November 24, 2017

"The term 'blivet' for the impossible fork was popularized by Worm Runner's Digest magazine."

"In 1967 Harold Baldwin published there an article, 'Building better blivets,' in which he described the rules for the construction of drawings based on the impossible fork. In December 1968 American optical designer and artist Roger Hayward wrote a humorous submission 'Blivets: Research and Development' for The Worm Runner's Digest in which he presented various drawings based on the blivet. He 'explained' the term as follows: 'The blivet was first discovered in 1892 in Pfulingen, Germany, by a cross-eyed dwarf named Erasmus Wolfgang Blivet.'..."

From the Wikipedia article "Impossible trident," which I'm reading this morning because Bad Lieutenant — commenting in the post about Kim Kardashian's "body shapers" — said "Sausage casings come to mind. I was thinking more along the lines of 'blivet.'"

I was trying to remember how I'd heard that word defined, and I don't think it's what Bad L was thinking of (which comes up in the Urban Dictionary definition: "Ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag").

And I'm sure it wasn't The Impossible Trident, which is this familiar thing that exists only in drawings:

So what was my old, forgotten understanding of "blivet"? Hey! It's in the Oxford English Dictionary:
U.S. slang. (chiefly joc.).

A pseudo-term for something useless, unnecessary, annoying, etc.; hence, = thingamajig n.
The oldest published use is in a slang dictionary in 1967, looking back to WWII:
1967 H. Wentworth & S. B. Flexner Dict. Amer. Slang Suppl. 673/2 Blivit, n., anything unnecessary, confused, or annoying. Lit. defined as ‘10 pounds of shit in a 5-pound bag’. Orig. W.W. II Army use. The word is seldom heard except when the speaker uses it in order to define it; hence the word is actually a joke.
So Urban Dictionary is more right than Wikipedia, but Wikipedia seems to know it's getting it wrong, since it also has an article for "Worm Runner's Digest," which is identified as (partly) satire:
The W.R.D. published both satirical articles, such as "A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown", and scientific papers, the most famous of which, "Memory transfer through cannibalism in planaria", was a result of McConnell's RNA memory transfer experiments with planarian worms and was later published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry.
It's pure poetry that Kim Kardashian's body shapers led us to "A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown":
Consider now an elemental strip of cloth isolated as a free body in the area of plane B of figure 1. The two tangible forces F1 and F2 are equal and opposite as before, but the force W(weight of dress) is not balanced by an upward force V because there is no cloth above plane B to supply this force. Thus, the algebraic summation of horizontal forces is zero, but the sum of the vertical forces is not zero. Therefore, this elemental strip is not in equilibrium; but it is imperative, for social reason, that this elemental strip be in equilibrium.....

43 comments:

Owen said...

I learned "blivet" in the late 60's reading some trash military adventure novel where it was defined as the overstuffed fecal container. I laughed and have cherished the term ever since, and used it more than once. The competing definition is unknown to me.

If I must choose a meaning, I stand with what I first knew. Let imaginary forks find another name.

RNB said...

A complex but useless object is a 'kludge.'

Fernandistien said...

ngram has blivit back to 1901 - gets popular ~1920 - and blivet back to 1905.

buwaya said...

You don't see strapless evening gowns much anymore.
These were elegant weapons for a more civilized age.

Unknown said...

Blivet was the name of an external storage container carried by an airplane in the Navy. It resembles an external fuel tank (a drop tank) but has a small door to place one's luggage inside. This was the term we used in the 1980s. It never occurred to me it was a slang term, I thought it was the official name.

PS: Thank you Obi Wan Buwaya

Crimso said...

I saw the term applied to the idea of a loitering air-to-air missile with a nuclear warhead. Once activated, it would track a target. At the instant it detected an increase in range (i.e., the target was pulling away), it would detonate. Don't recall where I saw it, but it was quite a few years ago.

tcrosse said...

Such an object is WOMBAT, Waste of Money, Brains, and Talent.

Owen said...

