The Origin of Everyday

The Backstories of Everyday Ideas, Items, & Terms

Daily facts on weekly themes. Enjoy!


  • Week of September 18, 2022

    Batty About Factoids

    Sunday

    Bats are the only mammal on Earth which can sustain flight (though others can glide).

    Monday

    With over 1,000 known bat species, bats are the second largest taxonomic order after rodents, comprising about 20% of all classified mammal species globally.

    Tuesday

    Bats find insects to eat by echolocation, the emitting of high-pitched sounds and listening to the echoes to spot nearby bugs it bounced off of. With this tactic, some bats can consume about 20 mosquitoes per minute.

    Wednesday

    Bat poop (guano) contains saltpeter, which is used to make gunpowder, and a Confederate kiln at one Texas bat cave churned out 100 lbs / day during the American Civil War.

  • Week of September 11, 2022

    Digital Acronym Week (DAM!) #6

    Sunday

    CAD = Computer Aided Drafting / Design

    Monday

    CGI = Computer Generated Imagery

    Tuesday

    TLD = Top Level Domain

    Wednesday

    ISP = Internet Service Provider

    Thursday

    DDoS = Distributed Denial of Service

    Friday

    MMORPG = Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game

    Saturday

    PVP = Player vs. Player

  • Week of September 4, 2022

    Focused on Facts

    Sunday

    The first eyeglasses are generally thought to have been created in 1285 and were made of quartz, since glass at that time was too flawed to be good for glasses.

    Monday

    Eyeglasses work by taking on some of the light ray management that the eye would do in a person with perfect vision. If you’re nearsighted, your glasses focus incoming light rays onto the retina of your eye so that faraway objects you see aren’t blurry. If you’re farsighted, eyeglasses spread the light over a wider area of the eye’s retina, bringing nearby objects into focus.

    Tuesday

    Sunglasses in the form of slits cut into walrus ivory have been used to reduce snow glare by Inuit people for 2,000 years.

    Wednesday

    The idea may seem obvious now, but eyeglasses went about 450 years before the development of frames with hooks that go behind the ears.

    Thursday

    In addition to accomplishments in science, writing, politics, diplomacy, and more, Benjamin Franklin was also the inventor of bifocals, which allow wearers to focus on objects both near and far.

    Friday

    Most modern “glasses” lenses are plastic, which tend not to shatter and are hence safer for the wearer.

    Saturday

    About 75% of adults need some form of vision correction.

  • Week of August 28, 2022

    Let’s Sleep On It

    Sunday

    The regular use of pillows goes back about 9,000 years, but the notion that they should be soft only goes back about 2,000. Before that pillows were made of stone, wood, ceramic, metal, and other hard materials. Among the reasons for the rigid pillows was a fear that such softness would steal bodily energy or appear as weakness.

    Monday

    You might not think the purpose of your pillow is to keep your head off the ground so that insects don’t crawl into your ears, nose, or mouth, but this was a reason early pillow adopters used them.

    Tuesday

    Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Industrial Revolution, pillow use and evolution was greatly slowed in the Middle Ages. Henry VIII even banned the use of pillows for all but pregnant women.

    Wednesday

    One modern pillow and mattress staple material, memory foam, was actually developed by NASA to keep test pilots better cushioned during flight.

    Thursday

    The oldest discovered burial in all of Africa is that of a young child with its head on a pillow. It was about 80,000 years old, and researchers named him “Mtoto.”

    Friday

    There are well over a dozen types of stuffing options for the modern pillow shopper, including natural and synthetically-sourced material.

    Saturday

    Competitive pillow fighting is a real sport, involving two competitors trading blows with 2 lb. specialized pillows for 90 second rounds.

  • Week of August 21, 2022

    Drawing Factual Conclusions

    Sunday

    Pencils don’t contain lead and never have, but write with graphite, a pure carbon isotope (diamonds being another form of pure carbon). Graphite deposits have been mistaken for lead, however, and pre-pencil writing styluses were made of lead, perhaps explaining the misnomer.

    Monday

    Pencils work because the graphite’s carbon atoms are arranged in sheets, bonded strongly to other atoms to the side of each other, but only weakly to those sheets above and below. Accordingly, they “rub off” easily, such that pencil marks are sheets of carbon atoms.

    Tuesday

    Pencil-ready graphite is so delicate it must be encased in something to be usable, and before hollowed-out wooden tubes, early pencils were graphite wrapped in paper or string.

    Wednesday

    The uses of the pencil informed its naming. Pencil comes from “pencillum” or “fine brush” in Latin, and graphite comes from “graphien” or “to write” in Greek.

    Thursday

    The graphite pencil went about 200 years before it got that pink eraser attached. Before that, bread crumbs did the trick.

    Friday

    Famous natural philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau was also part of the very successful John Thoreau & Company family pencil business, and himself developed many major innovations to pencil quality and manufacture.

    Saturday

    The letters and numbers on pencils, including that testing favorite yellow “No. 2”, indicate the formulation of that pencil’s graphite for blackness, hardness, and ability to sharpen to a fine point.

  • Week of August 14, 2022

    Everydayus Latin, pt. 5

    Sunday

    “Alias” means “otherwise called.”

    Monday

    “Cogito, ergo sum,” famously declared by Descartes, means “I think, therefore I am.”

    Tuesday

    “Antebellum” means “before the war.”

    Wednesday

    “Consensus” means “agreement / accord.”

    Thursday

    “Veto” means “I forbid.”

    Friday

    “Et al” means “and others.”

    Saturday

    “Innuendo” means “giving a nod to.”

  • Week of August 7, 2022

    The Corniest Facts Ever

    Sunday

    Globally, corn is among the most essential crops, with well over a billion tons grown annually. Corn currently supplies over 6% of human calories.

    Monday

    Baseball fans might have heard a routine fly ball hit to an outfielder called a “can of corn.” This refers to the old practice of grocery clerks pulling cans off high shelves with long hooks, then catching the falling item in their apron. This term applies to other simple routine actions as well.

    Tuesday

    The distribution of the US’s largest-acreage crop goes roughly 1/3 to people, beverage, and industrial markets, 1/3 to ethanol production, and 1/3 to livestock.

    Wednesday

    Corn’s ancestor is a plant called teosinte, which was methodically bred with other plants in southwestern Mexico to get modern corn. However, with just 5-10 kernels per ear and a taste like dried potato, you probably wouldn’t recognize this plant as an ancestor of modern corn.

    Thursday

    Corn, squash, and pole beans were often grown together and called the “three sisters” by native American tribes for centuries. These plants they had a remarkably complimentary relationship: Corn stalks supply the support for the beans to wrap around and grow up, the beans convert nitrogen in the air to a form usable to all plants, and squash’s big prickly leaves deter pests, keep the ground moist and provide mulch, for the group.

    Friday

    As a global staple crop, corn grows on every continent on Earth except Antarctica.

    Saturday

    In the US, the overwhelming majority of corn comes from the “Corn Belt”, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply and includes parts of the Midwest, Great Plains, and South. Iowa and Illinois tend to lead production annually, with nearly 1/3 of the land in those states dedicated to the crop.

  • Week of July 31, 2022

    The Air That We Breathe

    Sunday

    At about 78%, Nitrogen is easily the largest component of Earth’s atmosphere, colorless and odorless to people. Essential nitrogen-containing compounds, however, come from the food we eat.

    Monday

    Fortunately for most living things, oxygen in the form of O2 is the next most abundant gas in the atmosphere at about 21%. It is also colorless and odorless to us, but quite essential.

    Tuesday

    The next most abundant gas in the atmosphere is Argon at 0.93%. Compared to its gassy friends, Argon is quite aloof as one of the “noble gasses”, doing very little bonding or reacting as it floats around.

    Wednesday

    Among the most variable components of the atmosphere is water vapor, the amount of which in the air can vary widely with temperature and location. Warm air holds more moisture, so water vapor can compose 4-5% of the air in the tropics, but 0.2% in the Arctic.

    Thursday

    Carbon dioxide currently makes up about 0.4% of the atmosphere. This molecule is breathed in by plants and is essential in the carbon cycle, but is also produced by burning fossil fuels, and its heat-trapping nature now makes it a major cause of climate change.

    Friday

    What’s left after these bigger components are minute amounts of the trace gasses, among them helium, neon, methane, hydrogen, ozone, nitrous oxide, and krypton. Some trace gasses actually come from human activity.

    Saturday

    Most atmospheric gasses are at greatest concentrations closer to the ground, which explains why the air seems so “thin” at great altitudes. Helium and hydrogen, being so light, can reach great heights, however.

  • Week of July 24, 2022

    Thick, Shiny, Stylish Factoids

    Sunday

    To “let your hair down” means to be more uninhibited and honest, and traces back to the days when women kept their hair up except in the privacy of their own home or among intimate company.

    Monday

    Regardless of where it is bought, the vast majority of real human hair used in wigs and extensions comes from the East, especially India, China, and Eastern Europe.

    Tuesday

    A “hairpin turn” gets that name for its resemblance to a metal hairpin, so usually involves a very sharp 180 degree (or nearly so) turn.

    Wednesday

    The care of hair (and scalps) is huge business. Despite Covid, this global market was $80.81 billion USD in 2020, and does not include the sale of actual hair products, such as wigs, weaves, and extensions.

    Thursday

    “Bigwig” indicates importance because men of influence and rank used to wear large wigs.

    Friday

    Cats cough up hairballs because they clean themselves by licking their fur, and typically swallow some of that fur which is later vomited up.

    Saturday

    People with naturally blond hair tend to have the most total hairs on their head at about 150,000, redheads have the fewest at about 90,000, and folks with naturally brown or black hair are somewhere in between.

  • Week of July 17, 2022

    Remember Your Reductions

    Sunday

    abs = abdominal muscles

    Monday

    typo = typographical error

    Tuesday

    polio = poliomyelitis

    Wednesday

    fan = fanatic

    Thursday

    con = convict (as in “Ex-con”), confidence (as in “con-man” or “con game.”)

    Friday

    chaps = chapjaros

    Saturday

    recap = recapitulation

  • Week of July 10. 2022

    Facts That are Shells of Their Former Selves

    Sunday

    Seashells are the hard exoskeletons of otherwise soft invertebrate sea creatures.

    Monday

    A “shell game” involves putting an object under something that conceals it, like a cup or shell, then moving that and similar empty cups around, hoping the betting party will lose track of where the object is and thereby lose the game and wager. There is frequently deceit involved, and in the financial sense, this term often refers to asset-hiding schemes.

    Tuesday

    The idiom “to come out of his/her shell” means to become more outgoing social, and is a reference to a shelled animal like a snail or turtle who remains alone in there for protection.

    Wednesday

    A shell company, as the name implies, is typically a legally-created business entity, but one that does not do any sustained business operations or own significant assets long term. These are often created for tax purposes, concealing the identity of stakeholders or assets, fundraising or merger purposes, and sometimes illegal business.

    Thursday

    “She sells sea shells by the sea shore”is both a classic English tongue twister-turned-song and a training tool for those learning English and practicing the “s” sound.

    Friday

    Hermit crabs are among nature’s great shell recyclers. Vulnerable to predators and the baking sun without them, hermit crabs have elaborate methods of moving into new, size-appropriate shells as they grow, with smaller crabs moving into the old shells sometimes simultaneously.

    Saturday

    The shell in “shell shock” is military artillery shells, and the term refers to types of battle fatigue, with physical and mental conditions now more commonly described as PTSD. The term was first coined in World War I to describe the shape of many soldiers returning from battle.

