Category Archives: Articles

Why Area 51 is Thought by Some to House Aliens


Kathy asks: Why do people think Area 51 contains alien bodies? Area 51 is now so ingrained into popular culture that it’s virtually synonymous with Aliens; it’s impossible to mention one without the other somehow creeping into the conversation, but why are the two so intrinsically linked? Why do we automatically picture little green men any time someone so much […]

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Toilet Paper wasn’t Commonly Used in the United States Until the Early 20th Century


Today I found out it’s only been very recently that people in the U.S. started using toilet paper. Despite toilet paper having been around since at least the 6th century AD (initially in China), it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century when toilet paper would be first introduced in America and England and it wasn’t until the 1900s, around […]

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The Forgotten Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, Norton I


Today I found out about the largely forgotten colorful benevolent dictator of the United States and protector of Mexico, Emperor Norton I. His Imperial Majesty Joshua Abraham Norton I was born between 1811 and 1818 in England. Records of his birth date vary considerably, but it’s likely that the latter date is the correct one. His family immigrated to South […]

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The History of Circumcision


Mark asks: When did people first start cutting the foreskins off penises? Having served variously as a mark of virility, servility and gentility, circumcision has throughout the centuries, worn many symbolic hats. While anthropologists disagree as to the definitive origins of circumcision, the earliest hard evidence comes from the first ancient Egyptian mummies of considerable vintage, around 2300 BC. That […]

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The Stocks


Dan Lewis runs the wildly popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.. For a few centuries ending in the late 1800s, stocks were common in town centers in the United States and Europe. The device, used as a way to humiliate those who violated cultural norms […]

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The Language Made Up Entirely of Whistles


Today I found out about Silbo Gomero, the whistling language. In Spanish, “Silbo Gomero” means “Gomeran whistling.” It is a language “spoken” on La Gomera in the Canary Islands (which incidentally may have been named after dogs, and certainly wasn’t named after birds) and is made up entirely of whistling sounds. The language was used by the Guanches—the aboriginal people […]

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Nero Didn’t Fiddle While Rome Burned


Myth: Nero played music while Rome burned to the ground. The infamous phrase—“Nero fiddled while Rome burned”—has come to mean a person who is neglecting their duties, probably by doing something frivolous. Nero is painted as an emperor who didn’t care about his people, but it’s likely that he didn’t deserve such a bad reputation.  This is extremely similar to […]

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