Discover the amazing sensation of being in the spotlight, of becoming the life and soul on social networks like Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, for example. Cheer them up with some interesting and unknown facts that will elevate their moods from morbid boredom to ‘for facts sake – I didn’t know that.’ Works every time.

Calendars and things

The seven-day week, which is now standard throughout the world, seems to have originated 4 000 years ago with the Babylonian hierarchy, who named the days in accordance with the seven known planets at the time. Back then I’m sure most people were relieved that they’d only reached as far as Uranus.

Over the centuries, various countries have tried to change the calendar week, but were always defeated by the force of habit. In 1792 France introduced a ten-day week to dovetail into their new decimal system for measurement and currency.

It was a cock-up and Napoleon soon gave it the thumbs-down. Russian efforts to create a five-day week in 1929, and remodelling it to a six-dayer in 1932, also failed dismally. ‘Cos why? you may enquire eloquently. Well, people simply ignored them.

Dividing the day into 24 hours is another man-made notion. The Sumerians initially sliced their pie/clock into six: Three day-time slices of 4 hours each, and three for night-time. The Babylonians later sliced it from 6 to 12 segments for more accuracy, and later still the Egyptians created the 24 slices per day system to conduct and coordinate their priestly ceremonies more efficiently.

So much for weeks, days and hours, because months are equally fraught with folly. The reason why some have more days than others can be blamed squarely on Julius Caesar. It was decided that those months paying homage to someone, or with some special religious significance would get 31 days and bugger the rest. So, among others, January, March and July got the nod, seeing Jules himself chose the names, as did his successor Augustus.

Making matters worse, Big Jules’ calendar – with September (7th month) and October (8th month) – was casually shifted one month later without changing the names, so September is now 8, October is 9 and December (10th month) is 12! The less said about February the better. These boo-boos are courtesy of Pope Greg who, in 1582, shuffled the months around so much that New Year was no longer on 25 March but 1 January.

Words words words…

Assassin. Sounds Italian/Latin, but no. Blame it on dagga. For 200 years, a murderous sect of religious fanatics terrorised the Middle East, operating from their base in Alamut, Southern Persia. They killed at random after getting seriously goofed on a dagga concentrate – hashish. The Arabic for hashish-users was hashishin, which, even without a hair lip or cleft palate, became ‘assassin’ over time.

Boudoir. Well-bred young ladies in the Middle Ages who got into a petulant huff because they couldn’t get their own way, were sent to their rooms to get over their sulks. The word comes from the French bouder – to pout. Ergo the pouting room.

Fees. Thankfully, most of us don’t conform to the original form of fee payments which, before formal currency, was livestock. The old English word for cattle was feoh – not dissimilar to the Germanic/Dutch/Afrikaans derivatives, fooi (fee) or veearts (vet).

Serendipity. This usually means finding one thing while looking for something else and goes way back. In a 1722 fairy tale, the heroes – three Princes of Serendip (now Sri Lanka) – constantly made fortuitous discoveries by accident. When the work was translated into English the word was coined to describe the Princes’ happy knack.

Thumbs Down

This gesture has been corrupted by artists to signify the slaying of a gladiator during combat in Roman times. In reality though, a thumbs-down by the Emperor meant ‘put the sword down’ and don’t kill him. By pointing his thumb at his own chest, the Emperor was indicating ‘stab the bugger’, but a thumbs-down looked more dramatic in paintings, and the gesture still (mistakenly) conveys a negative meaning.

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