Category Archives: Articles

Did English Speakers Really Not Use Contractions in the 19th Century as Depicted in True Grit?

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Karl A. asks: In the movie True Grit, they don’t use contractions. Is it true that people back then didn’t use them? Won’t, don’t, wouldn’t, isn’t and even ain’t- where would we be without our contractions? Prevalent in spoken English and increasingly accepted in written pieces, contractions enable brevity and make written works more accessible and friendly. Contractions in some […]

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How the Practice of Putting Candles on Cakes for Birthdays Started

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Heily O. asks: How did the tradition of having cakes with candles on them for birthdays start? For most of human history, ordinary people’s birthdays weren’t cause for much celebration. In fact, in the ancient world if you weren’t among the elite, odds are your birthday would have mostly just been noted for things like astrological purposes, rather than throwing […]

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Weekly Wrap Volume 122

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This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here. How the Weird British Tradition of Putting Topless Women on the Third Page of the Newspaper Got Started We British are often stereotyped as being prudish and stoically reserved in all aspects of intimacy. As such, it may surprise non-natives to […]

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The Law of the Tongue: The Deal Between the Orcas and Whalers of Eden, Australia

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Sporting the third deepest natural harbor in the southern hemisphere and a rich habitat, the waters around Eden, Australia attract a variety of wildlife, including baleen whales and, at least in the fall and winter, orcas. At some point in the history of the indigenous Yuin people, they and the killer whales seemingly entered into a tacit sort of unspoken […]

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Has Anyone Ever Actually Poisoned Or Put Razor Blades or Needles in Halloween Candy?

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Lee asks: How many children have died from people poisoning Halloween candy? Remember your mom sorting through your Halloween candy as a kid, looking for signs of ‘tainted’ candy laced with poison, needles or razor blades? It turns out, unless she was just using it as an excuse to steal the good candy before you got it, she was wasting […]

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Why are Carved Pumpkins Called “Jack O’ Lanterns”?

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Scott T. asks: Why are carved pumpkins called “Jack O’ Lanterns”? The name “Jack O’ Lantern” was originally one of the numerous names given to ignis fatuus (Medieval Latin for “foolish fire”), another of which is “Will O’ the Wisps”, basically the odd light that can occasionally be seen over marshes, swamps, and the like. “Jack O’ Lantern” first popped […]

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How the Weird British Tradition of Putting Topless Women on the Third Page of Newspapers Got Started

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David J. asks: How did the tradition of putting photos of random naked women in some newspapers start? We British are often stereotyped as being prudish and stoically reserved in all aspects of intimacy. As such, it may surprise non-natives to learn that for over four decades, one of the most popular newspapers in the entire country had a large […]

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The Curious Case of the American Accent

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Hey, youz! Whah do ‘mericuns have all differnt aks-ay-ents? It’s, like, totally confusing and somewhat bizzahh, dontcha know. TALK THIS WAY An accent is “a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation.” That’s not to be confused with a dialect, which is a specific form of […]

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Weekly Wrap Volume 121

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This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here. The Truth About the Legend of Pelorus Jack Cook Strait, located between the north and south islands of New Zealand, is within the zone of the Roaring Forties which consists of strong winds that sweep across the southern hemisphere from the […]

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“Every Man His Own Stylo” – That Time MI6 Agents Used Semen as Invisible Ink

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The British Secret Intelligence Service, better known to the world as MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6), is, rather oddly for a supposedly secretive agency, one of the better known intelligence services in the world. While the work MI6 does today is top-secret, thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act, we’re able to peer into the mysterious agency’s […]

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Why We Call Certain Types of Threats “Blackmail”, and The Origin of the Lesser Known “Buttockmail”

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Karl M. asks: Why is it called blackmail when you threaten to reveal something about someone if they don’t give you money? “Blackmail” has its roots in the early 16th century, first used by English farmers living on the England/Scotland border. It derives from the Middle English word “male” which itself is thought to derive from the Old English word […]

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Grape-Nuts Contain Neither Grapes Nor Nuts… So What are They Made Of?

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Grape-Nuts is a wheat and barley cereal developed by C.W. Post in 1897, and it has actually made some interesting contributions to American food history. A box of Grape-Nuts actually contains “whole grain wheat flour, malted barley flour, isolated soy protein, salt, whole grain barley flour, malt extract, and dried yeast.” It also boasts a number of essential vitamins and […]

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That Time Someone Gave a Homeless Person $100,000 Just to See What Would Happen

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In 2005 a homeless man called Ted Rodrigue stumbled upon a briefcase filled with crisp $20 and $50 bills totaling $100,000 (about $123,000 today). Ted was then told by screenwriter Wayne Powers that the money was his to keep and do with as he wished, so long as he would allow a film crew to document the result. Rodrigue, understandably, […]

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How the Freedom of Information Act Came About

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The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966—and it was the very first law in American history that gave regular citizens the legal footing to compel the government to release internal documents. Before that—not for you! Getting it passed was a long, tough battle. (And it’s still going on.) […]

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