What was the original name of the letter X, and how many sounds can it represent?

We’ve explored the meaning behind the “X” in Xmas, Xbox, the X-Men, and even its use in friendly and amorous correspondence (XOXO).  Now it’s time to take a closer look at the origin of this multi-functional, twenty-fourth letter of the English alphabet. With its long, ambiguous history and multiple phonemes, the letter “X” is quite a dark horse.

Since its inception, the letter “X” has struggled to establish its own identity, so it may be no coincidence that /x/ is commonly used to represent the unknown in both language and mathematics. “X” is derived from the Phoenician letter samekh, meaning “fish.” Originally used by the Phoenicians to represent the /s/ consonant (denoting a hard “s” sound), the Greeks borrowed the samekh around 900 BC and named it “Chi.”

The ancient Greeks utilized their newly acquired phonological element to simplify the digraph (a pair of letters representing a single speech sound) /ks/ – used most prominently throughout the western regions of Greece. The Romans later adopted the ‘x’ sound from the Chalcidian alphabet, a non-Ionic Greek alphabet, and borrowed the ‘Chi’ symbol, consisting of two diagonally crossed strokes, from the Greek alphabet to denote the letter /x/ as well as to identify the Roman numeral X or “10.” So to sum up: The Romans took the /x/ sound from one alphabet (Chalcidian) and combined it with the ‘Chi’ symbol from another alphabet (Greek) and thus X was born.

Like many letters in the English language, such as “C” and “J,” X is a bit of a phonetic chameleon. For instance, /x/ is used to establish the /ks/ sound, as in wax and fox — referred to as a “voiceless velar fricative” – the articulation of a sound made by placing the back of the tongue at the soft palate. The same rule applies for x’s /gz/ sound, as in “auxiliary” and “exhaust.” X can also take on the /z/ sound as in “xylophone” and “Xanadu”, the hard /k/ sound as in “excite”, and /kzh/ as in “luxury”. The /x/ can also be silent as in “Sioux (Falls)”, and the French loan-word “faux”.

We appreciate your input – let us know which letter of the alphabet you’d like us to investigate next.

Amtrak funding crisis worries Metra.(News)

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) June 22, 2002 | McCoppin, Robert Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer Metra officials say they are concerned the potential shutdown of Amtrak could disrupt rail service for thousands of suburban commuters who use Union Station.

Amtrak owns and operates the downtown Chicago station, but Metra runs more than 80 percent of the trains there.

On Thursday, Amtrak President David Gunn said he would have to shut Amtrak down unless it secured $200 million more in funding by the middle of next week.

The same day, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta suggested a major restructuring of Amtrak, privatizing some parts and giving states more authority over the remaining public routes. Since its creation in 1971, Amtrak has been a perennial money-loser for Washington. Throughout the years, Congress has come through on a number of occasions with cash to keep the company running. However, the Bush administration has proposed ending Amtrak’s role as the nation sole provider of passenger rail service, putting the future of the company in doubt.

If Amtrak operations are interrupted, Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano said, provisions must be made for some entity – possibly Metra, which runs the suburban commuter rail lines – to immediately keep running Union Station.

Pagano said he also would be willing to look at running some Amtrak routes if necessary but has held no serious discussions on that subject.

“If Amtrak goes bankrupt, Union Station … still needs to function and, if we have to step in to take up that void, we’ll need to do it,” he said. “Any deterioration of that will have an impact on Metra operations, and we’re working very closely with Amtrak to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Amtrak also is waiting for Congress to act on its request for $1.2 billion for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, yet the Bush administration has said the national rail system cannot continue to operate as it has, at a deficit.

Faced with such warnings, Pagano said he’s met with Federal Railroad Association officials to emphasize the importance of continued operations at Union Station. here amtrak promotion code

Half of Metra’s 12 lines and 242 trains use Union Station each weekday, including the Milwaukee District North and West lines, the North Central Service, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the Heritage Corridor and the Southwest Service.

Union Station handles more than 125,000 Metra rides each weekday – 42 percent of Metra’s 300,000 daily passengers – including its busiest route, the Burlington Northern from Aurora and Naperville.

