Friday, June 03, 2005

Ein Stein, bitte...

Germans do not say this…well, not if they want a beer anyway…if you want to order a stone then it is correct.

I have no idea why the expression emerges so readily from normal “linguistically-challenged” (i.e. totally useless at foreign languages) English/American/Australian tourists’ lips.

When I get into conversation with people in England and they find out (to their amazement usually) that I speak German (if I am feeling particularly unkind I can reduce them to paroxisms of admiration by telling thm that I also speak Greek) they tend to tell me proudly that the only German they know is “Hände hoch!”, “Achtung!”, and “ein Stein, bitte”. They seem to think that “ein Stein” is the name of these big litre beer glasses we have in Bavaria – they also seem to imply that these are the only phrases you are going to need in Germany.

Well, if you order “ein Stein” in Germany you will only get confused looks and maybe a stone!

However, ein Stein as in Einstein, as in archetypal image of mad scientist, as in most brilliant scientific mind of the 20th century, as in e=mc²…well, that’s quite a different subject.

I have been planning to blog something about Einstein for a few weeks seeing as this year is the centenary of his theory of special relativity which people have been struggling to understand ever since it was published in 1905.

We have had a hundred years now of not being allowed to travel faster than light, of knowing that mass is frozen energy and that time is relative. Quite why this last point about time going faster or slower has confused the quantum noggins out of everyone is a mystery. I have a good few relatives who make time stand still completely whenever I visit them.

But no, I jest! I have puzzled over this too – and I have found a way to explain it to myself logically at least even if I still can’t really visualise it…

Imagine you have a clock with a digital display – if you already have one then you don’t have to imagine that bit – and you go outside into the garden/street/wherever. Then you press the little button on the clock which illuminates the display…let’s say it shows 11.45. Now, you have been able to see the time due to the photons coming from the display; some of them have hit your retinas and the image they carry has been relayed to your brain. Lots more photons have not hit your retinas but have gone off hurtling up into the sky.

Now, what if we follow them…they go shooting off at the speed of light (because they are light) and, after a few hours, leave the solar system. Perhaps two years later some of them go down the tube of a telescope on a patrol spaceship in the vast frozen wastelands of interstellar space…what image do they show? A clock face with a time of 11.45 of course – but it is two years later for your alarm clock back on Earth and it will by now be showing a different time. For these travelling photons though, time has stood still and if you had travelled along with them time would have stood still for you too and although your clock at home had aged 2 years, you, like the photons, would not have aged at all!!

So there is another way to stay young without bottox.

Now it is time for a quick Stein before I try and market the idea in Hollywood.

4 comments:

Abraham said...

That sounds like: "Does a tree make any noise if it falls over and there are no ears to hear it fall?" I hope you can visit my blog at oldmanlincoln.modblog.com in Brookville, Ohio USA

Neutron said...

Hi Abraham, sorry if I didn't explain my notion well enough. Glad to have you on my blog though!

Anonymous said...

i think what people are referring to is when a train enters a station, a recorded announcement comes on and says some thing that sounds like "ein stein bitte" however, i think it's actually saying einsteigen bitte which means "enter please".

Anonymous said...

i think what people are referring to is when a train approaches a station, a recorded announcement comes on that sounds like "ein stein, bitte". however, i believe it's actually saying einsteigen, bitte. which means something along the lines of "enter, please."