Category Archives: Articles

Where the F-Word Came From

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By necessity, this one contains a bit of profanity. So you may or may not want to read through it first if you normally share these articles with humans of the particularly youthful persuasion. In its various incarnations, the F-word can be a noun, verb, adjective, and even an infix. The Crescent wrench of the English language, the F-bomb has […]

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Why Do We Need Sleep?

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Karla asks: Why do we need sleep? It left Hamlet’s father vulnerable to fratricide, sent Alice down the rabbit-hole, enabled Delilah’s betrayal of Samson and facilitated Gregor’s transformation into a giant beetle. Yet without sleep, we can become dull, slow and irritable in the short-term, and chronic insomnia can cause migraines, seizures and even, in extreme cases, death. Although we […]

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Why Certain Types of Traps are Called “Booby Traps”

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It turns out this has nothing to do with the mammaries of the fairer sex, but rather has its origins in the Spanish word “bobo,” meaning “stupid,” “fool,” or “naïve.” This Spanish word in turn comes from the Latin “balbus” meaning “stammering”, which to the Romans was thought to be a sign of stupidity. So, essentially, a “booby trap” is […]

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Why Police Officers are Sometimes Called “Pigs” and Why “Poindexter” is Slang for “Nerd”

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Why Police Officers are Sometimes Called “Pigs” Unlike so many other nicknames for the police, such as cops and the fuzz, this particular term has a relatively well known origin. You see, starting around the sixteenth century “pig” began being used in English as a derogatory term for people, whether police or not, as it still sometimes is used today. […]

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Jumping Frenchmen of Maine

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In the connected 21st century, it can be hard to imagine how, for most of history, different cultures existed in relative isolation from each other. Even as late as the 19th century, those living in self-sustaining and remote rural communities had little commerce with the outside world, and scant news made it in or out. In a handful of these […]

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Why Native Americans Didn’t Wipe Out Europeans With Diseases

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Greg H. asks: Diseases from Europe wiped out most of the Indians, so why didn’t the Europeans also get wiped out by diseases from America? While estimates vary, approximately 20-50 million people are believed to have lived in the Americas shortly before Europeans arrived. Around 95% of them were killed by European diseases. So why didn’t 19 out of 20 […]

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The Unmasking of Moriarty

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Jill T. asks: My dad told me Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person. Is this true and if so, who? Genius and philosopher, with a “brain of the first order,” Professor James Moriarty was the most dangerous criminal Sherlock Holmes ever grappled with. Over the years, several real-life masterminds have been suggested as the inspiration […]

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Why Are Strikebreakers Called Scabs?

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Kayla R. asks: Why are strikebreakers called scabs? Striving to win safer working conditions, shorter hours and better pay, over the past few hundred years laborers have periodically joined together in work stoppages, called strikes. Only effective when the work needed by the “boss” (be it a single business, a whole industry or an entire nation) doesn’t get done; if […]

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Where the Phrase Quitting “Cold Turkey” Comes From

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Mark asks: I don’t know if you’ve already covered this or not, but why do we call quitting something abruptly “cold turkey”? When you quit something “cold turkey” it means that you’re quitting smoking, drinking, a hard drug, or eating delicious chocolate cake right then and there without being slowly weaned off the addictive (possibly chocolatey) substance. What with turkeys […]

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The Stanford Prison Experiment

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In the summer of 1971, on the campus of one of the nation’s top universities and under the supervision of a faculty member, 11 students tortured 10 others over a six-day period, all in the interest of “science.” The Experiment Intended to last two weeks, according to the study’s author, Professor Phil Zimbardo, the original focus of the experiment was […]

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Why Cashews are Not Sold to Consumers in Their Shells and Why Pistachios Used to Be Dyed Red

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Why Cashews are Not Sold to Consumers in Their Shells Cashews are a member of the same family as poison ivy, Anacardiaceae. Like poison ivy and many other members of the family, part of the cashew plant contains an oily chemical called urushiol, which is a strong irritant for most people and can even be fatal for some if ingested. […]

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Weekly Wrap Volume 31

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This is a weekly wrap of our Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here. Why Tuberculosis was Called “Consumption” Originally, of course, nobody knew what caused the various forms of tuberculosis, and they certainly didn’t understand it was caused by what would eventually be called tubercle bacillus (usually the offending microbes are specifically Mycobacterium tuberculosis). The […]

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Why We Say “O’Clock”

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The practice of saying “o’clock” is simply a remnant of simpler times when clocks weren’t very prevalent and people told time by a variety of means, depending on where they were and what references were available. Generally, of course, the Sun was used as a reference point, with solar time being slightly different than clock time. Clocks divide the time […]

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Disordered Hyperuniformity – The State of Matter Found in a Chicken’s Eye

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Despite what you learned in grammar school, there are way more than four states of matter. One possible new one, disordered hyperuniformity, was recently found in the weirdest place – the eyes of chickens. Classical States of Matter  To better understand an exotic state of matter like disordered hyperuniformity, it may be helpful to review the characteristics of the classical […]

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