WINTER SOLSTICE IS COMING! (JUNE 21, 2022, 09:13 UTC.)

photo by astronaut Scott Kelly

No, really: for half the earth, the Winter Solstice will begin June 21, 09:13 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).  The winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the sun as the days get progressively longer again—and that’s always worth celebrating!  Ceremonies and rituals include purification, ritual sacrifice, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving

Oceania

The Australian Aboriginal community is thought to have been the first to celebrate the winter solstice, starting as much as 65,000 years ago. About 11,000 years ago, humans in Wathaurong created the Wurdi Youang rock formation, which maps sun positions on the Equinoxes and the Summer and Winter Solstices.

Wurdi Youang stones near Ballarat in Victoria
Wurdi Youang stones near Ballarat in Victoria
2012 Dark Mofo Festival
2012 Dark Mofo Festival

For a chilly celebration, Australians join the nude solstice swim in Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin. Participants strip down and enjoy (?) a swim in waters where temperatures are below zero-degrees. (A cold front in Canberra has caused exceptionally cold temperatures this year, making that nude dip extra refreshing!)

Aotearoa Stonehenge

Elsewhere in the region, people in Tasmania celebrate for weeks, from 6 to 23 June this year. In Hobart, the capital city, the Dark Mofo Festival includes music and theater performances, art exhibits, and more. 

Māori Matariki parade
Māori Matariki parade

In New Zealand’s Māori tradition, the Matariki celebration commemorates and signals the triumph of light over darkness.  Events often take place at Aotearoa Stonehenge, a modern adaptation of Britain’s Stonehenge. This year, New Zealanders will celebrate Matariki as an official public holiday for the first time, following Māori customs of remembering the dead and celebrating the living.

Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
(photo by AfricanObserver)
Eswatini warriors dancing Incwala
Eswatini warriors dancing Incwala

The Eswatini of Swaziland mark the Winter Solstice with a six-day celebration of kingship called Incwala. Young men, at the direction of the king, cut branches of the lusekwane and imbondvo shrubs, which elders use to build a sanctuary hut for the king.

After days of dancing, feasting, and feats of prowess, the entire community spends a day in fasting and abstinence, including foregoing wearing jewelry, bathing, shaking hands, and sitting on chairs or mats. The elders and the king burn sacrificial objects to symbolize the ending of the old year. The king then remains in seclusion and abstinence for a month.

Umkhosi Wokweshwama in 2017
Umkhosi Wokweshwama in 2017

The Zulu celebration Umkhosi Wokweshwama (“First Fruits“) focuses more directly on the harvest. The king tastes the fruits brought from all over the country and then smashes a calabash to invite everyone to join him in feasting. Harvesting or eating before the king is a sign of disrespect. Young men of the king’s retinue sacrifice a black bull, killing it without any weapons.

British colonial authorities outlawed the Umkhosi Wokweshwama, but King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu revived the festival in 1990.

South America

Incan Empire Winter Solstice traditions are still celebrated throughout much of eastern South America. Inti Raymi (“Festival of the Sun God Inti“) festivals occur annually in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Inti Raymi celebrations in Peru
Inti Raymi celebrations in Peru

One of the biggest Inti Raymi celebrations takes place in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, in modern-day Peru. The festival begins with a reenactment of appeasing Inti in the center of Cusco.

Historically, the Incas fasted for three days before the solstice. Before dawn on the fourth day, they went to a ceremonial plaza and waited for the sunrise. When it appeared, they crouched down before it, offering golden cups of chicha (a sacred beer made from fermented corn). Animals—including llamas—were sacrificed during the ceremony, and the Incas used a mirror to focus the sun’s rays and kindle a fire.

After the recreation of the ancient sacrificial rites, the modern celebration continues into the city where dancers dressed in colorful traditional attire march through the narrow streets and plazas. Festivities last for days and concerts continue late into the winter night.

Inti Raymi celebrations in Ecuador
Inti Raymi celebrations in Ecuador

The Ingapirca complex is the largest set of Inca ruins in Ecuador. Here, ceremonies begin as the rising sun shines through the doorway to the Temple of the Sun. Each year nearly 10,000 visitors travel to Ingapirca to witness the coming of the new agricultural year and join the festival.

In Ecuador, ritual purification in springs and rivers is an important component of the Inti Raymi celebration. It is believed to revitalize spiritual energy and their relationship with Pachamama. Members of the indigenous community in Otavalo begin the festivities with a spiritual renewal at the nearby waterfalls at midnight. The celebrations continue with a grand march into the main plaza where members of the community and visitors sing and dance for several days.

Wilkakuti celebrations in Argentina
Wilkakuti celebrations in Argentina

In Bolivia, northern Chile, and southern Peru, the winter solstice (Willkakuti) marks the New Year for the Aymara People and is a time to celebrate and bless the land for bountiful harvests. More than thirty thousand people gather every year to welcome the sun at dawn. This June 2022 marks the 5,530th year of the Aymara culture. 

Sun Gate at Tiahuanaco
Sun Gate at Tiahuanaco

At Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia, ceremonies start the day before the Solstice, when pilgrims travel to Quimsa Chata and Aymara priests make offerings to Pachamama, the Earth Goddess. On the as the first rays of sunlight pass through the Sun Gate to the east of the Temple of Kalasaya, celebrants raise their hands to the dawning rays. 

Celebrants offer food and other sacrifices to Inti and Pachamama to bring fertility and prosperity during the start of the new agricultural period. Festivities continue throughout the night, with lots of dancing, eating, and drinking of a warm grape liquor known as signani to stay warm.

Antarctica

Even Antarctica gets its share of solstice celebration, thanks to the researchers staying there over the long, dangerously cold season. While the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying the most daylight hours, in the Southern Hemisphere they are celebrating Midwinter. Festivities include special meals, films, and sometimes even handmade gifts.

Bottom Line: Since ancient times, people all over the world have recognized the winter solstice as an important annual occurrence and have celebrated the subsequent “return” of the sun in a variety of ways. 

A SACRED STONE

Stone lingam and yoni pedestal found in Cát Tiên, Vietnam, circa 8th century

I recently bought a smooth, elliptical stone in shades of mahogany and taupe.  Since I was in pre-school, I’ve been picking up stones, and I have several plates and bowls of them around the house. Larger stones decorate my garden. I could not resist such an interesting looking and fabulous feeling stone.

This is the second stone I purchased at Crafts Without Borders in Connecticut. This time, I was moved to learn more about it.

Zarwani Waterfall on the River Narmada

Shiva Lingam Stones

These are Shiva Lingam stones, natural stones from the bed of the Narmada River, one of the seven sacred rivers of India. These stones are river-tumbled to a smooth surface. No two stones are alike. 

Also known as Namadeshwar Lingam, these stones are said to have sprung from the body of Lord Shiva. According to Britannica, “lingam, लिङ्ग (Sanskrit: “sign” or “distinguishing symbol”) also spelled linga, in Hinduism, a votary object that symbolizes the god Shiva and is revered as an emblem of generative power. The lingam appears in Shaivite temples and in private shrines throughout India.”  People bring offerings of milk, water, fresh flowers, young sprouts of grass, fruit, leaves, and sun-dried rice.  

