Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Scientists, Physicists and Mathematicians can be funny.
The following joke spanned continents, the ages, professions and it fooled quite a few journalists and writers.
The Globe and Mail, April 7, 1995, page A28 - The metric system.
This is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the metric system, in France.
* The system has seven fundamental, or base, measures. Many metric units are named for famous scientists (Newton, Coulomb and Kelvin) and one is named for a wine merchant -- Claude Emile Jean-Baptiste Litre.
* Use of the system has spread internationally. In 1897, for instance, Britain passed a statute legalizing metric measures for trade and abolishing the penalty for using or having in one's possession a weight or measure of that system.
Sources: Collier's Encyclopedia , Encyclopedia Britannica (1911).
The joke: Litre never existed :)
He was made up by Ken Woolner (the young man in the blue shirt
), a Physics professor from Waterloo
. As other science scholars read the story, they kept adding details of Litre's fictitious life. They even invented him a daughter, appropiately named: Millicent
- Now, that's funny.
Woolner eventually fessed up, at the time of his retirement, to making him up "during a crippling blizzard in a hotel room in Ottawa, in December 1977." If it were not for his confession, we would still be celebrating Litre's legacy.