Jul
09
2014
0

Is there a place named after Uclue.com?

Welcome to Ucluelet! (photo by Tourism Ucluelet - PD)Is there a place named after Uclue.com? It would have to have been fairly recently named, of course, and hence a still small place, maybe named “Ucluelet”. Wouldn’t that be nice: Uclue.com honored by its own little town? Mountain View hasn’t been renamed Googletown—yet. Ucluelet does exist, and it is a nice, small settlement on [&hel[more...]

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Jun
15
2014
1

Why does the oldest Italian brand of coffee have a German name?

Hausbrandt Coffee (photo by Hausbrandt Trieste 1892 S.p.A. - CC-BY-SA)The oldest name-brand Italian coffee is “Hausbrandt” and dates from 1892. For German speakers, “Hausbrandt” suggest an old-fashioned spelling of “Hausbrand,” a word that can mean either fuel for a house oven or stove, or one for the burning of a house. It could also suggest the product of a private distillery, the product of [&hel[more...]

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Apr
08
2014
0

Is etymology fun?

Etymology of "mother" from "The Story of Mankind" by Hendrik van Loon (PD-EXP)I think etymology, the study of the history of words, is fun. That is probably only because I don’t have to study words. I am just curious about some words, when I suddenly have a question about one. If you are reading this, you probably know the feeling and also probably recognize the similarity of [&hel[more...]

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Mar
26
2014
0

Stoning: why does it exist?

Stoning of St Stephan by Nicolas Fontaine (PD-EXP)This article is about the historical background behind stoning as a form of execution. It is not an apologia for the practice. I am absolutely not a supporter of stoning or other forms of capital punishment, but it is interesting to try to understand why it exists. These days, stoning is often assumed to be [&hel[more...]

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Feb
11
2014
0

Is a mule what you think it is?

Mule style shoes (photo by Stepheye - CC-BY)If you think a mule is every hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey, you are only partly correct. If you now remember that some shoes (usually women’s) are also called mules, congratulations, but that only demonstrates that a mule can be different things. First the shoes: the name comes via French from ancient [&hel[more...]

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Nov
17
2013
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Is one bride enough for seven brothers?

Seven brothers (photo by Newtown grafitti - CC-BY)Just one bride for seven brothers? No, that’s not a mistake. Not “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, a musical and film from the 1950s. Just one bride. And this is not some twenty-first century “adult” story. The musical and film were slightly suggestive, but not in that way. So what is the very old story [&hel[more...]

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Oct
02
2013
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Why should one spit?

Spitting Fire (photo by joeltelling - CC-BY)Why should one spit—or expectorate—for those who find the four-letter word as offensive as the practice? Spitting is the best method of freeing one’s mouth of something one doesn’t want to swallow. That happens to everyone occasionally. Until the late 19th century, it was acceptable in America, less so in Europe. Spittoons were very common [&hel[more...]

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Oct
01
2013
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Why shouldn’t one spit?

Photo by istolethetv - CC-BYWhy shouldn’t one expectorate? Ignoring immediate social responses, spitting could be illegal. At the end of the 19th century, it was discovered that tuberculosis could be transmitted by mucus. Sufferers coughed a lot and had a lot of phlegm, having to spit like all those tobacco users. US state and community laws against spitting were [&hel[more...]

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Sep
24
2013
2

Adultery: what does the word really mean?

Ares and Aphrodite, adulterers (detail from painting by Paolo Veronese - PD-EXP)Of course you know what adultery is. What did you always want to know about adultery, but were afraid to ask? Adultery is what adults do. Cookery is what cooks do; bigotry, what bigots do; thievery, burglary, chandlery (not that many now know what chandlers do), butchery. It’s all about the art, practice or occupation [&hel[more...]

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Sep
23
2013
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Can you remember the names of all the United States?

1912 US map from The Americana (PD-EXP)Can you remember the names of all the States of the Union? Maybe you learned them in school—back when—and maybe also the names of the State Capitals? Let’s see: the New England states and down the East Coast, around past Florida—this is going to be easy—up the West Coast. That’s half of them, unless you [&hel[more...]

