Weekly Wrap Volume 112

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Now-You-KnowHow Dick Came to Be Short for Richard

The name Richard is thought by most etymologists to derive from the Proto-Germanic ‘Rikharthu’, meaning more or less “hard ruler” (‘Rik-‘ meaning ‘ruler’ and ‘-harthu’ meaning ‘hard’).  This was adopted into Old High German as ‘Ricohard’, and from there to Old French, then Old English as ‘Richeard’, and today as ‘Richard’. You might think from Richard meaning “hard ruler” and being a man’s name that Dick being a nickname for Richard probably came about for pejorative reasons, borrowing from one of the other meanings of “dick”, such as ‘dick’ as in ‘jerk’ or ‘dick as in ‘penis’.  However, the first record of ‘dick’ meaning ‘jerk’ didn’t come about until… (more)

two-orangesWhy are Breasts Called Boobs?

There’s an oft repeated and decidedly untrue claim that Eskimos have hundreds of words for “snow”. (Beyond the fact that there is no single “Eskimo language”, when talking about the wider Eskimo-Aleut language family, these actually have roughly the same number of root-words for snow as English.) The false claim that they have drastically more is sometimes used to demonstrate how limited the English language is when it comes to coming up with words for things, which is a little unfair considering how many synonyms currently exist for “breasts”. Of the numerous slang terms we have to describe lady-lumps, none is as non-controversial or ubiquitous as the word “boobs”. So where did the word “boobs” come from? There’s an old joke that posits… (more)

everestCan Anyone Climb Everest?

Standing at a foreboding 8,848 metres (or 29,029 feet) high, Mount Everest is recognised as the Earth’s highest mountain. While Everest isn’t generally considered to be the most difficult peak to climb (that honor probably belongs to either Annapurna in Nepal or K2 on the China/Pakistan border), it is the most famous and, as such, sees the most people attempting to scale it each year.  But can anyone just show up and start trekking up the mountain? In a word- no. The first thing you’ll need is to be over 16 on the Nepali side and over 18 on the Tibetan side. The second thing you’ll need if you want to climb Everest is money- a lot of it. The exact cost… (more)

Churchill-stenThe Pivotal WWII Gun That No One Wanted to Put Down- The Plumber’s Nightmare

Initially designed and produced during WW2 for British soldiers, the Sten was developed as a direct response to both dwindling supplies of American made Thompson machine guns and the evacuation of Dunkirk, during which the British abandoned many thousands of guns. In an effort to re-arm its troops as quickly as possible for the defense of the homeland, the British Government requested that the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield design an alternative to the increasingly hard to obtain Thompson. As the old maxim states, “You can have it fast, good, or cheap- pick two”. Given the title of this article, you can guess which two were emphasized. The original design for… (more)

passportWhy Doesn’t the Queen of England Need a Passport?

As the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, the commonwealth, and certain other countries that have since declared independence but decided they kind of like having the Queen on their money, Queen Elizabeth II enjoys a number of unique perks not bestowed on any of her subjects. These include being immune from prosecution from any crime she may happen to commit (justice is served in her name); she cannot be compelled to give evidence in court; she owns all of the dolphins, sturgeons and whales found in British waters (she also technically owns all mute swans found on open waters in Britain); she has the ability to declare war on any other nation if she so desires it; and, most pertinent to the present conversation, she doesn’t… (more)

Bonus Quick Facts:

