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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Known But to God

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

Tomb-1

The last time I was there — which I am startled to find was 10 years ago — I took a boatload of photos and videos. I like these two pics pretty well.

Tomb-2

Tomb-3

If you’ve been there, you know that seeing Arlington and the Tomb is an emotional experience. God knows, I am a borderline pacifist, with no militaristic tendencies whatsoever. But there’s something about the Tomb — the story behind it, the rituals, the soldiers who guard it — that is genuinely moving.

As you’re probably aware, the Tomb honors fallen American soldiers whose remains were unidentified. How the monument came to be is a fascinating story.

The Unknown Soldier of World War I

The idea originated with a British Army chaplain during World War I. In 1916, he saw a grave with a wooden cross on which was written in pencil “An Unknown British Soldier.”

The chaplain envisioned a monument to honor all British unknowns. His ambition was to inter an unidentified British soldier at Westminster Abbey “amongst the kings” to represent all of the Great War’s unknowns.

He contacted the Dean of Westminster, who gave his full support. In turn, so did the British Prime Minister. The process of selecting a representative unknown soldier began.

In the fall of 1920, four sets of unidentified remains were exhumed from undisclosed battlefields in France. The bodies were placed in identical flag-draped caskets. A ranking general closed his eyes and placed his hand on one of the coffins. The other three coffins were reinterred.

The chosen coffin was transported with great ceremony across France, escorted by French troops and processions of schoolchildren. At the port of Boulogne, the coffin was piped aboard a destroyer and escorted across the Channel by a convoy of battleships.

On November 11, 1920, Armistice Day, the casket was interred inside Westminster Abbey in soil from various French battlefields. One hundred women, each of whom had lost a husband and all of their sons in the war, were the guests of honor.

The grave was capped with black marble, to which was affixed this plate (made of brass melted down from wartime ammunition):

Tomb-4

The United States followed a similar selection process in 1921.

The Army exhumed four sets of remains from American cemeteries in France and placed them in identical caskets.

Sgt. Edward Younger, who had been wounded in battle and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, made the selection by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. (Later, the roses were interred with the casket at Arlington.)

The casket was taken by funeral train through Paris to the port of Le Havre, then by ship to the United States.

On November 9, a procession carried the casket to the Capitol Rotunda, where citizens and dignitaries came to pay their respects.

On November 11, the casket was escorted by five soldiers, two sailors, and a marine to Arlington, where this interment ceremony that took place:

Tomb-5

The Americans chose a simpler inscription for the Tomb than the Brits.

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The Unknown Soldiers of World War II and Korea

In 1958, the remains of several unidentified soldiers who died during World War II were exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and The Philippines. From these, two were chosen, one from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater, and placed in identical caskets.

Navy Hospitalman William Charette, a Medal of Honor winner, selected the casket that would be interred at Arlington. The second casket was buried at sea with honors.

That same year, four unknowns who died in the Korean War were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, selected the Korean War unknown.

On May 28, the World War II and Korea caskets were taken to Washington, where they lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On May 30, the caskets were carried by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded both unknowns the Medal of Honor, and they were interred beside the World War I unknown.

The Unknown Soldier of Vietnam

The unknown from the Vietnam War was chosen on May 17, 1984, by Marine Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, a Medal of Honor recipient. On May 28, President Reagan awarded the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam War unknown, and the remains were interred with the others at Arlington.

But a decade later, a glitch surfaced. At one time, the remains of the Vietnam War unknown had been identified tentatively as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. Because the estimated age and height of the remains did not match Blassie’s, the identification was rescinded.

But by 1998, DNA identification had advanced significantly, and the Blassie family asked the Dept. of Defense to retest the remains. The DoD complied, and testing confirmed that the Vietnam Unknown indeed was Lt. Blassie.

At the family’s request, Blassie’s remains were removed from the Tomb at Arlington and reinterred in Missouri. Further, the decision was made to leave the crypt vacant rather than select another Vietnam Unknown. A marker on the crypt now reads, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

The Tomb Honor Guard

In 1925, a civilian guard was posted at the Tomb because people were picnicking on the marble slab to take advantage of the view. In 1926, a military guard took over. By 1937, the monument was under 24-hour protection.

Since 1948, the Tomb has been guarded by an elite unit of volunteer Army soldiers. All are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is stationed adjacent to Arlington Cemetery in Fort Myer, Virginia.

Serving as a guard at the Tomb is a high honor. Only 20 percent of volunteers are accepted for training, and only a few ever become Sentinels.

Applicants must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall, with a waist size no larger than 30″. Guards must commit to two years of service and will live in a barracks under the Tomb. They cannot drink alcohol, on or off duty, or swear in public for the rest of their lives. If they do, or if they disgrace the uniform or the Tomb in any way, they forfeit the coveted Honor Guard lapel pin.

The pin is awarded after a guard has served nine months as a Sentinel. It features an inverted wreath and the figures of Peace, Valor, and Victory.

Fewer than than 675 soldiers have worn the Honor Guard pin; the Astronaut Badge is the only military pin awarded less often.

Tomb-7

The first female Sentinel came on duty in 2001, the fourth in 2017.

For the first six months on duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV. Off-duty time is spent studying the lives of the 175 notable Americans buried at Arlington and knowing where they are buried.

The Honor Guard protects the Tomb at all times, 24 hours a day, regardless of weather, following a precise routine. Here are some pertinent facts:

— The soldier on duty marches 21 steps across the front of the Tomb, carrying the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb. The gloves are moistened to help grip the rifle.

— On the 21st step, the guard stops and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. The rifle is switched to the other shoulder, and the guard marches 21 steps in the opposite direction. The 21 is symbolic of a 21-gun salute.

— The Changing of the Guard occurs every 30 minutes during the summer and every hour during the winter.

— The incoming guard is accompanied by the team commander. The outgoing guard reports to the commander that the Tomb is secure, and the new guard takes over.

— The guards wear sunglasses because the white marble reflects the sun.

— They wear shoes with metal plates to accentuate the ritual clicking of heels.

— To protect the marble, the guards march on a 63-foot rubber mat. The mat is replaced twice a year.

— While on duty (the soldiers call it “walking the mat”) the guards remove insignia that identifies their rank. This is so they will not outrank the interred soldiers, whose ranks are unknown.

— A team of guards works 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, for five days. Then they have four days off while another team takes over.

— The guards spend an average of six hours a day preparing their uniforms.

In addition to their ceremonial duties, the guards protect the Tomb, prevent anyone from touching or approaching the monument, and confront tourists who are loud or disrespectful.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/it-is-requested.mp4

So, mind your manners, buster.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Why does aluminum foil have a dull side and a shiny side? Because the foil is milled two layers at a time, in contact with each other to prevent the sheets from breaking. The dull side is where the two layers were in contact, the shiny side is where they were not. Which side of the foil is facing in or out doesn’t matter; both sides perform the same.

In 1900, John Wesley Haynes founded Shamrock Knitting Mills in Winston, North Carolina. In 1901, his older brother Pleasant Henderson Haynes established P. H. Haynes Knitting Company in the same city. The two companies operated independently until they merged in 1965. Today, its trendy corporate name is HanesBrands, Inc.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1930 by Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose family finally subdued the other Bedouin tribes in the region. Abdulaziz died in 1953, and six of his sons in succession have reigned as king.

Humans have lived in what is now Saudi Arabia for 20,000 years, existing in isolation and obscurity with two exceptions: in the 7th Century, Islam arose there; and in the 20th Century, vast oil deposits were discovered, making the Al Saud family head-spinningly rich and powerful.

The party game Twister, in which people become the playing pieces on a plastic mat, was introduced in 1966. Sales were poor until the Milton Bradley PR people arranged for Johnny Carson to demonstrate Twister on the Tonight Show. The next day, demand skyrocketed.

Twister was named “Game of the Year” in 1967. In 2015, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

twister

The Hundred Years’ War (England vs. France) began on May 24, 1337, and ended on October 19, 1453 — which is 116 years, four months, three weeks, and four days.

France won. As a result, England had to give up all claims to land on the continent. Civil war erupted in England over who was to blame and, of course, who would control the throne.

That civil war was the War of the Roses, which lasted from May 22, 1455, until June 16, 1487 — which is 32 years, three weeks, and four days.

The last Hollywood movie to be released in VHS format was A History of Violence in 2006.

The breakfast cereal Wheaties dates back to 1921. In 1927, General Mills adopted the slogan “Wheaties — The Breakfast of Champions” to link its marketing to sports figures. The first athlete pictured on a Wheaties box was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees in 1934.

For years, the photos were printed on the back or a side panel of the box. Not until the 1950s did the photos appear on the front of the carton.

The first cartoon series made specifically for television was Crusader Rabbit in 1950. The program aired for two years in black and white and was revived from 1956 to 1959 in color. One of the creators was Jay Ward, who went on to produce the Rocky and Bullwinkle animated series.

crusaderrabbit

The father of Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” is Homer Groening, usually thought to be the namesake of Homer Simpson. However, Matt claims Homer is named for a character in “The Day of the Locust,” a 1939 novel by Nathanael West. The Homer Simpson in the novel is a slow-witted Iowa accountant who moved to California for health reasons.

The White Sands region in southern New Mexico, 275 square miles of which is protected as White Sands National Monument, is the world’s largest deposit of sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals.

Gypsum is water-soluble, and in most places, it is dissolved by rain and washed downstream to the sea. However, the White Sands formation is located in the Tularosa Basin, which has no outlets. Thus, the rainwater evaporates, perpetually leaving the gypsum deposits behind.

The paint that covers the exterior of the White House in Washington is “Whisper White” exterior paint by Duron. When the White House was renovated in 1992, 32 layers of old paint were removed. The repainting required 570 gallons of Whisper White.

Gene Simmons, co-founder of the rock group Kiss, was born Chaim Witz in 1949 in Haifa, Israel. His parents divorced when he was eight, and his mother took him to New York City, where he changed his name to Eugene Klein, Klein being his mother’s maiden name.

The other original members of Kiss are Paul Stanley (real name Stanley Bert Eisen), Peter Criss (George Peter John Criscuola), and Ace Frehley (Paul Daniel Frehley).

kiss

 

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“Useless Christmas Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Puritans managed to get Christmas banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree began in Germany, probably during the 1600s, but most of Europe considered it “pagan mockery.” In 1848, Queen Victoria helped everyone lighten up by displaying a tree at Windsor Castle. The fad caught on and soon spread to America.

The word Xmas, which many bible-thumpers claim is sacrilegious, actually is legit. The Greek word for Christ begins with the letter Chi (X), and “Xmas” has been an accepted abbreviation for centuries.

In 1881, a drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast defined how Americans see Santa Claus. That image is the prototype of the Santa we know and love. With a major boost from Coca-Cola.

Nast Santa

The Bing Crosby song White Christmas is the best-selling single in history.

Robert L. May wrote the story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949.

The Poinsettia, popular at Christmas for its red and green foliage, is native to Mexico. Its name derives from Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought it to the U.S. in 1825.

In 1999, the town of Bethel, Maine, set a new record for the world’s tallest snowman. His name was Angus, and he was 113 feet (10 stories) tall. Bethel topped its own record in 2008 with a SnowWoman, Olympia, who was 122 feet (11 stories) tall.

Olympia

The first song broadcast from space was Jingle Bells. Astronaut Wally Schirra played it on a harmonica on December 16, 1965, as Gemini VI was preparing to reenter the atmosphere.

In England, before roast turkey became the traditional meat for Christmas dinner, the most popular dish was roasted pig’s head, usually on a bed of greens, slathered with mustard.

Alabama was the first U.S. state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.

Christmas is a popular secular holiday in Japan, and the traditional Christmas meal there is a takeout order of KFC fried chicken. The fad began in the 1970s when a KFC promotion somehow caught fire. During the Christmas season, consumption of KFC in Japan increases tenfold.

KFC

Merii Kurisumasu, y’all.

 

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Take the Cannoli

Now and then, a list surfaces of the “greatest movie quotes of all time,” in the subjective opinion of some person or group.

The American Film Institute once asked 1,500-odd people in the movie business to nominate their favorite movie quotes — dialogue that made a film memorable, clicked with popular culture, and became a part of the national lexicon.

On the AFI list, the same familiar quotes are in the top 10. Namely, these:

• “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone with the Wind, 1939.

• “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The Godfather, 1972.

• “You don’t understand! I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” On the Waterfront, 1954.

• “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

• “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca, 1942.

• “May The Force be with you.” Star Wars, 1977.

• “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967.

• “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Apocalypse Now, 1979.

• “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love Story, 1970.

• “E.T. phone home.” E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982.

The concept is fine. Movie quotes are entertaining and fun. But ranking them? Why make it a competition? I say lighten up. Celebrate and enjoy them for their individual merits.

In that spirit, here are more standout movie quotes, in my subjective opinion, presented randomly and unranked.

———

• “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Casablanca, 1942.

• “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!” Dr. Strangelove, 1964.

• “I’ll have what she’s having.” When Harry Met Sally, 1989.

• “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951.

• “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” Babe, 1995.

• “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” The Princess Bride, 1987.

• “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Airplane, 1980.

Shirley

• “I see dead people.” The Sixth Sense, 1999.

• “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

• “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

• “I feel the need — the need for speed!” Top Gun, 1986.

• “Round up the usual suspects!” Casablanca, 1942.

• “Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” Planet of the Apes, 1968.

• “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” Midnight Cowboy, 1969.

Walkin'

• “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Sunset Boulevard, 1950.

• “Show me the money!” Jerry Maguire, 1996.

• “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Chinatown, 1974.

• “You can’t handle the truth!” A Few Good Men, 1992.

“Is it safe?” Marathon Man, 1976.

Is it safe

• “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” To Have and Have Not, 1944.

• “Listen to them, the children of the night! What music they make!” Dracula, 1931.

• “Say hello to my little friend!” Scarface, 1983.

• “Go ahead, make my day.” Sudden Impact, 1983.

• “I’ll be back.” The Terminator, 1984.

• “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Star Wars, 1977.

• “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” The Godfather, 1972.

Cannoli

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The equals sign (=) was dreamed up in 1557 by Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde, who said he was tired of writing “is equal to” ad infinitum.

● Pokémon, the omnipresent Japanese game franchise, was created in 1990 by video game designer Satoshi Tajiri. So far, 807 Pokémoncreatures have been introduced.

The word Pokémon is a contraction of the Japanese term Poketto Monsutā (Pocket Monsters). The inventor said the game was inspired by his childhood hobby of collecting bugs.

● The teeth of mammals are specialized according to subgroup (bovine teeth differ from canine teeth, etc.), but all teeth have three components: an outer layer of inorganic enamel, the hardest substance in the body; a middle layer of living dentin, which is similar to bone; and the central pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels to nourish the dentin.

In 1758, the King of Spain issued a land grant in central Mexico to Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo. There, near the town of Tequila, the Cuervo family cultivated blue agaves, producing the first commercial mezcal de tequila in 1795.

In 1900, the widow of a recently-deceased Don married Jose Cuervo Labatida, a master distiller at a competing company. He became the new Don, and the Cuervo family brand became “Jose Cuervo Tequila. It is still family-owned today.

Jose Cuervo

● Japanese baseball phenom Ichiro Suzuki spent nine seasons (1992-2000) in Nippon Professional Baseball before starting his MLB career in the U.S. His playing career ended in 2018, and he moved up to management with the Seattle Mariners. He holds 26 MLB records for hitting and batting.

In June 2016, Ichiro recorded career hit number 4,257, breaking the record held by Pete Rose. Rose was snarky because Ichiro got his first 1,278 hits in the Nippon League. “The next thing you know, you’ll be counting his high school hits,” said Rose, always a class act.

● Footwear is almost exclusively mass-produced these days, but historically, shoe-making was an important craft — as well as laborious and time-consuming. Technically, an artisan who makes new footwear is a cordwainer, and one who makes repairs is a cobbler.

● In 2016, it was revealed that President François Hollande of France had a full-time personal barber on his staff, at a salary of $132,000 annually. Because of high unemployment and domestic troubles, Hollande’s approval rating already was the lowest for a French President in modern history. The barber story was the last straw, and Hollande declined to seek reelection in 2017.

In most animal species, the males use ornamentation (elaborate plumage, bright colors, impressive antlers) to attract females. One rare example of females using ornamentation to attract males is the glow worm, a variety of flightless beetle.

All glow worms glow in the larval stage, but only females retain the ability to shine as adults. Researchers have found that (a) the brightest females produce the most eggs and (b) males are attracted to females that glow the brightest.

Glow worm

● Chewing gum has been banned in Singapore since 1992. The government was fed up with vandals finding creative ways to dispose of their gum: in keyholes, on elevator buttons, in mailboxes, under bus seats, and, of course, on streets and sidewalks. Some vandals had taken to sticking wads of gum on the door sensors of mass transit vehicles, which not only screws up schedules, but also is a safety risk.

Lobbyists for Wrigley Co., the chewing gum behemoth, tried to beat the ban (of course they did), but only managed one minor concession: in 2003, Singapore conceded that certain chewing gums have health benefits, such as ingredients that strengthen tooth enamel.

Thus, the sale of “medicinal gum” now is allowed, but only by dentists and pharmacists, who are required to report the names of the buyers.

● The longest cave system in the world is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is documented as 405 miles long. It likely will become even longer as connections are found to other cave systems in the limestone of the region.

The world’s second-longest cave system, located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, is 215 miles long. The third longest is in South Dakota and is 193 miles long.

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson got his nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 from fellow general Barnard Bee, who remarked that Jackson stood his ground like a “stone wall.”

Bee was killed in the battle, so no one knows whether he was complementing Jackson for his courage or insulting him, alluding to the fact that Jackson and his men should have advanced, but did not.

The hoatzin, a tropical bird native to the Amazon region, is the only member of its genus, having evolved separately from other birds. Due to their appearance, they are known as reptile birds.

The species is unique for having a digestive system that ferments vegetation in a specialized stomach, as do ruminants (cows, goats, deer). For this reason, hoatzins smell terrible and also are known as stinkbirds or skunk birds.

Hoatzin

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Wakefield used an ice pick to break up bars of Nestlé’s chocolate and sprinkled the pieces onto cookie dough. She named her creation Toll House cookies.

In 1939, Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to print her recipe on its packaging. Nestlé hired her as a “recipe consultant,” her compensation being one dollar and free chocolate for life.

● British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was half American. His mother was Brooklyn socialite Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and thus transitioned to being a British socialite.

● Planned Parenthood has twice as many members as the National Rifle Association.

● Grass was cut with a scythe until the lawnmower came along. It was patented in 1830 by British mechanic Edwin Budding. His device was a push mower with blades in a rotating cylinder.

In 1914, auto industry pioneer Ransom Olds patented a gasoline-powered version of the rotary mower. The self-propelled, walk-behind power mower we use today appeared in the late 1920s.

Lawnmower

Speaking of Ransom Olds, his 1901 Oldsmobile was the first vehicle to be mass-produced on an assembly line. Henry Ford made the auto assembly line famous, but Olds invented the concept.

● Sweden has developed a highly efficient system that combines serious recycling with a national network of incinerators that burn garbage and trash to generate electricity. Today, less than one percent of Sweden’s refuse ends up in landfills. In fact, to keep up with its energy needs, Sweden imports refuse from neighboring countries.

● American painter James Whistler’s is famous for the iconic 1871 painting popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother.” The actual name of the painting is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.”

● In 1931, Alfred M. Butts invented Lexiko, a modestly successful game in which players made words out of letter tiles drawn at random. In 1948, Butts sold the game’s rights to James Brunot, who changed the name to Scrabble. Sales were miserable.

Brunot gave up in 1952 and sold out to Selchow and Righter, an established game manufacturer. Sales promptly soared.

Today, the Scrabble trademark is owned by Hasbro in the U.S. and Canada and by Mattel in the rest of the world. In all, about 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold.

Scrabble

In 1792, a small Spanish settlement was established on San Francisco Bay to serve arriving ships. In 1835, English homesteader William Richardson expanded the settlement and named it Yerba Buena after a common plant in the area. In 1847, one year after the Mexican-American War, the U.S. laid claim to California, and Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.

An acersecomic is someone whose hair has never been cut. The word comes from the Latin acersecomes, which means a youth with long hair. In ancient Greece and Rome, a boy’s hair often remained uncut until he reached adulthood.

In 2009, for the first time, state-run TV in North Korea aired a feature film made in the decadent West. It was the 2002 soccer film “Bend It Like Beckham.” The film was shown in honor of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Great Britain.

● Jordan almonds have been a staple at weddings for centuries. The Greeks served them in groups of five (a number that is indivisible, as everyone hoped the marriage would be). In Italy, five almonds represent five wishes for the happy couple: health, happiness, fertility, financial success, and longevity.

In some cultures, the combination of the bittersweet almond and the sugar coating is a symbol of the good times/challenging times ahead. In the Middle East, Jordans are associated with fertility and are considered an aphrodisiac.

In 1502, at the marriage of Italian noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI) and her third husband Duke Alfonso d’Este, the wedding guests reportedly consumed 260 pounds of Jordan almonds.

Jordan almonds

 

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Sometimes, I hear it said that English (modern English, which is the fourth variation to evolve over the last 1,400 years) is a difficult language to learn. I also hear that it’s relatively easy.

The real answer is that it depends. Depends on the similarity of your native language to English. Depends on your brain’s affinity for languages.

And here’s another angle to consider: language weirdness.

A few years ago, Idibon, a technology company that specialized in the analysis of languages for global operations such as Google and Facebook, assessed the world’s languages based on how weird they are. In other words, the degree to which they are unique and unlike other languages.

On the weirdness scale, English was ranked number 33 out of 239 world languages. That’s fairly high, but 32 languages scored even weirder.

The prize for weirdest language went to Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In second place was Nenets, the language of the Samoyed people, who are reindeer herders in Siberia. Number three was the Native American language Choctaw.

Being a wordsmith and knowing English relatively well (it is, after all, my thing), I consider my native tongue (1) pretty darn difficult and (2) seriously weird.

English grammar and sentence structure are fairly straightforward and sensible. But English is poised to trip you up because of constant contradictions and exceptions to the rules.

Why is the “h” silent in herb, hour, honest, and rhapsody, but not in house, home, human, and hospital?

If it isn’t words with multiple meanings that throw you a curve, it’s words with multiple pronunciations.

Or it’s colloquial words and phrases that don’t make sense.

Why in the world is a handbag called a pocketbook?

How can a newcomer to English know what “working the graveyard shift” means?

What about “It’s a piece of cake” or “I’ll take a rain check”?

You get the picture, right?

All in all, English is flexible, fun, quirky, and endlessly fascinating, but oh, so easy to botch.

Allow me to elaborate, beginning with an anonymous poem entitled “Why English is Hard to Learn.”

Weird-1

Methren. Shim. Very clever.

More examples of English weirdness:

— The word inappropriate means not appropriate; but the word invaluable means very valuable. Likewise, the word inconceivable means not conceivable; yet, the word inflammable means flammable.

— There is no egg in an eggplant; no ham in a hamburger; and neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

— You can make amends, but you can’t make an amend.

— Goods are always shipped, whether sent by ship, truck, or oxcart.

— We park on the driveway and drive on the parkway.

— Your nose can run, and your feet can smell.

Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing; wise man and wise guy do not.

— Your house can burn up or burn down.

— You can fill in a form, or you can fill out a form.

— An alarm can go off, or it can go on.

— The words tear and tier are pronounced the same. But if you shed a tear and tear your pants, they aren’t.

— Quicksand works slowly.

— Boxing rings are square.

Weird-2

Imagine that you are freshly arrived from the old country, and you set out to learn English. How would you react when presented with these statements?

— The bandage was wound around the wound.

— I had to desert my dessert in the desert.

— A shot rang out, and the dove dove into the bushes.

— There’s no time like the present, so it’s time to present the present.

— Farms produce produce.

— Being full, the landfill refused my refuse.

— No, I don’t object to the object.

— The drummer put a picture of a bass on his bass drum.

— The boss needs to get the lead out and lead.

— That book I just read, it was a great read.

English is weird, man. Truly weird.

Weird-3

Weird-4

 

 

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