Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The questions, they burn!


I wrote the following email to the wonderful folks at The Straight Dope site in an effort to find a bit'o enlightenment. If I find any I'll be sure to pass it along your way.

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Hello Straight Dope Staff,

A couple years back I asked about the origins behind the "Chinese Fire Drill"; that activity wherein a car comes to a stop and all of the occupants jump out and switch positions then drive off. Both how it became popular and why it's attributed to "Chinese" specifically (rather than, say, "Dutch") I received a reply that it was being looked into but haven't seen anything on it since and a search of the site doesn't turn up anything. A search of Wikipedia turned up the following:

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A Chinese fire drill is a harmless prank, or perhaps just an expression of high spirits, popular in the United States during the 1960s. It is performed when a car is stopped at a red traffic light, at which point all of the car's occupants get out, run around the car, and return to their own (or other) seats.

The term is also used as a figure of speech to mean any ineffective and chaotic exercise. It comes from a British tendency around the time of World War I to use the adjective Chinese as a slur, implying "confused, disorganized, or inferior". Today the expression may seem to have lost much of its insulting meaning and many people say it without realizing the offense it might cause to others.
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That all sounds well and good, but it doesn't explain either how a derogatory adjective from WW1 came to be applied to a "prank" from the 60s, or the "Fire Drill" part. Any thoughts?

My new question came about when I was tired and looking at how "Wednesday" is spelled. My own searching around turned up that it is from "Woden's Day", however that really doesn't explain why the "o" turned into an "e" and then the "e" was tossed behind the "n" to give us the word we stumble over writing to this day. It seems to me to be a stupid way of spelling it and is hell on a dyslexic, so my question is, "How did that come about and why do we persist in spelling it this way, rather than simplifying it to 'Wensday'?" I can't believe that it's simply a resistance to change since the spelling of words has changed over time before (shoppe : shop) and I can't imagine the Odin lobby is all that powerful these days. The rest of the day's names are spelled essentially how they sound (Tuesday's a bit iffy), so... what's up with that?

Thanks,
Collin

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