Categories
Uncategorized

Week of July 5, 2020

They Weren’t Quite Born That Way

Sunday

David Bowie grew up, in his words, as “plain old David Jones, a middle-class boy from London’s suburbs,” but as a musician he didn’t want to be confused with Davy Jones, frontman of The Monkees. “Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you,” said his manager, and David adopted his new surname from American Jim Bowie, real-life creator of the Bowie knife, who was rebelliously portrayed in the 1960 film “The Alamo”….

Monday

…and in 1981, David Bowie recorded the song “Under Pressure” with Queen, musicians also familiar with name changes. Their dynamic lead singer was born Farrokh Bulsara, and also went by Fred Bulsara until about 1970 when he legally changed his name to Freddie Mercury and the band’s name from “Smile” to “Queen”…

Tuesday

…and in 1984, Queen released a song called “Radio Ga-Ga.” Two years later Stefani Germanotta was born, who was later inspired by the song to adopt the stage name “Lady Gaga”…

Wednesday

…and Lady Gaga happens to be the godmother to a son of Elton John, the veteran rocker who was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight…

Thursday

…and who once got a letter about the great influence of his music from Bono of U2, whose real name is Paul Hewitt…

Friday

…and human rights-loving U2 toured for an Amnesty International fundraiser in 1986, sharing the bill with The Police and their singer Sting, real name Gordon Sumner…

Saturday

…who, in his own support of the human rights group, promoted a fundraising album of covers of Bob Dylan’s songs, who himself was born Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of June 28, 2020

The Reel Deal

Sunday

Though they now appear before a movie, they’re called “trailers” because they originally appeared after the film. The first trailer wasn’t even for a movie, but promoted a live musical called “The Pleasure Seekers.”

Monday

Originally, a “blockbuster” was a WWII British bomb powerful enough to destroy a city block. Soon after, the term was first adopted to describe a film which grossed revenues of at least $2 million in the US and Canada.

Tuesday

Blockbuster movies often perform well at the “box office.” While the box office is the part of a modern theater which sells tickets to anyone, the term comes from Elizabethan times, when wealthier theater patrons bought tickets to private balcony sections known as “boxes.” Box ticket sales were a good indicator of a play’s financial success, and were sold separately at an office near the theater entrance.

Wednesday

We associate the term “silver screen” with the film world because original movie screens were coated with a reflective metallic paint, since this was better to view the projected images on.

Thursday

Though popcorn was popular at carnivals since the mid-1800s, the first movie theaters wanted to replicate the experience of live theaters, so didn’t promote snacks like popcorn. However, two big events in US history played a role in the popularization of popcorn in movie theaters. During the Great Depression, the very profitable snack kept many movie theaters in business, since it was both cheap for the cash-strapped movie goers to buy and even cheaper for the theaters to acquire. During WWII, more sugary foods were sent to the soldiers, and traditional growing regions like the Philippines were cut off from the US market, so popcorn didn’t have to compete much with sweeter snacks, further maintaining its theater dominance.

Friday

“Jaws” was the film that, in 1975, created the model for the summer blockbuster, setting the stage for its release with well-timed promotion, merchandising, and release of the soundtrack and source novel. Before Jaws, film audiences typically went to movies in the winter, and the summer was a box office “dead zone.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of June 21, 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” is likely to 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 said to contain one or more piglets for sale was revealed to contain a feline instead, and 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.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of June 14, 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.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.