When I was eleven, I met the word "postulate" for the first time. It was in the following poem:
"Probable-Possible, my black hen,
She lays eggs in the Relative When.
She doesn't lay eggs in the Positive Now
Because she's unable to Postulate how."
This poem is the first in a slim volume entitled The Space Child's Mother Goose, by Frederick Winsor, illustrated by Marian Parry. It was published way back in 1956, but is still holding great appeal to the science geek-esque eleven year old of today. I know this for a fact, because I have been reading it with my own such child for three nights in a row. Not only are the poems (those we understand, which is by no means all of them...) fun, but it is illustrated in charming bizarrity with black and white illustrations filled with vaguely mathematical details, and peopled by space personages who have beaks (or possibly just very triangular profiles).
"There was an old woman with notions quite new,
She never told children the things they should do,
She hoisted the covers up over her head
When people explained where her theories led."
Here's the poem that most delights my boy-- a riff on The House that Jack Built.
It begins "This is the theory that Jack built."
And progressively we reach:
"This is the Button to Start the Machine
To make with the Cybernetics and Stuff
To cover Chaotic Confusion and Bluff
That hung on the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
And thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built."
And then along comes a Space Child "with Brow Serene"--- and Jack's Theory goes up in smoke!
My son has it memorized, and I am trying to convince him that the next time he has to take a standardized writing test, he should put in "erudite verbal haze." That, and the "turn of a plausible phrase" are our favorite lines.
So educational--some of us had to look up "sophistry" and "cybernetics" so that we could be sure we were explaining things properly (we knew in a general way, but not solidly enough to be sure). And some of us had no idea at all what, for instance, Jato was (although others of us, not me, did).
I'm not entirely convinced, though, by the quality of the verse....this is one of those cases where I find myself "improving" the poetry as I read it. Don't you think, for instance, that the last line of the Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe one above needs a "had" in the last line? And isn't "possible probable" more fun to say than "probable possible?" Oh well, you can't have everything in this imperfect world.
Side note: my mother once went on a birding trip with two famous astrophysicists; she was shocked they'd never heard of this, and ordered them a copy the moment she got home. She no longer has her own copy....for reasons best left, um, unsaid...though I'm pretty sure I would have asked first...I think.
Although first editions are scarce and costly, the reprinted edition of The Space Child's Mother Goose is available here at Think Geek for only 13.95
The Poetry Friday Round-Up is at The Opposite of Indifference today!