My Shiva Lingam

My stones are shaped like elongated eggs. The egg represents the female and the male principle.

Lingam from Angkor period on display at the National Museum of Cambodia. Discovered in Battambang Province (Cambodia), made of bronze, quartz, and silver

This stone is jasper, which consists of chalcedony, opal, and quartz.  It provides protection, grounding the body and boosting overall energy. 

Meaning of Shiva Lingam

These stones first caught my attention because of the way they look and feel, but they have a much deeper meaning and history than that.

According to mystonemeaning.com, “People involved in finding water and springs can carry this stone. Shiva Lingam Stone brings courage to resolve conflicts and problems with determination. It helps us think faster, organize better, and turn ideas into action. In this way, we manage to fulfil our obligations.

A 5th-century Mukha-linga (with face)

“When in a relationship, this stone can enhance a sense of intimacy and closeness. Shiva Lingam Stone provides support if you are suffering from a chronic illness or are hospitalized. This stone is great for all those who have problems with blood circulation, digestive tract and reproductive organs. It can balance the mineral content of our body.

Eight faced Shivlingam in Pashupatinath Temple at MandsaurMadhya Pradesh

Shiva Lingam Stone is associated with Earth. It helps us connect with our environment and raise awareness about ecology. Thanks to this stone, we can meditate deeply and discover the karmic causes of all the problems in our lives. Shiva Lingam strengthens the immune system and cleanses toxins from the body.

“Unlike other stones that act on individual chakras, Shiva Lingam acts on all chakras equally. This stone can awaken kundalini energy. We can find kundalini energy in the root chakra, at the base of the spine. The kundalini is wrapped seven times and runs upward. When we stimulate kundalini energy, the chakras gradually open and release through the crown chakra.”

Sphatika (quartz) lingams in the Shri Parkasheshwar Mahadev Temple, Dehradun

Incorporating Shiva Linga in the home is auspicious and virtuous to the family. I’ll keep you posted!

Bottom Line: If you believe in the power of stones, Shiva Lingam’s got you covered.

Behind the Silver Screen

from The Muppet Movie

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and cinephile.

If you’re like me, reading a book is like watching a film inside your head. Casting is entirely up to your imagination, there’s no need for stunt doubles, and the special effects budget is unlimited. It even comes in Smell-O-Vision, which is not always fun.

To learn more about how a writer’s mental movie is translated into a box office hit, I spoke with Sean Williams, a film producer, director, actor, and writer. Williams recently graduated George Mason University, where he directed No Endings, winner of the 2022 Mason Film Festival award for Best Horror/Thriller Film.

Sight and Sound

Alfred Hitchcock said, “A lot of writers think they’re filling the page with words, but they’re filling the screen with images.”

Every writing teacher’s favorite bit of advice seems to be “Show, Don’t Tell.” That is even more true on film than in prose. A film writer must convey everything to the audience entirely through visual or audio input. The sense of dread, nauseating smells, motion sickness, feeling hungry, nostalgia, and every other part of the story must be either seen or heard.

Star Wars: A New Hope provides exposition through the use of an opening title.

Screenwriters have lots of techniques they can use to provide background information. Voice-over narration, overheard radio or television broadcasts, shots of newspaper headlines, letters, text messages all provide exposition.

Here are some great examples of exposition written into the screen play:

Diegetic Media: Text messages are displayed on screen in BBC’s Sherlock, letting the audience know what off-screen characters are doing.
  • The audience learns about flying broomsticks and magical racing by overhearing a group of children exclaiming about “the new Nimbus 2000; it’s the fastest broom ever!” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • The narrator’s voiceover in A Christmas Story explains why he hates his gift of fuzzy rabbit pajamas so much: “I knew that for at least two years, I would have to wear them every time Aunt Clara visited us. I just hoped that Flick would never spot them, as word of this humiliation could easily make life at Warren G Harding School a veritable hell.”
  • Characters in The Office and Deadpool frequently “break the fourth wall” by directly addressing the audience to explain their motivations or provide further information.

Sir Terry Pratchett included lots of footnotes in his novels, often providing extra jokes or humorous observations. In the screen adaptation of Wyrd Sisters, this footnote is shifted to a dialogue between two characters.

Writers for the screen use a variety of techniques give the audience necessary information without background essays. Writers of short stories, novels, memoirs, etc. can make use of some of these techniques to “show, not tell” the story.

Simplification

When moving from page to screen (or stage). writers must keep in mind the attention span of the viewer. A reader who forgets the details of military supply trains in War and Peace can just flip back a few pages, but it’s a bit more difficult for a film or TV audience.

Simplified Plot

Even without Tom Bombadil, the film adaptation of Fellowship of the Rings was nearly three hours long.

Remember the Mafia in Jaws? How about the romance between Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes? The controversy around Project 100,000 in the Vietnam War as experienced by Forrest Gump?

There are lots of reasons to cut subplots from a film adaptation. The running time might not allow for it. Corporate or government sponsors might require controversial themes to be removed. It might just be a case of special effects or budget constraints.

Simplified Characters

Many film adaptations don’t include all the characters in the source material. They might clutter the screen, they might be too difficult to film, they might simply be another name and face that the audience would have to remember.

Screen writers might shift a cut character’s dialogue to another character, or they might remove it altogether.

Often, screen writers will combine similar characters for the sake of clarity. Michael Green’s adaptation of Death on the Nile has many such changes. Apart from the murderers, the murdered, and Hercules Poirot, nearly every character from the original Agatha Christie novel is combined with another character or removed altogether.

Glinda, Ruler of the Quadling Country and Tattypoo, Good Witch of the North, merged into one character in the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz film.

One could argue that the same principles apply when writing any sort of fiction. Short stories certainly have a finite number of characters and sub-plots they can include before they are no longer “short.” At what point does including or omitting details in a non-fiction work change it to a work of fiction? The question of whether to include or cut, develop or combine characters and themes is ultimately down to the writer.

Beyond Words

Film editors, CGI artists, composers, costume designers, set designers, directors, actors, and hosts of others contribute to the final creation of a film that an audience sees. The screenplay is only one component of the finished product.

Editing

Consider the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkinland. There is no dialogue. The editor created a transition shot showing the change from the sepia-toned farmhouse to the full-color world of Oz.

Costumes

Amy Westcott, costume designer for the 2010 film Black Swan, dressed the main character all in white and pink during choreography and classroom scenes. This illustrates the character’s naivety as well as drawing the audience’s immediate focus. Character development is reflected in the gradual darkening of the costume, demonstrating internal conflict without a single word being spoken.

Music

The score composer(s) are responsible for a huge part of an audience’s emotional involvement in a film. The ominous Jaws theme by John Williams (no relation), the Moonlight score that “splits the difference between classical and codeine” by Nicholas Britell, the iconic music establishing time periods in Forrest Gump all tell a huge part of the story beyond the visual.

