[Ads-l] antedating (?) of milli-helen

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 1 20:14:36 UTC 2021

Here is some additional extracted text from the match in "Punch".

Year: 1954 (GB date)
Periodical: Punch
Volume 226
Quote Page 737
Database: Google Books; snippet match; data may be inaccurate and must
be verified

[Begin excerpt]
Saving on the Slipway

Scientists and aesthetes alike have
heard with interest that the "unit of
absolute beauty" has been invented
by a professor of natural philos-
ophy, who calls it a Helen and
explains that it is divisible into milli-
helens. It is hoped that the millihelen . . .
[End excerpt]

Here is the claim that Asimov made in "Asimov Laughs Again".

Year: 1993 (1992 Copyright)
Book: Asimov Laughs Again: More Than 700 Favorite Jokes, Limericks and Anecdotes
Author: Isaac Asimov,
Joke Number 365
Quote Page 200
Publisher: HarperPerennial: HarperCollins Publishers, New York

[Begin excerpt]
During the days when I was a graduate student in the early forties, we
were dealing with chemistry in which there were a great many units
used in measuring various quantities—in particular, the entire metric
system. A friend of mine, Mario Castillo, and I therefore whiled away
one lunch period by making up units and I finally came up with the
"millihelen," which is enough beauty to launch one ship. (After all,
Helen of Troy had a "face that launched a thousand ships.")
Years later, I saw "millihelen" in Time, and it wasn't attributed to me, either.
[End excerpt]


On Sat, May 1, 2021 at 2:08 PM Pete Morris <mr_peter_morris at outlook.com> wrote:
> Helen of Troy was "the face that launched a thousand ships"
> As a (non-serious) unit of measurement,
> 1 Helen = beauty that would launch 1000 ships,
> 1 milli-helen = beauty that would launch 1 ship.
> Wiki has some discussion of the origin.  There is a suggestion that
> Isaac Asimov invented the term in 1940s as a graduate student, but this
> is unproven AFAIK.
> Previous discussion on ADS listserv has a 1958 source.
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2011-June/110123.html
> Here is a fragmentary cite from Punch in what seems to be 1954.  Usual
> caveats about Google dates apply. But 1955/6 are mentioned as future
> dates within the document.
> https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Punch/TbYSAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=millihelen&dq=millihelen&printsec=frontcover
> << ... ophy, who calls it a Helen. and explains that it is divisible
> into milli-helens.  It is hoped that the millihelen .... >>
> The fragment doesn't say for sure  that it is used as a unit of beauty,
> but it's a reasonable conclusion. It would still be interesting if if
> had a different definition.
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