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Week of August 2, 2020

Stately Individuals

Sunday

The state of Louisiana is named for King Louis XIV of France, since French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle first claimed the Louisiana Territory.

Monday

The state of Virginia is named for “The Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I of England, who gave explorer Sir Walter Raleigh permission to colonize it in 1584.

Tuesday

The state of Georgia is named for King George II of England, since the US was not yet a country when this future state was named by Europeans in 1733.

Wednesday

Maryland was named for Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, the English king who granted the charter to form the Maryland colony.

Thursday

King Charles I also granted the charter for the colony of what is now the Carolinas, and they are named after the Latinized version of his name, Carolus.

Friday

Pennsylvania, or “Penn’s Woodlands” is named for William Penn, who granted the land to King Charles II to repay a debt owed by his admiral father.

Saturday

Washington is named for…yep, George Washington, and is the only state named for an American president.

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Week of July 26, 2020

What We’re In

Sunday

“Covid-19” stands for “COronaVIrus Disease 2019”

Monday

Coronaviruses are a class of viruses which have crown-like spikes on their surfaces. “Corona” means crown in Latin and Spanish.

Tuesday

Despite the damage they do to humans and other living things, viruses themselves are not technically alive, since they need host cells to survive and reproduce.

Wednesday

The word “quarantine” derives from “quaranta giorini” or “forty days” in Italian. Starting in the 1500s, ships arriving in Venice from ports affected by the bubonic plague had to anchor 40 days and wait before landing, extending the initial 30 day waiting requirement enforced in the city of Ragusa, and this law spread as a protection measure for European coastal cities.

Thursday

“Vaccine” derives from “vaccina,” a name for cowpox virus (vacca = cow in Latin). In a realization that effectively began modern vaccine science, British physician Edward Jenner observed that local milkmaids who’d had cowpox never got the more pernicious smallpox which frequently ravaged 18th Century English towns. He used a preparation of cowpox virus to immunize people against the closely-related smallpox, though modern virologists suspect it may have been horsepox providing the immunity.

Friday

Transmission studies of the closely-related SARS CoV-1 virus produced the familiar 6 feet / 2 meter social distancing figure, which was officially made part of CDC guidelines during the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

Saturday

Washing / sanitizing your hands reduces their potential as spreaders of viruses and other germs by physically removing or destroying these agents before they can hitch a longer ride on your hands and do more damage.

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Week of July 19, 2020

Shockingly Intelligent

In many technical arenas, standard units are named for pioneers in that field. In electricity:

Sunday

The volt, the unit for electric potential, is named for Italian physicist Alessandro Volta.

Monday

The watt, the unit for mechanical and electrical power, is named for Scottish engineer James Watt.

Tuesday

The amp or ampere, the unit for electric current, is named for French physicist André-Marie Ampère.

Wednesday

The ohm, the unit for electric resistance (and impedance), is named for German physicist Georg Simon Ohm.

Thursday

The hertz, the unit for frequency (of one cycle per second), is named for German physicist Heinrich Hertz.

Friday

The siemens, the unit for electrical conductance, is named for either German engineer / inventor William Siemens, or his brother Werner von Siemens.

Saturday

The coloumb, the unit for electric charge, is named for French military engineer Charles-Augustin de Coulomb.

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Week of July 12, 2020

Pissed!

Sunday

A short-tempered person is said to “fly off the handle” when they get upset. This pioneer-era term alludes to an ill-fitting metal axe head coming loose from its wooden handle while in use and going airborne, an obvious danger to those nearby.

Monday

Ballistics is the study of the natural flight paths of unpowered objects; the arcs of everything from stones to bullets and cannonballs. In the military sense, any self-propelled guided missile “goes ballistic” when it is no longer under control and propulsion, and so assumes a natural free-falling trajectory. However, long-range nuclear missiles such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are designed to fall naturally toward their targets in the final part of their flight, and it was during the American development of these weapons during the Cold War when “go ballistic” grew as a figurative expression.

Tuesday

Though bulls cannot actually see the color, the term “see red” to describe intense anger may have origins in bullfighting and the bullfighter’s red cape used to incite the bulls to charge. However, the color red has long been associated with high emotion, so the term’s origin may also be unrelated to bullfighting. Interestingly, some research indicates that angrier and more hostile people actually do see the color red more often.

Wednesday

Describing someone as “livid” also invokes a color. This dark bluish or greyish color more recently came to indicate the hue of an extremely angry individual.

Thursday

In Greek mythology, unpunished wrongdoers made the Furies feel, well, furious. This trio of bat-winged, snake-haired goddesses dealt in vengeance, punishment and justice, and had particular disdain for those who lied, murdered, sinned against the gods, and children who disobeyed or killed their parents.

Friday

However, the ancients would not have understood some modern and technical idioms for intense anger. To “blow a fuse” is to burn out an electrical fuse by overloading it with current beyond its capacity. (The Rolling Stones famously sang about blowing a 50-amp fuse in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)

Saturday

Similarly, to “blow a gasket,” which acts as a seal between metal parts in an engine’s combustion chamber, would result in a steam or liquid release in early engines, and still means very expensive repairs in modern cars.


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Week of July 5, 2020

LETT3RS / NUM8ERS

Sunday

WD-40 stands for “Water Displacement, 40th formula,” since the the creators’ 40th experimental recipe fulfilled its intended purpose of preventing corrosion on the Atlas rocket.

Monday

The globally-ubiquitous AK-47 rifle is named for it’s Russian designer Mikhail Kalashnikov (AK = “Avtomat Kalashnikova” or “Automatic device by Kalashnikov”) and 1947, the year of its first manufacture.

Tuesday

In the US, a non-profit company is called a “501(c)(3)”, and a tax-advantaged type of retirement account is called a “401(k)” because those are the sections where they’re described in the US Tax Code.

Wednesday

G20 or “The Group of Twenty” is a forum of the world’s major economic nations, and also the European Union, together representing 85% of the world’s economic output.

Thursday

V8 is both the Campbell’s drink made with 8 vegetables and also the name of a very common combustion engine with 8 cylinders arranged in a V shape.

Friday

Men of drafting age during WWII and the Vietnam War wondered if their local draft board might label them “1-A” (available and fit for military service) or “4-F” (unfit for military service) or any classification between. These labels were part of a statutory classification system for would-be soldiers that eventually went up to 5-A.

Saturday

License plates use letters and numbers, and a given state, province, or country will likely never run out of random combinations for their license plates. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, and ten single numbers (0-9). Hence, for a plate with just 6 character spaces available, the possible combinations for that plate are 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36 x 36, or 2,176,782,336. With “only” 15 million cars registered in America’s most populous state, California, there are plenty of plates to go around, even if the spaces, number and letter positions were more restricted.