CULTURE & Cultural History


Language & Literature



General Facts



Six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: 
care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.  

The Cultural Sector in Canada employs more people than forestry and banking combined. Most years, Canadians spend more than twice as much on live performing arts (theatre, music, dance) than on sporting events. Statistics from 2018 indicate that Canada’s cultural sector contributes roughly $60 billion to our country’s GDP—more than agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting combined.

If you want to recall a memory, you have to clench your left hand, and if you want to form a memory, you have to clench your right. According to the researchers, clenching your fist in one of your hands will increase brain activity on the opposite side of your body a minute after. Clenching your right hand activates the left hemisphere of your brain, and it’s been associated with experiencing emotions that are controlled by your left brain. Meanwhile, clenching your left hand can bring on emotions like anxiety and sadness, likewise referred to as “withdrawal” emotions”. It’s also the reason why a lot of athletes tend to perform better, even when under pressure, if they clench their left hand.

Kabuki began in Japan around the same time as Shakespeare's plays were being produced in London.

The famous tree from which the legendary Newton apple fell is still growing at Woolsthorpe Manor today. It is over 350 years old.

The Encyclopædia Britannica, first published in 1768, was written by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors.

In 1837, a father and son team started making pencils in Massachusetts. The son, on graduating from Harvard University, wrote a friend, "I am as unfit for any practical purpose as gossamer for ship timber; and I am going to be a pencil maker tomorrow." But he did find his vocation. His name was Henry David Thoreau.

Though U.S. pharmacist John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson invented the name. Robinson had beautiful handwriting, and his flowering script is still used today.

Judith Love Cohen, who helped create the Abort-Guidance System which rescued the Apollo 13 astronauts, went to work on the day she was in labor. She took a printout of a problem she was working on to the hospital. She called her boss and said she finished the problem and gave birth to Jack Black.

The word “happiness” is from the Middle English hap, meaning chance or good luck. Forms of the word happiness can be found in perhaps and happenstance.

Michael Jackson did not invent the moon-walk. Bill Bailey, a tap dancer and brother of singer Pearl Bailey, invented a step called the "back slide," which Jackson then adapted.

The "high five" originated with two baseball players for the L.A. Dodgers, who congratulated each other that way in 1977. The gesture soon made its way into popular culture.

CIA agents during the Cold War used a method of communication based on how their shoelaces were tied. The shoelace patterns could convey messages such as "I have information," "Follow me," or "I have brought another person."

Court stenographers capture speech so quickly because, in addition to typing phonically and chording, court reporters use abbreviations to stand for complete words. Similar to the way most people text or even tweet, common abbreviations used by court reporters include “U” for “you” and “E” for “he”. The steno machine's compressed layout is used to form chords, which loosely correspond to syllables. It can be compared to playing the piano.

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, that he thought fireworks should be used to celebrate America’s independence from England. Americans have been celebrating their independence with fireworks ever since.

In 2005, Canada's Rideau Canal skateway in Ottawa was added to the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest, naturally-frozen ice rink in the world. It also earned it a UNESCO World Hertage Site designation in 2007.  

Cherry Point Farm and Market in Shelby, Michigan, is home to a giant lavender labyrinth so big you can see it on Google Earth.

Habeas corpus is a writ ordering that a person be brought before a judge, especially to decide whether a prisoner’s detention is lawful.

The Romans adopted the Greek alphabet, but the letters j, u, and w were only added in the 17th century.

Mensa is a non-profit organization open to people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardised, supervised IQ test. Because different tests are scaled differently, they compare percentiles rather than raw scores. Most IQ tests are designed to yield a mean score of 100 with a standard deviation of 15; the 98th-percentile score under these conditions is 130.82.

There are more than 110,000 members of Mensa in 50 national groups, and the youngest is Oscar Wrigley, who joined with an IQ of 160 in 2009. He was just 2 1/2. Mensa has just admitted Heidi Hankins, a 4-year-old British girl who taught herself to read. She has an IQ 59 points higher than the average score.

India is the birthplace of chess. The original word for "chess" is the Sanskrit chaturanga, meaning "four members of an army"-which were mostly likely elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers. The game of chess emerged in India, and by the 7th century it had taken hold in the Middle East. In the 9th century it  makes its European debut via Spain and Sicily.

Bingo has had many names and variations. The earliest name, lotto (or loto), a children’s game, was first recorded in 1778. The original American form, called keno, kino, or po-keno, dates from the early 19th century. The only form of gambling permitted in the British armed services, the game is called in the Royal Navy tombola (1880) and in the Army, house (1900), or housy-housy. Other American names are beano, lucky, radio, and fortune.

Monopoly has had more than 20 regular tokens and 1,100 specialty tokens in its 78-year history, but this was the first time Hasbro crowd-sourced the choice. Fans on Twitter and Facebook selected the cat.

The word LEGO is from the first two letters of the Danish words Leg” and Godt, which means play well.
Ole Kirk Christiansen created the LEGO Group in 1932 as a way to use old wood from his failed carpentry business. He patented the now famous interlocking LEGO blocks in 1949.

Rubik's cube was created by an unassuming Hungarian architecture professor named Erno Rubik. When he invented the cube in 1974, he wasn’t sure it could ever be solved. Mathematicians later calculated that there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 ways to arrange the squares, but just one of those combinations is correct.

