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Maree’s musings

May 15, 2019 May 2019, Regular Features No Comments


Many big things have happened recently, lots of them serious or sad, so maybe it’s time to be light-hearted again. With big stuff; trying to get our heads around exactly how large and finding the best words to describe these enormities is not easy. Understandable when you are small because nearly everything is bigger, often much bigger. Kiwi youngsters in one tv advert said ‘she’s a pretty big job’ which I’m sure building a retaining wall is. However, the big word, overused, becomes boring and mundane, as does its replacement ‘huge’. Instead nowadays it’s ‘ginormous’, or frequently ‘humungous’. I struggled with that one, but my Oxford dictionary – with 1700 pages, humungous too – revealed the combination of huge and monstrous. Of course. Silly me!

Recently in a newspaper account of a large fire, someone worked out that the flames had the heat equivalent to 100,000 one-bar heaters. The one-bar bit doesn’t sound like much, but I get the feeling that so many of them would be horrifying. Volcanoes, which fortunately only rarely go off, have a measurement scale of zero to eight – when it’s all go! The biggest ever recorded (so far – which is a bit scarey), Mt Tambora, ranked at seven and was described by the experts as ‘super-colossal’; harking back to ancient statues which aren’t that massive in modern terms. Humungous is more apt, I think. Talking of disasters, we all know about the ill-fated Titanic. Maybe the ship itself wasn’t so large but its name has a way of sticking to any sizeable event. 

Then we have weighty things like a ‘ton of bricks’ which today would be a tonne. I’m old enough to recall the metric changeover, but a ton or a tonne still weigh an awful lot. Give or take a few bricks probably makes little difference if you’re underneath.

Huge numbers are very difficult to get your head around too. I discovered that at any particular moment in time there are more than half a million people up in the sky – that’s four billion passengers a year. Some of them – the very rich, that is, will be flying solo in private jets as a new billionaire is created every two seconds. Imagine being the poor sod doing the counting! 

The Rubik cube is still a popular if very frustrating puzzle. Why is this? Almost unbelievably there are 43 quintillion possibilities; the first time Mr Rubik attempted to solve his invention took him longer than a month. All I can say is thank goodness for the maths whizzes who worked this out, using Google probably, because counting them would take for ever. ‘Google’ derives from googol which is 10 multiplied by itself 100 times. Try writing it down: 10 followed by 99 zeros. This is apparently more than all the particles in the universe, but how would you know?       On a completely different topic, can you believe the chance of being born is about one in 14 trillion, and yet the earth is still facing a population crisis? I suppose we must blame sex for that.

My extensive reading habit has also revealed NZers consume over 100 million litres of icecream in a year. Quaffing even one should be avoided when you’re at the pool maybe – when melted, this would fill 44 Olympic-sized swimming pools; which incidentally are a popular measure of size. I do know they are big because my high school had one and it looked pretty daunting from the starting board. Similar size measures actually include many more tangible and often amusing comparisons. Who hasn’t heard or read about double-decker buses, football fields (only a hectare, actually, just so you know), elephants and of course, the favourite: blue whales.

Personally I like golfballs for hailstones or preferably diamonds. And in ending (pun intended) you need to know that your small intestine stretched out has an area of half a badminton court. I dearly hope scientists worked this out by means other than practical, which would create a sizeable problem indeed!

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