HOW SWEET IT IS!

We’ve just celebrated the biggest candy month of the year! The day of the year with the most candy sales is October 28th. And of all the 365 days in the year, the top five candy selling days are all in October.

Just How Sweet Is It?

  • Over 10% of annual candy sales happen the days leading up to Halloween — that is nearly $2 billion dollars in sales.
  • Chocolate is the preferred choice of sweets for many. Of the $1.9 billion sold in Halloween candy each year, $1.2 billion was for chocolate candy and only $680 million for sugar candy.
  • Consumers buy an incredible 90 million pounds of chocolate candy during Halloween week, giving it a strong lead compared to other holidays. Almost 65 million pounds is sold during the week leading up to Easter but only 48 million pounds during Valentine’s week
  • The average American household spends $44 a year on Halloween candy. 
  • Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween. 
  • These “facts” popped up during multiple searches about candy.  Could all of these “facts” be true? I don’t know.  But without vouching for truthfulness or accuracy, I hereby present candy info from across the web.

When Thinking Halloween, Candy Corn Comes to Mind

Candy corn
  • The Wunderle Candy Company first produced candy corn in 1888, but they called it “chicken feed.”
  • Americans purchase over 20 million pounds of candy corn a year. With that said, it’s unlikely that every last one of those millions of candies was actually consumed. For one thing, it is the most hated Halloween candy of all. (See below)
  • After the beloved and beleaguered candy corn, the leading best sellers are as follows: Snickers, Reese’s, Kit Kats, and M&Ms.
  • Candy corn is the most searched-for candy term in Google — more popular than candy apples, gummy worms, and candy pumpkins.

Looking Beyond October

Candy counter display
  • Candy, at its simplest, is the result of dissolving sugar in water. The different heating levels determine the types of candy: Hot temperatures make hard candy, medium heat will make soft candy, and cool temperatures make chewy candy.
  • In Europe during the middle ages, the high cost of sugar made sugar candy a delicacy available only to the wealthy.
  • About 65% of American candy bars were introduced more than 50 years ago.
  • The actual flavor of circus “peanuts” is banana.
  • Gummy worms first appeared on July 15, 1981, the 50th anniversary of gummy bears.
  • U.S. chocolate manufacturers currently use 40 percent of the almonds produced in the United States and 25 percent of domestic peanut.
  • Fairy Floss was the original name of cotton candy. William Morrison, a dentist, invented it.  In the United States, National Cotton Candy Day is celebrated on November 7th.
  • Americans over 18 years of age consume 65 percent of the candy produced each year.
  • Frank and Ethel Mars, who created the Snickers candy bar in 1929, named it after the family horse.
  • Retailers sell more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate every year for Valentine’s Day.
  • In the 1800’s, physicians commonly advised their broken-hearted patients to eat chocolate to calm their pining.