In 1845, John Moses Brunswick, a Swiss immigrant and carriage-maker, started producing billiard tables in Cincinnati. Billiards were then sweeping America, and he soon moved his thriving company to Chicago, where Abraham Lincoln bought one of his tables in 1850. His high-quality woodwork and responsive bumpers soon set the standard for pool tables worldwide. Fancy bars bought them and touted their presence. Eventually the company became Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., the largest billiards company in the nation. They also made the distinctive wooden bars which were featured in many famous saloons across the country.

          The carousel originated in a method for training cavalry.  Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another; an activity that required great skill and horsemanship. This game was introduced to Europe at the time of the Crusades from earlier Byzantine and Arab traditions. The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella ("little battle", used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century). This early device was essentially a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies. By the 17th century, the balls had been dispensed with, and instead the riders had to spear small rings that were hanging from poles overhead and rip them off.
          By the early 18th century carousels (also called Merry-Go-Rounds or Flying Horses) were being built and operated at various fairs and gatherings in central Europe and England. Animals and mechanisms would be crafted during the winter months and the family and workers would go touring in their wagon train through the region, operating their large menagerie carousel at various venues. These early carousels had no platforms; the animals would hang from chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. They were often powered by animals walking in a circle or people pulling a rope or cranking.
          Viewed from above, in the United Kingdom, merry-go-rounds usually turn clockwise (from the outside, animals face to the left), while in North America and Mainland Europe, carousels typically go counterclockwise (animals face to the right).
           By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that would suspend from a centre pole and rotate around. These carousels were operated manually by the operator or by ponies. In mid-19th century England, the carousel became a popular fixture at fairs. The first steam-powered mechanical roundabout, invented by Thomas Bradshaw, appeared at the Aylsham Fair in about 1861.

Famous fashion designer Balenciaga began his career early. At age six he made a coat for his cat.

The first rubber-soled shoes were developed in the late 18th Century in England. They were called plimsolls and were a far cry from the tennis shoes we know today. For example, they were all the same, which meant that there was no specific right or left foot. Despite their deficiencies, plimsolls were popular and spurred rapid development of improved models and new styles. In particular, people began to use them for recreational activities, such as playing tennis. The rubber soles did not mark up the tennis court, and they allowed players to stop and start quickly. Children of the time also noticed that the rubber soles were very quiet. They allowed them to sneak around without being noticed. It wasn’t long before tennis shoes also became known as sneakers.

Neapolitan tailoring was born as an attempt to loosen up the stiffness of English tailoring, which didn't suit the Neapolitan lifestyle. Characteristics of Neapolitan tailoring include that the Neapolitan jacket has no shoulder padding,  the Neapolitan sleeve is shorter than that found on other jackets, as Neapolitans like shirt cuffs to show right above their wrists, especially when adorned with cufflinks. The pockets of a Neapolitan jackets are curved and applied as patches; the breast pocket is called "a barchetta", which means "little boat", due to the higher top corner of the pocket, which, along with the rounded bottom, gives it the shape of a stylized boat. The side pockets are equally curved, and their shape recalls that of a pot – hence the name "a pignata". The lining is considered an unnecessary burden and the Neapolitan tailors keep it as minimal as possible. Usually, the jacket is unlined or only half lined; even the sleeves are completely unlined, as they're meant to fit closely. Neapolitan jackets are famous for their wide lapels, which are often peaked for double-breasted jackets, formal jackets, and coats. Neapolitan jackets tend to be shorter in the back, and the lapel hides the third button, in order to provide extra freedom of movement thanks to a longer opening in the front.

The Michelin Man is white is because rubber tires are naturally white. It wasn't until 1912 that companies started mixing carbon chemicals with the rubber to make black tires. This process is not an aesthetic change, but a structural one, making the tires stronger and durable.

Big Ben doesn’t refer to a clock; it's actually the name for the bell inside that famous clock tower.

Tattooing was a “growing and accepted phenomenon” in the wider cultural sphere of Victorian England. In 1902, a British magazine touted the “slight pricking” of the tattoo needle as so painless that “even the most delicate ladies make no complaint.” By the turn of the 20th century, unskilled workers, engineers and royals alike were all sporting body art. As Ros Taylor reported for BBC News in 2016, the future George V got a tattoo of a blue-and-red dragon during an 1881 trip to Japan, and his father, Edward VII, commissioned a tattoo of a Jerusalem Cross during a pilgrimage.

William Monroe Trotter was a black entrepreneur who made money in real estate before he turned to journalism. The Harvard-educated Trotter began the Boston-based Guardian, which in the early decades of the 20th century pressed for racial equality and mobilized against racist works such as Birth of a Nation. Trotter, the subject of a new biography, went to the Versailles peace conference in 1919 to let “the world know that the negro race wants full liberty and equality of rights as the fruit of the world-war.”

Mary Harris Jones, after whom Mother Jones magazine was named, lived at a moment when giant corporations reigned supreme, women couldn't vote, lynchings were routine, and the US government massacred its own people. "Mother" Jones did not accept the role assigned to an older, penniless, immigrant woman, and she did not accept that a modern economy required children to work 12-hour days in the mills. "I asked the newspaper men why they didn't publish the facts about child labor in Pennsylvania. They said they couldn't because the mill owners had stock in the papers. 'Well, I've got stock in these little children,' said I, 'and I'll arrange a little publicity.'"  MoJo was founded 43 years ago as a reader-supported nonprofit to ensure that we could go after the stories others could not, and call things what they are when others would not. We don't have to appease timid owners or shareholders, and we don't have to hew to the false equivalency that has once again been playing out in much of the coverage of impeachment.

