Why are underwear and pants always referred to as a pair? How many e-mails are sent every day? Do goldfish blink?

Hey: Why are underwear and pants always referred to as a pair? Yes, there are two pant legs, but a shirt has two sleeves and nobody calls it a pair of shirts. — Apparelly Challenged, San Diego

Apparently so. “Pair,” from the Latin, means two like things. And pants (pantaloons) were originally two like things. You put them on one leg at a time because they actually came in two pieces. You put on one leg, tied it around your waist, then put on the other. From the beginning, about the 16th Century, pants have been referred to as a pair. Shirts were made from a single piece of cloth, so two sleeves didn’t inspire anybody to call them a pair of shirts. Or a pair of bras.

Mattmail Alicemail: How many e-mails are sent every day? — Ben Franklin, Postmaster General

Working our finger bones to the absolute limit, we send 294 billion emails each day around the globe. According to a tech market-research firm, Radicati, 81 percent of that is spam. No surprise, yeah? Was thinking of sending your answer via email but was afraid it would get tied up in traffic.

Matt: Do goldfish blink? — Maria, Escondido

Huh? Where the heck did this question come from? You haven’t been doing that Three Stooges eye-poke thingy, have you? Tsk-tsk. Fish ain’t got no eyelids, so fish cain’t blink. To make up for that, nature gave fish hundreds and hundreds of taste buds. And a wonderful sense of the absurd.

Hey, Matt: Why is it that so many schizophrenics hear voices telling them to do something violent? Are there schizophrenics that hear voices that say, “This is God. I want you to buy a bouquet of flowers for the mailman”? — Eric, via email

After being at the helm of this particular leaky ship for so many decades, I’m more convinced than ever that each of us is just some shade of crazy. Just because psychiatrists haven’t thought up enough categories to put us in doesn’t mean we’re home-free. And when they do, odds are the psych slots will be misunderstood by the public at large. “Schizophrenic” is a good example. It’s characterized by delusions and/or hallucinations as a result of chemical disruption of brain pathways. It’s not curable but is highly treatable and controllable if the right meds are taken faithfully.

Lots of “ordinary” folks believe stuff that’s pretty nuts — the Earth’s flat; Rufus Wainwright is fun to listen to; Pluto’s a planet. But society can tolerate these delusions, so Rufus Wainwright fans are not certifiable, just annoying. Schizophrenics’ hallucinations and delusions shape behavior that is just too far out there for us to deal with. They’re not automatically dangerous, just too “different” for their (or our) own good.

Among schizophrenics’ hallucinations are what shrinks call “command voices” — a voice telling the person to do something. That something can be good, bad, or indifferent. The contents are unpredictable and vary from person to person. That’s one of the characteristics of schizophrenia — very disorganized beliefs and perceptions. Looking at the many studies of command voices, it’s clear that only a minority of schizophrenics have that particular type of hallucination. And of those who do, a smaller percentage yet will actually follow the command.

Best docs can tell, a command voice by itself isn’t necessarily enough to make a person act. But if the command fits an already existing delusion, and if the person recognizes the command voice, it will have more motivating power.

So, say you believe your neighbor’s orange tree is giving off evil vapors that cause your daily headaches. One day a voice you recognize as your mother’s says to cut down your neighbor’s orange tree. The two ideas match, so your command voice probably works. Given the disorganized nature of schizophrenic thinking, your command voice is just as likely to say, “Stare out the window until the zebras go away” or “Send a very large check to Matthew Alice.” The content isn’t always negative or harmful.

So, why do we so often think it is? Well, negative outcomes are the only things we hear/read about in the news. These days, nothing skews our perception of reality like the media. The few unfortunates we hear about are truly unfortunate. Odds are, the person has stopped taking the meds that would help control the behavior.

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