Not A New Thing

Fry's chocolate, early candy
  • Fry’s Chocolate Cream: Candy as we know it today, was first recorded in 1847. This can be considered the first candy ever made and sold officially on the market. The candy was created by Joseph Fry. He used bittersweet chocolate. Today, Cadbury manufactures this “Rich dark chocolate with a smooth fondant center.”
  • Good & Plenty is believed to be the oldest candy brand in the USA. The pink-and-white capsule-shaped chewy licorice was first produced in 1893 in Philadelphia. It’s still found at concession stands everywhere, which makes Good & Plenty a treat that can be enjoyed by candy lovers of all ages.
  • Dryden & Palmer dates back to 1880 when rock candy enjoyed great popularity as a cough-cold remedy and delicious confection. Every bar and saloon had its own creation of rock candy dissolved in rye whisky to “cure their patrons’ colds” or at least make them forget they had a cold in the first place. Prohibition hit the rock candy industry hard and, of the original manufacturers, only Dryden & Palmer remains today. 
  • John Ross Edmiston may have been the accidental creator of saltwater taffy in Atlantic City in 1883. His jokingly offered “saltwater taffy” to customers after his boardwalk shop was flooded, soaking his taffy stock with salt water.
Tootsie Roll candy history
World War I Tootsie Roll Patriotism
  • Tootsie Rolls debuted in 1896, introduced by Leo Hirshfield of New York who named them after his daughter’s nickname, “Tootsie”.
    • The War Office added Tootsie Rolls to soldiers’ rations during World War II due to their durability in all weather conditions.
    • According to USMC apocrypha, marines used Tootsie Rolls as emergency first aid to plug bullet holes during the Korean War.
    • In the 1940s and 1950s, “Captain Tootsie” fought crime with his sidekick Rolo in a daily ad comic strip.
  • Milton Hershey of Lancaster, PA introduced the first Hershey milk chocolate bar in 1900. Hershey’s Kisses appeared in their familiar foil wraps in 1906.
  • NECCO wafers are pastel-colored candy disks that first appeared in 1901, named for the acronym of the New England Confectionery Company.
  • Baby Ruth candy bars were first sold in 1920, named for President Grover Cleveland’s daughter – not the famous baseball player.
  • Milky Way Bar is the first of many candies to be introduced by the Mars family in 1923. It was created to taste like a malted milk that would be available anywhere, anytime. One of the earliest advertisements for Milky Way listed “sunlight and fresh air” as primary ingredients.
  • M&M/Mars introduced the Snickers Bar in 1930. It is the number-one selling candy bar in the U.S. today.
  • M&M/Mars debuted the 3 Musketeers Bar in 1932. It was originally made as a three-flavor bar featuring chocolate, vanilla and strawberry nougat. In 1945, M&M/Mars changed to making them with only chocolate nougat.
  • Soldiers’ rations in the Spanish Civil War inspired Forrest Mars, Sr to create M&Ms: plain chocolate candies in a shell of hard sugar.
    • Mars joined Bruce Murrie (son of Hershey executive William Murrie) to produce M&Ms in 1941, marketing them as durable in response to slack chocolate sales in summer.
    • During World War II, M&Ms were sold exclusively to the US military because of their durability.
    • They were the first candies to go into space, sent with the crew of the NASA shuttle Columbia in 1981.
D Rations candy history
  • Hershey’s had an exclusive contract with the American military to supply chocolate for soldiers’ rations during World War II.
    • They specifically created the D-Ration Bar to “taste a little better than a boiled potato” to discourage soldiers from eating only their chocolate ration and nothing else.
    • The recipe for these emergency chocolate rations made a viscous liquid so thick that it clogged the regular manufacturing machines and had to be packed into molds by hand.
    • Hershey produced a Tropical D-Ration specifically designed to withstand the high temperatures in the Pacific Theater.
candy wreath
  • Multiple sources claim to be the creators of Skittles, including the Wrigley’s candy company and a nebulous British man named Skittle. Today, 200 million Skittles are produced each day.
  • Sugar Daddies, the caramel lollipops, were originally called Papa Suckers.
  • Dum Dums “mystery” flavor is always a mix of two flavors. The machine creates them when it switches to producing a new flavor.
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the No. 1 selling candy brand in the United States, consisting of white fudge, milk, or dark chocolate cups filled with peanut butter. H.B. Reese invented them in 1928 after he founded the H.B. Reese Candy Company in 1923.

Most Popular Candy by Country

Alpen Gold

What is the Best Candy?

According to Blog.galvanize.comwe can’t identify the “best candy” (that’s far too subjective), but we can rank categories of candy.

Best-selling Candy in the World

Milka candy
  1. Snickers
  2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Toblerone
  4. Kit Kat
  5. Dove
  6. Cadbury Dairy Milk
  7. Twix
  8. Milka
  9. 3 Musketeers
  10. Hershey Bar

Best-selling Candy in the United States

Dove chocolate candy
  1. M&Ms
  2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Hershey Bar
  4. Snickers
  5. Kit Kat
  6. Twix
  7. Twizzlers
  8. Skittles
  9. Dove Bar
  10. 3 Musketeers

Best-selling Candy at Halloween in the United States 2020

Hot Tamales candy
  1. Skittles
  2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Starburst
  4. M&Ms
  5. Hot Tamales
  6. Candy Corn
  7. Snickers
  8. Sour Patch Kids
  9. Hershey’s Kisses
  10. Jolly Ranchers

Most Popular Halloween Candies by U.S. Kids Under 17

Skittles candy
  1. Hershey Bar
  2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Kit Kat
  4. Snickers
  5. M&Ms
  6. Skittles
  7. Twix
  8. Starburst
  9. Sour Patch Kids
  10. Jolly Ranchers

Most Hated Halloween Candy in the United States

Circus Peanuts candy
  1. Candy Corn
  2. Peanut Butter Kisses
  3. Circus Peanuts
  4. Wax Coke Bottles
  5. Smarties
  6. NECCO Wafers
  7. Tootsie Rolls
  8. Mary Janes
  9. Good & Plenty
  10. Licorice

Most Popular Candy in the United States (not always the same as the best-selling candy)

Gummi Bears candy
  1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  2. Twix
  3. Snickers
  4. Peanut M&Ms
  5. Gummi Bears
  6. M&Ms
  7. Butterfinger
  8. Kit Kat
  9. Almond Joy
  10. Sour Patch Kids

Most Popular Candy Bars in the United States

Halloween candy
  1. M&Ms
  2. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  3. Snickers
  4. Hersey Bar
  5. Kit Kat
  6. Oh Henry!
  7. Baby Ruth
  8. 3 Musketeers
  9. Milky Way
  10. Butterfinger