Other unspoken storytelling devices Sean Williams suggests

The opening scenes of Up illustrate the main character’s relationship, career, heartbreak, and slide into depression entirely without dialogue.
  • The camera panning along a series of family photographs with fewer and fewer people, showing a character’s increasing isolation
  • Focus on a clock face, burned down candle stubs, or an overflowing ashtray to demonstrate the passage of time
  • Camera angles above or below eye level to demonstrate the relative importance, ego, or intimidation of a character
  • Distorting and muffling background sounds to reflect a character’s disorientation
  • Changing color palettes to take advantage of humans’ hard-wired responses to red (danger), blue (calm), etc.
  • Adjusting camera focus to draw audience attention to foreground, background, or in between

Ultimately, this must come from the directors, editors, actors, composers, lighting specialists, sound editors, etc., etc., etc…. The screenplay is really just the beginning.

Prose writers may not be able to include fantastic music or ambient colors, but there are other tools available. Point of view shifts, chapter divisions, physical descriptions, and sensory details (beyond sight and sound) can all be used to direct a reader’s attention.

Sean Williams gave me a lot more information about writing for the screen, but I’m afraid I’d need about four years to learn what he covered over the course of his degree. For more details, check out George Mason University or The Los Angeles Film School.

THUMBS: THE MULTIPURPOSE DIGIT

One can live a full, long life without thumbs, but it is/would be mighty inconvenient! Thumbs are hard working digits.  They are needed for power moves (lifting and moving weight), for fine motor control of all sorts, and for numerous activities in between. Ancient Romans thought the thumb held sway over the other fingers; in fact, the Latin word for thumb, pollex, may be a derivative of the word for power, pollet. Consider the following common activities:

The kalimba is played almost entirely with the thumbs.
  • Write with a pen or pencil
  • Put on jewelry
  • Paint
  • Put on socks
  • Open a door with a doorknob
  • Brush/comb hair
  • Button a shirt or blouse
  • Play basketball, baseball, most other ball games
  • Tie a bow/shoe lace
  • Tie off a balloon
  • Play most musical instruments
  • Tie a knot
Most important of all – making thumbprint cookies!
  • Drink from glass, cup, or mug
  • Seal a zip-lock bag
  • Pull up a zipper
  • Pick up something small from a flat surface
  • Snap or un-snap a closure
  • Manipulate chopsticks
  • Eat with a fork, spoon, or knife
  • Wield a toothbrush
  • Open jars/bottles
  • Use a needle and thread
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Clearly, thumbs are hard working digits. (You heard it here first!)

But wait! There’s more!

Thumbs for Identification

Finger and Thumb Prints of Al Capone
  • Everything that applies to fingerprints applies to thumbs. Your prints are set three months before birth.
  • They are virtually unique. No two are the identical, not for the two thumbs of the same person and not for identical twins.
  • They are durable over one’s lifetime, making them useful as long-term identifiers of criminals and dead bodies. 
    • Any injury that goes beneath the outer layers of the skin can affect the thumbprint.
    • Thumbprints can be temporarily scarred by cuts, abrasion, acid, or certain skin diseases, but thumbprints lost this way will grow back within a month.
  • With age, the skin on your thumbs is less elastic and the ridges thicker.
  • Voters mark ballots with a thumbprint in many countries where large portions of the population don’t read
  • A thumbprint can be used as a legal signature if the print is done in the presence of a Notary Public and is witnessed by two people who are not affected by the document, who also sign the document.
  • The Registration Act of 1908 in the Indian state of Maharashtra specified a print of the left thumb.
  • By custom and convention, the left thumb mark of a man and the right thumb print of a woman are used
  • Sometimes thumbs alone can be used to access print-controlled locks
    • i.e., sorting those who are allowed access from those who are not.


Thumbs for Communication 

Professor Albert Mehrabian has estimated that, when a speaker’s verbal and nonverbal communication don’t match, listeners only get a fraction of their information from words. The rest is comprised of paralanguage (tone, speed, “delivery”) and body language: posture, facial expressions, proximity, touch, and gestures.  So what are your thumbs saying? It depends on where you are, what you’re doing—and when!

Thumbs Up

Wikipedia has an extensive discussion of the possible origins of the gesture (pre-flight checks, archers testing bow strength, seal business transactions, etc.). Regardless of origin, the meanings are numerous. Here is a not-exhaustive list.

  • In the U.S., this is generally positive, indicating success, good wishes, agreement, etc.  
  • In the Middle East, it means “up your butt.” Many, perhaps most, Latin Americans consider it offensive, as do people in West Africa, Greece, Russia, Sardinia, southern Italy, Australia, the Philippines, and many Islamic nations. 
  • In Germany and parts of Japan, it simply means the number one. 
  • The hitchhiker’s thumb: thumb out, fingers curled, arm out meaning I want a lift. 
  • A similar gesture made toward a door means get out of here.
  • When scuba diving, thumbs up means ascend.
  • Two thumbs up means jump ball in basketball.
  • In baseball, an umpire’s thumb over the shoulder signals an out.
The A-OK
Scuba diver signaling that all equipment works during pre-dive checks

Touching the index finger to the thumb while remaining fingers remain upright.

  • It’s considered a positive gesture, meaning all okay here in the U.S.
  • The same gesture means all is well in scuba diving 
  • In Brazil, it’s like giving someone the finger
  • It’s vulgar in Greece and Turkey and implies that the person receiving the sign is gay
  • It’s the evil eye in some Middle Eastern countries
Thumbing One’s Nose
Joseph Stalin, 1940

Called “cocking a snook” in Britain, thumb your nose by touching your thumb to the tip of your nose, with fingers curled or open and wiggling. This is often accompanied by jeering, crossing eyes, or sticking out the tongue. It is a gesture of ridicule in most of the world.

Eric Ambler in 1938 wrote, “The Rome–Berlin axis…cocked the biggest snook yet at the League of Nations idea” in Cause for Alarm.

Experts (5 year old neighbors) agree that this gesture is most effective when accompanied by chanting, “na-na na-na na-na!”

The Cutis

Put the tip of your thumb in to your lips while the rest of the fingers are straight up (or sometimes curled). Then the the thumb is flicked out while vocalizing “Cutta!” (Screw you!). It’s an insult to the target and to the target’s entire family. The cutis is used mostly in India and Pakistan.

In American Sign Language, this gesture means “mom.”

Bite One’s Thumb

This gesture was famously used by Shakespeare as one of the insults used by Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet. Italians used the gesture as an insult for centuries before Shakespeare came around. There is some evidence that it had spread to England by the time of Romeo and Juliet’s production, but it was uncommon enough that Shakespeare included an explanation for why it was an insult.

The Fig

Hand is curled into  a loose fist with the tip of the thumb sticking out between the index and middle fingers. 

