Why do we say,“I heard it through the grapevine”?

During the American Civil War, a Colonel Bee set up a crude telegraph line between Placerville and Virginia City by stringing wires from trees. The wires hung in loops like wild grapevines, and so the system was called the “Grapevine Telegraph,” or simply “the grapevine.” By the time war news came through the wires it was often outdated, misleading, or false, and the expression “I heard it through the grapevine” soon came to describe any information obtained through gossip or rumour that was likely unreliable.

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Why is going to bed called “hitting the hay”?

When going to sea, early sailors had to provide for their own bedding. This need was catered to by merchants on the docks who, for a shilling, sold the seamen crude canvas sacks stuffed with hay. When heading off to sleep, a sailor would announce that he was going to “hit the hay.” Although less crude than those coarse canvases, early North American settlers also used hay to stuff mattresses and pillows, so when going to bed, they too would “hit the hay.”

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When a man gifted with charm seizes an opportunity,why do we say,“He’s in like Flynn”?

The Australian actor Errol Flynn had an amazing prowess with the ladies, and of course the tabloids built this into a legend. During the Second World War, servicemen coined the phrase “in like Flynn” either to brag about their own conquests or to describe someone they envied. Flynn said he hated the expression, but his own boast that he had spent between twelve and fourteen thousand intimate nights ensured its survival.

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Are the terms “gnat’s eye” and “hair’s breadth” true units of measure?

Yes, but both are slang units of distance and diameter. The eyes of typical gnats tend to have diameters similar in size to a hair’s breadth—roughly 100–150 micrometers. An item would have to be very short in order to be gnat’s eye in length! A hair’s breadth is an informal unit of distance: it is used to denote a measurement of approximately 70 to 100 micrometers in diameter, or 0.1 millimeter, which is similar in thickness to real human hair.

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What is an estuary?

Estuaries are bodies of water along the beaches that are formed when freshwater from rivers flows into and mixes with saltwater from the ocean. Tides may rise and fall in the estuary, making this area a unique ecosystem rich in nutrients. Only certain types of plants, such as saltwort, eelgrass, and saltgrass can grow there, and few animals can live their entire lives there. However, mud shrimp, certain types of mussels, and the Western sandpiper all call estuaries home.

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Why do we say “Bless you” after a sneeze?

The ancient Greeks believed a blessing might prevent evil from entering your body during its unguarded state while you sneeze. Our tradition comes from the black plague of 1665, when sneezing was believed to be one of the first symptoms of the disease. Infection meant certain death, and so the symptom was greeted with the prayer, “God bless you,” which through time has been shortened to “Bless you!”

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How many different types of plants are there?

Scientists have found and described more than 275,000 kinds of plants, but they believe that many more are yet to be discovered. Plants vary greatly in size and appearance. Some, like single-celled algae, are so small that you can only see them with the help of a microscope. Others, like giant sequoia trees, are so big that you cannot even see the tops of them. Plants are very different from one another because they have developed features—over millions of years—to help them live in the world’s many different environments.

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How is a baker’s dozen different from a standard dozen?

A dozen is a unit of quantity, equal to 12. A baker’s dozen is an informal unit of quantity, equal to 13. Bakers often toss in an extra item for each dozen bought, making a total of 13. This custom is very old, dating at least from the thirteenth century, when the weights and prices of loaves of bread were strictly regulated by royal proclamations called assizes, and bakers could be jailed if they failed to provide fair weight at the listed prices.

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What do worms eat?

While some birds eat mostly insects, others, like penguins, eat seafood. Beach birds, like seagulls, eat shellfish as well, but they are also scavengers that will eat discarded people food. Some birds, such as ducks and geese, float on the water, dipping or diving to nibble on plants from oceans, lakes, and rivers. Others, such as raptors, swoop out of the sky to capture and eat small mammals, such as mice or rabbits. Some birds also prey on each other, such as large predatory birds like eagles and hawks.

Many birds, like crows, jays, and magpies, eat the eggs and young of others. Individual bird species eat the foods from their local environment, but they have also developed physical characteristics that help them harvest food. Specific birds have adapted to feasting on plants as well, including algae, lichen, grass, herbs, flower nectar, leaves and buds of trees, ferns, acorns, nuts, corn, rice, and seeds of all kinds.

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