I Guess Physicists Must Really Love Rice Krispies

While wasting some time doing some research on Twitter today, I came across an entry that suggested that the terms snap, crackle, and pop have meanings in the world of physics. And then I found out it’s true.

According to Wikipedia, the terms are used for the fourth, fifth and sixth time derivatives of position. The first three are well known: the first derivative of position with respect to time is velocity, the second is acceleration, and the third is jerk. The fourth is snap, or more formally jounce, while the fifth and sixth are “somewhat facetiously” called crackle and pop. (As an aside, I’m not sure what kind of person reads Wikipedia and would thus consider the terms velocity, acceleration, and jerk to be “well known”).

There’s even a discussion about the use of the terms and their etymology on an English language and usage web site.

As to the original use of the terms, once more from Wikipedia:

The gnomic elves characters were originally designed by illustrator Vernon Grant in the early 1930s. The names are an onomatopoeia (one of my favorite words in the English language) and were derived from a Rice Krispies radio ad:

Listen to the fairy song of health, the merry chorus by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies as they merrily snap, crackle and pop in a bowl of milk. If you’ve never heard food talking, now is your chance.

The first character appeared on the product’s packaging in 1933, Grant added two more and named the trio Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Snap is usually portrayed with a chef’s toque on his head; Crackle often is shown wearing a red (or striped) tomte’s tuque or “sleeping cap,” and Pop often wears a drum major’s shako (sometimes Pop is seen also with a chef’s toque, or an odd combination of both a shako and a toque). Corporate promotional material describes their personalities as resembling brothers. Snap is the oldest and known as a problem solver, Crackle is an unsure “middle child” and known as a jokester, and Pop is a mischievous youngster and the center of attention.

From their original design as elderly gnomes with large noses, ears, and hats, Snap, Crackle, and Pop were reimagined with younger and more proportional features in 1949. Some time after 1955, their gnome-ish oversized ears became more proportional yet pointed, as seen in common portrayals of elves. They first appeared as animated characters in the 1960s, targeted toward such children’s shows as The Howdy Doody Show.

And if this is more than you wanted to know about this string of onomatopoeia (the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g., cuckoo), sorry to say there’s a bit more.

Here is how the phrase is translated into other languages:

  • Denmark – Pif! Paf! Puf!
  • Finland – Riks! Raks! Poks!
  • France/Quebec – Cric! Crac! Croc!
  • Germany – Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!
  • Italy – Pif! Pof! Paf!
  • Switzerland – Piff! Paff! Poff!
  • South Africa – Knap! Knetter! Knak! (Afrikaans)
  • Mexico – Pim! Pum! Pam!
  • Japan – ピッチー、パッチー、プッチー (Romanized as Pitchi, Patchi, Putchi)

So next time you sit down to have a bowl of Rice Krispies, see if you can get the cereal from the bowl into your mouth at ever-increasing rates of speed so that you reach the snap, crackle, and pop derivatives of position. Just be warned that it could get pretty messy.

*image from Wikipedia

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