  • Week of July 3, 2022

    Free At Last

    Sunday

    They used to say “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” and it shows in modern Independence Day celebrations, where over 50 counties annually celebrate gaining independence from the UK.

    Monday

    The most popular date to celebrate independence is January 1st. Brunei, Cameroon, Cuba, Czech Republic, Haiti, Samoa, and Sudan all celebrate their independence on this day.

    Tuesday

    However, the most common month for celebrations of independence is August, with 26 countries celebrating in this month.

    Wednesday

    Several nations celebrate several independence days during the year, since they gained autonomy from more than one country in their histories.

    Thursday

    Only two countries in the world do not celebrate a national day or independence day: Denmark and England.

    Friday

    The year 1991 was a big one for first independence days due to the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, although countries beyond Eastern Europe marked independence this year too.

    Saturday

    The most recent independence day is South Sudan, which became a country in 2011, and the oldest is Japan, which has a “Foundation Day” when the country united from the defeat of rival clans in 660 BCE.

  • Week of June 26, 2022

    Random Acronym Week (RAW!) #7

    Sunday

    PFD = personal flotation device, or, if you live in Alaska, permanent fund dividend, which residents get yearly from state oil revenues.

    Monday

    GOAT = Greatest of All Time

    Tuesday

    PPE = personal protective equipment

    Wednesday

    RV = recreational vehicle

    Thursday

    LCD = liquid crystal display, or lowest common denominator

    Friday

    RPG = role playing game, or rocket propelled grenade

    Saturday

    MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Week of June 19, 2022

    Ashes to Ashes…

    Sunday

    Common dust is made up of many different components, including ash, smoke, dirt, sand, salt, pollen, bacteria, bits of textiles and paper, human and animal hair and skin particles, and even meteorite particles.

    Monday

    A surprising amount of dust rains down from space in the form of “micrometeorites,” on the scale of 14-50 tons per day. This is roughly 1-3 garbage trucks worth of space dust daily.

    Tuesday

    The massive Sahara Desert is the largest source of mineral dust in the world, with airborne Saharan dust regularly reaching Europe, the Amazon, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas.

    Wednesday

    The old myth about household dust being mostly dead skin is not true. Most studies on indoor dust composition show that the largest part of household dust came from sources outside the house.

    Thursday

    You are, however, still a major source of dust. Your endlessly-regenerating skin layer sheds nearly a million dead cells daily.

    Friday

    Dust makes up that gross layer on top of your fan blades…and some of the largest structures in the universe. Nebulae, those clouds of gas and dust which often came from exploding stars and can eventually congeal into new ones, can be millions of light years in diameter.

    Saturday

    Unfortunately, dust can be bad news for those in certain occupations. Pneumococcus, the umbrella term for extensive dust-caused scarring in the lungs, affects people working in mining (“black lung”), drilling, textiles, agriculture, shipworking, sandblasting, and other dust-intensive jobs.

  • Week of June 12, 2022

    Let’s Ride

    Sunday

    The first bicycle had no pedals or chain. The “hobby horse” was propelled by pushing against the street with your shoes, like a skateboard.

    Monday

    To take back or soften what you already said is called “backpedaling.” However, only on a fixed gear bike would you go backward by pedaling so, since the modern freewheel only drives the wheel one direction: forward while pedaling forward.

    Tuesday

    There’s intriguing brain science in the fact that people almost never forget how to ride a bike. The coordination of movements involved becomes a “procedural memory,” which, it turns out, is a more permanent and deeper kind of memory than a factual “declarative memory” (and unfortunately for creators of fun fact websites).

    Wednesday

    The Tour de France is the most watched sporting event in the world, garnering over 3.5 billion viewers.

    Thursday

    Worldwide, the Netherlands has the most impressive bicycling resume. Seven out of every eight people age 15 or older own a bike, and an impressive 30% of all trips made in the country are on a bicycle.

    Friday

    The famous feminist quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” was itself inspired by an earlier quote about religion.

    Saturday

    A “peloton” is the name for a group of bicyclists riding in a pack to conserve energy.

  • Week of June 5, 2022

    Fine Feathered Facts

    Sunday

    Before it was a common term for accomplishment, a “feather in your cap” was a mark of achievement in several cultures. Among them, native Americans who wore a feather for each enemy slain, medieval knights given plumes for bravery, Hungarians marking a killed enemy Turk, or hunters showing game bird feathers.

    Monday

    Bird feathers are hollow so as to be very light for their strength, allowing (most) birds to fly…

    Tuesday

    …and this hollowness made feathers great writing instruments in the quill / feather pen days, and still among quill pen enthusiasts. That hollow center was a natural reservoir for ink.

    Wednesday

    Tarring and feathering has been a humiliating and painful punishment since at least 1189 when Richard the Lionheart decreed it for thieves caught aboard his ships. Old fashioned tar, however, was made with pine tree sap, and was not the petroleum-based tar of the modern era. When the traditional ingredients were in short supply, syrup and cattails have also been used.

    Thursday

    To “make feathers fly,” as in arguing, is a reference to birds (and especially chickens) losing feathers while fighting with each other. “Make/watch the fur fly” conveys the same meaning.

    Friday

    The term “horsefeathers” was coined just a few years before the famous Marx Brothers’ movie of that name, and means nonsense (and by some accounts refers to horse poop.)

    Saturday

    Just as showy plumage feathers are not used for flight, a bird might have seven different types of feathers on its body, each with a different function.

  • Week of May 29, 2022

    Wolf Down These Facts

    Sunday

    The story of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf,” that timeless cautionary tale to liars and false alarmists, actually goes back to Classical antiquity.

    Monday

    Fans of werewolves (or maybe Harry Potter) know they are sometimes called “lycanthropes.” This derives from the grizzly Greek mythological Legend of Lycaon, who angered the god Zeus by serving him a meal made with the remains of a human boy. Lycaon was punished when he and his sons were turned into wolves.

    Tuesday

    They’re called “werewolves” because of the obsolete Old English word “wer” meant “man,” so “werewolf” means “man wolf.”

    Wednesday

    Domesticated sheep are famously mild and docile, and wild wolves (who often eat livestock) are less so, so the image of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whether literally or as a metaphor for deceptive people, appears in both Aesop’s fables and the New Testament.

    Thursday

    The scientist who coined the term “alpha wolf” for the leader (or leading couple) of the pack later abandoned the term. What was called the alpha male and alpha female are the sole breeding pair in the pack, and did not necessarily get the job by fighting or physical dominance, as the name implies.

    Friday

    You might have heard of a defeated or embarrassed person said to “slink off with his tail between his legs.” Tail position communicates a lot in the animal world, especially with wolves, where down-pointing and tucked tail position is used by the lowest-ranking pack members.

    Saturday

    For all the human fear of wolves, fatal wolf attacks are exceedingly rare. In all of North America, for example, there have been only two documented deadly wolf attacks since 1970.

  • Week of May 22, 2022

    Stocking Up

    Sunday

    There are many individual stock markets throughout the world, but by volume and total value, the largest is the NewYork Stock Exchange.

    Monday

    Why are these large animals fighting on Wall Street? A “bull market” is one which is on the rise with stocks increasing in value, while a “bear market” is one of falling stock values, generally a loss of at least 20% below a recent peak. The traditional explanation of invoking these animals relates to how each strikes in battle: a bull thrusts horns upward at an opponent, while a bear swipes its mighty claws downward.

    Tuesday

    The Nasdaq is the world’s second largest stock market after the NYSE, was fully electronic since its creation in 1971, and tends to trade more tech-intensive and growth-focused stocks.

    Wednesday

    Business partners Charles Dow and Edward Jones created the Dow Jones in 1896. It is an index of thirty established and consistently-earning companies, traded on both the NYSE and Nasdaq, which serve as a proxy for the broader economy.

    Thursday

    Another common index is the “S & P 500,” which includes the largest 500 stocks from the NYSE and Nasdaq. S & P is for Standard and Poor’s, a company formed from the 1941 merger of Poor’s Publishing and the Standard Statistic’s Bureau, companies which had been publishing credit ratings, financial data, and market indicators. The McGraw-Hill Company later bought S&P in 1966.

    Friday

    A stock’s shortened “ticker symbol,” such as “MSFT” for Microsoft Corporation, is named for the pre-digital days when stock prices appeared on ticker tape, a practice which began in 1867.

    Saturday

    In a three-year period starting in October 1929, the US stock market lost nearly 90% of its value, leading to the Great Depression.

  • Week of May 15, 2022

    That’s So Metal

    Sunday

    “Top brass,” which now indicates the highest-level leaders in an organization, is based on the metal decorations used by officers in European militaries.

    Monday

    The Bronze Age, which lasted from about 3300-1200BC in the Fertile Crescent, was called that because earlier stone tools were replaced with bronze in many Middle Eastern civilizations. Copper had long been in use by that time, but the addition of tin to make the stronger alloy bronze brought these civilizations out of the “Stone Age” and was followed by the “Iron Age.”

    Tuesday

    In the classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” the Tin Man is first encountered when immobile with rust, and is thereafter afraid of watery things. However, tin does not rust. Only iron, or metals containing iron, rust.

    Wednesday

    Winston Churchill coined the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the post-WWII divide between more open democracies in western Europe and the more closed-off Soviet-controlled states.

    Thursday

    “Tin Pan Alley” refers to types dance music, ballads, and vaudeville songs that began in the late 19th century and were named for the “tin pan” sound of pianos as the musicians promoted the songs for the concentration of music publishers originally found on 28th Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

    Friday

    Only one metal – mercury – also bears the name of a planet and a Roman god. Unfortunately for we mortals, that planet is uninhabitable and that metal is toxic.

    Saturday

    An accident with real metal played a major role in the birth of heavy metal music. At age 17, future Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was working as an industrial welder. Assigned to an unfamiliar guillotine-type machine one day, he lost the tips of two fingers in an accident and nearly gave up playing guitar. However, he created his own prosthetics and changed his playing style to accommodate them. This became the deeper, darker sound associated with this pioneering band and the heavy metal genre as a whole.

  • Week of May 8, 2022

    It’s All Greek to Me, pt. V

    Sunday

    “Dinosaur” is derived from the Greek words for “thunder lizard.”

    Monday

    The name of the water-loving hippopotamus comes from the Greek words for “river horse.”

    Tuesday

    And “rhinoceros”, fittingly, is Greek for “nose horn.”

    Wednesday

    “Helium” comes from the Greek “helios” or “sun,” which is full of helium, and is the name of the sun god.

    Thursday

    “Acrobat” derives from the Greek works for “edge” and “to walk / tread.”

    Friday

    The three Charities (or Graces) in Greek mythology originated the word “charity.”

    Saturday

    “Cemetery” derives from the Greek word for “sleeping place.”

  • Week of May 1, 2022

    Piping Hot Factoids

    Sunday

    Plans unlikely to be realized are called “pipe dreams” in a reference to the dreams experienced by opium users, since this drug was often smoked with a pipe.

    Monday

    Saying “pipe down” to encourage quiet seems to trace back to an officer ordering that a pipe whistle be blown on old sailing ships to either have the crew go to sleep or go below deck after a disturbance.

    Tuesday

    In an apparent reference to multi-piped musical instruments such as bagpipes and organ, a person with a “set of pipes” has a strong speaking or singing voice.

    Wednesday

    Despite being traditionally associated with Scotland, the bagpipes were likely introduced to Scotland by the Romans, with roots in ancient Egypt before that.

