I've added a slide presentation/rant on RELAX NG to my home page.



This blog is about recycled knowledge. That means there are often facts or ideas in it that I remember, but don't remember the source of. If you read this and recognize your own ideas, please let me know and I'll fix it up.

Sometimes I deliberately don't say where an idea comes from or mention people in a "background" sort of way, because I don't know if they want their names attached to something they wrote in a more private space than the Web five or ten years ago. If you are one of those, and you do want credit, again let me know.


No cross, no crown

Someone used the phrase "No cross, no crown" on a mailing list, and explained it as meaning "Don't discuss religion or politics". I was fairly sympathetic with the intent, but unfamiliar with this use of the phrase: I had always understood it to mean "If you don't take pains you won't achieve anything", and to be a specifically Christian metaphor: "No earthly cross of metaphorical crucifixion, no heavenly crown of sainthood." I decided to look into the question.

I quickly checked the first 500 Google references to the phrase, and all of them except three clearly referred to the sense I already knew, drawn from all over Christianity, mostly Catholic and Quaker, but Episcopal, AMEZ, Orthodox, and even Rosicrucian. The Christian Scientist symbol of a cross surmounted by a crown probably alludes to the saying as well. The saying is of course also found in purely secular contexts, with the same sense.

Two of the three exceptions are basically accidental: a song "Ojo por Ojo", which says "And in that place there is no cross / no crown, no sacred ground / all is done and left unsaid"; and a page denying that the Mormon Temple is a Christian edifice, enumerating the Christian symbols that it does not have (at least on the outside): "There is no cross, no crown, no alpha or omega, no icthys, no lion, no lamb, nor any other recognizable historical Christian symbol."

The final exception appears in a speech on Voltaire by Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century agnostic, who is clearly using the expression in the mode of parody; he associates it with King James I's maxim "No bishop, no King", by which the King meant that if Presbyterianism came to dominate England as well as Scotland, he would swiftly find himself either out of a job or a tolerated figurehead.

The Quaker references clearly allude to a book of that name by William Penn, in which he says, "No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." The modern phrases "No pain, no gain" and "No guts, no glory" are clearly reminiscences of this. I also found "No pruning, no grapes; no grinding mill, no flour; no battle, no victory; no Cross, no Crown!" and "No laming, no naming, no struggle, no Promised Land; no cross, no crown" in the works of others.


Changing names

The names of Unicode characters, once published, can't ever be changed again, not even when they are obviously wrong. In this case, stability is considered to trump correctness.

A participant in the Unicode development process once complained: "If biologists had insisted that names once assigned could not be changed because of advances in knowledge, or even to correct errors, then surely the system would have broken down centuries ago."

But in fact, the international Linnaean names of plants and animals are not changed for either of those reasons, nor for any other reason whatsoever: though we now know that Basilosaurus is a proto-whale and not any sort of reptile, Basilosaurus it will remain forever.

The only thing that can happen in Linnaean nomenclature is the recognition that two names are synonymous. In that case, there is a question which shall be the preferred name, and normally it is the first name to be published, but exceptions sometimes occur. Thus when the dinosaurs Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were found to be the same, Apatosaurus was chosen as the preferred name because it was published first; however, this is not properly to be described as "changing the name of Brontosaurus to Apatosaurus". Brontosaurus is a perfectly good name and may still be used even though it is dispreferred.

When are later names preferred to earlier ones? Usually when the earlier name has long been forgotten, and the later name is widely used in the scientific literature.

And per se and

The name of the & character, ampersand, is short for and per se and, meaning and by itself and. People used to recite it at the end of the alphabet. About that much there's no doubt.

But of the two ands in that phrase, which one designates the ampersand? Is it and per se & or & per se and? It seemed clear to me that the former is the correct reading, so I did a little desultory research.

Most sources say the derivation is & per se and, but the story of reciting the alphabet is firmly established and I don't see how and, the conjunction, could possibly appear at the end. The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins takes my point of view.

An alternative adopted by the American Heritage and Merriam-Webster dictionaries is that the words and per se and are to be construed as & by itself [means] 'and', but that seems far more strained to me than the natural x, y, z, and per se &.

So I suppose you can say what you like.


It was a dark and stormy night. I stalked my enemy through the tall grass. I saw the flash of his muzzle as his shot went whistling over my head. I fired! I killed him!

I walked to the nearest town. Casually smoking a cigarette, I entered the nearest bar.

"I have killed a man!", said I.

"His name?" demanded a tall, dark, and handsome stranger at the other end of the bar.

"His name? His name was Zanzibar!"

"Zanzibar! He was my brother! We must meet."

It was a dark and stormy night....



"But this is terrible!" cried Frodo. "Far worse than the worst that I imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!"

"Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need."

     --J.R.R. Tolkien