Weekly Wrap Volume 124

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gnats-340x226Why Gnats Swarm

A common sight in the spring and summer, the seemingly unprofitable and pointless habit of gnats to hover in a cloud is, in fact, the single most productive thing they’ll ever do with their short lives. Although there are a wide variety of non-biting, but eminently annoying, gnats and midges, their lifecycles are all pretty similar. Each begins as an egg, and, with some species, they lay thousands at a time. When they hatch (after a period of no more than a week), each enters a larval stage (lasting anywhere from 10 days to 7 weeks), followed by a pupae stage that lasts another 3 to 20 days, and then each emerges as an adult. And this is…(more)

gloria_steinemWhat Mrs. is Short For

You may have wondered, if you’ve ever thought about it, why there is an “r” in “Mrs.” when it’s generally spoken as “missus” (also sometimes spelled “missis”). “Mrs.” first popped up as an abbreviation for “mistress” in the late 16th century. At the time, “mistress” didn’t popularly have the negative connotation it often does today, namely referring to a woman other than a man’s wife who he has an affair with. Instead, back then “mistress”, deriving from the Old French “maistresse” (female master), was just the feminine form of “mister/master”. “Mistress” itself first popped up in English around the 14th century, originally meaning “female teacher, governess”. By the 16th century “mistress” referred to any woman, with neither “mistress” nor “mister” referencing one’s marital status. It wasn’t until around..(more)

wife-sellingThat Surprisingly Recent Time in British History When Husbands Sold Their Wives at Market

Let’s say you’re an 18th-century British peasant, and you and your wife just aren’t getting along anymore. What do you do? Divorce her? Too expensive. Kill her? Too risky. Oh, well, looks like you’ll have to auction her off. Welcome to the wacky world of wife selling! (HARDY HAR-HAR) Hands up all of you who’ve read Thomas Hardy’s classic of 19th-century British misery, The Mayor of Casterbridge. You know, the one where everybody dies and life is shown to be a pointless parade of squalor, pain, and death? You haven’t gotten around to reading it yet? Well, it’s worth filling you in on a key plot point, namely, that the main character, Michael Henchard, sells his long-suffering wife at a public auction. Surely not, you cry! Not in civilized old England. Thomas Hardy must have…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • While Ben Franklin is remembered as one of the founding fathers of America, his son, William Franklin, was a staunch Loyalist who was ultimately imprisoned during the war and later released as a part of a prisoner exchange in 1778. At this point, he move to British controlled New York City and became President of the Board of Associated Loyalists there. He eventually left for Britain, never to return to America. Needless to say, the relationship between father and son after that was permanently damaged and the two had little contact from then on, with Ben Franklin also leaving his son almost nothing in his will.
  • On March 13, 1962, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer, submitted a proposal to the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, developed by the Joint Chiefs and the Department of Defense outlining plans to, among other things, commit various acts of terrorism on U.S. soil and then frame the Cubans for it in order to provide an excuse to go to war with Cuba. In the end, when the plan was presented to President Kennedy for final approval, he rejected it and was reportedly furious over the matter. General Lemnitzer was shortly thereafter let go as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. However, Kennedy’s rejection of this proposal, and others like it, ultimately led to him becoming increasingly unpopular with the military brass.
  • Wayne McLaren, David McLean, Dick Hammer, and Eric Lawson all have two major life events in common- they all at one point posed in advertising campaigns as “the” Marlboro Man, and they all died of lung cancer. Marlboro men who escaped this fate include, perhaps the most famous Marlboro Man, Darrell H. Winfield, and William L. Thourlby, the latter of which claimed he never smoked or drank in his life, despite the ads. The Marlboro Man ad campaign was created as a way to make smoking filtered cigarettes more masculine; at the time, many saw them as a feminine form of cigarettes. The ad campaign was wildly successful, and within two years of the campaign’s launch, sales were up 400%, despite growing concerns over health problems resulting from smoking cigarettes.
  • While you’re probably familiar with Type 1 (oral) and Type 2 (genital) herpes, you may not know that chicken pox is also a member of the herpes’ family. In total, there are 25 known viruses that belong to the herpesviridae family, 8 of which can infect humans, with the vast majority of the human population acquiring at least one of them at some point or other. For instance, chicken pox infects about 90% of the U.S. population at some point in each person’s lifetime, though vaccinations are starting to see that number decline a bit.
  • The 30th Vice President of the United States, Charles Gates Dawes, also won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 and was a self-taught pianist and composer who composed the 1912 hit song, “Melody in A Major,” which was eventually used in Tommy Edwards’ 1958 #1 hit (for a then record six weeks) “It’s All in the Game.”
  • Contortionists who are often called “double jointed” aren’t actually double jointed. Rather, they generally suffer from some condition such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a condition that occurs about 1 in every 5,000 births and, depending on the type and severity, can be life threatening, with one of the most common reasons why being spontaneous arterial rupture. Other conditions that may result in a “double jointed” individual include Marfan syndrome, Loeys-Deitz syndrome, misaligned joints or other joint abnormalities, none of which are the result of having literal double joints. As such, a better term is “hypermobile joints.”
  • The oldest contender for first recorded condom use can be found in the French Grotte des Combarrelles, a cave with drawings, some 12,000 to 15,000 years old, displaying some form of condom use. Other archaeological evidence of early condoms finds evidence of silken, oiled paper condoms in ancient China, and tortoise shell and animal horn condoms in ancient Japan. Literally horny… eh?