Important Dates for Candy Lovers

Candy collecting
  • 1/8 National English Toffee Day
  • 1/26 National Peanut Brittle Day
  • 2/1 Decorating with Candy Day
  • 2/8 Molasses Bar Day
  • 2/11 National Peppermint Patty Day
  • 2/15 National Gumdrop Day
  • 2/15 National I Want Butterscotch Day
  • 2/23 Tootsie Roll Day
  • 2/25 National Chocolate Covered Nut Day
  • 3/8 National Peanut Cluster Day
  • 3/26 National Nougat Day
  • 4/5 National Caramel Day
  • 4/5 Peeps Day
  • 4/12 National Licorice Day
  • 4/22 National Jelly Bean Day
  • 5/4 National Candied Orange Peel Day
  • 5/25 National Taffy Day
  • 6/1 National Candy Month
  • 7/7 National Chocolate Day
  • 7/18 National Sour Candy Day
  • 7/20 National Lollipop Day
  • 9/14 Gobstopper Day
  • 10/13 National M&M Day
  • 10/30 National Candy Corn Day
  • 10/31 National Caramel Apple Day
  • 11/4 National Candy Day
  • 11/7 National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day
  • 12/7 National Cotton Candy Day
  • 12/19 National Hard Candy Day
  • 12/26 National Candy Cane Day
  • 12/28 National Chocolate Candy Day

What Candy Does to Your Body

It makes everything sticky!
  • Less than two percent of the calories in the American diet come from candy.
  • A one-ounce piece of milk chocolate contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
  • When we eat sweet foods, we activate the brain’s reward system — called the mesolimbic dopamine system. Dopamine is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. When the reward system fires, it reinforces behaviors — making it more likely for us to carry out these actions again.
  • The recommended dose of candy is just two to three pieces of candy a day.
  • While eating too much candy in one sitting can do a number on your blood sugar and your teeth, it’s true that occasional excess probably won’t do major lasting harm. In the long-term, however, repeated indulgence in high-sugar foods can increase your risk for a number of health problems.
  • The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,
  • Candy has some physical health benefits: Decreasing your risk of stroke and heart attack — Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidant flavonoids, which are healthy for your heart. Regularly eating this rich treat can decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack by 39 percent.
  • Chocolate has been shown to improve depression and anxiety symptoms and to help enhance feelings of calmness and contentedness. Both the flavanols and methylxanthines are believed to play a role in chocolate’s mood-enhancing effects.
  • Chocolate can’t replace traditional treatment options for depressive feelings with mood disorders, but science may support its role in your diet. Approximately 70% of people in a cross-sectional survey were less likely to report depressive symptoms if they’d eaten dark chocolate within the last 24 hours.

BOTTOM LINE: Some ways good, some ways bad, always sweet!

ATHLETIC BONES

I can’t help it: every October my thoughts turn to bones. Bones—especially skulls and skeletons—are sort of my thing. Athletics, not so much.

Still, I have it on the best authority—an authority, anyway—that October is the best month for sports, too. Sammy Sucu (bleacherreport.com) ranks October #1 for sports fans.

Australian Rules Football, where kicking a rival player in the head may be perfectly acceptable
  1. World Series and MLB playoffs
  2. NBA and NHL seasons begin
  3. NFL is in full swing
  4. College basketball begins
  5. College football rivalry matches
  6. Soccer and their rivalry matches

Clearly, this is a biased list. There are roughly 200 sports that are internationally recognized, and besides those listed above, dozens of them are played in October: ice skating, rugby, weight lifting, cricket, badminton/table tennis, sailing, tennis, beach volleyball, chess, karate, golf, various motor sports, swimming, field hockey, skiing, and gymnastics, among others. Plus, October is National Roller Skating Month!

Put them together, and October might also be the month with the most broken bones. 

Most Breakable Sports—Where Broken Bones are Common

Bones that are most commonly fractured during sports are in the wrist, hand, ankle, foot, and collarbone. (FYI, in talking about bones, a break is the same as a fracture.)

Types of Fractures

Stress fractures are most commonly seen in athletes whose sports require repetitive movements such as marathon runners.  I know a woman who developed stress fractures in her ankle while training for a marathon but decided to run anyway. She ran 26.2 miles on a fractured ankle, in a tremendous amount of pain.

Inline skating had the greatest risk for impact fractures. This is according to one study across various sports (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7040946/).  

A fracture occurred in 20.6% of the emergency department visits for sports-related injuries.

Most of the fractures occurred in football players (22.5%).

The OR (odds ratios) for fracture was highest for inline skating (OR, 6.03), males (OR, 1.21), Asians, whites, and Amerindians (OR, 1.46, 1.25, and 1.18, respectively), and those older than 84 years (OR, 4.77).