  • In the U.S., Canada, and Australia, this gesture is part of game often played with babies.
  • In American Sign Language, this is the gesture used for the letter T. 
  • It is insulting in Turkey, Indonesia, Italy, India, and some other Asian countries. 
  • In Ancient Rome, the head of the family would make this sign to fend off evil spirits during the Lemuria Festival.

In the Roman Arena

Pollice Verso by French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1872)

Myth: In Ancient Rome, a thumbs-down meant the gladiator should die. Wrong! This painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (above) is most likely responsible for the popularity of this myth. The title means “Turned Thumbs,” a reference to the gesture being made by the crowd.

The Médaillon de Cavillargues (c 200AD) shows a gladiator referee gesturing with a sideways thumb.

Fact: Gladiator referees used a variety of gestures and signs to communicate with crowds, and gladiators didn’t often fight to the death. (Training a gladiator was incredibly expensive, and all the trainers, investors, sponsors, coordinators, etc. would have been quite upset if all their hard work was left to bleed out on the Coliseum sand. Death from injury, sepsis, or heatstroke was more common.)

Anthony Corbeill, a Latin professor at UVA, has written a whole book on ancient body language: Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome. Hand gestures evolved and changed in meaning throughout the centuries and from place to place, but here are some common Coliseum gestures:

  • Pollices premere (thumb up) – raising weapons, attack
  • Pollices verso (turned thumb) – weapons down, submit, begin
    • Historians aren’t sure whether this meant turned to the side or turned down
  • Pollice compresso (pressed thumb) – sheathe weapons, bout over, pause
    • This might mean the thumb pressing the other fingers or being pressed by the other fingers
  • Waving handkerchiefs or shouting

Sign Language

Sign language interpreters from different countries during a project meeting with Spreadthesign
ASL “water”

Sign language: a system of communication using visual gestures and signs, typically used by/with deaf people. There are more than 300 different sign languages in use around the world. Almost all of them are highly dependent on thumbs! 

Increasingly, educators have adapted sign languages for use by very young children and non-verbal students. Many sign languages can be modified to suit the physical needs of the user, including creating two-handed signs with one hand, adjusting the size or speed of a movement, or changing which fingers are moved. Sometimes, this even includes not using the thumbs at all!


Bottom line: thumbs are incredibly important and deserve more attention and appreciation that they usually are granted!

HOW CLEAN IS CLEAN ENOUGH?

Balneological custom depends on when you live, where you live, how long you live, what you do for a living, and the seasons!

When You Live(d)

The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival that includes ritual river bathing.

If you lived in ancient India, you likely engaged in elaborate practices for personal hygiene with three daily baths and washing. These are recorded in the grihya sutras, covering domestic rituals and are still in practice today in some communities.

If you lived in China during the Chou Dynasty, you likely bathed outside, weather permitting. However, if you lived in a Chinese city during the Song Dynasty, you were likely to wash your hands and face before eating and to visit a public bathhouse several times a week.

Infant Buddha bathing
From Gandhara (circa 2nd century)

If you were a Buddhist monk in ancient Vietnam or Laos, you would have bathed frequently, sometimes daily, for religious reasons. However, if you were a Benedictine monk at Westminster Abbey, you would have been required to bathe only four times a year: on Easter, at the end of June, at the end of September, and on Christmas, according to monastic rules (though the Abbey employed a bath attendant year-round).

A German knight bathing
From the Manesse Codex, circa 1300

If you lived in Europe during the early part of the Middle Ages, you likely would have used a public bathhouse to spend quality time with your family, have a nice meal, meet your neighbors, and possibly even petition local officials. And if you lived during the 1340s-1350s and worried that open pores could allow illness to enter your body, you would likely have believed that dirt all over your skin would block disease. You would actually think bathing bad for your health because it opened pores, which led to sickness.

The Catholic Church has gone back and forth on bathing, sometimes linking physical and spiritual cleanliness and sometimes linking nudity and hellfire.

If you lived in Europe shortly after the Crusades, you are more likely to have engaged in a variation of the Turkish hammam and used soaps and perfumes brought back from Jerusalem.

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!”
Narrenbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner, 1512

The ancient Irish bathed daily, sometimes multiple times a day. With the spread of Christianity in Ireland in the 5th and 6th centuries, societal norms shifted to match the current Church customs in Rome: bathing only a few times a year.

It wasn’t until the time of the American Civil War, and the acceptance of germ theory of disease, that bathing became associated with health in Western medicine. 

In the early 1900’s, a typical Saturday night ritual involved American family members hauling loads of water into the kitchen, heating it, then filling a bath. Usually, the oldest/father of the family bathed first, followed by the mother, then the children in birth order, with the youngest last. Maybe this practice gave rise to “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”

Where You Live

A sweat bath: illumination from Peter of EboliDe Balneis Puteolanis (“The Baths of Pozzuoli“)

“Daily showering is a more cultural phenomenon than medical necessity,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital. 

If you believe YaHoo! Life, “Americans have long had a reputation for a “squeaky clean” devotion to hygiene that fuels a $3.1 billion body soap industry, yet recent studies show that Americans are actually quite average when compared to how often people shower worldwide.”

Among people who shower every day, Mexicans and Australians led, followed by Americans and the French. Brits, Russians, Swedes and Germans averaged less, with Chinese the least frequent.

Takaragawa Onsen

If you live in an area where the geography lends itself to hot springs, geothermal vents, and readily available water and fuel for heating water, you are more likely to bathe frequently. Japan’s natural hot springs (onsen, more than 27,000 by some estimates) are used for nearly daily bathing, with some research indicating a link between frequent soaking and longevity. Dense forests provide fuel to heat Finnish saunas and Iroquois sweat lodges, both used for physical and mental health as well as bathing.

Himba woman wearing a paste of hematite, sap, and butter

If you live in an area where water is scarce, you are likely to employ “dry” methods of bathing. Smoke baths, in which a blanket or tent is positioned above a fire of Commiphora wood to trap smoke around the bather’s skin, are effective means of killing bacteria and any bugs on the body or clothing. Oil or fat smeared on and scraped off the skin removes dirt and bacteria as well as protecting the skin from the elements. Pastes made with antibacterial herbs, clay, bark, and scented ingredients serve two purposes: they protect skin from sun, wind, or cold when applied and remove dirt when wiped off after drying.

If you live in an area crowded with other people, you are more likely to bathe frequently and often communally. Turkish hammam, Swiss health spas, Roman thermae, even medieval European bathhouses took advantage of shared resources (such as heat from baking ovens used to heat water) and were visited by groups of friends or neighbors. On the whole, bathing is less frequent in more sparsely populated areas.

Societies with a tradition of communal bathing tend to view a visit to the bathhouse as necessary for social and mental health in addition to physical hygiene. Russian banyas and Turkish hammam are places for meeting neighbors. Swedish and Japanese onsen are used for mental health and relaxation as much as removing dirt from the skin. Taiwanese hot springs and Mexican temazcal serve medicinal roles and are often staffed by medical professionals. The Finnish House of Parliament has a sauna where elected representatives can discuss legislation and issues of the day.