    Thursday

    “Pied” in Old English meant multicolored, so in the legend of The Pied Piper, the musician was wearing an outfit of many colors.

    Friday

    The term “pay the piper,” meaning to finally face consequences, is related to this same legend. When the townspeople of Hamelin reneged on their promise to pay the piper who lured the rats out of their town, he took an awful revenge by luring their children away.

    Saturday

    Water pipes made of lead, as they had been for decades, are now known to be a serious health hazard. In the US, lead pipes are restricted by federal law and hundreds of millions of dollars have been set aside to replace old lead pipes.

  • Week of April 24, 2022

    Chip Chip Hooray

    Sunday

    At one time, there was a custom in the US and Canada in which someone seeking a fight would place a chip of wood on his shoulder and whoever knocked it off was agreeing to fight him. Hence the saying that an aggressive or antisocial person “has a chip on his shoulder.”

    Monday

    Among deep-fried potato products, what Americans call “chips” the British call “crisps,” and what the Brits call “chips” Americans call “fries.”

    Tuesday

    In the traditional set of blue, red, and white poker chips, blue are the highest value and the namesake for “blue chip” stocks, the well-known, well-established, and fiscally sound companies on the stock market.

    Wednesday

    Poker is the origin of several chip-related terms. To “chip in,” or help with a collective effort, comes from the ante in poker where all player contribute to the winnable pot. Likewise, “when the chips are down,” referring to a crucial moment when fortunes and personal circumstances can change quickly (and often already have changed for the worse in common usage), is a poker reference to when the hands are revealed to determine who won.

    Thursday

    Before most common-usage poker chips were plastic, they were clay, or later, a clay composite which added strength. Chips of clay composite or ceramic remain common in casinos. Further back in time, individual gambling houses might have used their own chips of bone, ivory, shellac, paper, or some other material before the chip designs and values were more standardized.

    Friday

    Describing “a chip off the old block,” for children who are similar to the parent, is a notably old term, with an apparent origin in the 15th century.

    Saturday

    That adventurous cartoon chipmunk duo is called Chip & Dale and the famous muscular male dance revue is Chippendale’s, but the original Chippendale (and apparent namesake) was London cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, who designed intricate furniture that became popular in England and colonial America.

  • Week of April 17, 2022

    Digital Acronym Week #5

    Sunday

    FLOPS = Floating-Point Operation Per Second

    Monday

    QLED = Quantum Light-Emitting Diode

    Tuesday

    WLAN = Wireless Local Area Network

    Wednesday

    FIOS = Fiber Optic Service

    Thursday

    COBOL = Common Business Oriented Language

    Friday

    FORTRAN = Formula Translator

    Saturday

    GIS = Georgraphic Information System

  • Week of April 10, 2022

    Wheely Informative

    Sunday

    Regardless of engine size, all cylinders must be firing for a car to work efficiently and at full capacity. Accordingly, people said to be “not firing on all cylinders” are not thinking or performing at an expected capability.

    Monday

    Since a dime is the smallest American coin, to “stop on a dime” means to be able to stop so quickly you land on this tiny area, and can be applied to cars or other fast-stopping things.

    Tuesday

    To “burn rubber” means to accelerate so that your tires smoke and leave marks on the pavement. This idiom came into use in the mid-20th century and was a product of the automotive age, since it is hard to imagine an animal-pulled vehicle accelerating this quickly!

    Wednesday

    The term “four on the floor” refers to a vehicle with a four speed manual transmission near the driver’s seat, but also the very steady 4/4 beat popular in disco and later dance music.

    Thursday

    Unreliable cars are called “lemons” because that term was applied to any product of poor quality in the turn of the 20th century, but by the 1960s, with the help of a Volkswagen ad, the term was mostly reserved for sub-par vehicles. States now have “lemon laws” on the books requiring certain standards in used car warranties.

    Friday

    Putting the “pedal to the metal” is another mid-century car term for accelerating to the maximum. This term started in the 1950s when many cars had metal floorboards under the accelerator pedal.

    Saturday

    Until 1988, vehicle titles were printed on pink paper in California, which gave rise to the term “pink slips” for vehicle titles. “Racing for pink slips” is a familiar movie term indicating that the loser must sign over his or her car to the winner.

  • Week of April 3, 2022

    Sporty Starts

    Sunday

    The sport of baseball derived from cricket and the children’s game rounders, and references to a game played with sticks, balls, and bases go back to at least the 18th century. However, most of the basic rules of the modern game were established in 1845 in New York City by Alexander J. Cartwright. Among other things, he established that runners must be tagged out rather than the previous (and dangerous) method of hitting them with the ball.

    Monday

    Basketball began at Springfield College in Massachusetts over the winter of 1891-92. James Naismith, a teacher who had come to study under physical education pioneer Luther Halsey Gulick, wanted to honor a directive from his mentor to create a new game “that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light.” The two square boxes Naismith asked the school janitor for were not to be found, but two peach baskets were, the original two nets.

    Tuesday

    Although football was derived from rugby and influenced by soccer, “father of American football” Walter Camp developed the rules to differentiate it from both sports, from his first conception of the game at Yale University in the 1880s and while personally developing the rule book until his death in 1925.

    Wednesday

    Bandy, hurling, and shinty, the games which are the most direct ancestors of modern ice hockey, were played in England, Ireland and Scotland since the 1400’s, though other “stick and ball” games were played among indigenous Americans, ancient Greeks, and Egyptians long before that. Bandy was likely played on ice without skates in the 1600s, then later with skates by the 1700s, and balls were later replaced by “cork-bungs” or barrel plugs, the precursor to the modern puck.

    Thursday

    “Jeu de paume,” a French game played since the 11th century, was the ancestor of modern tennis, which got the name from “tenez!” or “here it comes,” said to an opponent upon serving. Through the centuries, however, bare hands were replaced by a racquet, a rubber ball became the norm, the unique scoring system was standardized, and the courts went from grass to “hard” courts of concrete or acrylic.

    Friday

    Like many modern sports, golf also has roots in ancient games played all over the world, but the closest relative of modern golf came from 15th century eastern Scotland with players hitting pebbles with clubs. At one point, the game was banned for fear players would neglect their military training against the frequently-invading British. When the ban was lifted and royalty later adopted the game, its popularity blossomed, and by the 20th century standardized rules and governing bodies had been established worldwide.

    Saturday

    Bowling goes back over 7,000 years, with evidence of similar games going back to ancient Egypt and Polynesia. In the case of the latter, the standard lane length was 60 feet…the same as today. When played centuries ago in Germany, the game also had religious significance, and variations spread across Europe. Notably, this game, like golf (see above) had to be temporarily banned for distracting archers from their shooting practice, this time in England. English, Dutch, and German settlers helped bring the game to the U.S., where a tenth pin was added.

  • Week of March 27, 2022

    Random Acronym Week (RAW!) #6

    Sunday

    NATO = North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    Monday

    FAQ = Frequently Asked Questions

    Tuesday

    FOMO = Fear of Missing Out

    Wednesday

    BYOB = Bring Your Own Bottle/Booze/Beer

    Thursday

    UNICEF = United Nations Children’s Fund, originally United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. (Consider donating below!)

    Friday

    OCD = Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    Saturday

    HIV/AIDS = Human Immunodeficiency Virus / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

  • Week of March 20, 2022

    Howl At These Factoids

    Sunday

    Things which occur rarely are said to happen “once in a blue moon.” A blue moon is the second full moon in one calendar month, and it need not actually appear blue. It happens about every 2.5 years.

    Monday

    A “blood moon” often refers to the way the moon appears during a lunar eclipse, when it passes through Earth’s shadow. The light which illuminates the moon has filtered through our planet’s atmosphere, resulting in a red or brownish-looking moon.

    Tuesday

    When the moon is both full and closest in its orbit to the Earth, the result is often called a “supermoon,” which is a bit larger and brighter than other full moons.

    Wednesday

    The full, bright moon which occurs nearest the first day of autumn is sometimes called a “harvest moon” because it previously allowed farmers to harvest large fall crops into the night.

    Thursday

    Even though the Earth is much larger and more likely to be hit by meteors, many burn up in our atmosphere or otherwise have their craters erased by erosion, tectonics, or volcano action. The moon has no atmosphere, weather, active volcanoes or tectonics, so its surface is full of impact craters new and old.

    Friday

    It takes the moon about 29.5 days to go around the Earth once, and it takes about 365 days for the Earth to go around the sun. Since 29.5 x 12 = 354, our calendar months are longer than lunar months so as to fit 12 months more equally into a year.

    Saturday

    The visible phases of the moon go from right to left in the Northern Hemisphere, but left to right in the Southern Hemisphere.

  • Week of March 13, 2022

    Everyone Wants A Bigger Piece

    Sunday

    Apple pie is less American than you might think. A recipe appears in a British cookbook from 1390, and later was brought to the US by colonists from Europe. The apple tree isn’t even native to North America, but Asia.

    Monday

    Pi is the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, but might be better known as the abbreviation for 3.14… This number, shown as a fraction as 22/7, is the ratio of circumference to diameter in a perfect circle.

    Tuesday

    The term “pie in the sky” which came to mean an idealistic but unlikely goal, was coined by labor activist Joe Hill in “The Preacher and The Slave,” a parody of the hymn “Sweet Bye and Bye.” The lyrics “work and pray, live on hay/You’ll get pie in the sky when you die” were intended to criticize religious leaders who sang of rewards in the afterlife but did little to improve workers’ lives in this one.

    Wednesday

    A pie to the face has been a slapstick staple for over a century, and it started with silent movies. Comedian Ben Turpin got the first known on-screen face pie in 1909’s “Mister Flip.”

    Thursday

    To “eat humble pie” indicates that you must admit your error. However, the origin of this term seems to come indirectly from “umble pie,” which was a pie filled with animal organs and entrails, especially those of deer.

    Friday

    Pies are old. There is evidence that ancient Egyptians made the first pies about 6,000 years ago. These original pies were made with barley, oats, rye, or wheat and filled with honey.

    Saturday

    The term “easy as pie” began in Australia in the 1920’s, and the term seems to be influenced by “pai,” the Maori word for “good.”

  • Week of March 6, 2022

    These Factoids are Shoe-Ins

    Sunday

    Brothers Adolph and Rudolph Dassler ran a successful shoe factory in Germany for 24 years before feuding and going their separate ways. Adidas became the brand named for ADolph DASsler, and Rudolph first named his shoes “Ruda” (RUdolph DAssler) but soon changed the name to “Puma”. The brothers are long dead, but their companies still compete to this day.

    Monday

    Speaking of brothers in the shoe business, Vans shoes are named for company co-founders Paul and Jim Van Doren.

    Tuesday

    The shoe Reebok is named after an African antelope, though spelled rhebok in the animal name.

    Wednesday

    Nike is the Greek winged goddess of victory. Notably, neither this name nor the iconic “swoosh” logo initially appealed to founder Phil Knight.

    Thursday

    Converse shoes were named after founder Marquis Mills Converse. The company has been a Nike subsidiary since 2003.

    Friday

    ASICS is an acronym from Latin, “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano” or “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body.”

    Saturday

    Chickens inspired the name “New Balance,” which founder William J. Riley watched in his yard and believed exhibited perfect balance as a result of their three-clawed foot. The three support points on the early shoe’s insole derived from this chicken foot revelation.

  • Week of February 27, 2022

    Any Way You Slice It

    Sunday

    A “breadbasket” region is one with particularly fertile soil and growing conditions for staple grain.

    Monday

    The term “bread and butter” has been used for centuries to describe someone’s dependable income and livelihood, but before that, the term described the necessities of life.