Fractures are most common in contact sports such as basketball, rugby, and football.  The most commonly fractured bones in contact sports are the hands, wrist, collarbone, ankle, feet, and the long bones of the lower extremities.  Overall, contact sport athletes have a high risk of fractures in ankles and feet because they get into vulnerable positions while playing. 

Among High School athletes, the highest rate of fractures was in football (4.61 per 10 000 athlete exposures) and the lowest in volleyball (0.52). Boys were more likely than girls to sustain fractures in basketball and soccer.

Most fractures heal in 6-8 weeks, but this varies tremendously from bone to bone and in each person. Hand and wrist fractures often heal in 4-6 weeks whereas a tibia fracture may take 20 weeks or more.

But broken bones aren’t the biggest risk.  I’m surprised that the top 7 most frequent sports injuries seldom involve bone fractures.

  1. Knee Injury. About 55% of sports injuries occur in the knee.
  2. ACL Tear. Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is responsible for connecting your thigh to your shinbone at your knee.
  3. Tennis or Golf Elbow
  4. Shin Splints
  5. Groin Pull
  6. Sciatica
  7. Hamstring Strain

Safest Sports—Where Broken Bones are Rare

Common hand injury from repetitive golf swings

1. Swimming  It’s easy on the joints and can be an aid in recovery after an injury as well as being the safest sport in America.

2. Cheerleading Occasional falls may cause broken bones, especially during practice new routines.

3. Golf Anytime players are not required to physically touch one another will more than likely make for a safer sport. Golf injuries most often occur from the repetitive action of swinging the golf club.

4. Track and Field  The most common types of injuries are running injuries such as ankle arthritis, sprains in the knees, shin splints and knee injuries. 

5. Baseball Also not a contact sport, the most common injury is rotator cuff tears, especially for pitchers.  Other injuries include the ulnar collateral ligament, knee injuries, and muscle sprains. Additional possible injuries include a pitched ball hitting a batter’s face and concussions from falls while fielders go for a catch.  

FYI, Top 10 broken bones overall (not just athletes)

  1. Clavicle
  2. Arm
  3. Wrist
  4. Hip
  5. Ankle
  6. Foot
  7. Toe
  8. Hand
  9. Finger
  10. Leg.

Not all fractures get a cast! A clavicle, for example. Also a coccyx. 

Sports That Help Prevent Broken Bones

Athletes participating in weightbearing sports have an approximately 10% higher Bone Mineral Density than nonathletes, and athletes in high-impact sports have a higher BMD compared with medium- or low-impact sports.

Investigators found that soccer and gymnastics participants have the highest bone density in most body segments and the lowest fat mass, while swimming had the lowest bone mineral density at most skeletal sites.

Boxing improves bone mineral density. The forces through the hands and arms stimulate bones to mineralize and strengthen, ultimately reducing the risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis and potentially even reversing the conditions in some cases.

Osteoporosis is a disorder characterized by low bone density and impaired bone strength, an important risk factor for fracture.  Low bone mass poses a particular challenge for athletes because it predisposes to stress-related bone injuries and increases the risk of osteoporosis and insufficiency fractures with aging.

My Personal Bone Break Stories 

1) In second grade I climbed to the top of the swing set and fell, breaking my left arm. That was pretty cool, getting attention, signatures, and artwork on the cast.

Sacral Insufficiency Fracture

2) The first time I tried downhill skiing, I sat down on the edge of my ski and I broke my tailbone. The local ski injury doctor (!) said I should sit on a rubber donut and then he gave me a prescription for pain pills that I could refill ten times. (This was decades ago, of course.) When I asked whether there was nothing he could actually do about it, he said that if still had trouble — if I still had difficulty riding in a car — a year or so down the line, a doctor could surgically remove it.  

(Last year, I posted a blog about human bones/skeletons in general and another about the all-important spine. Still good info there.)

Bottom line: Choose your activities carefully and take care of your bones.

PUMPKINS: THE MEATIEST FRUIT

Pumpkin patch

Having consumed all the pawpaws, I’ve turned to pumpkins. Pumpkins, too, are a native fruit. (Yes, botanically, pumpkins are fruits, a type of berry known as a pepo, to be precise. But cooks and diners commonly class pumpkins with vegetables—along with squash, tomatoes, eggplant and other “vegetables” that have their seeds on the inside—allowing pawpaw to be the largest native food that is considered and eaten as fruit.)

Pumpkin History

Three sisters: pumpkins, corn, and beans
Three Sisters by Garlan Miles

Pumpkins and winter squash are native to the Americas, from the southwestern part of what is now the United States through much of central and South America.  People have cultivated pumpkins at least since 3500 B.C.E. Corn and pumpkins are the oldest known crops in the western hemisphere. 

