Things I’ve Learned Recently

The cubicle did not get its name from its shape, but from the Latin “cubiculum” meaning bed chamber.

A male Brown Thrasher can have more than 2,500 separate songs in his repertoire.

Creede, Colorado, was named for prospector Nicholas C. Creede who later committed suicide because his wife, from whom he had separated, insisted on living with him.

The yield sign was first used in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In rural Britain and Ireland, most houses had dirt floors until the 20th century. That’s where “ground floor” came from.

Nobody knows for sure what the “tuffet” Little Miss Muffet sat on really was. The nursery rhyme is the only place in historic English where the word appears.

Queen Anne of Britain (1702-1714) was too fat to go up and down stairs. A trap door had to be cut in her bedroom floor so she could be lowered to and raised from the floor below by pulleys.

During the first four months of World War II, 4,133 people were killed on the roads of Great Britain due to the blackout restrictions enacted to thwart German bombers.

There are more chickens on the earth than there are dogs, cats, pigs, cows, and rats combined.

In Korean, the word “umchina” is used to describe someone who is better than you are at everything. Its literal meaning is “mom’s friend’s son.”

It would actually be faster to allow everybody on an airplane to attempt to board whenever they wanted than to use any of the boarding methods airlines currently use. So why the boarding groups? Because it allows airlines to charge extra for letting people board sooner.

A young Sioux boy who witnessed Custer’s Last Stand lived until 1961, when I was three.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Cary Grant’s character is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan, who doesn’t actually exist. In 2014, a species of fly that was originally named as a subspecies of another fly that was found not to exist was renamed “prochyliza georgekaplani.”

The word “spanghew” refers to the act of flinging a frog violently into the air from the end of a stick.

The word “teetotaler” comes from the phrase “Total with a capital T,” a slogan of the temperance movement.

Venus rotates in the opposite direction of all the other planets, so the sun rises in the west.

Shel Silverstein, author of Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Giving Tree, wrote the song “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a huge hit for Johnny Cash. Silverstein was inspired to write it by his friend who had a name generally used by girls—Jean Shepherd—who wrote The Christmas Story.

Christopher Columbus took notes in Italian, gave most of the places he discovered Portuguese names, wrote his official correspondence in Castilian Spanish, kept a public journal of his voyages in Latin and a second, private, one in Greek, used Hebrew astronomical tables, and spoke the lingual franca (a mix of Arabic, Italian, and Spanish) of Mediterranean traders. And he was typical of learned men of his day.

The word “literal” is an adjective of the Latin word littera, meaning “letter.” Centuries ago, when only a handful of educated people knew how to write (or read) and the materials for doing so were hard to come by, something that was “literally true” was of such importance that it was worth writing down.

When you say that something is “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” you’re saying it’s the greatest thing since 1928, the year a Missouri jeweler named Otto Rohwedder invented the bread-slicing machine.

Falling down stairs is second only to car accidents as a cause of accidental death. Unmarried people are more likely to fall than married people. People in good shape are more likely to fall than those in bad shape.

To prevent fires back in the days when houses were warmed and lit by fire, people covered flames at night with a lid called a coverfeu. This word developed into our word curfew.

In an average year, more people die of food poisoning contracted at church picnics than have died from contact with bats in all of recorded history.

The dining room came into existence in homes largely because people got tired of food and drink stains on their expensive, upholstered parlor furniture.

In 1907, Kellogg offered a free box of Corn Flakes to any woman who would wink at her grocer.

The Duke of Marlborough was so cheap that, to save ink, he didn’t dot his “i”s.

Many years after the United States gained its independence, an old soldier was asked why he went to fight the British at Lexington. He said “We had always governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to earn a brown belt in judo.

In 1920, Babe Ruth set a new record for home runs in a season with 54. That was 33 more than anyone else had ever hit. In 1920, no other TEAM hit as many homers as Ruth did.

The ashes of at least 12 White Sox fans were scattered over the infield at old Comiskey Park.

The German word for exit is “ausfahrt.”

Hal Smith, who played Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show did the voice of Owl in the original Winnie the Pooh cartoons.

The bleachers in a stadium were so named because the sun was said to “bleach” the skin of the fans sitting on the uncovered benches.

On May 17, 1979, Randy Lerch and Bob Boone of the Phillies became the only pitcher-catcher combo in Major League history to both hit home runs before taking the field. The Phillies beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field that day, 23-22 in 10 innings. (Sally and I got engaged 44 days later.)

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