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A Vast Wealth of Useless Information


A Trove of Snippets 

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know 


The sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which contains every letter of the alphabet, was developed by Western Union to test telex/TWX communications.

In every episode of Seinfeld there is a Superman somewhere.

The longest word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is "uncopyrightable."

The reason that firehouses have circular stairways is that in the old days the horses that pulled the engine were stabled on the first floor, and the men lived on the second. A horse will readily go up a straight flight of stairs, but it is all but impossible to get one to go down. It will not go up winding stairs.

111,111,111 X 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

The original Interstate Highway System law, enacted under President Eisenhower, required that at least one mile in every five be absolutely straight. This made it usable as an emergency landing strip in time of war or        emergency.

The Pentagon Building in Arlington, VA has twice as many toilets as are needed. It was built in the 1940s, when Virginia was still a segregated state, and thus had separate bathrooms for blacks and whites.

Cat urine fluoresces under ultraviolet light.

The highest point in Pennsylvania is lower than the lowest point in Colorado.

Reno, Nevada is west of Los Angeles, California.

The name "Jeep" originated in World War II as a nickname for the G.P.V., the "General Purpose Vehicle."

The first toilet ever seen on TV was in Leave It to Beaver.

J. M. Barrie made up the name "Wendy" for the character in Peter Pan.

The per pound cost of hamburger is greater than that of an automobile.

In 10 minutes a hurricane releases more energy than all the world's nuclear weapons combined.

On a flintlock gun, the device that holds the flint, when it was down in the pan, reminded the early Dutch shooters of the beak of a feeding chicken. They called it a Schnappenhaan, "pecking hen." When pulled upright ready for firing, it reminded the English gunmen of a strutting rooster, and they gave it the term by which it is still known today, a "cock"--thus the expression "to cock" a gun.

The MGM lion, whom they called Leo, is actually named Stephen. He was born in the Dublin (Ireland) Zoo, and lived his entire life there. He was photographed there by MGM, who also recorded his roar.

The word "whiskey" comes from the Erse (Scottish Gaelic) uisgebeatha (pron. "wishka-be-aha") and the Irish usquebaugh (pron. "ushka-bah"), both meaning "water of life."

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.

Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny) was allergic to carrots.

The longest recorded flight of a chicken is thirteen seconds.

The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin during World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.

A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.

Armadillos always bear identical quadruplets.

The armadillo is the only animal besides humans that can get leprosy.​​

The Sanskrit word for "war" means "desire for more cows."

101 Dalmatians and Peter Pan (Wendy) are the only two Disney cartoon features with both parents that are present throughout the movie and don't die.

'Stewardesses' is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.

Reindeer like to eat bananas.

The expression "three dog night" (attributed to Australian Aborigines) came about because on especially cold nights these nomadic people sleep with three dogs (dingos, actually) to keep from freezing.

Every time you lick a stamp, you're consuming 1/10 of a calorie.

The glue on Israeli postage stamps is certified kosher.

The phrase "sleep tight" derives from the fact that early mattresses were filled with straw and held up with ropes stretched across the bedframe. If the ropes were tight the sleep was comfortable.

When the rock singer David Bowie first went on stage he used the name "Ziggy Stardust."

Only one person in two billion will live to be 116 or older.

Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks to keep from digesting itself.

Al Capone's business card said he was a used furniture dealer.

Physicist Murray Gell-Mann named the sub-atomic particles known as quarks for a line in James Joyce's, Ulysses, "Three quarks for Muster Mark!"

Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors.

The characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in

Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.

The longest word in the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. The only other word with the same amount of letters is its plural, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconioses.

In the nineteenth century it was customary to stack cannonballs by the cannon in a pyramid, with the base held in place by a brass rack  called a "brass monkey." When the temperature would drop suddenly to below freezing the brass would contract faster than the iron balls, causing the pyramid to collapse -- thus the expression "cold enough to freeze the ..."

Los Angeles's full name is "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula."

Sylvia Miles had the shortest performance ever nominated for an Oscar in Midnight Cowboy. Her entire role lasted only six minutes.

Charles Lindbergh took only four sandwiches with him on his famous transatlantic flight.

In England, the Speaker of the House is not allowed to speak.

The expression "God willing and the Creek don't rise" does not refer to a body of water. It was coined in the Southeast, and refers to the frequent raids and uprisings of the Creek Indians in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

When Gene Roddenberry presented the first script for Star Trek, the captain of the Enterprise was named Robert April. The president of the studio thought this name sounded weak, so Roddenberry suggested changing it to James Tiberius Kirk.




