Gobbling, Garbling, and Gobbledygook

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December 16, 2016 by libroshombre


Why can’t we all get along? After all, every human on Earth is related. A research group at Germany’s Heinrich Heine University has pinpointed not just every human’s ancestor, but the grandmother of every living thing on the planet: Luca, AKA “the Last Universal Common Ancestor.” According to last July’s NY Times article, “Meet Luca, the Ancestor to All Living Things,” “(a) surprisingly specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things … was a single-cell, bacterium-like organism … and is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago.”

Scientists have been debating whether life originated on Earth in extreme environments, like underwater volcanic vents, or as Darwin suggested, “a warm little pond.” Of the “three great domains of life,” the bacteria, the archaea (“bacteria-like organisms but with a different metabolism”), and the eukaryotes (all plants and animals), bacteria and archaea were deemed most likely as the starting points for life. Of the six million genes scientists have accumulated in genetic databanks, “only 355 met the criteria for having probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea … The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents,” Luca.

Meanwhile, French and Spanish researchers have determined that human papillomavirus, or HPV, the source of cancer-causing genital warts, was acquired from Neanderthals. “By looking at mutated regions in the virus, which occur regularly over time, the researchers discerned that HPV’s origins go back almost a half a million years.” according to last month’s online article on Arstechnica.com by Annalee Newitz. “When early humans left Africa 60-20,000 years ago, they already carried with them a few variants of HPV,” but the ancestor of today’s dangerous virus was acquired by humans from Neanderthals and Denisovans. “(O)ver time their unprotected archaic human sex spread a sexually transmitted infection throughout most of the world’s Homo sapiens population.”

In contrast, the roots of English, Russian, Hindi and many other languages only go back 8,000 years, according to computer modeling out of New Zealand. A Nature.com article from 2012 by Alyssa Joyce, said that recent studies show how “(g)enes and words have several similarities” by studying how “the cognate of words – how closely their sounds and meanings are related to one another – could be modeled like DNA sequences and used to measure how languages evolved.” Based on this, the Kiwis “traced the origins of Indo-European languages to 7,800-9,800 years ago” in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey.

This time of year, even a coup in that country generates thoughts in my house of the fabulous Greenberg turkeys from Tyler, Texas, AKA “the Holiday Aristocrat.” The New York Times said it’s difficult to “convey the intensity of the charred hickory fog that permeates (Greenberg’s) turkeys, rendering the birds a color best described as burnt umber with a black licorice wash.” They’re expensive, but a beloved Hill family tradition. We even adore their website’s url, “GobbleGobble.com.”

Speaking of which, the term “gobbledygook” is another Texas export. It was coined by Maury Maverick, Jr. a liberal Texas Congressman whose grandfather’s name coined the word, “maverick,” after he acquired huge herds of unbranded cattle, known as mavericks, following the Civil War. Congressman Maverick was head of the Smaller War Plants Corporation during WWII when he issued a memo banning “gobbledygook language,” and said he made it up in imitation of turkeys’ garbled chatter.

“How Economic Gobbledygook Divides Us,” an excellent article by John Lanchester, describes how the financial sector uses intentionally confusing, acronym-ridden language to extreme excess. “Private sector bank output tends to require a reading level of Grade 12, and Bank of England writing requires a reading level of Grade 14” on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. By comparison, to be comprehended widely “texts aimed at a general audience must be written at a 10th grade level or below,” and physicist Richard Feynman’s lectures on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle were presented to graduate physics students at a Grade 8 reading level.

There’s obviously a lot of gobbledygook going around, particularly for unsuspecting web searchers, but not for those relying on their local reference librarians. Learn from our ancestors: avoid unprotected searching by relying on your public library.




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