    Tuesday

    Bread is old. There is evidence of breadmaking going back to the neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago.

    Wednesday

    Bread is also popular. It is estimated that 60% of the world’s population eats bread every day, and at least two countries (Bulgaria and Turkey) eat an average of over 200 lbs./person annually.

    Thursday

    The fairytale of Hansel and Gretel mentioned the first trail of breadcrumbs used to find your way back where you came, though this is now a modern internet term.

    Friday

    To “break bread” with one or more people typically means not simply eating but sharing some fellowship through your shared meal. Notably, in biblical times when this phrase started, the much-harder bread would have been divided by breaking more than tearing, as with modern softer bread.

    Saturday

    As old as bread is, the first mention of any baker selling it pre-sliced is not until 1928. By the 1930’s however, automatic bread slicing machines became common in industry. Since then, “the greatest thing since sliced bread” has been somewhat of a”spoof marketing slogan,” as one author put it.

  • Week of February 20, 2022

    You Crack Me Up

    Sunday

    “Crackpot” derives from the term “cracked” for faulty and “pot” as short for brain, head, or skull. Notably, there is a town in England called “Crackpot,” but it was named from Norse words and is not related to the current meaning.

    Monday

    Crack cocaine, which is powder cocaine processed into a smokeable crystal form, has that name from the crackling sound heard during the heating and smoking of the stuff.

    Tuesday

    A disappointing thing is “not all its cracked up to be” because in an older meaning, the word “crack” means banter, news, or gossip. In other words, it’s not all it’s talked up to be.

    Wednesday

    One of history’s most famous fractures, on the Liberty Bell, is largely deliberate. When a small crack appeared in the bell, metalworkers employed “stop drilling” in 1846 and intentionally widened it to prevent further cracking and preserve the bell’s original tone. When yet another crack appeared, the bell was permanently retired from ringing.

    Thursday

    The term “cracker” was first applied in 1801 to a batch of long-lasting biscuits popular amongst seamen that was accidentally burnt, causing baker Josiah Bent to hear their characteristic cracking noises and apply the name.

    Friday

    “The Nutcracker” is a holiday staple ballet that many dance companies draw reliable income from, but it was originally unsuccessful in 1892. Tchaikovsky’s music from the ballet had better success on its own, however, and even he found the ballet’s first performance dull.

    Saturday

    Before the name was attached to the popcorn and peanut snack, the term “cracker jack” referred to things of high quality.

  • Week of February 13, 2022

    Everydayus Latin, pt. 4

    Sunday

    “Ad nauseum” means “to the point of nausea” and is usually applied to something over-repeated.

    Monday

    “Terra firma” means “solid ground,” often referring to something certain.

    Tuesday

    “Pro forma” means “for form,” or for appearance’s sake, but is also a modern accounting term.

    Wednesday

    “Ad hominem” is short for “argumentum ad hominem” and indicates a personal attack on an individual, instead of debating the merits of their idea or argument.

    Thursday

    “Alter ego,” unsurprisingly, means “the other I.”

    Friday

    “Anno domini,” often abbreviated as “A.D.” and written after dates since the year 0 on the modern Christian calendar, means “the year of the lord.”

    Saturday

    “Cirriculum vitae,” often shortened to “C.V.” means “the course of one’s life,” thought it usually describes a resume or professional qualifications.

  • Week of February 6, 2022

    How Sweet It Is

    Sunday

    Sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beet juice, and from there is processed into its many varieties.

    Monday

    Brown sugar is brown from molasses, either left in or added to white sugar in varying amounts. White sugar is separated from molasses in processing.

    Tuesday

    Fifth century Indians learned to crystalize sugarcane juice and called that sugar “khanda,” the Sanskrit word from which we get “candy.”

    Wednesday

    Over one-third of the added sugar in the American diet comes from soda, energy, and sports drinks, while only 5-7% comes from candy.

    Thursday

    Chemically speaking, sugars end in “-ose,” like sucrose, fructose, glucose, etc., or -saccharide, such as monosaccharide or disaccharide.

    Friday

    Americans now consume a mind-boggling 11 million metric tons of sugar annually, more than any other nation by far.

    Saturday

    Sugar was not so sweet for its historical workers. Unfortunately, slavery and forced labor played a big role in early sugar production, and African slaves and sugar were part of the infamous “triangle trade” between Africa, the Caribbean, and New England.

  • Week of January 30, 2022

    Flash Bang

    Sunday

    Lightning occurs because during a storm, static electricity is created between water droplets in warm air meeting ice crystals in cold air. Updrafts carry positively-charged particles upwards to the top of clouds while downdrafts carry negatively charged particles downward. Eventually, there must be a release of this building static imbalance, and lightning accomplishes this by striking between clouds or between clouds and the ground.

    Monday

    Thunder occurs because lightning is so hot, heating the air around it to about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit – five times hotter than the sun. This intense heat causes a rapid air pressure increase, which radiates outward from the lightning strike and causes the audio effect we know as thunder.

    Tuesday

    Although both are produced by the same event, lightning is seen before thunder is heard because light travels much faster than sound, about 300,000,000 meters/sec vs. 343 meters/sec.

    Wednesday

    A recent volcano eruption in the South Pacific led to over 400,000 recorded nearby lightning strikes, since lots of static electricity builds up among the ash and particles sent airborne after such eruptions.

    Thursday

    The term “steal my thunder” has a unique origin story. In 1704, British playwright John Dennis developed a new method to crate a thunder sound for his play. The play was unsuccessful and cut short, but the theater re-used the thunder technique for a run of Macbeth. The bitter playwright exclaimed something to the effect of “Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder!”

    Friday

    Amazingly, about 90% of lightning strike victims survive, but survivors often suffer from lingering disabilities as a result of the massive shock’s effect on the brain and body.

    Saturday

    You might not see lightning everyday, but it’s happening somewhere. Worldwide, the frequency of lightning strikes is about 44 per second, or 1.4 billion strikes per year.

  • Week if January 23, 2022

    Suck it Up

    Sunday

    “The straw that broke the camel’s back” is a metaphor for the final annoyance, demand, or slight that someone is willing to calmly tolerate. Camels often carry loads, and this term derives from an old fable about a shortsighted camel owner who had so overburdened his animal that he found out even one more straw was too much. “The last straw” and “the final straw” derive from this also.

    Monday

    Just as a scarecrow is an insubstantial being fabricated from straw, a “straw man” argument is created to be easily attacked, and a “straw man” in a transaction is a token or stand-in person or entity put in place for other’s purposes.

    Tuesday

    The practice of “drawing straws” is when straws are chosen from the hand of someone who conceals their lengths in his or her fist. The person who chooses the shortest straw typically must do an unpleasant task.

    Wednesday

    A “straw poll” is an informal poll to quickly gauge positions on a topic. The origin of this seems to come from looking at straw to determine which way the wind is blowing.

    Thursday

    The term “grasping at straws” for a hopeless final effort comes from an old proverb that a “drowning man will catch at straws,” or the thin reeds growing at the side of a river, in a futile attempt to save himself.

    Friday

    Drinking straws are a very old idea. Several meter-long metal tubes in a Russian museum are now believed to be beer drinking straws about 5,000 years old.

    Saturday

    Since clay and straw are traditional ingredients of bricks, the term “to make bricks without straw” refers to doing the impossible or without the necessary resources. There is also a Biblical story where Pharoah makes the Israelites gather their own straw for his brickmaking, rather that supply it to them, and without reducing their daily quota.

  • Week of January 16, 2022

    Those Letters After Your Name

    Sunday

    PhD = Doctor of Philosophy

    Monday

    JD = Juris Doctor (law degree)

    Tuesday

    MD = Doctor of Medicine, from Latin Medicinae Doctor

    Wednesday

    MBA = Masters of Business Administration

    Thursday

    DDS = Doctor of Dental Surgery

    Friday

    LCSW = Licensed Clinical Social Worker

    Saturday

    RN = Registered Nurse

  • Week of January 9, 2022

    Weightier Matters

    Sunday

    Since lead is a very heavy metal, the term “get the lead out,” originally ended with “…of your shoes” or “…of your pants” and means that you should speed up whatever you’re doing. And of course, “Get the Led Out” is a favorite title of classic rock radio stations for the time they play some Led Zeppelin songs.

    Monday

    In some cases, however, getting the lead out is a public health issue. Until the 1970s, both gasoline and residential paint sold in the US contained lead, and both products were known to cause serious health problems to those exposed to them, including children.

    Tuesday

    Lead has long been a standard material in bullets, since it is heavy and can deliver a lot of damage to targets. However, lead bullets can also give off a powdery residue when fired and fragment easily upon impact, leading to some health concerns among indoor firing ranges, wildlife advocates, and game meat enthusiasts.

    Wednesday

    A habitually speedy or aggressive driver is called a “leadfoot” because their foot is so heavy on the accelerator.

    Thursday

    While you wouldn’t want lead in your body, you’d want it around your body when dealing with radiation. From lead aprons near X-ray machines to lead walls in fallout shelters, this heavy metal is well known to block radiation.

    Friday

    The band Led Zeppelin was referencing the dense metal, but removed the “a” so nobody would confuse it with “lead” as in leader. (For the rest of the band name story, see the week of 4/4/2021.)

    Saturday

    Lead’s chemical symbol is “Pb” instead of “Ld” or the like because its Latin name is plumbum.

  • Week of January 2, 2021

    Do Treble Yourself

    Among the many common terms with musical roots:

    Sunday

    To be “low key” means to be restrained or mellow, a term which seems to have musical origins, since lower musical keys have lower and more muted tones. Charles Dickens was among the first to use this term.

    Monday

    Conversely, “keyed up” means anxious, usually in anticipation. To “key up” an instrument is to tune it to a certain key.

    Tuesday

    To “play it by ear” is to improvise in a given situation, as opposed to following known rules. This began as a reference to people who can play music without referring to printed material, or without formal training.

    Wednesday

    “To pull out all the stops,” or to give something all your attention and effort, is originally referred to the workings of a pipe organ. Each pipe has a stop which can prevent pressurized air from going into that chamber, and coordinating these stops changes the sound of the music as desired. However, when all the stops are pulled out, the instrument plays at full volume and capacity.

    Thursday

    The expression “swan song” for a comes from a long-debunked myth that swans live silent lives until just before dying, when they a sing a singularly beautiful, melancholy song. Though even many ancient Romans knew better, this idea was used by Chaucer and Shakespeare, and the phrase remains common to describe a final performance.

    Friday

    “Toot (or blow) your own horn,” a term indicating praise of one’s self, has roots back to the practice of announcing the arrival of an important person with trumpets.

    Saturday

    To “march to the beat of a different drummer” is to have different principles and attitudes than those around you, and derives from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, where he writes “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”

  • Week of December 26, 2021

    Be A Good Sport, pt. II

    Sunday

    Likely the only NFL team named for gothic poetry, the Baltimore Ravens get their name from former resident Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

    Monday

    The creation of the New Orleans Saints’ franchise was approved on All Saints’ Day, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” is a song long associated with the city’s jazz heritage. It also helped that the name was also a favorite in a local newspaper’s “name the team” contest.

    Tuesday

    The digging of a skyscraper foundation in 1970s Nashville unearthed a saber-toothed tiger’s leg bone and fang, a very rare find. Decades later, this unique discovery inspired the naming of the city’s NHL hockey team, the Predators.

    Wednesday

    Hurricanes Fran and Bertha, having hit North Carolina in 1996, inspired the naming of the NHL’s newly-moved Carolina Hurricanes before the team’s first 1997 game in their new location.