Metra pays about $8 million a year to use Union Station, so if it took it over, it would save that money. But Metra officials said they would have to see whether more funding would be needed to run other aspects of the operation.

Already this year, Metra has had several problems at rush hour because of failures in Amtrak’s computerized dispatch and signaling system for Union Station.

Pagano said those problems were not caused by Amtrak’s funding difficulties but by problems with a contractor hired to upgrade the system.

The upgrade will not be completed until next year.

Shutdown plans Amtrak was making some contingency plans for an orderly shutdown in early July, if necessary, with adequate advance notice for the public, spokesman Howard Reifs said.

Union Station is Amtrak’s fourth largest station, but Reifs did not know of any plans to keep it operating in case of a shutdown.

If Amtrak runs out of money, it would shut down 48 trains a day in Illinois, which carried 2.8 million riders last year, most of them in Chicago, but including 28,000 at its lone suburban stop in Naperville.

It would also lose 10 trains to out-of-state destinations, which are typically the biggest money-losers.

Amtrak employs 200 managers in Chicago, 600 business unit workers and 650 skilled laborers. It also spent $74 million on goods and services in Illinois last year, including millions in Itasca, Elk Grove Village, Rosemont and Lombard.

Amtrak critics, such as Joseph Vranich, a former member of the Amtrak Reform Council, think it would be beneficial for Amtrak to shut down and for local commuter rail operators to take over regional routes.

In his book “Derailed,” Vranich argued that money-losing long- distance Amtrak routes, like Chicago to San Antonio, should be shut down to provide better service on shorter routes with higher demand, such as Chicago to St. Louis or Detroit.

Local operators like Metra, Vranich said, would need federal subsidies to pick up such routes. They also would need to acquire track rights Amtrak has to use freight railroad lines. in our site amtrak promotion code

There is precedent for proposals to have Metra take over Amtrak operations.

In 1996, Illinois lawmakers pushed to have Metra take over Amtrak routes, arguing it would lower costs and provide better, more on-time service.

Metra officials said they were interested at the time, but it would have to be done at no cost or harm to its current customers.

State burden increases Meanwhile, the amount state taxpayers pay Amtrak to provide rail service has risen, with some increased service, from $3 million in 1995 to $7 million in 1996, to $10 million this year.

The state pays Amtrak to run the Illinois Zephyr route from Chicago to Quincy, the State House line from Chicago through Springfield to St. Louis, and the Illini route, from Chicago through Champaign to Carbondale.

Illinois also shares part of the cost with Wisconsin to run six trains a day on the Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Beyond seeking more information about Amtrak’s future, the state has not made any provision to continue train service if Amtrak becomes insolvent, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Dick Adorjan said.

As it stands now, he said, “once Amtrak stops running, service stops.” Supporters of a national rail service, however, like David Randall, president of the Illinois Association of Railroad Passengers, remain optimistic that Congress, faced with an Amtrak shutdown, will approve funding to keep it going.

Debt-ridden states like Illinois have no extra money to fund rail service, Randall said, and it would be difficult to coordinate rail service across parts of 50 states.

“I’m not losing sleep over Amtrak shutting down,” Randall said. “Congress will find some way for them to pull through.” Metra officials also anticipate that Amtrak, which has a new director with extensive railway experience, will get funding and continue operations.

But if worse came to worse, Metra spokesman Frank Malone said, officials expect they’ll have enough time to prevent any service cancellations or delays.

“It would have to be a smooth transition, so we’d be able to run and slowly resume responsibility for Union Station,” Malone said. “That is our primary overwhelming concern.” GRAPHIC: Amtrak and Chicago – Amtrak runs Union station, but could cede control to Metra in the event of a shutdown – An Amtrak shutdown would cancel 48 trains a day from Illinois, most out of Chicago – Amtrak employs about 1,400 people in and around Chicago News reports McCoppin, Robert

How to Paint the Ceiling And Not Your Face

The Washington Post April 4, 2002 | Mike McClintock In any painting project, rolling fresh color over a clean, sound wall is the easy part, where you make great time and see dramatic results. But jobs can bog down when you run up against some of the more troublesome areas, such as ceilings, windows and radiators.

