And The Symbol Of The Year Is ...
Host Scott Simon talks to Weekend Edition Math Guy Keith Devlin about a new award being handed out at Stanford University. The winner is the percent sign, which appeared repeatedly in headlines in 2012, from Occupy Wall Street to the presidential campaign.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's awards season again with the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Oscars all coming up. There's also a brand-new prize this year, but don't look for Joan Rivers on the red carpet.
Our math guy, Keith Devlin, joins us now from studios of Stanford University, where he's also a professor. Keith, thanks very much for being back with us.
KEITH DEVLIN, BYLINE: Oh, nice to be with you again, Scott. And a Happy New Year to you.
SIMON: And Happy New Year to you, my friend. What's this new prize Stanford's giving out?
DEVLIN: It's the Symbol of the Year Award. It's awarded - for the first time, this year - by Stanford's Symbolic Systems program. And the winner is - da, da, da! The percentage sign.
SIMON: (SOUNDITE OF SIMON CLAPPING)
SIMON: I'm standing, too, at the same time.
DEVLIN: I'm sure you are.
SIMON: But the percentage sign, not the @ sign that's in every email message?
DEVLIN: Here's what the rules said. It said, the symbol of the year need not be new to this year - that being 2012 - but should have achieved widespread cultural importance during the year. A symbol is both used and understood to represent a concept, object, location, event or linguistic unit.
So first of all, it doesn't have to be a written symbol. It could be something like a flag or a salute, or a person, or the NPR logo - anything that symbolizes anything else, would be a symbol. And the reason the percentage sign - which sort of seems boring, in a sense; it's an old sign - the reason that was voted number one, and here was the citation: For continued protest about the 99 percent and the 1 percent, to Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark, to the fiscal cliff debate; the percent sign appeared throughout 2012 on banners and in headlines. Its presence was a constant reminder that income, wealth distribution and tax brackets had become the main focus of U.S. politics. So there you are.
SIMON: Are there any runners-up for whom we should feel sorry?
DEVLIN: And of the 20 others that were submitted, the ones that came highest was that big stone thingy in Mexico; the Piedra del Sol that was discovered, I think, in the late 1800s.
SIMON: I'm sorry, did I just hear a Stanford professor say stone thingy?
DEVLIN: I don't know how you describe - I think that thing's about 25 tons and 12 foot in diameter. So it's a big thingy made out of stone, and that was chosen to represent the Mayan calendar. It actually doesn't describe it as we know it. It wasn't a calendar thing at all. CERN, the European organization for nuclear research - that's the symbol CERN - that was chosen in part because of the pursuit of the Higgs boson last year. And the other one that scored fairly highly was the euro sign, a symbol of European currency and what used to be a functional operation.
SIMON: So, speaking as an Englishman, what used to be. Yes. Exactly.
SIMON: Keith Devlin, our math guy here on WEEKEND EDITION; a professor at Stanford University, speaking from their studios. Thanks so much for being with us, Keith.
DEVLIN: OK, my pleasure Scott, as always.
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SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.