Sadly, I'm one of those people who finds useless tidbits of information fascinating, probably because I like to know the history behind everything. As a writer, I think the nuances of language are especially interesting, and I wanted to share with you some of the facts I've come across.
Did you know:
Until the seventeenth century the word "upset" meant to set up (i.e. erect) something. Now it means the opposite: "to capsize".
The Byzantines never called themselves "Byzantines". This term was first used during the Renaissance, and was derived from Byzantium, the former name of the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). They called themselves Romans, while Western Europeans called them Greeks.
The combination "ough" can be pronounced in nine different ways. The following sentence contains them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful plough man strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."
The verb "cleave" is the only English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other: adhere and separate.
The word "dunce", meaning a dull-witted or ignorant person, comes from the name of John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), one of the greatest minds of his time. Scotus was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and pursued his master's degree in theology at the University of Paris where, in 1303, he became embroiled in one of the most heated disputes of the day. France's King Philip IV had moved to tax the Church in order to finance his war with England; in response, Pope Boniface VIII threatened to excommunicate him. For supporting the pope, Duns Scotus was banished from France. The term "dunce" was coined two centuries later by people who disagreed with Scotus' teachings and his defence of the papacy. To them, any of his followers was dull-witted, "incapable of scholarship and stupid".
Kentucky Fried Chicken’s slogan, “Finger lickin’ good,” once came out as ”eat your fingers off” in Chinese.
Punctuation was not invented until the 1500's.
Vergil's quest for perfection nearly cost posterity his twelve-book Latin classic, the Aeneid, a national epic and a literary masterpiece. Generally accepted as the greatest of the Roman poets, Vergil left the instruction that when he died the manuscript should be burned because he had not had time to polish it. The Roman emperor Augustus - at whose request Vergil may have initiated work in the Aeneid - stepped in and countermanded Vergil's request. He had others apply what little polish was needed, and ordered the work published.
Shakespeare coined 1700 words.
There is a word in the English language with only one vowel, which occurs five times: "indivisibility."
The computer programming language ADA was named in honor of Augusta Ada King. The U.S. Defense Department named the language after the Countess of Lovelace and daughter of Lord Byron because she helped finance and program what is thought to be the first computer, the “analytical engine” designed by Charles Babbage.
The word boycott comes from Charles C. Boycott. He was hired by an Irish earl to collect high rents from tenant farmers who completely ignored him.
So what interesting information or not-so-well-known facts are you able to share with us? Here at the pleasure garden, we appreciate the value of being able to interject a well-timed useless fact at garden parties, business meetings and awkward get-togethers with the in-laws.