Why is it "Zed" in Britain, and "Zee" in America?

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iStock

So zed is British and zee is American, yes? Well, that might be the case today, but once upon a time things were quite different. Historically, both zed and zee were used pretty much interchangeably in both British and American English, alongside a whole host of other more outlandish names for the last (or rather, second last) letter of the alphabet, like izzard, uzzard, zad, shard and, our personal favorite, ezod.

Of the two we’re talking about here, however, zed is by far the oldest, and takes its name via French and Latin from that of its Greek equivalent, zeta. Zed first appeared in print in the early 1400s, in a Middle English document that fairly straightforwardly described it as “þe laste lettre of þe a b c”—which is considerably nicer than what William Shakespeare had to say about it. Zee, on the other hand, first appeared in print in a British language textbook—Thomas Lye’s New Spelling-book—in 1677. The name zee itself is thought to have originated as nothing more than a dialect variation of zed, probably influenced by the regular bee, cee, dee, ee pattern of much of the rest of the alphabet. But precisely how or why it became the predominant form in American English is unclear.

One widely-held theory is that because zed, as the older of the two, was the most widespread variation amongst British English speakers, during the Revolutionary War American English speakers looking to distance themselves from anything even vaguely British simply adopted the zee version as their own to make a stand—no matter how small it might seem—against British control. Alternatively, there mightn’t have been any political reasoning behind it at all, and the name might simply have come to the forefront as American English was forced to adapt and simplify as more and more colonists—coming from ever more distant countries, and speaking an ever more varied array of languages—began arriving in the New World.

Whatever the motivation might have been, by the mid-nineteenth century zee had become the standard form of the letter Z in the United States, and has remained so ever since. Though the campaign to resurrect ezod begins here...

This piece originally appeared on Paul Anthony Jones' Haggard Hawks blog.

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

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Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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