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April 17, 2015

Strange But True!

Q. Is email dead?

A. Not dead as a doornail but creeping along toward the same fate as snail mail, though this may be hard to believe if your inbox is filled with hundreds of unread messages, says columnist David Pogue in Scientific American magazine. Yet the total volume of the digital letter has dropped about 10 percent just since 2010! “The incoming generation after all doesn't do email,” which requires a greeting like “Hey” or “Dear Casey” that seems to justify a longer message. Email has become an “activity,” taking too much energy and big blocks of time.

Enter today's instant electronic memos — texting, Twitter and Facebook — which dispense with the salutation and the sign-off and are more direct and concentrated and efficient. “I can now send you an unobtrusive easily consumed message that you can read — and respond to — on the go,” adds Pogue. It's faster, briefer and a natural for smartphone typing. Especially on Facebook, “instant messaging can take on the character of a chat room, with several people carrying on at once.”

Still, email has certain advantages in staying around better than ephemeral-feeling tweets and texts and giving you something you can keep, file and return to later. It just seems right for more formal agreements, important news and longer explanations.

So, no, email won't go away completely. “Postal mail found its (smaller) niche, and so will email. Technology rarely replaces an institution completely; it just adds new avenues.”

Q. Barnes & Noble, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T... You've seen the “&” symbol hundreds of times and probably even know its name. But do you know anything of its strange origins?

A. The ampersand was once the 27th letter of the English alphabet, having derived from Roman scribes who wrote the Latin word “et” (for “and”) in cursive, linking the two letters together. In the early 1800s, the alphabet ended “X, Y, Z, &,” but since this would have been awkward to say, schoolchildren instead ended with “& per se and.” “Per se” in Latin means “by itself,” so they were essentially saying “X, Y, Z, and by itself and.” Over time, this phrase was slurred together into “ampersand” (from Dictionary.com and from Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day website).

& now you know!

Q. If there were a Hall of Fame for Hobos (homeless migrant workers of the early 20th century), who might be some of its illustrious members?

A. Folk legend Woodie Guthrie (1912-1967) wrote over 1,000 songs and often sang in “hobo jungles” and migrant camps, reports Mental Floss magazine.

Actor Clark Gable (1901-1960), a one-time hobo, later became the “King of Hollywood.”

Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Carl Sandburg rode across six states for a year looking for work.

Prolific folk singer Burl Ives was best known as the voice of Sam the Snowman in the Christmas TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Author Jack London started hopping trains at 16 to look for work, which he later immortalized in his 1907 memoir “The Road.”

Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey rail-hopped for several years on the way to becoming world heavyweight boxing champion from 1919-1926.

Hobo-turned-author James Michener had a book of his adapted into the classic musical “South Pacific.”

Have any STRANGE comments or questions? Send comments to Matt Brown or brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com

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