The Statue of Liberty was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and its metal structure was built by Gustave Eiffel, a few years  before he created the Eiffel Tower. When the statue arrived in NY, it needed a pedestal. Joseph Pulitzer, wealthy newspaper publisher, raised money for the pedestal. American poet Emma Lazarus wrote about the Statue of Liberty in a sonnet called “The New Colossus” (1883). In 1903 the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and placed inside the lower level of the pedestal on the statue.

Some popular hats include the Derby, which is known in England as a Bowler. This dome-shaped rigid hat with a curled small brim was created for an Englishman, James Coke in 1850s, and made stiff to protect the head. Peaking in popularity towards the end of the 19th century, it offered a midway between the formality of the top hat associated with the upper classes and the casual nature of soft felt hats worn by the lower middle classes.

Founded in 1865, John B. Stetson Company began when the founder headed west and created the original hat of the West, the Boss of the Plains. This Western hat would become the cornerstone of Stetson’s hat business and is still in production today. Stetson eventually became the world’s largest hat maker, producing more than 3.3 million hats a year in its Philadelphia factory.

The word Fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by dramatist Victorien Sardou, Fédora, written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play was first performed in the United States in 1889. Bernhardt played Princess Fédora, the heroine of the play, and she wore a hat similar to what is now considered a fedora. The hat's popularity soared when it was adopted by men, and eventually eclipsed the similar-looking Homburg.

Canadian ceremonial guards who perform every summer on Parliament Hill wear real bearskin hats. They're made from the skin of brown bears, dyed black, and date back many years. A local furrier stores the hats and keeps them in good repair. 

The two women behind “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” were feuding twin sisters, Esther Lederer and Pauline Phillips. After Esther took over the Ann Landers column in 1955 (the original writer being Ruth Crowley from 1943-1955), Pauline decided to start up her own competing column with the same theme, “Dear Abby”. However, they supposedly settled their differences shortly before Esther died in 2002.

The American Civil War was the beginning of left and right shoes, mass-produced clothing in small, medium and large, and home-delivered mail.

The popular term, "suspension of disbelief" has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

Black Friday started in the 1950s in Philadelphia. Hordes of shoppers from the suburbs descended on the city for the days after Thanksgiving, according to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina. The city promoted big sales and decorations, ahead of the Army/Navy football game, which took place on Saturday. "It was a double whammy," Taylor-Blake previously told CNN. "Traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts, no one could take off and people would flood the sidewalks, parking lots and streets. The cops had to deal with it all and coined the term."

Perched atop a forestry hill in Bavaria, Germany, is a real-life fantasy castle. Commissioned by King Ludwig II in 1869, Neuschwanstein Castle has become a major part of our cultural history, even serving as inspiration for Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

The inspiration for Tinkerbell in Peter Pan was a type of mayfly called a nymph, which has a long tail and four delicate wings that do not fold flat over the abdomen.

The first feature film created solely with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) was Toy Story (1995). Over 800,000 hours of mathematical equations went into the film, which works out to more than a week of computer time for every second on the screen.

Tivoli Gardens, the famous amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark, opened on August 15, 1843. It's the second oldest amusement park in the world, and the second most popular seasonal theme park in the world.

Another one of the oldest parks is the Prater, in Vienna. It's famous Riesenrad (Giant Ferris wheel) was built in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I.

Coney Island in New York contained one of the earliest ferris wheels. Called a "roundabout" it was built by  William Somers and was just 50 feet tall. He build similar wooden wheels at Asbury Park and  Atlantic City.

Edwards Air Force Base was the site of the birth of Murphy's Law. (If anything can go wrong, it will.) In 1949, Capt. Edward A. Murphy was a project engineer who discovered a transducer wrongly wired. He said of the technician who was responsible for the goof, If there is any way to do it wrong, he'll find it. Murphy's comment was noted and he became world famous

Scrabble was invented in 1931 and was originally called Criss Cross. In 1938, the American architect Alfred Mosher Butts manufactured a few sets himself but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day. In 1948, James Brunot bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. It is now the world's second best selling game. The highest scoring word in Scrabble is quartzy.

In 1900, the standard billboard was created in America.

The Time in Time Warner stands for Time Inc., founded in 1922, and Warner stands for Warner Brothers, the studio that was incorporated by four brothers in 1923.

Paul Friedreichsen reveals some fascinating information about popular logos. For example, the FedEx logo design introduced in 2000 has a hidden arrow in the word Ex. Art Paul, Hugh Heffner's first art director at Playboy, took 30 minutes to design the now classic bunny icon in 1954. It hasn't changed in almost 60 years. And Frank Mason Robinson, bookkeeper for John Pemberton, created the original script Coca-Cola logo in the late 1880s.  (thanks to Marsha Friedman for these)

After the French revolution, the Paris Opera was literally a brothel. The bourgeoisie lacked the sense of noblesse oblige that led royalty to protect the dancers, and wealthy industrialists who patronized the Paris Opera recruited poverty-stricken children to train as dancer-whores. For a fee, rich men were free to roam backstage and prey on desperate teenagers whose wages didn't cover the cost of their practise clothes, let alone the cost of living. Admission to the ranks of les petits rats -- as dance students at the Paris Opera are still known -- was attractive particularly because it gave girls who would inevitably end up as prostitutes access to richer men.

The famous Moulin Rouge was built in 1920, to copy the style of the Monmartre windmills. Toulouse Lautrec created its stunning posters, which are known around the world.

In Zulu beadwork, the color or pattern of each bead has meaning. Women used these to send romantic messages, as red beads indicated longing, while blue meant fidelity and striped ones meant fickle.