If you know you’ll have to deal with some of these tricky areas, avoid problems by planning your strategy and making sure you have the right equipment.

Nearly always, you’ll want to paint the ceiling first. Working over your head is always a hassle. It’s particularly tough on the arms and shoulders. And even if you’re covered up in a long-sleeved shirt and old hat, you might get a face full of paint splatter and drips.

An elaborate setup of ladders and scaffolds will get you closer to the job, and you might have to resort to that if the ceiling needs a lot of patching. But if not, try working from the ground using a paint roller screwed to an extension pole. You can also use a sanding pad on a pole to prep the surface. go to website how to paint

With practice, you’ll find that using a pole is a bit like leisurely paddling a canoe — with the paddle pointing up. And because the roller stays well in front of you, you can finish the job without a splatter-painted face.

The secret to painting windows is a process professionals call cutting in. That means you spread paint along the slender wooden edges without painting the glass at the same time. It can be a challenge for novices, but less so if you use a professional-quality brush.

The best choice is a brush no wider than three inches with a long handle for added control, called a sash tool. (Buy nylon for latex paint, natural bristles for oil-based paint.) The best varieties are flagged and tipped. When bristles are flagged, the tapered ends are slightly split to hold more paint. When bristles are tipped, the ends are tapered to release an even, controllable flow.

After you load up the brush, cradle the handle between your thumb and forefinger and point the bristle end as you would a pencil. Flex the bristles in line with the stroke, and draw the tool evenly along the edge you want to paint. Some people prefer the angle-cut version of the tool. But flexing the bristles as you work produces the same shape and often better results.

The nonprofessional but still workable approach is to cover the edges of the glass with tape and paint away. But taping neatly is time consuming, and cleanup is a problem if you use standard masking tape and have to scrape away tape adhesive with a razor blade. If you do take the tape approach, use painters’ tape that has less adhesive and is designed to pull off intact. website how to paint

The ultimate course of action here is to completely disconnect old radiators and ship them to a contractor who will strip the exterior and interior surfaces. Freed of rust and scale inside, and taken down to bare metal with a clear coat or one layer of radiator paint outside, they will look good and transfer maximum heat.

When you tackle radiators in place, however, there are some choices to make. For example, you could add another coat of paint, which will reduce heat output a bit, or strip off old layers and start again.

But stripping is a messy job, and in older houses could involve lead paint. (If you plan to strip old paint or do a lot of scraping and sanding, check for lead with an inexpensive swab-test kit available at paint and hardware stores.) To use a typical chemical stripper, you need to cloak the area with drop cloths, don full protective gear and provide a lot of ventilation.

For a once-over paint job, start by washing the radiator to remove dirt and oil and ensure better adhesion for the new coat. A light sanding that scuffs the surface also helps. You’ll also need to turn off the radiator (or wait for warmer weather) to do the job.

No need to use automotive or metallic paint, although you should apply a metal primer over bare metal. In fact, an extra coat of metallic paint can noticeably reduce heat output. If you want to use paint with a metallic finish but don’t want the heat loss, install a reflective aluminum shield behind the radiator to reflect more heat into the room.

There are also special high-heat paints (including some in spray cans) designed for radiators. Some are rated to withstand temperatures of 300 degrees and more. But you don’t really need them either, because radiators don’t get that hot.

If you’re repainting, follow the same rule that applies to walls and other surfaces, which is to use the same type of paint that was used before. Compatible paints are likely to adhere better than a mismatch, such as a coat of oil-base paint over old latex.

Finally, there are several ways to coat the nooks and crannies of a radiator. One of the easiest is to mask the surrounding area with plastic sheeting and spray on the finish. Another is to use a painting mitt (basically a furry-surfaced mitten), that substitutes for a brush. If you can’t find one, wear a rubber glove covered with a heavy cotton sock.

In a well-stocked paint store, you might also find a radiator brush that has a long handle and a bend at the ferrule that makes it somewhat easier to reach into tight spaces. Likewise, the easiest way to coat the wall behind the radiator is with spray paint, but a long- handled, bent-ferrule radiator brush works well, too.

Mike McClintock

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