    Thursday

    The first Catholic Spanish mission in California was in San Diego, so their MLB team is the Padres, which means “priest” or “father” in Spanish.

    Friday

    “Trolley dodgers” was an early 20th-century nickname for the New York pedestrians who dodged streetcars as they walked the city. Also the name of this New York baseball team, the “Dodgers” stayed with them when they moved to LA in 1957.

    Saturday

    There are pace horses that race, and there are pace cars in auto racing, and Indiana has a rich history of both kinds, hence the NBA team being named the Pacers.

  • Week of December 19, 2021

    Digital Acronym Week #4

    Sunday

    WPA = Wifi Protected Access

    Monday

    ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange

    Tuesday

    HDMI = High Definition Multimedia Interface

    Wednesday

    SEO = Search Engine Optimization

    Thursday

    TIFF = Tag Image File Format

    Friday

    DSL = Digital Subscriber Line

    Saturday

    SMS = Short Message Service

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Week of November 7, 2021

    Everydayus Latin, pt. 3

    Sunday

    Per se means “in itself.”

    Monday

    Status quo means “existing state” to describe affairs as they are now.

    Tuesday

    Semi means “half.”

    Wednesday

    Ad hoc means “for this” or, in English use, “as needed / necessary.”

    Thursday

    Mea culpa means “through my fault” often used as an admission of guilt in the legal (and religious) senses.

    Friday

    Verbatim means “word for word” or exactly as written.

    Saturday

    Persona non grata means “an unwelcome person” and is now usually used in the diplomatic or political realms.

  • Week of October 31, 2021

    Character-istically Descriptive

    Sunday

    In Mary Shelly’s classic novel Frankenstein, brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein creates a humanoid being of superhuman size, strength, and speed out of body parts from graveyards and slaughterhouses. However, the intelligent but angry and vengeful creature wreaks havoc on the life of his creator and his family, so calling something a “Frankenstein” implies that it has grown beyond the control of its creator, or is assembled from parts of many disparate sources.

    Monday

    Calling someone “Pollyanna” or being “Pollyannish” refers to the title character of this 1913 Eleanor Hodgman Porter book. Though orphaned and sent to live with her icy aunt, perpetually optimistic 11-year old Pollyanna strives to see the good in everything. In modern usage, however, this term can also imply a naïve optimism.

    Tuesday

    A “Faustian bargain” aka a “devil’s bargain,” usually involves trading one’s soul or another essential thing in exchange for a less-valuable worldly gain such as riches, fame, knowledge, or power. Doctor Faustus was a 1604 tragic play by Christopher Marlowe in which a folkloric doctor makes such a deal with Satan’s agent, with the story later retold in a play by Goethe.

    Wednesday

    To be “quixotic” means to foolishly pursue grand or romantic ideals, and comes from the the namesake of Miguel Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, who reads books on romance and chivalry until he himself ventures out to idealistically revive chivalry in his own native Spain, along with his more practical squire Sancho Panza.

    Thursday

    Gargantua is a giant king in the 16th century book The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel by French author Francois Rabelais. It is from his name we get the term “gargantuan” for enormous things.

    Friday

    The race of people known as the Lilliputians encountered by the protagonist in Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift only stand about six inches tall. Accordingly, something “lilliputian” is small and trivial.

    Saturday

    In 1924, T.H. Webster developed a comic strip called “The Timid Soul,” including one character named Caspar Milquetoast. The term “milquetoast” was born after this mild-mannered “man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.”

  • Week of October 24, 2021

    Careful, These Are Gateway Factoids

    Sunday

    Since horseraces start when a gate is opened for all the horses simultaneously, the term “right out of the gate” is used for something that happens right at a commencement.

    Monday

    The popular notion of the “pearly gates” to heaven actually comes from the Book of Revelation, which describes 12 gates made of pearl (one pearl per gate) leading to New Jerusalem.

    Tuesday

    Since floodgates are typically solid barriers which hold back would-be floodwaters, to “open the floodgates” means to allow many previously-impossible things to happen.

    Wednesday

    Ever since the 1970s, scandals of all types are often given names ending in “-gate.” This traces back to Watergate, the major political scandal in which burglars were caught in June of 1972 in the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., tapping phones and stealing documents. The intruders were ultimately traced back to President Nixon, and despite his attempts to cover it up, the scandal ultimately led to his resignation in 1974, before he could be impeached.

    Thursday

    According to Dante’s “Inferno,” the gates of hell bear the famous inscription “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.” On this mortal coil, however, the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan also bears the nickname “The Gates of Hell” since this huge open pit has been burning in the desert since a Soviet drilling rig accident over 50 years ago.

    Friday

    The term “barbarians at the gate” has been used in many contexts to describe a nearby hostile force, but it originally came from the Goth’s sack of Rome in 410 AD.

    Saturday

    “Crashing” a party or even means to show up uninvited, but it is a shortening of “gate crashing,” which means the same thing.

  • Week of October 17, 2021

    Running the Show

    Sunday

    The term “run of the mill,” which now means unremarkable and ordinary originally described the mass-produced products of a weaving mill which had not yet been graded for quality and sorted for pricing. The term also applied to manufactured factory goods, and “run of the mine” had a similar meaning for mined products.

    Monday

    Something that has gone out of control is often said to have “run amok (or ‘amuck’).” The word first showed up in English in a 1516 book about the inhabitants of Malaysia and Java to describe people within that population called the “Amuco” who were prone to murderous sprees, attacking everyone they encountered. About 2.5 centuries later, Captain James Cook wrote something similar about these individuals: “To run amock is to get drunk with opium… to sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage…indiscriminately killing and maiming villagers and animals in a frenzied attack.” By some accounts, possession by evil spirits caused the Amock’s behavior more than opium, but in any case, modern people or plans that “run amok” usually do so more peacefully.

    Tuesday

    The official distance of a modern-day marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards, a number rooted in both ancient legend and the whims of 20th century royalty. In 490 BC, the Persians invaded Greece, but when the Greeks won an important battle, legend says that a messenger named Pheidippides was tasked with running the 25 miles from the city of Marathon to Athens to deliver the news. Supposedly, he did so successfully, then dropped dead. To honor that dutiful messenger, the marathon’s distance was set at 40 km., or about 25 miles, for the first few modern Olympic games. However, when the 1908 Olympics were held in London, the Queen requested that the the race start on the lawn of Windsor Castle and finish at the royal box in the Olympic stadium. Apparently, this was because she wanted royal toddlers to watch the start from their nursery. This tweak was standardized in 1921, and marathons have been that distance ever since. Historians have some doubts about the ancient Greek “origin story,” though modern marathon runners remain no less impressive.

    Wednesday

    When people say “give me the run-down” on a certain topic, they’re using (yet another) term with roots in horse racing, which originally meant a “list of entries in a horse race and the odds,” and has been around since the 1930s.

    Thursday

    You defeat someone decisively if you “run circles around” them. This term originated as “run rings around” and has roots in England in the practice of “hare coursing,” or hunting hares with hounds. When pursued, hares often run circles around the hounds in trying to escape, and hence can evade the dogs if the technique works.

    Friday

    “Run for the hills” is often used for fleeing generally, but in fact is a reference to fleeing natural disasters like floods and tidal waves by escaping to higher ground.

    Saturday

    A “bank run” or “run on the bank” is not particularly athletic, but likely stressful. This occurs when a large group of panicked customers believe their bank is about to fail, so they withdraw money while they still can. This phenomena was more common before the FDIC. “It’s A Wonderful Life” included a famous bank run scene, where an exasperated George Bailey had to reason with the panicked crowd.

  • Week of October 10, 2021

    Go Ask Alice

    Sunday

    “Down the Rabbit-Hole” is the first chapter in Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” wherein Alice enters the surreal world via that bunny’s entrance. Since then, the term has become a metaphor for getting into something either bizarre or time-consuming and attention-intensive (like many internet travels are).

    Monday

    During a race with the Red Queen, the queen tells Alice that in Wonderland, “…it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” Notably, this idea has made its way into evolutionary biology with the “Red Queen Hypothesis.” If a predator species in a predator-prey relationship, for example, does not evolve to be fast or stealthy enough to catch its prey, it might starve and eventually go extinct, while the prey species must evolve to run faster or otherwise escape the predator or it may go extinct. The result is a continuing evolutionary “race” for both species.

    Tuesday

    The character in Wonderland commonly referred to as the Mad Hatter was not just a product of the author’s imagination. Exposure to mercury via the potent chemical mercury nitrate, widely used in making felt hats in Carroll’s time, often gave real-life hatmakers serious health problems, including tremors, hallucinations, psychosis and emotional disturbances. As a result, the term “mad as a hatter” was common, and “erethism,” or mercury poisoning which affects the entire central nervous system, is also called “mad hatter disease” or “mad hatter syndrome.”

    Wednesday

    There was a real-life Alice for whom the main character was named. Alice Liddell was the daughter of Oxford University’s then vice-chancellor. She was ten years old when she first heard Lewis Caroll tell the story on a boat ride and implored him to write it down.

    Thursday

    Just as her “Eat me / Drink Me” experiences caused Alice to change size in both extremes, a particular migraine-related neurological syndrome later dubbed “Alice In Wonderland Syndrome” causes sufferers to experience different perceptions in the size of objects, and how large or small they feel in relation to them. Many have speculated that Lewis Carroll himself suffered from this, which inspired these size-perception themes throughout the book.

    Friday

    Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and he had a stutter, so he named the story’s Dodo bird for him, since he sometimes stuttered his last name as “Do-do-dodgson.”

    Saturday

    The book was published as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” but previous working titles had been “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” “Alice’s Hour in Elf Land,” “Alice Among the Faires,” and “Alice Among the Goblins.”

  • Week of October 3, 2021

    Random Acronym Week (RAW!) #5

    Sunday

    OSHA = Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    Monday

    PPM = Parts Per Million

    Tuesday

    OMG = Oh My God

    Wednesday

    POV = Point of View

    Thursday

    AI = Artificial Intelligence

    Friday

    P.S. = Post Script

    Saturday

    OPEC = Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

  • Week of September 26, 2021

    Departing

    Sunday

    Though the origin of the term is debated, “Davy Jones’ locker” is an idiom for the seabed, where deceased sailors find their graves.

    Monday

    To “kick the bucket” is often explained as a suicidal person kicking out the bucket they stand on so they can hang by a noose. However, this term more likely derived from animal slaughter. A “bucket” in this context was a word for a pulley or beam that animals were pulled up by, often by their hind legs. The doomed creatures then frequently kicked this “bucket” during the spasms and thrashing of slaughter.

    Tuesday

    The term “bite the dust” has been around in some variation since the the Illiad. That poem uses the term to describe Roman soldiers dying in battle, the King James Version of the Bible has a reference to lick[ing] the dust, and was used again a old Western book from 1748 (and by Western movies later), and of course that earworm Queen song.

    Wednesday

    The slang “to croak” for dying comes from the gurgling or “death rattle” sound sometimes made by the dying.

    Thursday

    “Six feet under” is an idiom for dead, but bodies can legally be buried quite a bit shallower. In many US states, only 18 inches of dirt need to cover a coffin, which makes for a hole about four feet deep. The 6-foot order began as a London mayor’s reaction to the plague hitting the city in 1665, but no reason was given for that depth. However, the risk of several unpleasant contingencies are reduced by deeper graves, including the body being reached by animals, grave robbers, or accidentally plowed up by a farmer.

