APS News

Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

Riordon's Lament

Ed. Note: The following is based on an incident that occurred late one night, after a hard day’s work at the APS March Meeting. A few staff members were sitting around when the subject of the proper spelling of Maxwell’s name came up.

Listen my children and shortly you’ll hear
How Jimmy C. Maxwell cost me some beer
It happened the day I decided to bet
On spelling his name, which I now do regret.

I’d heard the name spoken, and, clear as a bell
It sounded exactly like James Clark Maxwell.
"I know how to spell that," I thought, "I’m no jerk,
The name is spelled Clark, and it cannot be Clerk."

But what I forgot was that Maxwell was British,
And spelling in Britain is, at its best, skittish.
I don’t take it lightly, but view it quite darkly,
That something spelled Berkeley is verbalized "Barkley".

Driving to Louisville, you can quite sure be
That you will witness the Kentucky Derby.
Driving to Ascot, if you in your car be,
Brings you—surprise!—to a race called the "Darby".

In England the way that they spell is perverse;
In Scotland, if anything, it’s even worse.
Jimmy C.’s middle name’s spelling is queer,
And that’s why I owe everybody a beer.

— Alan Chodos

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff