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Fast facts


Photo
Illustration by Mike Padilla
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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Things you always never wanted to know

  • A freak birth was considered an ominous warning by the diviners of ancient Rome. From the Latin monere ("to warn"), they got monstrum ("divine warning of ill omen"), from which our word "monster" is derived.

  • Some 19 centuries ago, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinus Secundus) recognized earthquake warnings that today's geophysicists also keep an eye out for: foreshock, turbidit in wells and frightened birds. Pliny also listed an anomalous "fog" in an otherwise clear sky, an idea that only now is catching on as a valid signal.

  • In 1868, during the early days of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, engineers stopped trains to allow passengers the opportunity to leave the cars and shoot at passing buffalo.

  • The electric self-starter, which was perfected in 1911 by Charles F. Kettering, made it possible for women to drive without the companion previously needed for cranking the engine.

  • Norman Thomas, six-time Socialist Party candidate for U.S. president, never pulled more than 884,000 popular votes in one election, but his influence on American political and social thought was widely influential. Among the reforms he championed that were later enacted were unemployment compensation and old age pensions.

  • Sir Henry Morgan was the captain of ships that sailed the Spanish Main searching for plunder in the 17th century. He found it on the high seas and in cities of Cuba, Venezuela and Panama. Yet, when called a pirate in print, Morgan sued for libel and won. A London jury awarded him 200 francs for defamation of character.

  • Because of his spindly arms and legs, the satirist Alexander Pope was described as a "crazy little carcass" of a man. To keep his miniature body erect, he wore stiff canvas. To swell his pin-sized legs to something approaching normal, he wore three pairs of stockings.

  • Male embryos, fetuses and babies have a higher incidence of morbidity than females. Correspondingly, there is a higher rate of language disability among boys than girls.


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