A few language myths exposed by a new book, You Are What You Speak, by Robert Lane Greene:
           The Chinese word for crisis is not composed of the characters for danger and opportunity, and the book which claimed that women speak much more than men was wrong. Those figures were based on an unsourced claim in a self-help book. Actually, research shows both sexes using about the same number of words in a day.

The word influenza comes from the Italian influentia because people used to believe that the influence of the planets, stars, and moon caused the flu. The thought only such universal influence could explain such sudden and widespread sickness.

Isabella Poggi, a professor of psychology at Roma Tre University, has identified around 250 gestures that Italians use in everyday conversation. “There are gestures expressing a threat or a wish or desperation or shame or pride,” she said. The only thing differentiating them from sign language is that they are used individually and lack a full syntax.  One theory holds that Italians developed them as an alternative form of communication during the centuries when they lived under foreign occupation — by Austria, France and Spain in the 14th through 19th centuries — as a way of communicating without their overlords understanding.

Cursive writing encourages  writers to compose sentences in their heads, before committing them to paper. It engages the right brain more than using a keyboard. That requires the left brain to remember where the letters are located.

From The Symbolic Seashell, by Krista Langlois:
          Before Neanderthals painted abstract designs onto cave walls in Spain, before people even mastered the art of making fire, someone created beauty by drawing on a shell, projecting some part of themselves onto the natural world.
          People also made the earliest-known jewelry from shells. Around 100,000 years ago, researchers believe that people in present-day Israel, Morocco, and Algeria drilled holes into marine snail shells to create beads, which they traded or carried inland, perhaps strung on lengths of fiber.
          Ashley Dumas, an archaeologist with the University of West Alabama, believes the reason so many cultures use shells in burial rituals is that shells are liminal. “They come from the seashore, which is neither fully land nor fully sea,” she says. “That ties in with a lot of cultures’ thoughts about what death is”—a state where you’re neither fully gone, nor fully of this world. Just as a shell persists after the creature it housed decomposes, so too might a person’s soul or spirit live on, an eternal thing more beautiful than the body it left behind.

The Egyptian word for cat is meow.

China has more English speakers than the United States. 

Linguists have identified  two dozen “ultraconserved words” that have survived 150 centuries. It includes some predictable entries: “mother,” “not,” “what,” “to hear” and “man.” It also contains surprises: “to flow,” “ashes” and “worm.” The existence of the long-lived words suggests there was a “proto-Eurasiatic” language that was the common ancestor to about 700 contemporary languages that are the native tongues of more than half the world’s people.

There are 6000 actively spoken languages in the world today. 

European chivalry has its roots in feudalism in France and Spain, a continuation of al-furusiyya al-arabia, or Arabian chivalry, which was imported to Europe during the early Crusades. The knight-errantry, the riding on horseback to find adventure, the rescue of a maiden in need, the nobility of women, and the connection of honorable conduct with the horse rider are all traceable to Arabia. Reaching its highest development in Europe during the 12th and 13th century, chivalry represents a fusion of Christianity and military concepts of the early medieval warrior class. It encompasses such ideas as morality, religion, and social codes such as courage, honor, and service.

In 1900, the standard billboard was created in America.

The custom of family (surnames) names did not really arise until the 11th century in Europe. Prior to the 11th century a surname, if used at all, represented the name of a primitive clan or tribe.

It's a popular myth that a Mac name denotes Scottish heritage while a Mc name denotes Irish heritage, and that Mac names are Protestant while Mc names are Catholic. They both just mean son of and can be used by anyone of either descent or religion. Some Mc and Mac names don’t include the name of the father, but the father’s profession, such as Macmaster. Since master is not a proper noun and does not need to be capitalized, some surnames drop the extra capital.  Other Mc and Mac surnames come from some physical feature of the person, such as Mackenzie, which means “son of the fair one.”

The lead pencil contains no lead. It's actually a rod of graphite encased in wood, which first came into use in the 16th century. However, it was not until the 19th century that the eraser was added, an innovation that earned Hymen Lipman a patent in 1858. In 1862, he sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000.

In 1954, a few years after identical twins Norris and Ross McWhirter founded a London fact-finding agency, they met a director of the Guinness brewing company, Sir Hugh Beaver, who commissioned a compilation of world records that was intended to settle bar-room disputes. The first edition of the McWhirters’ Guinness Book of Records was given to bars for free as a marketing gimmick, but the book quickly became a phenomenal success.

It took 38 years for the radio to reach 50 million people but it only took 13 years for television to do it. The Internet did it in four years. IPod did it in 3 years, Facebook reached it in 2 years. It took Twitter only six months.

YouTube was founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim in 2005. The next year, it was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion. Within a few years, more than 25 quadrillion bytes of videos were being streamed from the site each month from myriad sources, amateur and professional alike.

The oldest free public school in the U.S. opened in  1635. The Boston Latin School in Massachusetts was originally a school for boys, but became coeducational in 1972. The oldest public school in the U.S. and a "feeder" school for Harvard, it maintains the same standards as elite New England prep schools while adopting the egalitarian attitude of a public school. More than 99% of Boston Latin's approximately 300 annual graduates are accepted by at least one four-year college. The school was modeled after Boston Grammar School in Lincolnshire, UK, from where many of Boston's original settlers derived. Its curriculum follows that of the 18th century Latin-school movement, which holds the classics to be the basis of an educated mind. Among its alumni are four Harvard University presidents, four Massachusetts governors, and five signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The Latin School of Chicago was founded in 1888 by a group of Chicago citizens interested in providing better education for their children. It was modeled after The Boston Latin School, but supported by parents rather than being part of the public system. Early classes of all boys were held in private homes on the Near North Side. The school gradually expanded, and, in 1899, the school moved to a brand new building and became the first Chicago Latin School. In 1913 a girls' section became the Chicago Latin School for Girls, and the two schools merged in 1953. Bobbi taught at The Latin School of Chicago in the 1960s.

