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Rated: E · Book · Educational · #2105953
One hundred facts that are interesting but ultimately useless.

A Catalogue of Useless Facts

- introduction -

Whether I'm at work or out with friends, I have a reputation as the person who knows things. Not useful things, mind you; not once has it been profitable to know the reason why dogs have wet noses, or the meaning of the linguistic term "glottal stop", or the difference between a bug and an insect. If anything, all the aimless wandering on Wikipedia keeps me from finishing my other writing projects.

But there is a purpose to this eclectic mishmash of trivia, and it ties into my own major philosophy: stuff is interesting. The world is often rough and depressing, but if I can find one neat little factoid, everything seems a little less meaningless.

And this brings us to the point of this blog. Lately, it feels like my various newsfeeds are full to bursting with anger and bickering. As a generally positive person, I wanted to counteract this in some way -- only I'm not so adept with inspirational quotes or pithy wisdom. What I can offer, though, are useless facts.

Over the past few months, instead of filing these accidental info-bits in some dusty corner of my brain, I've been taking notes. Before long, I had enough for a solid month of trivia. I collected a few more and thought instead I'd do a "Factoid Friday" every week for a year. But I'm a curious person by nature, and can't help but stumble on new things. Maybe I'm eating lunch one day, I suddenly wonder where ketchup comes from, and bam! I learn something new!

So here come the facts. They may be short, or they may be long. They may cover language, biology, history, mythology, or any number of other subjects. Many of you may know some of these, and some of you may know many of these. But hopefully, at least once between now and the time my collection runs dry, you'll be inspired to say, "Huh! That's actually kind of interesting!"

-BD Mitchell

Blog is currently on hiatus.

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Comments, corrections, and suggestions are welcome at all times!
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February 9, 2017 at 1:28pm
February 9, 2017 at 1:28pm
Generic Trademarks
- miscellaneous -

A proprietary eponym, or "generic trademark", is an effect where a popular trademarked brand name becomes the de facto term for all similar products, regardless of manufacturer or trademark holder. Examples include "Thermos" referring to any insulated drink bottle, "Kleenex" referring to any facial tissue, or "Band-Aid" referring to any adhesive bandage.

Legal status varies from product to product. While the term "styrofoam" is still officially under trademark, "linoleum" has been declared legally generic.


February 8, 2017 at 3:31am
February 8, 2017 at 3:31am
Second Bananas
- biology / history -

The majority of bananas grown and sold worldwide belong to a subset cultivar known as "Cavendish" bananas. Though this cultivar has existed for nearly two hundred years, it didn't become the preferred variety until the 1950s when its main competition, the "Gros Michel" cultivar, was decimated by a chemically-resistant fungal pathogen known as "Panama disease".

A different strain of Panama disease threatens the global Cavendish crop today, leaving the future fate of the banana as we know it unclear.


February 7, 2017 at 1:58pm
February 7, 2017 at 1:58pm
- currency / etymology / history -

The term "dollar" derives from Joachimsthal, a town in the historic Kingdom of Bohemia. In the 16th century, Joachimsthal (or "Joachim's Valley" in English) was a major source of mined silver, and coins minted in the region were known as "Joachimsthalers", or "thalers" for short. The thaler's descendant -- the modern dollar -- is used as official currency for more than twenty nations worldwide.


February 6, 2017 at 4:46pm
February 6, 2017 at 4:46pm
The Ampersand
- history / linguistics / symbology -

The ampersand symbol ("&") derives from "et" (Latin for "and"). Over time, the letters of "et" fused together to form a single glyph.

The term "ampersand" is believed to derive from the early 1800s, when the character was included as the last official letter of the English alphabet. Students reciting the alphabet would finish the sequence with, "X, Y, Z, and per se and." Over time, the "and per se and" became corrupted to "ampersand".


February 5, 2017 at 2:09pm
February 5, 2017 at 2:09pm
Platypus Venom
- biology -

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is one of the only known venomous mammal. While a few other species (i.e. shrews, solenodons, and certain moles) produce toxic saliva, male platypodes deliver venom by means of sharpened spurs on each hind leg. This venom is not fatal to a healthy adult human, but it causes excruciating pain that may last for multiple weeks.


February 4, 2017 at 3:17am
February 4, 2017 at 3:17am
- history -

Because of its reactive nature, pure aluminum is rarely found via mining, and is instead mainly obtained through chemical refinement. In the mid-1800s, when this refinement process was still in its infancy, the scarcity of pure aluminum made it extremely valuable. In France, aluminum was used frequently by the upper class as jewelry, and aluminum ingots were displayed with pride at national exhibitions. A popular tale recounts how most formal dinner guests of Emperor Napoleon III would eat with gold utensils, but the most important and most honored would be supplied with aluminum instead.

In the late-1880s, researchers developed a system of chemical electrolysis that could extract aluminum easily and cheaply from certain common ores. As a result, the market price of aluminum dropped to a tiny fraction of its prior value, and wider applications of the once-rare metal became feasible.


February 3, 2017 at 3:15am
February 3, 2017 at 3:15am
Minced Oaths
- linguistics -

A "minced oath" is a type of euphemism that alters an objectionable or word or phrase to a more tolerable form. Some examples include using "darn" instead of "damn", "heck" instead of "hell", or "fudge" instead of... well, you get the idea.

Further famous examples include multiple variations of "Jesus Christ": "Jiminy Cricket", "cheese and crackers", and "jeepers creepers", as well as shorter variants like "jeez" and "crikey".


February 2, 2017 at 3:10pm
February 2, 2017 at 3:10pm
"Hero" & "Villain"
- etymology -

The word "villain" can be traced through Middle English and Old French to the Latin word "villanus", which referred to a serf or feudal farmer, especially someone who worked the land of a "villa".

Over time, the definition shifted to mean "a person of low class", then "a person of low morals", until it finally arrived at its modern version, "a person with evil intent".

The word "hero" is even older, deriving from Old French, Latin, and ultimately Ancient Greek, where a "heros" was a warrior (or even a demi-god) who had achieved great renown.


February 1, 2017 at 3:38am
February 1, 2017 at 3:38am
The Tiniest Frog
- biology -

The smallest known vertebrate animal is Paedophryne amauensis, a forest-dwelling frog native to Papua New Guinea. Adults of the species reach an average of 0.3 inches (7.7 millimeters) in length -- about the size of a garden-variety ladybug.


January 31, 2017 at 6:45pm
January 31, 2017 at 6:45pm
- natural phenomena / physics / physiology -

Infrasound refers to soundwaves that occur below the range of human hearing (which usually bottoms out at a frequency of 20 Hz). It can have a variety of causes -- including vibrating machinery, earthquakes, ocean waves, and even some kinds of animal.

While not technically audible, infrasound is still capable of causing resonance in the human body. Some known side-effects include nausea, feelings of dread or fear, or even visual hallucinations. Infrasound is thought to be the cause of many reported ghost sightings.


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