This is a bit of musing about terminology being misused, and then becoming so widespread in their misuse that (seemingly) they have become the ‘new meaning’. Ironically missing the whole point of the original meaning. And, also we appear not to have a term to replace the original meaning.


An ‘EP’ (by its popular usage today) is a CD that has less recorded audio than its standard capacity of 80 minutes. Typically only 20% of music.

From the 1950s we had 7 inch singe vinyl records. These were able to record 3 minutes of audio. (Aside: if the piece of music was longer, it continued on the other side and the listener had to turn the record over in the middle of the music).

In the 1960s the engineers invented a thinner groove. This enabled twice the length of recording on one side of a 7 inch single. So records started to emerge with 2 songs on each side; 4 songs on a 7 inch record. The first record I owned was the Beatles ‘All My Loving’ EP.

EP stood for Extended Play.

The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ (1968) is 7 mins 20 seconds long. It is on one side of a 7 inch record.

Now, we call any CD that has around 4 tracks ‘an EP’.

But wait! That’s crazy!

Here’s why. All CDs have a capacity of 80 minutes. By recording only on 20-30% of the CD we are not extending the capacity and content, we are in fact reducing it!

So why call it EP? It should be RP, for Reduced Play.

The last time I looked, ‘reduced’ is quite the opposite of ‘extended’.

Do we have a problem with differentiating between Start and Stop? Up and Down? In and Out?

No, I thought not!

Grand Slam

By the 1920s international tennis was in full swing. But only the really great tennis players, and those who could afford to travel around the world by ocean liner, were able to participate in far flung corners of the world. It took a month to sail to Australia!

Don Budge Tennis Player in action at Wimbledon July 1938

In addition, the big tournaments were for amateur players only. Which also meant the players had to be quite rich to be able to go round the world without being paid.

Given these constraints, to win all four major tournaments in the same year was quite an achievement. These are the French, Wimbledon, US and Australian championships.

Winning all four titles in the same year was called ‘doing the Grand Slam’.

By the 1950s only 1 Men’s tennis player had done the Grand Slam, Donald Budge (1938).

In the 1960s, Australian great Rod Laver did the Grand Slam in 1962. He then turned professional and was ineligible to play in the major tournaments. (It was normal for tennis players to turn pro when they won a major title). In 1969, tennis became ‘open’, so that the major tournaments are open to both amateur and professional players. Laver won all four majors again in 1969!

(Stefan Edberg did the Grand Slam at the junior level in the 1980s. Several Women’s players did the Grand Slam including Margaret Court)

Given the ultra high standard of tennis today, and the large number of players at the top of the world game, and racket technology and the ease of travel between countries, nobody has ‘done the Grand Slam’ since. Rod Laver’s unparalleled achievement 50 years ago was celebrated in 2019 at all the major events.

About 10-15 years ago, the media started referring to the major tournaments as a ‘Grand Slam’. When actually the full terminology was ‘a Grand Slam tournament’ – meaning ‘a major tennis tournament that’s one of the four that make the Grand Slam if all four are won in the same year’.

Today we hear a tennis commentator referring to Novac Djokovic going for his 15th (?) Grand Slam! Which is barmy!!!

This never happened in the days when tennis commentators knew what they were talking about.

I mean people like Dan Maskell, Max Hastings, John Barrett.

The saddest thing I have seen in tennis is, at last year’s Wimbledon and on camera, Rod Laver looking confused (he is around 80) as he heard the misuse of ‘Grand Slam’. He appeared to say ‘I though you had to win all four …’.

When the tennis season starts I brace myself. I cringe every time I hear every commentator today mention Grand Slam incorrectly.

Think about it, back in the day, an impending Grand Slam was a very exciting thing. Someone was said to be ‘on a Grand Slam’ if they had already won the French, Wimbledon and the US. SO, they’d be going for the Australian title to do the Grand Slam. This must have been tremendously exciting for tennis fans who were mainly listening on the radio (or the ‘wireless’ as they used to call it in those days).

An additional note: the International Tennis Federation subsequently changed the ‘year’ from starting with the French, after the Australian was moved from December to January.

Pivot and Unpivot

Pivot Tables appeared in Excel 5 in 1994. Before that the same idea was in a Lotus product called Improv. (Improv from the word ‘improvise’. Meaning ‘to play around’ as in jazz)

The idea was, spreadsheet data being held in memory so that the user/analyst could ‘spin it around in order to discover trends and hidden meanings, insight’. This was called ‘pivoting’. Playing around.

‘Pivot’ has that very meaning in many areas of common usage. To change rapidly. To alter course.

Excel users who used Pivot Tables in the 1990s used Pivot Tables for this purpose.

In the past 10-20 years, Pivot Tables are used to produce reports; static reports which are called ‘cross tabulations’. Crosstab for short.

Crosstabs can be created more directly from data. If the spreadsheet data is held in (say) an Access database then there already is a Crosstab feature built into Office.

If a static report is needed, a crosstab report is the more obvious route. It will look more like what the end report should look like.

So now, the terminology ‘Unpivot’ is in wide use. This is to mean, ‘turn a Crosstab into its underlying data list’. For that meaning, how does the word ‘pivot’ apply? Arguably (pedantic) to ‘Unpivot’ could mean ‘to stop improvising’. Instead of, ‘to turn a static Crosstab report into another static report (albeit a list)’.

To turn a Crosstab into its underlying list is straight forward. You can often see it just by looking at it. Any Excel user should be able to easily see that. I often use the illustration of changing a light bulb. If you reach out for the power drill when you need to change a light bulb, there could be something odd about what’s driving the thought process.

[Image of Bill Jelen 2316 challenge]

Hiran de Silva

View all posts

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *