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Week of June 14, 2020

Beasts of Learnin’

Sunday

We say that someone showing insincere grief or remorse sheds “crocodile tears.” This term traces back to a questionable report from a 14th century book asserting that crocodiles cry after eating their prey, including humans. Shakespeare and many others bought into the idea of these weeping reptiles. Crocodiles eat in the water, making the observation of extra eye moisture difficult to this day, however, tearing while eating has been observed in some close reptile relatives of crocodiles, such as caimans and alligators.

Monday

In the annual ritual of Yom Kippur, ancient Israelite priests symbolically transferred the sins of their people onto the head of a goat. The animal was then driven into the wilderness or killed, hence the term “scapegoat” for an innocent who bears the blame of others.

Tuesday

There are many versions of the old fable – including one from Aesop – in which a lion and other animals enjoy a successful hunt together only to see the lion take “the lion’s share” of the kill. In all variants, the lion claims most or all of the meal, and in one version even kills a hunting companion, too. The usual lesson of these tales is to be cautious when partnering with those more powerful.

Wednesday

Someone living or eating “high on the hog” is flaunting wealth or status because the most expensive cuts of pork are said to come from the animals’ back and upper legs. By contrast, poorer folk are more likely to buy the belly, feet, and other parts of the animal.

Thursday

Since cows are known to take their sweet time in doing nearly everything, anything that will continue “until the cows come home” will likely take a while.

Friday

The origin of the term “to let the cat out of the bag” to reveal a secret is a more debated idiom, with at least two more popular origin theories. In one, the term refers to an old livestock swindle where a jostling bag claimed to contain one or more piglets for sale was revealed to contain a feline instead. The other involves the unsheathing of the brutal “cat ‘o nine tails” whip for maritime punishment in the bygone days of the British Royal Navy, with the sailor exposing the sins of his shipmate being the one to “let the cat out of the bag.”

Saturday

Once established, the social hierarchy of a chicken flock remains fixed, and the more dominant birds keep lower rankers aware of their place with painful pecks. This is the origin of the term “pecking order.”

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Week of June 7, 2020

Can’t Handle It

Sunday

A successful effort is said to “pan out” because gold prospectors have long used a pan and water to wash out sand, dirt, and rocks when looking for gold ore, which sinks to the bottom of the pan and remains if the washing is done carefully.

Monday

The word “panic” comes from Pan, that horned and goat-legged Greek god. When not playing his Pan flute to nymphs in the forest, he commanded such a booming voice that his shout even terrified the giants during their mythical battle with the gods, causing them to “panic.”

Tuesday

The “Pan” in Peter Pan’s name is a reference to this goaty god.

Wednesday

Old flintlock muskets had small pans which held individual charges of gunpowder. A “flash in the pan” occurred when the gunpowder was ignited, but for whatever reason, no bullet was fired.

Thursday

Pan also means “whole,” “all inclusive,” or “involving all members” in Greek, so it is a prefix that means all possible members of a group, such as in the words panacea (cure for all ills) pandemic (relating to everyone), pandemonium (all demons, or the uproar if they were all loosed), Pantheon (temple honoring all the gods), and Pan-American, for all people in the Americas, like the Pan-American athletic games.

Friday

Pan means bread in Spanish, so your local “panederia” is a bread shop or bakery, and “pane” is bread in Italian, so “Panera” means “bread time” in Italian, or breadbasket / breadbox in Spanish. “Panis” means bread in Latin, so many Latin-based languages have this prefix.

Saturday

That room is called a “pantry” because bread was originally stored in there.

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Week of May 31, 2020

Notes from the Underground

Sunday

Because of a potato-killing fungus, there are vastly more citizens of Irish descent in Britain and the US. The potato was a major staple in 19th century Ireland, so when crops were hit with a blight for seven years starting in 1845, up to a million Irish perished in the famine, while another million emigrated elsewhere, particularly North America and Britain.

Monday

The beloved Tater Tot began as an innovative way sell french fry scraps. Ore-Ida company founding brothers F. Nephi and Golden Griggs sought to do something more profitable with the irregular potato pieces left by the fry cutter than feed them to their own cows. After some smashing, blanching, shaping, spicing, and cooking, the Tater Tot was born and quickly became a staple of the frozen food boom of the 1950s.

Tuesday

The potato’s nickname of “spud” comes from a narrow spade designed to dig the potato and other rooted plants out of the ground.

Wednesday

Potatoes are tubers, a thickened plant structure that grows underground between the plant’s stem and roots, where they absorb and store energy and often help the plant survive the winter.

Thursday

French fries are quite possibly of Belgian origin, but American soldiers in WWI called them French fries after learning of them from from French-speaking Belgians.

Friday

A potato was the first vegetable ever grown in space, with the eventual goal of feeding astronauts and future planetary colonists.

Saturday

Every day, over one billion people eat at least one potato.

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Week of May 24, 2020

Digital Acronym Week #1

Sunday

PDF = Portable Document Format

Monday

GIF = Graphics Interchange Format

Tuesday

JPEG = Joint Photographic Experts Group, the group who created the JPEG standard in 1992.

Wednesday

HTML = Hypertext Markup Language

Thursday

HTTP = Hypertext Transfer Protocol

Friday

LTE (like, 5G LTE) = Long-Term Evolution

Saturday

URL = Uniform Resource Locator

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Week of May 17, 2020

My Kind of Town

Sunday

Chicago is not called “The Windy City” because its air moves especially fast. The wind came from the alleged boasting of its “windy” citizens, particularly in their efforts to get the city chosen to host the 1893 World’s Fair. These promotions, along with much last-minute financial backing, helped get Chicago chosen over rival candidates New York, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, and the fair was a great success.

Monday

The Chicago Bears were named in honor of the Chicago Cubs, who let the fledgling pro football team play at Wrigley Field starting in the 1920s. The Bears’ colors are based on the blue and orange of the University of Illinois, alma mater of team founder, first owner, player, and longtime coach “Papa Bear” George Stanley Halas, whose initials “GSH” adorn the left arm of Bears’ uniforms to this day.

Tuesday

The innovative design of the Sears / Willis Tower, consisting of frames welded into nine vertical tubes staggered to stop at different heights, was inspired by the pattern of cigarettes pushed unevenly out of a pack.

Wednesday

Heard stories of political deals made in “smoke-filled rooms”? The room which birthed the term was a suite in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel. There, in 1920, Senator Warren G. Harding was chosen as the Republican presidential nominee out of many closely-matched candidates at a deadlocked convention. He was the “compromise” candidate chosen after ten ballots, though he initially got only 7% of the votes.

Thursday

The 3-letter airport code of O’Hare Airport is “ORD” because it was originally known as Orchard Field.

Friday

Of all of the world’s rivers, only the Chicago River runs backwards. Prior to 1900, it drained into Lake Michigan, but the flow was reversed by a massive engineering project so as it would carry all that urban sewage and slaughterhouse waste away from the city rather than into its natural source of drinking water.

Saturday

The city’s name first appeared in print over 330 years ago as “Chigagou,” a native word typically translated as “wild onion,” “onion field,” “wild garlic,” or “wild leek,” as to describe a leek species found in Chicago River watershed.