How Long You Live

Children
“Eskimo children bathing in Bering Sea”
c1905 FH Nowell

Bathing recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic depend on your child’s age. Dr. Tamburro suggests these general guidelines:

  • Babies, toddlers and little kids should spend some quality time in the tub two to three times per week. Their delicate skin doesn’t need daily cleansing, but it’s OK to get out the bath toys more often if your child gets dirty or has a messy diaper situation.
    • Speaking of tub toys, make sure they’re non-toxic and don’t have the potential to harbor, mold, fungus, and bacteria.
  • Older kids ages 6-11 should hit the bath two or three times per week, at a minimum. More showers are in order when they get muddy, sweaty or stinky.
  • Tweens and teens should shower daily. (Their newly stinky pits will probably clue you in when it’s time to step up their hygiene game.) They should also wash their face twice a day.  In addition, many teenagers are physically active, and showers are a good idea after strenuous sports events or practices, including swimming, working out, and other physical activities.
Older People/Seniors
  • To avoid any skin conditions or infections, a senior should bathe at least once or twice a week. 
  • Some elderly people may suffer from dementia, and they may have more toilet mishaps. Obviously, this means more frequent baths and showers to avoid infections.
Adults in General 

It may sound counterproductive, but a shower every day could be bad for your skin. Some dermatologists only recommend a shower every other day, or two to three times a week.  If you shower too much it can lead to discomfort, and you may experience:

After the Bath
c1898 by WB Davidson
  • Itching
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Flare-ups of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
  • Dry, brittle hair

Although fewer showers may improve skin health, you should still keep your personal hygiene in mind.  If you go too long between showers you may experience

  • Increased body odor
  • Acne
  • Flare-ups of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis
  • Skin infections
  • Areas of dark or discolored skin
  • in extreme cases, dermatitis neglecta, thick patches of scaly skin

What You Do for a Living

Hydropathic applications according to Claridge’s Hydropathy book

People who work at desk jobs and spend most of their time indoors have the same bathing needs as adults in general. However, those who work with dangerous substances, animals, or in any jobs that people consider to be unhygienic may feel the need to bathe more often.

  • Janitor
  • Exterminator
  • Miner
  • Garbage collector
  • Butcher
  • People who work with corrosive materials, dangerous chemicals, disease agents, and radioactive materials need to shower at the end of each of their shifts.
  • Horticulturalists, arborists, amateur gardeners, and anyone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors around a variety of plants can reduce their risk of rashes and other skin injuries by showering as soon as they come indoors. on.
  • Athletes—anyone—whose job requires intense physical exertion.

Seasons and Weather

Home Bathing
by Kusakabe Kimbei

Guidance for better bathing during seasonal differences and changing weather are included in other categories and won’t be repeated here.

Health Line offers tips to bathe correctly and protect your skin.

  • Only take one shower a day (every other day, if possible). On days that you don’t shower, give yourself a sponge bath. Wash your face, armpits, and groin with a washcloth.
  • Don’t shower in hot water. Use warm water, instead.
  • Limit showers to 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Use a gentle soap or cleanser, and thoroughly rinse off soap before exiting the shower.
  • Don’t rub your skin with a towel. Blot skin dry to retain moisture.
  • Avoid cleansers and soaps with fragrances or deodorants. These products can irritate your skin.
  • Apply moisturizer to your skin after each shower or bath

Related Matters

Turkish hammam
  • Sweat doesn’t have an odor. It’s the interaction of sweat with bacteria on the skin that creates the stink.
  • Even with “good” smells, too much is never a good thing, particularly in close quarters. For example, the Richmond Symphony and Chorus ban perfume, aftershave, deodorant, etc.
  • According to the Cleveland Clinic, you probably don’t need to wash your hair every time you shower. Typically, shampooing two or three times a week will help keep your scalp healthy and hair happy.
  • Dutch study found that individuals who ended their showers with at least a 30-second blast of cold water were absent from work 29 percent less of the time than people who did not do so.
Washing before prayer (wudu) at Badshahi Mosque
Lahore, Pakistan

Bottom Line:  According to medicalnewstoday.com,  “Although showering offers physical, mental, and emotional benefits, the daily shower that many people in the U.S. are in the habit of taking is probably more than most people need. Showering dries out the skin and hair, uses natural resources, and creates an additional source of water pollution.”

For a more detailed exploration of how social norms around bathing vary throughout history and around the world, check out Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity by Virginia Smith.

FRIENDSHIPS: HIS AND HERS

Group data reveal that, in general, women’s and men’s friendships are measurably different on all sorts of dimensions. “Like what?” you might ask. Read on.

Notable Differences in Male-Male Friendships and Female-Female Friendships

As listed on PsychCentral

  • Male-male friendships are side-to-side, fostered and maintained through shared activity
  • Female-female friendships are face-to-face, fostered and maintained through intimacy, communication, and support
  • Male-male friendships are less intimate than female-female friendships
  • Male-male friendships are less fragile than female-female friendships
    • E.g., men will consider someone a friend even if they do not maintain or stay in constant contact
  • Emotional attachment: females have and desire a strong emotional attachment with persons they perceive to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to remain friends after an argument or a fight whereas women are not
  • Women require more frequent contact with someone they consider to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to use humor to taunt a friend while viewing this as innocent fun
  • Women are more likely to refrain from taunting and humor out of fear it may hurt their friends’ feelings
  • Men tend to hang out more in a group, the more the merrier, while women typically prefer to go out with one good friend

For a slightly different but compatible take, consider the findings from “Sex differences in friendship preferences,” by Keelah E.G. Williams, Jaimie Arona Krems, Jessica D. Ayers, and Ashley M. Rankin.

“Across three studies (N = 745) with U.S. participants—assessing ideal hypothetical friends, actual friends, and using a paradigm adapted from behavioral economics—we find that men, compared to women, more highly value same-sex friends who are physically formidable, possess high status, possess wealth, and afford access to potential mates. In contrast, women, compared to men, more highly value friends who provide emotional support, intimacy, and useful social information. Findings suggest that the specific friendship qualities men and women preferred differed by sex in ways consistent with a functional account of friendship.”

Abstract of “Sex differences in friendship preferences

And a few miscellaneous bits of info:

  • For both women and men, when disclosing intimate, private, or secret information, they are more likely to tell a woman
  • Men’s best friendships are considerably less close than women’s
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have a best friend (98% vs. 85%)
  • The trait of “outgoingness” was a leading factor that men, but not women, mentioned in choosing a friend
  • Men tend to prefer social interaction in groups, whereas women have a stronger preference for one-to-one interactions
  • Humor was an important characteristic for women’s best-friendships, but not for men’s
  • Neither attractiveness nor athleticism played much of a role in the best-friend choices of either men or women
  • A husband will often say his best friend is his wife; wives usually name another woman
  • Platonic friendships between women and men come with a lot of baggage: suspicion of sexual involvement, jealousy, skepticism, etc.
  • Women say they both like and love their husbands/heterosexual partners; men are more likely to report loving but not liking
    • N.B.: liking and loving are different dimensions, not simply different intensities.  There’s a whole body of psychological research on liking and loving, if you want to pursue that topic.

