Europe: Day 1

By Phil Plait | April 20, 2008 1:26 pm

Hmmm. Something went wrong with my blog. It says this got posted on the 18th, but it doesn’t actually appear anywhere on my page! So this will be seen after the Day 2 post, but it’s actually from before. Sorry about this bloggy time travel.

I’m in England! How cool is that?

Pretty frakkin’ cool.

I arrived a bit late, held up over Heathrow airport (shocker). But here’s how I knew I was in England:

Turns out I was neither authorised nor authorized, but I knew that it was missing the "z", and, worse, if I mentioned it to someone, they would say it wasn’t missing a "zed".

Anyway, after an hour in line to show my passport and a short ride through London (on the "tube"), I met up with the lovely Gia, who escorted me home. After knockin’ about for a time, we went over to the headquarters for Nature magazine so I could record a soapbox speech for their podcast (I’ll have more on that when it goes live), and Gia could do some voiceovers for them.

On our way over, who did we see but Gia’s husband Professor Doctor Brian Cox! Here they are texting each other, because modern Londoners never talk anymore:

After all that we went to the BA/James Randi/Nature magazine meetup at a pub called the Rugby Tavern, and it was great! Lots of good folks showed up, including some old skeptic friends (hi Sid, Mark, Med Tech, Tom Siefert) as well as a new friend, Iszi, who is a skeptic… and you’ll be seeing more of her later. Heh heh.

Anyway, after much jocularity it was time to head home. We took a taxi, and I saw Big Ben, the Millennium Wheel, Parliament, St. Paul’s cathedral, and some other British stuff. Tomorrow we head off to Geneva and CERN. That’s going to be amazing. I have no clue when I’ll be back on the ‘net, but I’ll keep trying to post as often as I can. Bear in mind, too, that I am currently seven hours ahead of Boulder time, and when we go to Geneva it’ll be eight hours, so posts may go up at funny times. Stupid round planet.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff

Comments (33)

  1. Richard Eis

    The Americans nicked all our Z’s. Damn them…We had to replace all our poor broken words with S’s. Luckily the Sebras escaped unharmed.

  2. Actually `authorized’ is good UK English. Etymologically speaking both the -ised or -ized endings are correct. The OED recommends use of -ized because it has the benefit of actually looking how it’s supposed to sound. Even the Americans can be right sometimes.

  3. “Heath Row airport”

    That’s “Heathrow”. One word.

  4. Thomas Siefert

    I’ve lived down the road from the parliament for more than two years now and I’ve never seen Big Ben, but I’ve heard it a lot. ;-)

    Nice finally meeting you in person BA.
    I did not realize that it was Iszi there or I would had her sign something too instead of babbling on about Adam Ant. :-)

  5. Fritriac

    So you had a camera license to make those pics? Huh … ;-)

    http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=3549441

  6. Jeffersonian

    “and I saw Big Ben”
    Saw Clock Tower, more likely. Saw the bell, unlikely. Heard it, probably. ;

    http://www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk/bigben.htm

  7. Gia

    “I’ve lived down the road from the parliament for more than two years now and I’ve never seen Big Ben, but I’ve heard it a lot.”
    “Saw Clock Tower, more likely. Saw the bell, unlikely. Heard it, probably.”

    blahblahblah

    Bloody pedants. ;)

  8. Yeah yeah, I know the bell is actually what is called Big Ben and not the clock tower, but it’s in common enough use that I refer to the tower as Big Ben as well.

    Phil, if you’re a Salvadore Dali fan there is at least one melting clock statue on south bank just down the river from the London Eye. I was there last weekend and got a picture of it with the Big Ben clock tower visible in the background across the river. Sadly, I didn’t have more time to explore London. Really only a day.

    When we landed at Heathrow, we were amazed at just how casual things were going through customs. We went through the door marked “nothing to declare” because well we had nothing to declare and we didn’t have to actually talk to anyone. It was a bit surreal.

  9. Kimpatsu

    Did you see the Ood erturn whilst you were in London, Phil?

  10. When you consider that America started off populated largely by English settlers, it’s amazing how much our two languages have diverged over just the last 300 years or so. It’s almost like, well, our languages have evolved in different directions, though I’m sure some will argue that these differences are the product of intelligent design.
    But the real question is, when did the Brits start talking funny?

  11. Russ

    Take note of the debate going on over at lgf.

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/29682_Steins_Expelled_Exposed

    Many on the right including Charles Johnson and Zombie would like to see the ID’ers rightly expelled.

