Jul
09
2014
2

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 [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 [more...]

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Apr
08
2014
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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 [more...]

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Mar
26
2014
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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 [more...]

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Feb
11
2014
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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 [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 [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 [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 [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 [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 [more...]

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