 BOTTOM LINE: In general, men’s and women’s friendships are significantly different. Whether men’s or women’s friendships are “better” depends on what you (or your character) wants friendship to provide. And, remember, these assertions are based on group data, meaning only group outcomes can be predicted confidently, because individuals differ from the norm.

THE BIRDS

I’m fascinated by birds both as fauna outside my window and as elements of tattoos. They are just interesting!  And because birds are ubiquitous, and noticeable, it’s no wonder people attach meaning to birds, in general and specifically. 

Composite photo of great horned owl flight phases
Art Siegel

Birds in General

Birds are widely regarded as symbols of freedom and eternity due to their ability to soar into the skies. Bird symbolism exists all over the world as part of different cultures, religions, and traditions. Birds symbolize aspects of our lives, nature, and the unknown world.  According to The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, the flight of birds leads them naturally to be seen as links—intermediaries—between heaven and earth. 

Gouro (Nuna) Hornbill Mask from Burkina Faso
photo by Roman Bonnefoy
  • In a generalized sense, birds symbolize spiritual states, angels and higher forms of being.
  • Sometimes the lightness of birds—their volatility, flitting hither and thither without aim or purpose—cause them to be seen as distractions and diversions.
  • The earliest Vedic texts show that birds, in general, were considered symbols of the friendship of the gods for mankind.
  • In the Celtic world, birds were considered to be assistants or the messengers of the gods or of the underworld.
  • Nocturnal birds are often thought to be the souls of the dead, come to wail in the dark around their old homes.
  • Ancient Egyptian tomb art depicted the soul of the dead as a bird with the head of either a man or a woman.
  • Blue and green birds served as messengers of the gods in several east Asian folk tales.
Early fifth-century BC statue of Aphrodite from Cyprus, showing her wearing a cylinder crown and holding a dove
  • In the Koran, the word “bird” is often synonymous with “fate.”
    • In Muslim tradition “green bird” is an epithet applied to a number of saints.
    • Islamic poets often use birds as symbols of the immortality of the soul.
  • It is commonly believed—and science has confirmed—birds have a language, complete with vocabulary and syntax.
  • In sub-Saharan African art, birds are frequent symbols, especially on masks. Birds symbolize strength and life, and often fertility.
  • The Yakut believe that after death, the souls of both good and evil fly to heaven in the shape of birds. 
  • Blue birds symbolize hope in Russian folk tales.

“The earliest evidence of the belief in the soul-bird is undoubtedly provided by the myth of the phoenix.”
(The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

Specific Birds 

From Ask Legit, here is a sample of common birds.

Sparrows 

In Greek mythology, the sparrow was one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Interestingly, scientists consider sparrows to be one of the most lustful birds. 

In Kent, England, a person who caught a sparrow had to kill it to prevent their parents’ death. 

In native European folklore, if a sparrow flies into someone’s house it is a sign of impending death.

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted dead sparrows, possibly for luck, possibly as a call for empathy.
See Hyperallergic

In Indonesian folklore, a sparrow flying into someone’s home symbolized good luck. If the bird built a nest in the home, it meant that a wedding would happen in the home soon. 

Ancient Egyptians considered sparrows to be soul catchers, carrying the souls of the dead to heaven.

It was a common practice for sailors to tattoo themselves with sparrow images to ensure their safe passage to heaven in case they died at sea. 

For more details, check out Owlcation’s The Meaning of Sparrows.

Eagles

Eagles are among the most commonly used animals in ancient and modern symbolism. The eagle generally represents strength, freedom, and wisdom. 

Many Native American communities considered eagles (especially the bald eagle) to be sacred animals relating to wisdom, bravery, and a connection to the spiritual realm.  Eagles’ feathers were widely used in certain religious rituals. Today, there are numerous sculptures, statues, and carvings of eagles throughout the Americas.

Harpy eagle on the Coat of Arms of Panama

In native Celtic culture, where trees were considered sacred, any animal that lived in or on trees was equally considered sacred. Thus, eagles were closely associated with three gods. 

In Mayan culture, the eagle is one of the Zodiac signs. It represents human beings who value freedom and can never be tied to a single place or person. 

In ancient Egypt, the eagle was a symbol of wisdom because it flew higher than people and was, therefore, able to see the world from a far wider perspective than humans did. 

Blue Jays

The blue jay is native to North America. It is renowned for its tenacity and determination. It is especially relentless when dealing with its enemies. 

Blue jays are known for their patience and intelligence. It has been claimed that the bird often uses strips of materials like newspaper strips as tools to get food.

The blue jay is seen to be in pairs. When they fly, the pairs keep a great distance from each other, decreasing the probability of being targeted by the enemy. 

Blue Jay, a DC Comic character

Spiritually, the bird is thought to give knowledge and memories of long-forgotten things and provides intelligence on how to use them to seize opportunities.  The blue jay symbolizes the ability to use any situation to one’s benefit. This comes from the bird’s ability to build nests in any tree or environment that suits it.

A blue jay is very aggressive and makes different varieties of loud sounds that travel over a long distances. In some cultures, having a blue jay as your totem implies that you are aggressive and, therefore, there is nothing that can stop you from defending what you consider right. 

 In certain cultures, those who have the blue jay as their spirit totem are said to be excellent in communication-related jobs such as law, public speaking, and politics. 

Variations of the Bluebird of Happiness appear in Chinese, Russian, and European folklore, but they generally do not refer to the North America blue jay.

Robins

Robins are a common sight in North America, often seen pulling earthworms off the ground. The robin is known for its end-of-winter appearance, cheery songs, and orange-colored breast. While the birds are a common sight in cities and towns, they are also at home in forests and mountains. 

Robins are famous as the quintessential early birds. 

Ancient Europeans considered the robin to be a symbol of divine sacrifice and rebirth. The robin brought happiness, change, wisdom, and happy songs. 

Several ancient Christian paintings depict the robin as Christ’s helper. It is said that the robin tried to pull off the thorns from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. 

Robin, of Batman fame, wears a costume inspired by the bird.

The robin is a symbol of nurturing young ones into adulthood. Robins are widely considered to be some of the best parents among all bird species. Seeing a robin is therefore associated with new growth in some cultures. 

In Hinduism, the red color on a robin’s chest is said to symbolize a person’s kundalini (a serpent-like force at the base of a human’s spine). When one experiences inner spiritual growth, the kundalini uncoils and moves upwards as the person’s enlightenment and awareness increase. 

Cardinal

The northern cardinal, usually just called the cardinal, is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. People usually think first of the adult male, bright red with black markings. The female is taupe and less-intensely colored.

In Ancient Rome, the cardinal was regarded as a spiritual messenger sent by those who died and went to heaven. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo meaning “hinge.” The birds are therefore seen as hinges on the doorway between heaven and earth. 

