Feb
28
2010
3

Which English novel has the most memorable opening and closing lines?

paris-londonOne could, of course, argue about which English novel has the most memorable opening and closing lines, but since the novel has sold more than 200 million copies and is the most printed original English book, it is safe to say that the greatest number of persons have had a chance to remember the lines: [more...]

Feb
28
2010
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Did Doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin invent the guillotine?

joseph-guillotinDr Joseph Guillotin may have instigated the guillotine, but he did not invent it. The good doctor (1738-1814) taught anatomy, physiology and pathology at the university in Paris for five years. He was a leading Freemason, reputedly acquainted with Voltaire. In 1784, together with Benjamin Franklin and others, he was a member of the commission [more...]

Feb
28
2010
1

What is the history and meaning of the phrase “There are no rules until they are broken”?

Image by Katiya (CC-BY)There are no rules until they are broken. The idea behind this phrase is that the boundaries of acceptable behavior are complex and subtle, and cannot be codified by a simple set of rules. Therefore it’s best to start out with a set of general expectations backed up by a few rules, and to add [more...]

Feb
28
2010
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What is Isinglass?

isinglass-lanternsIsinglass is the name of two quite different things: a gelatinous substance obtained by cleaning and drying the air bladders of certain fish, used in the clarification of wines and beers and in making jellies, etc. These days, gelatin is mainly produced from other animal sources. the mineral mica, a silicate containing potassium and aluminum [more...]

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Feb
27
2010
2

What is Einstein's Theory of Relativity, in simple language?

theory-of-relativityAlbert Einstein's theory is known as the Theory of Relativity because its core principle is that the speed of light in a vacuum is always the same, relative to the observer. This is totally unlike the speed of anything else. If you are driving along the motorway at 100km/hr and the car in the next [more...]

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Feb
27
2010
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Has anyone ever been posthumously executed?

oliver-cromwellMany people have been executed after their death, the first one mentioned being Leonidas of Sparta in the 5th century BCE, beheaded and crucified after he died in the battle of Thermopylae. In the Christian era in Europe, more than a few persons suffered a death penalty after they had already died or been killed, [more...]

Feb
27
2010
2

Why is Gretna Green famous for weddings?

gretna-greenGretna Green, a small village in Scotland just across the border from England, is renown for the many weddings celebrated there: more than 5000 each year and one in six Scottish weddings. It is especially known as a place where young couples eloped to. It all started in 1754, when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act took [more...]

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Feb
26
2010
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What does the author of “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling” have to do with the establishment of the London Police, or what is a “Bow Street Runner”?

henry-fieldingMany will remember that the hero of Henry Fielding's novel had a lively career that often ran afoul of the law. When the novel was published in 1749, Fielding was a magistrate in the Bow Street magistrates' office in London, also the site of the Bow Street Court. At the time, pursuit of criminals was [more...]

Feb
26
2010
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What is a railway union station?

denver-union-stationIn North America there are many Union Stations: Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, even Saskatoon, to mention just a few. When railways were first built, each company had its own station. The situation in London in the 19th century suggests the problems: the use and expense of areas of land on the [more...]

Feb
24
2010
3

Why do they shout “Hear Hear!” in the British Parliament?

Houses of Parliament (photo by victoriapeckham CC-BY)The British Parliament is steeped in history and tradition, and parliamentary debates in the House of Commons are often very lively and noisy with Members of Parliament calling out to the opposition party, waving order papers, exaggerating laughter or deriding the speeches of the opposition members. Critics liken it to a bear pit or a [more...]

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