  12. JB of Brisbane

    I remember reading somewhere that the American spelling for words such as color, humor, neighbor, harbor, etc. is actually the old English spelling of such words. Sometime after the voyage of the Mayflower, and maybe even after the revolution, the “mother country” went through a period of Francophilia, during which the modern English spelling of colour, humour, neighbour, harbour, etc. appeared. I suspect this is also when an ax became an axe. Despite this convention spreading throughout the Empire, it never made it across “the pond” to the Americas, much like the Metric/SI system of measurements today.

    Americans may say “zeebra”, but the English do not say “zedbra”.

  13. Thomas Siefert

    I call it Big Ben too, then all people know what you are talking about and you involve the pedants in the conversation as well. :-)

    ZedZed Top is still a great band.

  14. Dave Hall

    A lot of the evolutionary differences between British and American English can be attributed to–ahem–Intellegent Design. Well, maybe not intellegent per se, but intentional.

    American English did evolve due to many local influences. Immigrants to the colonies included those of French, Spanish, Dutch, Scots, and German origins. Many words from those languages, as well as a healthy helping of Native American words, and a dash of West African influence caused the English to change considerably between the first settlements just after 1607 and the American Revolution 168 years later.

    The design part came in later. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both toyed with the idea of simplified spelling. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, was well known by the end of the American Revolution. With independance came the desire for more than just political change.

    The new nation adopted a new monetary system as well as different weight and measurement standards (When was the last time you cut an ell of cloth or the doctor weighed you in stone or pennyweight?) By the time Noah Webster published his American Dictionary in 1828, there had been several movements to make American English officially distinct from the old colonial tongue. These included plans to simplify spelling and, whenever possible, adopt Norman French-influenced words instead of Anglo Saxon based ones. (Another way to stick it to the English and give a nod to our new best friends, the French.)

    The rest, as they say, is history.

  15. Chip

    BA wrote: “Bear in mind, too, that I am currently seven hours ahead of Boulder time, and when we go to Geneva it’ll be eight hours, so posts may go up at funny times.”

    Maybe if you get the folks at CERN to transmit your blog updates inside the Large Hadron Collider, your posts will be arrive here — before you left Boulder! ;)

    Actually, in my country of “Chipozodia”, posting a message “in funny times” means you have to send it whilst Turner Classic Movies is airing a Marx Brothers movie. But I realize that’s not what you meant. Looking forward to your next update! :D

  16. Nice to see you again Phil.

    Just so you know, as excited as you were to see Canary Wharf the other day, I have a clear view of it from my flat. I watched the whole Dalek / Cyberman invasion as it happened. It was very exciting.

  17. Andy Mak

    The reason it wasn’t missing a ‘zed’ was because in England (like Australia) We speak ENGLISH! Not American, which isn’t even close to real English…

  18. Doug Ellison

    I find people getting all riled about ‘real’ English or how Americans have ruined English hilarious. English is a mongrel language. We’ve stolen, bastardised, concatenated, bifurcated, derived, deviated, smashed, clashed, bashed, mashed, merged, splurged and generally ruined languages from most of Europe to end up with ‘Proper’ English. Criticism of others for continuing that pattern is unjustified and hypocritical.

    Eddie Izzard did a great documentary about it called ‘ Mongrel Nation’. Excellent viewing!

  19. csrster

    Andy … if you ever visit Boston, remember that a good way to make friends with the locals is to refer to the Freedom Trail as “The Treason Trail”.

  20. “Stupid round planet.” ROTFLMAO! What, flat would be any better? ;-)

    You sound like you’re having a blast. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  21. overstroming

    BA, your posts have always been at funny times, perhaps now they’ll be at normal times for a change, even if they’re out of sequence.

    Perhaps that CERN thingy has caused a disturbance in the time space continuum…… oh never mind.

  22. Sue Mitchell

    Lugosi asked: “But the real question is, when did the Brits start talking funny?”

    Well duh! That would be after The Great Vowel Shift. :-D

    Here’s a thought:

    Dr. Brian Cox
    Dr. Brian May

    Two Brians
    Two musicians
    Two astro-docs.

    Hm…

  23. PerryG

    Now your blog is “wibbly wobbly, timey whimey”.

  24. gia

    Here’s a thought:

    Dr. Brian Cox
    Dr. Brian May

    Two Brians
    Two musicians
    Two astro-docs.