And who hasn’t heard about the Cahokian, Muscogee, and Iroquois “three sisters” system of companion planting: corn, beans, and squash/pumpkins grown together to the benefit of all.

Native peoples baked pumpkins whole in wood ashes, stewed them, and sometimes made a sort of succotash with beans and corn. Pumpkin was a popular ingredient in meat stews. They roasted long strips of pumpkin on an open fire until edible 

Dried pumpkin
Dried pumpkin

Roasted seeds were (and are) eaten as a delicacy.  In fall, people cut pumpkins into rings and hung up the strips to dry, later to grind the strips into flour to add to bread. 

Perhaps more unexpectedly, Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin flesh and wove them into mats.  And, they made a fermented drink from pumpkins. (Researchers have recently found that fermenting pumpkin reduces insulin-dependent sugars, making it a particularly suitable beverage for diabetics.)

Native Americans introduced colonists to pumpkins and they, too, relied heavily on pumpkin for food as evidenced by this poem (circa 1630):

For pottage and puddings and custard and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.

Anonymous Plymouth Plantation colonist

Early colonists used pumpkins as the Native Americans taught them, also making pumpkin butter (similar to apple butter) and pumpkin syrup (as a substitute for molasses). 

During the Revolutionary War, they made pumpkin sugar! (Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Anne Copeland) FYI: at one time, the Port of Boston was called Pumpkinshire.

Pumpkin pie

Now, eating pumpkin is more seasonal. Come October, one can easily find pumpkin muffins, bread, meatloaf, soup, ice cream, and drinks. Thoughts of pumpkin pie stir. (FYI, the canned product sold for making pumpkin pies actually is Cucurbita moschata, a species of winter squash. The FDA does not distinguish among varieties of squash when labeling canned foods.) 

Pumpkin Folklore

The Pumpkin Effigy 1867
The Pumpkin Effigy“, from Harper’s Weekly, November 23, 1867

Although once an important food source, pumpkins are now more prominent in Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. 

Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland. According to legend, Stingy Jack fooled the devil so many times that when Jack arrived at the gates of hell, the devil wouldn’t let him in. Instead he sent him off into the night with a burning lump of coal, which Jack put into a hollowed out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. 

“If you knew the sufferings of that forsaken craythur, since the time the poor sowl was doomed to wandher, with a lanthern in his hand, on this cowld earth, without rest for his foot, or shelter for his head, until the day of judgment… oh, it ‘ud soften the heart of stone to see him as I once did, the poor old dunawn, his feet blistered and bleeding, his poneens (rags) all flying about him, and the rains of heaven beating on his ould white head.”

Dublin Penny Journal 1836
Does this count as cannibalism? Jack-ibalism?

Immigrants to America continued the tradition of making jack-o-lanterns but switched to easier to carve pumpkins.  The influx of Irish immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries greatly increased the popularity of Halloween celebrations. They adapted the customs and traditions of Samhain to their new homes in North America, including dressing in costumes, trick-or-treating, pranking houses, and carving jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin Varieties

Imagine a pumpkin. Chances are, what came to mind first was a “typical” pumpkin, 12-18 pounds, oblong and orange, as commonly seen around and about in October, suitable for painting and carving. But consider the variety!

Jack Be Little Pumpkins
Jack Be Little

One of the most popular miniature pumpkin varieties is Jack Be Little, orange, about 3” in diameter and 2” high. Typically used for fall decorations, they’re also edible and grow well on trellises, making them ideal for small growing spaces.

Baby Boo Pumpkins
Baby Boo

Baby Boo are small white pumpkins, also suitable for decorating and eating. Each plant produces about 10 pumpkins. Extreme sun and frost don’t affect growth adversely. 

At the other end of the continuum, you’ll find giant pumpkins: in 2022, a pumpkin set a new North American record, weighing 2,560 pounds. This was at the 49th Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, California, though Travis Gienger grew the pumpkin in Minnesota. 

Half Moon Bay considers itself the pumpkin capital of the world because local growers produce more than 3,000 tons of pumpkins each year. But in 2021, Stefano Crutupi, an Italian grower, set the world record for giant pumpkins with a 2,703 pound pumpkin.

Pumpkin Celebrations

Legoland features jack-o-lanterns made of Legos at their annual Brick or Treat Halloween Festival.

To truly appreciate pumpkins, go to a pumpkin festival. My home state of Ohio hosts the Circleville Pumpkin Show—“The Greatest Pumpkin Show on Earth”—always held the 3rd Wednesday through Saturday in October. There is, of course, every pumpkin food and beverage you might want available for purchase. Plus you can enjoy a giant pumpkin weigh-in, pumpkin carving demonstrations, and the crowning of Little Miss Pumpkin Show. And concerts for music lovers (this year featuring DJ Tune Stoned and The Poverty String Band).