RNB: and all these years I thought "kludge" was a "really nerdy over-engineered hasty ugly but kinda helpful patch." Maybe the etymology helps us decide: "klutz bridge" = "kludge." See what I did there?

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Your "Impossible Trident" is also known as the Triple Tuned Encabulator Manifold. The manifold was a real life saver in the telecommunications industry. Accuracy was enhanced when paired with a Super Reflex Klystron Eliminator (with a manual adjustment).

Etienne said...

A complex but useless object is a 'kludge.'

I think a kludge, which was a popular saying in my youth, meant something that actually worked, but was wired together haphazardly.

For example, this guy made a wire-wrap computer on his kitchen table, and just after he got it working, the cat had a fight with it when he wasn't home.

He arrived, shocked at all the wires and parts dangling everywhere off the table. Finally he said, WTF, turned on the power, and the damned thing still worked! It made the cover of BYTE magazine.

He called it the definitive kludge.

buwaya said...

A kludge is and has always been an inelegant and often partial solution to a technical problem.

It does not have to be haphazard to be a kludge.

I am a connoisseur of kludges. Kludges are the lazy engineers salvation, and his successors burden - or sometimes his job security.

Daniel Jackson said...

In my neighborhood a blivet was FORTY pounds of shit in a TEN pound freezer bag. We differ by a factor of two.

It was used as a New Yorker's way (read Yiddish) to describe an extreme stuffed shirt of either gender, very popular with those in the schmatta trade. A stuffed shirt more as a person wearing clothes three to four sizes too small or for a bimbo spilling over the top.

Dorsey Gillman said...

My Daddy was a career Military man. Going back into the 1950's I routinely heard to word "blivet" and it was "Ten pounds of shit crammed into a five pound bag."
" He fell like he had been hit with a blivet."

Owen said...

Renewed and extended Thanksgiving: not for turkey but for this wonderful banter.

Bad Lieutenant said...

I don't think it's what Bad L was thinking of (which comes up in the Urban Dictionary definition: "Ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag").

Got it in one, schatz.

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

As I recall a blivet was someone so fat they had to stick out one arm to tell if they were walking or rolling.

Grumpy_98 said...

That hatch in the blivet also would allow stowage of items acquired at a distant location that were not available at the home NAS. For example, cases of Coors might have found their way into a blivet for the return leg of a weekend cross-country hop. Saw it happen several times at a certain NAS in northwestern Washington in the early-70's. At the time Coors was unavailable in Washington.

takirks said...

Twenty-five years on active duty, and the only thing I know as a definition for the word "blivet" is a fuel bladder, of any size and/or provenance:

http://archive.defense.gov/photoessays/photoessayss.aspx?id=4193

They also can look like this:

http://readycontainment.com/testreadycontainment/ready-military-fuel-and-water-bladders/

It's interesting to hear that there's actual slang etymology for the word, but this is the first I've ever heard of it, or had reason to even think about it. The damn things were just called "blivets", so far as I ever knew...

Dorsey Gillman said...

"I think a kludge, which was a popular saying in my youth, meant something that actually worked, but was wired together haphazardly."

Exactly. If I were attempting to kludge together a blivet I'd be lucky to have eight and a half pounds of shit in a five pound bag when finished, never as good as if one had the proper materials,tools and time.

Earnest Prole said...

Lately the OED has been increasingly unreliable. Thingamajig is most certainly not a synonym for "something useless, unnecessary, annoying"; it means "something that is hard to classify or whose name is unknown or forgotten."

virgil xenophon said...

I first heard of the "10lbs-5lbs" term when I was a freshman at LSU in 1962 (obviously I had led a sheltered life prior thereto) ; later learned of the baggage pod definition subsequently when on active duty in the USAF.

Owen said...

Dorsey Gillman: the secret to the kludge?

[stage whisper] DUCT TAPE

Johnny Sokko said...

We always used the term blivet to describe an underwater fart.

Dorsey Gillman said...

"We always used the term blivet to describe an underwater fart."

I'm glad you guys have finally gotten into an area where I have much experience with the terminology. You see, I was in a construction trade as a young man; learn the insults or suffer greatly. Location = Southeast USA.

