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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/299

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285
FRAGMENTS OF SCIENCE.

does not concern you. But if the creditor proves that which you deny, you will receive twenty blows on the back, and will pay an amend of twenty thousand (fakoudj) pieces of copper.'" The antiquity of this custom is of especial interest just at present, because of the rise into prominence of the so-called Bertillon system of identifying criminals, which is based on the finger-print method.

 

Solid Air.—In a recent address on The Liquefaction of Air and Research at Low Temperatures, before the Chemical Society, Prof. J. Dewar gave some very interesting descriptions of such unusual substances as "solid air" and "liquid hydrogen." He says: "If a litre of liquid air be exhausted in a silvered vacuum vessel, half a litre of solid air may be obtained and kept solid for half an hour. The solid is at first a stiff, transparent jelly, which, when placed in a magnetic field, has the still liquid oxygen drawn out to the poles, showing that solid air is a nitrogen jelly containing liquid oxygen; solid air can only be examined in a vacuum, or an atmosphere of hydrogen, because it instantly melts on exposure to the air, causing an additional quantity of air to liquefy. It is strange to see a mass of solid air melting in contact with the atmosphere, and all the time swelling up like a fountain. . . . A small ignited jet of hydrogen burns continuously below the surface of liquid oxygen, all the water produced being carried away as snow. . . . By means of a jet of liquid hydrogen, liquid air and oxygen were transformed into hard white solids resembling avalanche snow, quite different in appearance from the jellylike mass of solid air got by the use of the air pump." The only widely distributed element which has not yet been liquefied is fluorine.

 

Curious Verbal Customs in Madagascar.—A curious custom—said to be common throughout the country—of changing names and words, is described in J. T. Last's Notes on the Languages Spoken in Madagascar. The mention of the name borne by the king while living is tabooed after his decease, and violation of this law may be punished even with death. The name of a chief is tabooed to all in any way connected with him, and that of a notable person to all belonging to his family; and should there be another person in the family bearing the same name as that of the person deceased, that name must be laid aside and another one taken. This change of name is often made as a mark of respect for a friend. It is considered an honor to the dead man to change one's name. The author while traveling once heard some guns fired off in the distance denoting death. He found, on inquiry, that the deceased was a grown-up daughter of a certain person; but the people were careful not to mention her name, because it was to be changed, and they did not yet know what new name would be adopted for her. The names given to deceased kings and chiefs are invariably formed of three words, of which the first is always Andriana—lord; the second some word denoting respect or honor, or pointing to some characteristic of the deceased; and the third and last, arivo—a thousand. Even among the common people it is considered highly indecorous to mention the name of a deceased person. Some special words are the exclusive property of kings and queens. Besides these, a number of words are common to kings and chiefs, but can not be used in the same manner by the other people. Again, the king has power to make certain words "fady," that is, to prohibit their use either for a time or entirely; and then other words must be adopted to be used in their place. Changes are often made in the use of words by the prohibition of words containing part of the name of the king or queen. These customs may be made to account for some of the differences existing between neighboring dialects; and their value as factors may be estimated when we consider the number of petty kings in Madagascar, and remember that the rules as to the name of each produce more or less permanent changes in the language.

 

The Deepest Sounding yet made.—It is stated that Captain Balfour, of H. M. S. Penguin, has obtained three soundings of over five thousand fathoms. They were taken in the Pacific Ocean at the following points: Latitude south, 23° 39°; longitude west, 175° 4', 5,022 fathoms, at which point the wire broke; latitude south, 28° 44'; longitude west, 176° 4', 5,147 fathoms; and