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Week of December 12, 2021

Yes, More Cats on the Internet

Sunday

There is more than one possible origin of the term “cat got your tongue,” but none are pleasant. A likely origin involves troublesome English Royal Navy sailors being whipped into silence and submission by the infamous “cat o’ nine tails.” Another comes from the idea that medieval cats, allegedly doing the work of witches, would steal their victims’ tongues to prevent them from warning others, and another comes from the ancient Egyptian practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and blasphemers and feeding them to cats.

Monday

Although cats aren’t known for mimicry, the term “copycat” first appeared in a handful of books by female authors in late 19th century Maine, then, in the 1960s, began to appear in the crime context to describe criminals replicating the acts of others.

Tuesday

The legend says that Atum-Ra, ancient Egyptian sun god, sometimes took the shape of a cat, and is said to have himself produced eight gods, a possible origin of the idea that cats have nine lives. The number nine also has significance in ancient Chinese culture, as well as in the Bible, and Shakespeare mentions nine-lived felines in Romeo and Juliet. In other cultures, cats are still said to be many-lived, but the number varies, such as six or seven lives.

Wednesday

Do cats say “meow” in every language? Not exactly. A sampling of how other languages interpret that cat sound:

meong (Indonesian, Sudanese, Javanese) mijav (Slovene), niaou (Greek), nyav (Ukrainian) yaong (Korean), meo (Vietnamese)

Thursday

Think your cat only has meows for you? You might be right. After kittenhood, cats don’t meow to other animals, including other cats, but communicate with them in other ways. Thus, that classic cat sound is largely saved for humans.

Friday

Though often relaxed when not stealthy hunters, cats nonetheless scatter and hide quickly when faced with unfamiliar situations or even voices, the origin of the taunt “fraidie cat,” which first appeared in 1897, and “scardy cat” which appeared about 9 years later.

Saturday

Cats’ amazing ability to land on their feet from almost any fall is called a “righting reflex.” Other animals have it, but cats’ combination of a particularly flexible spine and no functional collarbone make their righting reflex particularly effective.

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Week of December 5, 2021

The Post About Nothing

Sunday

That squarish, handled container used to carry gasoline and other liquids is called a “jerry can” because it was first designed in Germany, and “Jerry” was WWI British slang for German.

Monday

“Gerrymandering,” the practice of creating political districts which benefit one party, combines the last name of former Massachusetts Governor (and founding father and fifth Vice President) Elbridge Gerry and the word salamander. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill creating an irregular Boston-area district that favored his own party, and which also had a shape that reminded observers of a dragon or mythical salamander. Shortly after, the term “gerrymander” was born, and this political practice has been debated and litigated ever since.

Tuesday

To “jerry-rig” means to build or repair something in an improvised, makeshift fashion. The term seems to be a variation of “jury-rig,” derived from the sailing term “jury-mast,” meaning “a temporary mast to replace one that has broken off.”

Wednesday

Long before the names were attached to classic cartoon characters, “Tom and Jerry” was a spiced and foamy cognac and rum drink, which itself was likely named after characters in an 1823 book by Pierce Egan.

Thursday

“Jerry” can be short for an impressive number of names, including Jeremiah, Jerome, Jeremy, Gerald or (-eld), Jared, George, Jermaine, Jerrod, or Geraldine.

Friday

In the original “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, the mouse was unnamed or was named “Jinx,” according to co-creator William Hanna (the cat was “Jasper”). Only after a naming contest did they get to be “Tom and Jerry.”

Saturday

One original Jerry (or close enough) got some large alcohol vessels named for him. Jeroboam was a biblical king of northern Israel, and the namesake of a Jeroboam, which is a bottle that can hold the volume of 4 regular wine bottles.

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Week of November 28, 2021

(Happy 100th week of facts!)

Nationally Known

Among the nations named for individuals:

Sunday

Bolivia was named for Simon Bolivar, who helped many South American countries gain independence from Spanish rule in the 1800s.

Monday

The Philippines were named for King Phillip II of Spain after being claimed for Spain by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

Tuesday

The United States of America (and the North and South American Continents) were named for Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. America is a latinized version of his first name.

Wednesday

Colombia is named after Christopher Columbus.

Thursday

El Salvador, or “the savior” was named for Jesus by Spaniards in the 1500s.

Friday

Swaziland is named for the great king Mswazi II, for whom his proud countrymen called themselves Swazis, or people of Mswazi.

Saturday

Israel is the named Jacob got after wrestling with an angel in the Bible, and is the nation’s namesake.

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Week of November 21, 2021

Keep Your Pants On


Sunday

That garment likely covering your legs is named for a creepy old man common in European theater a few centuries back. Crafty, greedy “Pantalone,” whose schemes often failed and led to his humiliation, was a stock character in plays from the 16th-18th centuries. Early on, he typically wore breeches and red stockings, but in later years wore long trousers. When similarly-styled trousers caught on outside the theater, they were called “Pantaloons” in England, which eventually got shortened to just “pants, ” which is part of “underpants” and “panties.”

Monday

With far less instrumentation, early pilots had to rely much more on their own senses more to fly. Their rear end had some of the most direct contact with the plane, from which they could feel engine vibration, angle, and other input. This is why flying intuitively with little or no input from instruments and radios came to be known as “flying by the seat of your pants.”

Tuesday

The association with the person who “wears the pants in the family” (or trousers of you’re British) being the family decision-maker it is simply based on the fact that only men historically wore pants and also traditionally had that role.

Wednesday

Saying “denim jeans” invokes the names of two cities which are part of the garment’s origin story. The strong fabric originally made in de Nimes, France, was called “Serge de Nimes,” but Genoa, Italy, also played a role in the development of the garment, and has used the term “bleu de Genes” (blue material from Genoa) for the fabric which has clad their fisherman for five centuries now.

Thursday

The first known usage of the term “fancy pants” was not to describe a fancy or pretentious person, but just actual fancy pants. The term first appeared in a Bangor, Maine newspaper advertisement in the 1840s for pants made of Cassimere, or wollen twill fabric. About 90 years later, the term began to have its current connotation.

Friday

Women wearing pants in public was not a widely accepted fashion until the late-mid 20th century. From “bloomers” to “harem pants,” many designers introduced the two-legged garment for women before that, but it didn’t really catch on until the 1960s and ’70s.

Saturday

The innovation which made jeans so successful after their patenting in 1873 was reinforcing metal rivets placed at the stress points such as the corners of pockets. Jacob Davis, a tailor and later business partner of Levi Strauss, had this idea when tasked with creating a highly durable pair of pants for a local laborer. The jeans were a hit with Western miners and other laborers during the California Gold Rush, who needed durable clothing for their work.

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Week of November 14, 2021

Show Some Heart

Sunday

Many ancient cultures ascribed the heart essential functions beyond just blood pumping. The ancient Egyptians’ word for heart also meant mind, understanding, or intelligence, and the physical heart was weighed for virtue in the afterlife. They believed the brain, by contrast, only functioned to produce mucous. Ancient Chinese also believed the mind and intellect lived in the heart, and ancient Greeks and Romans connected the heart to the strongest emotions, including love. These histories give some clue as to why we still associate the heart with such sentiments in our language.

Monday

Medieval knights wore colored ribbons on their sleeves to indicate which lady they fancied and fought for, a practice referenced by Shakespeare when he coined the phrase “to wear your heart on your sleeve.”

Tuesday

Although the word “attack” suggests an unwelcome onslaught, heart attacks are caused by a deficiency of blood to the heart muscle itself. In a given year, the rate of heart attacks typically peaks on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday

The term “from the bottom of my heart” has been used in English since the 16th century, but first came from Virgil’s Aeneid, and appears related to the Greek notion that the most honest and sincere emotions were in the bottom of the heart.

Thursday

The term “eat your heart out” is quite old, having rough equivalents in Yiddish (“Es dir cys s’harts”), Latin (“cor ne edito”), and even appearing often in Homer’s Iliad. However, the older uses are less like the modern “envy me” and more about worrying oneself greatly.

Friday

Your actual beating heart looks much more like an upside-down pear than that shape seen everywhere on Valentine’s Day. One intriguing theory is that the bi-lobed shape came to be associated with love because that was the shape of the seed of the psilphium, a now-extinct plant prized by the Romans as a medical panacea and contraceptive. Alternatively, the shape may have started with the ancient writings of Galen and Aristotle describing the heart as having “three chambers with a small dent in the middle.” Scholars have also argued the origin comes from the shape of ivy or water-lily leaves, human breasts, buttocks, and other body parts.

Saturday

The heartbeat sound is actually the sound of the heart valves opening and closing as blood enters and exits.