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The Useless Facts Website

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  • "Catch 22" has come to mean a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem. The original "Catch-22," in Joseph Heller's 1961 novel of the same name, is the catch that prevents a US Air Force pilot in World War II from asking to be grounded on the basis of insanity. The pilot knows that military regulations permit insane pilots to be grounded and not forced to fly further dangerous bombing missions. However, the regulation prevents airmen from escaping bombing missions by pleading insanity by stating that any airman rational enough to WANT to be grounded cannot possibly be insane and therefore is fit to fly. From the novel: a man "would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to: but if he didn't he was sane and had to."
  • The custom of saying "Bless you" when someone sneezes was first used by ancients when they believed that breath was the essence of life, and when you sneeze a part of you life is escaping. Evil spirits rush into your body and occupy the empty space. By saying "God bless you" the speaker is protecting the sneezer from that spirits.
  • Lycanthropy is a disease in which a man thinks he's a wolf. It is the scientific name for "wolf man" or, werewolf.
  • "Evian" spelled backwards is naive.
  • Author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, who sometimes wrote under the name "The Duchess," observed in her novel "Molly Bawn" that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." The phrase has passed into the English language.
  • The "glair" is the white or clear part of an egg. The word glair comes from the Latin clarus, meaning "clear."
  • The longest word used by Shakespeare in any of his works is "honorificabilitudinitatibus," found in "Love's Labors Lost." Unfortunately he's no longer around to tell us what it means.
  • Colgate faced a big obstacle marketing toothpaste in Spanish speaking countries. Colgate translates into the command "go hang yourself."
  • The right side of a boat was called the starboard side due to the fact that the astronavigators used to stand out on the plank (which was on the right side) to get an unobstructed view of the stars. The left side was called the port side because that was the side that you put in on at the port. This was so that they didn't knock off the starboard.
  • Ever wonder where the phrase "two bits" came from? Some coins used in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War were Spanish dollars, which could be cut into pieces, or bits. Since two pieces equaled one-fourth dollar, the expression "two bits" came into being as a name for 25 cents.
  • Montgomery Ward was the first to advertise "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back" in 1874 — two years after Aaron Montgomery Ward, launched his first mail-order catalog.
  • OK is the most successful of all Americanisms. It has invaded hundreds of other languages and been adopted by them as a word. Mencken claims that US troops deployed overseas during WWII found it already in use by Bedouins in the Sahara to the Japanese in the Pacific. It was also the fourth word spoken on the surface of the moon. It stands for oll korrect, a misspelling of all correct.
  • When Coca-Cola began to be sold in China, they used characters that would sound like "Coca-Cola" when spoken. Unfortunately, what they turned out to mean was "Bite the wax tadpole".
  • Clans of long ago that wanted to get rid of their unwanted people without killing them used to burn their houses down - hence the expression "to get fired."
  • Pokemon stands for "pocket monster."
  • The name Ethiopia mean "land of sunburned faces" in Greek.
  • A coward was originally a boy who took care of cows.
  • MAFIA is an acronym for Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela, or "Death to the French is Italy's Cry"
  • The Sanskrit word for "war" means "desire for more cows."
  • When a film is in production, the last shot of the day is the "martini shot," the next to last one is the "Abby Singer".
  • "Hara kiri" is an impolite way of saying the Japanese word "seppuku" which means, literally, "belly splitting."
  • A bird watching term: peebeegeebee = a pied-billed grebe.
  • "Big cheese" and "big wheel" are Medieval terms of envious respect for those who could afford to buy whole wheels of cheese at a time, an expense few could enjoy. Both these terms are often used sarcastically today.
  • When two words are combined to form a single word (e.g., motor + hotel = motel, breakfast + lunch = brunch) the new word is called a "portmanteau."
  • The slash character is called a virgule, or solidus. A URL uses slash characters, not back slash characters.
  • "Corduroy" comes from the French, "cord du roi" or "cloth of the king."
  • In the Greek alphabet "X" is the first letter for the word Christ, "Xristos." Xmas means "Christ's mass."
  • If you come from Manchester, you are a Mancunian.
  • There are six words in the English language with the letter combination "uu." Muumuu, vacuum, continuum, duumvirate, duumvir and residuum.
  • The abbreviation "ORD" for Chicago's O'Hare airport comes from the old name "Orchard Field."

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