Little Known Facts
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Atlas Fun Facts:

When it comes to facts, you really can not count on the official sources or references. For example, according to Dr. Harvey Einbinder, the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is considered to be the leading general reference work in the English language and touted as The Reference Standard of the World has over 600 errors in one edition. And let's not blame just EB, here are some great wrong facts that are preserved in almost any Atlas!

  • The Canary Islands are misnamed: The Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa are misnamed. The Romans called them Canariae Insulai, which means dog islands. They used this name because of the many canines they found there. But for centuries people have mistakenly believed the islands were named for the canary bird. In fact, the canary bird, also found on these islands, gets its name from the Latin Canaria, pertaining to the dog.

  • Greenland: The largest island in the world, got its name not because it has lush green fields which the name implies, but rather because people were purposely misled to believe that it had greenery, or good place to grow crop to make a good living. Viking explorers called the frozen island in the Arctic Circle Greenland to attract settlers, who otherwise might have been scared off. However, only the coastal area turns green and even this greening occurs solely during Greenland's brief summer. But long after the Vikings had passed and their subterfuge had been discovered, the erroneous label remained as the island's official name.

  • West Indies: The islands that today constitute the West Indies got their name from Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly called the area Indies because he thought that they were part of the Indies island of Asia.

  • Cleveland: The largest city in Ohio, one of the leading industrial centers of the United States, was founded in 1796 by a surveyor for the Connecticut Land Company. His name was Moses Cleaveland, and a village formed on the site he had surveyed along the southern shore of Lake Erie was named after him. But in 1831 a newspaper printer misspelled the name, dropping the a from Cleaveland. The village now grown into a city has been known as Cleveland -without the a- every since. Interestingly, residents of Cleveland lovingly refer to their city as the mistake by the lake, but not necessarily because of the typographical error.

More Fun Facts:

The expletive, "Holy Toledo," refers to Toledo, Spain, which became an outstanding Christian cultural center in 1085.

The idiom "pillar of salt" means to have a stroke, or to become paralyzed and dead.

The last thing to happen is the ultimate. The next-to-last is the penultimate, and the second-to-last is the antepenultimate.

The phrase "raining cats and dogs" originated in 17th Century England. During heavy downpours of rain, many of these poor animals unfortunately drowned and their bodies would be seen floating in the rain torrents that raced through the streets. The situation gave the appearance that it had literally rained "cats and dogs" and led to the current expression.

The phrase "sleep tight" originated when mattresses were set upon ropes woven through the bed frame. To remedy sagging ropes, one would use a bed key to tighten the rope.

The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.

The plastic things on the end of shoelaces are called aglets.

The ridges on the sides of coins are called reeding or milling.

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.

The side of a hammer is a cheek.

The symbol on the "pound" key (#) is called an octothorpe.

The term "devil's advocate" comes from the Roman Catholic Church. When deciding if someone should be sainted, a devil's advocate is always appointed to give an alternative view.

The term "dog days" has nothing to do with dogs. It dates back to Roman times, when it was believed that Sirius, the Dog Star, added its heat to that of the sun from July 3 to August 11, creating exceptionally high temperatures. The Romans called the period dies canicular, or "days of the dog."

The term "honeymoon" is derived from the Babylonians who declared mead, a honey-flavored wine, the official wedding drink, stipulating that the bride's parents be required to keep the groom supplied with the drink for the month following the wedding.

The term "throw one's hat in the ring" comes from boxing, where throwing a hat into the ring once signified a challenge. Today it nearly always signifies political candidacy.

The term "the whole 9 yards" came from W.W.II fighter pilots in the South Pacific. When arming their airplanes on the ground, the .50 caliber machine gun ammo belts measured exactly 27 feet, before being loaded into the fuselage. If the pilots fired all their ammo at a target, it got "the whole 9 yards."

The term, "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" is from Ancient Rome. The only rule during wrestling matches was, "No eye gouging." Everything else was allowed, but the only way to be disqualified is to poke someone's eye out.

The two lines that connect your top lip to the bottom of your nose are known as the philtrum.

The white part of your fingernail is called the lunula.

The ZIP in Zip-code stands for "Zoning Improvement Plan."

Theodore Roosevelt was the only U.S. president to deliver an inaugural address without using the word "I". Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower tied for second place, using "I" only once in their inaugural addresses.

A "Blue Moon" is the second full moon in a calendar month (it is rarely blue).

A ghost writer pens an anonymous book.

A poem written to celebrate a wedding is called an epithalamium.

A speleologist studies caves.

Anagrams amused the ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews, and were popular during the Middle Ages.

Ballistics is the science that deals with the motion of projectiles.

Cannibalism, eating human flesh, is also called anthropophagy.

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."

DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleicacid.

In 1945 a computer at Harvard malfunctioned and Grace Hopper, who was working on the computer, investigated, found a moth in one of the circuits and removed it. Ever since, when something goes wrong with a computer, it is said to have a bug in it.

In the 19th century, craftsmen who made hats were known to be excitable and irrational, as well as to tremble with palsy and mix up their words. Such behavior gave rise to the familiar expression "mad as a hatter". The disorder, called hatter's shakes, was caused by chronic mercury poisoning from the solution used to treat the felt. Attacking the central nervous system, the toxin led to behavioral symptoms.

In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling.

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, and purple.

Oddly, no term existed for "homosexuality" in ancient Greece - there were only a variety of expressions referring to specific homosexual roles. According to several linguists, the word "homosexual" was not coined until 1869 by the Hungarian physician Karoly Maria Benkert.

Poor whites in Florida and Georgia are called "crackers." They got the name from their principal staple food, cracked corn.

The "O" when used as a prefix in Irish surnames means "descendant of."

The "y" in signs reading "ye olde.." is properly pronounced with a "th" sound, not "y". The "th" sound does not exist in Latin, so ancient Roman occupied (present day) England used the rune "thorn" to represent "th" sounds. With the advent of the printing press the character from the Roman alphabet which closest resembled thorn was the lower case "y".

The ancient Romans built such an excellent system of roads that the saying arose "all roads lead to Rome," that is, no matter which road one starts a journey on, he will finally reach Rome if he keeps on traveling. The popular saying came to mean that all ways or methods of doing something end in the same result, no method being better than another.

The correct response to the Irish greeting, "Top of the morning to you," is "and the rest of the day to yourself."

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