Monday, August 1, 2011

Who first lichened politics to a type of moss?

The chemical definition for litmus disambiguates to the political expression "litmus test."

The OED says that the political usage first appeared in 1957. link

WTH happened in 1957?

[Update: Twitter friend Meadabawdy reports that Merriam-Webster dates the usage of "Litmus Test" back to 1952: link]


  1. I graduated high school in 1957. And, I remember "litmus paper." It was a small rectangular thing ... about the size of two postage stamps. It was pink. And, when you dipped it into something clear, it turned blue.

    Or it went from blue to pink.

    But it was there! Trying to jog my memory, I think it was some sort of test to see if acid was present.

    As to its ussage ... remember back to that period of time. You had Congress going nuts looking for communists. (It was the time of HUAC. And, Joe McCarthy. TV in it's infancy, with these televised congressional hearings.) Was the "litmus test" that you were a patriotic American?

    Back in those days, by the way, they killed a rabbit to find out if a woman was pregnant. The expression, I think, was "The Rabbit Died."

  2. Is "lichened" a word? Why did I put in "likened?"

    And, why do I remember, not just the limus paper, but having eye-droppers also distributed in class? We used the eye-dropped to move the fluid to the paper. Drop. By drop.

    Wasn't I testing to see if something was acid or alkaline? What's the difference?

    What's in bleach? It sure takes the color out of fabrics! Where, when it lands, I've made a big mistake washing my clothes.

    If I took more advanced classes, they'd have trusted me with test tubes. I never did learn how to be careful enough.

  3. Litmus paper is used to test acidity (pH). They actually make some which can be compared to a small chart showing different shades between red and blue so as to quantify the pH. pH paper is good quick and dirty method to test acidity.

    A man named Arnold Beckman invented the pH meter-a probe you stick into solution and it reads the pH. He made a fortune selling these to citrus growers in CA the 30s, 40s and 50s. He invested his money wisely and provided the seed money for William Shockley's transistor company which grew into Intel. Beckman was an ealy investor in Silicon Valley. Look it up. He was also a huge benefactor for Caltech. He lived to be 100.

    Bleach works by oxidizing (tearing out electrons). Chlorine bleach, NaOCl, is called sodium hypochlorite. Other common bleaches are borate bleaches, as in washing detergent. I was just today reading about Na2FeO4 which considered a "green" bleach because its side products are rust.

  4. Is "lichened" a word?

    No it's not a real word. I made it up.

  5. Maybe one day it will be a real word - it will endure - and will be your legacy to mankind?

  6. Thanks LL.

    Carol may be right about McCarthy. 1952 is closing in on something, given that litmus indicates "red."

  7. Still, it would be satisfying to find a cite to the original usage of the metaphor.

  8. Wow, Bruce, your imagination is so much better than mine! To me, pink was pink. (And, acceptable as a lipstick color). But red? Never!

    You know Marilyn Monroe showed up at one of the HUAC "shows." Arthur Miller was accused of being a Red spy! And, because TV was new ... there was a crazy grocer in the state of NY ... who published a book with names in them. And, advertisers were told ... if a product showed up at his grocery store ... where they hired someone listed as "red" ... the product would be banned.

    Back then the Catholic Church was also in the banning business. From their pulpits, on Sundays, they advertised movies and books the flock were forbidden to see and read. (As if Jesus really approves these things!)

    Anyway,reverse psychology worked better than ever. And, that which was banned became bestsellers. And, hits.

    Marilyn Monroe was not a suicide.

    Politicians with power (and no good character) do terrible things.

    Oh, well, Bruce, pink was never red in my eyes.

    But, you're probably right on why "litmus" got used. It was frequently handed out in our high schools.

    You might even have fun if you asked a woman "what pH meant in her shampoo." Can soap get in your eyes?

  9. @Carol: Litmus is definitely "red" and not "pinko"- the first link in my post depicts the color.

    Perhaps you're "thinking pink" with phenolphthein which was commonly used to tritate solutions in chemistry labs.

  10. Whoops! I meant phenolphthalein! I used to play with the stuff in my Skilcraft chemistry set.

  11. What's a litmus test?

    Isn't that what you need to post at boringheads?

    Just sayn'

  12. Trooper York, you don't even "get" to chemistry ... until the 1850's. And, the discovery that oxygen is there. Not ether.

    Litmus paper is something you dip into something else. And, it changes colors. To let you know the presence of acid or alkaline.

