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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 1 19:37:45 EDT 2021


A kind librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library of Indiana University,
Bloomington accessed the "Punch" citation and sent me the details. The
year of 1954 is correct.

[ref] 1954 June 23, Punch or The London Charivari,  Volume 226, Issue
Number 5936, Page Title: Punch: Charivaria, Quote Page 737, Column 3,
Published at the Office of Punch, London, England. (Gale Cengage
“Punch” Historical Archive) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
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
may in time be interpreted in terms of
power, when it should prove handy for
launching a single ship.
[End excerpt]

Garson

On Sat, May 1, 2021 at 4:14 PM ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> 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]
>
> Garson
>
>
> 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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> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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