Other Interesting Stuff

nancy-wakeThe “White Mouse” Who Became Australia’s Most Decorated WWll Servicewoman

Despite her future successes, Nancy Wake had humble beginnings. She was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1912, but her family moved to Sydney, Australia when she was almost two and she grew up there. A Maori midwife delivered her and, at the time of her birth, allegedly pointed at a fold of skin on her head and said, “’This is what we call a kahu, and it means your baby will always be lucky. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, the gods will look after her.” Her childhood didn’t appear to be very lucky. When she was four, just a few short years after the move to Sydney, her father left on a trip to the United States and never returned. This left her frazzled mother to look after six children, of whom Wake was the youngest. She was constantly butting heads with her mother and, at the age of sixteen, she left home to work as a nurse. She might have continued…(more)

princess-mourningWhy Do People Wear Black for Mourning?

Funeral rituals have been practiced since long before the dawn of civilization. For instance, Neanderthals are known to have intentionally buried their dead as far back as around 130,000 years ago. (And if you’re wondering, see What Ever Happened to the Neanderthals?). As for humans, we’ve been burying each other for around the last 100,000 years. Wearing special clothing to mark the funeral event and the period of mourning afterward, however, seems to be a much more recent (although still ancient) tradition. One of the oldest references to such appears in the Bible in the form of Jacob wearing sackcloth, an uncomfortable and plain-looking fabric made from coarse goat…(more)

ammonium-carbonate-340x281What Are Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts have been used for everything, from reviving those who have fainted to athletes needing a chemically-induced “wake up.” But what are smelling salts? Are they actually an effective medical treatment? How do they work? Are they toxic and dangerous?Smelling salts aren’t what most people think of as “salt”; there isn’t sodium in smelling salts. The main and most active ingredient is ammonium carbonate ((NH4)2CO3H2O), a solid chemical compound that, when mixed with water (H2O), releases ammonia gas. Ammonium carbonate also goes by “baker’s ammonia,” due to the fact that it was used as a leavening agent prior to the popularity of baking soda or powder in the early to mid-19th century. In fact, baker’s ammonia is still used in a few traditional Scandinavian Christmas time recipes like Speculoos (spiced shortbread biscuit) and Lebkuchen (similar to a gingerbread cookie). Often, another main ingredient….(more)

482px-sir_john_harington_by_hieronimo_custodis-e1281353321237Why the Toilet is Sometimes Called a “John”

The term is thought to derive from Sir John Harrington or, at the least, to have been popularized due to Harrington. (There are a few references of the toilet being called “Cousin John”, as well as many references to it being called “Jake” and other such generic names, before Harrington was born; but it is generally agreed that why we now call it “John” is because of Harrington and not from the old “Cousin John”). Sir John Harrington lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Harrington was one of the 102 god-children of Queen Elizabeth I, known as the “Saucy Godson”, for his proclivity to write somewhat risqué poetry and other writings, which often got him banished only to be allowed to return…(more)

twin-girls-340x509The Twins Born 87 days apart

Maria Jones-Elliot of Waterford, Ireland, was just 23 weeks pregnant when she went into labour with her twins in 2012. She was understandably worried—it isn’t until 24 weeks that doctors now consider a pregnancy viable (that is, the baby could potentially live outside of the womb with a lot of medical intervention), and 40 weeks is the normal gestation period. These babies wanted out early, and doctors weren’t sure that they were going to be able to save them. When Amy was born nearly four months early on June 1, 2012, she weighed just a little over a pound. She was immediately whisked away to be put on a ventilator and incubator in the NICU, but her chances of living were quite slim. As Dr. Sam Coulter Smith, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology, told the Irish…(more)

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