The National University of Mexico was founded in 1551 by Charles V of Spain and is the oldest university in North America.

Oberlin College was the first college to grant degrees to women, in 1841. It was also the first college to grant a bachelor’s degree to an African-American woman, in 1862.

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (5 June 1646 – 26 July 1684) was a Venetian philosopher of noble descent, and the first woman to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

The SATs were administered for the first time on June 23, 1926. The were invented by Princeton professor Carl Campbell Brigham, who had worked on the Army's IQ test. In 1933, James Bryant Conant became president of Harvard, and decided to offer scholarships to public school students in the Midwest. Not long after, Princeton, Columbia and Yale followed suit. By the 1950s, most colleges used the tests for all admissions. The College Board in 1994 changed the name of the SATs from Standard Aptitude to Standard Assessment.

Vermont, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, Alabama, and New Hampshire have the highest concentrations of librarians in the U.S. 

There are thousands of public libraries in the U.S.  California and New York, for example, each have more than 1,000 libraries, while the smallest number, 27, are located in Washington, D.C. 

On November 28, 1814, the Times in London was the first newspaper to be printed by automatic, steam owered presses built by the German inventors Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer. This was the beginning of newspapers being available to a mass audience.

On September 4, 1833, Benjamin Day sent little urchins onto the crowded, bustling streets of New York City, into coffee houses and taverns shouting and waving his new production, the Sun newspaper. For one cent men read the news sold to them on the spot. Mr. Day's successful paper spawned more penny newspaper businesses, until every crowded city teemed with hustling ragamuffms eager to earn a few coins selling sheets of news. Publishers could depend on an abundant supply of little merchants to call out the latest edition. The 'newsey' became a common American icon. By 1962, there were 600,000 "paperboys," thanks in part to exemptions from Depression-era child labor laws for youths involved in distributing newspapers if they were at least twelve years of age. The labor laws also exempted youths involved in acting, baby sitting, farm work, a family business, and making Christmas wreaths. (from Little Merchants by Sandra Walker)

Janice Kennedy, who writes with insight and grace in The Ottawa Citizen, described the current cultural climate as the ascendancy of the unelightened, which dismisses experience, education, and sophisticated thinking.  Could that be a result of the dominance of television, where the inexperienced and uneducated are celebrated on reality shows?

Days after the release of the iPad, one of the world's biggest porn companies claimed it had created a way to stream its videos onto the device, skipping the Apple store and its restrictions on salacious content.

The tabloid National Enquirer was founded in 1926 by William Griffin, a protege of William Randolph Hearst. During the 1930s and 1940s, it became a voice for isolationism and pro-fascist propaganda. The paper was indicted along with Griffin under the Smith Act for sedition by a grand jury in 1942 for subverting the morale of US troops due to Griffin's editorials against US military involvement in World War II. By 1952 the paper’s circulation had fallen to 17,000 copies a week and it was purchased by Generoso Pope Jr., the son of the founder of Il Progresso, New York's Italian language daily newspaper. It has been alleged that Mafia boss Frank Costello provided Pope the money for the purchase in exchange for the Enquirer's promise to list lottery numbers and to refrain from all mention of Mafia activities. In 1953, Pope revamped the format from a broadsheet to a sensationalist tabloid focusing on sex and violence.

Carnegie Hall opened in 1891. The Neo-Italian Renaissance building by architect William Burnet Tuthill was  endowed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie at the insistence of conductor Walter Damrosch. Pyotr Tchaikovsky was the guest of honor at its opening. The New York city landmark was slated for demolition in the 1950s but was saved by a public outcry.

Frank Lloyd Wright worked as a draftsman for architect Louis Sullivan before going on to build some of the most iconic buildings in the U.S. He explained his attitude as "honest arrogance instead of hypocritical humility."

The Barbie doll’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, and she is from Willows, Wisconsin. Her birthday is March 9, 1959, when Mattell first displayed her at the New York Toy Fair.

In Dante's Inferno the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

More than 2,700 different languages are spoken around the world.

The world's top languages are:
             Mandarin Chinese -1 billion+
                 English - 508 million
                      Hindustani - 497 million    
                          Spanish - 392 million
                              Russian - 277 million
                                   Arabic - 246 million
                                       Bengali - 211 million
                                             Portuguese - 191 million
                                                 Malay-Indonesian - 159 million
                                                     French - 129 million

English has become the world’s lingua franca or default tongue, “the worldwide dialect of the third millennium,” the language in which China trades with Zambia, the language in which a Greek watching CNN phones a friend from the Middle East to get him off the London bus he’s riding before it explodes, according to Roy Blount, Jr., in his NY Times review of GLOBISH: How the English Language Became the World’s Language, by Robert McCrum.

With that in mind, one wonders why Canada persists in teaching French to both children and adults, and why Quebec devotes manpower and budget to enforcing its silly language laws.

Someone who is able to speak six or more languages is called a HyperPolygot. These individuals are mostly male,  left-handed, have enhanced ability in music and  math, and often suffer auto-immune diseases. Native and acquired language is processed in different areas of the brain.

The Chinese were using the decimal system as early as the fourteenth century B.C., nearly 2,300 years before the first known use of the system in European mathematics. The Chinese were also the first to use a place for zero.