    Friday

    The reference to “shuffl[ing] off this mortal coil” is from Hamlet, in which Shakespeare means the tribulations and turmoil of this life, as “coil” meant at the time.

    Saturday

    Although there are earlier variants about daisies, “pushing up daisies” as a euphemism for dead and buried seems to have started in the British military in WWI. A similar French idiom translates to “eating dandelions by the roots,” as one under the ground would do.

  • Week of September 19, 2021

    Toy Stories

    Sunday

    “Lego” is short for “leg godt” or “play well” in Danish, though it was later happily realized that Lego also means “I put together” in Latin. When started by a master carpenter in the 1930s, the Danish company mostly made wooden products, but after getting into plastic building toys, it patented in 1958 the familiar stud-and-tube coupling system behind all Legos ever since. The company is still run by the founder’s descendants, and kids worldwide spend about 5 billion annual hours playing with Legos.

    Monday

    Plah-Doh was born from the decline of coal furnaces. In the late 19th and early 20th century, coal heated most American homes. Come spring, however, these homes had a layer of unsightly soot on inside walls, and homeowners used flour-based puddies to roll against the walls and pull the soot off. Then, when furnaces increasingly burned oil or gas after WWII and water-washable vinyl wallpaper appeared, a Cincinnati family business that manufactured the soot-cleaning puddies fell into trouble. A sister-in-law who ran a children’s nursery read an article about molding inexpensive Christmas tree ornaments out of wallpaper cleaner, and she found that her nursery kids loved sculpting with the family’s poorly-selling product. The puddy was reformulated for this purpose, named “Play-Doh” (which beat out the original “Kutol’s Rainbow Modeling Compound”) and sold in one-gallon containers all over town. It exploded in popularity after being featured on “Captain Kangaroo,” and soon became a staple children’s product worldwide.

    Tuesday

    The original inspiration for Barbie was a stiletto pump-wearing busty blonde plastic doll version of a popular German comic strip character Lilli, an uninhibited “saucy high-end call girl.” During a 1956 visit to Switzerland, these popular dolls struck the fancy of 15-year old Barbara Handler, whose parents happened to be the founders of Mattel toys. She and her mom took some dolls home, and three years later Mattel introduced a less-risque American version named after daughter Barbara (the doll’s full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin). The doll has proven phenomenally successful; over one billion Barbies have sold worldwide. If Barbie were a real woman, however, her unique proportions might cause some issues that you never see in the advertisements. Researchers report that Barbie would have to walk on all fours because those tiny ankles couldn’t support her weight, her thin neck would not hold that big head up, and that narrow waist only leaves space for half of a liver and a few inches of intestine.

    Wednesday

    G.I. Joe the was the first toy to call itself an “action figure” so that boys wouldn’t be discouraged from buying a self-proclaimed doll. Arriving in the 1964, the name was inspired by the 1945 movie “The Story of G.I. Joe” with Robert Mitchum. “G.I.” for Government Issue or General Issue was already a term for military-issued items used by soldiers, and was later applied to the soldiers themselves. “Joe” was long a slang term for ordinary battlefield soldiers. The size and material of G.I. Joe dolls changed a lot over the years, and their popularity waned during the Vietnam war, but the action figures remain one of the toy world’s most successful.

    Thursday

    Matchbox cars were far from the first model car, but when they were created in 1952, their unique size was inspired by a rule at the school which one of the company partner’s daughter attended that no toys brought from home may be bigger than a matchbox. As it turned out, this size created big success and the plan was later replicated by Hot Wheels and others.

    Friday

    Silly Putty was invented by accident by an engineer researching substitutes for synthetic rubber during WWII. Although it had no obvious military use at the time, the silicone oil / boric acid combination proved a party hit for years until it was encountered by a hobby shop owner and marketing consultant, and became one of the fastest-selling toys of the 20th Century. (See Friday of Week of 8/15/21 post regarding another classic toy born from military research.)

    Saturday

    In the mid-1950s, a young French electrician made some marks on a decal from a factory light switch plate which he was installing. When he peeled the translucent decal off, he realized the marks were visible on the other side, giving him the idea for a toy which took advantage of metal powder’s clingy electrostatic properties. This was the birth of the Etch-A-Sketch, which works by using the knob-controlled stylus to scrape away a thin layer of aluminum powder, and “draw” in this fashion.

  • Week of September 12, 2021

    It’s All Greek to Me, pt. IV

    Sunday

    Thespis, a 6th century BC Greek poet, was said to be the first to ever get onstage as an actor, hence the term “thespian” is given to dramatic stage actors in his honor.

    Monday

    One ancient school of Greek medicine taught that body fluids, or humors, were the cause of moods, so the word “melancholy” consists of the words for “black bile,” which supposedly caused this gloomy mood.

    Tuesday

    The word “democracy” comes from the Greek words “demos” meaning “the people” and “kratos” or “rule.” That is, “rule by the people.”

    Wednesday

    The word “music” derives from the Greek word for “art of the muses.” In Greek mythology, muses were the nine goddesses who inspired science, literature, and the arts.

    Thursday

    Ancient Greeks also thought that the stars orbited around the earth. The five planets observable to the Greeks were believed to be stars but had less predictable motions than other stars, so “planet” derives from the Greek “planetes” or “wanderer.”

    Friday

    Chronos, Greek god of time, is who we have to thank for words like chronology, chronic, chronicle, and other terms about time.

    Saturday

    The word “sarcasm” traces back to the early Greek “sarkazien” which literally meant “to tear the flesh,”as if with the mocking remark.

  • Week of September 5, 2021

    Hay, Hay, What Can I Do? READ FACTOIDS.

    Sunday

    A powerful arcing punch, often a knockout blow, is often called a “haymaker.” This is because when hay was harvested manually with a scythe, the same strong, wide swing was used to cut those grasses and plants which made up hay.

    Monday

    Hay and straw have long been used for animal bedding and have also stuffed human mattresses, hence the term “hit the hay” for sleeping.

    Tuesday

    A disorganized and chaotic operation or plan is often said to have “gone haywire.” Real haywire, which is used bind straw and hay bales, was historically also used to make temporary, improvised repairs to equipment. In the American logging industry, a “haywire outfit” was a negative term for a logging company using poor equipment. Furthermore, due to the springy nature of hay wire, it can easily become a tangled mess when not spooled correctly.

    Wednesday

    A term which centuries ago was a happy cheer like “hooray,” a “heyday” came to mean a happy event, and later, the peak or finest time for a person or ongoing thing.

    Thursday

    Hay is not straw and straw is not hay. Straw, often empty wheat or barley stalks, is really a by-product of harvested grain. It makes great bedding (see above) and can hold in moisture in soil, and make some nice hats, but is not itself ideal for eating. Hay is harvested live plants, dried and intended for animal consumption, particularly when live grass is not available to munch on. In other words, hay is typically not a by-product of something else; it is harvested to feed animals.

    Friday

    The term “hayseed,” indicating an unsophisticated country person, originated from a 19th century idiom for a simple county person who “had hayseed in his / her hair.”

    Saturday

    The modern idiom “make hay” is a shortening of “Make hay while the sun shines” which encouraged taking advantage of opportunities while you can.

  • Week of August 29, 2021

    Show Us Some Skin

    Sunday

    Before “in the buff” meant naked, it meant wearing a buff coat. This leather tunic worn by English soldiers through the 17th century was a beige color known as buff. Since this was a similar color to the skin of many English folks, “in the buff” came to mean nude.

    Monday

    Before it was the name of the skimpy swimsuit, the coral islands known as Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific were the target of several 1946 atomic bomb tests by the US military. Four days later, French swimsuit designer Louis Réard also dubbed his new scant piece of ladies’ swimwear the “bikini,” declaring that it would be just as explosive as those nuclear tests. To distinguish it from a competitor’s slightly more modest design, Réard said only a real bikini could be pulled through a wedding ring. Réard initially had trouble finding women willing to model the swimsuit, and it was forbidden in many places after its introduction.

    Tuesday

    “Mooning,” as the act of deliberately showing your bare butt, entered the lexicon in the 1960’s when it became popular in American universities, though a bare bottom has been called a “moon” since at least the 18th century. Whatever you call it, the practice has roots much further back. Among the older moons, Byzantines mooned fleeing European foes in 1203 during the Fourth Crusade, Brits mooned Scots on 13th century battlefields, and Native Americans mooned Italian explorers in the 1500s. Across all these times and places, though, the gesture remained an insult and mockery.

    Wednesday

    Humans are sometimes called “the naked ape” because we’re the only known primates not totally covered in hair. This was also the title of a 1967 book by Desmond Morris.

    Thursday

    Historically, swimming naked was the norm for so long it never needed a special name. After swimsuits were the norm, though, it did, and the term “skinny dipping” arose in the 1950s. Notably, this practice has been popular with many US presidents.

    Friday

    Operating since 1929, Sky Farm, located in Liberty City, New Jersey, is the oldest “clothing optional” resort in the United States.

    Saturday

    The modern Mardi Gras tradition of women flashing in exchange for beads goes back to an uncertain date, but was most likely started in the range between 1969 and 1976, according to historians on the topic.

  • Week of August 22, 2021

    City Folk

    A few North American cities named after people:

    Sunday

    Seattle, Washington – named for Chief Seattle, Native American leader

    Monday

    Vancouver, British Columbia – named for Captain George Vancouver, British explorer

    Tuesday

    Juarez, Mexico – named for Mexican president Benito Juarez

    Wednesday

    Nashville, Tennessee – named for Francis Nash, hero of the American Revolutionary War

    Thursday

    Alberta, Canada – named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria

    Friday

    Berkeley, California – named for philosopher George Berkeley

    Saturday

    Raleigh, North Carolina – named for explorer Sir Walter Raleigh

  • Week of August 15, 2021

    This Mortal Coil

    Sunday

    It was fitting that Dorothy lived in Kansas. With over 1,200 tornadoes annually, the US experiences about four times more twisters than all other nations combined, and the Great Plains states are America’s “Tornado Alley.” Two huge geographic features cause this: The Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf, Earth’s warmest water body at its latitude, supplies warm, moist air that flows north at low altitudes. When this meets cold, dry, high air blowing off the Rocky Mountains, the recipe is perfect for forming tornados.

    Monday

    “Death spiral” often refers to a causation loop which makes the situation continuously worse. For example, a small town loses population, so it receives less tax money to fund basic services, so it raises taxes to make up the loss, so more residents leave to avoid the higher taxes, etc. However, “death spiral” (AKA “graveyard spiral”) was originally an aviation term which began when early pilots experienced extreme sensory disorientation from flying through clouds, dense fog, or darkness with no view of the horizon for reference. Pilots often reacted to this with an instinctive slow turn, but disjointed visual and equilibrium cues led them to misjudge actual angle and elevation, causing pilots to bank further and descend more, initiating a “death spiral” which was often ended in a crash. On-board instruments were developed to give pilots a better sense of their true positions and orientation relative to the horizon when personal perceptions could not be relied on.

    Tuesday


    The often-raucous party game Twister began with a flash of inspiration from an ad executive hired to do something much different: create a promotional display for a shoe polish company (this same executive, Reyn Guyer, later invented the Nerf ball). He brought in some game developers, and after passing on the name “King’s Footsie,” and finding “Pretzel” unavailable, settled on “Twister” before selling Milton-Bradley the rights to it. Twister did not initially sell well, since company execs had reservations about the sexually suggestive nature of the game, and Sears refused to sell it in their catalog for the same reason. However, in May of 1966, Johnny Carson and the beautiful Eva Gabor played the game on The Tonight Show to great hilarity, and the game became an immediate success.