The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival boasts the largest display of lit jack-o-lanterns every year. At the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, NY, visitors can “hunt zombies” in paintball tournaments. Stone Mountain, GA has an annual Play By Day / Glow By Night Pumpkin Festival at the end of October. Milton, WV hosts an annual Pumpkin Park at the beginning of October.

Truth be told, once upon a time, I used canned pumpkin for cooking and fresh pumpkins only for jack-o-lanterns . But when I had three daughters, and thus three pumpkins, I couldn’t bear the waste, and started collecting pumpkin recipes. I once thought of writing The Great Pumpkin Cookbook, but never got beyond a notebook full of clippings. I lost momentum when I found the following:


But I will share one pumpkin soup recipe, I made up based on a side dish my son-in-law made.

Savory Pumpkin Soup
1-2 cloves chopped garlic 
Chopped onion
Vegetable or olive oil to sauté
Equal amounts of pumpkin puree and diced canned tomatoes
Vegetable or chicken broth
Optional: your favorite herb or spice, such as basil, curry, etc.
Blue cheese or feta cheese

Gauge the garlic and onion on the basis of your taste and the amount of soup you are making. (For 15 oz. cans of tomatoes and puree, I use 1 clove of garlic and half a medium onion.) Sauté garlic and onion till soft. Add the pumpkin and tomatoes, and enough broth to make a soup of the consistency you like. If using additional seasonings, add now. Simmer to blend.  When hot, add cheese to taste and stir to melt.

BOTTOM LINE: there’s a lot more to pumpkins than decorations and pie!

Pumpkin patch
You never know what you might find in a pumpkin patch!

THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT

My friend and colleague Kathleen Corcoran sent me an archaic word.

  • Spuddle (v)
    • To work feebly and ineffectively because your mind is elsewhere or you haven’t quite woken up yet.
    • To make a lot of fuss about trivial things, as if it were important.
    • To work tirelessly without achieving anything of worth. To put in a great deal of effort and achieve only very little.
    • To loosen and dig up stubble and weeds left after a harvest with a broadshare or similar device.

I took one look at it and said, “That’s got to be one of the best, most useful words ever!” Indeed, I’ve been spuddling for years.

So began my search for old, forgotten, seldom used, and archaic words and phrases that need to take (or retake) their rightful places in our written and the spoken vocabularies.

Autophoby (n) Fear of referring to oneself, usually exhibited by a reluctance to use the pronouns I or me.

Balderdash (n) Spoken or written nonsense.

Blithering (adj) Complete; utter (Used to express annoyance or contempt, as in “a blithering idiot.”)

Bloviate (v) To speak in a pompous or overbearing way. (Made popular by Pres. Warren G. Harding.)

Caddywonked (adj) Southern slang for sideways, unconventional, askew.

Caddywompus/cattywampus (adj) Variations of catawampus, meaning askew, diagonal, first recorded in the 1830-1840s.

Catty-cornered (adj) Diagonally opposite someone or something

Flagitation (n) The act of asking or demanding with great passion; begging.

Clishmaclaver (n) Idle talk; gossip.
(chiefly Scottish)

Conniption (n) Informal, meaning a fit of rage

Crackbrained (adj) extremely foolish; crazy; insanely irresponsible.

Embrangle (v) To entangle, mix up, confuse, perplex. Embranglement, the noun form.

Flapdoodle (n) Nonsense; a fool

Flexanimous (adj) Having the power to influence, move, affect

Gabble-monger (n) Gossip

Hoik (v) To move or pull abruptly; yank.
(also a wild hook shot in cricket)

Lollop (v) to move in an ungainly way, in a series of clumsy paces or bounds.
(n) A person or animal who moves in such a way.

Mizzle (n) Light rain or drizzle.

Skellington (n) A skeleton

Percolation (n) The process of something spreading slowly.

Pilgarlic (n) Literally “peeled garlic” the word is used for a bald person or a person held in amused contempt or treated with mock pity.

Runnel (n) A narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through; a crook or rill; a small stream of a particular liquid, e.g., a runnel of sweat.

Sitooterie (n) A summerhouse or gazebo; also an out-of-the-way place to sit with your partner at a dance (or other event).

Skiwapiddy (adj) Crooked, off-kilter

Stramash (n) Disturbance or racket.
(chiefly Scottish)

Taradiddle (n) Petty lie, nonsense.

Trug (n) A shallow basket made from strips of wood for carrying flowers or vegetables.

Ultra-crepidarian (n) A person who expresses opinions on things outside the scope of his/her knowledge or expertise. Can also be an adjective.

Whinge (v) To complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way.

