It wasn’t until the end of the fifteenth century that the Italian printer Aldus Manutius introduced the system of markings we call punctuation. The proper use of punctuation marks is a learned skill that has eluded even great writers ever since. Mark Twain once filled the last page of a manuscript with all the various symbols of punctuation and instructed his editor to disperse them within the story as he saw fit.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that the heavens were composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached and which rotated at different velocities, with the Earth at the center. People believed this for almost 2000 years, until Polish astronomer Nicolai Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not Earth, was the center of the solar system. His model, called a heliocentric system, said that Earth is just another planet (the third outward from the Sun), and the Moon is in orbit around Earth, not the Sun. While this might be true of our solar system, astronomers cannot see the whole universe through their telescopes, so no one knows where the true “center” of it lies.
Machines win modern wars. A 1947 study found that during the Second World War, only about 15 to 25 percent of the American infantry ever fired their rifles in combat. The rest, or three-quarters of them, simply carried their weapons, doing their best not to become casualties. The infantry’s purpose is not to kill the enemy, but rather to advance on and then physically occupy his territory.
The funny bone exists in your body, but it’s not a bone at all! The funny bone is a part of the ulnar nerve located at the back of the elbow. If you accidentally bump this area it can cause a tingling sensation toward the front of your forearm.
This tingling or dull pain is caused by the ulnar nerve bumping up against the humerus, the long bone that starts at your elbow and goes up to your shoulder. Although it might feel weird, tapping your funny bone doesn’t do any damage to your elbow, arm, or ulnar nerve.
In ancient times, just as today in third-world societies, dogs lived miserable lives with little or no human care, which led to the hard-times expressions, “it’s a dog’s life,” “sick as a dog,” and “dog-tired.” As for the proverb “Every dog has his day,” it was first recorded as an epilogue after the famed Greek playwright Euripides was killed by a pack of dogs in 405 BC.
The blue whale, who swims all of the world’s oceans, in the largest mammal. The largest blue whale cited was at least 110 feet (33.5 meters) long and weighed 209 tons (189,604 kilograms). The average length is about 82 feet (25 meters) for the males, and 85 feet (26 meters) for the females. A newborn blue whale can weigh anywhere from 2.5 to 4 tons (2,268 to 3,628 kilograms), and can reach 100 to 120 tons in adulthood. Whale calves drink 50 to 150 gallons of its mother’s milk per day, adding about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of weight per hour, or 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) per day.
At about eight months of age, when the calf is weaned, it measures close to 50 feet (15.2 meters) long and weighs about 25 tons (22,679 kilograms). Blue whales do not have teeth. Instead, in their upper jaw they have rows of hundreds of baleen plates—flat, flexible plates with frayed edges, arranged in two parallel rows that look like combs of thick hair. The blue whale feeds on a small shrimp-like animal called krill. Scientists believe that large marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, have brains much like those of humans. They are able to communicate, follow instructions, and adapt to new environments. Throughout history, these gentle giants have been hunted for their baleen and blubber (fat), and are today considered an endangered species. Scientists believe there are about 4,000 or so of them left in the world.
In 1845, scientists believed that the only explanation for Mercury’s confusing and erratic orbit of the sun would be the presence of gravitational pull from an unseen nearby planet, which they named “Vulcan.” Eventually Albert Einstein, through his theory of relativity, explained Mercury’s behaviour, thus eliminating the hypothetical planet Vulcan — until it was resurrected by Gene Rodenberry in Star Trek.
In medieval France the first-born sons of nobility were known as the “caput,” or head, of the family, while the younger, less valuable boys were called “capdets,” or little heads, and were often sent to the military to train as officers. In English, “capdets” became “cadets,” which the Scots abbreviated to “cads” or “caddies,” meaning any useless street kid who could be hired for the day to carry around a bag of golf clubs.
Not all people own dogs and cats. While many Europeans, including the British, French, and Italians, own dogs and cats, other people have different relationships to them. In Islamic tradition, dogs are shunned as unclean and dangerous, and thus it has never been common for Arabs to own pets. However, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt it has become fashionable among the upper class to own dogs and cats. (As early as 3500 B.C.E., Egyptians domesticated wildcats from Africa, which became their treasured pets and honored for their skill in hunting snakes, rats, and mice.) In China, cats are thought to bring good luck and are kept in shops and homes; the country also has about 150 million pet dogs—about one for every nine people.
The Japanese keep birds and crickets as pets. The Inuit Eskimo of northern Canada adopt bear cubs, foxes, birds, and baby seals. And Australian Aborigines capture dingo (wild dog) puppies and raise them for a time before letting them go.
The phrase boning up comes from a British teacher of Greek and Latin Who wanted to make life easier for his students. With that goal in mind he translated the Greek and Latin classics into English and then had them published and distributed within his classroom. His name was Mr. Bohn, and his grateful students called this new, speedier method of studying the classics “Bohning up.”