Strange but true: Mortgage means 'death pledge'

Latin root shows risk; gender behavior revealed in childhood

By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D.

Published: Thursday, March 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Q: What's the wisdom of the English language regarding the deadliness of taking on a big mortgage?

A: Money may happily get us our dream home when we borrow, but the feeling is quite the opposite when we have to pay it back — as if "draining our lifeblood," say Edward Burger and Michael Starbird in "The Heart of Mathematics."

Unfortunately, repaying the money is part and parcel of a loan or mortgage.

"Mort," you know, means "death": morticians bury dead people, mortuaries are where dead people are praised before they are buried, mortality means death is in our future.

Linguistically speaking, then, a "mortgage" (from the Latin meaning a "death pledge") can be among the deadliest of transactions, while to "amortize" a debt is to "kill the debt."

"It does sound bleak, but we've all got to face the grim reaper, also known as the mortgage broker."

Q: Is it biology or early upbringing that contributes more to our sense of being a girl or a boy?

A: Male and female behavior is often different, and to some degree, socialization is the key, says Laura Freberg in "Discovering Biological Psychology."

But don't underestimate the importance of biology: Children begin to prefer sex-typed toys (vehicles and dolls) as early as ages 12-18 months, well before they begin thinking of particular toys as "male" or "female."

Socialization is even less likely to play a role in the toy choices of monkeys.

Yet young male monkeys spend more time with wheeled toys and balls, young female monkeys prefer dolls, plush animals and pots.

"These results suggest that at least some boy/girl toy preference we see may originate in biology." Consider the tragic case of Bruce Reimer, who during a routine circumcision in 1965 was injured so badly that experts felt he should be raised as a girl.

Then after surgery, Bruce began life as "Brenda."

For several years, things seemed normal, but as early as second grade, Bruce/Brenda began reporting having dreams of growing up to be a man.

By age 14, even with years of female hormone therapy, he refused to continue living as a girl.

After learning of his medical history, he chose immediate male hormone therapy and surgery.

Renamed David, he lived as a man, married and adopted his wife's children.

Tragically, in 2004, David Reimer took his own life.

Q: What just might be the longest six seconds in motor sports?

A: A good candidate is the Grand Prix pit stop, with the driver getting four fresh tires, an inspection to remove debris from nooks and crannies, and any new parts to replace track casualties, says Tony Borroz in "Speed Demons" in Wired magazine.

"It's a hyperdrive time warp where jobs that might take an afternoon at your local garage are crammed into a few heartbeats."

More than a dozen mechanics work in choreographed synchrony, so many in fact that the six seconds computes to more than 100 man-seconds for a single stop.

It starts with two jack-men, one in front and one in back, lifting the car a few inches, then a dozen crew members swapping out the tires, three to a wheel.

If even a shred of a plastic bag gets into the guts of a Formula 1 racer, it could be curtains for the race — maybe even for the engine.

So when the gun operators finish locking down the tires, two of them reach into the scorching radiator to check for dangerous "hitchhikers."

Fueling used to be part of the protocol, as well, but fire dangers led to its elimination in 2009.The most frequently damaged part of a racer is the nose assembly, which doubles as a jacking point when a new front end is needed.

"If all goes well, the team can change out a nose during a typical six-second stop."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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