“Tragic Capacity”

Copying a quote from a paper that has undergone Optical Character Recognition (OCR), I see that “traffic capacity” was translated as “tragic capacity”. Sometimes the OCR knows best. So what happens when we systematically replace “traffic” with “tragic”? Typing “traffic” and each letter of the alphabet in turn, i.e. “traffic a”, “traffic b” into the well-known Google search engine (logged in as me), I get the following interesting phrases, where I substitute “tragic” for “traffic”, and they all still work.

  • tragic accidents
  • tragic alerts
  • tragic capacity
  • tragic control
  • tragic delays
  • tragic designs
  • tragic engineer
  • tragic fines
  • tragic forecast
  • tragic games
  • tragic google maps
  • tragic hazards
  • tragic incidents
  • tragic impact assessment
  • tragic jam
  • tragicking
  • tragic lights
  • tragic management
  • tragic news
  • tragic offences
  • tragic offenders
  • tragic police
  • tragic power
  • tragic queue
  • tragic report
  • tragic rules
  • tragic signs
  • tragic signal
  • tragic simulator
  • tragic to airport
  • tragic technologies
  • tragic update
  • tragic viewer
  • tragic violation
  • tragic volume
  • tragic watch
  • tragic yield
  • tragic zipper
  • tragic zone

Connected Lightning

Toyota Levin - Connected Lightning
Toyota Levin – Connected Lightning

So I was looking at a photo of a Toyota Levin, a model I had never seen before. For some reason the name intrigued me. The Wikipedia page notes that “Levin in Old English means lightning.”

Babynames tells me the name Levin is derived from Levi. In Hebrew Levi means “connected”. And in Genesis, Levi founded the tribe named for him.


On ‘Misery Loves Company’

‘Misery Loves Company’ is a very misunderstood expression. I think most people use it to mean that miserable people want other people around to cheer them up, to commiserate.

For instance, wiktionary says:

misery loves company

  1. Misery is easier to bear when one is not the only one miserable. quotations ▼


The Cambridge Dictionary implies similarly:

misery loves company

saying people who are unhappy like to share their troubles with others:

We’d both just broken up with our boyfriends, so we decided to go see a movie together – misery loves company.

In my view,  the misery is a contagion, and so miserable people make other people unhappy. It is the misery itself which ‘loves’ company, not the unhappy person seeking to be less unhappy.   This is alluded to on the wikipedia page with an obscure link to “emotional contagion“.

This more cynical view is consistent with the the origin of the expression. which is apparently Marlowe in Dr. Faustus. Positively Parkinson’s writes:

A curious phrase, “misery loves company”.  It originated from Dr. Faustus, a play from the 16th century about a man who was prepared to give up all hope by signing a pact with the devil in exchange for 24 years of living with his desires being fulfilled. The quote is from the lips of Mephistophilis, the devil’s agent, in answer to the question about why Satan seeks to enlarge his kingdom. The phrase appears to mean that those who are unhappy seek to make others unhappy too. Is that true? It does seem that the older we get the more we seek to share our maladies, aches and pains; the pills we are taking, the operations undergone, the alternative medicine remedies we have tried. Are we commiserating? Are we truly seeking to drag others into a miserable hell like the clever demon attempted with Dr. Faustus?

For the full text of Faustus, see Note: 2 on this page. The expression is not in English in the original, and I think the translation is metaphorical rather than literal.

The aphorism has been extended in a number of ways that exhibit this misunderstanding.

I know descriptivists will say the expression means what the people say it means. But as a retrograde prescriptivist standing upon the Dictionary and yelling “Stop!”, I say enough is enough; miserable people don’t really want company, and if you choose to accompany them, you asked for it.


Volume or Flow

Wikipedia says: “Volume is the quantity of three-dimensional space enclosed by some closed boundary, for example, the space that a substance (solid, liquid, gas, or plasma) or shape occupies or contains. Volume is often quantified numerically using the SI derived unit, the cubic metre.”
Wikipedia defines traffic flow: “Flow (q) is the number of vehicles passing a reference point per unit of time, and is measured in vehicles per hour. ”
But In telecommunication networks “traffic volume is a measure of the total work done by a resource or facility, normally over 24 hours, and is measured in units of erlang-hours. It is defined as the product of the average traffic intensity (in erlang) and the period of study (in hours).”
In the some of the transportation literature, both flow and volume are terms that mean the same thing. This is confusing. Flow is clearly used as a rate per unit time, while a volume is a quantity, more analogous to a total count. Of course that count occurs over time, so they can be equivalent. But we have “volume to capacity ratios”, where the volume and capacity are both in units of vehicles per unit time, which is to say, in units of flow. This is even worse when we consider that the next sentence in the description of volume says: “The volume of a container is generally understood to be the capacity of the container.” Which implies all V/C ratios are 1. Clearly capacity is not understood as a flow either.
If I were a student, I might easily confuse “volume” and “density”, though of course they are different. Density is the instantaneous number of vehicles per unit space, and is thus more intuitively aligned with the basic geometric notion of “volume”.
I propose we excise the term “volume” from the transportation literature when we mean flow. I will purge it from my vocabulary. Flow is a count per unit time. Most of the time when we say “traffic volume”, we could simply say “traffic” or “traffic count” or “traffic flow”, depending on the context. Wikipedia says “Traffic on roads may consist of pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, streetcars and other conveyances, either singly or together, while using the public way for purposes of travel. ”
I also sometimes hear this technical term “Flux”, which is in most sciences defined as flow per unit area. In traffic it seems to be essentially synonymous with the word flow (someone please educate me on the difference, if there is one).(They both come from the same Indo-European root, though by different routes).