Ask McArdle: Diluted booze and punctuation

How many desk toys are too many?

CB_mcardleWhy is it standard to add a drop of water to whisky? Wouldn’t that ruin it?

It’s science, dear chap. What may seem like a perfunctory ritual for snooty know-it-alls is, in truth, an elegant catalyst for both chemical and physical change. And there is no better person to serve as our Mr. Wizard of whisky than Chris Morris, the master distiller of Woodford Reserve bourbon. “The drop of water is intended to open up the nose, the aroma of the whisky,” he says. And with that he reminds us that our enjoyment of food and beverage is as much about scent as it is about actual taste. When the water strikes the whisky, it breaks the liquid’s surface tension and sets free its fragrance. Then, as the alcohol and water molecules intermingle, a chemical reaction releases a small amount of heat, further improving the whisky’s scent. To better the tasting experience, Morris suggests room temperature consumption. A glass of cold alcohol is not only less aromatic, but causes your taste buds to shrivel, like the littlest McArdle when one jumps into a cold lake. The scent can also be improved if you eschew your old scotch glasses for something with a tulip shape, like a port or sherry glass, designed to trap the precious vapours. But do not be chastened by supposed experts who insist there is only one way to enjoy a glass of whisky. “Adding ice begins the dilution of the product and the opening of its aroma while also cooling and restricting the palate,” Morris says. The intricacies of the science become more fascinating, it seems, with a second round.

When was the last time a new punctuation mark was added to the English language?

You’ve heard, I presume, of Ellen Susan, the Georgia-based photographer who wishes to introduce a mark to convey muted enthusiasm. The mark resembles two exclamation points superimposed upon each other, with one inverted, so there is a dot on each end. It is designed to occupy the emotional spectrum between the period and the exclamation point, when you wish to express excitement—but not get carried away. Among the remarkable aspects of this notion is that it has been proposed in the past. Mark Healy, a Toronto-based marketing consultant, created the pomma point in 2007, which expressed the same sentiment but resembled an exclamation point lying on its side. The annals of typography are filled with attempts to create new punctuation marks, although the annals themselves are punctuated with nothing but periods and the occasional comma. From the interrobang (a question mark and exclamation point superimposed, to ask a shocking question, proposed in 1962) to the percontation point (a backward question mark, for rhetorical questions, suggested in 1580), new glyphs have arrived and departed. The semi-colon is the last point to demonstrate staying power; it was introduced in 1495 and remains useful to this day (as shown).

How many desk toys are too many?

Focus not on quantity but on what the items betray about your character. It may seem whimsical to field a platoon of government-issued (G.I.) Josephs, but it tells co-workers that you are a stunted juvenile. In contrast, a compass once used for Amazonian exploration indicates fortitude and worldliness. Above all else, ensure you have something noteworthy upon your desk. A person without mementos is one without accomplishments. And the only thing worse than being a child is being a bore.

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Illustration by Peter Arkle