Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Prefix of the Day: Hella

A UC Davis grad student wants to establish "hella" as the prefix for 10^27. He has created a Facebook page and as of a moment ago, it had 13,363 fans (apparently none is also a friend of mine; I wonder what that proves).*

Austin Sendak, a grad student in physics, is the creator of the Facebook page whose full name is "The Official Petition to Establish "Hella-" as the SI Prefix for 10^27." One's first thought is: Facebook. Right. Language has always been a product of social networking. Not only does it grow in the community: you can't stop if if you try. Anyone who attempts to pin it down will find that (as T.S. Eliot wrote):
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
On the other hand, there's the little matter of "SI." That would be (perWiki) "a set of unit prefixes" "standardized by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures." This would suggest a degree of codification, on the order of the French Academy. Anyway, Sendek has a nuclear backup. He says that if the SI standard-makers turn him down, he'll try to get it included among computational terms at Google

*Apparently this is only the latest move in a fairly complex social-networking game, which, like so many social-networking games, appears unintelligible to the outsider. The California Aggie, the UC-Davis student newspaper, surfaces the word as part of a "Southern versus Northern California slang rivalry," but then adds that "'Hella,' the popular NorCal slang word meaning 'a lot' or 'very' is commonly used among Northern and Southern Californians..." without further clarifyig what, if anything, the rivalry is about.

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