    You didn't really benefit from it. But once you stayed in school long enough to go to high school ... you got to take "science" courses. Where you'd dissect a frog. (Also useless.) And, you were given this paper that would change colors.

    Then, you were tested.

    And, then, if you wanted to go to college you had to get good scores in math ... and do well on your SAT.

    You sit on your ass. But your SAT was a test where you filled in the bubbles.

    Seems to me you'd get a great grade if you just filled in all the bubbles.

    But you weren't allowed to do that.

    In school they also taught ya rules.

    How did you do?

  13. Maybe, I needed better glasses? In my mind's eye I saw PINK.

    If I saw RED, I had to run to the bathroom and ask for a Modess Pad from the nurse.

  14. Bruce, I went back and linked to the test strip.

    That's PINK!

    Red was easy to spot. Hard to wash out of my panties.

  15. Bruce, American babies get wrapped in 'pinko.'

    Red is for Chinese babies.

    And, Marx wrote in English! This is not a russian story, here! It's Shakespearean. You could go look! Marx manifesto is not a translation. Geez.

    If you want something russian, go watch a ballet. Or listen to Peter and the Wolf.

  16. Pheno-thaline (sp?) is what's in EX-LAX. It makes you shit. No kidding.

    I can still remember the pediatrician. (When they used to make house calls) ... Asking me if I wanted ice cream. Or chocolate. Easy. HERSEY'S.

    Except it was a small square of Ex-Lax.

  17. Bruce, I went back and linked to the test strip. That's PINK! Red was easy to spot. Hard to wash out of my panties.

    If that's pink you must have been iron deficient.

    Should we take a vote?

  18. Pheno-thaline (sp?) is what's in EX-LAX. It makes you shit. No kidding.

    I've never really need "assistence" so....if you say so.

    (sotto voce) But it's still used in chemistry.

  19. @Carol: Marx and his Guardian Engel wrote in German, even though Marx lived in London. Some lackey translated it into English. Lenin was a usurper. BTW, I know the Cafe where Lenin used to hang out in Zurich.

  20. Also, if you really want to stray off topic, the first week I moved to Zurich, I went to the cemetery where James Joyce is buried.

  21. @Carol_Herman: You have managed to bring out the worst in me via emails.

    Please cease and desist.

  22. They buried James Joyce in Zurich?

    I skied Davos. So at some point I was either in Zurich or Geneva. (I know. I know. In Zurich they speak german. And, in geneva, french.)

    Oranges then cost $10.

    Why was James Joyce buried in Zurich?

    As to languages ... what I discovered ... sking in Megeve and Davos ... is that EVERYBODY spoke a few languages. Especially, when they skied into Italy.

    Americans really aren't as adapt at languages as Europeans.

    All I remember about Marx is that he sat in the British Library. I assumed he could read English. Or how could he find the men's room when nature called?

    I don't think german made Marx famous.

    I think it's the English translation.

    And, the fact that elites want to rule. Even though their moms didn't have "lucky eggs."

    The other story I remember ... from Barbara Tuchman (my favorite historian). Is that in aristocracies ... by 7 generations ... a line goes kaput. And, then she added "but Churchill's" defied this form.

    HOWEVER, John Churchill had only one son. Who died at 18. Before he married. The family name became "SPENCER." Except Winston's grandpa used lawyers to get the family named changed to Churchill. From Spencer.

    (All I learned about Ex-Lax I knew when I was 7. And, the doctor came to the house. I thought I was being given chocolate. With this strange instruction that I could only be given this one tiny square.) It tasted just like chocolate, too.

    I have NO troubles in "that" department. Though, for some reason, recently my doctor told me not to be surprised that our intestines go sluggish with age.

    And, I thought "ONLY OUR BONES KNOW." (Even Nancy Pelosi's BONES know!)

    Now, if people don't know what's in Ex-Lax, it's pheno-thaline. (Sp?)

    And, if you're a chemist you learn to NOT stick your fingers into anything ... to taste what's inside.

    In a geology class I took, however, I LICKED ROCKS during my final. Because SALT is easy to recognize. And, you don't write it off as "quartz."

    Have we gone far enough off topic, yet?

  23. Yes, I was iron deficient. It was called anemia. How did you know. My blood was't pink! that was RED. And, hard to wash out of my underwear. Plus, bedsheets.

    I thought menopause was WONDERFUL! When the doctor asked I said "are you kidding me?"

    No. I didn't want to go back to before "it" ended.

  24. @Carol: I created a new "inbox" for your emails. Sorry I had to do that.