Tuesday, 12 May 2009

research sucks

As I have said elsewhere, some people will wrongly never read Neal Stephenson. I don't want to go into it, or write apologetically about things which don't need apologising for, but once in a while the research shows through a little. But how can you mind when you're learning something like this?:
[A pirate ship chasing our protagonists off the North Eastern seaboard of the United States is never going to catch up because, as the seaman Dappa says, 'of her appalling Zog.']
'There it it again--what, I ask, is the meaning of that word?'
'Her wake, look at her wake!' Dappa says, waving his arm angrily.
'Yes--now that we are so, er, unsettlingly close, I can see that her wake's enough to capsize a whaleboat.'
'Those damned pirates have loaded so many cannon aboard, she rides far too low in the water, and so she's got a great ugly Zog.'
'Is this meant to reassure me?'
'It is meant to answer your question.'
'Zog is Dutch for "wake", then?'
Dappa the linguist smiles. Half his teeth are white, the others made of gold. 'And a much better word it is, because it comes from zuigen, which means "to suck".'
'I don't follow.'
'Any seaman will tell you that a ship's wake sucks on her stern, holding her back--the bigger the waked, the greater the suck, and the slower the progress. That schooner, Doctor Waterhouse, sucks.'

This is great to know anyway, but The Baroque Cycle is all about the birth of science, and the early natural philosophers, for whom flow was a crucial concept. It's also about the nature of money, by the way, in ways that have massively helped me understand things that are happening here and there.

No comments: