Batman and Robin. Peanut butter and jelly. Bitcoin and not having a clue what bitcoin is.
There are some things that just go together. You would be hard pressed to find one without the other.
One example is the phrase “spick and span.” The term whose words on their own mean have nothing to do with being new, but together mean “fresh” or “clean.” Where did the phrase come come? Why do we not really use the words on their own?
Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…
Where Did The Phrase “Spick And Span” Come From?
Fun fact: the term was originally spick and span-new. A use from 1579 comes from Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, 1579:
“They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke, and spanne newe.”
The phrase dropped “new” in 1665 when it was first found in Samuel Pepys’ Diary:
“My Lady Batten walking through the dirty lane with new spicke and span white shoes.”
It is unclear exactly how this phrase came about, but as Phrases.org.uk puts it, “The alliteration in the phrase suggests the possibility that that one of the two words alluded to cleanliness and freshness and that the other just followed along.”
So which word most closely resembled something new or fresh, you ask? Probably spick.
The word spick was sometimes used in place of spike or nail. In the 1500s a new nail may have been associated with cleanliness because it was cleaned as soon as it was made. There is a phrase “as neat as a new pin” which alludes to this idea.
So, basically that’s the best guess out there. The phrase probably started just because it featured alliteration and was fun to say. It was a stretch from the original meaning, but it stuck nonetheless. Kinda like what we do today with emojis and memes. #notagreatcomparison
I did a recent workout in the bleachers at a local high school football field. The workout instructor told us to jump up five stairs then stop and do four pushups. Then we had to run down three stairs and do four pushups.
Following that we had to jump up five more stairs and continue the process. Five stairs up, three stairs down. Again and again until we reached the top. There was probably 40 stairs, which meant 20 rounds of the 5-4-3-4 process.
I can run up 40 stairs in a few seconds. But this drill took forever.
Every time it seemed like I was making progress I had to turn around and then go back down. It felt like I would never make it to the top.
I wanted to stop in the beginning. I wanted to stop in the middle. Near the top, I wanted to just say I was close enough and call in the end.
5 stairs up, 3 stairs down. Again and again.
I could see the end, but it didn’t seem like I was ever going to get there. No matter how high I jumped or how fast I did pushups, I couldn’t get a pass to go up a level. And don’t think I didn’t consider jumping up 6 stairs and only running down 2 so that I could get to the end faster.
Eventually I made it to the top. I was sweaty and exhausted. I don’t know how long it look, but it didn’t go as fast as I would have liked. And it was definitely way harder than I would have liked.
But I made it.
My description of the workout may seem a lot like how life feels sometimes when we are chasing our goals. We can see the end and we want to get their fast. Every time we make a little progress something knocks us back down a few steps.
It feels like we will never make it to the top. We want to cheat, sneak and do anything we can to skip a level. We want to stop in the beginning. And in the middle. And, near the top, we just want to say it is close enough and call in the end.
When we make it to the top, we may not be sweaty, but we’ll probably be tired and it will certainly be way harder than we would have liked.
But we can make it.
In the past I have written about Victor Frankl and the many pains he had to endure. He experienced extreme suffering during the Holocaust, losing many people he loved.
Despite all that, he still was able to find meaning in life.
Frankl titled his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, because he recognized that we are all looking for meaning in our own lives. Each of us want to have something that gives us value or makes us feel important.
It is one thing to ask the question: Where can we find meaning?
Meaning can be found in our work, our family or, like Frankl, in efforts to help others find their meaning.
It is another thing to ask: Where can I find my unique meaning?
I don’t know about you, but finding my unique meaning always seems like a very difficult task. I keep waiting to find a cheat sheet or cliff notes version of my life that reveals my specific purpose.
I am still waiting…
If you are like me, maybe we are just looking at it the wrong way.
I recently read this quote by former Security of Education, John Gardner.
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like an answer to a riddle or a prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.”
Every time I think about my search for meaning, feel I am playing the role of a detective. I picture myself as a super sleuth as I try to put together clues from my life to solve an important puzzle.
The only problem is that I am not Sherlock Holmes. I have no secret agent training and the only thing that makes me qualified to be a detective is that I own a magnifying glass. Other than that, I lack all appropriate detective equipment and preparation.
So in my most important case ever, the case of the missing purpose, I am lost.
That is discouraging.
As Gardner says, instead of looking at life like a detective, maybe I should be looking at meaning through the lens of a builder.
Instead of searching for missing pieces, I should be looking at blueprints. Rather than collecting clues, I should be assembling material. The building blocks of my unique meaning can be made up of the experiences I’ve had, the skills I possess and many of the other aspects of my life that make me, me.
While it is true that I am no engineer, and the only tool I really know how to use is a level, I feel that it is much easier to become Bob Vila than it is to become Sherlock Holmes.
