Skimming through a copy of Physics Today over lunch, I happened upon an article entitled “The evolution of a dedicated synchrotron light source.” Actually, that’s a lie. I went back and found the name of the article after noticing something entirely different: a photograph of a handwritten page with some variation of the phrase “please leave the door open, or the pipes may freeze” in twenty-three languages. The caption follows below.

“Please leave the door open, or the pipes may freeze. The humble purpose of this message, translated into various languages, was to alert users about a problem in the Tantalus washroom. But Ed Rowe submitted it to NSF as evidence of the facility’s growing international stature.”

Oh, I thought, that’s very cool. Yeah, they must have had a huge number of different countries represented in their body of researchers. And then I noticed a line of text in the photograph, about half way down the page, appropriately printed in all caps and unpunctuated:


I call bullshit. If someone had to write it in Latin, you know exactly what kind of verbal one-upsmanship was going on on that page. Yes, I’m sure there were people from a multitude of linguistic backgrounds working at Tantalus. And I’m sure half of them had never stepped foot outside the US except to attend conferences.

And I am absolutely positive that Ed Rowe used precisely the phrase “growing international stature” in his request for an extension of the project’s grant from the NSF.