    The term "Third Degree" in reference to a means of interrogation has its origins in the early 18th century. It came from what at the time was considered an extremely humane decree of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, it has nothing to do with the Third Degree of Masonry.
    Beginning in the Dark Ages, torture became the standard means of extracting a confession from an accused criminal, and the type of torture was up to the local authority. Early in the Middle Ages the Church set itself upon a very "merciful" course: the souls of accused heretics would be saved by torturing a confession out of them, and then killing them as slowly and painfully as possible in the name of Christian mercy in order to drive the evil from them. Medieval torture had been honed to a science, and professional torturers had mastered the methods of causing excruciating pain over extremely long periods of time without bringing on the mercy of death or unconsciousness. Few victims were able to resist breaking down and confessing to any crime of which they were accused. England was the only nation which, until the 14th century, refused to use torture. King Edward II, the weakest and worst king in English history, yielded to papal pressure and admitted ten professional torturers into his realm for the purpose of teaching others to torture confessions out of the Knights Templar. One of the few sensible things Edward did was to restrict the torturers to there being no permanent wounds, no mutilation, and no "violent effusions of blood." The ingenuity of the professionals was such, however, that this put little limit on their art. (One of history's ironies is that Edward was soon thereafter dethroned by his nobles and became the only English king to be tortured to death.)
    In the eighteenth century Maria Theresa restricted all torture to "Three Degrees of the Question." The First Degree of the Question was the thumbscrew. This was a device which very slowly crushed the thumb at the base of the thumbnail. The Second Degree of the Question was burning the flesh. The victim was stripped to the waist and the tender skin on the sides from the waist to the armpits burned with a candle, a little at a time. This allowed the torturer great latitude as to the length and degree of pain inflicted, depending on the seriousness of the accusation. The Third Degree of the Question was the strappado. The victim's hands were tied behind his back and with his arms straight behind him he was then slowly hoisted by the wrists. At the extreme it was allowed for him to be lifted far enough off the ground that he could be dropped a couple of feet without touching the floor, often thus dislocating or breaking his shoulders. Those accused of very serious crimes were allowed to be tackled by large men who would then swing from the body until the arms were torn off. Any victim who survived through the Third Degree without confessing was judged innocent and released.
We are not attempting to be gory here -- when we realize that these three degrees were hailed throughout Europe as a great step forward in the advance of mercy and compassion, we begin to realize to what extent torture had developed. Up to that time it was the norm to continue torture until it resulted in either death or a confession (which would then usually incur the death penalty). An accusation, therefore, was a sentence of death. With the Edict of the Three Degrees of the Question, a strong man at least had some hope of survival.
    The Third Degree, then, was a painful test of a man's guilt or innocence.

Copr. 1996 Richard R. Losch


    Chess, the great game of military strategy, was brought to Western society by the Crusaders at the end of the First Millennium. It came to them via the Persians, and its origin to them is obscure. It represents a battle between two kingdoms, and the movement of the pieces is symbolic of typical military maneuvers in medieval warfare.
    The pawns are the foot-soldiers, the expendable sword-fodder who led the battle. In real warfare the first wave would be foot-soldiers running at full speed, spears lowered, to offer a deadly barrier to advancing enemy troops. Afterwards they could dart in and around the horses. Therefore the first move of a pawn is two squares, and after that only one at a time. Since the foot-soldier's best attack is from the flank, the pawn moves straight forward but attacks diagonally.
    In Persian armies the rook was the first tank. It was an elephant with a fortified "castle" on its back from which an archer or crossbowman could fire at close range. The elephant's tough skin made it hard to defend against, and it would slowly lumber straight ahead into the fray. The chess rook, therefore, only moves straight, but at any distance. The next piece was the cavalryman, whom the Crusaders saw as a knight. A war horse was trained in the maneuvers now known as "dressage," involving quick steps to the side to avoid the weapons of the enemy. Thus the chess "knight" moves two steps forward and one sideways.
    In the Persian game the next piece was a ship, which often could approach the battle only by tacking. In the society of the Crusaders, however, a power struggle or battle without the Church and the State being hand-in-hand was unheard of. The ship, therefore, became the bishop, but retained the diagonal tacking movement of the Persian ship.
    The sultan's queen (or favorite wife) usually accompanied him to war, and thus became an integral part of the Persian military board game. Since she was usually protected by a large number of the best soldiers mounted on fast light horses, she could generally move about anywhere quickly. In the game, therefore, she can move in any direction along the rank, file, or diagonal. The king, on the other hand, was encumbered not only with the duties of directing the battle, but also with his counsellors and his treasury, which he had to bring with him lest it be stolen while he was away at war. He is the least powerful of the lot when it comes to actual combat, and thus can only move one square at a time unless protected by a rook (the move of "castling").
    In playing the game it was the custom (as it still is today) to warn one's opponent when his king was in danger. The Persians did so simply by saying, "King." In Persian this is "Shakh." When the opponent's king is captured, the Persians would say, "The king is dead," "Shakh mat." This, obviously, is the source of the term "checkmate."

Copr. 1996 Richard R. Losch


    A time-honored tradition of great dignity, the wearing of academic regalia dates to the 12th century, when everyone wore long robes to keep warm. When styles changed and robes were no longer fashionable, those of the professional classes continued to wear gowns for identity and status. The academic gown was first used at the University of Cambridge in 1284, and the University of Oxford soon followed. The custom was brought to the United States in colonial times by King's College in New York, now Columbia University.
    In 1885, American universities and colleges standardized academic styles and developed an intercollegiate code for the academic costume. In general, the academic regalia followed the Cambridge tradition with the characteristic elements of the gown, the hood, and the cap.
    The gown is usually of black material (serge or worsted for baccalaureate, the same or silk for master's, and silk for doctorate). Baccalaureate gowns have pointed sleeves; master's gowns have long, closed sleeves; doctoral gowns have wide, round, open sleeves. Doctoral gowns are faced with panels of velvet and have three chevrons of velvet across each sleeve.
    The hood, which drapes down the back, identifies the nature and source of the degree. The color of the velvet edge represents the academic category of the degree, and the colors of the silk lining represent the institution. The representative colors for degrees are as follows: Arts and letters - white, Business - brown, Economics - rust, Education - light blue, Law - purple, Music - pink, Nursing - apricot, Philosophy - dark blue, Religion - scarlet, and Science - golden yellow.
The cap, a soft velvet hat in European and Canadian universities, but a square mortarboard in American universities, bears a tassel that is generally black for the baccalaureate and Master's, and gold for the doctorate.
    Although transitions of culture and fashion have changed the appearance of academic regalia over the years,  the gown, the hood, and the cap continue to represent, as they have throughout history, the scholar, the learned student, and the seeker of truth.

--From the 1996 Commencement program of the University of West Alabama



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