     Guy Deutscher, in his book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, points out how different languages treat common nouns and verbs.  For example, French, German, Russian, and several other languages assign a gender to inanimate objects. This even extends to terms for people, so that "my neighbor" in English could be male or female, but in French or German you have to specify which.
     In German and Spanish, the same object has different genders. A German bridge is feminine, while a Spanish bridge is masculine. The same is the case for clocks, forks, chairs, tables, brooms, apartments, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, keys, violins, butterflies,  mountains, wars, rain, garbage, the sun, the world and love. In English, tenses determine when an action occurred, but in Chinese, the same verb can be used for past, present or future actions.
    In some parts of the world, directions are given in relation to geography: north, south, east, west. In the western world we tend to relate space to ourselves: left, right, front, back. Among the countries who use geographic coordinates are Polynesia, Bali, Mexico, and Namibia. Their speakers tend to have a much better sense of orientation in situations where there are few landmarks.  Some have a keen awareness of location from infancy, similar to perfect pitch. Some research that we perceive colors depending on language. In English, green and blue are distinct colors, whereas in other languages they are only shades of the same color. Our brains seem to be trained to exaggerate the distance between shades if these colors have different names

Long ago, dishes and cookware in Europe were made of a dense orange clay called pygg. When people saved coins in jars made of this clay, the jars became known as pygg banks.  When an English potter misunderstood the word, he made a container that resembled a pig. Hence, the piggy bank.

When Mary Queen of Scots went to France as a young girl, Louis, King of France, learned that she loved the Scots game golf. So he had the first course outside of Scotland built for her enjoyment. To make sure she was properly chaperoned (and guarded) while she played, Louis hired cadets from a military school to accompany her. Mary liked this a lot and when she returned to Scotland, she took the practice with her. In French, the word cadet is pronounced ca-day and the Scots changed it into caddie.

Invented in 1825, limelight was used in lighthouses and theatres by burning a cylinder of lime which produced a brilliant light. In the theatre, a performer in the limelight was the centre of attention.

Carbon black is nearly pure elemental carbon in colloidal particle form, made by charring any organic material.  Examples of this are Ivory Black, made by charring ivory or bones, and Lamp Black, made from the soot of oil lamps. Carbon black for industrial use today is typically produced as Furnace Black, produced using heavy aromatic oils, and Thermal Black, produced using natural gas, generally methane, injected into a very hot furnace where, in the absence of much air, carbon black and hydrogen are produced.

There are several expressions using the word buck. A buck is a slang word for a dollar, and pass the buck also refers to deerskin, because the leather was used as currency by native people in the New World, and poker players in the 19th century used to stick their buckskin-covered knives into the table to indicate the dealer.

        The Apostrophe Protection Society was started in 2001 by John Richards, now its Chairman, with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language. 

The Gettysburg Address, one of the most compelling speeches in history, contains just 267 words. 

          In True Stories Behind Car Company Logos,  in Road&Track,  Nick Kurczewski reveals that the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star first appeared on a personal note written in 1872 from company founder, Gottlieb Daimler, to his wife. Mr. Daimler used a three-pointed star to mark the location of his family’s new home in the town of Deutz, Germany. His sons adapted the emblem as the Mercedes-Benz logo from 1910 onward.
         The Cadillac crest is the coat of arms of French military commander and explorer, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701.
         In 1909, having left the company bearing his name, August Horch established a second automobile company in Zwickau, Germany. He couldn’t legally name his new company after himself, so he translated it into Latin, coming up with Audi. The four interlinked Audi rings came about in 1932, when four struggling automakers joined together under the corporate banner of Auto Union. These companies included Audi, DKW, Wanderer and, ironically, the original Horch.
        The Subaru name comes from the Japanese name of a star cluster in the Taurus constellation.  Six of the stars are visible to the naked eye and—in keeping with corporate identity—this matches the six companies which combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company.

Sears was founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1893, reincorporated (a formality for a history-making consumer sector initial public offering) by Richard Sears and new partner Julius Rosenwald in 1906. It began as a mail order catalog company and then opened retail locations in 1925. Sears had the largest domestic revenue of any retailer in the United States until October 1989.

Many years ago in England, a whistle was baked into the handle of ceramic cups used in pubs. When patrons wanted a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. Hence the phrase, Wet your whistle.

Bakers used to be fined if their loaves were under weight, so they added an extra loaf to every dozen, just in case -- hence, the expression baker's dozen

Hands Down, meaning an easy win, comes from horse-racing. When a jockey is close to the finish line, he relaxes his grip on the reins and drops his hands to his sides.

The word queue comes from the Latin cauda, which means tail. In French it became queue, which the English borrowed and added the word cue for the long stick (or tail) used in billiards, and the verb to cue.

Ancient tribes of long ago that wanted to banish people without killing them would burn their houses down -- hence the expression to get fired.

North American Indian, Japanese, and some Polynesian dialects contain no swear words.

The Japanese have nineteen different ways of saying no.

Eggcorns is the term coined by Mark Liberman, Univ. of Pennsylvania linguist. He describes this as the confluence of creativity or logic with misunderstanding the meaning of the words in the phrase. Chris Waigi's Eggcorn Database, includes such gems as: without further adieu, wet your appetite, stark raven mad, girdle one's loins, insectuous, flaw in the ointment, spurt of the moment, financial heartship, zero-sum gain, works like a champ, gorilla marketing, and take with a grain assault.

Using Xs at the end of a letter for kisses started in the Middle Ages when people couldn't write and used crosses as signatures.