Among Native Americans, the cardinal has strong ties to other realms and, as such, acts as a messenger from the ancestors. Several southeastern tribes associated cardinals with the sun as well as with good fortune. 

In China and Japan, the cardinal is closely associated with the mythical phoenix (the bird of transformation, fire, and rebirth). The cardinal was associated with honorable rulers coming to power as well as the end of wars.  

In China, the cardinal (Red Bird) is said to stand over the southern quarter of creation and defend it from evil influences. 

Magpies
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

-Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Other Birds

I found the anqu (or anqa) intriguing, not only because it would be an awesome Scrabble word, but also because I never heard of it. 

Research led by the American Museum of Natural History suggests that there are about 18,000 bird species in the world. I’d venture to say that there is symbolism associated with most if not all of them!

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols includes entries for anqa, bustard, cock, crane, crow, cuckoo, dove, duck, eagle, falcon, grouse, homa, hoopoe, kingfisher, kite, lark, macaw, magpie, nightingale, nightjar, oriole, owl, partridge, peacock, pelican, pheasant, phoenix, pigeon, quail, roc, simurg, sparrowhawk, stork, swallow, swan, vulture, wagtail.

The supernatural Thunderbird flaps its wings to create thunder and flashes its eyes to create lightning. Ojibwe thunderbirds punish humans for lack of morals. Menominee thunderbirds protect the earth from being overrun by great horned snakes and act as messengers for the sun. The seal of the Menominee Nation features a thunderbird. A Ho-Chunk who sees a thunderbird while fasting will become a great leader.

A three-legged crow, according to several East Asian folk traditions, lives in the sun or is the messenger of a deity living in the sun. The Chinese sanzuwu was one of twelve ornaments used to decorate Imperial clothing in ancient China. A golden or red jinwu represents the Sun in ancient Han temple art. The Japanese yatagarasu acts as a messenger of divine will and represents rebirth. The Japan Football Association features the yatagarasu on its badge. The Korean samjok-o is alternately a symbol, messenger, and resident of the Sun, more powerful than dragons.

Bottom line: whatever bird suits you, your character, your life, or your plot, check it out!

WHO KNEW?

At birth, a panda cub is smaller than a mouse and weighs only four ounces.

Michelangelo hated painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so much that he wrote this lovely poem about it to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia:
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).

I enjoy odd, surprising, or little known bits of information. I hope you do, too, because I have accumulated so much of this stuff, it’s time for a dump!

The (Non-Human) Animal World

A Great Dane named Juliana peed on an incendiary bomb during World War II, earning her a Blue Cross Medal!
  • Zoolingualism is the ability to talk with animals and understand their reactions.
  • One species of jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, is “immortal.” When damaged or traumatized, they can revert to their polyp developmental stage and start over.
  • Snails can sleep up to three years if the weather isn’t moist enough to meet their needs.
  • Hummingbirds beat their wings up to 70 times per second, faster than any other bird. Fast, yeah, but honeybees flap their wings 230 times every second!
  • Giraffes only have seven bones in their necks, the same number as humans.
  • Whales’ earwax forms in layers, so researchers can estimate a whale’s age and development by counting rings in a cross-section, just like rings on a tree.
  • Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to quadruplets, all identical.
  • Dolphins sleep with one eye open.
Domestic dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes that mimic human facial expressions. Wolves do not have these muscles.
  • Frigatebirds fly for months over the ocean, using half their brains at a time so the other half can sleep during flight. They can also engage in regular sleep.
  • Faster than humans: a running grizzly bear, 35 mph; a cheetah, up to 75 mph; and a diving golden eagle, up to 200 mph.
    • Over long distances, humans still win! Huskies most closely rival humans in endurance.
  • Approximately three percent of arctic ice is frozen penguin urine.
  • Mystery writers take note: koala fingerprints are almost indistinguishable from humans’ — so much so, they can taint a crime scene.
  • Gorillas have nose prints as unique as human (or koala) fingerprints. Conservation workers photograph and catalogue the patterns of wrinkles to track individual gorillas.
Elephants, flamingoes, giraffes, horses, and cows can all sleep standing up, but they can only dream when lying down.  Some subway commuters have mastered the former, but I have no info on the latter.

Humans, Both Normal and Not So Much

Abraham Lincoln was also a licensed bartender.
(from Lincoln in Caricature by Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1903)
  • People who suffer from boanthropy believe they are a cow and will try to live their life as a cow.
  • Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was an elite wrestling champion. In 300 matches, he only lost one.
  • After serving as president, George Washington opened a whiskey distillery.
  • A duel among three people is called a truel or a triel.
  • Eating enough potatoes and butter, and nothing else, could keep a person alive for an indeterminate length of time—alive but not healthy.
  • One-quarter of all the bones in your body are located in your feet.
  • Human thigh bones are stronger than concrete. 
  • Hugs that last over 40 seconds release oxytocin  and make you trust someone more.
  • Queen Elizabeth always wears second-hand shoes. She employs a professional shoe-wearer to break in her shoes for her, preventing blisters on the royal feet.
Some of the most famous cowboys in history didn’t wear cowboy hats in real life.  Icons like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid wore what we would today call bowler hats.
  • The average person will spend six months of their life waiting for red lights to turn green.
  • LeMarcus Thompson, a hosiery salesman, invented roller coasters to combat moral degeneracy.
  • Before people said “cheese” to look like they were smiling for cameras, photographers often told subjects to say “prunes” to mimic the desired facial expression—stoic, with a small and refined mouth.
  • Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a former FBI analyst, demonstrated that more than 90% of all forensic FBI samples are flawed or inaccurate.
  • Humans blink, on average, 12 times per minute. Speed and rapidity of blinking can indicate lots of interesting mental or physical conditions, useful for writers!
    • Stress causes excessive blinking.
    • Strokes may cause erratic blinking.
    • Interest generally causes rapid blinking.
    • Some medications cause slowed blinking.
In 300 B.C., Mayans worshipped turkeys as vessels of the gods, Chalchihuihtotolin.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was an ovophobe, meaning he had a fear of eggs.
    • In a 1963 interview, he said, “I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened; they revolt me. …  Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it.”
  • Cleopatra wasn’t actually Egyptian. Really! Historians have traced the famous ruler’s lineage to Alexander the Great’s Macedonian general Ptolemy. So while she was an Egyptian queen, she was Greek.
  • John Duns Scotus, a thirteenth century philosopher, believed that wearing a pointed hat spread knowledge to the brain and improved intelligence. “Dunsmen” who agreed with his ideas wore “dunce caps” as a sign of intelligence, but social derision eventually led to the dunce cap meaning the opposite.
President Lyndon B. Johnson owned a water-surfing car, called an amphicar.

