Sunday, 20 June 2010

Big words

While I was out and about I was surprised to see the word humongous on an advertising poster. I always thought it was one of those made up words. It also reminded me of an admonishment from one of my school English teachers about the word ginormous. I decided to settle this once and for all. Off to the OED.

First up: humongous. I'd always thought it ought to be "humungous" with a second "u" (I didn't think people knew the u-sounding o thing any more). Turns out the former is the original US slang. And the word only dates to 1970.

Ginormous is also in there, naturally given as the contraction of gigantic and enormous. The surprise is that it is dated back to 1948. Modern slang in the big scheme of things but quite a lot older than I might have expected. And older than humongous. Score one against the English teachers.

Even more interesting to me, however, was looking at the etymology of humongous - of uncertain origin but influenced by hugeous. Hugeous? A word but a hyperlink away. Given as equivalent to huge, dating back to 1529. Still current (i.e. not listed as obsolete) and I think worth a revival.

As a by the way, meaning in all cases is as expected: "extremely large, excessive in size". Ginormous also has the extra: especially in comparison with one's expectations.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

From here to way over there

Several years ago I attended a conference lecture by the then head of DHL's It infrastructure. I won't go into the details of computer systems discussed but he had a really interesting observation about international mail, especially packages. The point was that email was heralded as the death of regular mail, as nobody would need to send physical mail. DHL actually saw business boom. Why? Well with more people communicating with each other, especially internationally, they had more reason to send each other packages, documents etc. He reckoned they kept Concord flying just on the banking business papers DHL shipped.

As much as the Internet has enabled global communication and reduced the distance between people, so too has the improvement of postal services supported the growth of e-commerce. Expensive courier package services have been around for a long time (DHL, UPS, FedEx etc) with direct, point-to-point shipment. And they're good. A couple of weeks ago I got a package from Europe by DHL and knew by the minute where it was as it flew over-night on a Sunday to get to me.

But the service that impresses me is EMS, organised by the Universal Postal Union. This is one of those international agreements, and United Nations agencies, that doesn't seem to get much publicity but is quietly getting on with the job.

For example, I currently have a package en-route from Canada to here in the Philippines via EMS. CanadaPost gives me a tracking number and via their website I (and the guy who sent it to me) can follow it all the way to my door (currently stuck in customs). Gone are the days of vague international mail, unsure of location, duration or delivery. No more losing track as your mail crosses borders. The reciprocal nature of the cooperative also means that I could ship something back with similar reliability. Globalization and global agreements can work.