Bottom Line: Linguists say you can make any word, even an obscure or archaic word, your own by repeating it aloud five times and using it in a sentence every day for a week.

BEACH READING REALITY

Every year, recommendations for “beach reading” or “summer reading” turn up everywhere. Sometimes, it’s just a list of what’s on some famous person’s summer list (like Rashida Jones, Bill Gates, or the faculty of Harvard Law School). For example, Barack Obama’s list got a lot of attention this year, and may have given a significant boost to “Southern noir” writer S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears.

But do many people really look for—or follow—such reading suggestions? I, for one, am not a seasonal—or locational—reader. And I don’t personally know such people, either.

Once again I spent a great beach week with family, thirteen people ages 13 to 91. And here—in no particular order—are the books being read.*

* The four teenagers really didn’t contribute much this year!
** Necessary when someone is enrolled in an online master’s program.
*** Evidence that a series reader was on a roll.

Bottom line: Anything can be read anywhere, any season. “Beach reading” goes well beyond the beach. What are you reading now?

Terry Pratchett’s theory on beach reading.
from The Last Continent

FICTION SERIES I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED

I write short (for the most part) but I read long. This has been true all my reading life, especially for fiction series.

Completed Fiction Series

As a pre-teen I devoured the Cherry Ames nurse books by Helen Wells, following her career from student nurse onwards. Ditto the Ruth Fielding books, set in the 1920s and written by a group of people collectively using the pseudonym of Alice B. Emerson. Both involved adventure, sometimes mysteries, and young women who stepped outsides society’s rules and boundaries.

As an adult, my first fiction series addiction was The Poldark Saga by Winston Graham.  In this instance, I was so taken with the story line as depicted on PBS Masterpiece Theatre that I read all eleven books, and liked the books even better. I’ve read the Poldark family saga more than once. That’s the way it is with a good read. Early on, I was so taken with the character of Demelza Poldark that for a time port wine was my alcohol of choice.

Once upon a time, my escapist reading was the Nero Wolfe mysteries (Rex Stout), but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. The same detective, the same sidekick, and the same chef, but really nothing to link the books together. Each puzzle is different and, once solved, presents no temptation to reread. 

Sherlock Holmes is much the same. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle crafted beautifully written stories, but the point is “who done it.” That being said, I did love the modern BBC adaptation “Sherlock.”

Sherlock Holmes appears on screen frequently.

I put the Lord Peter Wimsey fiction series somewhere in between. Dorothy L. Sayers has more of a through-line, and characters other than Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey DSO are more prominent. He solves mysteries for pleasure and is a perfect example of the British gentleman detective. I have actually reread her series because her writing is excellent, offering more than just the solution to the crime.

  • I watched the BBC/PBS adaptations.  In my opinion, neither Ian Carmichael nor Edward Petherbridge was the right choice for Lord Peter, though many fans hold very strong views favoring one or the other. It should have been Fred Astaire!
Dame Agatha Christie

Unlike many, I was never taken with Dame Agatha Christie Although her detectives are appealingly quirky, the solutions to the crimes (in my opinion) too often involve “alligator over the transom” elements. I.e., they depend too much on sudden, serendipitous revelations, or information known only to the detective, such that the reader couldn’t possibly have figured it out.

Jean M Auel

I greatly enjoyed the first two books in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series. Fiction series set in prehistoric times was quite novel to me, and she seemed well grounded in actual anthropology and biology. But after Clan of the Cave Bear and Valley of Horses, it went downhill for me. After that, the books weren’t as novel and they needed a good editor. It’s a 6-book series I never finished.

Ongoing Fiction Series

By the time I read Outlander, the first several books in the series were already in print. Action/adventure, romance, time-travel, and a touch of the supernatural… I’d never read anything like it. 

Diana Gabaldon

I’ve read the first eight books twice, and marvel at Diana Gabaldon’s skill:

  1. Tracking a cast of thousands (dozens, anyway)
  2. Keeping characters and “facts” consistent
  3. Weaving details from earlier books into major elements in later ones

And let’s not forget the gripping storyline, spanning wars, continents, and generations.

I’ve read the spin-off Lord John books and collections of short stories. What I have not done is watch the TV series. I would grump about all that’s been left out! 

I preordered book nine, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, and it’s been on my shelf and on my kindle since November. At some level I am resisting reading it, for I don’t want the series to end. According to Gabaldon, the series is expected to be ten volumes.

Fiona Quinn

Fiona Quinn has written several interconnected fiction series in The World of Iniquus. They feature separate but related action/adventure/romance plots and characters. She has created strong, knowledgeable, capable women, and I always learn things. 

Mary Burton

Another local writer I enjoy is Mary Burton. She, too, has written several fiction series, some interconnected and some stand-alone.