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May
10
2013
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What is the earliest known cross-examination?

Detail from "Susanna im Bade" by Anthony van Dyck (PD-EXP)As everyone knows, cross-examination is the dramatic part of a criminal trial—at least in films—when the attorney of the defendant is allowed to question the witness: The main purposes of cross-examination are to elicit favorable facts from the witness, or to impeach the credibility of the testifying witness to lessen the weight of unfavorable testimony [&hel[more...]

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May
08
2013
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What was the first differential?

Differential on a truck (photo by Satish Krishnamurthy - CC-BY)A differential is the set of gears between the drive shaft of a vehicle’s motor and the wheels, in rear-wheel drive vehicles. It not only changes the direction of the effort but also allows the wheels to turn at different speeds. In vehicles with front wheel drive, those with a cross-mounted engine, there must also [&hel[more...]

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Apr
23
2013
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What is a whiffletree, also called a whippletree?

Whiffletree at Westfälisches Freilichtmuseum Detmold (photo by Beige Alert - CC-BY)Whiffletrees are a part of the harnessing of a horse or horses to a plow or wagon. The whiffletree consolidates the force applied by the horse or horses, and applies that consolidated force to the plow or wagon as smoothly as possible. But you also have an example of a whiffletree every time you get [&hel[more...]

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Apr
18
2013
4

What is a Holdout, a Nail House, a Spite House?

The P J Clarke's Holdout in New York CityHoldout, Nail House, and Spite House are all expressions for a building that obviously shouldn’t be there, when one views its neighbors. But there they are, and they exist in many countries where real estate development is—or was—strong. Take a look at Edith Macefield’s house in Seattle. The owner simply refused to sell, forcing the [&hel[more...]

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Mar
02
2011
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What is a boat lift?

boat-liftThe expression “boat lift” suggests a crane or other facility for lifting boats in a shipyard, but this is about an alternative to locks on a canal or river to allow boats to move from a higher to canadian pharmacy a lower level, or the reverse, of course. Normally, a lock or a series of [&hel[more...]

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Feb
27
2011
1

What is the origin of the dunce cap?

dunce-capMost people know what a dunce cap is (also called a fool’s cap): a tall, conical paper cap, usually associated with humiliation of a “learning challenged” school child, the “dunce” of the class—at least on that day. (He probably wasn’t really dumb, just inattentive or hadn’t done his homework.) First, why was he called the [&hel[more...]

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Feb
13
2011
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Why are large powerful things called mammoth, behemoth, leviathan, gargantuan, juggernaut?

behemoth-leviathanWhen we hear or read one of these words—mammoth, behemoth, leviathan, gargantuan, juggernaut—most of us understand them to  mean something enormous and hence powerful, but perhaps only from the context. Most people know, of course, that a mammoth was a large, prehistoric ancestor of the elephant. Why was it called a mammoth? The word comes [&hel[more...]

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Feb
07
2011
3

What is pareidolia?

pareidoliaPareidolia is the phenomenon of perceiving something significant from a vague or random stimulus, usually from something one sees, but also from something one hears. We all experience it occasionally. Being the miserly sort who picks up pennies, when a circular spot on the pavement catches my eye, it triggers “coin!” in my mind, but [&hel[more...]

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Jan
25
2011
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What is a Bowden cable?

bowden-cableThe odds are that you have used at least one Bowden cable, and that you know pretty well how one works. You just didn’t know what it is called. Right! The brake and gearshift cables on a bicycle are Bowden cables, as is the cable release for an older camera. (The cable was screwed into [&hel[more...]

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Jan
14
2011
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What can be red, white, black or yellow and is wet?

red-yellow-white-black-lipsSome people may immediately think that the flag of the German Reich—or the Nazi flag—is red, white, black and yellow (with gold fringes for the yellow). But they did not read the question carefully; it asks about one color or the other. So maybe tulips? There are red, white and yellow tulips, and more seldom, [&hel[more...]

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