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A.Word.A.Day--arithmancy

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

In 1959, Arthur Summerfield, Postmaster General of the United States, said, "Before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."

These words of the chief mailman sound ludicrous now, but at the time they made perfect sense. And his words did come true though not in the sense he had imagined. Email does get delivered across oceans within hours (or seconds) and we do have Rocket Mail (as in rocketmail.com).

On June 8, 1959, the US Post Office joined with the US Navy to conduct a test run of missile mail. The nuclear warhead of a Regulus cruise missile was replaced by post office containers carrying 3000 envelopes. The submarine USS Barbero carried the missile offshore and fired it towards its Florida destination. The test was successful, but cost and other factors pulled the plug on the idea of missile mail.

Predicting the future is fraught with hazards, whether it's the trajectory of a hurricane, the trends in a business, or the medal tally in Olympics. But that doesn't stop us from trying. This week we'll see words about forecasting, prediction, and divination.

arithmancy (AR-ith-man-see) noun

Divination by numbers.

[From Greek arithmos (number) + -mancy (divination).]

Arithmancy is also known as arithmomancy and numerology. It is one of the subjects taught at Hogwarts School where Harry Potter studies the art of wizardry. You don't need to go to Hogwarts to know the numbers related to your name and to find out what they reveal. Try it here.

-Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

"Jim practices his techno-arithmancy and works his magic on Simon. Like a hungry fish, Simon takes the lure of obscene riches and drags others along with him." Graham Mitchell; What Bank?; Metro; Sep 10, 2001.

X-Bonus

Testing can show the presence of errors, but not their absence. -Edsger Dijkstra, computer scientist (1930-2002)

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