I’ve read a lot of L. T. Ryan, though his books tend to be more brutal than my usual fare.

I. T. Lucas

Last but not least, I’ll mention Children of the Gods by I. T. Lucas. Per the Amazon blurb, “Twilight meets Ancient Aliens with the sizzle of Fifty Shades.” The writing isn’t on a par with Gabaldon, but it’s generally good and the series currently includes 62 books!

Miscellany

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first of the Harry Potter books. I have the complete set, but I haven’t yet read the books or watched the movies.

Please note: these writers are not to be confused with the following

Bottom line: All other things being equal, longer is better when I choose a fiction series. A 900 page book makes a great first impression here!

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.

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!

FOR YOUR PLEASURE

I found an entertaining old (1985) book, edited by Clifton FadimanThe Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes covers a range of people, periodicals, radio and TV programs, centuries, and topics from Abolitionists to Zoos. 

I’ve chosen several anecdotes about famous people, writers, and writing for your pleasure, oldies but goodies.

Johnny Carson (1925-2005), host of the Tonight Show on TV

When Carson was signed to host the Tonight Show, he was so plagued by reporters that he compiled a list of 10 answers, which he handed out and invited journalists to provide the questions.

  1. Yes, I did.
  2. Not a bit of truth in that.
  3. Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday.
  4. I can do either, but I prefer the first.
  5. No. Kumquats.
  6. I can’t answer that question.
  7. Toads and tarantulas.
  8. Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands.
  9. As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet. I need much more practice.
  10. It happened to some old friends of mine, and it’s a story I’ll never forget. 

(I found no record of a journalist actually doing that, but there’s nothing to stop you from doing it. And the interviewee needn’t be Johnny Carson!)

Jimmy Carter (1924-    ) no intro needed

Given Carter’s devout Southern Baptist background, reporters often asked him about his stance on moral issues.

When one asked, “How would you feel if you were told that your daughter was having an affair?”

Carter replied, “Shocked and overwhelmed, but then she’s only seven years old.”

(Note to writers: do a little research!)

Maria Feodorovna (Мария Фёдоровна) (1847-1928) empress of Russia as the wife of Czar Alexander III, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark

She was known throughout Russia for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from transportation to Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander.

The czar had written, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.”

Maria’s altered version: “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia. 

(Modern variation: Let’s eat, grandma.)

Lascelles Abercrombie (1881-1938), British poet and critic

Abercrombie had expressed an opinion with which poet Ezra Pound violently disagreed.  “Dear Mr. Abercrombie,” wrote Pound.  “Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace. I hereby challenge you to a duel, to be fought at the earliest moment that is suited to your convenience….”

Abercrombie was distressed by the challenge, knowing of Pound’s skill at fencing. He was relieved to remember that as the one challenged, he had the choice of weapons. “May I suggest,” he replied, “that we bombard each other with unsold copies of our own books.”

Pound, having far more “weapons” than Abercrombie immediately withdrew the challenge. 

(I’m pretty weaponized right now, having just received a crate of Virginia Is For Mysteries, Volume III, launched 2/27/22.)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), short-story writer and wit

She once attended a party with Somerset Maugham, where the guests challenged each other to complete nursery rhymes. Maugham gave Parker the lines: “Higgledy piggledy, my white hen/ She lays eggs for gentlemen.”

Parker completed it with, “You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat/ To come across for the proletariate.”

(My personal favorite Parker quip is her response when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence. She said, “You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think.”)

William Faulkner (1897-1962) winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949

Faulkner was on a shooting expedition with director Howard Hawks and actor Clark Gable. In the course of conversation, Gable asked Faulkner to name the five best authors of the day.

Faulkner said, “Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself.” 

“Oh,” said Gable (maliciously?), “do you write for a living?” 

“Yes,” replied Faulkner, “and what do you do?”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961, by suicide), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954 

Faulkner said that Hemingway had no courage, that “he has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.”

When Hemingway heard that, he said, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

(In case you hadn’t realized it, perceiving a piece of writing as writing is a matter of personal taste.)

Abraham Lincoln (1805-1865), again, no intro needed

As a lawyer, Lincoln discouraged unnecessary litigation. When a man came to him to bring suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor, Lincoln tried to dissuade the man. But the man was determined to get revenged would not be talked out of it. Lincoln charged $10 for his service, gave half to the defendant who admitted the debt and paid the plaintiff $2.50.

(The plaintiff was reported to be entirely satisfied. What might a writer make of a character with more money than compassion?)

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), poet and Dame of the British Empire

When Sitwell told her family that she was leaving the family home, she said “I can write so much better when I’m alone.”

Her father said, “And you prefer poetry to human love?”

Her reply? “As a profession, yes.”

Bottom Line: When you’re at a loss for words, look to the masters!