  • Ever wonder how blind people tell when they’ve wiped enough after going to the bathroom?  Well, wonder no more. To begin with, the vast majority of the world’s population uses water to clean, rather than starting with toilet paper. With something like a bidet with reasonable pressure, you just spray for a bit and use toilet paper to dry- it’s clean every time on the first wipe.  For the blind who don’t have access to a bidet and don’t feel like shelling out $25-$50 for a basic bidet toilet seat add-on, or who’re at a public restroom that doesn’t have a water washing option, they know they’re clean based simply on tactile response.  Yes, as long as you’re not using some crazy-ultra soft, practically lubed, toilet paper to wipe, it’s generally not too difficult to tell when you’re clean based on how it feels. Use the cheap-o economy TP and it’s even easier. Essentially, you just pay attention to how easily (or not) toilet paper slides across your backside- rougher glide = more clean. And once you’re getting close to being clean, thanks to how extremely sensitive said orifice is, detecting when it’s fully free of any objectionable matter isn’t difficult. For the sighted who still don’t believe you can accurately know when you’re clean using tactile feedback alone, the next few times you poop, really pay attention to how things feel back there and try to predict when you’re clean.  You’ll be amazed how easy it really is with very little practice.
  • If you love the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you partially have band members from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis, as well as Elton John, to thank for it, according to director Terry Gilliam. He stated, “There was no studio interference because there was no studio; none of them would give us any money. This was at the time income tax was running as high as 90%, so we turned to rock stars for finance…. They all had money, they knew our work and we seemed a good tax write-off. Except, of course we weren’t. It was like The Producers.” In total, the rock stars contributed approximately £80,000 (about £600,000 today) to the movie, or approximately 40% of its budget, with six other private investors footing the rest of the bill. The extreme low budget for the film ultimately resulted in some of its best gags. For instance, they originally planned to use actual horses in the film, but couldn’t afford it, so instead came up with the idea of having the actors act like they were riding horses while their assistants used coconuts to make clopping noises. In the end, the film, which wasn’t expected to do well, grossed £3 million (about £19 million today) at the box office off a budget of about £200,000, and has continued to earn well since in various home media incarnations, TV spots, and streaming online. Incidentally, Beatle George Harrison funded Monty Python’s next film, Life of Brian, to the tune of £3 million because he “wanted to see the movie”. The film ultimately brought in about £15 million or about £69 million today.
  • The little protuberance at the front of the opening in your ear is called the tragus. The similar little bump in the lower rear of the opening of your ear is called the antitragus. The name “tragus” ultimately derives from the Greek “tragos,” meaning “he-goat,” ostensible referencing the bits of hair that often grow in the inner part of the tragus, like a goat’s “beard.”
  • The Haskell Free Library and Opera House has a curious line painted through the building. What does this line signify? One side of the line lies in Quebec, Canada, while the other is in the state of Vermont in the United States. Because of this, the building has two main entrances on either side of the border. The building also has two different addresses and telephone area codes. Further, because of the layout of the building, it’s jokingly referred to as “the only library in the U.S. with no books and the only opera house in the U.S. with no stage” (the library and the stage are on the Canadian side, while most of the audience of the opera sits in the U.S.). If you’re wondering, people inside can freely cross the line marking the border, but if they then exit the building, they are required to report to Customs, but otherwise are free to traverse one side of the building or the other without such notification. Intentionally built on the border in the early 20th century, the building was placed such as Mrs. Martha Stewart Haskell and Col. Horace “Stewart” Haskell wanted both Canadians and U.S. citizens to have access to the library and opera house.

Other Interesting Stuff:

tattoo-artist-340x226Why Tattoos Don’t Fade as Skin Regenerates

Depending on the source you consult, anywhere from 14 to 23 percent of American adults and about 24% of British adults have at least one tattoo, a figure that one would think is set to rise considering the rather permanent nature of tattoos, ever increasing life spans, and that the tattoo is steadily becoming more socially acceptable. So why are tattoos permanent when skin is supposedly continually regenerating? To answer that, you need to understand that not all of your skin is regenerating itself so regularly. You see, your skin is essentially made up of two layers… (more)

Albert_Einstein-340x549The Theft and Half Century Journey of Einstein’s Brain

On April 17, 1955, the greatest scientist of his generation checked himself into Princeton Hospital due to chest pains. By early the next morning, Albert Einstein had died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm – the rupture of the aorta, the heart vessel that’s the body’s main supplier of blood. While word was still getting out that the great Dr. Einstein had passed away at the age of 76, something rather disturbing was happening at the hospital, if not downright nefarious. Einstein’s brain, the keeper of one of the world’s greatest intellects, had been stolen. And that is just the beginning of the story. Dr. Thomas Stolz Harvey was the pathologist on call during the early morning hours of the 18th and was the doctor assigned to attend to Dr. Einstein. Seven hours… (more)

distress-340x212Why People on Planes and Ships Use the Word “Mayday” When in Extreme Distress

In 1923, a senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, in Croydon Airport in London, England was asked to think of one word that would be easy to understand for all pilots and ground staff in the event of an emergency. The problem had arisen as voice radio communication slowly became more common, so an equivalent to the Morse code SOS distress signal was needed.  Obviously a word like “help” wasn’t a good choice for English speakers because it could be used in normal conversations where no one was in distress. At the time Mockford was considering the request, much of the traffic he was dealing with was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France. With both… (more)

house-2-340x225If You Own Land, How Far Above and Below Do You Own?

On paper, the concept of land ownership sounds very simple- you pay money and in return you’re given unfettered access to a predetermined amount of land. But how much of that land do you actually own? Do you own the sky above it? How about the land below it? What about all the animals that may live there; do you own those too?  All of these questions and more define what exactly it means to “own” a piece of land.  Surprisingly, many of the answers aren’t well defined from a legal standpoint as you’ll soon see. (Note: The laws governing one’s rights as a landowner vary considerably depending on location, even within a given country or state.  With that caveat noted, we’ll endeavor to answer the above questions and a couple more in the general case for places like the United States and the… (more)

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