An underwater fart is a "FROMP". One who does such things is also called a FROMP. Does anyone need an explanation!

Dorsey Gillman said...

Owen said... "the secret to the kludge?

[stage whisper] DUCT TAPE"

AMEN. Show me a man without a good supply of DUCT TAPE and I'll show you a man who cannot properly care for himself or his family.

tim in vermont said...

There is a restaurant in Vermont that serves asparagus with a certain three pronged fork in which the tines are set too far apart to spear the spear, except sideways, which is more work. Now I know what to call those forks.

tim in vermont said...

am a connoisseur of kludges. Kludges are the lazy engineers salvation, and his successors burden

Kludges only solve the part of the problem that needs solving right now! If they solved all of the requirements, they would be known as "solutions."

Howard said...

Kludges also lead to new, more efficient designs because they are real, not some dream that lives in a paper engineer's fantasia world

Phil 3:14 said...

As regards The Impossible Trident and the prior reference to Ms. Kardashian (and her figure and fecundity) I note that the Trident shows a gap in the middle at the top and a third tine (or maybe better described as a third "leg") at the bottom with one seamlessly melding into the other.

I know there's something profound in this analogy but I just can't put my finger on it.

Herb said...

In my twenty year career in the US Navy, we always used the term blivet to mean the result of inserting 10 pounds of BS into a 5 pound paper bag. Of course the ultimate was a "flaming blivet" and the expert bliveteer would claim to create a flaming blivet by setting the bag on fire prior to inserting the BS. It was normally claimed to have left a flaming blivet on the doorstep of someone you did not like / respect, having rang the doorbell on the way out...

mikee said...

Worm Runners Digest seems to be picking up where the famed and honored Journal Of Ir-Reproducible Results left off.

William Chadwick said...

Not to be confused with a "blumpkin." Something Al Franken and Charlie Rose are probably familiar with.

Rt1 Rebel said...

In a previous professional life, a blivot was a batch of alumina, acetic acid, nitric acid, and water in a sheer mixer that instead of achieving desired viscosity, jelled up and solidified into an immovable mass in the mixer. The reactivity of the alumina was the variable. Until now, I thought it was a technical term, now I wonder who I may have worked with that gave it that terminology.

EMyrt said...

The Worm Runner's Digest is, if anything, a predecessor to the Journal of Irreproducible Results, which still lives online at http://www.jir.com/

And Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown was not satire!
Dr Z still has his cooy of the book.

Gospace said...

Standard military definition of blivet is as Herb and others mentioned before.

Referring to someone as a dingleberry was slightly more insulting than referring to them as a blivet.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

“It is my opinion that young girls are no different from boys in their need for exertion. Feminine weakness and fainting spells are the direct result of confining young girls to the house bent over their needlework in restrictive corsets.”

Marmee, Little Women, 1994

We watch it every year as we decorate the house for Christmas the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

And my favorite Marmee lines, which my girls now see coming and look at me, amused and expectant, to watch me start crying,

“I only care what you think of yourself,” she tells Meg. “If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself thinking that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but the one thing it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind, your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you."

Jeff Teal said...

Of course we used it as a noun to describe the huge rubber bags of aviation fuel which are sling loaded in to operate FARPs(fueling and rearming Points)

Miss Cellania said...

When I was a kid, we used the word blivet for cow patties. That may have come from some misunderstanding of how someone's father understood it. I thought it was a delightfully funny term.

Dorsey Gillman said...

Thingamajigs, whatchamacallits and gizmos got no honorable mention here.
And yet they were all often-used descriptive words when I was growing up.
Correct spelling on the first two is????????????

william penfield said...

That impossible trident was an obsession of Mad magazine for a time in the 60's. They called it a 'poiuyt' (look at your keyboard).

Paul Sand said...

My first exposure to the trident/blivet was a 1964 issue of the science fiction magazine Analog. Which is long gone, but remembered here: https://nevalalee.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/blivet-or-not/ Lots of references to other sources.

ballyfager said...

@Gospace How many dingleberries would it take to fill a blivet?