Daily Archives: September 6, 2009


Is this the source of Charmin? Charming idea, but no, that’s a bit of a squeeze, whether Mr. Whipple wants it to be or not. Nor has it to do with cream or any other desserts, though the word has, for me, a certain delectable fluffiness to it, the whip notwithstanding. It is also not a low-price Hilton (that’s Doubletree). You will find no fipple and sip no tipple… but if you are chased to the steeple, well, then, you are in harness, for so is this word.

This is a word for an object that is hard to describe, but if you should see one, you’d probably say, “Oh, that!” I’ll make it easy: there’s a picture of a set of whippletrees at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Triple_whippletree_set.jpg (since it is a set of three, is it a whipplethree? or a triple whipple?). These are devices for evening a pulling load: the ropes attached on each side – say, of a horse – pull on the ends of a crossbar, and the centre of the crossbar has a rope that in turn pulls the load. Very simple. Similar arrangements are used in other places, such as windshield wipers (the set of V-shaped things like a syntax tree that distribute the pressure).

OK, we see the tree, but wherefore the whipple? From whip, in case you forgot how horses have long been motivated. But another word for the device is swingletree, which is actually borrowed from a device for dressing flax (a swingle is a flail-like device for beating flax or hemp; I wonder whether the swingle sings as it is swung, for there is a fun a capella group called the Swingle Singers, named after their conductor, Ward Swingle). The original name for the harness piece is singletree; the crosspiece to which one attaches a pair of singletrees is in turn called a doubletree. But – to escape the connection of cheap hotels with single swingers? no; that would be anachronistic – back when people knew what swingles and whipples were, the single-swingle-whipple triple topple was capably popular.

But there is still double deviltry in this whippletree, with its double p and single-double triple e. It also pulls a double pucker: you start with the moue of the bouche on the [w], pulling back for the [p] and the syllabic [l], but look out for the second kiss: in English, we round our lips when saying [r]. It is as though the mouth is being pulled at two points. Or perhaps just squeezed twice. (How charming.)


I was on my way home from poker last night with my friend the Bri guy, and Eglinton near Laird seemed unusually suburban. The streets were almost empty, and we could hear crickets. I observed that I would not be able to hear them from my downtown apartment. Bri quipped that from his he was more likely to hear crackheads than crickets.

Which demonstrated that Bri is a dude with a good taste for words, even if his neighbourhood has its dodgy aspects. The vocal gesture of crackhead has much in common with that of cricket, but it is more open and has a fuller stress – and even an aspiration – in the second syllable, and does not have quite the crispness. And for that reason, among numerous others, it has a somewhat different flavour. Cricket lacks the violence of crackhead – not just in the association with street drugs but in the verbal interpretation, which describes something I’ve done twice in my life, against architecture, resulting in stitches – but it also lacks the echo of cráic, pronounced “crack,” the Irish word for “fun.”

But there is much fun to cricket. A word that often travels with Jiminy – ah, a chirpy insect – and also often in the company of the rhyming wicket, which, appositely, is something involved in the game called cricket. (Which, in its turn, is not the game called croquet and is not related to it in name or style; nor is it related to the critter called cricket, nor to the thing one does to one’s neck if one watches a match from a seat with an awkward angle: crick it. And on the pitch, bats are essential to the existence of cricket, whereas in in the pitch dark, bats may eat crickets.) Then there is the other game called cricket, the one one plays with darts – it is one of many things one may do with darts and a board. Cricket also has a lighter sense. Lighter than an insect? No, cigarette lighter: Cricket is a brand of them. It is also a name of a children’s magazine. And then there is The Cricket on the Hearth, by Charles Dickens, a Christmas favourite.

Most of these (but not the game!) come from the insect, which gets its name onomatopoeically – but not directly; by way of Old French. The insect itself presents a merging of music and math (this may seem trivial, but in fact it is quadrivial) through Dolbear’s law: the snowy tree cricket chirps at a rate directly correlated with temperature, such that 50 plus the number of its chirps in 15 seconds makes the temperature in Fahrenheit. (The reason for this correlation is their cold-bloodedness, which results in a variable energy threshold, which can be expressed by the Arrhenius equation, but I’ll leave that reference exercise to you. We may conclude they stop chirping when it gets down to 50 degrees, which is 10 Celsius.) Note, however, that other species of cricket have different rates, and some do not correlate well to temperature.

And how do crickets make this chirp? Not with their ticker; no, the trick is that they – just the dude crickets, though, not the chick crickets – rub their legs together, or specifically they raise their left and rub it against a scraper on the right; this act is called stridulation. We assume that, in their thicket, wherever they may stick it, they do not raise their leg before a wicket. That would not be cricket.