Weird Miscellaneous Facts

If you start in Argentina, you could theoretically “dig a hole to China.” Reddit user Lokimonoxide demonstrated this idea by making a “sandwich” with bread in Uruguay and South Korea.
  • When the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1936, admission was 25 cent.
    • General Admission is now free!
  • The Olympic Games used to hand out medals for arts and humanities. At the time, 151 medals were awarded for architecture, literature, painting, music, and sculpture.
  • What the fork? This pronged utensil was once considered sacrilegious because they were seen as “artificial hands.”
  • The organ music at baseball games originated at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1941.
  • Baked” beans are actually stewed.
  • The stage before frostbite is known as “frostnip.”
  • LEGO has made more minifigs than the entire population of China, more than 4 billion.
  • Eating bananas can help relieve negative emotions such as irritability, anger, and/or depression. 
  • Italian police stopped a shipment of Columbian coffee beans because the recipient shared a name with a famous Mafia boss in the film John Wick. In a “stranger than fiction” real life twist, police found that someone had hollowed out each coffee bean and filled it with cocaine.
Big Ben (which is actually the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower) sounds unique because it cracked shortly after being installed in 1859.
  • Spider webs were used as bandages in ancient times.
    • Chemists at the University of Nottingham have synthesized antibiotic spider silk for this very purpose!
  • A cloud can weigh more than a million pounds.
  • A company called Eternal Reefs turns dead bodies into ocean reefs.
  • The largest padlock in the world weighs 916 pounds.
  • In the Philippines, McDonald’s serves spaghetti with McDo, friend chicken.
  • Ethiopia uses a unique calendar, similar to the Egyptian Coptic calendar. It is currently 2014 in Ethiopia.
  • Three Musketeers candy bars got their name because they originally came in packs of three, one each of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
  • The Brazilian team travelled to the 1932 Olympic Games in a coffee ship. They sold the coffee along the way to fund their trip.
    • Two UK speed skaters funded their 2022 Olympic trip by creating and selling their own coffee brand.
Sunsets on Mars are blue.
(photo taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover)

BOTTOM LINE: Sometimes random bits of information are useful, sometimes just passing entertainment.

The internet abounds with interesting “facts” that aren’t actually true. For example, that giraffes have no vocal chords or that the average person swallows eight spiders in their sleep every year. One of my favorite websites is Snopes.com, where I can double check the truth of other websites and learn plenty more fascinating facts that are all sourced and cited.

KILLING ON MY MIND

“Axes, chisels, whetstones and a black stone bracelet from a Neolithic Macedonian settlement at Olynthus, excavated by Mylonas in 1928. Archeological Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece”
Michael Greenhalgh

I can’t help it.  The evening news is full of local drive-by shootings and the massacre happening in Ukraine. I’ve been thinking about killing (not planning it, just considering the varieties of ways and means).

I’ve mentally pursued two paths: the category of killing and the method of killing.

Categories of Killing

Execution: the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person within the confines of a legal system. Over time, many methods have been embraced. For more information, look here, here, or here.

  • Firing squad
  • Hanging
  • Electrocution
  • Lethal injection
  • Drawing and quartering
  • Drowning
  • Burning at the stake
  • Beheading (whether by axe or guillotine)
  • Exposure (on the ice, in the desert sun, adrift at sea)
  • Disembowelment
  • Crucifixion
  • Gibbeting
  • Keelhauling
  • Suffocation

Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The methods are infinitely variable. 

  • Felony murder (in some jurisdictions):
    • Killing someone during the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime.
    • The killer and also all accomplices or co-conspirators may be found guilty.
    • It doesn’t matter whether the killing was intentional or accidental.

Homicide: the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another. The point here is lack of premeditation or planning. Killing in the heat of the moment by whatever means would count. 

  • Justifiable homicide: the killing of a person in circumstances which allow the act to be regarded in law as without criminal guilt.
    • Examples include self-defense, capital punishment, and police shooting.
  • (Note: police shootings are not automatically judged  justifiable.)

Manslaughter: the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.  

  • Involuntary manslaughter: the person who commits the crime had no intention of causing or even expecting the possibility of death.

NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE

Different jurisdictions define these categories of killing differently, and some times interchangeably. If you want to be precise, know your local laws.

Euthanasia (a.k.a. mercy killing): the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma.  Note: the practice is illegal in most countries.

Ritual sacrifice: offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or person.

Suicide: death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die. 

Assassination: 

  • In law: any murder committed by an assassin, understood to be committed for money, without any provocation resentment given by the person against whom the crime is directed.
  • In dictionary.com: to kill suddenly or secretively, especially a prominent person; premeditated.

Wartime Killing

War: a state of arms conflict between different nations, states, or different groups within a nation or state.

Soldiers killing soldiers during a war between nations or states are generally considered justified and legal; incidental killing of civilians are generally considered collateral damage, regrettable but not subject to punishment.

Not all wartime killing is internationally acceptable.

The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and Geneva Conventions (1864, 1949 [pt 1, 2, 3, and 4], and 1977 [protocol 1 and 2] and 2005) focus on the protection of people not or no longer taking part in hostilities.  There is no single document in international law that codifies all war crimes. However, lists of war crime can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as international customary law.

  • War crimes (for a more complete list, see the United Nations, and the International Red Cross, and Wikipedia):
    • Intentionally killing civilians
    • Intentionally killing prisoners of war
    • Torture
    • Taking hostages
    • Unnecessary destruction of civilian property, often with the aim of causing starvation or death by exposure
    • Deception by perfidy
    • Wartime sexual violence
    • Pillaging
    • Use of chemical or biological weapons
    • Conscription of children into the military
    • Granting no quarter despite surrender
    • Flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity  
  • Crimes against humanity:
    • Specific cries committed in the context of a large-scale attack targeting civilians, regardless of their nationality.
    • E.g., murder, torture, sexual violence, enslavement, persecution, enforced disappearance, etc.
    • Chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons are often considered specifically crimes against humanity in addition to being war crimes.
  • Genocide/ethnic cleansing:
    • The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
    • Forced sterilization and sexual violence may be included here the aim is to disrupt or preemptively remove future generations.

War between groups within a nation or state = gang war: a “small” war between two (or more) groups feuding over territory or vendetta, not generally related to international legal standing.

  • Characterized by sanctioned and unsanctioned killing
  • Gun violence
  • Street violence
  • Joining a gang may be involuntary
  • Leaving a gang—and surviving—may be next to impossible
  • All gang activity is illegal in the US, although being a gang member per se isn’t

Methods of Killing 

There are far too many to list, but here are a few methods to think about.

  • No weapon (strangulation, broken neck or back, beaten to death with fists, thrown off a cliff, etc.)
  • Weapon of convenience (for example, branch, bookend, poker, scissors, axe—anything found at the scene)
  • Physical weapon brought to the scene (for example, cutting implement, gun, garrote, automobile, whatever)
  • Animal weapon (for example, dog, venomous snakes or insects, predatory animals such as bears, big cats, trampling by elephants or horses)
  • “Soft” weapon such as poison, gas, or medication overdose


Bottom Line: Killing is everywhere and always has been. Think about it! When—if ever—and under what—if any—circumstances would a character think/feel that killing could be acceptable. 

WHAT? THERE ISN’T A WORD FOR THAT?

Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.


As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.


In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!