“I Did My Research”
Misinformation abounds. I haven’t actually heard “I did my research” to defend weak claims, but I’ve read rebuttals: “Searching websites isn’t research. You didn’t use a control group, or do statistical analysis, or apply the scientific method.”
Rubbish. Historical research rarely involves any of the above. Many materials once found only in libraries are available online. What is research, anyway? What do a fourth-grader’s report, a high school term paper, and a grant-funded scholarly investigation have in common?
Did you play telephone as a child? The first player whispers a phrase to the next child in the circle, who whispers it to the next, and so on. By the time the phrase comes all the way around, it has mutated enough to prompt a giggle. The larger the circle, the more the message may change. This year, coronavirus has circulated long enough to mutate into a form more able to bind to cells and fend off antibodies: the Delta variant.
Everything I ever needed to know about the Delta variant I learned in grade school. Did you ever play sardines? More and more children cram into a hiding place until there are too many to hide. Similarly, the Delta variant overcrowds the respiratory tract. Compared to the coronavirus we first knew, it multiplies faster, becomes infectious sooner, and reaches a much higher viral load.
Did you play Red Rover? At Suncrest Grade School, opposing teams faced each other in lines. Our team dared someone from the other side to try to break through our clasped hands: “Red Rover, Red Rover, we dare [name] come over!” A strong runner could break a weak link in our human chain. On today’s coronavirus playground, the Delta variant runs hard enough to cause mild breakthrough infections in some fully vaccinated people.
Tame Sows and Wild Boars
The Iliad and The Odyssey include tales of swineherds and swine. Among the earliest animals to be domesticated, pigs figure prominently in ancient banquet menus, rituals, and pottery. Tame sows in search of acorns must have met wild boars in the forest. The Romans called their progeny hybrida.
I love word origins. Unlike words that reverse meaning over time (awful once meant “awesome”), hybrid has kept its original sense: something of mixed origin. Its use in English increased after 1850, as scientists worked to improve food crops and animals through crossbreeding. Hybrid tea roses are favorite garden flowers.
Beyond biology, hybrid came to mean vehicles with both gasoline and electric motors. In a fresh use of the term this year, instructors, employers, and worship leaders are scrambling to design hybrid post-pandemic event formats that are both virtual and in-person.
It’s clear what hybrid cars and meetings share with the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. More puzzling is why we don’t call almost everything else hybrid too. Bronze Age peoples mixed tin with copper. Talking pictures combined silent movies with sound recording. Pasta with tomato sauce blends ingredients from Italy and the Americas. Cultural diffusion shapes our language, clothing, folklore, music; all their origins are mixed. We’ll figure out whatever hybrids we need. We’ve been doing it for millennia.
Pulling weeds, I ponder my options as the pandemic wanes. Resume old habits? Keep the slower pace? Try something new?
When we changed house four-and-a-half years ago, my gardening know-how extended to digging dandelions. The abundant perennials left by the previous owner have been teaching me ever since. A recent sampling:
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.