Sideswipe: January 25: Postal coincidence

“On Wednesday this week, my wife and I received in the mail two Christmas cards sent from Australia,” writes John O’Keefe .”They were both postmarked as having been sent on the same day (December 15) and both arrived on the same day (January 20). What was surprising was not that the two cards took only five weeks to travel across the infinitely wide Tasman Sea, but that the two cards were identical, despite having been sent by two people who were total strangers to one another, living in different states. What are the chances of that happening again any time soon?”

Husband problems

“We live in a terraced house. One neighbour seems to hear our TV through the walls : this can be a problem late at night. Several times a week, I will go to bed at around 10pm, and my husband will stay up a bit longer. I repeatedly ask him to use the timer function (which would turn the TV off at a set time), but he almost always forgets. Then he falls asleep until the early hours with the TV on. This means that I wake at around 2am, realise he’s not in bed, then have to come downstairs and turn everything off (in case neighbours can hear). It then takes me one-hour-plus to get back to sleep. Then, when he does come to bed at around 4am, he wakes me again, and again I take one-hour-plus to get back to sleep. Would you feel annoyed about this?”

Parking sign at Birkenhead Wharf

John Martins writes: “Could somebody please explain what this means? You can spend the night here in your car, as long as there are two or more of you?”

Presidential lingo

US presidents can propel a word into the common vernacular — or at least the public eye. Ronald Reagan’s verbal tic of beginning responses with “Well…” and George W Bush’s malapropism misunderestimated qualify, and President Joe Biden’s use of malarkey is on track to do the same. Biden used malarkey several times during the vice-presidential debate with Paul Ryan in October 2012, sending many people to the dictionary to look the word up. He used it again during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, saying, of then-candidate Donald Trump: “He is trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That is a bunch of malarkey.” The word’s biggest increase in lookups in 2020 was when Biden used it during the presidential debate on October 22, when it spiked 3200 per cent over the previous year. Biden is quoted using it way back in 1983, and it has since become part of his personal rhetorical style. The word seems to resonate with Biden’s public image: folksy, a bit old-fashioned, and Irish-American. In fact, the word’s true origins are not clear. It resembles an Irish last name (sometimes spelled Mullarkey), but could also have come from Irish slang.

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