Conservative people in the Middle East only look directly into the eyes of a social equal of the same sex. It's a cultural difference that can make Westerners feel someone from the Middle East can't be trusted, as Westerners are used to looking directly at anyone they meet.

The word sneaker was coined by Henry McKinney, an advertising agent for N.W. Ayer & Son.

Joe Sugarman  introduced the concept of using toll-free numbers to take credit card orders over the phone.

The phrase raining cats and dogs originated in seventeenth-century England. During heavy rainstorms, many homeless animals would drown and float down the streets, giving the appearance that it had actually rained cats and dogs.

The first use of OK in print, in The Boston Morning Post of March 23, 1839, was a joke: o.k. — all correct. Such misspelling-based abbreviations were a fad. But it soon caught on. A book review in the NYTimes quotes from OK - The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, by Allan Metcalf:  O is a satisfying oval, all curves; K is all straight lines, a collection of sticks. The combination is stark and striking. And: Feminine O, masculine K. That’s the look of OK. Reviewer Ray Blount points out: The sounds are clear and simple: two long vowels, O and A, separated in the middle by a quick K. Nearly every language in the world not only has these three sounds but allows them to be combined in that sequence, which accounts both for the spread of OK throughout the world.

The Pintupi tribe of Western Australia have 15 words for different types of fear; the Japanese use amae to describe the feeling of being able to depend on someone unconditionally.

A 1784 satire written by Benjamin Franklin proposed taxing shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. But he didn't actually suggest Daylight Savings Time. That didn't come until William Willett conceived DST in 1905, and it wasn't widely accepted until 1916.    

Swiss biologists determined that stupid flies live longer than smart flies because intelligence wears out flies' brains. Canadian researchers claim that straining to recall information which seems to be “on the tip of my tongue” makes us learn mistaken guesses instead of the correct answers we may (or may not) eventually remember.  (source: Harper's)

The first email was sent out by Ray Tomlinson in 1971, 127 years after Samuel Morse sent the world's first telegraph message.

The Nigerian email scam is called 419. It dates back to the Spanish Armada in the 1500s, when wealthy landowners would receive letters saying “My father is being held in a Spanish prison. He has millions in gold that he's hidden away, so if you help me free him (by sending xx amount of gold) I will reward you handsomely.” When the economy of Nigeria collapsed, they updated this Spanish scam for the Internet.

The word "spam" came from the 1970 Monty Python sketch where SPAM singing was drowning out conversation and SPAM itself was unwanted and popping up all over the menu.

Warren Buffett, John Kerry, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw, New Yorker Editor (and Pulitzer Prize-winner) David Remnick, Art Garfunkel, Jann Wenner, Meredith Vieira, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy and Memorial Sloan-Kettering President Harold Varmus were all rejected by Harvard.

Of the 43 men to have served as president, eight never went to college: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Grover Cleveland (who was both the 22nd and 24th president).

The standard IQ test is called the Stanford-Binet test, after Stanford University and the pyschologist, Alfred Binet. It gauges intelligence through five factors of cognitive ability. include fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing and working memory. Both verbal and nonverbal responses are measured. Each of the five factors is given a weight and the combined score is often reduced to a ratio known commonly as the intelligence quotient, or IQ.

William James Sidis was an American child prodigy who could read The New York Times by the time he was 18 months old. By age eight, he had taught himself eight languages and had invented one of his own. It is said that in his adult years he could speak more than 40 languages and learn a new one in a single day. In 1909, he became the youngest person ever to enroll at Harvard College and began lecturing on higher mathematics the following year.

Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king: 
          Spades - King David
          Hearts - Charlemagne
          Clubs -Alexander the Great
          Diamonds - Julius Caesar
The King of Hearts is the only king without a mustache.

Poker originated with the 17th century French game called poque.  Rules varied from town to town, but the same combinations reigned everywhere: a pair, three of a kind, a 'flux' (aka a flush, a hand of same-suited cards). More crucially, all the games thrived under the assumption that the winning hand didn't necessarily need to be the best hand, owing to the betting -- and acting -- skills of the players. In Bohn's New Hand-Book of Games, a book first published in 1850 that contains the earliest surviving rules of 'modern' poker, the game is alternatively called 'bluff.'

Poque was brought to the New World by the French. The game took off, in part because of its popularity as a riverboat pastime, with the French-accented port of New Orleans as its hub. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, poker (its name now anglicized) began a slow transformation into the game we play today.  As poker became a favorite amusement of frontiersmen, professional gamblers, and other American risk lovers, the fifty­-two-card deck became the standard: more cards meant more people could play, and more people meant more robust betting. 

But since the late 15th century, Italy had a deck of just 40 cards, using swords (spade), cups (coppe), coins (denari), and clubs (bastoni). All Italian suited decks have three face cards per suit: the fante (Knave), cavallo (Knight), and re (King), unless it is a tarocchi deck in which case a donna or regina (Queen) is inserted between the cavallo and re.

Birthstones arose from the Breastplate of Aaron: a ceremonial religious garment set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel and also corresponded with the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve months of the year. Because ancient people did not always classify gemstones by mineral species, no one is sure  which gemstones were set in the breastplate and why. Because of this, different cultures around the world have developed different birthstone lists. The custom of wearing birthstones probably first became popular in Poland in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Birthstones originally may have been worn each month by everyone, since the powers of the gemstone were heightened during its month.    Reference:

The charm bracelet became popular when Queen Victoria decided to attach charms people gave her on a bracelet. Because she wore them constantly, charm bracelets became popular among British upper-class women, and they later spread to the United States. In 1889, a year before Victoria’s death, Tiffany & Co. introduced their own popular version of the charm bracelet, with a single heart-shaped pendant, a design that is still sold today.

