Friday humour - November 24, 2000

     From Tony at Bluehaze:

   In actual fact, there was NO "Friday humour" for this particular
   week, since I was away at a CSIRO IT conference.

   Neverthless, Davo (Ian Davidson - our Personnel Officer at CSIRO Minerals)
   did pass on a small e-mail to the "humourites" list - from Dr Steve
   Fletcher (late Senior Scientist at CSIRO and now a Professor at a British
   Uni).  It was on the subject of University "Chairs" and the derivation
   of the term.  This brief but interesting exchange went as follows:
                            ----------------------

> BTW - I hope your new Chair position has a nice table - and a window with
> a view ...
>
>    Ian

  Hi Ian,

       There's an interesting history to this actually.  Started out in the
early church when Bishops were given chairs to sit on by the Pope.  Basically,
if a bishop told you to do something and he wasn't sitting on his chair,
you weren't compelled to do it.  But if he told you to do something and he
was sitting on his chair, you were for the high jump! In other words, if a
Bishop made a declaration from his chair, he was speaking in his official
capacity.  Now the Roman word for chair is cathedra, so to speak <ex cathedra>
still means to speak with the full authority of your position.

Of course, the early church delivered chairs to all its bishops, who were
scattered across Europe.  Since it was no fun sitting in a chair in the middle
of a muddy field, the Bishops built buildings over them, which eventually
came to be called cathedrals ie buildings-over-chairs. (Alas, no tables though.)

Because Universities were originally run by the Church, professors were
bishops and hence also had chairs.  Subsequently, the tradition of giving
chairs to professors has continued, although in my case it turns out to be
the usual standard issue ergonomic chair from the local hardware store! And
definitely no cathedral!!

Steve.
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[ End Friday humour ]



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