Written by Harry Porter
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Topics: Research, Indian

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

image for Academics Solve Life's Great Mysteries
A ball of string, scientifically proven to be made up of nine-inch pieces.

A massive, 12-year research project by Indian academics has answered some of life's lingering imponderables.

And while the results may not be to everyone's liking, the findings will undoubtedly change the way millions of people in the English speaking world think… and speak.

Staff in the Socio-Linguistic Department of Trivandrum University, Kerala, in Southern India, began their research in 1992, linking up with hundreds of further education institutions across the world.

A total of 1,200,000 people, of all ages and backgrounds, took part in the study, providing statistically average answers to the English-speaking world's ‘rhetorical questions', or erotema, to give the practice its official term.

The main findings are:

How long is a piece of string?
Nine inches

The height of stupidity?
Six feet, two inches

The depth of despair?
Six feet two inches?

How low can you sink?
302 fathoms (1,812 feet)

How deep is your love?
Four feet, seven inches

How far will you go?
327 yards, two feet, 11 inches

What time do you call this?
Just after six

While the Trivandrum academics acknowledge that the answers will have degrees of variance among individuals, the averages across the research sample are sound.

"If you take the ‘How deep is your love?' question," explained Professor Vikram Gupta, "the variations were enormous - from inches to hundreds of miles. But, the average of four feet, seven inches seems a very fair compromise.

"The most surprising finding was the ‘piece of string' result. Astonishingly nearly 800,000 people in the survey said nine inches. For some reason, that is the length the vast majority have in mind when they hear this particular rhetorical question."

The study also encompassed non-measurable questions, such as ‘What do you think you are doing?', ‘Do you know how stupid you look?' and ‘Do you want a punch in the mouth?'

Despite 12 years of study, the researchers are dismayed that these results are of little worth owing to cultural interpretation.

The first question, for instance, listed such bizarre responses as ‘Eating a chapati' to ‘Do you want a punch in the mouth?'

But Professor Gupta was not downhearted.

"We have made a small impact on the world," he said. "If nothing else, no-one will ever be able to shrug their shoulders and say to someone in a rhetorical tone, ‘how long is a piece of string?

"The correct response to that is nine inches - that's now a scientific and mathematical fact."

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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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