floor on rude trestles, with a board laid across to receive the bedding.

The Dew of Their Youth, by S R Crockett, 1910.

Some people have guessed that ben is Gaelic or from some Norse word. But there’s no evidence for either and the experts are now sure it’s a dialect variant of the Middle English binne, within. (If you know Dutch or German, you will be familiar with its relative binnen with the same meaning.) But is a special instance of our everyday conjunction, which stems from the Old English be-utan and which variously meant without, except or outside.

So the but was the “outside” room and the ben the room “within”.

This led to various phrases. Both words were used in the extended phrases but the hoose and ben the hoose for the two rooms. To be far ben with one meant to be a close friend, who was regularly admitted to the ben. To go but and ben was to move from the inner to the outer room and back again, hence repeatedly going backwards and forwards, to and fro. Since the but and the ben constituted the whole house, but and ben could also mean everywhere.

Blithe, blithe and merry was she,
Blithe was she but and ben:
Blithe by the banks of Ern,
And blithe in Glenturit glen.

Blithe Was She, by Robert Burns, in The Works of Robert Burns, 1800.

Families occupying two-roomed apartments in tenements, which led off a common passage as close neighbours, were said to be living but and ben.

letter-to-editor

Type louse

Q – From Martin Schell: I enjoyed your recent piece on dingbat and noticed that one quotation mentioned type-lice. What does this term refer to?

A – The species has not been well studied scientifically but has been identified on occasion as Pediculous typus or Pyroglyphidae typographicus; at one time it was called the typographical beetle. British printing shops seem thankfully free of the pest but a search among writings by American printers and newspapermen produced many descriptions of the damage that these little beasts could do. The Cedar Rapids Tribune of January 1947, for example, described them as “the traditional fly in the printer’s ointment”.

They were reported to feed on type, the resulting gnaw marks requiring the affected type to be thrown away. They liked to secrete themselves among type, sometimes, it was said, in the fl and fi ligature compartments of type cases where they would be least disturbed, They were often held responsible for errors in setting type and even of rearranging the type to make nonsense words.

This is how one Canadian publication explained them:

Hot-metal Typsetting

In the old days, when this newspaper was printed by means of what is called the hot-lead system, many so-called simple errors were caused by type lice. Type lice laid their eggs in the bottoms of galley trays. There they hatched. There they spent their lives. And there they created their havoc. If printers carelessly left the lead type in these galley trays for extended periods of time, the type lice would actually consume amazingly large quantities of lead, often making a’s look like o’s, turning 2’s into 3’s and worse.

 

The Brandon Sun (Manitoba), 6 Mar. 1975.

The same article reported that in recent years type lice had built up such a strong natural immunity to insecticides that serious infestations of the creatures had made hot-lead composition all but impossible. The downside of consequent advances in technology, such as computer typesetting, has been a serious loss of habitat, leading to a severe decline in the numbers of type lice; if not actually extinct they are now restricted to small print shops still using hot or cold metal type.

The first reported appearance of the type louse was in The Hancock Jeffersonian of Findlay, Ohio, in May 1869 (“the poor printer is often compelled to explain and show everything about the office, even down to the type lice”), though it’s hard to be sure this is the same species as others mentioned from time to time; as this description explained, type lice were difficult to conclusively identify:

The type louse is like the common Pediculus capilus, in that it is a wingless, hemipterous insect, but it is unlike in the fact that it is continually undergoing metamorphosis and no two persons ever saw the insect the same, nor no one person ever saw it twice in the same place or same condition.

The Evening Times (Monroe, Wisconsin), 5 Jun, 1895.

Young apprentices, traditionally called printer’s devils, were often told about the lice by seasoned journeymen on first arriving in the shop, who would promise to show the boys an example. When one was spotted, the nuisance potential of the type louse was such that attempts to point it out invariably led to unfortunate consequences:

The foreman of the office where I began promised to show me a type-louse — and he kept his promise. One day while he was making up a form on the imposing-stone — that is, placing the set type between the column rules and sopping it down with a wet sponge, as printers do in country offices, he exclaimed, “Come quick, Newt — here’s a type-louse!” I rushed to his side. “Right there it is,” he whispered: “bend close to that type and look sharp!” I followed instructions and while I was rubbering diligently he socked together, under my nose, two sections of water-soaked type with great violence, whereupon the water squirted up into my expectant face and eyes.

The Boston Post, 6 Apr. 1922.

As the Morgantown Dominion News wrote in March 1969, the type louse “played an important role in the training of the novice printer”, equivalent to the left-handed monkey wrench, ready-made posthole, tartan paint, spare bubbles for spirit levels and buckets of steam known in other trades.

Corium

Q – From Chester Graham: I came across the word corium in a strange online article about nuclear reactor disasters. I looked it up in my favourite dictionaries, where it means one of the layers of skin. Has the writer made a serious mistake?

A – We must forgive your favourite dictionaries for not including corium. Though it’s a real word with a distinct meaning, it’s part of the specialist jargon of nuclear safety experts and almost totally unknown to the wider world.

It seems to have been invented by the team investigating the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. They used it to describe the mass of lava-like molten fuel, fission products, control rods, structural materials and concrete that flowed into the base of the reactor after it had overheated.

I’ve not been able to track down the origin in more detail but it was almost certainly created as a compound of core with the suffix -ium that usually marks a chemical element. I’d guess it was a black joke, created to relieve the awfulness of the situation confronting the investigators, who needed a term to describe the material generated by the disaster, which hadn’t been seen before. However, it had been a worry for years that a disaster of the sort might happen, and a decade earlier China syndrome had appeared for a nuclear accident so bad that the core fancifully melted its way right through the earth.

The nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima have also produced corium and the term has been used in the technical reports of both.

Incidentally, your dictionaries’ sense of corium, though not so rare as the nuclear one, is also unfamiliar to most people. These days, it’s more usually called the dermis, the “true skin” which lies beneath the surface layer that, logically enough, is the epidermis (Greek epi, upon or near). Corium is Latin for skin, hide or leather. It appears, somewhat disguised, in excoriate, literally to remove the skin but usually figuratively to criticise somebody so harshly that it feels like being skinned. Even more obscurely, it’s the source of cuirass, a piece of armour originally made from leather, and yet more so of malicorium, an old word for the rind of the pomegranate, which strictly speaking ought to mean an apple skin, as it’s from Latin malus, apple, though in antiquity any globular fruit could be called an apple.

Sic

SIC

James Pearce concluded from a link he saw on the Channel 7 website on 17 April that Australia must have a better class of miscreant: “Cars attacked by vandals wielding gold clubs.”

Christine Shuttleworth was struck by this image in Mary Portas’s 2015 memoir Shop Girl: “Sprawling across two connected buildings and two floors, Jim founded Godfrey’s nearly 20 years ago.”

A similar grammatical error appeared in a caption to a photograph of the Nazca lines, which Erik Kowal found on the Lifehack Lane site: “Only visible by air, generations of scientists and historians continue to be baffled by just how such etchings were made.”

This headline on an American News article on 15 April was spotted by Paul White: “Defense Secretary Goes Rouge, Leaks Precious Information About Obama.” Red faces all round.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 1996-2016. All rights reserved.

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Issue 924