    Wednesday

    The invention of the screw thread goes back to about 4000 BC, but its use as a fastener came last. Early screw threads were used in food presses to produce oil and juice, particularly from olives and grapes. Later the water screw was employed as an efficient pre-motorized water removal device, and only in the late 1700s was a reliable screw-cutting lathe developed that let large-scale fastener screw manufacture possible.

    Thursday

    “The eye of the storm” in common language means to be in the center of a large, often public dispute. In terms of hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones, however, the center, or “eye” is typically of a lower pressure and much more peaceful than the spiraling storm whose walls encircle it and spread out from there.

    Friday

    The Slinky was invented by accident when engineer Richard James, working on springs to steady sensitive Navy equipment at sea, knocked one off the shelf an observed its famous motion. He and his wife borrowed $500 to develop the toy, and by the end of the 20th Century, a quarter billion had been sold.

    Saturday

    A spiral is one of the three classifications of galaxy shape, along with elliptical and irregular. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is elliptical.

  • Week of August 8, 2021

    Digital Acronym Week #3

    Sunday

    CD-ROM = Compact Disc – Read Only Memory

    Monday

    HTTPS = Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure

    Tuesday

    ICANN = Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

    Wednesday

    SIM Card = Subscriber Identity Module Card

    Thursday

    SQL = Structured Query Language

    Friday

    SaaS = Software as a Service

    Saturday

    MPEG = Moving Picture Experts Group

  • Week of August 1, 2021

    Carrying the Torch

    Sunday

    The modern Olympics began in 1896, but they were inspired by the originals which happened at least 3,000 years before. Those took place every four years near Greece’s Mount Olympus (hence the name), mythological home of the gods, in a 6-week festival to honor the god Zeus.

    Monday

    The Covid-19 pandemic postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until 2021, but major world events caused earlier games to be cancelled altogether. There were no Olympics in 1916 due to World War I, and none in 1940 or 1944 because of World War II.

    Tuesday

    The five rings of the Olympic flag, when first created, represented the five continents of “America” (both North and South), Europe, Asia, Africa, and “Oceania” or Australia. Nowadays, we recognize North and South America as different continents and Antarctica as a continent as well, albeit one that still has never sent athletes to the Olympics.

    Wednesday

    The five colors of the rings in the Olympic flag, including the white background, included the colors of the flags of all the countries that were competing when the flag was first designed.

    Thursday

    The first 13 ancient Olympics had only one event. It was a foot race over a distance comparable to the modern 200-meter event. This 600-foot distance was called a “stade” or “stadion,” and is the origin of the modern word “stadium.”

    Friday

    The first dedicated Winter Olympics took place in 1924 in the French Alps.

    Saturday

    Dress and uniform issues at many ancient Olympics were a non-issue. Athletes (all men) often competed naked, barefoot, and rubbed with olive oil. Notably, the word “gymnasium” meant “school for naked exercise.”

  • Week of July 25, 2021

    Tough Towns, Tough People

    Sunday

    For centuries cities have had more and less affluent sections, but the growth of industry and railroads often made that dividing line clearer, giving birth to the idiom about “the wrong side of the tracks.” This phenomenon was put nicely by author Thorne Smith in 1929: “In most commuting towns…there are always two sides of which tracks serve as a demarcation. There is the right side and the wrong side. Translated into terms of modern American idealism, this means the rich side and the side that hopes to be rich.”

    Monday

    “Thug” is originally a Hindi word meaning a cheat or thief. Beginning in 14th-century India, Thugs were organized groups of highwaymen who robbed and killed travelers after first gaining their trust as fellow travelers.

    Tuesday

    During Seattle’s railroad construction boom of the mid-1800, logs were rolled to construction sites down roads made of logs, which helped keep them out of the plentiful local mud. These wooded roads were called “skid roads,” and the original skid road is Yesler Way in Seattle. However, since railroad work was seasonal and often done by transient workers, the neighborhoods around the “skid roads” were often impoverished and became known as “skid rows” and a line dividing wealthier and poorer neighborhoods.

    Wednesday

    “Hoodlum,” as a term for up-to-no-good criminal-minded men, first appeared in San Fransisco magazines from 1871 and spread quickly from there. Any relation to a particular language is disputed, although early “hoodlums” seemed inclined to terrorize recent Chinese immigrants.

    Thursday

    Modern troubled city neighborhoods are sometimes called “ghettos,” but this term first specifically described segregated Jewish sections. Centuries before WWII, many European cities placed their Jewish populations in particular neighborhoods and subjected them to restrictions not endured by other citizens. The first may have been in Venice in 1516, where Jews lived on a small island in a part of the city known locally as “New Ghetto.” This practice of forced Jewish segregation had largely ended by the late 1800’s, but was revived by the Nazis with ghastly results.

    Friday

    “Ruffian” means a violent brute or criminal, but the original Italian meaning was closer to that of a pimp or panderer. Similarly, “bully” began with a less violent – and even affectionate – connotation.

    Saturday

    The word “slum” as describing a poor urban area comes from 1820’s England, but has more than one plausible origin. Since industries were often built near waterways to take advantage of this pre-railroad transport route, the houses of the working poor which arose near the factories tended to be on swampy, poorly-drained land. “Slump” is a name for this marshy land, which was thought to turn to “slum.” Alternatively, the word “slum” also meant “room” in British slang but changed to mean “back room / alley,” especially full of poor people.

    Hoskins, William George. 1977. The Making of the English Landscape. Repr. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

  • Week of July 18, 2021

    Getting Soft on Us

    Sunday

    Soft drinks contain no alcohol, and so were first called soft to differentiate them from hard liquor.

    Monday

    Often people are said to “soft pedal” inconvenient information or positions they’ve taken before. This is actually a reference to the soft pedal on a piano, which quiets tones when pressed.

    Tuesday

    The game of softball was born of an Ivy League alumni rivalry. One day in November 1887, some Yale and Harvard alumni at Chicago’s Farragut Boat Club finally got word that Yale had won their football game against Harvard, causing one exited Yale alum to throw an old boxing glove at a Harvard alum, who attempted to hit it back with a stick. This led reporter George Hancock to lace up the glove like a ball, draw out the diamond’s lines with chalk, and prompt the first softball game. Over the next few decades, the rules and governing bodies were established, as was the name “softball,” since the game had, until 1926, been variously known as Indoor Ball, Kitten Ball, Playground Ball, Diamond Ball, Pumpkin Ball, Recreation Ball, Twilight Ball, Army Ball, Lightning Ball, Mushball, Big Ball, and Night Ball.

    Wednesday

    Computer software, the electronically-stored instructions for the machine’s operating system or applications, was first given that name in the 1960s to differentiate it from hardware, or the physical components of the computer, like screens, disk drives, and keyboards.

    Thursday

    Teddy Roosevelt, the first time he wrote the now-famous line “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” attributed it to an African proverb, but no record of this term being used before Teddy has been found.

    Friday

    “Soft power” is a modern political term for the influence that a nation develops not through traditional wealth and military might, but rather diplomacy, communication, cultural values, and goodwill.

    Saturday

    Similarly, a “soft sell” is an approach to promoting or selling something with subtle and gentle persuasion rather than aggressive sales techniques.

  • Week of July 11, 2021

    You’ve Been Warned

    Sunday

    Carbon monoxide and other toxic gasses are among the many occupational dangers to coal miners, and the practice of bringing canaries into coal mines persisted from 1911 to 1986. If the bird suddenly got sick or died, it suggested that a deadly gas was present, and the miners should get out, hence the metaphor “canary in the coal mine” as an early indicator. Animals that serve an environmental warning role to humans are sometimes called “sentinel species.”


    Monday

    The old saying “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” has variations in Shakespeare and the Bible. Since this red color is attributable to water vapor or dust splitting sun rays into their color spectrums when they pass sideways through the most atmosphere, color hints at the atmosphere’s contents at these times, which play a big role in weather. However, the saying is most accurate in the middle latitudes when weather systems move from west to east.


    Tuesday

    Talking about a “shot across the bow” is similar to saying “a warning shot,” or a warning gesture to show that you’re serious, even about using force. In the nautical sense, this means deliberately firing in front of another vessel, sometimes forcing that ship to change course or stop. This gesture has also been used to signal to an unknown ship to fly its flag, but in the modern time these efforts at identification also include attempts at radio contact.

    Wednesday

    “Beware the Ides of March,” the emperor is famously warned in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” In the Roman calendar, the Ides was the 15th of each month, the day in March of 44BC that Ceasar was assasinated.

    Thursday

    Not surprisingly, air raid sirens became widely used when air raids themselves started happening. In the early days of aerial attacks during WWI, London was unexpectedly attacked by German zeppelins, and the sirens became a more effective way to warn people than church bells or “take cover” signs displayed in public.

    Friday

    Animals which are especially sensitive to environmental changes often portend natural dangers in advance. Sharks head to deeper waters before a hurricane, birds keep down before a storm, worms flee rising groundwater, and some domestic animals’ behavior has accurately predicted earthquakes, at least when they are housed near one another.

    Saturday

    The sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania in 1915 by a German submarine, killing nearly 1,200 civilians, was a major WWI tragedy, but it shouldn’t have been an utter surprise. The German embassy had run ads in the New York Times and other papers for weeks before the event warning that they would torpedo British-flagged ships.

  • Week of July 4, 2021

    Random Acronym Week (RAW) #4

    Sunday

    IQ = Intelligence quotient

    Monday

    SCOTUS = Supreme Court of The United States

    Tuesday

    GMO = Genetically Modified Organism

    Wednesday

    HIPPA = Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (of 1996)

    Thursday

    UNESCO = United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

    Friday

    FOIA = Freedom of Information Act

    Saturday

    YOLO = You Only Live Once

  • Week of June 27, 2021

    BETRAYED!

    Sunday

    What people now call getting “double-crossed” was previously just called getting “crossed,” that is, deceived by another. The term “double cross” appeared in 1834 to describe when an individual convinces two separate parties that that he will help them cheat the other. When the scheme plays out, both of the other parties find themselves betrayed, so there has been a “double cross.” However, when most modern people use the term, they don’t mean this complicated three-party plot, just a straightforward one-person-cheating-another scenario.


    Monday

    The term “sold down the river” has ugly roots in American slavery. When the slavery was legal, the city of Louisville, Kentucky housed one of the nation’s largest slave markets. From there, many purchased slaves were sent further south along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to cotton plantations, where often-brutal treatment frequently proved fatal. Hence, getting someone “sold down the river” meant a betrayal so complete it might lead to death.


    Tuesday

    The names of some historical betrayers have become synonymous with “traitor.” Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans, Brutus helped assassinate his friend and emperor Julius Caesar, and Benedict Arnold sold out his native United States to the British.

    Wednesday

    The word “turncoat” is born from the ancient practice of wearing a badge of your allegiance on your coat that could be hidden if you turned your coat inside out.

    Thursday

    Treason is the only crime defined in the US constitution.

    Friday

    To “drop a dime” on someone comes from the practice of making a pay phone call to the police to inform on them. These were also practical, since short, unexpected pay phone calls couldn’t be traced in these early telephone days.

    Saturday

    Since the late 1800’s, the word “snitch” meant nose, and since nosy people are involved in others’ business, this soon came to also mean an informer.

  • Week of June 20, 2021

    All Dressed Up

    Sunday

    Tuxedos are named for Tuxedo Park, a New York resort where the outfit was introduced to high-society attendees. However, the tailor of Edward VII, Prince of Wales, originated of the design.