    Hm…

    Actually *ahem* it’s Professor Brian Cox, to you. ;) Also, he’s a high energy particle physicist not an astrophysicist…. but I will say that I’ve never seen the two of them in the same room together…

    Hmmm.

  25. Quiet_Desperation

    BA: I’m in England! How cool is that?

    Um… don’t people do that every day?

    In fact, I believe there is a native population unless I have been seriously misinformed.

    (puzzled stare)

    Dana: What, flat would be any better?

    Better on two counts: no time zones, and the pure joy of tossing idiots off the edge.

    Andy Mak: “We speak ENGLISH! Not American, which isn’t even close to real English…

    Yes, yes, Andy. (QD pats Andy’s wittle head) If that’s important to you…

  26. Quiet_Desperation

    Actually, in my country of “Chipozodia”

    Wait… weren’t you annexed into the Desperation Compound? Or was that the Duchy Of Bill Smith?

    Man, we *really* have to update the property maps here at the Compound.

  27. Two astro-docs.

    Wouldn’t that be a “pair o’ docs”?

    J/P=?

  28. JB of Brisbane

    @Thomas Siefert -

    It’s not ZedZed Top… it’s DoubleZed Top!
    Along with Blink One-Eight-Two and Gloria ESS-te-FAHN.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    OK, here’s the final word on the tower that houses Big Ben.

    The building to which the tower is attached is the Palace of Westminster. The palace contains the Houses of Parliament, but that is not the name of the building. The tower is St Stephen’s Tower. The clock, AFAIK, has no name. The large bell that is housed in St Stephen’s tower is called Big Ben.

    However, if you call it St Stephen’s tower, only a few people will know what you are talking about, so calling it “the Big Ben clock tower” (or “Big Ben’s clock tower”) is actually clearer.

    However, calling the tower Big Ben is just plain out-and-out wrong. Calling me a pedant will not change this fact.

    Here’s a picture of St Stephen’s Tower:
    http://www.artofthestate.co.uk/london_photos/st_stephens_tower.htm

  30. Nigel Depledge

    Doug Ellison said:
    “I find people getting all riled about ‘real’ English or how Americans have ruined English hilarious. English is a mongrel language. We’ve stolen, bastardised, concatenated, bifurcated, derived, deviated, smashed, clashed, bashed, mashed, merged, splurged and generally ruined languages from most of Europe to end up with ‘Proper’ English.”

    Quite right, Doug. I would recommend “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson, in which he uncovers that many of the “Americanisms” that are criticised in the UK actually started here, got shipped over the Atlantic, and then fell out of favour here.

    Since English has borrowed from so many other languages, the pronunciation of that last letter has remained “zed” over here (in common with several other European languages) and become “zee” in America. Thus, the name of that letter is pronounced one way in Europe and another way in America. If I can live with “zee” in Americans’ speech, I’m sure they can live with “zed” in Europeans’.

    Doug again:
    “Criticism of others for continuing that pattern is unjustified and hypocritical. ”

    I would qualify this, Doug. I agree with you up to a point, but if the change of usage obscures the meaning of a word, I would argue against it. English has become a worldwide lingua franca (I love the irony of that expression). To retain its value as a means of communication across all sorts of boundaries, it has to retain some measure of consistency. If, for instance, we had a word meaning one thing in Europe, another in America, yet another in Asia and so on, it will be bound to cause confusion.

    The same goes for spelling. Pronunciations are extremely idiosyncratic, but if the spelling is (mostly) consistent, people from different parts of the world can still use English to communicate. An example used by Bill Bryson was the word “girl”. In various parts of Britan and America, it is variously pronounced “gerl”, “gel”, “gurrul”, “goil”, “gal” and several others. But, by retaining its spelling, it remains comprehensible (most especially, of course, in written English).

  31. Thomas Siefert

    OK, hereâ??s the final word on the tower that houses Big Ben.

    No it’s not…

    The building to which the tower is attached is the Palace of Westminster. The palace contains the Houses of Parliament, but that is not the name of the building. The tower is St Stephenâ??s Tower. The clock, AFAIK, has no name. The large bell that is housed in St Stephenâ??s tower is called Big Ben.

    Wrong, it’s only known as “The Clock Tower” St. Stephens Tower is the middle tower.

    http://www.parliament.uk/about/images/exterior/ststephens.cfm

  32. Nigel Depledge

    Hah! Serves me right for trusting internet resources. Thanks, Thomas.

    Still, Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the name of the tower.

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