How long is a fortnight?

The word fortnight is a unit of time that equals fourteen days. It comes from the Old English word feorwertyne niht, meaning “fourteen nights.” The term is used in Great Britain, where salaries and most social security benefits are paid on a fortnightly basis, but in the United States people use the term “two weeks.”

In many languages, there is no single word for a two-week period and the equivalent of “fourteen days” has to be used. In Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese, the terms quince días, quindicina, quinzaine, and quinzena—all meaning “fifteen days”—are used.

How does a cat’s tail help keep the animal balanced?

Almost 10 percent of a cat’s bones are in its tail, and the tail is used to maintain the animal’s balance. A cat’s tail plays a vital part in its “righting reflex” that allows it to land on its feet after falling from a height. Cats often survive a long fall based on their agility and balance, which they develop as kittens. When falling, the fluid in the inner ear shifts and the cat rotates its head until it equalizes and the fluid is level.

The body automatically shifts to follow the head, and the cat lands on its feet. A cat also uses its tail to communicate. A cat’s tail held high means that it is happy. A twitching tail is a warning sign that it may be angry or on guard, and a tail tucked in close to the body is a sign of insecurity or fearfulness.

What is e-mail?

People can use the Internet to send electronic mail, known as e-mail, to one another in just a few seconds. Once you type a message into your computer to send to your cousin, let’s say, who lives miles from you across the country, it travels through the wires of your phone line as a series of electrical signals (or, for some people, the signals travel through the same cables that bring them cable television). These signals travel to a station run by your service provider, where a big computer sends them to an Internet routing center. Located all over the world, routing centers, which are linked to organizations and Internet providers, send the countless computer communications that come to them each second along the quickest possible routes to their destinations.

A giant computer there reads the address on your e-mail and sends it farther: depending on the distance it must travel, it may continue along phone lines, be changed into light signals that can travel with great speed along thin glass strands called fiber-optic cables, or be converted into equally speedy invisible bands of energy known as radio waves and transmitted to a communications satellite that will bounce it back to Earth, to a ground station located close to where your cousin lives. Once your message reaches the routing center nearest your cousin, it will be sent to the station of his or her service provider. From there it will be sent along regular phone lines to his or her computer. And all of this happens in a matter of moments.

Why do certain items glow-in-the-dark?

Glow-in-the-dark stickers, stars, toys, and clothes, all work by absorbing light and emitting it later. These items contain phosphors, substances such as zinc sulfide that radiate visible light after being energized by natural light. Phosphorescent materials continue to glow after the energizing light is removed. They have electrons that are easily excited to higher energy levels when they absorb light energy.

In phosphorescent materials—such as glow-in-the-dark objects—the excited electrons drop to a lower, but still excited intermediate level and stay there for a period of time before returning to their ground state (original energy level) and emitting the excess energy as visible light.

Which was the smallest dinosaur?

The smallest dinosaurs were just slightly larger than a chicken. Compsognathus (meaning “pretty jaw”) was 3 feet (1 meter) long and probably weighed about 6.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms). At one time, scientists thought that Mussaurus (meaning “mouse lizard”) was the smallest dinosaur, but it is now known to be the hatchling of a dinosaur type that was much larger than Compsognathus when fully grown.

If birds are advanced dinosaurs, as some scientists believe, then the smallest dinosaur would be the hummingbird!

Why do we say that someone looking for trouble has a “chip on his shoulder”?

In early England, one man would challenge another to a duel by slapping his face with a glove. The challenge was a serious matter of honour, and if the slapped man did not accept it, he would be branded a coward. Having a chip on your shoulder was kind of an early Wild West equivalent of the glove slap, though generally less mortal in nature.

Boys and men would place a woodchip on their shoulder, challenging anyone who dared knock it off to a fistfight. So, if a man had a “chip on his shoulder,” he was clearly in an aggressive mood and spoiling for a fight.

Why are wedding banns announced before a marriage?

The custom of proclaiming wedding banns began in 800 AD when Roman Emperor Charlemagne became alarmed by the high rate of interbreeding throughout his empire.

He ordered that all marriages be publicly announced at least seven days prior to the ceremony and that anyone knowing that the bride and groom were related must come forward. The practice proved so successful that it was widely endorsed by all faiths.

Why did pirates wear earrings?

Earrings were used by seamen, especially warriors such as pirates, for very practical reasons and not for decoration. They were given to young sailors as a symbol of their first crossing of the equator, and their purpose was to protect the eardrums during battle.

The pirates, especially those who fired the ships’ cannons during closed combat with the enemy, dangled wads of wax from their earrings to use as earplugs.

What are house rules and family contracts for Internet use?

Often parents and guardians work with their kids to create an online agreement that outlines the rights and obligations of computer use at home. It might be a list of rules that you agree to together, or it might be a more formal contract that both the parent and the child sign. It covers topics like where kids can go online and what they can do there; how much time they can spend on the Internet (and how much of that time is dedicated to school work); and what they should do if anything or anyone makes them feel uncomfortable. You can write down the rules for protecting your personal information and how to use chat rooms, newsgroups, and instant messaging services. Families often print the rules out and keep them by the family computer to remind everyone of the rules.

How can I get a baby brother instead of a baby sister?

There is no way specific way to place an order for a baby brother or a baby sister. The gender (boy or girl) of a baby is determined by whether the father’s fertilizing sperm has an X or a Y chromosome. An X chromosome will lead to a girl, and a Y to a boy. (Mothers always contribute an X chromosome.) Although scientific methods are available to help parents organize their chromosomes and take advantage of the fact that the “boy” sperm has less DNA than “girl” sperm, they can be expensive and unreliable. One method, called the Shettles method, recommends that if parents want a girl, they should plan to make a baby right around the time of ovulation.

At this time, the egg is as far away as possible from the incoming sperm so the long-distance runners of the sperm world, the X sperm, have a better chance of making it to the egg. For a boy, the method suggests that parents plan to make a baby about two to four days after ovulation. That way, the short-distance sprinting Y sperm can make it to the egg first. Many doctors say that although this method is based in science, it is no guarantee that a couple will have a baby boy or a baby girl.