WOTD: Purici

I’m always out there looking for words in Romanian that you can’t easily find in the dictionary or that the online translation websites aren’t smart enough to handle.

Today’s word is purici (poo-reetch), which under ordinary circumstances just means “fleas”, as in the jumping, biting insects that sometimes infest mammals. Etymologically the only related word in English is pruritis, the “fancy” medical term used for “itching”.

Ground control to Major Tom
Quick Henry, the Jovian Flit!

However unrelated to insects is the case when a television isn’t tuned to any channel and just shows what appears to be a random series of white and black dots. In English this is usually called “snow” but in Romanian it is called purici or “fleas”.

For people like me who are constantly seeking the dividing line between apophenia and pattern recognition, there’s an interesting concept that if you stare at a TV tuned to “snow”/purici long enough, you might start to see flickering shapes or recognizable images (or perhaps even faces).

Most of that really is your brain trying to make sense out of randomness but your television actually is receiving a signal. If you lived deep underground in an old mine or your television set was inside a Faraday cage your screen would just be pure black (or white, depending on the polarization of how your television creates the images) and not have any snow/purici.

So that snow/purici is your television set doing its best to process a signal. But where is the signal coming from? Some of it is general background radiation or perhaps interference from a nearby electronic device but the curious fact few people know is that most of the signal that forms TV snow/purici comes from the planet Jupiter.

In essence, there is an enormous TV station broadcasting on Jupiter because of the way the gaseous planet is formed. Even the sound of an untuned TV set is mostly what are called L-bursts which you can hear for yourself by clicking here.

So when your TV isn’t tuned to any earth-based channel, the “snow” on your screen and the “rolling surf” sounds you hear are actually your television functioning as a astronomical radio receiver picking up the inter-planetary signal from Jupiter.


One thought on “WOTD: Purici

  1. The sound you hear in that wave file is called “white noise” as far as I’m aware. There’s also brown noise and pink noise, I believe.


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