The Mighty Moiety

Donald Shephard

Pythagoras used to say, "The beginning is half the whole." Well of course, he used to say it, he has been more that half dead for a couple of millennia. Hesiod also used to say things. He said to his brother Perseus, "Half is more than the whole." By that he meant that by the time the lawyers were finished with a disputed estate, they would be better off just agreeing to half each. This is no longer a half-truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us. Other old sayings include: "The first blow is half the battle," as any parent of a two-year old with a cold knows all too well; "A good lather is half the shave," the barbers creed, and; "Well begun is half done," the city planners motto.

Why am I giving all these ancient adages? Well, Walt's defense of the number three was not half bad, and Lou's thesis on the number four was presented in a half baked way. They are even-steven, fifty-fifty, tied. True three is a prime number and four is a square but a half is better than either in the same way that half a loaf is better than none. It has the advantage of being an adjective as well as a noun. I have half a mind, just as they do, to disagree with them. So here is my defense of the fraction one half.

Carpenters use half-rounds, half-blind dovetails, and half-lap joints. The half-lap joint is not a bar selling pot and beer. Although in Britain half-and-half does refer to a half pint of mild with a half pint of bitter. In the US half-and-half refers to milk and cream. That is an interesting comment on the vagaries of the two nations. My half-witted, half-pint half-brother took a half-gainer dive off the Tower Bridge when he heard your stories.

The ocean between these two countries has heard its share of half words. Sailors used half-hitch knots on half-decked ships. They flew flags at half mast. They even wrestled each other with half-Nelson holds before getting half-seas over on a half-Joe of rum. A half-Joe was a Portuguese coin used on the east coast in the eighteenth century.

I am reminded of my own long ago and far away education. When I went to school, there were quavers. I was taught by a nervous Quaker lady who quivered and quailed that quavers are one eighth notes in music. These quivering quavers split like amoeba in mighty moiety mitosis. The results are smaller notes called semi-quavers which again split into demi-semi-quavers. These in turn split into hemi-demi-semi-quavers. The little bits of knowledge that I half-remember from my distant education across the ocean are very strange indeed and rarely useful.

We are in the half-inning of this treatise and I should mention the downside of its half-truths. If you were sitting in the Book Garden sipping a demi-tasse of mocha and half-and-half with Demi Moore, and a semi-articulate driver knocked you both half-conscious with his semi-articulated truck, we would fly our flags at half-mast. At least for Demi anyway.

That is enough of the downside. Abraham Lincoln took the matter seriously. He said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." He was a tough character, or what they called in those days a half-horse and half alligator.

"Half a tale is enough to a wise man", said David Fergusson in his Scottish Proverbs. Benjamin Franklin added that "Half the truth is often a great lie," in his Poor Richard's Almanack of 1758. Or was that Richard Nixon in 1958. I would not be half a man if I did not quote my countryman, Shakespeare. "Thou hast not half the power to do me harm, as I have to be hurt." Othello. Like John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, writing about Lloyd George, I could refer to my colleagues as, "These goat footed bards, these half human visitors to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity."

In a rare humble moments, I feel like the members of the Light Brigade. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, "Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the Valley of Death Rode the Six Hundred. Forward the Light Brigade." That sounds very serious to me. It is a serious matter which I am going to give my full attention. I am going to take the time to sit under a half-moon in a halfway house with, whom else, my better half.

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