From The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell:
We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us. Taking the graffiti off the walls of New York’s subways turned New Yorkers into better citizens. Telling seminarians to hurry turned them into bad citizens. The suicide of a charismatic young Micronesian set off an epidemic of suicides that lasted for a decade. Putting a little gold box in the corner of a Columbia Record Club advertisement suddenly made record buying by mail seem irresistible. To look closely at complex behaviors like smoking or suicide or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how acutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. That’s why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable.
But if there is difficulty and volatility in the world of the Tipping Point, there is a large measure of hopefulness as well. Merely by manipulating the size of a group, we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas. By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics. In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push–in just the right place–it can be tipped.
From Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize The 21st Century by Michio Kaku:
Generations of high school children gasp when they read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, for they are amazed to discover that Juliet was only thirteen years old. We sometimes forget that, for most of human existence, our lives were short, miserable, and brutish. Sadly, for most of human history, we repeated the same wretched cycle: as soon as we reached puberty, we were expected to toil or hunt with our elders, find a mate and produce children. We would then have a large number of them, with most of them dying at childbirth. As Leonard Hayflick says, “It is astonishing to realize that the human species survived hundreds of thousands of years, more than 99% of its time on this planet, with a life expectancy of only 18 years.” Since the industrial revolution, thanks to increased sanitation, sewage systems, better food supplies, labor-saving machines, the germ theory, and modern medicine, our life expectancy has risen dramatically. At the turn of the century, the average life expectancy in the United States was 49. Now, it is around 76, a 55% increase in a century. As Joshua Lederberg notes, “In the U.S., greater life expectancyâ€¦can be attributed almost entirely to this mastery of infection, this annihilation of the bugs.” And today, the fastest-growing segment of our population is the group that is over a hundred years old.”
From David Crystal, The Fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left, by way of Delancey Place.
In spelling, the [English] language was assimilating the consequences of having a civil service of French scribes, who paid little attention to the traditions of English spelling that had developed in Anglo-Saxon times. Not only did French qu arrive, replacing Old English cw (as in queen), but ch replaced c (in words such as church–Old English cirice), sh and sch replaced sc (as in ship–Old English scip), and much more. Vowels were written in a great number of ways. Much of the irregularity of modern English spelling derives from the forcing together of Old English and French systems of spelling in the Middle Ages. People struggled to find the best way of writing English throughout the period. â€¦Even Caxton didn’t help, at times. Some of his typesetters were Dutch, and they introduced some of their own spelling conventions into their work. That is where the gh in such words as ghost comes from.
Any desire to standardize would also have been hindered by theâ€¦Great English Vowel Shift, [which] took place in the early 1400s. Before the shift, a word like loud would have been pronounced ‘lood’; name as ‘nahm’; leaf as ‘layf’; mice as ‘mees’.â€¦
“The renewed interest in classical languages and cultures, which formed part of the ethos of the Renaissance, had introduced a new perspective into spelling: etymology. Etymology is the study of the history of words, and there was a widespread view that words should show their history in the way they were spelled. These weren’t classicists showing off. There was a genuine belief that it would help people if they could ‘see’ the original Latin in a Latin-derived English word. So someone added a b to the word typically spelled det, dett, or dette in Middle English, because the source in Latin was debitum, and it became debt, and caught on. Similarly, an o was added to peple, because it came from populum: we find both poeple and people, before the latter became the norm. An s was added to ile and iland, because of Latin insula, so we now have island. There are many more such cases. Some people nowadays find it hard to understand why there are so many ‘silent letters’ of this kind in English. It is because other people thought they were helping.
I hadn’t ever thought of it this way, but I think the man is on to something.
“One of my pet theories about the popularity of roleplaying games goes like this. Roleplaying is fantasy shopping for guys. That is, men would, as a group, be more interested in shopping if a) it meant never having to leave the house and b) they were shopping for super-powers. In that case, the typical roleplaying rulebook is like a Nieman-Marcus catalog for super-powers. Depending on the game system and character type, these extraordinary abilities might be called feats, spells, schticks, disciplines, skills, high tech gear, psionics, or whatever. For lack of a a better all-encompassing term, I refer to these things as crunchy bits.”
Robin D. Laws, Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering