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Posts Tagged ‘Miscellaneous’

The Questions…

1. The tradition of flying a flag at half-staff began in the 17th Century. It was seen as a symbol of respect and/or mourning, done to acknowledge some national event or the death of a notable person. What was the original meaning of the tradition?

2. What’s the difference between a nook and a cranny?

3. Chuck E. Cheese is the mouse mascot of the now-global restaurant chain bearing his name. His backstory: he is an orphaned mouse who doesn’t know his own birthday, so he hosts birthday parties for kids. What does the E in Chuck E. Cheese stand for?

4. Who was the youngest U.S. President?

5. What is the name of the business conglomerate formed by The Beatles in 1968?

The Answers…

1. Flying the flag at half-staff supposedly leaves space above it for “the invisible flag of death.”

2. A nook is a corner. A cranny is a crack.

3. Entertainment.

4. Theodore Roosevelt. He was 42 and serving as Vice President when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. FYI, John Kennedy was 43 when he took office, Bill Clinton and Ulysses Grant were 46, and Barack Obama was 47.

5. Apple Corps. A Granny Smith apple is its logo. The company’s primary business is Apple Records, but other divisions have included films, music publishing, a recording studio, a retail store, and electronics. Over the years, Apple Corps and Apple Inc. (the iPhone/Mac people) have sued each other regularly for trademark infringement and violating settlement agreements.

Half-staff

Apple Corps

 

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The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

— William Arthur Ward

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

— Winston Churchill

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People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

— Isaac Asimov

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Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

— Robert Louis Stevenson

Ward WA

Ward

Stevenson RL-2

Stevenson

 

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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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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● While exploring Asia in the late 1200s, Marco Polo encountered a rhinoceros and concluded it was a unicorn. “They are very ugly brutes to look at,” he wrote. “They are not at all such as we describe unicorns.”

● Writing with pen and ink was a messy and frustrating business until a ray of hope appeared in 1888. That year, a patent was issued for a pen with a rotating ball in the tip to control the release of ink. A clever concept, but the thing was still annoyingly unpredictable.

The real breakthrough came in the 1940s, when Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor, observed that printing ink dries faster than writing ink. Biro developed a formulation that worked well in a ballpoint pen, made millions, and eventually sold his patent to the Bic Corporation.

In most of Europe and Asia today, a ballpoint pen is called a ‘biro.”

● The first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who served two terms in the House of Representatives, 1917-1919 and 1941-1943, both during wartime. A Republican, she was a long-time leader of the women’s suffrage movement and a committed pacifist.

During the 1916 campaign, as World War I raged in Europe, she said, “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.” After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the only member of the House to vote against declaring war on Japan. “As a woman, I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.”

● In the Western Hemisphere, hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Developed in 1971, the scale rates a storm based on sustained wind speed and anticipated property damage.

The scale’s creators were Herbert Saffir, a structural engineer, and Robert Simpson, a meteorologist. They patterned it after the Richter Scale, which quantifies earthquakes.

Hurricane scale

● Vodka is a tasteless spirit distilled from fermented grain or potatoes. The name comes from the Russian word “voda” (water) and/or the Polish word “woda” (water).

Both countries claim to have invented vodka. Russia says it invented the stuff in the 9th century. Poland says vodka was first distilled in Poland in the 8th century. Russia dismisses the early Polish version as a crude brandy, not real vodka. Take that, Poland.

● The largest national park in the U.S. is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Established in 1980, the park covers 20,000 square miles, which is a bit larger than Switzerland and a bit smaller than Ireland.

● Cleopatra (69 BC – 30 BC) ruled Egypt as the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greeks who took power after the death of Alexander the Great in 305 BC. Cleopatra was the only Ptolemy to speak Egyptian instead of Greek. After her death, reportedly by suicide, Egypt became a Roman province.

● Nike, Inc., the footwear and apparel behemoth, began in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports. In 1971, having settled on a new “swoosh” logo design, the company sought a new name.

Among the top proposals by the founders and employees were Peregrine, Bengal, and Dimension Six. Then, employee Jeff Johnson called in from a business trip to Portland, Oregon, and suggested Nike, the name of the winged Greek goddess of victory.

CEO Phil Knight made the final decision. “I guess we’ll go with the Nike thing for a while,” he reportedly said. “I don’t like any of them, but I guess that’s the best of the bunch.”

Nike

● The 17th Century Native American woman Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, is famous for intervening to save the life of Captain John Smith as her father was about to execute him. For the most part, her story has been romanticized and exaggerated.

In real life, she was kidnapped by the English, converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, got married, had a son, toured England as an example of a “civilized savage,” and died there at age 21.

● You know how bags of potato chips are inflated and puffy, and they go whoosh when you open them? That’s because the bags are filled with nitrogen gas before sealing. Nitrogen is used because it’s a stable gas that doesn’t react chemically with the chips, so they remain fresh longer.

● At present, 24 countries around the world are named for men (Bolivia for Simon Bolivar, Colombia for Christopher Columbus, The Philippines for King Philip of Spain, etc.). Only one country, the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia, is named for a woman.

Saint Lucia of Syracuse, aka Saint Lucy, was martyred in 304 AD by the conquering Romans for distributing her considerable riches among her Greek countrymen. This displeased her betrothed, a highly-connected Roman, and she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel.

According to legend, the guards who came to arrest her were unable to move her, even with a team of oxen. They tried to burn her at the stake, but the fire went out. Finally, she was sent to her reward by sword.

The late comedian Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami. Etched into the marble steps leading to his grave is one of his well-known catchphrases, And away we go!

Gleason grave

 

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Print

On board

Next war

Daddy

 

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DEVONSHIRE, ENGLAND — The Aetherius Society, an organization of ding-a-lings who believe Jesus was an extraterrestrial from Venus, is planning a pilgrimage to the site where the group’s late founder claimed he saw Jesus arrive on Earth by spaceship in 1958.

The pilgrimage is set for July at Holdstone Down, a mountain where former taxi driver George King says he watched the spaceship land. King said Jesus was one of several Cosmic Masters, including Buddha and Confucius, who came to Earth to help mankind.

The Aetherius Society proclaims that its “philosophy and teachings come largely from highly advanced intelligences from the higher planes of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.”

King G

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — City crews have removed more than 3,600 tons of trash from a five-block stretch of clogged storm drains along St. Charles Avenue. The haul included 46 tons of carnival beads, a Mardi Gras staple.

At the news conference, a spokesman said the city is considering a plan to install temporary “gutter buddies” during Mardi Gras to stop the beads from washing into the storm drains.

The removal was part of a project that began in 2017 after an August storm dumped six inches of rain on the city, flooding streets and underpasses and angering the citizenry. Officials said the four-month project cleared 15,000 of the city’s storm drains, leaving 43,000 to go.

Mardi Gras

PETERHEAD, SCOTLAND — In February, six police cars and an armed response team went into action after a local man reported finding a tiger crouched inside his cow shed.

I got a hell of a scare,” farmer Bruce Grubb told police as they took defensive positions around the building. During the standoff, officers contacted a nearby wildlife park and were told that no tigers were missing.

After 45 minutes, an officer drove his vehicle close enough to the shed to see inside. He found that the tiger was in fact a large stuffed animal.

The relieved responders emphasized that Grubb was sincere, not a prankster, but how the toy tiger got in the shed is unclear.

Grubb gave the stuffed tiger to the officers to keep as a mascot.

Toy tiger

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Washington Monument, built between 1848 and 1885, is 555 feet tall and consists of 36,000 marble blocks weighing a total of 82,000 tons. The walls range from 15 feet thick at the base to 18 inches thick at the top. No mortar was used in the construction; the marble blocks are held in place by friction and gravity.

● The luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. provides the trophies for the NFL Super Bowl Championship, the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, several NASCAR races, the Indy 500, and a bunch of other events.

The capital of the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea) is the “Seoul Special Metropolitan City” (aka Seoul). In the Korean language, the word seo’ul means “capital city.”

Commercially pre-sliced bread went on sale for the first time on July 7, 1928, at a bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri. Otto Rohwedder of St. Louis invented the machine that sliced and wrapped the loaves. That device is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Sliced white bread, 2006.

● The familiar piano song “Chopsticks” was written in 1877 by Euphemia Allen, a 16-year-old English girl (who published it under a male pseudonym). The original title was “The Celebrated Chop Waltz.” Euphemia’s intent was for the hands to strike the piano keys like a cleaver chopping meat. Over time, the word chop evolved to chopsticks in popular usage, but the song has no connection to actual chopsticks.

● In April 1861, one day after Virginia seceded from the Union, President Lincoln offered command of the Union Army to a highly-regarded, 25-year military veteran, Col. Robert E. Lee. Lee instead resigned his Union commission and took command of Virginia’s military forces.

Had Lee accepted Lincoln’s offer, or simply retired and gone home, he would have deprived the Confederacy of a crackerjack commander. The union may well have defeated the South quickly and decisively, reaching the same outcome with a mere fraction of the death, destruction, misery, and animus that ensued. I’m just sayin’.

● Depicting data in a pie chart is a common practice everywhere, but “pie chart” is an English term. In France, it’s called a “Camembert,” which is a round cheese typically cut in wedges. In Germany, a pie chart is a “tortendiagram” — a diagram shaped like a torte or cake.

● Rhinopithecus strykeri, the “Burmese sneezing monkey,” is an endangered primate discovered a few years ago in Myanmar. The species is unique for its wide, upturned nostrils. Natives report that water easily gets in the monkeys’ nostrils during a rain, and they can be heard sneezing. The monkeys are said to spend rainy days sitting quietly with their heads tipped forward.

Burmese Sneezing Monkey

● Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was patented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough of Brooklyn, New York. Chesebrough had visited an oil field in Pennsylvania in 1859 and learned about a waxy substance that built up on the pumps and had to be removed periodically. Workers often used the stuff to soothe cuts and abrasions.

Chesebrough took samples home and spent the next decade perfecting the product. His company manufactured Vaseline until 1987, when Unilever bought the rights.

● Over the years, a surprising number of animals have been rocketed into space, usually to test whether they could survive the conditions. Some did, some didn’t. Among the animals: fruit flies, dogs, monkeys, chimps, mice, rats, rabbits, turtles, frogs, mealworms, insects, spiders, amoebae, fish, jellyfish, and one cat.

The cat was Félicette, a stray found on the streets of Paris and sent into space by France in 1963. After a 15-minute sub-orbital flight, Félicette’s capsule parachuted back to Earth, and she was recovered safely.

● The continental U.S. and mainland China are roughly the same size, both being about 3,000 miles wide. Geographically, that covers four time zones in the U.S., and five in China. However, in 1949, the Communist Party switched the entire country to Beijing Standard Time. In addition to having just one time zone, China also ignores daylight savings time.

● In 1782, General George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit to be given to soldiers who exhibited gallantry in battle or performed an essential service. It was the first award meant to recognize ordinary soldiers instead of glorifying their superiors.

The award was given three times during the Revolutionary War, but it fell out of use thereafter. In the 1930s, the War Department revived it as the Purple Heart Medal. It was given retroactively to all living veterans of previous wars who had proof of being wounded.

Badge-Heart

 

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