On repetition

I came across a new word the other day in the course of my work – “Hysteresis”. Hysteresis is defined broadly as the tendency to repeat a previous action just undertaken, or more officially as ‘the lagging of an effect behind its cause; especially the phenomenon in which the magnetic induction of a ferromagnetic material lags behind the changing magnetic field’. I wonder if hysteresis accounts to some extent for the phenomenon by which, when you get off a bicycle after riding for a while, your legs feel as if they are still pedalling, or when writing your Christmas cards in a repetitive act of signing, sealing and stamping, you write the last person’s name on the next person’s envelope by mistake. Perhaps it explains why marathon walkers at the Olympic games cannot stop at the finish line, but carry on for at least another half lap; why your radio carries on playing for a second or two even after the plug has been pulled out; or why tonguetwisters trip us all up as the brain struggles and fails to make the mouth form different vowel shapes in quick succession. Perhaps hysteresis accounts for the instances of wafer-less, solid chocolate Kit-Kats, caused by momentary lapses on the assembly line, or explains how, in attempting to delete ten emails and preserve one, your momentum gets ahead of you and you delete them all before you can stop yourself. As explanations go, I certainly prefer it to sod’s law, although I think I understand it less well.

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4 responses to “On repetition

  1. Bloggers4Labour

    Don’t forget Cliff Richard.Those Kit Kats are a great gift: in years gone by they were believed to be a sign of divine intervention (“the harvest will fail”, “plague will devastate the North”) rather than a faulty machine.

  2. Isn’t that when they mess with the tape to get a squirrel to dance on ‘The Planet’s funniest animals’?cretins.

  3. The squirrel is one of the funniest animals, sped up or not. For years I used to call them chipmunks by mistake, all because my Nan, for some reason, used to have a stuffed chipmunk reclining on a piece of bark on her mantelpiece. Andrew can vouch that this is true!

  4. Bloggers4Labour

    I do remember that ‘chipmunk’: a cruel mockery of nature if ever there was one. Here’s what they should look like; the one in question was about twice as long and half the thickness of the one pictured, and with a kind of manic expression (“oh no, a taxidermist!”).BTW:The name may have originally been spelled “chitmunk” (from the Odawa word jidmoonh, meaning “red squirrel”; c.f. Ojibwe, ajidamoo). However, the earliest form cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (from 1842) is “chipmonk”. Other early forms include “chipmuck” and “chipminck”, and in the 1830s they were also referred to as “chip squirrels”, possibly in reference to the sound they make. They are also called striped squirrel or ground squirrel; …

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