Engagement rings are often worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because the ancient Greeks maintained that that finger contains the vena amoris, or the ‘vein of love,’ that runs straight to the heart. The first recorded wedding rings appear in ancient Egypt, with the circle representing eternity as well as powerful sun and moon deities.

“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe” symbolizes continuity, optimism for the future, borrowed happiness, fidelity, and wealth or good luck, respectively.

Early Roman brides carried a bunch of herbs, such as garlic and rosemary, under their veils to symbolize fidelity and fertility and to ward off evil. These herbs served as a precursor to the modern bridal bouquet.

The tradition of bridesmaid's dresses came from the superstition that if bridesmaids were dressed in similar bride-like gowns, they would confuse rival suitors, evil spirits, and robbers.

"Tying the knot" initially came from an ancient Babylonian custom in which threads from the clothes of both the bride and bridegroom were tied in a knot to symbolize the couple's union. Literally tying some type of ceremonial knot at a wedding ceremony can be found across cultures.

The first printing press in North America was used in Mexico City in 1539.

The first book printed in the U.S. was the Bay Book of Psalms, printed in 1640 in Boston.

In 1845, Rufus Porter—an eccentric inventor, painter, and editor—published the first issue of Scientific American, a weekly newspaper about new inventions. By 1853, its circulation had reached 30,000 and it was reporting on various sciences, such as astronomy and medicine. In 1921, it became a monthly.

From The Amusement Park by Stephen M. Silverman:
          On July 1, 1854, the first train carrying passengers left Camden, New Jersey, at nine thirty in the morning and arrived in Atlantic City at noon. Hotels, boarding­houses, bathhouses, and saloons quickly sprung up, less because of salt water and sea air, and more because Atlantic City, unlike Philadelphia sixty-two miles and formerly a twelve-hour stagecoach ride away, served alcohol on Sundays.
           Foot traffic grew so thick that the Boardwalk was born of necessity, to address the problems of pedestrian logjams and inescapable sand. Sticking to shoes, the grit spread its damage everywhere, driving an exasperated Alexander Boardman, a conductor on the Camden & Atlantic Railroad, whose seats and floors were coated in the stuff, to take his case to the owners of similarly afflicted hotels.
           The upshot was the May 9, 1870, approval by the city council to build a $5,000 protective path of yellow pine planks above the sands. Atlantic City's first Boardwalk, the first boardwalk in the United States, opened June 26, 1870. Two years later, an inventor from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Isaac Newton Forrester, came to town with his vertical Epicycloidal Diversion, a rotary swing on a circular platform that hoisted sixty-four passengers thirty feet above the beach before returning them to earth. (George Ferriss' much-larger wheel would employ the same principle over Lake Michigan twenty-one years later.)
           Suddenly, Atlantic City was in the amusement business. In 1880, Gustav Dentzel, a Philadelphia cabinetmaker originally from Germany, established his own ride near the Boardwalk, a hand-carved carousel.

Radio City Music Hall seats 6000, and its Great Stage, designed by Peter Clark, measures 66.5 by 144 ft.  Its system of elevators was so advanced that the U.S. Navy incorporated identical hydraulics in constructing World War II aircraft carriers. During the war, government agents guarded the basement to assure the Navy's technological advantage. This elevator system was also designed by Peter Clark, and was built by Otis Elevators. The Music Hall's "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ is the largest theater pipe organ built for a movie theater. Identical consoles with four manuals (keyboards) are installed on both sides of the Great Stage. Installed in 1932, the instrument was the largest produced by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company of North Tonawanda, New York; it was built as a serious concert instrument rather than to accompany silent movies, capable of playing many styles of music including classical organ literature. A total rebuild of the historic organ was completed in time for the theater's restoration in 1999.

The New York City Ballet has a shoe budget of $780,000: the dancers go through 500 to 800 pairs of pointe shoes performing The Nutcracker over 6 weeks, and use up even more pairs in 2 weeks performing Swan Lake.

Eugene O'Neill wrote two plays that were so long that audience members needed a dinner break. The first time this happened was when Strange Interlude opened in 1928 in Quincy, Mass. A nearby restaurant did so well from profits made during the run of the play that he was able to start a chain of restaurants bearing his name: Howard Johnson.

England’s East Lancashire is home to an art installation known as the Ringing Singing Tree. It’s a giant instrument made up of a bunch of steel pipes of different lengths stacked in different directions, so that any passing breeze transforms into eerie melodies. This crazy piece of art stands just over three meters tall and was created in 2006 by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu and won a Royal Institute of British Architects award

The Vegetable Orchestra of Vienna are a group of touring musicians who have transformed everyday vegetables into a variety of instruments: pan-pipes, recorders, even a clarinet made from a carrot. Not only can the orchestra carry a vegan melody, they even give out fresh vegetable soup at the end of their concerts.

The Hornucopian Dronepipe was designed by Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg from Monad Studios,  using a 3-D printer as part of a trio of futuristic instruments. The other two include a two-string electric violin, a one-string electric bass guitar, a one-string electric cello/violin hybrid and a small didgeridoo.

Arthur Frommer self-published his first travel book in 1955, as a GI stationed in Europe. Two years later, he launched the $5 a Day series, publishing 58 titles a year until he sold the company in 1977. When the new owners lost interest in the books, Frommer bought back 340 titles, and resumed publishing with the help of his daughter, Pauline.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Father’s Day has been celebrated annually since 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed the public law that made it permanent.




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