Next time you are like me and feel you are hopeless in your quest for meaning, try and change your proverbial profession from detective to builder. I like our chances of building meaning much better than doing an investigation for meaning.
Think of a time when you created a goal, only to fall short of achieving it.
Maybe you tried to lose 20 pounds in 6 months, but you came up 5 pounds short. Maybe you set the goal to be asleep by 11pm every night, only to find yourself frequently awake at midnight.
Just because you create a goal, that doesn’t mean you are going to achieve it.
The simple answer is that obstacles get in the way. An office birthday leads to cake which leads to cheating on our diet. Our sister in the West Coast time zone calls and we talk late into our East Coast night.
We don’t mean to hit these goal busting walls. Our intentions are good, the problem is that we fail to act on those intentions.
But here is something that can help. Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer has coined the phrase “Implementation Intentions” as a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an if-then plan.
If I come across obstacle A, then I will respond with B.
This gives us a plan of attack to be better prepared to face inevitable obstacles.
Gollwitzer tested this theory by giving participants a task that tested their concentration. Half of participants wrote the goal, “I will try to find as many correct solutions as possible!” The other half wrote “If I get distracted, then I will concentrate on test even more!”
The results showed an increased interruption time for the participants who simply created the goal of finding as many correct solutions as possible. They spent more time stumped, aka they didn’t achieve their goal.
The participants who used an implementation intention–if I get distracted, then I will concentrate on test even more–had lower disruption times. They still got distracted, but they were prepared for what to do next.
By creating an if-then plan, the participants were able to increase their results.
Turns out that our perception, attention and memory are all heightened when we form a concrete plan of how to deal with an obstacle. This makes us much better at handling the situation because the task is performed more automatically and efficiently.
By spending a few moments preparing ourselves for the obstacle, our brain can shift into autopilot and we aren’t constrained by conscious effort. We remove some hesitation and deliberation and the right decision is much easier to make in such a critical situation.
For instance, if my sister calls at 10:45pm, I will respond by calling her back the next day. If cake is brought into the office, I will sprint out of the room after signing Happy Birthday to avoid temptation.
By picturing the possible obstacles, and figuring out how to respond, we set ourselves up for success.
If I come across obstacle A, then I will respond with B. Seems too simple but it just might work.
In case you missed a post or two this month, here’s a quick recap of what I wrote about during the month of November:
Questions I Asked –
What Are Ramparts? – Pop quiz time…what was so gallantly streaming in the Star-Spangled Banner? Answer: the ramparts. Second question: what are ramparts?
Why is a Ping Pong Paddle Black on One Side and Red on the Other? – This post has it all — fun knowledge and jabs at my younger brother.
Things We Learned –
One Simple Way To Increase Our Brainpower – Does your brain feel fried? Can’t seem to pay attention or come up with any ideas? Here’s one simple thing you can to do increase your brainpower…
Laughter Can Make You Feel Invincible – Here’s how.
You Don’t Need A Cape – “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” Nowhere in that famous description of Superman does it say, “unstoppable due to his sleeveless outer garment.”
Full Proof Way To Avoid Hitting the Snooze Button – This is pretty smart. And risky.
How It Can Help To Burn The Ships – Take it from an explorer in the 1500s.
People Hated Electric Light At First – Sounds like fake news, but it is true.
Fun With Numbers –
One Thing I Am Thankful For Today – I had nothing to do with it.
March 31, 1880 was a dreary night in Wabash, Indiana. Rain poured on the dark city streets in the middle of town. The sixty-five gas lights that usually illuminated the town were nowhere to be found.
Instead, four brand new arc lamps were hung on poles near the courthouse. As soon as the courthouse stuck eight o’clock, Charles Brush switched on the lamps and the city was covered in a dazzling glow the likes of which had never been seen.
Brush had an amazing idea that brought electric light to this sleepy little town.
What happens when a cartoon character comes up with an amazing idea? A little light bulb pops up over his or her head.
Light bulbs are associated with good ideas. They indicate brilliant brainstorms and inspired inklings.
But oddly enough, early versions of electric light weren’t so highly regarded.
People did not know how to react to this new form of light. Picture a teenager who has slept in and is going to be late for school. His mother pulls back the curtains and lights up the room. The teenager fears the light.
Brush’s invention was greeted with apprehension. Women used umbrellas to shield themselves from the “rays of this mysterious sun.”
Upon Brush’s arc lamps in France, author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
A new sort of urban star now shines out nightly, horrible, unearthly, obnoxious to the human eye; a lamp for a nightmare! Such a light as this should shine only on murders and public crime, or along the corridors of lunatic asylums, a horror to heighten horror. To look at it only once is to fall in love with gas.”
Stevenson and others were frightened by the switch from gas to electric light. To someone in 2015, this idea sounds crazy.
Brush’s invention created a light source rivaled only by the sun. But it also created change. Major change. And like any change, it took some time for people to open up to it.