    Monday

    The uniform of Croatian mercenaries hired by King Louis XIV in the 1630s is credited for inspiring the necktie, which was adopted by the French before it eventually spread around the world and remains a businesswear standard to this day. In fact, “cravate,” the French word for necktie, derives from the French word for Croation.

    Tuesday

    High heels began as a practical men’s fashion, helping 10th century Persian soldiers stand steadily in stirrups while launching arrows and spears from horseback. Centuries later, high heels became a status symbol among European men, and Louis XIV (involved in this fashion also!) adored his opulent high heels. It wasn’t until the 19th century that high heels were exclusively associated with women.

    Wednesday

    Earrings are among the oldest known pieces of personal adornment / body piercing known to humans. Signifying different things in different times and cultures through the centuries (wealth, status, profession, fashion, etc.) earrings have been worn by men and women for thousands of years. The body of “Otzi the Iceman,” a preserved Copper Age man from over 5,000 years ago, had pierced ears.

    Thursday

    Lipstick is another adornment which has been around a long time, going back about 5,000 years to Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq. Like earrings, however, the significance of lipstick has varied widely by region and time period.

    Friday

    The modern sport jacket, now worn by men and women alike, started with the Duke of Norfolk in the 1860s. This “Norfolk Jacket” was indeed worn for sport shooting, with pockets for ammunition and a design to accommodate mobility while hunting.

    Saturday

    Seersucker suits, narrowly striped and made from thin cotton, are popular in the American south and other warm locales. The name is actually an adaptation of “shir shakar” or “milk and sugar” in Hindustani. The alternating smooth and bumpy stripes of the suit are named for the smooth appearance of milk and bumpy texture of sugar.

  • Week of June 13, 2021

    The Eyes Have It

    Sunday

    The term “apple of my eye” has roots back to the King James Bible, but the modern sense of a highly favored person or object goes back to the 9th century…still not too shabby in terms of long lineages. It was previously believed that the pupil of the eye was a solid object, and the term apple – another familiar sphere – came to describe it. Mind you, in these days effective eye care was in a primitive-to-nonexistent state, so eyesight was highly valued. Hence, the term lent itself to other things which were similarly precious.

    Monday

    Another popular eye idiom, “see eye to eye,” also has King James Bible roots, where Isaiah 52:8 reads “…for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”

    Tuesday

    The term “private eye” to describe private investigators has two plausible origins. The famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, which began in Chicago in the 1850s and was the original in the business in the US, used in their logo the image of a staring eye and the words “We Never Sleep.” However, the equally likely origin is simply the letter “I” in “private investigator.”

    Wednesday

    The adult eye color of a human baby is not always knowable at birth, as there are many genes and pigments still at work. In some babies, particularly lighter-skinned ones, it may take up to 3 years for the iris color to fully establish.

    Thursday

    The idea of an “evil eye” that brings misfortune and undoing to the victim, often after they enjoy praise or success, goes back at least 5,000 years and is still prevalent in many cultures. Many eye images worn on clothes and jewelry are mean to repel this curse.

    Friday

    The eye is relaxed when viewing an object about 20 feet away, and doesn’t have to bend the light rays to focus on it. This is the reason why “20/20 vision” indicates a normal ability to see at a distance, because you can see at 20 feet something you should be able to see at 20 feet away.

    Saturday

    A “black eye” is really just a bruising of the area around the eye. The color comes from blood under the skin, like other bruises.

  • Week of June 6, 2021

    Clean Up Your Act

    Sunday

    The fanciful story behind soap’s name is that it came from fictional Mount Sapo in Rome. Here, the oils and ashes from sacrificed animals washed down the mountain in the rain, where locals noticed clothes got cleaner when washed in that part of the river. While it is true that wood ash and oils from plants or animals are the traditional main ingredients of soap, the origin of the word soap is more likely from “sapo” or “saipa,” meaning tallow or fat.

    Monday

    Soap operas are called that because soap manufacturers were among the first companies to sponsor the female-targeted serial radio shows which played during the daytime in the 1930’s, and this term eventually got extended to television shows.

    Tuesday

    By coincidence, the term “squeaky clean” came into use in about the same decades as soap operas, and was intended to describe things so clean they squeak when rubbed. The term later got a boost by Ajax cleaning product advertisements in the 1970’s, though the term now also applies to people without blemished histories or past practices.

    Wednesday

    Keeping your nose clean doesn’t just mean wiping it thoroughly, but avoiding corruption and shadiness in general. This term seems to be an American variant of the British term to “keep your hands clean,” which arose in the 19th century, and with the same general meaning.

    Thursday

    The soap molecule gives it cleaning power. One end of the long molecule bonds with water, the other with oils and fats. The result is that soap can pry into the fatty outer membrane of germs, rupturing them, and also encapsulate dirt, oil, and germs so that they can be washed away in water.

    Friday

    Soap scum only forms in hard water, since calcium and magnesium, both components of hard water, are needed to from this precipitate.

    Saturday

    Though they have similar uses, detergent is often synthetically created, and true soaps are of naturally-occurring ingredients. There are chemical differences between them, too.

  • Week of May 30, 2021

    Everydayus Latin, pt. 2

    Sunday

    “Alma mater” means “nourishing mother,” but usually indicates the school one graduated from.

    Monday

    “Cum laude” means “with praise” and indicates someone who earned grades among the best in their class.

    Tuesday

    “De facto” means “from the fact” and indicates the true reality of a situation, whether formalized or not. For example, “Since she was experienced and assertive, Sasha became the de facto team captain.”

    Wednesday

    “Et cetera,” unsurprisingly, means “and the other things.”

    Thursday

    “Carpe diem” is usually translated as “seize the day,” but likely is closer to “pluck the day,” as if to make time to gather ripe fruits or flowers and enjoy an opportune moment to do something in nature.

    Friday

    “Emeritus” means “one who has served their term” and usually applies to retirees who keep their old title as an honorary gesture, such as “Pope Emeritus.”

    Saturday

    “Caveat emptor” means “let the buyer beware,” and indicates that the buyer is taking the risk for a purchase, usually an item with no express warranty.

  • Week of May 23, 2021

    True Tails

    Sunday

    Plan to cure that hangover with a few more of what got you there? “Hair of the dog” shortens “hair of the dog that bit you,” since early medical theory held that a bite wound (including the rabies it may have caused) could be treated by rubbing into it some hair of the biting animal.

    Monday

    You’re “barking up the wrong tree” if you are misdirected in your efforts. This comes from the habit of hunting dogs standing at the base of whatever tree the hunted animal escaped up and bark to indicate its location. When the dogs are mistaken about which tree the prey is in, they are literally “barking up the wrong tree.”

    Tuesday

    The idea that a dog year is equal to 7 human years seems to derive from the idea that dogs live about 10 years and humans live about 70. Happily, human life expectancy in the developed world is now a good bit older than 70, and dogs do not all “age” at the same rate, with smaller dogs typically living much longer than very large ones.

    Wednesday

    To “wag the dog” means that a smaller part of a thing controls the larger part or the whole. It can also refer to a deliberate political distraction. The term derives from the saying “A dog is smarter than its tail, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would wag the dog.”

    Thursday

    The saying “to walk away with your tail between your legs” to describe someone defeated, guilty, or embarrassed is indeed similar to natural dog behavior. Dogs can also indicate sadness or fear with this.

    Friday

    Although not entirely accurate, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is one of the English language’s oldest sayings, and traces back to a 16th-century book advising shepherds to train their dogs young.

    Saturday

    With the practice linked to Australians, Siberians, and native Alaskans, a “three dog night” is one so cold that you would bring three dogs into the bed with you to keep warm.

  • Week of May 16, 2021

    Be A Good Sport

    The notable backgrounds of several US and Canadian pro sport team names:

    Sunday

    Boeing was headquartered in Seattle until 2001, and one airplane planned for assembly at that facility called the “Supersonic Transport” inspired the name of the Seattle Supersonics, even though the Concorde-like airplane was never actually developed.

    Monday

    The Indian Packing Company, former employer of Green Bay Packers founder Earl Lambeau, sponsored the new team and let them use the company field. Later, Acme Packers bought out Indian Packers and their name appeared on the jerseys, but after Acme went under, “Packers” remained.

    Tuesday

    Also on the meat theme, when the Bulls were established in 1966, Chicago had been a meatpacking center since Union Stockyards was built there a century before. But when then-team owner Richard Klein proposed the names “Matadors” and “Torreadors” to his family, his youngest son declared “Dad, that’s a bunch of bull.”

    Wednesday

    The Philadelphia Eagles were named in 1933 after the eagle logo of the National Recovery Act, part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation during the Great Depression.

    Thursday

    Although the NHL’s Flames play in Calgary now, the team began in Atlanta, and that name was chosen because Union soldiers burned that city and much of Georgia during the US Civil War.

    Friday

    The panther is the Florida state animal, yet it is critically endangered there. The Florida Panthers were named to bring attention to this big cat’s plight.

    Saturday

    Do you know which US city experiences a record number of lightning strikes each year? Why, it’s Tampa, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

  • Week of May 9, 2021

    Food for Thought

    Sunday

    Though he didn’t start the idea of putting filling between two slices of bread, John Mantagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, got the name to stick. Supposedly, in 1762, the often-gambling earl wanted something to eat without having to leave the card table, and likely got the idea through similarly-stacked morsels he’d seen on Mediterranean travels. Once he started eating these regularly, they took off in popularity, with people ordering “the same as Sandwich” which got shortened to “sandwich.”

    Monday

    Grapevine stems are naturally twisted and convoluted, quite the opposite of straight and direct telegraph wires. The connection is that to describe something which was “heard through the grapevine” actually descends of the older term “The Grape Vine Telegraph Line.” This reference, which came about soon after telegraph technology grew, referred to information transmitted through the often-meandering and indirect person-to-person channels as opposed to straight-from-the-source communications. Nonetheless, these “grapevine” channels via African-Americans proved useful to Union leaders during the American Civil War in obtaining clandestine military information, and likely in many other military efforts since.

    Tuesday

    The richer part of milk, the cream, rises to the top of the liquid and is the more valuable part to farmers. The French term for this is the “la creme de la creme” or “the cream of the cream,” so the English term “cream of the crop” is likely an alliteration of this.

    Wednesday

    A plausible origin of the term “spilling the beans” for revealing a secret goes back to ancient Greece. When voting on a matter, anonymous votes were cast by placing one of two raw beans in an opaque jar: white for yes, black for no. A clumsy voter who knocked over the jar would spill the beans, revealing the vote prematurely.

    Thursday

    Remember grabbing that hot cucumber and burning your hand? Probably not. Cucumbers are mostly water on the inside, which absorbs heat slowly and really does keep them cooler than their surroundings, sometimes by up to 20 degrees Celcius. Most melons and gourds share this watery coolness too, but we happen to say “cool as a cucumber” and not “cool as a cantaloupe.”

    Friday

    The most prominent theory about why a “baker’s dozen” is 13 instead of 12 involves bakers avoiding punishment. For centuries, English laws severely punished bakers who cheated customers by selling them undersized or too few loaves. Bakers came to err on the side of caution by selling 13 loaves as a dozen.

    Saturday

    Besides a sauce made with meat drippings, “gravy” has also long meant something easy. The term “gravy train” when first used by railroad workers in the 1920s to refer to a good-paying yet relatively low-effort train run.

  • Week of May 2, 2021

    That’s An Acronym? (Part II)