Monday, April 11, 2011

Same Old, Same Old?

Not for the first time yesterday I e-filed our joint Federal Income Tax return. In that process we had to “sign” the electronic return—but how do you sign an intangible something? The act is in the same category as raising a number to the power of 0.39. In the one case the physical image is of a fountain pen, in the other of doing a series of multiplications—but in this strange world neither actually applies. The last time we signed electronically supplying the adjusted gross income (AGI for short) of the year before sufficed. That number matched to our two social security numbers, was signature enough. This year TurboTax told me to call the IRS. A nicely modulated recorded female voice then guided me through the process. And behold. In no time at all, I got both Brigitte’s and my own IRS PIN, which stands for Personal Identification Number. The speaking computer required our SS numbers, last year’s filing status, and our dates of birth. Now we are both owners, in some invisible dimension, of a five-digit number of our own. It makes us uniquely what we are.

For a while there I had doubted that Douglas Adams was on to something in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. No more. At the end of that story the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything turns out to be the UPIN, the ultimate PIN, the Number 42. The greater the item, the fewer the digits, I suppose. We’ve got to lose quite a few digits before we become important, and it seems that even Life, the Universe, and Everything hasn’t quite got there yet.

The process must have made an impression on me because all through the night I dreamt of acquiring a new identity. In the dream the new identity was a green little square—and it lived on a spreadsheet—and it was Hispanic (don’t ask me why)—and a philosophical discussion went on as well—in which I argued that this was not identity theft—because I already had an identity—and therefore I was not really stealing it but just kind of multiplying the identity I already had, originally from God. Get it? My dreaming self was cooking up a stew of the two mysteries that April 2011 had spawned: taxes and logarithms.

Woke up this morning thinking I ought to write a post titled Identity. Careful as I tend to be when important projects lie ahead, I looked up the etymology of the word first—and then came a great delight, a genuine pleasure!

It turns out that the root of that word is “sameness,” from late Latin identitatem. That term, in turn, comes from identidem, meaning “over and over.” And that phrase, once removed, comes from the Latin phrase idem et idem, meaning “same and same.” And I was laughing, reading that. Wonderful, wonderful! The Romans, again, got there before us on that phrase as well. Now I knew my true identity. It is the same old, same old over and over again. But until when? The end of time?


  1. Oh, what fun, "same old, same old over and over again"! But, Arsen, did you have to spoil it for those of us who still didn't know the answer to the question What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? Geez!

  2. Don't tell me, Monique, that you, living with SciFi's Numero Uno Guru in the Twin Cities haven't heard the answer yet!


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