If electric light took time to gain widespread appeal, we shouldn’t feel bad when our ideas are slow to catch on.
Think back to a time you experienced a hot afternoon.
The sun was scorching. Your skin was sizzling. Sweat was slithering down your face. You wanted nothing more than to have a bucket of ice cold water dumped on your head. Unfortunately this wasn’t the Super Bowl, so the Gatorade shower was nowhere to be found.
When all else seemed lost, you noticed a huge, shaded saving grace. You ambled over to a giant oak tree and tumbled in joy at the earthy covering the tree provided.
Oh what a feeling!
What had just been sweltering heat instantly because a serene summer day (if only for a moment).
The tree that made you feel calm, cool and protected, did you ever stop to think about where that came from.
Probably not, and I don’t blame you. Trees are just kind of there, right?
Isn’t that an awesome thought?
The thing you needed most on that miserably boiling day was just kind of there. It was already there, just waiting for you.
Journalist, Walter Lippmann, once wrote that “men plant trees they will never sit under.”
Think about it…When was the last time you sat under a tree that you actually planted? One in your back yard, maybe?
Most of the time we enjoy shade from trees we had nothing to do with planting or growing.
I heard an interview with Warren Buffett and he pointed to the Lippmann quote as to why he is so generous with his fortune.
“We’ve had the shade and other people have planted those (trees),” Buffett said. “And so I think it behooves people in that position to plant a few trees themselves.”
Buffett recognizes that he profited greatly from the work of others. I think it is important that we all recognize the same.
We all benefit from something we had nothing to do with growing.
It could be an actual tree, or a business or even Facebook.
I had nothing to do with WordPress, the blogging platform used to publish this post, but I benefit from it. You likely had nothing to do with WordPress, but if you enjoy this blog or others, you too benefit.
I can point to dozens of other trees that I did not grow that I use on a daily basis.
Where would I be if someone hadn’t taken the time to plant those? Luckily I don’t have to answer that question.
So today I am thankful for the trees I did not plant. I am thankful for their shade and I am thankful for their inspiration to plant a few trees of my own.
My younger brother is good at many things. He has a great job, many friends and the unique ability to be able to take a nap anywhere.
But there is one thing he is just not very good at…ping pong.
He possesses many of the things that make for a good ping pong player — strength, hand-eye coordination and a ping pong paddle. But try as he might, he just can’t seem to win many ping pong matches.
Most of the time when he loses, he blames one thing. Not his strength. Not his hand-eye coordination.
He blames the paddle.
The other night, after yet another loss, he was once again admonishing the paddle for his loss when he posed an interesting question: why does a paddle have two colors?
Good question. Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…
Why is a Ping Pong Paddle Black on One Side and Red on the Other?
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) allows the two sides of a paddle to have different surfaces. This is used to create varying degrees of spin and speed. In order to allow each player to know what type of shot may be coming, regulations specify that one side of a paddle must be red while the other must be black.
So, what are the differences between the two sides on a standard paddle?
According to ThoughtCo.com,
When you hit the ball with the red rubber, the ball jumps more (vertically) than the hit with the black side. Many players feel that red rubbers are usually a bit faster and less spinny than black rubbers, since slightly different materials (pigments and dyes) are used to give the rubbers their red and black colors.”
The same article stats that most professionals use the red side on their forehands and the black side on their backhands.
Maybe my brother should try that. Ah well, probably wouldn’t help him much. He just isn’t very good.
In 1519 a Spanish explorer by the name of Hernan Cortez led a fleet of ships to Veracruz, Mexico. In those days, it was common to leave a few crew members behind to stay with the ships. This served two purposes. First the crew would guard the ship and protect it from unwanted strangers and wild animals. Second, the crew would be there just in case a speedy escape was needed from an unknown enemy.
On this exploration, Cortez decided not to leave anyone with the ships. In fact, he even took things a step further.
He gave orders to burn the ships.
What? Why would he do something like this? Was he out of his mind?
Cortez did this because he wanted to send a message to his crew.
He knew the exploration was nerve-racking and his men were looking over their shoulder in fear. He didn’t want his crew’s to have any lingering doubt in their minds about their current mission. He wanted to show that he was fully committed to success by eliminating the option of running away.
That is a gutsy strategy. How many of us are bold enough to try it?
I don’t know about you, but I rarely burn the ships in my life. In fact, I often keep one too many guards back at the ship, just in case I need to retreat.
If you are like me, you often put things off because you know there is always another chance to do them. There is always tomorrow.
The only problem is that tomorrow becomes tomorrow again the next day, and then the one after that.
In Cortez’s case, there was no tomorrow. He was not turning back and he wanted to eliminate all excuses.
Next time we start to come up with a list of excuses it might just be in our best interest to stop, and burn the ships instead.